Tag Archives: Benedict Andrews

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” at the Apollo Theatre

With director Benedict Andrews and a couple of star turns on board, this foray into the West End by the Young Vic has plenty of allure. The story of marital tension between Maggie and Brick against the background of his wealthy father’s illness is not Tennessee Williams’ finest work. Of course, it’s still better than most plays you can see. And this production’s efforts to inject an arty edge could go a long way to increase its reputation within the playwright’s canon.

For a play somewhat tiresomely obsessed with mendacity, it’s a nice touch on Andrews’ part to present such a stripped-back stage – there’s nowhere to hide here. The intense focus respects Williams’ writing and sets up the cast for their sterling performances, even if it all becomes a little exhausting.

Sienna Miller plays Maggie the Cat. She injects a strong element of realism; you can sense her desire for her husband, her desperation at the breakdown of her marriage. Escaping from the shadow of Elizabeth Taylor’s depiction in the film version is no mean feat – Miller’s hard work deserves praise. Colm Meaney takes the part of Big Daddy and benefits from Andrews’ correct decision to balance the play so that it is equally about this grand patriarch. Meaney makes this “selfish beast” of a man truly compelling to watch.

Between both frequently loud characters comes Brick, former high-school athlete and sports commentator suffering from depression. Jack O’Connell takes the role and makes the quiet work for him. There are flashes of dignity in the performance and a good deal of anger, if not quite as much depth as might be required. O’Connell is a good stage drunk, though, and sections of the play that deal with alcoholism are the strongest, which comes as little surprise, given Williams’ own relationship with booze.

As the candles burn down on Big Daddy’s birthday cake, things start to get messy. The cake for start – you know someone is going to get dirty with it. It’s distracting to guess who and a relief when sticky sponge predictably ends up all over the set. Unfortunately, the messiness in the production extends to its direction. There’s a general untidiness that means Williams’ already sprawling story starts to drag. A shame since Andrews does have a strong central idea – to turn the family into white trash, with none of the usual genteel poverty. Maggie was “born poor, raised poor”, and this is very much new money. The insight makes for startling touches but needs more focus. Despite solid work, the treatment is too slow.

Until 7 October 2017

www.youngvic.org

Photo by Johan Persson

 

“The Maids” at the Trafalgar Studios

Jamie Lloyd might well be the perfect director for iconoclastic playwright Jean Genet. Both share an irreverent bold approach and a Baroque intensity epitomised in Lloyd’s stirring production of Genet’s 1947 piece. The sick, twisted, sexualised fantasies of two servants, role-playing the murder of their mistress, are made “drunk, wild, beautiful” in this visually arresting and accomplished show.

Lloyd also has a way with stars, enticing exciting talent to the West End and getting the most from many a performer. The luminaries here are Uzo Aduba (from Orange is the New Black), joined by Zawe Ashton, playing the titular revolting servants. Ashton gives a fine performance, Aduba a tremendous one. Intense from the start, Ashton drags up as her mistress for a disturbed ‘ceremony’ that’s an orgy of degradation, violence and kink – her jerky movements unsettle and excite. Aduba is an astonishing presence on stage, frightening and engrossing, her intelligent appreciation of the rhythm of the text carrying you forcibly through the traumatic, suspenseful, action.

Laura Carmichael and Uzo Aduba in The Maids CREDIT Marc Brenner
Laura Carmichael and Uzo Aduba

When Mistress arrives it’s a blunt shock to find she’s every bit as bad as we’ve been led to believe. Laura Carmichael holds her own (no small achievement given the brevity of her role) portraying a superficial, doll-like rich bitch. This contemporary, recognisable, figure allows Lloyd to emphasise the play’s political content: the accents may be American but a London audience is instantly connected to Kensington.

Fun is had by Lloyd, in keeping with the work of translators Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton. Genet’s rich themes are explored bravely but there’s also humour from some of the exaggeration here – the maids giggle more than you might expect. The language is blue (very) but I can’t imagine Genet would blush. It’s surprising you don’t see this play revived more often. Lloyd’s production is a valuable addition to the reputation of a modern classic.

Until 21 May 2016

www.atgtickets.com

Photos by Marc Brenner

“A Streetcar Named Desire” at the Young Vic

Gillian Anderson is currently thrilling the crowds at the Young Vic Theatre as Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire.  Director Benedict Andrews’ eye-catching take on the Tennessee Williams classic is a respectful updating of the play that aims to avoid nostalgia. The production isn’t faultless, but it is admirably rich in ideas.

The use of a revolving stage is sure to prove memorable. Magda Willi’s carefully neutral design takes us away from a period feel and focuses on the claustrophobia of the flat lived in by Blanche’s sister and brother-in-law, Stella and Stanley, a place to which Blanche retreats in disgrace after losing the family estate and having a mental breakdown.

Making the show quite literally dynamic is cleverly done. Props are plentiful and extra characters circle the stage menacingly. It all adds time, though, as does some current, rather distracting pop music, so that, all in, the production is well over three hours. And while it looks great, the slow revolve must be hugely demanding on the cast. You can hear everything, though, which is no small achievement, and watching them becomes unusually intense.

Andrews’ interpretation of Blanche is stark, focusing on her alcoholism and mental health. Of course, Blanche is a victim, a tragic icon made moving by Anderson’s performance, but Andrews takes her descent into mental illness too much for granted – there could be more of a fight here and the audience, like her potential fiancé Mitch (the excellent Corey Johnson), should be taken in by her “magic” a little more.

There are also problems with Stella and Stanley. Divorcing the action from the 1940s doesn’t help explain the class distinction in the play. Vanessa Kirby gives an impassioned performance but seems literally out of time. Stanley fares even worse. Ben Foster provides an animal presence, but there is surely more to Stanley than the “ape” Blanche says he is. Foster is powerful, but his performance is robbed of subtlety.

There’s no doubt that this is Anderson’s show. For a director as bold as Andrews, this might seem predictable but the focus is on the pain in the play – which is brutally and powerfully conveyed. Anderson deals with the responsibility placed upon her and is tremendous. She’s sexy and desperate, giving a raw and urgent performance that, by the nature of the production, is distraught and messy at times.

Until 19 September 2014

www.youngvic.org

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 1 August 2014 for The London Magazine

“Big and Small” at the Barbican

Among the many unmissable opportunities the Cultural Olympiad gives Londoners is the chance to see the renowned Sydney Theatre Company at the Barbican. Their star supporter, indeed Artistic Director, Cate Blanchett is performing, so no wonder its production of Big and Small is a hot ticket.

Don’t get too excited. Big and Small, originally Gross und Klein, is by the influential German playwright Botho Strauss and it is difficult stuff. It’s about, well, everything: big issues like society and the environment as well as how we experience the world epistemically. It’s difficult to describe without using big words – maybe it’s just about a woman who goes mad. In a series of disjointed, distinctly odd, scenes we see our heroine Lotte deal with a “sick minded” world and face rejection from friends, flatmates, lovers and family. For Lotte there is “disaster everywhere”.

Naturally, all eyes are on Blanchett. Lotte is a daring role for an actress to take on: childlike in her naivety, she becomes a kind of prophet with a belief she is one of the “righteous”. She has to be both an enigma and an everywoman. Blanchett prowls around with lots of “heavy breathing shit” and manages to do so convincingly: if she can talk to God then why shouldn’t she do so dancing, wearing a sequined dress and a crash helmet. It is a sense of fun, and some remarkable comic timing, that allows Blanchett’s star appeal to illuminate this occasionally opaque play.

The production is impeccably directed by Benedict Andrews. And it looks great with Johannes Schütz’s slick minimal design lit superbly by Nick Schlieper. The brave ensemble is precise, bold and committed. Even if you can’t quite keep up with the crazy antics you are sure to be impressed. Martin Crimp’s English text feels swift and sure and makes the most of the humour in the piece, managing to defeat a lot of the pretentiousness.

Until 29 April 2012

www.barbican.org.uk

Photo by Lisa Tomassetti

Written 18 April 2012 for The London Magazine