Tag Archives: Nikolai Foster

“My Beautiful Launderette” from the Curve Leicester

In the hope of much-needed donations during lockdown, director Nikolai Foster has made this archival recording, from a production last year, available to theatre lovers. Hanif Kureishi’s own adaptation of his renowned 1985 film, concerning immigration and 1980s Britain, proves a real treat.

The recording is of a dress rehearsal – so not strictly suitable for review – but well worth watching. Playing to an empty auditorium, a few of the performances are somewhat shrill. But this is impressive work in progress from the nine-strong cast that made me envy those lucky enough to have seen the show.

Gordon Warnecke (who played Omar in the original film) and Kammy Darweish play brothers from Pakistan. Kureishi’s script conveys a strong sense of their history, even though they only meet in the final scene. There’s a similarly fantastic chemistry between the leads from a younger generation – Johnny and Omar – played by Jonny Fines and Omar Malik respectively. And a strong performance from Hareet Deol as family friend Salim, who is “cunning, dangerous and a liar”, with each quality shown with convincing menace.

It’s the changes Kureishi has made to his script, which Foster directs with confidence, that fascinate. Deol benefits, as his role is far more central as part of a boosted plot. The roles of Nasser’s wife and daughter (now “a revolutionary”) have both been expanded. There’s also more to hear from Johnny’s fascist friends, a move that isn’t so successful. The two characters here are just too stupid: that may be accurate given their views, but it doesn’t serve the piece dramatically – despite the violence in the play, they are bizarrely unthreatening.

While the love affair between Johnny and Omar was explicit in the film, Kureishi spends more time with their relationship on stage. Starting as friends, their love story develops with humour, tenderness and eroticism. The romance makes for some magical theatrical moments that use Grace Smart’s set and a soundtrack from none other than the Pet Shop Boys to great effect. 

Seeing this recording will surely make you miss live theatre more than ever, provoking fond memories for those lucky enough to have seen the show for real and providing a chance for the rest of us to glimpse a fascinating show I’d love to see revived sometime.

Available at www.curveonline.co.uk/the-show-must-go-online/

“What the Butler Saw” from the Curve Leicester

While trapped in our homes due to the Covid-19 lockdown, the generosity of theatres all over the country means that we can enjoy shows from venues we might not normally visit. This production of Joe Orton’s classic 1967 madhouse comedy, from the Curve Theatre Leicester, is one of many examples of plays from places I’m afraid I’ve never been to.

A word of warning: the recording is very much for archival purposes, as the camera is static and at the back of the auditorium. It’s a long way from the broadcasts put on for cinemas by NTLive. The sound quality is poor. But, to be positive, it’s closer to your average trip to the theatre – there’s even coughing and chatting from the crowd that you can pretend to shush if you like!

What the Butler Saw is a great play. Orton’s mix of crude farce, Wildean epigrams and just a touch of horror is extraordinary – clever as well as funny. Director Nikolai Foster gives the show the speed it needs, as outrageous characters all descend into a “democratic lunacy”, while a talented cast delivers the often complex dialogue assuredly. 

Rufus Hound and Catherine Russell both give star turns as the unhappily married Dr and Mrs Prentice, who run a madhouse and should qualify as inmates. Hound starts off nicely reserved, although not missing any chance to be saucy, and escalates the action marvellously. Russell ensures her character matches her husband for malice and has a great icy edge. Dakota Blue Richards and Jack Holden acquit themselves well as a prim secretary and a blackmailing hotel bellboy who cross-dress and change identities to great effect. Stealing the show is Jasper Britton as the visiting government inspector, Dr Rance. Britton delivers Orton’s convoluted nonsense superbly, with terrific ravings and delightfully delivered crazy theories. He is, of course, the maddest of a mad bunch.

Best of all, Orton’s play still shocks. The question of how our squeamishness might have changed since it was first written is raised: Dr Prentice as predator is surely more uncomfortable, likewise the jokes about sexual assault and rape. But Orton’s queasy incest theme and satirical highlighting of all kinds of hypocrisy haven’t faded in their power at all. The “pointless and disgusting” subject matter and increasing improbabilities, handled with Orton’s fantastic energy, pose a challenge as well as plenty of laughs.

Available for the duration of the lockdown

https://www.curveonline.co.uk/the-show-must-go-online/

"Breakfast at Tiffany’s" at the Theatre Royal Haymarket

Richard Greenberg’s adaptation of Truman Capote’s novella wins admiration for resolutely not replicating the famous film onstage. Going back to the original source, there’s a determination to show the dark side of heroine Holly Golightly’s desperate life: prostitution, abuse and depression, described as the “mean reds”. It’s a disorientating experience for an audience if expectations are based on the production poster. Not necessarily a bad thing.
Sitting near me, a fan of singer Pixie Lott, who takes top billing in a font size bigger than the title, seemed puzzled. It can’t have been the thin story, which director Nikolai Foster propels nicely. Maybe it’s the small amount of singing (although what there is impresses). Lott gives a credible performance, tethered by studiously avoiding any trace of the movie’s iconic star, Audrey Hepburn. Here, Holly is blonde, defiant and downright sexy – it really is “Golightly gone” – a total transformation. A fine idea, but consequently we have to wait until two emotional scenes near the end to really glimpse Lott’s considerable acting potential.

Matt
Matt Barber

It’s clear to Lott, although it may be another surprise to some, that Holly isn’t the focus here. It’s Capote’s alter ego, a nameless writer, we are forced to focus on. Played by an exceptionally hard working Matt Barber, who injects a good deal of dynamism, fiercely holding the show together, it all comes down to how interesting you find this one writer’s struggle for success and journey of sexual discovery.
Capote, of course, found himself fascinating. If you don’t share his opinion, despite Foster’s efforts, the story is inconsequential. The show comes close to feeling like breakfast, lunch and dinner at Tiffany’s when just a cup of coffee would have sufficed. And there’s a cat – an astonishingly well-trained one you can follow on Twitter (@TiffanysBobCat). While everyone here is far too good to be upstaged by his feline talents, I’d rather follow him than the author any day.
Greenberg’s work is exemplary in creating the feel of a short story on stage – which is interesting – so the crux is how much Capote you can cope with? The case against? Holly isn’t quite the invention she’s cracked up to be, while secondary characters are weak, with the ensemble reduced to dodgy divertissements (rollerskates? No thank you). If you like your humour waspish with a big dose of self-indulgence, this fine production serves the author better than he deserves.
www.breakfastattiffanys.co.uk
Until 17 September 2016
Photos by Sean Ebsworth Barnes

"Beautiful Thing" at the Arts Theatre

Jonathan Harvey’s iconic gay coming-of-age story, Beautiful Thing, celebrates its 20th anniversary with a new production at the Arts Theatre in Covent Garden. Despite some nostalgic nods, the play is as fresh as ever: a skilfully written comedy drama with fantastic roles and an admirably un-patronising focus on working-class life. Beautiful Thing touches on universal themes with a winning bravery.
The huge success of the play, and the subsequent 1996 film, create a special atmosphere with seemingly every audience member knowing every line. The jokes – of which there are plenty – are anticipated gleefully and the roars of laughter almost interrupt the action. Director Nikolai Foster gives the crowd what they want and his staging is a respectful affair. But it’s impressive to note his firm hand, with moments of quiet imposed as the relationship between the two young boys, Ste and Jamie, neighbours on a council estate in Thamesmead, blossoms into romance.

Beautiful Thing - Jake Davies & Suranne Jones - cMike Lidbetter for QNQ Ltd
Suranne Jones and Jake Davies

The superb Suranne Jones as Jamie’s mother shows the piece is as much about parental relationships as anything else. Playing the hard-nosed Sandra with skill, duelling with her neighbour Leah and dealing with her lover Tony (Zaraah Abrahams and Oliver Farnworth – both in fine form), Jones gives a tremendous emotional edge to the role. Through strong performances from Jake Davies and Danny-Boy Hatchard, Jamie and Ste’s shared fears about emotions and the future are presented as those of boys rather than men – an important point central to the play. Harvey’s writing and the skill of the young actors enhance the empathy and humour and ensure sure the play lives up to its title.
Until 25 May 2013
Photos by Mike Lidbetter
Written 18 April 2013 for The London Magazine