Tag Archives: Robert Chevara

“Vincent River” at the Park Theatre

This welcome revival of Philip Ridley’s play from the year 2000 benefits from the sound direction of Robert Chevara. Confident with the superb storytelling, Chevara gives the text space, expertly judging time for vivid images to linger. Elements of a mystery story in this tale of an encounter between a bereaved mother and an enigmatic stranger add a more conventional element to the piece than is common with Ridley, and, again, Chevara makes the most of this – the plot is gripping. But Ridley’s dark imaginings are present, too, with the account of a vicious hate crime and the grief at its aftermath portrayed with startling originality.

Louise Jameson and Thomas Mahy take the roles of Anita and Davey, connected by the murder of Vincent. As the frequently angry mourning mother, Jameson is superb, conveying a moving, mounting pain as the play progresses. She’s initially suspicious of Davey’s motives for seeking her out, and the tension between the two is riveting. In this enigmatic role, Mahy seems a little trapped by his accent and doesn’t fully explore the dangerous eroticism of the character – Ridley’s suggestions of precocious sexuality are disturbing – yet the performance is full of nervous energy and always exciting, especially with the expert unravelling of his secrets.

Thomas Mahy
Thomas Mahy

The ideas about bodies, families, and memory – each so poetically conveyed – make Ridley’s writing the star of the show. An obsession with geography, with descriptions of places and their history, creates a visceral sense of East London and community. Toxic relationships battle with affection and romance throughout. Ridley’s descriptions of desire and the body, with such a tangible sense of fragility arising from the violence and illness in the play, are brilliant. Recounting trauma is common enough in theatre, but the stories Ridley’s protagonists tell each other have a therapeutic quality of intense emotion. A “mosaic of hands” in an artwork described by Davey might be a metaphor for how Ridley works. The result is a play of peculiar power.

Until 14 April 2018

www.parktheatre.co.uk

Photos by David Monteith Hodge

“In the bar of a Tokyo Hotel” at the Charing Cross Theatre

With the benefit of director Robert Chevara’s intelligent handling, here’s an unmissable opportunity to see a rarely performed late work by Tennessee Williams. This startlingly innovative play, which ruthlessly examines a broken marriage, shows Williams’ unique and challenging voice in a new light.

Mark is a successful artist who believes he has made a breakthrough with his painting, with a new style that has clear parallels with Williams’ writing. According to his sexually ferocious wife Miriam, he has simply gone mad. Aggressive advances toward a barman fill Miriam’s time as she waits for Mark’s agent to arrive and take him away – she’s had enough of him and his art.

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Andrew Koji

These are tough roles that Chevara supervises carefully. David Whitworth is entirely credible as the (literally) unstable, dying artist. Andrew Koji and Alan Turkington, playing the barman and gallerist, appreciate the piece’s humour perfectly. Linda Marlowe has the star role, delivering a mesmerising performance that establishes Miriam as another leading lady in the Williams canon.

In this hugely difficult text, few lines of dialogue are completed – a treatment that toys with naturalism while being extremely stylised – so it’s forgivable that the delivery isn’t quite perfect. And yet the stilted language has a distinct and demanding beauty. Key words are isolated and repeated for weight, creating a rhythm to the piece that carries into Miriam’s witty insults, desperation and, finally, transcendental ideas.

Inspired by Japanese poetry, the sensibility is still Williams, making a fusion of East and West that’s often disorientating and exquisitely reflected in the production’s video projections. There are times this play feels like an out-of-body experience – characters describe actions we can clearly observe – compounded by suggestions that Mark and Miriam are really two sides of the same character (get your head around that one). A weird and wonderful play that stands alone and proud.

Until 14 May 2016

www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk

Photos by Scott Rylander

“Quasimodo” at the King’s Head Theatre

London’s excellent fringe theatres often afford the chance to see hidden gems and curios: seldom-performed pieces, which can catch on with many or fascinate the aficionado. Quasimodo, by Lionel Bart, receiving its premier 50 years after it was first written, falls into the later category.

The musical, which has only been workshopped until now, has parallels with another beauty-and-beast show, The Phantom of the Opera, and various adaptations of French epics, including another of the iconic Victor Hugo story, Notre Dame de Paris, that have proved successful. But Bart’s was a project that never took off, so all credit to the talented director Robert Chevara for finally bringing it to the stage. It’s a shame that Quasimodo will really only interest those mad for musicals.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with the source or the book, which has been shaped by Chris Bond and Chevara into a slick work full of neat parallels, satisfyingly far removed from anything reminiscent of Disney’s 1996 film. Just as much the story of the beautiful Esmeralda, who inspires the passion of nearly everyone on stage, it’s ambitious and engaging. Bringing to the fore the theme of sexual anxiety, with Quasimodo as an understandably confused young man, is brave and bold. Chevara’s central performers explore the themes well; Zoë George is a vulnerable orphan willing to hone her feminine wiles and the excellent Steven Webb plays the crippled campanologist with charm.

Chevara’s production is at its best in its darkest scenes, there are moments when you suspect he’s onto something, but the humour in the piece rings like a cracked bell and proves distracting. Performances from the supporting cast could be pared back. The set by Christopher Hone is a good idea but sellotaped cobwebs give an amateurish feel, and the costumes, with their mismatched styles, misfire.

While the band do their best, you can hear the score crying out for more – this music needs a big sound in order to be judged properly, especially the choruses. But this is not the late, often great, Lionel Bart’s finest writing, the lyrics are unimaginative and the tunes simply not memorable enough. Ultimately that, rather than any battle of Quasimodo’s, is the tragedy of the piece.

Until 13 April 2013

www.kingsheadtheatre.com

Photo by Francis Loney

Written 25 March 2013 for The London Magazine

“Vieux Carré” at the Charing Cross Theatre

Vieux Carré is a late work by Tennessee Williams that might be dismissed as overblown melodrama, but a new production from director Robert Chevara, transferring to the Charing Cross Theatre after a successful run at the King’s Head in Islington, asks us to think beyond the campery and caricature. In contrast to Williams’ baroque writing, Chevara and his designer Nicolai Hart-Hansen present a stripped-back, minimal affair that focuses attention and allows the poetry in the play to shine.

Set in a squalid boarding house in New Orleans, much of the action in Vieux Carré borders on the macabre or the insane. The gentlemen callers of Williams’ earlier plays have turned into vagrants and the playwright’s approach to sex and death is painfully direct. The occupants of this “New Babylon” seem familiar from earlier work but are now “far past pride”; grotesque enough to make “remarkable tableaux vivants” that even they seem shocked by. Considering the extreme characters, the cast’s performances are admirably restrained: the landlady Mrs Wire (Helen Sheals) sinks into madness at a controlled pace and a tortured love affair is performed convincingly by Samantha Coughlan and Paul Standell.

None of the characters is closer to dangerous parody than the “rapacious” homosexual artist Nightingale, so David Whitworth’s performance deserves special note for its appreciation of Williams’ humour as well as emphasising the loneliness that so occupied the author and gives the play its emotional power.

It is Nightingale’s relationship with the play’s narrator, a young writer naturally, that interests most – an autobiographical tease that Tom Ross-Williams has the talent and stage presence to carry. His neighbours are the material for his work but his observations lack coherence and are a shadow of Williams’ own oeuvre. As a play, Vieux Carré is frustrating but Chevara comes within a hair’s breadth of convincing us this is a major work, and that makes his production an important one to see.

Until 1 September 2012

www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk

Photo by Tim Medley

Written 20 August 2012