Tag Archives: Kate Fahy

“Handbagged” at the Kiln Theatre

It feels odd to watch not one but two versions of Queen Elizabeth on stage so soon after her death. A respectful minute’s silence before last night’s show, lead by director Indhu Rubasingham, indicates careful thought has gone into letting Moira Buffini’s five star play go ahead.  But for all the fun in this hilarious piece, which cheekily imagines the Queen’s private meetings with her Prime Minister Mrs. Thatcher, her Majesty comes off very well.

That public statements were not allowed to our constitutional monarch means Buffini can make the Queen a contrast to the Prime Minister. Turns out the richest woman in the world had a lot of concerns about social inequality. And her passion for the Commonwealth gives a global perspective in contrast to Thatcher’s little Britain. But there’s also tenderness in Buffini’s writing about the Queen – she’s presented as a fun, witty woman and a caring mother.

All the Queen’s admirable qualities are conveyed by the actors taking on what must be a particularly challenging role right now. Both Abigail Cruttenden and Marion Bailey, as younger and older versions respectively, give strong performances and make a lot of the lines even funnier than they already are; you could happily spend the night watching Bailey’s every expert move.

Buffini is harder on Thatcher. The role is written with more anger and is possibly closer to caricature. The performances from Naomi Frederick and Kate Fahy respond appropriately. Frederick, as the younger version, manages to suggest nervousness about dealing with a figure she reveres that generates a little sympathy. Fahy’s line in dignity, as she looks back on her time at the top, is convincing no matter her views. The scorn with which both women can say the word ‘socialist’ or ‘wet’ is tremendous.

The way all four characters interact as they try to take charge of the story about Britain during the Thatcher years is hilarious. The blend of sarcasm and sincerity is perfect – the quartet of perspectives battle to tell and interpret what happened. The subject of Thatcher’s dementia provides a moving moment and yet another layer of consideration about interpreting the past. Buffini’s script is dazzling and you don’t want to miss a word.

There’s more to Handbagged than some fantastic comedy and strong impersonations – although both of these make the show a must-see. Two more characters join the stage – ‘Actors’ played by Romayne Andrews and Richard Cant who also impress as a variety of famous faces with great lines. The main role of these super supernumeraries is to highlight what putting on a play – and a play about history – entails.

Pointing out what Thatcher and the Queen don’t want to discuss, slowing down the show to their frustration or embarrassment, the ‘Actors’ interjections are often funny and make sure that their characters are satisfyingly full. Attempts at directing these powerful women are brilliant moments, aided by the show’s real director too. Rubasingham directed the first production of the play, almost ten years ago, and her knowledge shines through, brimming with joyous confidence about the strength of what’s on stage: the respectful, you might say faithful, approach to this modern classic seems very much in keeping with our times.

Until 29 October 2022

www.kilntheatre.com

Photo by Tristram Kenton

“Rosenbaum’s Rescue” at the Park Theatre

The fate of Denmark’s Jews during World War II is a starting point in A Bodin Saphir’s play. But it’s relatively recent investigations into events that become the focal point. And the debate, between a survivor and a historian – two men whose personal lives are intimately connected – makes this a play about family history as well. These three strands are worked with varying degrees of success to make a cautiously written debut play that’s for the most part impressive, but seldom inspired.

The history – of a mass evacuation that occurred with remarkably little loss of life – is summarised efficiently. It’s important as well as interesting and given immediacy by seeing its long-reaching effects on the lives of Abraham and Lars. Up next, revising what has become a pillar of Danish national identity has great potential as a story – it’s a smart insight, ripe for our times, that ‘post-truth’ is nothing new – but it ends up dramatically clunky. Lars, the academic casting suspicion on the “miracle” of a modern exodus, seems to be the world’s worst historian. Denying the possibility of interpretation, he’s eager to ignore detail in his search for the “whole truth”. The character is impossible to believe and the role leaves Neil McCaul as merely a mouthpiece for ideas.

David Bamber as Abraham has a happier time pursuing the drama of a man of faith pitted against facts. Trouble is, for all director Kate Fahy’s admirable efforts to keep the piece focused, this feels like another play, rather than a component of an argument already established. Bamber is convincing – even in a scene where Abraham becomes a surprising villain, as parallels are drawn with the issue of immigration today. Let’s hope we’d all agree about the dangers of a right-wing resurgence in Europe, but the topic is badly shoe-horned into this play.

Dorothea Myer-Bennett & Julia Swift

With the family drama we’re on surer ground. Again, there are tyro touches when it comes to drawing Lars’ daughter, Sara. She’s just your average former scientist turned performing arts reviewer and aspiring novelist (how’s that for fleshing out a character?). And she’s also that person you only meet in a play who instantly offers up a definition for a word they’ve just used. Nonetheless, Julia Swift does a superb job in the role, making you want to hear more from the character and see her generation’s perspective. And the play’s strongest feature is the relationship between Abraham and his wife, played to perfection by Dorothea Myer-Bennett. Providing some much-needed humour, the marriage anchors the play and confirms the fundamental promise of Bodin Saphir’s writing.

Until 9 February 2019

www.parktheatre.co.uk

Photos by Mark Douet

“A Lie of the Mind” at the Southwark Playhouse

Sam Shepard’s award-winning 1985 play is a slow-burning, haunting family drama. After a brutal act of domestic violence, Beth is left brain damaged and her husband Jake unhinged. Their families, aiming to care for them, become increasingly irrational, unlocking the play’s momentum and considerable dramatic power.

Gethin Anthony and Alexandra Dowling acquit themselves well as Jake and Beth. These are difficult roles and the temptation for shrillness isn’t fully controlled. Shepard is averse to sentimentality and makes it a struggle to empathise with these damaged figures. Nonetheless, Anthony and Dowling convey their characters as repositories of cumulative pain.

Gethin Anthony, Mike Lonsdale and Alexandra Dowling
Gethin Anthony, Mike Lonsdale and Alexandra Dowling

The couple’s siblings have problems too. Initially overshadowed by Jake’s instability, his brother and sister, played by Michael Fox and Laura Rogers, do well to build their roles, acting as foils for the increasing oddity around them. Meanwhile, Robert Lonsdale gives a cracking performance as Beth’s consoling and then avenging brother. Caught up in a maelstrom of metaphor, Lonsdale gives the role clarity.

Best of all are the older characters, portrayed with conviction and welcome humour by a skilled trio so that the play’s dated gender relations create fewer snags here. Shepard is too sophisticated to blame the parents for the sins or woes of the children, but a legacy of emotional repression is clear. Nancy Crane and Kate Fahy play the mothers – far too keen to have their kids back at home and infantilised. John Stahl gives a strong performance as Beth’s irascible father, whose tirade against ageing is one of the play’s finest moments.

Marshalling all this – and it’s a lot – is James Hillier’s direction. Some of Shepard’s dark humour isn’t transmitted and a firmer hand on histrionics with a little more work on accents would be welcome. But Hillier has created a stylish show, aided by live music from James Marples. The production appreciates Shepard’s extremes, giving his Americana a back seat to examine the topical subject of mental health. It’s a solid revival of a fascinating play.

Until 27 May 2017

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photos by Lidia Crisafulli