Tag Archives: Chloe Lamford

“Road” at the Royal Court

Just before the interval during Jim Cartwright’s play, two young
unemployed characters, who have taken to their bed depressed, rage about their lives and imagine “the last job in the world”. It’s a startlingly contemporary moment, given speculation about the perilous future of employment, in a production too-happily rooted in the mid 80s of the play’s origin. The soundtrack, dialect, and accurate costumes in Chloe Lamford’s design, all serve to examine The North in Thatcher’s Britain, and they do so authentically. But, when combined with John Tiffany’s precise direction, a painful history is presented with a coldly anthropological air.

Mark Hadfield
Mark Hadfield

Life on an average road is presented in a series of short scenes, visiting different characters. There are frustrations with this snapshot treatment, but the standard of each scene is high and the anger from Cartwright and his characters stands in contrast to the clinical approach that prevails in this revival. Several monologues are highlights, in particular those with a nostalgic air performed superbly by June Watson and Mark Hadfield. The challenges of the text are meat and drink to the talented cast, who Tiffany has clearly worked closely with, nearly all of whom perform more than one role and differentiate characters superbly – none more so than Michelle Farley whose transformations astonish.

Michelle Farley with Mike Noble
Michelle Farley with Mike Noble

Our visit is guided by a narrator, played by Lemn Sissay. His
character’s focus is a good night out and jokes about the escapism of sex and alcohol threaten to take over, driven by Tiffany’s high energy approach. It’s left to Jonathan Watkins’ direction of movement to add gravitas and appreciate Cartwright’s poetry. That the show plays a little uncomfortably amongst the wealth of Sloane Square is testament to its confrontational approach. Cartwright appreciates the sharp wit of his protagonists – there are some very funny retorts here – but the laughs around the poor and uneducated come with a warning. Moods change within seconds,  on the whim of a fraught nerve, and darkness prevails despite the production’s over-enthusiastic moments.

Until 9 September 2017

www.royalcourttheatre.com

Photo by Johan Persson

“Amadeus” at the National Theatre

One of several artistic greats to die in 2016, Peter Shaffer’s association with the National Theatre serves as a reminder of the institution’s nurturing role. Away from the West End, the playwright’s vision, creating ambitious works filled with myth and history, flourished. Returning to the Olivier stage for the first time since a legendary premiere in 1979, this new production of one of his best works, directed by Michael Longhurst, has the energy and originality to qualify as a fitting tribute.

There are plenty of big ideas to be voiced, about art and religion, arising from court composer Antonio Salieri’s battle against the God-given genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Longhurst’s particular skill is to make sure the play’s entertainment value is clearly heard: balancing the drama and humour. Music too, obviously, and also movement, both coming from the onstage presence of the Southbank Sinfonia. The 21 musicians’ interaction with the cast forms a commentary that is visual as well as auditory.

Adam Gillen as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Adam Gillen as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Excellent smaller roles provide a lot of laughs: praise for Tom Edden and Hugh Sachs as, respectively, the emperor Joseph II and the imperious head of the Viennese Opera. But most of the fun comes from an exuberant performance by Adam Gillen in the title role. Joined by Karla Crome as his wife Constanze, who also gives a powerful performance, Gillen has charisma and a clear connection with the audience. Mozart is presented as a spoilt rock star, complete with “vulgar” clothes including pink Dr Marten boots – just one element of Chloe Lamford’s excellent design. This Amadeus is so exaggerated he occasionally irritates, but the portrayal is consistent and makes sense.

If Gillen tips the balance of sympathies from Amadeus to the real lead of Salieri, well, those scales are weighted from the start, affording Lucian Msamati star status. From the opening scene, where he invokes a future audience and the lights in the auditorium rise, he commands attention. A deadpan tone shows comic skills while the awe and grief felt at Mozart’s achievements are convincingly passionate. Msamati has a clear control of Shaffer’s themes and plays them perfectly. Salieri may claim to be the patron saint of mediocrity, but Msamati’s performance is the antonym of that.

Until 18 March 2017

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photos by Marc Brenner

“The Kreutzer Sonata” at the Gate Theatre

Having broken box office records a couple of years ago, the Kreutzer Sonata’s return to the Gate Theatre gives us the chance to take an extraordinary journey once again. Designer Chloe Lamford transforms the auditorium of the Gate Theatre into the inside of a railway carriage, her clever set further condensing an already intimate space. We are about to travel with a quiet unassuming man sitting in the carriage corner.

The man is Pozdnyshev, who will reveal to us the story of his marriage and how he came to murder his wife. While hardly charming, his frankness endears him to us – he seems honest, albeit disturbed. As his jealousy and the play’s tension mount, his irrational fears begin to seem understandable – trapped in a loveless relationship, his musical wife is attracted to a violinist. Pozdnyshev becomes the victim of his own rage but believes his actions to be entirely understandable.

Pozdnyshev’s unsettling position is grippingly portrayed in Hilton McRae’s quietly nuanced performance. Considered and philosophical, what really pains him is what he views as the inevitability of events. Most impressively, McRae has the stage presence to hold our attention during this 85-minute monologue. His wife and her lover, played by Sophie Scott and Tobias Beer, make music and appear through screens on the carriage doors.

Nancy Harris handles the adaptation and translation of this short story from Tolstoy with great skill. Highlighting the narrative increases the drama and does away with the (to be frank) rather madder elements of Tolstoy’s philosophy. The misogyny is still present but just more believable – a question of character development rather than political creed.

A live performance of parts of the sonata accompanies the piece, focusing attention on the relationship between music and passion: a preoccupation for Tolstoy as an aesthetician. It also serves as a potent dramatic device, as the musicians present directly to the audience the turmoil of emotions that haunt Pozdnyshev. It’s stirring stuff. In fact, this is a train not to be missed, so get your ticket soon as I suspect many who have already seen it will be buying a return ticket.

Until 18 February 2012

www.gatetheatre.co.uk

Photo by Simon Kane

Written 12 January 2012 for The London Magazine