Tag Archives: Paul McGann

“Bad Nights and Odd Days” at the Greenwich Theatre

Director James Haddrell and his talented cast bring to the stage four shorts by Caryl Churchill that fans of the playwright will not want to miss. Two pieces tackle the near future and two are relationship dramas. The combination shows Churchill’s breadth of imagination and skills effectively.

The first oddity comes in a piece called Seagulls. Mrs Blair is a “new species of person” who has telekinetic powers. But this isn’t the X-Men. Having introduced the preternatural, Churchill’s ironically mild mannered heroine (depicted conscientiously by Kerrie Taylor) really only wants to feel wanted. A contrast with the ambitions of her friend and now manager, ably performed by Gracy Goldman, broadens out this neat, satisfying sketch.

Closer to sci-fi, set in “The Londons” at a time of civil unrest and pollution, the title of Not Not Not Not Not Enough Oxygen indicates what interests most in this piece. The dialogue for the character of Vivian, superbly delivered by Verna Vyas, contains skilful repetitions that create and sustain an unsettling air of their own. Supported by Dan Gaisford and Bonnie Baddoo, as an estranged father and daughter, the piece from 1971 suffers from being a now generic dystopia.

Verna Vyas, Bad Nights and Odd Days, Greenwich Theatre (credit Lidia Crisafulli)
Pictured top, Gracy Goldman and Kerrie Taylor. Above, Verna Vyas

Moving on to the nocturnal

Arguably the most ambitious piece is Three More Sleepless Nights. This is a trio of scenes, with dysfunctional relationships, each tackled in a very different manner. Firstly arguing; with characters played by Paul McGann and Gracy Goldman speaking over each other throughout. Then a scene with hardly a word; apart from the synopsis of films, that leaves the audience with a horrific image. Characters played by Gaisford and Goldman return in a finale that ties together themes of fear and dependence. For me, what the three scenes really have in common is a technical ability on the part of the cast – hugely impressive.

Kerrie Taylor and Paul McGann, Bad Nights and Odd Days, Greenwich Theatre (credit Lidia Crisafulli)
Kerrie Taylor and Paul McGann

There is such diversity in Churchill’s work that any favourite amongst the four is a personal choice. But Abortive strikes me as the most provocative and exciting. Taylor and McGann perform this twisty story of an affair, which resulted in a pregnancy, impeccably. Crammed with questions, there is also a character who does not appear to consider. Invited into the family home, the troubled Billie is a vivid and intriguing presence who haunts the couple. Wealth and status are conveyed effortlessly alongside complex motivations and considerable pain.

None of these shorts is that short! So the programme is a huge endeavour on Haddrell’s part, not least the intelligent curation. If all the pieces don’t hold equal interest, contrasting them is stimulating. And the strong production of all combines to make Bad Nights and Odd Days a time to remember.

Until 10 July 2021

www.greenwichtheatre.org.uk

Photos by Lidia Crisafulli

“Three Sisters” at the Southwark Playhouse

In most productions of Three Sisters, the eponymous heroines yearn to leave their provincial home and return to Moscow. In a new version of Chekhov’s play, from Anya Reiss at the Southwark Playhouse, the sisters want to return to London. Well, who wouldn’t? Chekhov’s tragic melancholia is still present, along with his philosophical preoccupations and essential concerns, but the action occurs in the Middle East in the present day.

It isn’t a perfect transposition. The sisters endure their famous ennui in the shadow of a military compound and embassy. Where they are and what they are doing there isn’t made explicit, which is vaguely frustrating. It seems somehow off to hear soldiers in modern fatigues wishing for real work. With all the phones and iPads pushing you into the present, attitudes to marriage jar and the stiff upper lips seem incongruous.

But Reiss’ twist with the setting brings home the isolation of Chekhov’s characters. There’s a nice motif of superstition, arising from people under pressure, and an unblinking eye on the dramatic potential of the scenario. I suspect inconsistencies aren’t a big concern: adding karaoke to Chekhov indicates a mischievous streak. Incidentally, the humour generally owes less to the original source than the rest of the production. There’s an energy to the writing that powers the whole thing along. Best of all, these sisters are far from sententious and self-pitying – which are welcome interpretations.

The production itself is of the highest standard. Russell Bolam directs with a deft touch; there’s plenty of action, a swift pace and performances full of natural feeling. Again, issues arise from Reiss’ new version. The servants and Masha’s cuckolded husband being local proves distracting (especially in relation to a fine performance from Tom Ross-Williams). Both Michael Garner’s Doctor Chebutykin and Paul McGann’s Vershinin – the voices of age and experience – seem flattened and these talented actors a little wasted.

The focus is on youth, and a trio of performances from the leads does not disappoint. Olivia Hallinan plays Olga with a resolute edge, all self control until a final tragedy (watch her legs as shocking news is broken to her). Holliday Grainger takes onboard the realism in the production: fresh and appealing as the young Irina and a captivating stage presence. It’s a photo finish (and naughty of me to encourage sibling rivalry), but I thought Emily Taaffe best – her impassioned Masha has a constrained energy that is riveting and her performance packs the most emotional punch. These three high achievers make this interesting production well worth seeing.

Until 3 May 2014

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Written 9 April 2014 for The London Magazine