Tag Archives: Clive Francis

“Les Blancs” from NTLive

Although unfinished at her death in 1965, and in a production that’s four years old, Lorraine Hansberry’s play feels more urgent than ever. Questioning the perceived price of African lives, the legacy of imperialism and featuring the death of a black man in police custody, it is depressingly topical in this summer of Black Lives Matter protests.

Yaël Farber’s strong production doesn’t suit filming – that happens sometimes. The slower pace, which can work in a theatre, makes watching online tedious. Several scene changes, which use the theatre’s revolve well, dampen the script’s considerable tension on screen. That Hansberry wrote a thrilling play with plenty of action is a little lost.

Thankfully, even on film the strong characters and performances still shine. The ‘Whites’ of the title, running a missionary hospital in an unspecified African country, are well developed by James Fleet and Anna Madeley. And a visiting journalist – a little too close to a device to provide an American perspective – is played with passion by Elliot Cowan. A magnificent role for Siân Phillips, the wife of the Mission’s pastor who everyone is waiting to show up, illustrates the complexities of colonialism in a moving fashion.

LES BLANCS The National Theatre, 2016 photo Johan Persson
Siân Phillips and Danny Sapani

Three brothers, torn by the conflict for independence, provide drama of an epic nature that results in fantastic acting. Gary Beadle’s Abioseh is about to become a priest, while “mixed up” Eric, a powerful role for Tunji Kasim, wants to go to war. The focus is Tshembe, now established in Europe but “ravaged” by his responsibilities. Which path will he take?

Danny Sapani takes the part of this intellectual and reluctant revolutionary with a clear understanding that this is a unique kind of hero. Sapani shows Tshembe’s intelligence and humanity, making him interesting and appealing. But he is also aloof and dangerous. The tragic outcome is one of the most shocking you can imagine.

The brutal ending of Les Blancs shows its real strength lies in Hansberry’s unflinching bravery. Many scenes featuring Clive Francis’ bigoted Major Rice are difficult to watch, no matter how well they work dramatically. But, with Hansberry’s forensic arguments, the play is also bold. The exploitation of colonialism is easy to see, but what about the idea of the missionary sense of fulfilment also being at the expense of Africans? The play’s obsession with “reason”, easily contrasted with tradition, and a flirtation with violence (let alone nods to Marxism) are startling and powerful. 

Available until Wednesday 8 July2020

To support, visit nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photos by Johann Persson

“The Gathered Leaves” at the Park Theatre

It’s surely the acting that has made Andrew Keatley’s well-crafted family drama such a sell-out success. Although fertile ground, upper-class dysfunction, with a dash of historical perspective, along with dementia and autism, make the play a mix and match of familiar topics. Yet Keatley writes short scenes and characters with textbook precision and the 11-strong cast responds with exciting vigour.

William is the patriarch, testily patching up past mistakes while struggling with his memory – Clive Francis is superb in the role. Jane Asher is perfectly cast as his careful wife (she even gets to comment on a cake). Alexander Hanson and Nick Sampson play his sons, the later stealing the show as the autistic Samuel, while Katie Scarfe brings a family resemblance and carefully understated performance as an estranged daughter. The younger generation is represented by Tom Hanson (it really is a family affair), Amber James and Georgina Beedle – all well delineated roles that bring plenty of humour to savvy, if slightly predictable, observations. In short, this cast should transfer to the West End tomorrow.

Credit to Antony Eden’s direction (tellingly, he’s a performer himself as well) for covering so much ground so quickly. But herein lies a problem. With so much going on it’s difficult to find a focus, any resolution feels pat, and the play lacks momentum. There are plenty of secrets in this family, but very little tension. So, while the characters are three dimensional, we don’t see enough of anyone to really get a satisfying sense of depth. Frustratingly, the solution seems simple – this is a family tree that could do with some pruning.

Until 15 August 2015

www.parktheatre.co.uk

Photo by Mark Douet

“The Madness of George III” at the Apollo Theatre

It seems we love the Royals right now. What with last year’s wedding and the forthcoming jubilee, there’s a feelgood factor about pageantry that our first family is riding high on. It’s well known that the Windors aren’t big theatregoers, which is a shame since they will probably miss this new production of The Madness of George III.

Alan Bennett’s 1991 textbook play, dealing with one of George III’s periods of mental breakdown (probably from the hereditary condition of porphyria), has aged superbly. Progressing from the Theatre Royal Bath, this production is highly polished. Against the backdrop of Janet Bird’s intelligent design, Christopher Luscombe’s direction is clear and pacey. While lacking satirical bite, the politics of the period are presented well, with fine performances from Nicholas Rowe and Gary Oliver as Parliamentary rivals William Pitt and Charles James Fox using the Royal family as pawns to gain power.

And Bennett’s gags about the parlous state of 18th-century medicine still shine. Peter Pacey plays the King’s first doctor with suitable sycophancy. Clive Francis is commendable as the radical physician Dr Willis whose techniques reveal the ridiculous dangers of court protocol (such as not being allowed to question the King directly) and who gets the play’s best line: “the state of monarchy and the state of lunacy share a frontier.”

The role of George III is a dream for any leading man. David Haig lustily rises to the challenge of bettering Nigel Hawthorne’s much loved representation in the 1994 film. Haig is best at showing us the King as a likeable character: the benevolent ‘farmer’ George whose “indirect and infinite curiosity” annoys his equerries but charms the audience.

Often, if you are rich, you aren’t mad – just eccentric. So Haig works hard to convince us that George losing his mind isn’t just quaint but something painful. His performance forces this point home. We can smile when the King says he would rather go to Japan than Kew, but portraying George as an intelligent man, aware of his own tragedy is Haig’s main achievement, making this a more moving evening than you might expect.

Until 31 March 2012

www.nimaxtheatres.com

Photo by Robert Day

Written 24 January 2012 for The London Magazine