Tag Archives: Ian Gelder

“Something in the Air” at the Jermyn Street Theatre

Peter Gill’s short new play tackles big topics of old age and young love. It’s about the memories that remain with us and not all of them are happy ones. But magic comes despite – or maybe because of – the subject matter. This play is beautiful.

The two main characters, Colin and Alex, live together in a care home. Despite struggling when interacting with others they address the past with startling articulacy. Gill imagines minds that are active despite bodies struggling to communicate (listen out for another example). Examining “the state of memory” this is a depiction of old age that’s dignified. How rare is that? And it leads to strong performances from Ian Gelder and Christopher Godwin in the lead roles.

Claire Price

The family that visits Colin and Alex can’t see, or imagine, the real state of their loved ones’ minds. A son and a niece, further fine performances from Andrew Woodall and Claire Price, get on with their lives, unaware that Colin and Alex are doing just the same. The roles provide us with backstory brilliantly. The characters condescend; they see Colin and Alex holding hands as a “small mercy” given the care homes other residents. But the older men aren’t asking for sympathy and are their own harsh critics.

Two younger men join the stage as well. Figures from the past, but not, as you might expect, younger versions of the main characters. These are two past affairs, failed ones at that, brought vividly to life by Sam Thorpe-Spinks and James Schofield. The scenario gives insight into gay life from long ago but doesn’t blame prejudice for everything that happened. The interwoven comments and reflections are romantic but also recriminatory. The delivery is aided by the sure direction of Gill himself alongside the talented Alice Hamilton.

If none of this strikes you as happy stuff…fair enough. Where’s the beauty I mentioned? How about the clarity of thought on offer in a play with two men losing track of so much. Gill doesn’t entertain melancholy or indulgence. Instead, there is detail to transport you into other lives and take you back in time. The descriptions of London of the late 50s and early 60s, with student instigators and hippies, are marvellous.

The precision is incredible, you can see and hear the scenes recounted yet without being overwhelmed by minutiae. And all to build a love story. Not that from the men’s youth but in the here and now. It’s not the kind of romance we usually see (especially between men). But Gelder and Godwin make the affection and support between the Colin and Alex moving and Gill’s play is a beautiful thing.

Until 12 November 2022


Photos by Steve Gregson

“The Treatment” at the Almeida Theatre

Martin Crimp’s 1993 play is an exploration of truth and lies that uses art like a prism. The key question is who ‘owns’ a story – is it the teller or all of us? It’s a structuralist trope that gives rise to vivid characters who enliven the play’s opaque moments. And it’s a lot more fun than it sounds.

The piece pivots on husband and wife “facilitators” in the movie business, depicted skilfully by Julian Ovenden and Indira Varma. This gloriously devilish duo is working on the eponymous treatment that will become a film. Unbelievable, yet recognisable, the couple and their project turn out to be extremely funny.

Ian Gelder
Ian Gelder

Their treatment is of the ‘real life’ tragic story of an odd woman called Anne, recruiting a struggling writer (the excellent Ian Gelder) along the way. Aisling Loftus produces a figure disturbed and disturbing in Anne, using the role’s cipher-like qualities to advantage. Anne’s would-be amanuensis falls victim to the Shakespearean pretentions he tries to force upon her story (“vile jelly”, anyone?) in a shockingly grisly scene. How could the film being worked on relate to true events this strange? Combine the smart satire around the New York pseuds with Anne’s fragile mental health and art doesn’t stand a chance.

Gary Beadle
Gary Beadle

The film’s progress has a quasi-magical impact on real lives. Scenes of the movie’s planning are interspersed with Anne and her estranged husband (played by Matthew Needham), giving us an alternative view. Similarly, the high-profile actor/producer brought on board – a charismatic role for Gary Beadle – manipulates Anne’s story further. Meanwhile, his claim that “art changes everything” is debunked by the unsettling elision of truth and fiction.

Supernumeraries from the Almeida’s community programme provide a large cast that adds a well-used note of realism. Lyndsey Turner’s sure-footed direction, with Giles Cadle’s stark staging and Neil Austin’s lighting, combines naturalism with the bizarre and exaggerated superbly. A description of the moviemakers’ luxurious world as “allergic” to reality is typically solipsistic. Everyone involved, including the audience, is struggling to get to the bottom of motivations. But there’s fun to be had working out what’s going on – this is entertaining avant-garde.

Until 10 June 2017


Photos by Marc Brenner

“Human Animals” at the Royal Court

Stef Smith’s new play looks at control and civilisation, depicting a particularly English apocalypse under the veneer of an environmental disaster. The dystopia created when pigeons and foxes go mad (my, how playwrights love these disasters) leads to quarantine and mass destruction. It’s predictably grim but nonetheless affecting.
The production is innervated by direction from Hamish Pirie, while Camilla Clarke’s colourful murals, video projections and windows splattered with blood create an impressive set. Efforts are made to inject tension, but the trajectory of the story and political responses of the characters frustrate this.
Human Animals
The cast is top notch. Stella Gonet plays a grieving widow wonderfully (it’s the best part), joined by Natalie Dew as her spirited daughter. Their respective approaches to the crisis – resignation and revolt – are the central dynamic for Smith and could have made a play of its own.
Human AnimalsA young couple, admirably performed by Lisa McGrillis and Ashley Zhangazha, share the dilemma of what to do as the state takes charge. One saves animals secretly and the other works for the company profiting from slaughtering all the wildlife. Their relationship is depicted carefully but the argument is blunt.
Human Animals
For a final pairing, oddity is the theme. Two unlikely drinking partners, with bizarre twists to their conversations, are apathy and action personified. Even performers as magnetic as Ian Gelder and Sargon Yelda can’t save the roles from being a puzzle. Showing their bestial sides, as society breaks down, isn’t enough of a pay off.
With the majority of characters too briefly sketched, and the scenario less than compelling, it’s fortunate Smith writes with a powerful, poetic turn. Vivid imagery and bold scenes, where the cast combines to choral effect, are the highlights that ensure this sketchy play becomes impressively pushy.

Until 18 June 2016


Photos by Helen Maybanks

“Gods and Monsters” at the Southwark Playhouse

Horror film director James Whale, who created many iconic monster movies, had a fascinating life, which inspired the novel Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram, filmed in 1988 as Gods And Monsters. Russell Labey now brings the story to the stage in a divine adaptation. Gods And Monsters makes a strong piece of theatre out of a sensitive journey to the end of one man’s life.

Having written sound roles, Labey gets the best from his cast with precise direction. Will Austin, who spends most of the night with his shirt off, has the physique for the part of Whale’s gardener, an object of lust who becomes a model and then confidant. Austin gives an understated performance that shows he has brains as well as brawn. Will Rastall and Joey Phillips take smaller parts but there’s nothing minor about their performances, especially when doubling as Whale during flashbacks to his time as an art student and a soldier. Lachele Carl, who plays a devoted servant, gives depth to a nicely rounded character. But the main accolade has to go to Ian Gelder as Whale. It’s a careful performance of a complex man, full of passion and intelligence, that’s as good as any I’ve seen on stage.

Gods And Monsters takes one life story, a particularly urbane and witty one, and elaborates it richly. It’s a play of gay history, from Hollywood hedonism to the ‘lavender scare’ of McCarthyism, and broader social themes that include Whale’s experience of war and the class system as a Brit. But, above all, it’s a human story of a battle against the brutality of ageing and illness that all can connect too. Gelder presents Whale’s pain vigorously, travelling to dark places while balancing the erotic tension to create a sensitive play full of potent themes.

Until 7 March 2015


“Titus Andronicus” at Shakespeare’s Globe

An exciting new season at Shakespeare’s Globe is now under way and the first show to recommend is a revival of Lucy Bailey’s 2006 production of Titus Andronicus. Shakespeare’s most brutal play, notorious for its gruesomeness, shows mankind’s bloodlust within a society driven by violence and revenge. Bailey’s direction is appropriately bold and uncompromising; creating engrossing theatre that is – often literally – close to the bone and not for the faint hearted.

Bailey uses the Globe better than anyone I’ve seen. Working with designer William Dudley, the back of the stage is sheathed in black material, creating a kind of architectural void that reminded me of Anish Kapoor, while a temporary roof of panels makes the space claustrophobic and helps contain an awful lot of smoke. While the tent-like construction doesn’t stop the rain, don’t pity the ‘groundlings’ who stand in the pit too much – this is a great show for them, confirming the £5 tickets as the best bargain in London.

The whole audience finds itself in an arena, appropriate for the political machinations in the play and reminiscent of gladiatorial conflict, with the groundlings pushed and pulled as platforms for speeches are wheeled around. You’re conscious of the crowd and see how Bailey has used the audience as a part of the play – it becomes voters, spectators, even a forest.

The cast members know they are in a hit and their energy is fantastic. William Houston is a grand Titus, reminding me of a young Oliver Reed. He is truly frightening and manic as his world falls apart. Gravitas is provided by veteran Ian Gelder, who plays Titus’s senatorial brother, and Matthew Needham gives a stand-out performance as the emperor Saturninus. Manipulating him are the Goths: Tamora and her sons, “the pair of cursed hell hounds and their dame”, performed superbly by Indira Varma, Samuel Edward-Cook and Brian Martin.

More praise. As well as creating an all-action atmosphere, Bailey handles the play’s macabre humour with a brave hand. A scene where Tamara and her sons pretend to be goddesses to fool Titus (finally) makes sense and presenting Titus in a chef’s hat in the infamous banqueting scene is so breathtakingly tasteless it’s a stroke of genius. And Obi Abili, who plays Tamora’s menacing lover, gets a surprising number of laughs.
Don’t underestimate how gory this production is. Bailey has created an experience that is pretty overwhelming. Back to those groundlings again: I spotted several faces turn pale at scenes of rape and murder (I saw them because I was looking away myself). Three people passed out and cardboard bowls were stationed at the entrances for the ushers to hand out. So all credit to Bailey for such a powerful production, but a final mention to the staff, many volunteers, who dealt with the (literal) fallout amongst the groundlings so well.

Until 13 July 2014


Photo by Simon Kane

Written 2 May 2014 for The London Magazine

“Lingua Franca” at the Finborough Theatre

The main protagonist of Peter Nicols’ new play Lingua Franca, at the Finborough theatre, is one of many characters in English fiction to fall in love with Italy. He arrives in 1950s Florence to teach English with a copy of A Room With A View in hand and just as many prejudices as Lucy Honeychurch. Unlike Forster’s heroine, Nichols’ character is not at all likeable. Chris New’s rich performance as Steven leads us through a series of moral compromises, revealing a cynical man with a distasteful superiority complex.

His colleagues at the Berlitz School of English are much more appealing. Rula Lenska is wonderfully cast as the elegant, wise Irena and Abigail McKern adds great comic touches to her part as brisk Aussie Madge. The compassionate Jestin is the real innocent abroad. He has a noble naiveté, performed perfectly by Ian Gelder. The school’s punishing schedule and unimaginative method is endured by them all (they have been through a great deal more in the recent war of course) but it takes its toll on younger members of staff.

Continually repeating the names of cutlery to large groups of teenagers would be enough to drive anyone mad and with a cheeky nod to problems in today’s schools, we know it is not a good idea to have so many knives around – especially with Charlotte Randle’s Peggy on staff. In a fantastic performance, Randle shows her character’s problems by degrees. She is funny and pathetic but also overbearing and manipulative. It is fitting that her love for Steven comes across as more a matter of obsession. Her rival for his affections is the German teacher Heidi (Natalie Walter). This Rhinemaiden (with a cleverly delivered American accent) is a figure of fun although her objectionable politics create an uncomfortable mix.

Michael Gieleta’s direction gives Nichols’ superb characters the space they deserve but also succeeds in several short scenes that could have been confusing. Projections of Florence set the scene and the Finborough has the mixed blessing of being able to convey the sweltering summer heat on stage because the auditorium has no air conditioning.

Nichols’ superb play reveals so much to us – not about la dolce vita Italy but austerity Britain. Steven doesn’t learn about where he is but where he comes from and where he is going – America. Forster’s humanism seems lost on him as the course he decides to study is the lingua franca of power. It is an insightful lesson we should all learn about.

Until 7 August


Written 19 July 2010 for The London Magazine