Tag Archives: Patsy Ferran

“A Christmas Carol” at the Bridge Theatre

Although Christmas 2020 is sure to be very different, theatres are trying their best for the festival season. There are pantos out there (at the National Theatre, the Palladium and the Hackney Empire) and plenty of other versions of Charles Dickens’ perennial favourite are on offer. But Nicholas Hytner’s venue always promises good value and this neat, concise version, adapted by Hytner himself, does not disappoint.

The production boats an excellent cast. Simon Russell Beale as Ebenezer Scrooge would be a must see at any time – he is excellent and takes the role as seriously as he would any Shakespearean lead. Joining him to narrate and perform all other roles are Patsy Ferran and Eben Figueiredo, both showing a masterful physicality and excellent portfolio of accents. The trio form such a superb ensemble, it’s hard to imagine you need more performers to bring the story to the stage.

The key to the show’s success is good old-fashioned story telling. Aided by Jon Clark’s lighting design and an effective set from Rose Revitt, there’s a cosy feel of the tale unfolding. And suitably spooky touches for each of the ghosts who arrive to teach Scrooge the meaning of Christmas. The almost obligatory video design (from Luke Halls and Zakk Hein) is good but hardly necessary with story tellers this proficient.

There’s fun (and even Christmas jumpers) as Hytner’s adaptation injects plenty of humour. Figueiredo adds some lovely comic touches throughout. But the trick is to take the show seriously; Russell Beale’s Scrooge is carefully distanced from caricature. Seeing Dickens’ complex character sincerely brought to life makes a refreshing change that adds considerable drama. 

Now is the time for comfort theatre and Nicholas Hytner knows it. Injecting just the right amount of nostalgia into proceedings strikes a fine balance of escapism into Christmas pasts just as the present one might not be so great.

Until 16 January 2020

www.bridgetheatre.co.uk

Photo by Manuel Harlan

“Treasure Island” from NTLive

This third offering – and third call to support theatres during their current closure – from the National Theatre is an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure story. It makes sense to show the venue’s admirable variety by providing a show for the whole family, and this effort from director Polly Findlay is entertaining and enjoyable.

The script from Bryony Lavery excels with plot and deals expertly with some convoluted language that she spices up. Snatches of humour work well and “keeping nothing back” means some delightfully gory details! From injuries, and a massive syringe, to nightmarish touches, superstition and the supernatural are effectively included.

Lavery and Findlay aren’t afraid to ham things up – there’s a lot of shouting and plenty of fight scenes. We’re dealing with a “hot headed and exclamatory” crowd, after all, and a world that “crawls with large-eared villains”! A nice twist comes with Jim becoming Jemima Hawkins and in the role Patsy Ferran makes an engaging narrator, with a lot of energy to her exposition, as well as an impressive head for heights.

Arthur Darvill and Patsy Ferran in Treasure Island at the National Theatre photo by Johnan Persson
Arthur Darvill and Patsy Ferran

Jim is joined by the “blabber-mouthed” Squire Trelawney and Dr Livesey (roles Nick Fletcher and Alexandra Maher acquit themselves well with) along with a host of colourful characters. Including, of course, Long John Silver, which Arthur Darvill makes a fantastic part. At first “hardly frightening at all”, Darvill builds his character’s charisma and then menace with firm skill.

Treasure Island does lose pace. Maybe things get too silly, or Jim too gullible and fickle? The moral dilemma Jim is faced with is hard to care about, and poorly set up, which you could view as a serious flaw. Meanwhile, his counterpart as a cabin boy, Ben Gunn, proves a tiresome role for Joshua James. Attempts at serious moments aren’t convincing or sustained.

The show’s success lies in the strong staging by Findlay. The Olivier auditorium is used to good effect – if you’re seeing it on film for the first time it surely makes you want to go for real! There’s strong work from Bruno Poet as lighting designer – the constellations in the theatre are magical. Lizzie Clachan’s set well deserves the applause it receives. And, along with the expected shanties, Dan Jones’ fine score provides the final atmospheric touch for a suitably escapist show.

Available until Wednesday 22 April 2020

To support visit nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photos by Johan Persson

“Three Sisters” at the Almeida Theatre

Cordelia Lynn’s new version of Chekhov’s masterpiece is bold and fresh to the point of being revelatory. Lynn enforces the play’s bleakness, with plenty of espousals that life is pointless, yet presents us with a perky trio who are approachable, recognisable and funny. There’s no shying away from the fact that Chekhov’s heroines have an air of the elite; you might ask them to check their privilege. But Lynn makes the struggles of each – in love and work, with the health of all three suffering – relatable, thought-provoking and moving.

Taking the three iconic sisters way past stereotype is not an easy task. Lynn’s muscular dialogue is well served by three performers who are excellent; it’s pleasingly impossible to single out either Pearl Chanda, Patsy Ferran or Ria Zmitrowicz, who all work well together. It’s fantastic to see how funny each can be in each character’s own particular way. Note the difference with the role of their sister-in-law, vividly portrayed Lois Chamimba, which comes into focus wonderfully: she’s a character we laugh at rather than with. Lynn has done justice to the play’s male characters, too. Her version retains some dignity for Elliot Levey’s cuckolded teacher, has sympathy (more than I) for the sister’s brother that Freddie Meredith does well with and uses Alan Williams’ Doctor to further focus themes. The role of Irena’s suitor is the big surprise, though; the character’s optimism comes to the fore as a foil… for a while. It’s a bonanza for Shubham Saraf, who takes the part.

Shubham Saraf and Ria Zmitrowicz

With superb performances and an exciting text, reservations risk sounding trivial, as they become matters of taste rather than criticism. The usually excellent designer Hildegard Bechtler has left the show looking a touch too modish. While not specifically updated or relocated, these three sisters are out of time and place, no matter how often Moscow is mentioned so all the mismatched chairs and Anglepoise lamps, along with the final scene played on bare ground (a big effort for little result), make the aesthetic too contemporary. And might director Rebecca Frecknall’s work also be a touch heavy handed? It’s easy to see the temptation. Several scenes are “all a bit strange”, with moments of staccato delivery and portentousness. Maybe Lynn, like the character Masha, is impatient with the “talk talk talk” in the play – she brings out ideas with sometimes blunt directness. Perhaps Frecknall should have tried to inject more subtlety? Alternatively, she reflects Lynn’s forcefulness and does justice to her vision. It’s a fine line that makes for a pleasing debate.

Until 2 June 2019

www.almeida.co.uk

Photo by Marc Brenner

“Summer and Smoke” at the Almeida Theatre

The youthful courtships in Tennessee Williams’ plays are usually things of the past – recounted by his formidable heroines. Here the action unfolds before us and whether the affair between minister’s daughter Alma and her next-door neighbour John will evolve is filled with an exciting tension… if you’re an optimist or haven’t seem much Williams. Sense-talking Alma is hugely sympathetic, while John is sensitive and passionate, a doctor making a mess of his youth. Presented as two extremes of spirituality and physicality, a compromise between them would be good for both. It’d be nice if it worked out.

There isn’t a party at the end, sorry, and the 1948 play’s reputation isn’t much celebrated either. But this production is so strong it takes us well into the second act to see why. After an electrifying argument as John’s father lies murdered (I didn’t say there was no melodrama), the play drags its feet, harps on about unrequited love and becomes, well, mopey. Alma was, reportedly, Williams’ favourite heroine – her fire and fierce intelligence makes this understandable – but while the performance here, from Patsy Ferran, does her justice, Alma deserves better than the end she had written for her.

Unlike the play, the production is faultless. Rebecca Frecknall has directed the piece before and her close knowledge proves invaluable. Matthew Needham delivers a fine performance as John, who is filled with sexual frustration and confusion. Despite cruelties and misogynistic remarks, the attraction is clear. Using the play’s motif of doppelgängers Frecknall doubles her cast cleverly, which feels like a defining way to stage the show. And taking multiple roles as various love rivals to Alma means Anjana Vasan really gets to shine. The staging is simple yet beautiful, taking inspiration from Williams’ experimental works. Few props and no costume changes, just seven pianos forming a semi-circle and accompanying music from Angus MacRae that adds to the atmosphere immeasurably.

As for Ferran, she’s so good she gets her own paragraph here. Ferran’s performance is career making: she inhabits Alma but makes us question the character’s self-definition as “weak and divided”. Her physical frailty is painful to watch. Depicting the degeneration of her health is astounding and Alma’s struggle against illness both moving and determined. Ferran can even inject a sly humour, with a suggestive eyebrow that’s a great asset. Cast in a show that’s as smart as she clearly is, the combination is a production that makes as forceful a case for this flawed masterpiece as Williams himself could have wished for.

Until 7 April 2018

www.almeida.co.uk

Photo by Marc Brenner

“As You Like It” at the National Theatre

The usurping Duke Frederick’s court is a surveillance state in director Polly Findlay’s new production of Shakespeare’s comedy. The colourful but cumbersome office setting thankfully disappears when our heroines, Rosalind and Celia, escape the city – chairs and desks ascend, transforming into the Forest of Arden. Lizzie Clachan’s Cornelia-Parker-inspired vision is a breath-taking use of the Olivier auditorium – a design to applaud.

The forest, brilliantly lit by Jon Clark, is sinister and cold, but romance is at the heart of the show, ensured by strong performances from the young cast. Rosalie Craig is captivating as Rosalind, with an immaculate transformation into her disguise as a man, while Joe Bannister matches her in appeal as a boyish, modern Orlando. Patsy Ferran makes a strong Celia and the two women’s relationship is satisfyingly explored. All three leads are on top of Shakespeare’s comedy, making this a production of big laughs rather than the usual small smiles. Joining in, Gemma Lawrence is an energetic Phebe, Mark Benton a convivial Touchstone and there’s a superb cameo by Siobhán McSweeney as his love interest, Audrey.

Findlay has no shortage of ideas. A choir fills the forest with music and bold sound effects; Orlando Gough’s score buoys the whole show. A scene where the vast cast perform as sheep in Arran jumpers is memorable – flirting fills the flock, too. The “shade of melancholy boughs”  the forest casts is probed with style but unfortunately this leaves Paul Chahidi’s Jacques making less of impact. There is also a big problem in the production’s notable lack of tension. Some suspense is sacrificed for laughs (that Orlando’s wrestling match is a Mexican one means he is never in danger) while both Dukes suffer from roles that feel truncated and a little flat. Findlay’s forest looks great and her take on the play is fresh, but journeying into these woods isn’t as interesting as it should be.

Until 5 March 2016

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Johan Persson