Tag Archives: Jodie McNee

“Faustus: That Damned Woman” at the Lyric Theatre Hammersmith

We know that Faustus, who famously sold his sold to the devil, makes for a good story. It’s been told often enough. This new version from playwright Chris Bush is a mixed bag, but it does a lot with the tale’s potential, and modern twists make the story approachable and intriguing.

Changing the gender of the protagonist is a good start. The show provides a star role for Jodie McNee who plays Johanna Faustus with gusto. She’s ready to spar with Satan as much as sign Beelzebub’s book, and sexism becomes the big evil in the play.

Part of Johanna’s motive for her diabolic bargain is to be independent – to be her own woman in 17th-century London. Cue witches, corruption and the plague. Bush sets up an entertaining story with interesting ideas.

Director Caroline Byrne does a good job creating an exciting atmosphere, handling historical flavour well. There’s strong support from Katherine Carlton, Alicia Charles and Emmanuella Cole. Line Bech’s costume design also deserves a nod.

But things start to go awry with the show’s humour – there’s a playfulness with the past that doesn’t always work. The jokes are good, but dilute the tension too much. Take Mephistopheles, the devil contracted to serve Faustus: Danny Lee Wynter does well with the wit in the role, but that wit doesn’t help the play as a whole.

A further big idea is sounder – Faustus has a plan to “save the world to shame the devil”. It’s never clear how selfish our heroine is; Bush and McNee do well to keep this question open. But, of course, doing good isn’t easy, and the show becomes more a wait to see what will go wrong. While the passion that drives Johanna has an interesting origin, her anger becomes abstract and simply isn’t hot enough.

As the action moves into the future and starts to engage with technology, this coolness increases. The play gets less surprising and at times a little silly. Messing around with Elizabeth Garrett Anderson and Marie Curie turns into a diversion rather than a serious point; GM foods and minds uploaded into the cloud follow too quickly. The latter is intriguing in a play obsessed with souls (a tricky topic in 2020) but needs fuller development.

“Wait” is the show’s final word. And I like the way it’s given to Johanna. But by that point it feels as if we’ve seen enough, and Bush hasn’t managed to inject any sense of peril about what might come next. An order to the devil is appropriate for this feisty Faustus – but it’s a damp squib of an end for a play that wants to be fiery.

Until 22 February 2020

www.lyric.co.uk

Photos by Manuel Harlan

“Game” at the Almeida Theatre

The element of surprise in Mike Bartlett’s new work, Game, is a big part of its success. Theatregoers aren’t even allowed to buy the programme before the show – a neat trick that really piqued my interest. The evening is too good to give this Game away, but rest assured that this original and disturbing show isn’t one you will forget in a hurry.

It’s safe to say the play seems inspired by Big Brother and shoot-‘em-up computer games. But Bartlett’s target is neither celebrity nor mankind’s inherent violence; instead, it’s the housing market and our increasingly unequal society.

The scenario involves desperate people in a crazy situation. The plot may have flaws, but that’s not the point. Staged with amazing technical virtuosity by director Sacha Wares, with Miriam Buether’s set having transformed the theatre, the play presents a deliberately distorted and exaggerated view.

The action is literally from multiple perspectives – scenes are hidden from you and exposed to other audience members. And there are televisions to watch while you hear everything through personal headphones. So the show is immersive (if that’s your thing, Game is a must-see) and adds up to a very individual experience that’s uncomfortably intimate and uniquely theatrical.

Game aims to acknowledge too many societal woes. While Jodie McNee and Mike Noble give brilliant performances in the lead roles, minor characters are caricatures in service to blisteringly satirical moments. It’s always powerful, though. To take one key moment, we are presented with a dilemma over whether to watch the action on stage or look away. One character, ably performed by Kevin Harvey, promises not to look. Do we watch the action or watch him via camera to see if he is true to his word? Either way, we become implicit – whether as voyeur or censor.

As with previous works, Bartlett takes his outlandish premise and builds on it marvellously. There is an incredible tension at the start of each scene as the story progresses and becomes more extreme – you know you won’t like what is coming next. I can see it’s kind of brilliant, but I’ll put my hands up and admit it pushed me too far. House hunting is never much fun, but Bartlett’s treatment left me feeling depressed and a little bit sick.

Until 4 April 2015

www.almeida.co.uk

“Hobson’s Choice” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

It’s shaping up to be a special season at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre with last night’s premiere of Hobson’s Choice. Salford shoe salesman, H. H. Hobson and his fabled decisions, manipulated by his shrewish daughters, makes a blissfully nostalgic tale of money, marriage and one-upwomanship in director Nadia Fall’s enchanting production.

Updating the action from the Victorian era to the 1960s, not unlike smash hit One Man Two Guvnors, makes a comfy fit that brings Hobson’s bigotry closer to home and utilises some great music from the period. The potential for drama suffers a little by the move to the swinging sixties – Hobson is too clearly on the losing side – but there’s enough family tension to entertain, and the emphasis on jokes is a wise choice. If you like your humour Northern, you’ll be laughing a lot.

Mark Benton takes the role of the troubled trader. Certainly not more sinned against than sinning, Benton ensures he’s too funny to be sinister – which is saying something given his bullying, snobbish hypocrisy – and it’s a joy to see him “diddled”. Pitted against him are his three graceless daughters, working in the shop for free while plotting lives, or at least husbands, of their own. It’s the year of women at work in the theatre with The Pyjama Game running and Made in Dagenham coming soon. Hobson’s Choice makes an interesting precursor: literally, sisters doing it for themselves.

Hannah Britland and Nadia Clifford fill the younger sisters with spirit, while Jodie McNee is electric as Maggie. Razor-sharp and determined to tame her father, Maggie never lets us doubt the intelligence beneath the plain speaking, and cleverly understated touches show her vulnerability, too.

This is Fall’s focus – the love story at the heart of the piece and Maggie’s choice to find a man for herself. Selecting her father’s employee indicates a radical streak that makes her heroic. Karl Davies performs as Willie, the lad she transforms, and their unusual courtship produces the finest scenes in the show. Davies’ performance is so endearing you’re behind him all the way. All power to this Willie. And the woman behind him, of course.

Until 12 July 2014

www.openairtheatre.com

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 18 June 2014 for The London Magazine