Tag Archives: Jamie Lloyd

“Apologia” at the Trafalgar Studios

Here’s an example of a good play made great by a lead performance. Alexi Kaye Campbell’s 1992 piece, about an older woman who is said to have chosen a career in academia over her family, is proficient: the dialogue is strong and debating points clear. But this traditional piece, with its dinner party scenario, influenced by Chekhov and Ibsen, really scores high because the legendary Stockard Channing takes the role of its heroine, Kristin Miller.

As Kristin’s family assemble for a birthday dinner – one it is all too obvious will be a disaster – a history of emotional hunger is combined with delicious humour. The lines are good… but Channing makes them land with magnificently understated sarcasm. She gets laughs from monosyllabic answers and even raised eyebrows. Director Jamie Lloyd injects his usual energy into proceedings and it’s all highly enjoyable.

It’s a shame nobody can compete with Kristin. Her elder son, played by Joseph Millson, seems resigned and then simply angry. One daughter-in-law, an actress who won’t admit she stars in a soap opera, comes across as simply tiresome and it’s an unforgiving role for Freema Agyeman. More interesting is the character of future in-law Trudi, played by Laura Carmichael, who is challenged with meeting Kristin for the first time. Trudi is perky, apolitical and a Christian – it’s like shooting ducks in a barrel. If this play is a battle of the generations – and younger characters frequently question the idealism of their elders’ activism – the odds seem pretty stacked to me.

Channing gets even more impressive in the play’s second, much darker, act. A second son, again played by Millson, suffers from depression and makes for a heartfelt scene. But the accusations against Kristin are too long and too feeble. A well-written cruel streak adds dramatic tension but is in questionable taste. A fairer perspective comes from Trudi, a character cleverly developed, and the defence of a “witness” in the form of her old friend (a strong performance from Des Barrit). And so Kaye Campbell provides resolution. If you suspect it’s a little too pat, it’s delivered with such skill that all is forgiven.

Until 18 November 2017

www.atgtickets.com

Photo by Marc Brenner

“Guards At The Taj” at the Bush Theatre

Reopening after a year of refurbishment and looking very smart indeed, artistic director Madani Younis’ reinvigorated west London venue is off to a brilliant new start. An award-winning play from American writer Rajiv Joseph combines with two big UK names: director Jamie Lloyd and designer Soutra Gilmour.

Joseph’s play is a marvel of economy – 80 minutes packed with ideas, emotion, comedy and tragedy. Two guards on the Taj Mahal construction site are forbidden from seeing the mausoleum before its completion, by decree from Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The tension between despotic whims and these average guys escalates into horrific acts that are the stuff of myths (the play has its share of gore) and raise profound questions about aesthetics and the individual in society. Yet Joseph deals with his themes lightly – no matter how dark and dangerous the drama gets.

Lloyd embraces the play’s contemporary feel, following instruction in the script that dialects are not to be used and highlighting every possible moment of relief in shocking circumstances. The performers – Danny Ashok and Darren Kuppan – both deserve the highest praise. Kuppan makes it impossible not to love his character Babur’s “fancies and prophecies and inventions”. The more pragmatic Humayun more slowly grows on us (through our appreciation of his family life) a feat Ashok manoeuvres to give full force to both men’s tragedy.

Gilmour’s industrial aesthetic, recalling for me the work of Richard Serra or Richard Wilson’s 20:50 installation, looks fantastic. Working alongside lighting designer Richard Howell, this set is a real stunner. And Beauty, with a capital B, is important here. There are moments of wonder at architecture, also nature. And a beautiful friendship: touching scenes between the two men do more than lead to the final trauma. Babur and Hamayan’s dream of a different life produces that ingredient of hope that provides a “wow” to the play as a whole.

Until 20 May 2017

www.bushtheatre.co.uk

Photo by Marc Brenner

“Killer” at Shoreditch Town Hall

Here’s a combination to die for: a favourite writer, Philip Ridley, with one of the most exciting directors around, Jamie Lloyd. It’s a team that makes sense, full of irreverence and a keen intelligence. I’m guessing Lloyd is a long-term fan, excited by the chance to direct a revival of Ridley’s first hit, The Pitchfork Disney, alongside this latest piece. Killer is a short work, with a touch more whimsy than we might expect, but Ridley’s brilliant lyricism and imagination are in full flow. Using clever ‘binaural’ headphones, worn by the audience throughout, adds an immersive angle that should increase the show’s appeal even further.

The piece is a trilogy of tales of the unexpected; the theme of killing is loosely applied – metamorphosis just as much a focus, with people changing both consciously and miraculously. From gangland initiations, mass murderers and a man on the run from a psychopath, it’s Ridley’s inimitable humour that excites. The way he plays with genres shows a skill that many aspire to. Making the most basic stuff of fiction original again, the insane sounds sensible and nightmares funny. The voices we hear in all three monologues are from John MacMillan. We only get to see him twice, crouched over as we enter the first basement space, and a glimpse of him as a desperate man in the finale, but the voices he creates in our head complement the vivid imagery of the text. Technology aside, Macmillan’s performance is astonishing.

With a script this strong and this well delivered you might question the need for the headphones and a damp basement location that smells a bit. Yet the technology works well and is well used, with admirable restraint. Combined with pitch-black darkness and spooky lighting (Azusa Ono), there are genuinely scary moments – it’s good to have someone to hold hands with. Even odder is half hearing, over your headphones, a room full of people laughing like drains at some very funny lines as our author applies the admirable art of allusive alliteration. Ridley’s writing is strong enough to immerse us all by itself.

Until 8 April 2017

www.shoreditchtownhall.com

Photo by Matt Humphrey

“Doctor Faustus” at the Duke of York’s Theatre

Smartphone screens light up the auditorium before this show begins, indicating that the crowd drawn by Jamie Lloyd’s new production is young and, it’s safe to guess, here for leading man Kit Harington. Good on Lloyd for making an Elizabethan (see below) play trendy. With creepy touches, bold humour and brilliant theatricality it feels as if you’re in with the cool crowd.

Harington is, thankfully, highly credible as the scholar who sells his soul to the devil. He wears just pants for a lot of the play, and even shows his bum a couple of times, but he gives a focused performance that demands to be taken seriously. Harington works well with the ensemble, even joining the innovative dance sections. It isn’t just a physique that is eye-catching here – Polly Bennett’s movement direction adds a sense of adventure, while the lighting design from Jon Clark is stunning.

I might be one of a small number whose real draw to the show isn’t the Game of Thrones star but Jenna Russell, who plays Mephistopheles. Odd I know. Russell’s brilliant performance made my night, with an uncanny ability to be physically threatening, as well as showing the sorrowful side of this fallen angel, creating a moving, grieving quality. Lloyd even gets some songs out of a great vocalist – Kylie’s ‘Better The Devil You Know’ and Meatloaf’s ‘Bat Out of Hell’.

The eclectic mix of music filling the show brings us to its modern additions: Christopher Marlowe’s opening and concluding scenes bookend a new play by Colin Teevan. Things start well by enforcing Faustus’ desire for celebrity. Miming air guitar, the doctor is on the party scene – told to “Sin big. Sin famously” – he’s a magician, clever, with servant Wagner reimagined as a woman called Grace who he falls in love with. Teevan adds compassion as well as contemporary touches that a modern audience easily relates to.

Later satire with attempts at topicality fall flat: bankers, businessmen, Obama, Cameron, Pope Francis and a particularly nasty scene with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have parallels with Marlowe’s seven deadly sins. But the real-life characters are dealt with too crassly. Lloyd likes to shock, and this production will go too far for many, me included, but it is to his credit that he reminds us of theatre’s power to be subversive. Introducing a new audience to this force is something magical.

Until 25 June 2016

www.atgtickets.com

Photos by Marc Brenner

“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

“Assassins” at the Menier Chocolate Factory

Many musicals – and I love them for it – push the boundaries of the genre. Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins is a great example; musically and lyrically adventurous, with notably long spoken passages and a book by John Weidman that feels defiant. The idea of a musical telling the stories of those who have tried to assassinate presidents of America, seeking out their motivations and uniting them in infamy, is brilliantly bold.

The Menier Chocolate Factory’s new production directed by Jamie Lloyd does justice to the piece’s bravery. Lloyd isn’t frightened by how mad these men and women were. A fairground setting adds a scary surrealism and the staging in traverse makes it confrontational: most of the audience ends up looking down the barrel of a gun at some point. It’s appropriate that we feel ill at ease ­– these are tragic tales and Lloyd’s gory touches ensure there’s no chance of these characters receiving the acclaim many of them wished for.

The cast, onstage watching each other throughout, is tremendous. Intense performances, buoyed by demanding monologues, show the strength of the acting. Catherine Tate plays a hapless housewife who attempted to kill Gerald Ford and Mike McShane has a stirring speech as Samuel Byck who tried to crash a plane into the White House. Assassins takes us to dark places.

A trio serves as the focus of the show. The always-excellent Simon Lipkin presides over the fanatics’ funfair. Aaron Tveit is superb as John Wilkes Booth, creating a charismatic prototype for those who followed his murder of Abraham Lincoln. Jamie Parker is marvellous, first as a balladeer presenting another side of the stories, then as Lee Harvey Oswald, embodying a contest between stability and disruption, so perfectly understood by Lloyd, who has created a show close to perfection.

Until 7 March 2014

www.menierchocolatefactory.com

 

“Richard III” at the Trafalgar Studios

Jamie Lloyd has all the bases covered with his new production of Richard III. After an acclaimed first season at the ‘transformed’ Trafalgar Studios, theatregoers are excited and bringing another star to the stage attracts a new crowd. Taking on Richard is Martin Freeman, of Hobbit and Sherlock fame, giving an assured performance within a show full of eye-catching touches.

Lloyd would, I am sure, be proud to be called populist. This Richard III is remarkable for its clarity. Helpful gestures ensure those pesky family trees, important to claiming the disputed throne, are clear. Staged as a Cold War thriller, set among military coups in the 1970s, there’s a cinematic air that aids the plot and adds a contemporary feel.

Also, there’s plenty of action. It’s often commented that the killing in Richard III takes place off stage. Lloyd is having none of this: Richard brutally murders Anne before our eyes and the blood flows freely – if not quite enough to justify the pre-show hype around being splattered if you are in the front rows.

Angling the play as a spy story and all the gore make the show feel fresh and enable Lloyd’s interpretation. I wonder if anyone else feels they have seen too much filming and recording on stage by now? Nonetheless, a sense of paranoia is efficiently created. Seated in a war room, playing with toy soldiers, this is a modern military world familiar from recent Shakespearean productions. It’s a shame that Richard’s famous line about his horse is thrown away but, if not revelatory, Lloyd is on sound enough ground.

Freeman’s Richard is a serious fellow, as it’s the politics and the twisted practicalities of power that are emphasised. There are laughs, but quite a few are sacrificed to the speed of delivery and that bloodthirsty touch. The acting is consistent and intelligent, with touches of charisma and addresses to the audience that will please fans.

It is the thoroughness that makes you admire Lloyd. This is a strong supporting cast – especially of women. Maggie Steed gives a bold performance as an increasingly bizarre Queen Margaret, calmly sipping tea as prophecies of doom are fulfilled. Gina McKee, too talented an actress for the relatively small role of Queen Elizabeth, is outstanding – bringing home the emotional impact of Richard’s tyranny. Jo Stone-Fewings is also superb as Buckingham, Richard’s “other self”, presenting the crown as if won at a game show.

Final praise to Ben and Max Ringham for their sound and music. With a microphone frequently used to emphasise public announcements, sound indicating changes of scene and music that makes the atmosphere gripping, the Ringhams’ work is a good example of how detailed and committed this show is.

Until 27 September 2014

www.trafalgartransformed.com

Photo by Marc Brenner

Written 11 July 2014 for The London Magazine

“The Commitments” at the Palace Theatre

The Commitments isn’t the kind of show that recommends itself to reviewers – I can’t think of a more lamentable coupling than a jukebox musical riding on the tails on a popular film. But the critics have been kind. And the public has already voted with its feet. The Commitments is now booking until September this year.

Roddy Doyle’s book (the film came in 1991) is set on a council estate in Dublin well before any talk of Celtic Tigers. A group of locals form a band and, well, that’s it, really. There’s plenty of class-consciousness and the generally inspiring idea is that music changes lives, but very little else.

It’s no small achievement that director Jamie Lloyd manages to mask how thin the whole thing is and make it entertaining. Working at a terrific pace, he brings out plenty of humour and utilises Soutra Gilmour’s stunning set so that the whole thing has a slick West End feel.

And the performances will win you over. Denis Grindel has great stage presence as the band’s instigator and manager – you really believe he could get this thing going. Killian Donnelly gives a tremendous performance as Deco, the most naturally accomplished performer, with the arrogance to match. Joined by a host of talented others, including Sarah O’Connor, Stephanie McKeon and Jessica Cervi, who all sound great, and the band’s skinhead bouncer (Joe Woolmer), who gets the biggest laughs. It’s an achievement for such a large cast to individuate themselves.

As billed, The Commitments is hard working and there’s plenty of noise and action, with lots of crude gags that are more hit than miss, even if the ratio is a close call. Quickly into the second half any idea of a story is abandoned in favour of a concert. It seems an honest move that could have saved everyone a lot of trouble if adopted from the start. From hereon in, if soul music is your thing, you are bound to join in the fun.

Booking until 19 April 2015

http://thecommitments.london

Written 23 February 2014 for The London Magazine

“The Pride” at the Trafalgar Studios

Nearly six years after its premiere at the Royal Court’s upstairs theatre, Jamie Lloyd once more directs Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play, The Pride, this time at the Trafalgar Studios. A story of gay life, set in 1958 and 50 years later, it deserves to be seen again, and by more than those who could squeeze into the Royal Court’s smaller space. Examining changing attitudes and personal politics, the play insures a broad appeal – just – by virtue of its heartfelt emotions.

The Pride is occasionally verbose. Kaye Campbell doesn’t wear his learning lightly, but there is no doubt the writing is accomplished. Lloyd’s direction is the key to its success: he brings out the drama and speed in a script that could lag and his bold staging, with a mirror used to create a spooky confluence between the ages, injects theatricality.

L-R Mathew Horne & Al Weaver - The Pride - Trafalgar Studios - Photo Marc Brenner
Mathew Horne and Al Weaver

A time-travelling structure, flying between the 1950s and the present with exciting speed, allows the actors to shine. Harry Hadden-Jones and Al Weaver play the lovers Philip and Oliver, wracked with guilt and fear in the Fifties and just as confused with their contemporary freedoms. Three cameo roles performed commendably by Matthew Horne provide the majority of the play’s humour. But the star is Hayley Atwell as Sylvia, Philip’s wife in the past and Oliver’s friend in the present – the most interesting roles in the play performed with great skill.

The historical scenes pack the most punch, as there seems to be so much more at stake. The contemporary version of Oliver’s character, battling with fidelity and a sex addiction, seems trivial in comparison. But Kaye Campbell has a powerful idea – highlighting hard-won freedoms as a call to action among the gay community for continued political involvement. At a time when legislation in Russia focuses attention on gay rights globally, the play seems topical and important: the cast’s appearance at the curtain call with protest placards, dedicating their performance ‘To Russia with love’, deserves applause.

Until 9 November 2013

Photos by Marc Brenner

Written 21 August 2013 for The London Magazine

“The Duchess of Malfi” at The Old Vic

The stage is set for high drama at The Old Vic with Jamie Lloyd’s new production of The Duchess of Malfi. Soutra Gilmour’s set excites at first, with accomplished lighting from James Farncombe, but it quickly tires. This gothic fantasia lacks subtlety and isn’t versatile enough – at one point it seems to snow inside a palace and, worse still, it has a cardboard cut-out feel that is unfortunately reflected in some of the performances.

Placing the focus on John Webster’s text, shouting the play’s complexity and trying to challenge our ideas about Jacobean revenge stories, Lloyd creates an exceptionally clear production. Clarity isn’t usually a fault but you can take anything to an extreme: much of the cast’s delivery becomes heavy and laboured. Lloyd is too good a director to make The Duchess of Malfi tedious but what should be a gut-wrenching ride of a play is too often halting.

There are important exceptions. Mark Bonnar plays the villainous Basola with great complexity. His treachery towards the Duchess and her steward (a fine performance from Tom Bateman), whom she has secretly married, is multilayered.

In the title role, Eve Best’s performance is never less than superb. It’s clear that for Lloyd her character is more than the victim of gruesome torture – she is a shinning light of humanity. Best is impressively natural, given the difficulty of the part. Believable as a real woman as well as a symbol of dignity, her performance saves the play.

Until 9 June 2012

www.oldvictheatre.com

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 29 March 2012 for The London Magazine