Tag Archives: David Grindley

“Daytona” at the Park Theatre

Still in its inaugural season, the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park saw its first première of a new play open last night. Daytona by Oliver Cotton is a clever three-hander, well written and superbly produced. The story of three elderly Jewish emigrants to America, set in 1986, it sees a married couple’s well-ordered life disrupted by the unexpected return of a brother who had disappeared 30 years earlier. Arriving with the announcement that he has killed a war criminal while on holiday in Florida, he reopens wounds, both personal and political, posing moral dilemmas rich in dramatic potential.

Cotton is well known as a performer, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that he has written such wonderful roles. Under the skilful direction of David Grindley (fast becoming one of my favourites, given his excellent The American Plan currently at the St James Theatre), the performances here are truly accomplished. Surely, naturalism like this is only achieved with experience – the characters talk rather than recite, despite lengthy speeches that take us on a journey into the past. John Bowe plays charismatic, mellifluous-voiced Billy, whose return creates such shockwaves. His brother Joe is a retired accountant whose inner strength is revealed in a detailed performance from Harry Shearer. Completing the triangle is Elli, the marvellous Maureen Lipman, cleverly playing with stereotypes of the Jewish wife and injecting a steely tone that’s perfect for the play’s many surprises.

Elli and Joe make a great couple, not perfect – you can insert a shoulder shrug here – but, despite the trauma in their lives, their story is one of carrying on. Persistence, elevated to the point of a memorial to all their pain, makes Daytona an affirming play. And yet most of its power comes from the acting. For all its adroitness, Cotton’s text seems brief, leaving too many loose ends to satisfy. But the ambition to present an elderly trio as our sole concern is executed superbly. With theatre often obsessed with youth, it’s a welcome and original move.

Until 18 August 2013


Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 18 July 2013 for The London Magazine

“The American Plan” at the St James Theatre

Arriving from the Ustinov Studio (Theatre Royal Bath), having already received a big thumbs-up from the critics, The American Plan opened in London last night at the St. James Theatre. Full of laughs and bittersweet wisdom, this exquisitely written play from 1990 by Richard Greenberg deals with not one but several love stories.

Here we have a fascinating trio of women. Eva and her “difficult” daughter Lili, wealthy refugees from the Nazis, are on vacation with their maid Olivia in the Catskill Mountains across a lake from other Jewish families who flock to the area. The women are isolated by an amusing, imported snobbery. Until a young man arrives.

Nick is a “blue chip stock” kind of guy, but true romance isn’t the story here. All these Americans, émigrés old and new, are full of plans and a warped determination to bring them to fruition. Plots might be a more accurate description if there wasn’t so much sincerity behind their motivation. The lies they tell are often deliciously funny but there’s real heart here, too.

Entangled with a family, not eccentric but “giddy around the circumference”, where the daughter is the wrong side of neurotic and the matriarch lives up to every stereotype of Jewish motherhood, you never much rate Nick’s chances. But he has secrets and pain of his own and watching them revealed is great theatre.

And the lies don’t stop with the introduction of the final character, Gil. In the part, Mark Edel-Hunt more than makes up for his later arrival with a great plot twist that, since I liked the play so much, I really don’t want to spoil.

Diana Quick is scene stealing as Eva (her accent alone fascinates), putting the metal in mittel European, and Dona Croll makes a marvellous foil for her as the “enduring” Olivia whose inscrutable privacy hints at yet more tales. Emily Taaffe fully embodies the “mercurial” Lili, delighting with her wit then shocking with a traumatic intensity. And effectively subduing his character’s hidden depths until just the right moment, Luke Allen-Gale is tremendous as Nick.

This production does true justice to a fine play and it’s clear those responsible have a thorough understanding of the text. More than his intelligent exploration of “intricately unhappy” lives, Greenberg brings a Jamesian flavour and intelligent humour to his examination of our deepest self-fashioning. The result is a play that resonates with depth.

Until 10 August 2013


Photo by Jane Hobson

Written 9 July 2013 for The London Magazine

“Our Boys” at the Duchess Theatre

Jonathan Lewis’s Our Boys is nearly 20 years old – but it’s aging very well indeed. Set in a military hospital, and based on the author’s own experiences as a Potential Officer, it’s a rites-of-passage drama about young soldiers recovering from serious trauma. Our Boys is a well-crafted and traditional affair of simple, effective story telling.

A performer himself, Lewis has created the kind of roles that actors love since each character develops almost on cue. We know that these young men will bare their souls, but with each revelation the play gains in power. Lewis never slips into patronising his creations, while director David Grindley has marshalled his impressive cast into a believable cohort.

Lewis Reeves has to be singled out. As the most physically injured solider, his painful route to recovery is deeply moving and wonderfully performed. Jolyon Coy plays P.O. Menzies who shares the ward with the men he may one day command, with sensitive conviction. Laurence Fox gives a tremendous performance as Joe, a natural leader who delivers the most dramatic, genuinely shocking scene with steely skill.

The earthy humour of the piece may wear thin, but Lewis uses it to bond the play and it’s delivered well enough. Our Boys isn’t free of cliché but, after all, our insecurities are pretty universal and seeing them in these young men under pressure has tremendous power. The disastrous drinking game they play shows the best and the worst of characters we have learnt to care for: they really have become Our Boys, a fact that shows the strength of the play and the performances.

Until 15 December 2012

Photo by Geraint Lewis

Written 4 October 2012 for The London Magazine