Tag Archives: Danny Lee Wynter

“Cell Mates” at the Hampstead Theatre

Edward Hall always puts on a classy show. His direction for this first revival of Simon Gray’s 1995 play is, typically, clear and careful. And Hall always gets great performances from a cast: here Geoffrey Streatfield plays the spy George Blake, alongside Emmet Byrne as Sean Bourke, who “sprung” him from prison, and both are superb. Joined by Philip Bird, Cara Horgan and Danny Lee Wynter, who play different characters aiding and abetting the criminals in the UK and then Russia, it’s as fine an ensemble as you could wish for. The production also boasts an impressive set from Michael Pavelka that feels ready and waiting for a West End transfer.

The only problem is that this is a disappointing play that Hall has an unjustified faith in.

While Cell Mates is based on a thrilling real-life story, complete with Blake’s extraordinary break-out from Wormwood Scrubs prison and subsequent life in Russia, the play steers away from a documentary feel or political commentary. Fair enough. But for a piece rammed with spies and the Cold War, it seems perverse to include so little tension. A scene in Blake’s safe house shows Gray’s strength for farce, expertly executed here, while making the KGB officers we meet funny is fine (Wynter is especially good at this), the play isn’t really a comedy either. The focus is Blake and Bourke’s relationship: why the latter helped the former, and why he was subsequently betrayed and imprisoned when visiting Blake in Moscow. Unfortunately, the duo’s friendship isn’t made interesting enough.

Blake and Bourke’s first meeting is gnomic, if intriguing. Scene II starts to reveal some idea of why Bourke might be around – he wants to be a writer and senses “a story to tell and a story to sell”. While this motif is taken up as both men work on books when in exile it does not settle the question of their bond or provide motivation for what they go through together. Talk of a “country of the future” and ideologies is given the briefest lip service. Streatfield and Byrne depict the stress of imprisonment in an accomplished way but the question of their attachment becomes an overwhelming puzzle. Their friendship may well be inexplicable, but Gray doesn’t speculate or explore it in depth and the void created makes the play a pointless struggle.

Until 20 January 2017

www.hampsteadtheatre.com

Photo by Marc Brenner

“Deathwatch” at The Print Room

Lurid, dense and poetic, Jean Genet’s play is revived with an expert translation by David Rudkin. We join three prisoners in a cell who say they will be “the slow death of each other”. The felons plot a murder, while creating a hierarchy of criminality that baffles as much as it intrigues. Genet said the play should unfold as in a dream and director Geraldine Alexander bears the dictate in mind, so this is a style that won’t appeal to all. Cryptic and cerebral, it’s an experience that’s dazzling, but might leave you dazed.

The cell is a cube reminiscent of cage fighting, placed in a circus ring with sawdust on the floor. The design from Lee Newby fits the play perfectly and The Print Room’s (newish) home at the Coronet only adds to the atmosphere. With an impressive lighting rig utilised by David Plater, the production values are top notch. As are the performances – there’s outstanding acting here. The murderer Green-Eyes, awaiting execution, has the most “clout” in the cell and the character’s animal magnetism and poetic fervour are convincingly portrayed by Tom Varey, showing the twisted depths of Genet’s writing. The cellmates share an obsession with Green-Eyes. Lefranc’s crimes may be “hot air” but he becomes a chilling figure through a balanced performance from Danny Lee Wynter. And Maurice is confrontationally played as a “screaming Queen” by Joseph Quinn, who gives a professional stage debut of great detail that bodes well for his future career.

Joseph Quinn
Joseph Quinn

All three roles are challenging. Unlike most (maybe all) crime fiction, Genet isn’t interested in the personal motivation behind crime. Backstories are suggested, but can they be trusted? Philosophy is explored as much as psychology. All this could ring alarm bells – or excite. Call me slow, I wanted more pauses – time for everything to stop and slow down – allowing an opportunity to drink in the language. Instead Alexander’s emphasis is on the tension, so fair enough. A more justifiable quibble is that even in this strong production the depth of Genet’s text isn’t plumbed, with the roles of brute force and mindless violence neglected. Nonetheless, an exceptional show.

Until 7 May 2016

www.the-print-room.org