Tag Archives: Kiln Theatre

“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

“Girl on an Altar” at the Kiln Theatre

For all its emotional power and intellectual sophistication, the triumph of this retelling of Clytemnestra’s story from Marina Carr is its directness. The play is moving and stimulating but, above all, it is marvellously, beautifully, clear. Writing this skilled should not be missed.

In this story of Clytemnestra’s revenge after her husband Agamemnon sacrifices their daughter Iphigenia, every character is incredibly detailed. Each role narrates the action (like a Greek chorus) as well as soliloquising, addressing the audience, and engaging in blistering argument. Flipping effortlessly between approaches is a credit to every performer and Annabelle Comyn’s flawless direction. And the mix, applied with impeccable naturalism, lulls us towards a breathtaking finale.

It is easy to see Carr’s efforts as a welcome feminist take on the story that brings women to the fore. Eileen Walsh is stunning in the lead role, with a performance that is raw but also calculating. Walsh cannot be praised enough. But there are also strong role for her servant, Cilissa, and Cassandra, played by Kate Stanley Brennan and Nina Bowers respectively, who have their own stories fully realised.

And let’s not underestimate Carr’s achievement, as the role of alpha-male Agamemnon, and the performance from David Walmsley, are just as strong. Can the daughter-killing-tyrant really have any defence? Believe it or not, Carr plays devil’s advocate and puts forward some strong sophistry. You can almost… possibly… feel a little sorry for the hero? In a play obsessed with war, and what war does to men, Agamemnon is trapped by politics, machismo and battle lust – the latter so vividly evoked by bloody and metallic imagery that you can practically taste this play.

Clytemnestra and Agamemnon still love each other – adding further impact to the tragedy. Carr shows how grief can transcend all as Agamemnon says his wife is “moving somewhere beyond men and women”. In a pivotal scene of seduction, Walsh seems to overpower Walmsley physically as much as emotionally. It must be seen to be believed and is a credit to both performers. This is a superb text – daring and original – executed expertly. 

Until 25 June 2022

www.kilntheatre.com

Photo by  Peter Searle

"Snowflake" at the Kiln Theatre

Even if you think Christmas plays aren’t for you, Mike Bartlett might change your mind. Here’s a show that, thankfully, doesn’t expect us to switch off our brains during December. And in this look at contemporary family life there’s not a trace of the nostalgia that consumes the festive season. At the same time, Snowflake ends a long way from doom and division: Bartlett gives us a heart-warming and clear lesson that’s feelgood enough to teach any Scrooge.

Starting with a 40-minute monologue from Elliot Levey, as Andy waiting to see his daughter for the first time in three years, the first pleasure here is a brilliant performance. And maybe a cheeky streak? How much is Bartlett playing with the fact that this middle-aged, middle-class man – given such a massive role – is just the person we hear too much from in the theatre?

Depending on your age, you might find Andy patronising to the point of being insufferable…or maybe just lame. At first the generation gap is gently prodded; the humour is pretty standard. But there’s real pain behind the Dad jokes. Andy doesn’t know why he is estranged from his daughter Maya. He is still grieving for his wife. And he feels his age, comparing himself to an Anglo-Saxon dummy on display at his local museum. Bartlett’s skill is to give us a midlife crisis that’s interesting (for once) and Levey does a brilliant job with it.

It’s pretty obvious that a confrontation with Andy’s daughter will occur. But Bartlett handles this well, too, and I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise. Suffice to say that, with the aid of Clare Lizzimore’s sure-handed direction, not one but two younger voices get to be heard. Amber James’ character, Natalie, provides a welcome, energising hit, bringing fine challenges to Andy’s views and more humour to the piece. Ellen Robertson takes the part of Maya. Of course, in reference to that distasteful description of the millennial generation, she is the snowflake of the title – but Robertson makes Maya a formidable character and effectively ups the emotional stakes.

Again and again, Bartlett predicts the different responses his audience might have, twisting arguments and emotions to answer prejudices and predispositions. The result is a play with an agility that’s in keeping with the message that we all need to take more time to listen to one another better. And that maybe now is the time of year to do so. If that sounds pat, then clearly you really don’t like Christmas, let alone Christmas plays. Admittedly, there’s a sentimental streak to the show. But, since it’s partly Bartlett’s point that the season of good will should be extended to all – even those who voted for Brexit – it’s only fair to make allowances for a writer with Yuletide in mind.

Until 25 January 2020

www.kilntheatre.com

Photo by Manuel Harlan