Tag Archives: Sam Gold

“Fun Home” at the Young Vic

Jeanine Tesori’s Tony award-winning musical is deceptively simple. It’s a modest story of family tragedy, a shell marriage and a suicide that is never overplayed. The lyrics, by Lisa Kron, are seldom flashy but always smart. Tesori’s music is beautiful, but folksy rather than symphonic. Such restraint takes sophistication. And the show’s aim, of a truthful search into the past, gains sincerity and emotional power through prudent understatement.

Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, it is the artist’s wish to paint “a picture of my father” that we are privileged to see performed. Bechdel is a lesbian and her father slept with men. Rather than supporting one another, in the style of the Gay Union Bechdel joins at college, repressed embarrassment and his frustrated life remain the consistent note. The roles make great parts for Kaisa Hammarlund and Zubin Varla, who are commanding throughout. But note: there are no sentimental pleas for understanding, no claims for revelations. Instead, what’s special about the tone of the piece is that no apologies are made. And there is a refreshing joy about Bechdel’s sexuality, with two songs of discovery – as a child and at college – that are highlights. Bechdel’s mother gets a fair turn, too, brilliantly portrayed by Jenna Russell. Again, there are no answers or explanations as to why she would stay in this marriage, but a bare dignity that is deeply moving.

The production from director Sam Gold is exemplary in its understanding of the piece – nothing distracts from the excellent storytelling and there isn’t a soap box in sight. And Gold gets strong performances from his child performers – indeed the acting all around is superb. Final praise goes to designer David Zinn for a stunning set that embodies the show: a rotating circle of furniture shows Bechdel’s obsession with bird’s-eye views, then a section in New York uses lighting to create comic book style panels, and finally the family home is revealed like a doll’s house. In each case, the point is clear and direct, forceful and impeccably well drawn.

Until 1 September 2018


Photo by Marc Brenner

“The Flick” at the National Theatre

Annie Baker’s novel Pulitzer Prize-winning play is packed with offbeat humour. It’s a revelation that three cinema employees, sweeping up popcorn and just chatting, can be so engaging. The pace is slow, bravely so, yet this is one of the quickest three hours you could spend in a theatre.

The eponymous movie house is under threat – about to be converted from 35mm to digital projection. The new technology distresses cineaste cleaner Avery, on a break from his college film course, and puts the jobs of his colleagues at risk.

How films might influence self-presentation and how the characters, well, project themselves to one another is combined by subtly playing with the theme of performance. Time is taken to get to know these three and the result is curiously intimate, sincere and innocent: the trio become our friends.

jpeg 31_The Flick
Matthew Maher

Travelling with the production from America, Matthew Maher and Louisa Krause play the longer-term employees, so fully embodying their tragicomic roles that they are a privilege to watch. Theirs are moving and realistic stories of unrequited love against a backdrop of aimless existence that’s recognisable, believable and seldom staged.

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Louisa Krause and JaygannAyeh

Fitting in perfectly with the show is Jaygann Ayeh as troubled college boy Avery. His coming-of-age story is the backbone of the piece, while carefully distanced from any film fodder. Again, it is the understatement that impresses – his toe-curling sexual encounter with Rose and budding yet doomed friendship with Sam all performed with a studied awkwardness that makes the character endearing.

Under the direction of Sam Gold, also with the show since its beginning, a fitting confidence marks the methodical pacing – think art house not Hollywood. It’s a refreshing change to see something so gentle, so quiet. And the speed serves to immerse you in the detail of these lives in a precise and controlled manner.

Baker’s ear for dialogue is superb. It might seem easy to put ‘like’ into every sentence but in this script the technique is credible and the low-key jokes are treasures. Despite the play’s length, it’s economy that’s the key. Sam’s question, asking if a new team member is “familiar with the oversize polo shirt” – that ubiquitous uniform for the underpaid – is something that will stay with anyone whose has ever had a ‘bad’ job.

A final point in favour of The Flick: workers in low-paid jobs with few aspirations are seldom the subjects of drama. Better still, with her unpatronising and realistic treatment of these frequently boring, frustrated lives, Baker goes behind the scenes to provide a drama about a new kind of working class that makes her play one of the most original around.

Until 15 June 2016


Photos by Mark Douet