Tag Archives: Lily Arnold

“God of Carnage” at the Lyric Hammersmith

Yasmina Reza’s 2008 play was a huge hit in Paris, London, and New York. The story of parents who meet to discuss their sons fighting – and end up at odds themselves – is neat and entertaining. This production, from Nicholai La Barrie, makes it easy to see why the play was such a success.

The show is funny and thought-provoking – two big ticks. The way the adults become “infantile themselves” might not be subtle but it is amusing. Moving from questions of parenting to a battle of the sexes – as neither marriage is happy – ensures tension mounts. Regrettably, the production doesn’t add much to appreciating the piece. The cast are competent, everything runs slickly…but there no surprises.

There’s plenty of closely studied work to enjoy though. Freema Agyeman and Martin Hutson play the parents of the child who has been injured. From “people of good will” to an admission of being only “moderate on the surface”, the performers inject humour if, possibly, a little too much energy. Ariyon Bakare and Dinita Gohil play opposite them, their more financially successful characters are also played for laughs from the start. The result comes too close to flat, especially Alain who, even given that he is a lawyer, we dislike too easily!

If too much is overplayed, especially some unconvincing machismo and onstage drinking (only Gohil really manages here), there can be no doubt about the privilege with a capital P in the play. Each of the performers comes over as entitled in slightly different ways. As the characters start to argue and say that the day is the worst of their lives, there is less and less sympathy for any of them. Some bold moments come with Alain’s claim they are all making too much of boys fighting. La Barrie, and his cast, do well when focusing attention on this aspect of the script.

Despite being only 15 years old, the play hasn’t aged well. It’s possible a stronger sense of place and time might be needed. Lily Arnold’s gorgeous design doesn’t do much to help here (although the revolve is handled exceptionally well by La Barrie). Time has blunted some of Reza’s satirical edge. It’s not just talk about mobile phones and man bags; of course, Alain’s phone calls are supposed to be annoying, but anger about them arrives too quickly.

More seriously, it’s easier nowadays to see the confrontation that is going to arise between all four characters. It’s a shame to say it, but it’s almost hard to believe they wait so long before fighting. With less tension, there is little sense of danger in the production. While Reza’s work is often described as a comedy of manners, there are serious moments. The questions around human nature are clear; is it going too far to entertain the idea of a clash of cultures? The piece could get far darker. With the drama diluted, this God of Carnage ends up too down to earth.

Until 30 September 2023


“A Doll’s House” from the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre

Artistic director Rachel O’Riordan’s brief introduction to this chance to see her superb work online – unfortunately only for one day – was offered with “recovery and hope for the future” in mind. There’s the important call for donations, but also a reminder of theatre’s importance as a place for diversity, inclusion and seeing stories from different perspectives. Her choice of Tanika Gupta’s acclaimed version of Ibsen’s classic illustrates her point perfectly. It’s fantastic theatre.

While O’Riordan points out that the recording was for archival purposes, as opposed to broadcast, so the action is often shot from the Gods – this doesn’t detract from a show that sounds and looks great from the start – with music from Arun Ghosh and gorgeous design by Lily Arnold. And what is on offer here is very special. Gupta takes a plot from Ibsen, an urgent objection to hypocrisy and injustice, and deep psychological insight with complex characters. But transposing Ibsen’s Norway for India ruled by the Raj adds immeasurably – it’s one of the finest ‘new versions’ I’ve seen.

While Ibsen’s period setting is preserved, the extra layer of colonial and racial concerns adds power. Nora, now Niru, is married to a British official, and the prejudice she has faced, along with Indian unrest, form a backdrop for the action. Yet Gupta handles all this with a light touch that O’Riordan appreciates throughout. That’s important – some things said may shock but this would have been the characters’ everyday lives. Nuances of complicity and acceptance as much as anger at injustice are all present. Gupta is blunt about British rule, and particularly justice, but Indians are also criticised. And the patriarchy is a target, too.

If any of this sounds a little… worthy… Gupta also impresses by how exciting she makes the play. There’s a great sense of menace as “past evils and mistakes” circle around every scene. Dr Rank, the at-death’s-door depressive becomes a serious character, the flirtation with Niru queasily upsetting as well as erotic. Niru’s old friend Mrs Lahiri, who admits her jealousy, makes a great role for Tripti Tripuraneni while Das (Krogstad in Ibsen) is just as good. Das is the play’s villain, a “thoroughly nasty specimen”, but he is also a complex character as Assad Zaman adds real fire to the role.

The lead roles share Gupta’s skill with characterisation and the result is a triumph for both Elliot Cowan as Tom Helmer and Anjana Vasan as Niru.

Cowan’s character has a little too much resting on him in this version but it is still an effective disappointment to see how far he falls. His love for his wife, however misguided, convinces. Their marriage is developed with great detail. Vasan’s performance is suitably nuanced and incredibly rich: flirty, sulky, stubborn, hopeful and despairing, the common factor is an intoxicating energy. When it comes to a scene of Niru dancing, on display for Tom’s English friends so that plenty of uncomfortable connotations come to the fore, Vasan is truly riveting.

There is a strength behind Niru that is gripping. As the plot resolves, her dream of happiness is still broken and her “stern” look at Tom is fully justified: he insultingly offers her “classes” but Niru isn’t the playful pupil anymore. Moving to freedom with more resolution than Ibsen imagined, taking what’s best from her literary predecessor, Gupta gives us the ending we really want. 

Available 20 May 2020

To support visit www.lyric.co.uk

Photo by Helen Maybanks

“Love-Lies-Bleeding” at the Print Room

While Don DeLillo’s status as a Great American Novelist, with all those capital letters, is seldom questioned, his work as a playwright is less well known. If this turgid effort, receiving a UK premiere, is anything to go by, that might be best for the great man’s reputation.

The scenario is thin from the start and not developed – a great artist being euthanised by his family after a stroke reduces him to a persistent vegetative state. It’s an important subject, increasingly urgent in our society, but DeLillo adds nothing to the debate. Instead we get recollections of marriage and art that may be of interest, but only if you happen to be an East Coast intellectual. Both niche and unenlightening, it ends up boring.

Clara Indrani and Jack Wilkinson

The characters are well acted but too solipsistic to care about. The charisma needed for the lead comes entirely from Joe McGann’s performance. It’s too hard to credit that others are “clustered” around to support his character’s passing. Josie Lawrence is always watchable as his ex-wife and even manages to inject some humour. Jack Wilkinson takes the part of the son, Sean, and he deals with slowly revealed mixed motives and anger well. But nothing can save incredulity when it comes to the fumbled efforts with morphine; surely you’d read your Google printouts before overdosing your father? The current wife and carer, played admirably by Clara Indrani, has the only part with real emotion. But her role is hampered by some new age sentiment that needs further explication to stop it being nonsensical. When she requests, “Let’s not analyse”, she seems to be in the wrong play.

And these guys talk. Convoluted sentences make up a dense and unbelievable dialogue that ends up a drone. Even at 90 minutes it’s clear some editing is needed, as is energy – director Jack McNamara seems overawed by DeLillo’s text. An effort is made with an expensive set from Lily Arnold – there’s some movement at least – but static scenes drag despite their brevity. Worst of all, nearly every line, no matter how unoriginal or even silly, is presented as profound. It’s an approach that kills the script and hampers the performers. The script is bludgeoned, the performances strangled and the play ends up dead.

Until 8 December 2018


Photos by Tristram Kenton

“Peddling” at the Arcola Theatre

Harry Melling’s debut as a playwright, already acclaimed at the HighTide Festival and Off-Broadway, is currently running at the Arcola Theatre. The tragic story of a nameless, homeless youth, struggling with poor mental health and failed by social services, is an original and intelligent work. With its finger on the pulse of our times, Peddling feels filled with an urgent energy that demands our attention.

Melling’s writing is poetic and, at almost an hour long, his play, in which he stars as the sole performer, is an impressively coherent achievement. The script may not carry the emotional punch you might expect from its subject matter, yet it is raw and unsentimental, clear and ambitious, taking on big issues of inequality in our society. The poetic elements work perfectly to reflect the protagonist’s confused mental state, injecting a good deal of tension in his potential for violence.

Working with director Steven Atkinson, it’s no surprise that Melling brings an extraordinary commitment to his own writing and performance. It’s intense, yes, but also unusually sincere. And Atkinson’s staging, placing the action within Lily Arnold’s startling design of a transparent box suggesting a cage, creates an uncomfortable intimacy, which adds to an already powerful night of theatre.

Until 28 March 2015


Photo by Nobby Clark