Tag Archives: Rosanna Vize

“The Two Character Play” at Hampstead Theatre

What a play. This late work from Tennessee Williams, which premiered at Hampstead back in 1967, is a mind-blowing exploration of fear and metatheatricality. And what a production. Director Sam Yates and accomplished performers Kate O’Flynn and Zubin Varla command this hugely complex script. Yates makes a strong argument for Williams’ vision and his precocious eccentricities, making them theatrically compelling and appropriately terrifying.

The scenario is far from simple. Two actor siblings, struggling in many ways, perform a play within a play. Felice and Clare are vivid creations, like the roles they adopt. But as The Two Character Play we watch carries on, it reflects, mimics and then – maybe – shapes their lives. Felice has written the piece, but it is changing as they they both perform it. Oh, and it has no end. Don’t worry, nobody is more confused than the characters themselves.

The brother and sister in the play are trapped at home – I did wonder if the play was chosen for staging during lockdown – while Felice and Clare are trapped in the theatre (quite literally). The claustrophobia is intense and grows as we learn about all four characters. Trauma and phobia multiply. The use of stage – which seems simply huge one moment and confining the next – is brilliant.

Two-Character-Play-Hampstead-photo-by-Marc-Brenner
Kate O’Flynn and Zubin Varla

Williams’ language is a wonder. The poetic imagery, so full of the senses, means some lines stun. And the metatheatrical references, handled with bravado, include addressing the “stranger than strange” audience and speaking stage directions out loud. Clare’s live ‘edit’ of the script is signalled by a key played on the piano; O’Flynn even approaching the instrument becomes charged.

Yates brings just the right amount of lucidity to proceedings. With themes common to Williams’ plays, there’s a suggestion of self-parody that is often funny. O’Flynn has an exquisite delivery of some deadpan lines. Best of all, a sense of spontaneity is injected into a script that you could easily argue is contrived. Rather, the script itself seems alive!

Make no mistake – the mood is forbidding. Williams used dreams in his work throughout his life. But here we have a nightmare. Fear of performing is only the start as the characters’ lives, and their show, descend into darkness. Improvisations are fraught as the story unfolds to becomes more and more disturbing. Varla makes Felice a hugely sympathetic character – his performance is deeply moving. But the show is downright scary with a last half hour full of tension… and a gun.

All this drama is brought to the stage magnificently by Yates. With all manner of lighting and sound effects (Lee Curran and Dan Balfour) along with live video recording and projections (Akhila Krishnan). And Rosanna Vize’s set is perfect for the destabilising, fluid script. The Two Character Play is like being inside the minds of several mad people. Taking us into that condition makes unforgettable, amazing theatre.

Until 28 August 2021

www.hampsteadtheatre.com

Photos by Marc Brenner

“Shedding a Skin” at the Soho Theatre

EM Forster fans, as I am, are sure to adore Amanda Wilkin’s play. The story of Myah’s journey to find herself and a place in her community has a broad appeal reminiscent of Forster’s dictum to “only connect”. Like the novelist Zadie Smith’s On Beauty, Wilkin adopts the maxim to our own times and uses it for her purposes. What good company Wilkin keeps.

To be clear, Shedding a Skin had me hooked before the thought of Forster entered my head. Myah is a great creation from the start. As her “triad” of work, love and home collapses – seeing her storm out of a “corporate hell hole” in style, and end her relationship and tenancy – it’s impossible not to feel empathy for her troubles. Especially when all problems are related with a great sense of humour.

Plenty of Myah’s appeal comes from the fantastic performance Wilkin herself gives. Embodying the “bit of a nerd”, who giggles too loudly and overshares, with such charm, her firm comedic skill and strong stage presence hold the attention. This is a relatively long monologue that really speeds by.

Surprisingly, Myah isn’t even the heroine of the show. Her new flat mate, the elderly Mildred, is carefully depicted and becomes a tangible presence. Dealing with a card of “house rules” and plenty of forthright opinions provides laughs. And, as the story unfolds, Mildred is developed marvellously – from a figure that reminds Myah of her childhood into someone who connects her to heritage and community. What could have been just a foil becomes an inspiration.

Further reasons for the success of this Verity Bargate Award-winning script are down to Elayce Ismail’s firm direction – the show’s pace is strong without feeling rushed – and Rosanna Vize’s clever set of blinds and fabrics that are slowly stripped away. Shedding – mostly of expectations it seems – sounds painful, but is made celebratory by the production.

Short voiceovers punctuate Myah’s narrative, retelling instances of resolution and defiance in different parts of the world. Certainly evocative, coming progressively closer geographically to the action on stage, the additions are arguably unnecessary. Myah and the deep truths that Wilkin appreciates are enough for me. The search for connections and empathy between generations, races and sexualities is a stirring endeavour that had me in happy tears by the end of the show.

Until 17 July with a live streamed performance on the 15th July 2021

www.sohotheatre.com

Photo by Helen Murray

“Harm” at the Bush Theatre

Leading the welcome return to theatre, this beloved West London venue is staging Phoebe Eclair-Powell’s smart monologue. After far too long away from live performances, the temptation is to be excited about almost anything…but Harm is a strong piece and it’s great to report that the show is a definite ‘Go See’.

Kelly Gough gives a brilliant performance as a disaffected estate agent which, at first, has the feel of a stand-up comedy routine. Full of witty and blunt observations, Gough has a fantastic presence, energetic despite her character’s lethargy, that wins you over right away. Both Gough and the play are funny.

As Gough’s character sets about selling a home to an Instagram influencer called Alice, there are plenty of vicious laughs: Eclair-Powell makes sure Alice is a character it’s enjoyable to dislike and from that cleverly questions a desire to hate her. Harm adventurously morphs into a thriller, as an obsession with Alice’s wonderful life develops.

As the estate agent morphs into an internet troll – ‘sadbitch11’ – the play reiterates common enough concerns about social media. Yet we become increasingly uneasy about what real life action might occur. And the text flips again, as concern for its troubled lead takes over, raising serious issues about mental health. Gough has made us laugh so much playing ‘The Woman’ that seeing her cry is heart wrenching.

Previously seen on BBC Four, director Atri Banerjee brings the show to the stage with a strong sense of theatricality. And the set from Rosanna Vize, with its giant fluffy bunny, is sure to prove memorable. Eclair-Powell’s ability to juggle genres, taking us from comedy to commentary on the edge of our seats along the way, means that her play defies the simplistic hashtags. But if we must… Harm is #fantastic.

Until 26 June 2021

www.bustheatre.co.uk

Photo by Isha Shah

“Don Carlos” at the Rose Theatre Kingston

Friedrich Schiller’s late-18th-century work is a play that has it all, with tons of plot – intrigue at the court of Philip II of Spain (so great for history buffs) – and a romance, too. The Infante Carlos’s love for his former fiancée, now step-mother, leads to scenes with papa Phil that would delight any Freudian. Big politics and Greek-style family drama… it really is two for the price of one.

Samuel Valentine takes the title role, cutting a dashing figure, but also showing the pressurised heir as increasingly fragile. The reigning monarch Darrell D’Silva has a great time striding the edges of a moral and political “abyss”. He does ham it up, but he plays the most powerful man in the world at that time and, if you have a claxon to summon people, it must be hard not to use it. Sympathy for a tyrant isn’t easy, but D’Silva has the skill to make us consider Philip’s deep loneliness. Completing the love triangle is Kelly Gough as Elizabeth of Valois. A figure of “angelic condescension” but also an ambition-fuelled queen, Gough plays with both extremes expertly.

Kelly Gough

On top of roles a good deal wordier than usually encountered, the performers aren’t aided by Gadi Roll’s strict direction. Reflecting the formality of the Spanish court by so often restricting movement is an intelligent instruction that makes you admire the actors even more. Added to that, the speed of delivery here is astonishing, with never a tongue tied. It makes you breathless to hear this play. The impression left at the interval is of clarity but sterility, a dynamic that comes close to totally flipping soon afterwards. The staging is stark, with Rosanna Vize’s design all about Jonathan Samuels’ lighting. Props are minimal and lights moved around – ironically the play is often too atmospherically dark. But Roll ensures this is a gripping story. And there’s still more – this is a play of ideas: leadership, freedom and friendship, all with a Romantic air. 

Embodying many abstract concepts is Tom Burke as the Marquis of Posa, a role that makes the play really special. A plotter in it for the long run, Posa describes himself as “a citizen of times to come”. The role at once parades Schiller’s hindsight and futureproofs the play. Weighty themes of revolution are made urgent and philosophical. The ideas are fascinating, the character too – with a mix of unbelievable devotion and prescience that Burke manages to make credible and human. He also sounds, well, fantastic.

Blood and thoughts are “wild” in Don Carlos– streaming from a conflict with duty and from a time when youth and ideas are about to change the world. The production might struggle with the passion, too tamed at times and then unleashed too quickly, but the complexity of both the drama and the argument are given their due.

Until 17 November 2018

www.rosetheatrekingston.org

Photos by The Other Richard