Tag Archives: Gary Carr

“The Pass” at the Royal Court

This month former Premier League footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger revealed that he is gay. It adds some topicality to John Donnelly’s new play The Pass, currently showing at the Royal Court, which examines a footballer’s sexuality in three scenes during his career. But if you caught the news, you probably weren’t that bothered. And this is where Donnelly really scores: The Pass only uses its characters’ sex lives to explore something we find much more interesting nowadays – fame – and it does this in exemplary fashion.

At first it’s all juvenile fun: two teenagers in a hotel room, reeking of hormones. The banter is disgraceful, no surprise, but an uneasy twist comes with the suggestion that Jason is toying with Ade’s affections: literally using sex as a weapon to put his fellow fledgling player off his game. Things take a darker turn as Jason’s career takes off. Exploiting a cliché, a one-night stand with a table top dancer, Donnelly adds enough twists and turns for a thriller. Already corrupted by celebrity status Jason has become a monster, albeit one with an indefinable charm, and like all scary villains he has plenty of plans.

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Gary Carr and Russell Tovey

There are minor issues with the text that even John Tiffany’s skilled direction can’t quite hide but a talented cast ensure they don’t become irritants. Gary Carr deals remarkably with the years separating his appearances, transforming from a boy into a confident man. Lisa McGrillis is superb in her scene, keeping you on the edge of your seat. All eyes are on Russell Tovey in the lead role. Few do matey straight roles better than Tovey: his comic skills are perfect, but the play’s time scale and his character’s development give him the chance to show great depth. Maybe his performance will be enough to get the show a transfer (apologies).

While Tovey never falters, The Pass doesn’t keep up the wonderfully high standard of its first two scenes. The introduction of a fourth role, a young boy who works in a third and final hotel, marks an able debut from Nico Mirallegro, but the character, who shows the same faux naivety Donnelly uses so well elsewhere, fails to convince. Jason’s connection with reality becomes a little too strained now he is a megastar. But admittedly the tension continues and The Pass still thrills. A reunion between Jason and Ade brings us more power games and moral questions – the price of fame and failure – formulated in an insightful fashion.

Until 1 March 2014


Photos by Manuel Harlan

Written 19 January 2014 for The London Magazine

“Nation” at the National Theatre

Terry Pratchett is one of the country’s most popular authors, with as good a claim as any to being a National Treasure.  A great story teller, full of engaging ideas, he is also very funny.  He is a writer often inspired by imagery, who creates bold, vivid pictures for his readers.  In short, a writer who offers great opportunities for a translation to the stage.

So it’s a baffling disappointment that Mark Ravenhill’s theatrical adaptation is so awful – it seems to perversely avoid all those factors which make Pratchett so successful. Ravenhill has reduced Pratchett’s ideas to the level of parody and made them so simplistic they seem pointless. He has taken away any sense of irony which leaves the work painfully unfunny.  Above all the adaptation is confusing.

Director Melly Still does little to clarify and has her cast running around and shouting quite indiscriminately, apparently just to make lots of noise. Caught in the middle of this adaptation and direction, the cast itself struggles to make any kind of mark.  Gary Carr plays Mau, the last of his people, and Emily Taaffe Daphne, a girl shipwrecked on his island.  Although both perform competently and the material is available for complex roles their journey of discovery fails to engage.

The rest of the large ensemble seldom manage to create distinct personas resulting in little dramatic impact. Given this lack of tension, it is no surprise that the production also has little emotional impact.  One scene, strongly reminiscent of Coram Boy, shows a newly born child in danger of starvation.  What could be poignant and challenging is too quickly resolved in a garbled manner involving the ridiculous milking of a wild boar. Both baby and boar are puppets and it is disappointing that after the success of the National Theatre’s War Horse these create such a poor effect.  With no emotional investment in these creations they are simply there for the spectacle.

Spectacle, the production does have in abundance.  Projection combines with ambitious sound and lighting to recreate, amongst other things, a tsunami.  However, simple mistakes have been made by Still, this time working alongside set designer Mark Friend.  Sightlines at the extreme left of the theatre are severely restricted – something very difficult to achieve in a space as well designed as the Olivier.

To save the worst until last, Adrian Sutton’s score is truly awful.  It seems to embody many of the production’s faults.  Adding nothing to the drama or pathos it is confusing and never rises above parody.  As the production draws to a close it slides into extreme sentimentality.

A defence for many of these decisions could be argued by claiming that this adaptation is essentially for children – but children’s theatre can and should challenge its audience.  It is a irony that nowhere knows this better than the National Theatre, given its superb record of previous productions. But like the rest of the audience, children here will learn little about the questions that surround the ideas in Nation.  With so many problems and mistakes, the dominant question becomes what on earth is going on at this Nation’s theatre.

Until 28 March 2010


Photo by Johan Persson

Written 30 November 2009 for The London Magazine