Tag Archives: Tamsin Carroll

"Peter Gynt" at the National Theatre

Maybe it’s Ibsen’s status as a playwright, or the position of this work in theatre history, but Peer Gynt has a special place in the canon. This is the play’s third outing on the South Bank – and it even has its own sculpture park in Oslo! Based on a folk tale (surely a take on the Everyman story), this life story over 40 scenes cares little about the practicalities of staging. Taking in tall tales and the supernatural, much of what happens is downright crazy. While Ibsen’s ambition is clearly inspiring, and it can be interesting to see how theatre makers deal with it, the vision itself is not. The relentlessly imparted messages mix wisdom with humour and anger in a manic fashion. It’s a bit like being shouted at. And, over three-and-a-half hours, being shouted at for a long time.

Everything in Peer Gynt has a meaning, with its symbols and metaphors continually highlighted. This becomes draining. David Hare’s version works hard to tackle the didactic style with self-conscious awareness and injects a considerable energy. Setting the action in Scotland (the show is co-produced by the Edinburgh International Festival) is used to good effect. Updating the play to the present day leads to even more laughs. But the satire, while a good way of handling Ibsen’s misanthropy, doesn’t contain any surprises. Perhaps real politics are too crazy to keep up with, but casting Peter as a Donald Trump figure or calling the World Economic Forum hypocritical seem too tame.

Ann Louise Ross and James McArdle in "Peter Gynt" at the National Theatre
Ann Louise Ross and James McArdle

Director Jonathan Kent also does an excellent job of making the action interesting. There are even a few songs thrown in to keep us on our toes. Richard Hudson’s design is full of appropriately quirky touches and video work from Dick Straker is strong (especially in a shipwreck scene). The massive cast is handled expertly and there are some great performances: Tamsin Carroll stands out as the Troll Princess, while Guy Henry and Oliver Ford Davies, whose roles as The Weird Passenger and The Button Moulder rank as similarly bizarre, bring a sense of ease to the stage. Yet it’s really only Ann Louise Ross as Peter’s mother who has a substantial character and leaves an impression – which goes to show how much the play relies on its central performer.

James McArdle in "Peter Gynt" at the National Theatre
James McArdle

James McArdle steps into the well-travelled shoes as Peter/Peer. He is excellent. Technically, he can hold the massive Olivier auditorium and his physical fitness, running around all the time and barely off stage, is impressive. He handles his character’s ageing with a light touch that indicates his justified confidence. Best of all, he injects a warmth into Peter that keeps you watching. From the start, driven by anger and ego, McArdle brings out the character’s humanity, distracting from the many abstractions in the play. Peter is a unique hero, who we follow despite his many unattractive qualities. This production is as entertaining as you could wish for, and it really is a star performance from McArdle. But it’s still difficult to understand the play’s strange hold over the theatre.

Until 8 October 2019

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photos by Manuel Harlan

“Casa Valentina” at the Southwark Playhouse

From the true story of a holiday retreat for transvestites at the turn of the 1960s, Harvey Fierstein creates an intriguing and substantial comedy drama that has plenty of balls.

Peopled by brilliant characters, most of whom I’d happily see a play about, director Luke Sheppard’s European premiere revels in these complex roles. There’s a decorated war hero, known as Bessie, performed with great charm by Matt Rixon. Ashley Robinson gives the independent Gloria (“irresistible” as man and woman) an appropriately arresting rendition. And new to this tight-knit crowd comes Jonathan, literally allowing his alter ego Miranda out for the first time, with a sensitive portrayal by Ben Deery.

Gareth Snook in Casa Valentina by Robert Workman
Gareth Snook

This is all moving and interesting. But there’s another story, too, as the community searches for respectability. Driven by the serpentine Charlotte (played mesmerisingly by Gareth Snook), there’s a drive to dissociate transvestites from homosexuals. Charlotte is a zealot and her combat with a closeted judge, played by Robert Morgan, includes a riveting blackmail scene. Fierstein shows us not just the camaraderie of this community, but also how persecution blights lives.

Edward Wolstenholme and Tamsin Carroll Casa Valentina by Robert Workman 2015 6
Edward Wolstenholme and Tamsin Carroll

In the middle are the resorts owners, a married couple (or should that be trio?): George/Valentina and Rita. Edward Wolstenholme takes the title role, trying to make a business work and craving “normality” (he’s in the wrong place in more than once sense), while his understanding wife, the heroine of the piece, is given a strong presence by Tamsin Carroll. Their union collapses under the pressure of his competing personas.

Fierstein doesn’t blindly follow a liberal agenda. Clearly, revealing how difficult these men’s lives are creates sympathy. But the secrecy surrounding cross-dressing takes its toll on them and nobody here is a saint. Of course, the play is all the better for this. A work of deep insight, benefiting from the scrupulous mining of a time and place, Casa Valentina delves into psychology with flair and bravery.

Until 10 October 2015

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photos by Robert Workman