Tag Archives: Gina McKee

“The Forest” at the Hampstead Theatre

Few will rate this new play from Florian Zeller as his best. But a world première from the successful French writer is a feather in the cap of any theatre. Add a superb cast and skilled direction from Jonathan Kent and the show becomes a hot ticket.

Zeller likes to play with an audience, and you either love or loathe his intellectual games. His obsession with truth and family relations, with reality and mental illness, are familiar from hit shows such The Father and The Son. In The Forest, additional surreal touches and elements of a thriller make this story of infidelity original and entertaining.

“Sad and strange”

The Forest has three romantic affairs, well, two, really, with three acts containing repetitions as well as alternate outcomes. All the action is engendered by one man’s perspective. It’s less complex than it sounds (thanks to Kent’s disciplined approach). The idea of a kaleidoscope (cribbed from the programme) is worth bearing in mind, but it’s still often wilfully baffling.

Gina Mckee in The Forest credit The Other Richard
Gina McKee

There’s a lot of suffering in the play. A strong performance from Gina McKee as The Wife shows suspicion and concern. Angel Coulby is great as The Girlfriend, a deliberately opaque role. That this woman is perceived as unstable and dangerous comes to the fore. Both characters are shown as they relate to the lead protagonist, and increasingly so, which gives the text dynamism as well as making it uncomfortable.

If we struggle to find an emotional response to the play, this could well be Zeller’s intention. Toby Stephens leads the action alongside Paul McGann as The Man, a character so important that he needs two performers. Interpretations are welcome; but it seems we are watching a mental breakdown, fantasies and all – his mistress kills herself (or was she murdered?).

“Abandoned in a forest”

Coulby’s character is described as “difficult to manage”. And that isn’t going to endear this Man to anyone. The status of this wealthy, much-respected figure is emphasised. Is our sympathy for him a challenge? Stephens manages to convey grief and tension, and it’s hard not to feel for someone so lost.  Especially when the imagined therapist/interrogator he talks to is a spooky Man in Black, exquisitely depicted by Finbar Lynch.

Zeller’s audience might feel a little lost at times, too. Instruction for the distinct zones of Anna Fleischle’s design is that “interpenetration” occurs. Thankfully, this is subtly handled by Kent. Hugh Vanstone’s lighting is excellent. The play is a puzzle, stylishly set (quite literally… there’s some lovely furniture here). As delusions escalate (let’s just say we end up with a dead deer on stage), you can’t help feeling it all seems a great deal of effort for a simple moral message.

Until 12 March 2022

www.hampsteadtheatre.com

Photos by The Other Richard

“Faith Healer” at the Donmar Warehouse

Rain is falling as we are introduced to the ‘Fantastic’ Frank Hardy, an itinerant performer, whose life and miraculous show lie between the “absurd and the momentous”. Es Devlin’s stunning set creates a box of brilliantly lit water that returns between each of the four monologues that make up this intense and intriguing revival of Brian Friel’s 1979 play.

Stephen Dillane joins a line of famous names to tackle the title role. It’s a restrained performance, uncompromisingly demanding, carefully playing with the “sedation of incantation” that runs through the script: place names visited, adventures and traumas, are repeated in the softest tones. Hardy knows whether or not miracles will happen – that his success depends on chance – so his gift is also a curse.

We meet Hardy’s mistress and manager. As the former, Gina McKee’s accent is offputting at first – we’ve been told she’s from Yorkshire, and that’s not the only lie we discover from hearing her side of the story. The detail McKee invests in her scene makes it moving and engrossing. After these hear-a-pin-drop performances there’s some respite, thanks to Ron Cook’s appealing Cockney artistes agent. Though stories about a bagpipe-playing dog are funny, this isn’t comic relief. Cook presents a tired and disappointed man with subtlety.
The performances are awe-inspiring but the material is consuming to the point of claustrophobic and difficult because of its complexity. The drama comes from having three unreliable narrators, who lived together for many years but don’t meet during the play and are talking about events in the past. We see Hardy’s wife after his (possible) murder, and his manager after she has committed suicide, but the chronology is not explicit and how much time passes between scenes is opaque. Friel’s script shifts and changes and needs the lightness of touch that director Lyndsey Turner provides. A heavy hand could damage such first-class storytelling. Rendered so impeccably, the play is absorbing.

Until 20 August 2016\

www.donmarwarehouse.com

Photos by Johan Persson

“Richard III” at the Trafalgar Studios

Jamie Lloyd has all the bases covered with his new production of Richard III. After an acclaimed first season at the ‘transformed’ Trafalgar Studios, theatregoers are excited and bringing another star to the stage attracts a new crowd. Taking on Richard is Martin Freeman, of Hobbit and Sherlock fame, giving an assured performance within a show full of eye-catching touches.

Lloyd would, I am sure, be proud to be called populist. This Richard III is remarkable for its clarity. Helpful gestures ensure those pesky family trees, important to claiming the disputed throne, are clear. Staged as a Cold War thriller, set among military coups in the 1970s, there’s a cinematic air that aids the plot and adds a contemporary feel.

Also, there’s plenty of action. It’s often commented that the killing in Richard III takes place off stage. Lloyd is having none of this: Richard brutally murders Anne before our eyes and the blood flows freely – if not quite enough to justify the pre-show hype around being splattered if you are in the front rows.

Angling the play as a spy story and all the gore make the show feel fresh and enable Lloyd’s interpretation. I wonder if anyone else feels they have seen too much filming and recording on stage by now? Nonetheless, a sense of paranoia is efficiently created. Seated in a war room, playing with toy soldiers, this is a modern military world familiar from recent Shakespearean productions. It’s a shame that Richard’s famous line about his horse is thrown away but, if not revelatory, Lloyd is on sound enough ground.

Freeman’s Richard is a serious fellow, as it’s the politics and the twisted practicalities of power that are emphasised. There are laughs, but quite a few are sacrificed to the speed of delivery and that bloodthirsty touch. The acting is consistent and intelligent, with touches of charisma and addresses to the audience that will please fans.

It is the thoroughness that makes you admire Lloyd. This is a strong supporting cast – especially of women. Maggie Steed gives a bold performance as an increasingly bizarre Queen Margaret, calmly sipping tea as prophecies of doom are fulfilled. Gina McKee, too talented an actress for the relatively small role of Queen Elizabeth, is outstanding – bringing home the emotional impact of Richard’s tyranny. Jo Stone-Fewings is also superb as Buckingham, Richard’s “other self”, presenting the crown as if won at a game show.

Final praise to Ben and Max Ringham for their sound and music. With a microphone frequently used to emphasise public announcements, sound indicating changes of scene and music that makes the atmosphere gripping, the Ringhams’ work is a good example of how detailed and committed this show is.

Until 27 September 2014

www.trafalgartransformed.com

Photo by Marc Brenner

Written 11 July 2014 for The London Magazine

“Di and Viv and Rose” at the Hampstead Theatre

Hampstead has a hit on its hands with Amelia Bullmore’s play, Di and Viv and Rose, which has graduated from the theatre’s downstairs studio space into the main auditorium. It’s a very funny and deeply moving story of friendship, which traces the relationship between three women from university days into adulthood.

Rose is annoyingly sweet, kooky and furiously promiscuous, Viv a militant, ambitious sociologist, and Di a straight-talking lesbian. The three seem to have little in common, but their experiences draw them together to create an intense, believable union that encompasses infectiously high times, as well as lows, and will have you hooked.

Thankfully, although the students’ lives are laugh-out-loud funny, there’s more than 1980s nostalgia on offer. The girls grow up and the dynamics alter. As with the last show at Hampstead, Old Money, these are fantastic roles for women and the talented trio here excels: Anna Maxwell Martin is brilliantly funny as Rose and Gina McKee deliciously deadpan as Viv, while Tamzin Outhwaite steals the show as the dependable, no-nonsense Di, delivering a career-defining performance in a remarkably written part.

With the general notion that friendship replaces family in our modern age, Bullmore has one foot in sitcom territory – but her jokes are a lot ruder and much funnier. Producing tears as well as laughter, Di and Viv and Rose is a mainstream treat, yet the strength of the writing provides deeper insights that are sure to stay with you. It richly deserves its re-run.

Until 23 February 2013

www.hampsteadtheatre.com

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 24 January 2013 for The London Magazine