Tag Archives: Jenny Jules

“King Lear” at the Almeida Theatre

London audiences are spoilt when it comes to stars and Shakespeare. Depending on their age, anyone aspiring to credibility tackles Hamlet or King Lear, and we all get to benefit from the results. Among the exciting celebrity strewn shows, none is more splendid than Michael Attenborough’s latest production of King Lear at the Almeida, with Jonathan Pryce in the title role. Not only is Pryce gut-wrenchingly good – every aspect of this riveting production deserves praise.

Pryce’s Lear is full of subtlety and dynamism. By turns forceful and frail, he makes the character’s decline unbearably moving, even while injecting an unusual degree of humour into the role. But any banter comes with a steely edge – this is a man used to people laughing when he tells a joke. There is a residual power that makes it easy to imagine what kind of ruler he was.

There are also fine performances in the supporting roles, especially from the women in the cast. Phoebe Fox is a spirited Cordelia whose prickly edge makes it easy to identify her as her father’s daughter. Zoe Waites and Jenny Jules play Goneril and Regan with a terrifying ferocity that remains credible despite the extremity of their actions.

Tom Scutt’s design makes the most of the stripped-back venue, evoking prisons and army camps, adding to a tense production that at times is paced like a thriller. Attenborough’s attention to detail is captivating – watching the actors’ hands, as they reflect emotions from repression through to violence, becomes compelling. You will be gripped the whole way through.

Until 3 November 2012


Photo by Keith Pattison

Written 12 September 2012 for The London Magazine

“Moon on a Rainbow Shawl” at the National Theatre

The National Theatre’s revival of Errol John’s 1957 play, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl, is only the fourth time the work has been seen in London. Michael Buffong’s production is, therefore, an opportunity not to be missed: this is a good old-fashioned play with a cracking plot and an authentic voice that ensures it still sounds fresh.

A group of Trinidadian neighbours, each with their own dreams and dramas, struggle to make the most of their lives. Their humble stories have a universal resonance and the characters are wonderfully drawn. Moon on a Rainbow Shawl has its brutal moments, but is always deeply humane, and finds the humour in its protagonists’ harsh conditions.

None of the characters is a saint but each has some heroic spark. Ephraim, a trolley bus driver desperate to better himself, and Sophia, a struggling matriarch devoted to her bright young daughter, are remarkable roles and Danny Sapani and Martina Laird give fantastic performances. Ephraim’s rage when confronted is magnificent as is Sophia’s collapse when events escalate and she succumbs to exhausted despair.

It’s impossible not to note the magnificent Jenny Jules who plays Sophia’s arch-foe Mavis – their battles are legendary, their squabbling, as Ephraim points out, comes from living like “hogs”. Beneath its exotic location, this is a kitchen sink drama but the politics never detract from the emotions on stage.

The action is plentiful and Buffong’s production admirably physical. Unfortunately, Soutra Gilmour’s set feels restrictive, wasting rather than exploiting The Cottesloe auditorium’s wonderful intimacy. And the set causes problems with sight lines too – don’t try to scrimp on restricted view tickets for this one. Initially impressive, the production would have worked better in a larger space. Staging Moon on a Rainbow Shawl elsewhere would have given more people the chance to see the work – make sure you don’t miss out.

Until 9 June 2012


Photo by Jonathan Kennan

Written 19 March 2012 for The London Magazine

“Ruined” at the Almeida Theatre

Ruined began with a trip author Lynn Nottage took to East Africa in 2004. Wanting to write about war through the eyes of the women involved, she interviewed refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The stories she heard form the core of her Pulitzer Prize-winning play, now given its European premiere at The Almeida Theatre.

The testimony Nottage took down is often so painful and extreme that you are powerfully shaken by its veracity – nobody could make this up. The victims of war she spoke to suffered many kinds of trauma, but Ruined focuses on the shocking practice of rape as a weapon of war.

The play takes place in Mama Nadi’s brothel. She employs those who cannot go home after their abduction and rape, since it is said they would bring shame upon their families. The women serve the various armies who battle over the country and the miners who are there to exploit the Congo’s rich natural resources. The prostitutes are not the worst off. Other women are left physically mutilated by their experience, in constant pain and unable to bear children. They are the ones who are said to be ruined.

Sophie (Pippa Bennett-Warner) is one such woman. Her uncle brings her to Mama Nadi and begs for her to be given a home. She comes with Salima (Michelle Asante) and meets Josephine (Kehinde Fadipe). These are three magnificent performances. Each woman carries a heavy emotional burden and as their stories unfold, we learn not only of their pain but also of their dreams. The fear they share is mixed with anger and also hope. These are performances crafted with great skill to give the characters the dignity they deserve.

Jenny Jules is just as wonderful as Mama Nadi. It really is one of those performances of a lifetime. Mama seems to care only for money, everyone is simply a customer, regardless of their politics, and her only concern is to put food on the table. Like Scarlett O’Hara or Mother Courage, she is called a ‘devilish optimist’ for making money out of the turmoil around her.

By feeding these women, she is also looking after them and the fine moral line she treads between fighting for them and bullying them in turn only becomes more complicated as we learn her story. It is a wonderfully nuanced role and performance. Her formidable approach does not just win respect – it gets laughs as well. The budding romance between her and Sophie’s uncle, played with charm by Lucian Msamati, moves from touching to heartbreaking as Mama Nadi’s secret is revealed and her hopes exposed.

Against the constantly threatening backdrop of war, violence pervades Ruined. The soldiers who patronise Mama Nadi’s are a convincingly frightening presence. It is not just gunfire and explosions that these women have to be afraid of but each client they prostitute themselves to. It makes for great tension and drama. But the noise isn’t all artillery – there is music as well – life goes on at Mama Nadi’s because these victims of war are also survivors. The story of this survival is one of those rare pieces of theatre that needs to be seen by as many people as possible.

Until 5 June 2010


Photo by Tristram Kenton

Written 27 April 2010 for The London Magazine