Tag Archives: Patrick Marber

“Leopoldstadt” at Wyndham’s Theatre

Start your play with a Jewish family in turn of the century Vienna and an audience is sure to have expectations. Tom Stoppard knows this, of course, there’s little Tom Stoppard doesn’t know. But the craft behind his new history play is a marvel. And the emotional power of Leopoldstadt every bit as strong as you’d imagine.

Starting in 1899, things are convivial and a little confusing. We’re introduced to Hermann Merz and an extended family that – like the cast – is huge. As we see them grow up, and the family grow, it’s tough to keep track. Thankfully, Aidan Mcardle and Faye Castelow take the lead as Mr and Mrs Merz, with marital troubles and his conversion to Christianity, to focus on.

Faye Castelow in LEOPOLDSTADT photo credit Marc Brenner
Faye Castelow

The discussions are fascinating and highbrow – after all, this is Vienna and they are Jewish! Identity, mostly, but all manner of politics and culture. There’s a sense of excitement and pride about the city that roots the play. Stoppard sets out issues clearly – it’s a great lesson in intellectual history – but also makes debates feel alive as the characters live them.

Admiration for the cast grows as their characters age. Mcardle and Castelow triumph as Stoppard takes us to the end of their characters’ lives. Jenna Augen’s Rosa, an American relation, is also a highlight with a performance that goes from strength to strength. And it is a thrill to see relatively small roles so fully developed. Sam Hoare is just one example as a British journalist who marries into the family. Director Patrick Marber has neglected nothing, like Brigitte Reiffenstuel’s exquisite costumes, the attention to detail is winning. A sense of grandeur and respect appropriate to the subject infuses the show.

If there are slower moments, the dramatic point behind the depth and detail brought to Leopoldstadt becomes clear as history progresses. A family encounter with Nazi’s is difficult to watch. Seeing the characters, we have so deftly been made to respect and admire, cowered and humiliated is painful. What happens feels unbelievable. Shocking. And that’s quite an achievement when we all know the awful history.

Arty Froushan, Jenna Augen and Sebastian Armesto
Arty Froushan, Jenna Augen and Sebastian Armesto

Stoppard gives us the space to think about history. A scene set in 1955 focuses on the encounter between a younger generation: Leo, who escaped to Britain, and Nathon, who has survived a concentration camp. If Sebastian Armesto and Arty Frouhsan play the roles broadly, they match the peculiar underlying tension to the scene which compliments the extremes of their experience. As Leo learns the fates of his family from Augen (who makes Rosa’s suffering palpable) we are made aware of how close we’ve become to them all leading to a conclusion of intense theatrical power.

Until 30 October 2021

www.leooldstadtplay.com

Photos by Marc Brenner

“Travesties” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Wearing his director’s hat, Patrick Marber has excelled with this revival of Tom Stoppard’s 1974 play. A characteristically dense affair, it uses the flawed reminiscences of an English diplomat in Zurich, one Henry Carr, to bring together Lenin, James Joyce and Tristan Tzara, thus covering politics, literature and art. You need to pace yourself to keep up.

Formally inventive, Stoppard uses speeches, verse and songs, while modifying Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (if you need a reason, Carr performed the play in his youth). The elderly Henry suggests his memoirs could be a collection of sketches, and Marber embraces this to create some vaudeville scenes worthy of Cabaret Voltaire. Carr’s dementia is a wicked parallel to free association, ironically utilised in this satisfyingly controlled puzzle of postmodern plenitude.

Carr observes that as an artist you have to “pick your time and place” and in choosing such a fertile moment in European history, applying his own frame and distorting it, Stoppard has the audience enthralled. OK, it’s difficult to imagine many erudite enough to get their heads around the whole thing (you’d have to be as clever as, well, Tom Stoppard), but it’s great fun trying to keep up. It’s so crammed with humour that getting just half the jokes makes it worth it.

There’s a lot going on in Henry’s head, and Tom Hollander’s finest moments come when memories overwhelm his irascible character. Playing his younger self, he makes the comedy work hard. Stoppard even provides the review for his lead actor: parts don’t come much more demanding than this and Hollander really is superb. This this is a technically brilliant performance, the aged voice truly remarkable.
The rest of the cast seem spurred on by Hollander’s star turn, making each role memorable. Freddie Fox is superbly cast as the decadent Tzara – his switch to Wildean mode is faultless. Peter McDonald and Forbes Masson manage to make, respectively, Joyce and Lenin men you can laugh with as well as at. Clare Foster and Amy Morgan’s witty singing battle as Cecily and Gwendolen is a highlight in a show that has no shortage of brilliant moments. Stoppard and Marber run from any potential the play might have toward pretention. Just don’t forget to take a breath yourself.

Until 19 November 2016

www.menierchocolatefactory.com

Photos by Johan Persson

“The Red Lion” at the National Theatre

I’ve no interest in football, and I can barely understand how anyone has. But the first play by Patrick Marber in eight years has to be seen. OK, sport can make good drama. And Marber uses what he calls the “dreaming game” to look at themes of loyalty, masculinity and society. But the real shock is that this play has changed my mind about soccer: the passion is so convincing, it’s contagious.

Don’t worry, I’m not going out to a match or anything. But the three ages of man we meet in the changing room of a non-league club – the kind we are told is like a thousand others – are believable despite taking their sport so seriously. Although it contains a fair few jokes, The Red Lion is a serious play, about elation but mostly desperation.

These are great characters and it’s heart wrenching to see this trio flounder. Each speech changes the focus of the play with fluidity – each role becomes, literally, the playmaker by turns. And I am reliably informed each man is instantly recognisable. Taking along my sole football fan friend was my game plan.

THE RED LION national theatre
Peter Wight

First on stage is the club’s Kit Man, a former legend, whose history is troubled. He’s said to “drink too much, think too much and feel too much”. Peter Wight brings out the role’s layers, handling the humour precisely: his devotion to the team is religious, which gets laughs at first… but has the most serious consequences.

Daniel Mays plays the club’s on-the-make manager, with the “courage to be despised”. He speaks in clichés: take his boast at being a bad loser, “I’ll kick a puppy. I’ll kick you.” But with May’s expert delivery, and Marber’s masterly exposition, the character intrigues against the odds.

THE RED LION national theatre
Calvin Demba

The object of both men’s adoration is a talented youngster played by Calvin Demba. Whether they see him as a commodity or some kind of salvation, a contrast made subtle by the plot, they each want to use him. But the kid has a past of his own. Where innocence or purity lie is a rich seam in the play.

Faultlessly directed by Ian Rickson, who gives this brilliant text every chance, The Red Lion has a melancholy streak that stops and starts play. Footballers are said to have three deaths, at different stages of their careers, but we see more than that here. A genuine love of the game drives Marber, but machinations in the club clearly have wider parallels. What’s searched for is a player with “aggression, technique and guile” – Marber’s writing has all three. If theatre had a transfer season, this would be the play to bid for.

Until 30 September 2015

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photos by Catherine Ashmore