Tag Archives: John Tiffany

“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

“The Glass Menagerie” at the Duke of York’s Theatre

This is the best production of a Tennessee Williams play I’ve seen . Director John Tiffany brings out the text’s peculiar humour and pathos while exploring its status as the author’s first ‘memory play’. A superb cast responds with style to this trilogy of achievements.

The memory play was an idea Williams explored throughout his career. This original effort, with our hero Tom recalling his life with the mother and sister he abandoned, is raw with autobiographical guilt. It is also highly poetic. Respecting this lyricism is one of the production’s fortes, mostly secured by Michael Esper’s beautiful delivery, as well as suggestions of movement, mime and dance aided by a score from Nico Muhly.

Bob Crowley’s design also complements the elegiac air: an Escher-style fire escape and pools of water might sound artsy but are understated. The set is a dreamlike, darkened bubble without walls, yet the claustrophobia of the two-by-four flat closes in on you. But there’s something comforting in that darkness as well, with a hint of masochistic pleasure in the nostalgia can.

Michael Esper and Cherry Jones

The memories are those of Esper’s Tom. Fey, often funny, his guilt makes him a tragic figure, whose outbursts are tinged with a hysteria that Esper handles especially well, convincing us that he is living in a “nailed up coffin”. As a contrast, remembering how complex Williams’ heroines are, there is a magisterial performance from Cherry Jones as his dignified mother, Amanda, whose wit brings out the play’s lighter touches. After all, these lives have their high points – joy in reflecting on the past and fantasising about the future, with realistic fears adding a degree of tension. As “a woman of action as well as words”, this Amanda is someone to respect.

As for the production being emotionally potent, it is Briton Kate O’Flynn as fragile sister Laura and Brian J Smith with a tender portrayal of her gentleman caller who deliver the goods. Smith is heart breaking not just due to her innocence but because she has a wider awareness than her family credits her with

Tiffany’s credentials are currently high due his work on Harry Potter. Famously in The Glass Menagerie, Tom claims he is a magician, but it is the whole cast and their director who deserve that title here. Conjuring the best out of each element of this masterpiece, they make the production enchanting.

Until 29 April 2017

www.theglassmenagerie.co.uk/

Photos by Johan Persson

 

“The Pass” at the Royal Court

This month former Premier League footballer Thomas Hitzlsperger revealed that he is gay. It adds some topicality to John Donnelly’s new play The Pass, currently showing at the Royal Court, which examines a footballer’s sexuality in three scenes during his career. But if you caught the news, you probably weren’t that bothered. And this is where Donnelly really scores: The Pass only uses its characters’ sex lives to explore something we find much more interesting nowadays – fame – and it does this in exemplary fashion.

At first it’s all juvenile fun: two teenagers in a hotel room, reeking of hormones. The banter is disgraceful, no surprise, but an uneasy twist comes with the suggestion that Jason is toying with Ade’s affections: literally using sex as a weapon to put his fellow fledgling player off his game. Things take a darker turn as Jason’s career takes off. Exploiting a cliché, a one-night stand with a table top dancer, Donnelly adds enough twists and turns for a thriller. Already corrupted by celebrity status Jason has become a monster, albeit one with an indefinable charm, and like all scary villains he has plenty of plans.

the pass-142
Gary Carr and Russell Tovey

There are minor issues with the text that even John Tiffany’s skilled direction can’t quite hide but a talented cast ensure they don’t become irritants. Gary Carr deals remarkably with the years separating his appearances, transforming from a boy into a confident man. Lisa McGrillis is superb in her scene, keeping you on the edge of your seat. All eyes are on Russell Tovey in the lead role. Few do matey straight roles better than Tovey: his comic skills are perfect, but the play’s time scale and his character’s development give him the chance to show great depth. Maybe his performance will be enough to get the show a transfer (apologies).

While Tovey never falters, The Pass doesn’t keep up the wonderfully high standard of its first two scenes. The introduction of a fourth role, a young boy who works in a third and final hotel, marks an able debut from Nico Mirallegro, but the character, who shows the same faux naivety Donnelly uses so well elsewhere, fails to convince. Jason’s connection with reality becomes a little too strained now he is a megastar. But admittedly the tension continues and The Pass still thrills. A reunion between Jason and Ade brings us more power games and moral questions – the price of fame and failure – formulated in an insightful fashion.

Until 1 March 2014

www.royalcourttheatre.com

Photos by Manuel Harlan

Written 19 January 2014 for The London Magazine

“Let the right one” in at the Royal Court

The National Theatre of Scotland are paying a visit to London, to the Royal Court, with their warmly received production, Let the right one in. A superb adaptation by Jack Thorne, of the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, made famous by two successful film versions, it deserves unreserved praise for its eminent theatricality. It’s a vampire story with a brain, as well as the usual suspense, and the twist is that this is a story about children.

On stage, we have Martin Quinn as young Oscar, doing a marvellous job at convincing us he is on the brink of puberty. He’s horribly bullied at school, from a broken home and has issues that are only suggested to us (like Oscar, we can’t quite work them out). The supporting roles of school children, mum and dad, are confidently performed and Quinn captivates as the kid in the class we all recognise.

But Oscar’s issues are nothing compared to those of his new friend Eli. She only plays at night, sleeps in a box and lives off blood procured by a creepy father-figure who murders people in the nearby woods. Oscar and Eli’s innocent relationship is… complicated. Rebecca Benson, taking the lead role, gives a luminous performance. Just the right side of ethereal, she injects humour and tension with a physicality that stuns.

All the potent ingredients of vampire mythology that make the genre so popular (and commentators so profuse) are present. There’s no shortage of spine tingling and no skimping on blood capsules. But even better, each encounter between the youngsters increases in tension. The characters are complex, and even Eli’s butchering guardian, played so well by Ewan Stewart, is someone you want to learn more about.

Director John Tiffany’s work ensures the show is not only far more than your average teenage tale but also (and critics always love this one) more than a film on stage. Every aspect of the production emphasises the theatrical: its inventive, high-spec set by Christine Jones, and fantastic sound design, lighting and especially movement that adds immeasurably to the powerful emotions and gives the show an odd beauty.

The grace of the performances, often in scenes of violence, is accompanied by a rousing electronic soundtrack by Ólafur Arnalds – the best music I’ve heard for theatre in a long time. A gory vampire story might make an odd Christmas trip for the family, but this is one that teens might actually like – and that everyone should be impressed with.

Until 21 December 2013

www.royalcourttheatre.com 

Written 6 December 2013 for The London Magazine

“Black Watch” at the Barbican

Black Watch has the air of a theatrical phenomenon about it. Part of the National Theatre of Scotland’s first season of productions, premiering at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006, it returns to the Barbican after a world tour that saw this military drama conquer the critics.

The Black Watch was one of the most famous Scottish military regiments. Controversy surrounded its amalgamation with other Scottish regiments, especially since its demise was announced while it was supporting American troops in Fallujah during the second Iraq War.  Writer Gregory Burke is sensitive to the differences between most of his audience and the soldiers that serve in their name. Burke uses this difference effectively, in part by casting the excellent Keith Fleming as both a writer talking to men returning from war and as their Sergeant.

In alternating scenes, director John Tiffany explores the impact of politics and the media on the Iraq war. But his focus is on the men’s motivation for fighting. The result is a play more about experience than explicitly anti-war sentiment.

Tiffany’s inventive staging explores the ‘golden thread’ of history that unites the men fighting alongside their friends. Ian Pirie stands out as the company’s sensitive officer and, in an amusing flashback, as Lord Elgin recruiting for World War I.

It is the sense of camaraderie that you are left with through the powerful performances of this well-trained, uniformly convincing cast. As they fight, fall and march together, to an emotive soundtrack compiled by Davey Anderson, they become formidable and Black Watch becomes unforgettable theatre.

Black Watch deserves its acclaim. If audience preconceptions about the war and about the armed forces are not changed that is because this show is bold enough to acknowledge the complexity of war and those who live as soldiers. What it does succeed in is challenging those preconceptions. For this alone Black Watch should be compulsory viewing.

www.barbican.org.uk

Until 22 January 2011

Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 1 December 2010 for The London Magazine