Tag Archives: Ian Redford

“Loot” at the Park Theatre

Don’t simply label this as a farce: Joe Orton’s 1964 masterpiece has a superb revival under the capable aegis of director Michael Fentiman, who has a careful eye on the play’s complexity. The crazed mix of Wildean epigrams, social satire, viscous comment and, OK, farce, are all present, correct and very funny.

Set on the day of a funeral, and just after a bank robbery, events descend into chaos orchestrated to show authority as absurd and human nature as venal. Ian Redford plays an innocent mourning husband and Christopher Fulford a bizarre police inspector who comes calling. They deliver the dense lines well, although both have the challenge of elevating their roles above stock characters – the play’s diabolical overtones arrive late, but there’s plenty of fun along the way.

An unholy trinity of characters is the play’s real focus. A genocidal nurse, fanatical in her Roman Catholicism and acquisition of husbands, makes a great role for Sinéad Matthews, who appreciates how broad the part needs to be played. San Frenchum and Calvin Demba produce great work as partners-in-crime Hal and his “baby” Dennis: the chemistry between them is electric and they manage to be at once clueless and callous. Bad enough to keep a priest dispensing penance for 24 hours, their stolen cash, destined for investment in a brothel, ends up stashed in Hal’s mother’s coffin. Which means treating the corpse – performed by Anah Ruddin, who deserves her applause when she rises from the casket to take a bow – with a still-shocking disdain.

Fentiman preserves Loot’s 1960s feel, conveying an anarchic streak that belies the sophistication of the text. Of course, Orton’s play can’t shock as it once did (our cynicism towards the establishment is set in stone, although a couple of comments about women and Pakistani girls did draw intakes of breath), but the sense of confrontation is bracing. Both play and production are, appropriately, “perfectly scandalous”.

Until 24 September 2017

www.parktheatre.co.uk

Photo by Darren Bell

“Linda” at the Royal Court

Best wishes – also commiserations – to Kim Cattrall, originally cast in the title role of Penelope Skinner’s new play, who withdrew for health reasons at the last minute. Instead, Noma Dumezweni gets the chance at a brilliantly meaty part and wins huge admiration. Although performing with the script close by, Dumezweni’s is a towering rendition that gets to the nub of Skinner’s grand efforts with precision.

Linda is a woman who has it all: career, kids and “the same size ten dress suit” from 15 years ago. But she’s 55. Employed by the beauty industry, enjoying plenty of predictable irony, Linda isn’t safe, despite her success. It could all be a standard, if satisfying, drama with important issues and depressing topicality. But it’s far from that. Michael Longhurst’s direction is smooth and Es Devlin’s budget-busting set a two-tier rotating triumph, combining work and home, with a moat for extra symbolism. And, excitingly, Skinner takes risks with her script that stops the show being too polished.

For much of the first act, Linda is the only well-rounded presence. Other characters are oddly transparent – a brave move – making them cringe-worthy vehicles for Skinner’s toe-curling humour. The men come off especially badly: a new-age hipster intern (Jaz Deol), insulting boss (Ian Redford) and mid-life crisis husband (Dominic Mafham). Can men really be this crass? Don’t answer. But best of all is Linda’s new rival at work, a younger woman, naturally, who you’ll love to hate, with Amy Beth Hayes’s performance guaranteed to make your blood boil.

Karla Crome and Imogen Byron
Karla Crome and Imogen Byron

It’s when flesh is put on the bones of other roles that the play falters. Mother and daughter relationships are insightfully probed, with clever Shakespearean nods. And as Linda’s daughter’s, Karla Crome and Imogen Byron grow up impressively before our eyes. But by now we just want Linda. It’s her late realisation that she has “ta’en too little care” outside the office, rather than her daughter’s plights (these alone could make another play) that interest. Despite Longhurst’s valiant efforts, searching deeper issues slows the pace too severely. Thankfully, a final flourish of outrage shows Skinner as outlandish once more. She is surely not a writer to be messed with.

Until 9 January 2016

www.royalcourt.com

Photos by Johan Persson

“Our Country’s Good” at the St James Theatre

Since its première at the Royal Court in 1988 Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play, Our Country’s Good, has been widely recognised as a modern classic. This production, coming from the show’s original director, Max Stafford-Clark, has a fine pedigree that makes it a revival not to miss.

The story of Australian convicts and their keepers who put on a play is a rich text that works on many levels. It’s easy to see why it has been adopted on to many a school syllabus. To the fore for Stafford-Clark is the theme that theatre has transcendent qualities that can transform its participants.

The hard-labouring cast take on a variety of roles playing prisoners, soldiers and the actors they become when putting on the play. As the lines they perform and different roles they take on become multi-layered, the cast maintains clarity and, under Stafford-Clark’s skilful hand, builds humour and tension.

Special note must go to Ian Redford who seems barely off the stage and makes each of his roles shine. If the play has a lead, it’s Matthew Needham playing Captain Collins, who becomes the director of a company of convicts, learning lessons about himself along the way. Needham brings a directness to the role that ensures its appeal.

Much of the humour in the play comes from theatrical in-jokes, but the play is strongest when it deals with bigger themes such as the plight of the female convicts, scarred by their transportation and forced into prostitution to survive. Wertenbaker’s writing has real bite here, and the performances, especially from Kathryn O’Reilly who plays the formidable Liz Morden, and Lisa Kerr as Duckling Smith, are superb.

At a time when his own excellent company, Out of Joint, is victim to savage cuts in funding, Stafford-Clark has drawn parallels with the current government and the philistinism of the Thatcher-era. Indeed, the transformative power of theatre seems especially important at a time when arts funding is under such pressure, despite the industry’s undoubted success. Our Country’s Good itself could easily serve as an example of how great British theatre can be: a superbly written play with brilliant performances and masterful direction.

Until 23 March 2012

www.stjamestheatre.co.uk

Photo by Robert Workman

Written 5 February 2013 for The London Magazine

“Love the Sinner” at the National Theatre

Playwright Drew Pautz has set himself a challenging task in writing Love the Sinner. His new play, premiering at the National Theatre’s Cottesloe auditorium, takes as its subject matter internal politics within the Anglican Communion. This is not, for many of us, the hottest of topics.

Thankfully, the play opens up rather beautifully. The debate, taking place in Africa, questions the role of religion in the modern world. The African delegates stand in contrast to their European counterparts. For them, religion is a powerful force, and they have a faith that might be commended by Kierkegaard. The church should take a stand – preservation not progress is needed. Discussions are ostensibly about the rights of homosexuals in the church and, when a volunteer at the conference has a sexual encounter with one of the hotel’s porters, Pautz begins to explore how abstract arguments impact on personal conscience.

Jonathan Cullen plays Michael, the volunteer who finds himself in a distinctly awkward post-coital conversation with a hotel staff member. Joseph, touchingly insistent on his name being remembered, is desperate and dangerous. Described subsequently as a Furie, Joseph is played by Fiston Barek with a febrile energy. Cullen, by contrast, risks being too meek to be believable.

Anxiety follows Michael back to England where, to the detriment of all, religion becomes an increasingly important part of his life. Charlotte Randle is a highlight as his wife Shelly. So obsessed with having a child that having a husband seems an annoyance, she is exasperated by the man she now lives with who, seems to just ‘sweat and pray’. As the distance between them grows, Randle crafts a moving portrayal. At work, a skilful mix of embarrassed glances and confrontations make for an amusing farce whose comedy is tempered by melancholy. And Michael’s problems have really only just begun.

Joseph finds his way to England and Michael providing a skilfully written, tense final act. Here, Scott Handy is superb as the church’s PR man who sees realism, not God, in a situation, while Ian Redford does well as the play’s liberal bishop.

What the Bishop and Michael both want is reconciliation. An agreement, at least, to disagree. Throughout the play, such a step seems impossible and, if God can’t provide it, then it is unreasonable to expect that Drew Pautz can, no matter how satisfying it would be for an audience. The effort made by Joseph to progress past the shame he is supposed to feel ultimately fails to convince. It seems inevitable that this thought-provoking play leaves us feeling unreconciled and unresolved.

Until 10 July 2010

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Keith Pattison

Written 13 May 2010 for The London Magazine