Tag Archives: Sargon Yelda

“King Lear” at the Old Vic

Returning to the stage after working as an MP for 23 years, Glenda Jackson’s decision to take the title role in Shakespeare’s tragedy has made this show hotly anticipated. It’s something of a relief, then, to report that the Oscar-winning actress gives a commanding performance. Her Lear may not be the most emotional, but it is subtle and intelligent. No time is wasted debating the gender blind casting – she’s doing Lear, get over it – the delivery sounds fantastic while pathos and power build masterfully. As if confirmation were needed, it’s clear Jackson is not afraid to take risks, showing a surprising element of mischievousness during the most painful scenes.

A stellar line-up joins Jackson, but nobody challenges her eminence – which is not surprising, but perhaps a little disappointing? Too many cast members seem burdened by ideas from director Deborah Warner. There are great performances from Celia Imrie and Jane Horrocks (Goneril and Regan). But overall there’s a tendency to try too hard to make a mark: case in points are Simon Manyonda’s yoga-posing Edmond, Morfydd Clark’s over-earnest Cordelia and a misguided choice of accent for Sargon Yelda’s Kent. Harry Melling holds his own as Edgar, despite a ridiculous bin-bag nappy. Rhys Ifans is less successful with his Superman costume for the Fool. There’s more to his role than being funny, of course, but some lines are supposed to tickle us – instead Ifans eats a raw egg to get attention.

With a set of projections and black rubber sheeting, designed by Warner with Jean Kalman, there are plenty of clever moves and gory touches (watch out for flying eyeballs) that provide excitement. But abandoned, surely deliberately, is a sense of a society – when and where all this is taking place. Warner wants to deal with abstracts, which is her prerogative, and some of the play’s themes do gain when treated in this way (the lust for power is seen more starkly without a context). But surely a trick is missed in making this King Lear feel outside politics? More concerning, drama is distinctly lacking as a sense of predestination comes to the fore. It’s admirable that no laurels were sat on, but attempts to make this more than Glenda Jackson’s show don’t quite work.

Until 3 December 2016

www.oldvictheatre.com

Photo by Manuel Harlan

“Human Animals” at the Royal Court

Stef Smith’s new play looks at control and civilisation, depicting a particularly English apocalypse under the veneer of an environmental disaster. The dystopia created when pigeons and foxes go mad (my, how playwrights love these disasters) leads to quarantine and mass destruction. It’s predictably grim but nonetheless affecting.
The production is innervated by direction from Hamish Pirie, while Camilla Clarke’s colourful murals, video projections and windows splattered with blood create an impressive set. Efforts are made to inject tension, but the trajectory of the story and political responses of the characters frustrate this.
Human Animals
The cast is top notch. Stella Gonet plays a grieving widow wonderfully (it’s the best part), joined by Natalie Dew as her spirited daughter. Their respective approaches to the crisis – resignation and revolt – are the central dynamic for Smith and could have made a play of its own.
Human AnimalsA young couple, admirably performed by Lisa McGrillis and Ashley Zhangazha, share the dilemma of what to do as the state takes charge. One saves animals secretly and the other works for the company profiting from slaughtering all the wildlife. Their relationship is depicted carefully but the argument is blunt.
Human Animals
For a final pairing, oddity is the theme. Two unlikely drinking partners, with bizarre twists to their conversations, are apathy and action personified. Even performers as magnetic as Ian Gelder and Sargon Yelda can’t save the roles from being a puzzle. Showing their bestial sides, as society breaks down, isn’t enough of a pay off.
With the majority of characters too briefly sketched, and the scenario less than compelling, it’s fortunate Smith writes with a powerful, poetic turn. Vivid imagery and bold scenes, where the cast combines to choral effect, are the highlights that ensure this sketchy play becomes impressively pushy.

Until 18 June 2016

www.royalcourttheatre.com

Photos by Helen Maybanks

“Dara” at the National Theatre

With Behind The Beautiful Forevers still running – and well worth watching – The National Theatre offers another, very different, view of the Indian subcontinent with Dara. Adapted for a Western audience by Tanya Ronder, from Shahid Nadeem’s play, this historical epic shows the battle between Shah Jahan’s sons for the Mughal Empire. It’s a riveting story, all the more exciting if you aren’t familiar with the history (imagine the Tudors without knowing Henry had six wives); a family drama boasting an ambitious sense of scale that makes it topical too.

Nadia Fall’s quick-fire direction stages the action with speed, while Katrina Lindsay’s design and a large cast creates a sumptuous feel. Though a wide span of time is covered (the play is long, but never droops) and some roles are feel curtailed, Vincent Ebrahim manages to give Shah Jahan great depth, and Nathalie Armin is superb as his daughter, Jahanara. Zubin Varla takes the title role, a hugely satisfying character, saintly yet very human and ferociously intelligent. Dara’s fate is to be tried for apostasy – his own defence in court is fantastic theatre.

daradrop-Dara-credit-Ellie-Kurtz
Sargon Yelda and Anjana Vasan

Dara is as much about Shah Jahan’s other son, Aurangzeb, who claimed the throne and rejected both Sufism and the religious toleration that Dara explored. A tyrannical figure, Sargon Yelda’s performance as Aurangzeb is wonderfully layered. A brief, exquisitely crafted scene with his Hindu lover, ably played by Anjana Vasan, really helps. Aurangzeb isn’t just a villain and the play’s exploration of the need to choose between “faith or family” makes it great drama. It’s Dara’s religious content that makes it feel so urgent – presenting the “broken prince”, a figure to revere despite his fall from power, it provides a different view of religion at a time when one is so desperately needed.

Until 4 April 2015

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photos by Ellie Kurttz

“Incognito” at the Bush Theatre

This is it. Nick Payne’s play Incognito, which opened in London last night at the Bush Theatre, is the kind of exciting new play you wait a long time for. Theatrically bold, startlingly intelligent, full of insight and wit, there’s a palpable sense that this is an important piece.

The play interweaves three compelling stories: a man without long-term memory is observed over time by researchers; a scientist steals Einstein’s brain for research in 1955; and a neuropsychologist has a life-changing love affair in the present day. Incognito is an exploration into the science of the mind and the philosophy of the self: the ‘stuff’ that makes us who we are. Intellectually curious and full of big themes, it is also lively and entertaining.

There’s common ground with Payne’s previous award-winning play, Constellations. The different paths lives take sounds a continuous bass note. But Incognito explores fertile philosophical questions more explicitly and engages with science more forcefully. Father figures are used in a thought-provoking manner to examine the contribution heritage and history make to our identity. And, wait, there are great laughs too. As with David Hume, whom I suspect Payne admires, there’s an earthiness that develops into a rich humour. This serious play is also very funny.

For all the jokes, Incognito is a demanding work, but there’s a deserved sense of confidence from the terrific writing. Payne’s ability to form connections between the many characters so quickly is unerring. The switch from pathos to a great gag is like lightning, and having the characters and themes “come together and move away” is as exciting as a thriller. Director Joe Murphy builds a breathtaking rhythm, carrying (and crediting) the audience as the scenes become less naturalistic in casting and speedier in transition. Incognito is wonderfully crafted and hugely exciting.

This is a challenging play for performers and the cast’s achievement will amaze. Four performers share 21 characters, differentiating mostly with accents as the stories move geographically and through the decades. Paul Hickey transforms himself remarkably, Alison O’Donnell and Sargon Yelda show tremendous comic skills and Amelia Lowdel is spectacular in every scene. This is riveting stuff that deals well with powerful emotions and piercing questions. One for the heart and the head, it’ll have your synapses snapping, and will hang around your hippocampus long after you leave the theatre. Five stars. See it.

Until 21 June 2014

www.bushtheatre.co.uk

Photo by Bill Knight

Written 16 May 2014 for The London Magazine

“Moby Dick” at the Arcola Theatre

The Simple8 theatre company has already won acclaim for its current brief season at the Arcola Theatre. Moby Dick is its second production, following The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, another ambitious adaptation made remarkable by a back-to-basics method. With minimal props and a set erected during the action, Simple8’s emphasis is on story telling, delivering an appealingly pared-down piece of theatre.

Taking on the subject of mad Captain Ahab and whale hunting in such a rudimentary fashion works well and much of the success comes from the accompanying music, sea shanties and touching folk songs. Performances are also excellent, from Joseph Kloska as the cruelly obsessed, mutilated mariner Ahab, forever “bound” to chase the eponymous Great White, and Oliver Birch for a series of smaller roles. Taking the lead is Sargon Yelda as an impoverished schoolmaster turned sailor. If at times a touch too ebullient, he navigates proceedings admirably as our narrator.

Sebastian Armesto’s adaptation of Melville’s mammoth classic is strikingly economical and effective – qualities also commendable in his direction. Armesto superbly wrings out the action in the text using a great deal of mime and Melville’s religious concerns are downplayed. Instead, Armesto is fascinated by the allegorical use of the sea as a mirror for man’s own nature. It’s a rich seam to explore and one that gives satisfying depths to a show that provides much to reflect upon.

Until 4 May 2013

www.arcolatheatre.com

Photo by Idil Sukan

Written 3 April 2013 for The London Magazine