Tag Archives: Geoffrey Streatfeild

“The Beaux’ Stratagem” at the National Theatre

A Restoration comedy of love and manners, so steeped in cynicism that its heroes plot to marry for money, George Farquhar’s classic is a snapshot of 18th-century society that brims with life and adventure. Replete with desperate gentlemen, crooked innkeepers and comedy highwaymen, Simon Godwin’s revival feels credible and fresh.

Samuel Barnett and Geoffrey Streatfeild make appealing leads as Aimwell and Archer – the “marksmen” out to hunt rich women. Pippa Bennett-Warner and Susannah Fielding are similarly engaging as their love interests. Fielding carries the part of the miserably married Mrs Sullen well – tricky in a production that seems extravagantly enamoured of her. Mrs Sullen is pivotal, yes, and Fielding embodies her with sense and sensuality, but the production halts, shouting “This is important” so loudly that it becomes patronising.

Jpeg 16. Geoffrey Streatfeild (Archer) and Samuel Barnett (Aimwell)_The Beaux' Stratagem_credit Manuel Harlan
Geoffrey Streatfeild as Archer and Samuel Barnett as Aimwell

There are some great insults in The Beaux’ Strategem: I look forward to being able to use “prostrate engineer”. And Farquhar’s similes are superb, describing marriage as “two carcasses joined unnaturally together”. The cast, along with music, provide nice comic touches, but Godwin blunts the play’s momentum: smaller parts aren’t tamed enough and the initially impressive set by Lizzie Clachan becomes cumbersome.

There’s a great swashbuckling fight where we see how Archer “fights, loves, and banters, all in a breath” and for a moment the show lifts off. But we’re back to down to earth, with added sentimentality, as our heroes become disarmed by love. Maybe it’s Godwin’s ponderous build-up to these unexpected changes of heart that has slowed things down? If there is a strategy here, it has failed. The whole show feels too… thorough. That should be praise, but a lack of spirit and spontaneity means that the production just isn’t funny enough.

Until 20 September 2015

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photos by Manuel Harlan

“My Night With Reg” at the Donmar Warehouse

The Donmar Warehouse’s revival of Kevin Elyot’s 1994 play, My Night With Reg, opened this week. With strong direction from Robert Hastie and a superb cast, the production serves as a fitting tribute to the recently deceased author of this sensitive and sensationally funny play.

As a group of gay friends meet over the years, first in celebration then in the wake of the devastating AIDS crisis, their promiscuous lives are observed in a quietly profound and structured way. Questions of love, life and death come to the fore in a play about the passage of time and the importance of truth.

This should be a grim night out. Even the weather, in each of the three scenes, is the perpetually wet English summer. Yet Elyot’s triumph is to make My Night With Reg so funny. With a nod to classic farce and plenty of blue jokes, the laughs come thick and fast. Underneath the wickedly funny crudity, there’s great skill: switching between comedy and tears with the speed of a lightning flash.

Geoffrey Streatfeild (Daniel) and Lewis Reeves (Eric) in My Night With Reg. Photo by Johan Persson.
Geoffrey Streatfeild and Lewis Reeves

The characters are finely drawn and the acting lives up to Elyot’s writing. The plot pivots around the never seen Reg – the lover of so many – but our perspective comes from the floppy-haired, ever cautious Guy, made so endearing by Jonathan Broadbent that he becomes a real hero. Guy’s university friends are appropriately irresistible, played by Julian Ovenden and Geoffrey Streatfeild with both charisma and convincing depth. There are also talented turns by Matt Bardock and Richard Cant, while Lewis Reeves as Eric, the youngest character, gives another strong performance, bringing intergenerational insight to events.

As the play’s first major revival, the big question is, inevitably, how well it has aged. Despite being very much rooted in its times, addressing a specific community that has changed a great deal in the past 20 years, it’s a pleasant surprise to see how fresh My Night With Reg feels. Unrequited love is a universal theme, after all, and Elyot explores deep emotions in an appealingly uncensorious way. Best of all, the humour, while too blunt to describe as sparkling, still shines.

Until 27 September 2014

www.donmarwarehouse.com

Photos by Johan Persson

Written 6 August 2014 for The London Magazine

“Children of the Sun” at the National Theatre

One of the many creative teams who have contributed to recent successes at the National Theatre, director Howard Davies and writer Andrew Upton – whose reputation rests on a series of adaptations of Russian classics – are back with Children of the Sun. Maxim Gorky’s play, adapted and directed with justified confidence, is fresh and vital. Also re-collaborating, designer Bunny Christie has created a stunning set that makes the most of the National’s Lyttelton stage.

A perceptive psychological drama about the “fools and idiots” in and around one family, there are love affairs galore in Children of the Sun. Intense Russians might be a cliché in hands less skilled then Upton’s, but here the morbid emotions and high-flown ideals engage. The diverse characters are so well drawn and developed that the actors can truly embrace their roles. From the “great nanniness” still living with this distinctly infantile family, played by Maggie McCarthy, to the man ostensibly in charge as head of the family, Protasov (Geoffrey Streatfeild), the cast is uniformly impressive.

More than a moving family drama, Children of the Sun abounds with issues as well: it questions the role of art and science and the nature of society. Gorky the commentator, very much of his time, seems relevant with Upton on board. Hindsight is used but, thankfully for the drama, it feels as if anything might happen. The privileged Protasov is a scientist so obsessed with work that his family and the whole village suffer. The intelligentsia, to which he belongs, feel they are battling superstition – but you can’t blame the locals when it turns out they are being poisoned by his experiments. The play’s bloody, depressing conclusion shocks and stirs. The characters’ fates and the broader questions Gorky raises make for an explosive mix.

Until 14 July 2013

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Rupert Hubert Smith

Written 20 April 2013 for The London Magazine

“Eigengrau” at the Bush Theatre

Penelope Skinner’s new play, Eigengrau, is set in a London with no sense of community. It’s a city we hope we don’t experience but we all know exists. A group of twenty year olds are all alone and searching for love and friendship. It could be depressing stuff but in this play it is very, very funny.

Feminist activist Cassie has a flat share that isn’t going well. She had to advertise on Gumtree and found Rose, a ditzy blonde who has never heard of sexual liberation. Rose’s ‘boyfriend’ Mark works in marketing and is instantly offensive to Cassie. His flatmate Tim has problems too – he is recently bereaved, overweight and works in a friend’s chicken store. (Writing for The London Magazine, I have to point out that what these people need is a reputable lettings agent.)

In the interaction between these characters Skinner deals with pretty much every taboo of polite conversation and gets great laughs out of them all. Never talk about religion? Rose is a believer and happy to proselytize. She has proof fairies exist, oh, and dwarves as well. Sex and death? The cynicism and romance of casual encounters and falling in love cross over hilariously. Meanwhile Tim mourning his grandmother becomes grotesquely hilarious as her ashes are used to great comic effect. There is politics as well: Mark is surprised to learn people still ‘do’ feminism, and of course there is talk of property, that very London obsession.

With this comic potential the show has plenty of laugh out loud moments but as you might predict with humour this dark, it sometimes crosses a line. Where this lies is personal and, partly, the point of such black comedy. A loose grip on reality is often endearing but as this becomes dangerous it is disturbing. The women in the play debasing and mutilating themselves are dealt with ironically, but also horrifically. A long scene of oral sex, where the lights are cleverly raised, makes watching fellow audience members frankly more entertaining than what is happening on stage.

Yet all the cast show great skill in treading the fine line between humour and bad taste. It is impossible to say who gets the most laughs – there are so many of them. Geoffrey Streatfeild’s Mark is revolting – as smooth as they come and too clever for his own good. It takes real talent to turn an audience off a character that quickly! John Cummins’ Tim is utterly charming. He is a sensitive soul who is lost but still sees further than most. The women have slightly meatier roles, allowing Sinead Matthews and Alison O’Donnell to shine – their disappointments in love are moving as well as hilarious. The cast are clearly confident in the hands of director Polly Findlay. This is all heady, heavy stuff and the bold traverse design from Hannah Clark makes for an intimate, yet potentially intimidating space.

The journey our intrepid Londoners take is one worth making with them. Eigengrau is the colour seen by the eye in perfect darkness, a kind of grey that the optic nerve generates. There is plenty of blindness in the play. As the characters grope around, it becomes clear they aren’t going to find happiness through money or causes but need to search within themselves. Politics or success won’t help them but maybe, through fantasy at least, they will be able to laugh along the way.

Until 10 April 2010

www.bushtheatre.co.uk

Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 16 March 2010 for The London Magazine