Tag Archives: Georgia Lowe

“Macbeth” from Shakespeare’s Globe

Even a virtual trip to London’s South Bank is welcome during the current Covid-19 lockdown. Macbeth was filmed on a wet day earlier this year – how I miss that peculiarly British pastime of watching outdoor theatre in the rain, and would happily sacrifice the current fine weather for the chance to be a groundling again! Unfortunately, the uncomfortable fact remains that director Cressida Brown’s production – fast and full of ideas as it is – is below standard.

Brown is keen to keep the action moving and anxious to show she has fresh thinking to offer. While surely defendable in a debate, the ideas don’t work well on stage. Maybe there’s too much of an eye on provoking discussion in the school room? Too many innovations fail, and some are downright awful. It’s all the more disappointing as the relatively small cast works hard, only to end up burdened by the direction.

First the famous witches. They arise from a pile of dead bodies on the battlefield, which is a good idea. But all three fail to be scary. The attempts at a playful air aren’t even creepy. Driven by the reference to a “bloody child” in Act 4 scene 1, the apparitions of the witch’s “masters” are dolls… and the scene ends up closer to funny than fearsome.

That the Scottish court, with Georgia Lowe’s design, is a contrast to blood-stained soldiers isn’t bad. But making Dickon Tyrrell’s Duncan a golf-playing, egotistic fool (even if some rulers are just that) makes it hard to care about what happens to him. As for his son Malcolm, the idea of emphasising his schoolboy age makes sense but comes back to bite Brown and makes Aidan Cheng’s performance in the role regrettable. Putting him in shorts and Harry Potter glasses really doesn’t work when he tries to trick Macduff as to his “voluptuousness”. Cheng’s delivery is so uninspired that other characters don’t even bother to stay onstage and listen to him.

There are bigger ideas and surprises in the show. Most will be shocked that Lady Macbeth’s encounter with the doctor has disappeared – I assume there’s some academic thinking behind this, but it leaves the audience (let alone Elly Condron, who takes the role) a little cheated. That Lady Macbeth is visibly pregnant during most of the show fits in with a debate most do know about. But, without explicit references in the text, all Condron can really do is rub her padded tummy a lot. Oh dear.

Thankfully, the show still has points to enjoy. Condron’s chemistry with her husband is good; that their relationship fraught from the start aids her powerful performance. The dynamic between Macbeth and Banquo benefits from Samuel Oatley’s strong performance as the latter. Best of all, taking the title role, is Ekow Quartey. His Macbeth is puzzled, frightened and nervous, even suicidal at one point. Good at showing panic and great in his fight scenes, Quartey can work the crowd as he goes to “mingle with society” during the banqueting debacle. It’s just a shame that this fine Macbeth finds himself in such a poor production.

Photo by John Wildgoose

Available until UK secondary schools reopen on globeplayer.tv

To support, visit www.shakespearesglobe.com

“Equus” at the Theatre Royal Stratford East

The last London outing of Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play boasted exciting star casting. But even the presence of Daniel Radcliffe, who did a great job playing the stable hand Alan who blinds the horses in his care, didn’t quite distract from the dated manner of this psychodrama. Equus can be a laboured whydunit, as the aloof Dr Dysart lags behind the audience in reconstructing events and struggles to provide an explanation for an all-too-symbolic outrage.

In this new production, director Ned Bennett gallops over many flaws, adding a physicality that balances the theorising monologues. Meanwhile, the lighting and sound design, from Jessica Hung Han Yun and Giles Thomas respectively, add psychedelic flashes of light and bursts of sound to great effect. With a strong cast, dashing on and off stage with unnerving speed, the piece is served superbly – this is one of the best revivals you’ll see in a long time.

The play’s problems are still there, of course. A contemporary audience is probably too used to tracing trauma – and too familiar with psychobabble – to find such a quest revelatory. But Bennett manages to make it exciting. The clever move is to focus on the doctor, played superbly by Zubin Varla, as much as the patient, and to make the philhellenic clinician’s dissatisfaction with his own life a source of questions. With increasing distress, Dysart sees his treatment will deprive Alan of a life-enhancing passion – the key word is worship – which is a challenging proposition, given Alan’s actions. Varla provides convincing fervour, and plumbing Shaffer’s text to bring out the theme works well.

The production flirts with a period setting, sometimes to its detriment. Georgia Lowe’s minimal design of clinical curtains is used to great effect, but the costumes, as a nod to the 1970s, are confusing. And too little is done about the female roles. Norah Lopez Holden, who plays Alan’s love interest, feels so contemporary she could come from another play. While Alan’s mother is in 1950s mode with Syreeta Kumar’s oddly wooden depiction.

Ira Mandela Siobhan and Ehtan Kai

The cast is superb though when it comes to doubling up as the horses, led in this endeavour by Ira Mandela Siobhan. Avoiding fancy puppetry emphasises the sensual to an almost risqué level – the show is confrontationally sexy. For a final exciting element, there’s the performance of Ethan Kai as Alan. Theatregoers love a career-defining role and this surely counts as one. As well as creating sympathy for the character – no easy leap – he also makes Alan scary. Presenting a young man so dangerously unaware of his own strength, Kai allows Alan to stand as an individual rather than an object in Shaffer’s intellectual game – and all benefit as a result.  

Until 23 March 2019

www.stratfordeast.com

Photo by The Other Richard

“Pomona” at the National Theatre

Alistair McDowall’s loopy, plot-fuelled drama is structured like a Mobius strip, as we join a frightening search for a missing girl in a dystopian Manchester. Propelled by an HP Lovecraft role-playing game, which the characters all join and where it’s never clear who is in charge, what might have been confusing keeps you intrigued throughout.

The people of the sinister urban wasteland of Pomona fascinate as they search for obliteration in a variety of nasty ways. The cast is superb, including Nadia Clifford’s Ollie, looking for her sister, along with Sam Swann and Sean Rigby as two security guards getting deep into trouble. Rochenda Sandall plays a frightening brothel madam and Rebecca Humphries is outstanding in the most fully formed role of Fay. Presiding over all are Guy Rhys as Moe – a commanding presence despite his claim to be “neutral”, which is saying something since he spends the entire play in his underpants – and Sarah Middleton’s spooky Keaton, a part urban myth, part autistic anime character.

The idea is simple… deep down. A mesh of genres, including thriller and sci-fi, is skilfully woven with plenty of conspiracy theories to examine society’s complicity with moral injustice. Do we ask or ignore awkward questions? The play is a moral maze in more ways than one. I guess there had to be a dose of determinism as well, nicely embodied with gaming dice. Along with all the tension and supernatural overtones Pomona is plenty cryptic and could be frustrating, but instead it’s thoroughly entertaining.

Director Ned Bennett’s skill in bringing this often downright peculiar vision to the stage is remarkable. With a fraught atmosphere he avoids pretentiousness by bringing out the humour in the script and emphasising action. Above all, it’s a game that will keep you guessing. Short, sharp scenes along with creepy touches (much credit to designer Georgia Lowe) can be described as a nightmare that is a puzzle to you upon waking. And puzzles, after all, are great fun.

Until 10 October 2015

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Richard Davenport

“Unscorched” at the Finborough Theatre

As the winner of the prestigious Papatango New Writing Prize, Luke Owen gets his first play, Unscorched, staged at the Finborough Theatre. Packing in the critics last night, the scene is set to judge the script, and it’s easy to see why it won as it’s a strong piece. But just as impressive are the performances from two players: Ronan Raftery, who takes the lead role, and his love interest, played by Eleanor Wyld.

Back to the playwright. Owen’s unsavoury subject is child abuse, with the action based around an office where pornography is analysed in order to assist the police. We know it’s an unpalatable job; the first scene, with a brief but emotive performance from Richard Atwill, brilliantly shows a worker having a breakdown because of the traumatic material he is exposed to.

Enter our new recruit Tom (Raftery). With the bravest of intentions, the long-serving Nidge, performed capably by John Hodgkinson, mentors him. Seemingly immune to the horrors he watches, Nidge makes us aware of the toll this necessary work takes. And Tom is carefully watched by his boss, who has a “buddy” approach to management that strikes a jarringly comic tone. George Turvey convinces in this role, pointing out the therapeutic potential of an Xbox and promoting paintballing – as if these really could be solutions.

It is the romantic writing, about Tom and his new love affair, which is best and highlights Owen’s intelligent voice. As with the main subject matter, the relationship is written in an admirably understated fashion. Careful to avoid prurient touches, it feels authentic and shows the effects that working in such a horrible field have on ordinary people and this likeable couple in particular.

Satisfying as it is, the relationship Tom starts out on could have been even more of a focus to the play. A series of (too) brief scenes start to become a touch frustrating. Perhaps the direction from Justin Audibert could have been slightly tighter. The astoundingly efficient set from Georgia Lowe works hard but time is taken up preparing for very short scenarios so it feels as if the play needs a bigger stage. Although given the quality of the writing and performances, it surely deserves one.

Until 23 November 2013

www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk

Written 1 November 2013 for The London Magazine

“Facts” at the Finborough Theatre

Renowned Canadian playwright Arthur Milner’s Facts has its European premiere at the wonderful Finborough Theatre. Tackling the thorny issue of Israel and Palestine in only 80 minutes, while toying with the detective genre, the play almost inevitably over-reaches itself, but this engaging piece is finely written and superbly produced.

Investigating the death of an archaeologist whose theories threaten the history the Jewish state is based upon, an Israeli and a Palestinian detective work together. When their prime suspect turns out to be a fundamentalist settler, the motivations and intense emotions experienced by all three men make the piece fly.

Director Caitlin McLeod handles both the developing debate and the growing tension clearly, with only a couple of marked pauses driven by the desire to show us something of the characters as individuals. These are difficult roles, with the players called on to voice well-rehearsed opinions, while maintaining a believable three-dimensionality. Georgia Lowe’s set is of the highest standard and the fantastic intimacy of the venue means that the focus is very much on the performers.

Paul Rattray gives a sterling performance as the settler suspect. Obnoxious from the start and potentially alienating, he manages to convince without descending into caricature. His compatriot, from a family of Zionists, describes himself as a modern man who despises religious bigots. In this fascinating role, Michael Feast has a nice take on the absurdities of the situation and conveys an underlying instability that results in a dangerous anger (it’s a shame that Feast doesn’t seem entirely comfortable in his character’s skin). Philip Arditti is enthralling as the Arab counterpart, putting up with the indignities of Israeli checkpoints in order to pursue the case and with an eye on the facts that belie his own firmly held beliefs.

Whether the facts really matter to any of Milner’s characters remains something of a mystery to us: the police play with the case as if it were a game – a valid enough point. But in its rush to be even-handedly condemning of all parties, despite all its qualities Facts is ultimately a little too ambitious for its own good.

Until 23 March 2013

www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk

Photo by Mike Shelford

Written 4 March 2013 for The London Magazine