Tag Archives: Anne-Marie Duff

“Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle” at Wyndham’s Theatre

Werner Heisenberg’s scientific theories provide the intellectual scaffolding of Simon Stephens’ new play. The principle – that measuring objects reveals an underlying uncertainty in physics – supplies a riff on the unexpected that’s lightly played alongside an unconventional romance. There’s little to boggle the mind here. Instead, this is a play full of laughs, affection… and a good deal of wisdom.

The relationship between Georgie and Alex is taboo-breaking because of their 33-year age gap. And both characters are pretty eccentric overall. The plot thickens (there’s a son to search for), but all the unusual behaviour is really about destabilising our expectations. It’s just two people getting to know one another – but, my, how this twists.

The couple meet by accident, of course, but each encounter contains the unexpected. It’s the distance between the characters that Stephens explores, akin to a comment Alex makes about music happening “between the notes”. Their age is one way they have different perspectives on their “shared experience”, and seeing both views makes this a two-hander of considerable depth and intimacy.

The play requires subtlety to work. Stephens’ frequent collaborator Marianne Elliott directs with an appropriately quiet confidence. The set by Bunny Christie is a stylish sliding affair with complementary mood lighting (from Paule Constable). But nothing distracts us from the quiet story of intricate observations. The performances from Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham are superb. Both embrace their characters’ quirks to make the play entertaining. Cranham’s “wily old fox” is full of charm and intelligence, while Duff embodies Grace’s vulnerability and her quality of being “exhausting but captivating”. Uncertainty, as a principle to live by, is a peculiarly powerful idea. Few of us may be convinced by it, but this play presents the unpredictable in a charmingly determined fashion.

Until 6 January 2018

www.delfontmackintosh.co.uk

Photo by Brinkhoff Mögenburg

“Common” at the National Theatre

With big subjects, a huge cast, and the Olivier stage to play with, DC Moore’s new play aims at being epic – and, up to its interval, it feels as if it might be. The twisting plot, following the story of Mary, brilliantly portrayed by Anne-Marie Duff, is an interesting mix of melodrama and the supernatural. The language, combining old and new vocabulary, odd syntax and lots of swearing, makes the text original, satisfyingly dense and a great deal of fun.

Set in the early 18th century, the play’s first topic is the enclosure of common land and one community’s struggle to prevent this devastating policy. The dramatic potential and importance are clear – a description of enclosure as “a dry word with a sharp end” is great – but the play seems embarrassed by its subject matter. Painful metatheatricality is thrown in with an overt disavowal of “dry historical accuracy”. But facts are fine, really – a bit of history won’t hurt a play.

Common is more interested in the superstition that filled agricultural communities. Director Jeremy Herrin goes to town with some Wicker Man horror that makes one gory scene especially good. The costumes and lighting, by Richard Hudson and Paule Constable, fit well. But there’s little sense of anything else – despite a subplot about incest that… well, I guess must have some point to it. As the action boils over, interest cools: the plot is abbreviated and the sign off comes across as trite. There’s too little concern for anyone apart from Mary, who overpowers the play. Cush Jumbo as a former lover and Tim McMullan as the local landowner have a go, but Duff is left to propel all.

However uneven, Mary is a brilliant creation that Duff makes a joy to watch. A romantic rogue (her self-description is a good deal more colourful) returning to the country after a debauched life in London, Mary’s psychic abilities and supernatural invincibility batter credulity – even before a crow starts talking to her. But like all devils Mary gets great lines – Moore’s expletive-ridden insults are quite something. It’s a shame the “jigsaw” of Mary’s story isn’t solved satisfactorily. Too quickly moving from the people’s saviour into a “blight” ruining their lives, the role is overburdened – and since Mary is the only thing rooted in the play, the overall harvest is poor.

Until 5 August 2017

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photos by Johan Persson

“Oil” at the Almeida Theatre

Ella Hickson’s time-travelling play overflows with contemporary concerns. Scene one shows the not-so-good life of Cornish farmers in 1889. It’s followed by a trip to Tehran in 1908, Hampstead in 1970 and a couple of forays into the future. All show the consequences of oil, or the lack of, in society. Each scene is played around the dynamic of a mother called May (Anne-Marie Duff), Orlando-like over the centuries, with her daughter, Amy, who appears just conceived, aged eight, as a teen and as a middle-aged woman. You can’t doubt the play’s ambition.

The danger here is in overwhelming your audience. Hickson manages to stop her play feeling like an online search for conspiracies with the help of director Carrie Cracknell’s inventive staging and some deliciously mischievous humour. It’s a self-consciously crazy affair, with an experimental feel that has a certain charm. But there are moments of confusion. The box-of-tricks set by Vicki Mortimer has distracting elements, while repeated motifs that steer the audience are effortful. And there’s also a pop song (by Justin Bieber) – an overused trend I wish would stop.

Sam Swann and Yolanda Kettle
Sam Swann and Yolanda Kettle

The combination of global politics and gender studies is original and startling. Matching empire and parenthood produces some charge, not least an excoriating invective when Amy’s boyfriend (Sam Swann) is dispatched by May – the play’s best scene. But depressingly, the insights here aren’t revelatory, even if they are well delivered. Scenes set in the past don’t privilege historical accuracy, those looking to the future have silly touches; both are a little too obvious about how we live now, giving rise to a sense of naïvety. This is a young writer who sees the world getting worse and is angry about it. Fair enough. An impressive, almost intimidating energy drives the play, but it lacks control.

Oil is grim stuff. Hickson is harsh on all, not just those from the past, and the play’s themes of loneliness and narcissism, allied to the selfishness of Empire, create affecting moments. Trying to help is a confusing thing and the future will be lonely and (literally) cold. Unfortunately, cynicism overwhelms the text. It’s hard to knock a play with so many ideas, a good deal of them well executed. But it’s only Duff, seconded by Yolanda Kettle who plays her daughter over the centuries, who manages to inject some real feeling and provide a reason to see the play.

Until 26 November 2016

www.almeida.co.uk

Photos by Richard H Smith