Tag Archives: Johnny Flynn

“True West” at the Vaudeville Theatre

Director Matthew Dunster makes commendably light work of Sam Shepard’s heavy play. With a couple of star names attached – Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn – the production is enjoyable and entertaining.

Dunster and his cast, who play two bickering brothers, have a keen appreciation of Shepard’s humour. Even as their antics flip from the sinister to the increasingly desperate, elements of the absurd are emphasised. While the siblings’ estrangement has a longer history than Harington or Flynn manage to suggest and the tension throughout could be sharper (Flynn is never quite as physically threatening as the text suggests), these are detailed studies and the performances are worth the price of admission. Harington is unrecognisable as the geeky Austin, a semi-successful screen writer. His rivalry with Lee, who Flynn makes a charismatic rogue, is subtly played. As the movie Austin thought he had lined up is canned, in preference to a feeble pitch that part-time crook Lee thought up and promoted through a combination of gambling and “beginner’s luck”, the professional setback leads to a breakdown that Harington makes very convincing.

Austin’s occupation – and, through it, Shepard’s exploration of writing – proves tiresome. The illusions crafted in movies (not films, please note) are all a part of exploring that old American Dream. Admittedly Shepard does this in credible detail. The sense of time and place is wonderful – credit to Jon Bausor’s set and costume design here, too – but this is a small spin on an old topic. And credit, also, to raising the problems associated with masculinity at a time before the word toxic was attached to any discussion of men. Sadly, accurate as it may be, True West is ultimately heavy handed despite the efforts of a talented director and his leading men.

Until 23 February 2019

www.nimaxtheatres.com

Photo by Marc Brenner

“Hangmen” at the Royal Court

Taking capital punishment as a subject makes sense for a writer as darkly comic as Martin McDonagh. The story of the second-best hangman in England, set on the day the death penalty is abolished, makes a superb vehicle for David Morrissey in the lead. Having just confirmed its transfer into the West End, it’s already a hit.

There are a very respectable number of laughs, with lots of period detail. Hangman Harry, now a Northern publican, makes an effective mouthpiece for a variety of sexist and racist views. His objection to the guillotine? “It’s messy and French.” Morrissey is brilliant at bullish and brings a nasty, sharp edge to this unlikeable character. Harry’s customer-cum-cronies in his bar are good value as well and nicely performed. The only issue is that perhaps it isn’t very original.

Sally Rogers (Alice) and Bronwyn James (Shirley) in Hangmen by Martin McDonagh directed by Matthew Dunster Credit Simon Annand.jpg
Sally Rogers and Bronwyn James

The tension in Hangmen is more taut than the comedy. A mysterious stranger, played with offbeat menace by Johnny Flynn, brings suspense. And Reece Shearsmith, as Harry’s former colleague, gives a fine performance as an unwitting and inept conspirator. There are also fine turns from Harry’s wife and their “mopey” daughter, Sally Rogers and Bronwyn James, respectively. Their dialogue is impeccable and hugely impressive.

Towards the end, the show really takes off. The more dangerous things get, the funnier they become. Harry’s megalomania erupts in outlandish fashion and the plot twists in a pleasantly unpredictable manner. Briefly interrupted by the arrival of his nemesis, the more famous executioner Albert Pierrepoint, played expertly by John Hodgkinson, the scene is excruciating funny – this is the stuff. Maybe it’s greedy to expect it to be this good all the way through?

Until 10 October 2015 and then at Wyndham’s Theatre from the 1 December – 5 March 2016

www.royalcourttheatre.com

Photos by Simon Annand

“The Low Road” at the Royal Court

The Low Road, a new play by Bruce Norris, is Dominic Cooke’s final production as Artistic Director of The Royal Court. It follows a long tradition at the theatre, but particularly under Cooke, of challenging new writing. Masterfully directed, with a joyous rebelliousness, as exemplified by Tom Pye’s freewheeling set design, the focus is nevertheless on the writer, and his startling text.

Norris’ last play, also for the Royal Court, was the smash hit Clybourne Park, a satire on racism and property. For The Low Road he takes economics as his subject, and more specifically Adam Smith, of The Wealth of Nations fame. The play examines the 18th century philosopher’s ideas, recounted as a fable about one Jim Trumpett: “his education, his progress and his eventual undoing”.

Smith himself appears as our narrator, played by Bill Paterson. His performance is hilarious and he’s in total command of the stage, which is appropriate given the manner in which Smith propounds his philosophy. Trumpett (played by Johnny Flynn) is a character who is inspired by Smith’s ideals and takes them to their extremes. Flynn is impressive as a Hogarthian villain who treats all the other characters in the piece appallingly. And there are plenty of them. The Low Road features a huge cast, taking on numerous roles with magnificent speed. Elizabeth Berrington in particular, who plays several female leads, has superb comic skills.

The highlight of the show is a magnificent scene resembling the last supper, in which Trumpett turns on a hospitable religious group – challenging the charity he himself has benefited from, with breathtaking tastelessness. Trumpett’s morality of the markets, in which taxation is seen as the only evil, sees him clash with wealthy civil society too. And protestors, past and present also feature (a scene at an economic forum that rewards less than it should). It all culminates in an epilogue so startling, it’s a little alienating. There are also some knowing references to the fact that some might doubt the theatre is the best forum for a debate to resolve the nature of capitalism.

The play has a showy intelligence, and is technically brilliant, with olde English dialogue full of wit and profanities to get the giggles in. It has an embarrassment of rich ideas, and if at times it overreaches, it still cannot fail to impress. Norris’ exegesis of economics is tremendous, his presentation respects the audience’s intelligence, and the imagination applied to Smith’s metaphors is ingenious.

Until 11 May 2013

www.royalcourttheatre.com

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 28 March 2013 for The London Magazine

“Richard III” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Mark Rylance, former artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, makes his return to the theatre in the title role of Richard III. The play is always a star vehicle, and Rylance’s Richard is a stuttering, often jovial figure who gets plenty of laughs. Playing with the theatricality of his character, a smart move that suits Rylance, his conspiratorial tone delights. It takes time to appreciate Richard’s darkness, but when he chooses, Rylance shows a startling, unashamedly psychotic King, making sure his depiction will be one to go down in theatre history.

Alongside Rylance the whole production, under the direction of Tim Carroll, shows skilful pacing. The speed of the action is breakneck but the riveting ensemble seize the attention masterfully. Special notice must go to Roger Lloyd Pack as the King-maker Buckingham, matching Richard in his cynical malevolence up to the point of murdering the princes in the Tower: when Lloyd Pack exits to consider the usurping King’s request, it is a moment of great tension, superbly performed.

This is an all-male production. Without revisiting the debate on this approach, and stressing that those taking on female roles give superb performances (especially Johnny Flynn, who plays Richard’s unwilling wife Anne), the move is indicative of a traditional approach to the play. There’s no dwelling on the history here or the superstition rife in early modern society – Shakespeare took both for granted after all. The emphasis is on drama and entertainment.

Thoroughly at home on his old stomping ground, Rylance leads the cast in exploiting the dominant feature of the Globe – its ability to encourage audience participation. Whether it’s knowing glances that create complicity or shared outrage at Richard’s demonic actions, Carroll’s production is always engaging. With direct appeals for cheers as he is encouraged to take the throne, Richard gets the applause Shakespeare’s play has denied him as a figure in history – in the case of this production, the cheers are well deserved.

Until 13 October 2012 and then transferring to the Apollo Theatre from 6 November 2012

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Simon Annand

Written 26 July 2012 for The London Magazine