Tag Archives: Joseph Millson

“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

“Mr Foote’s Other Leg” at Hampstead Theatre

Biographer Ian Kelly has literally written the book on Samuel Foote, one of the 18th century’s most celebrated performers, and his expertise shines out in this new play. You’d be in real trouble if you couldn’t find the humour in a comic called Foote, but no fears here, as the jokes come alarmingly fast and varied: Shakespearian in-gags, bawdy banter and downright silliness. It’s an absolute treat for anyone with a love of the theatre.

Simon Russell Beale, Dervla Kirwan and Joseph Millson
Simon Russell Beale, Dervla Kirwan and Joseph Millson

Indeed, the theatre forms the backbone of the play – scenes are either front or back stage or in a medical lecture hall – all skilfully handled by director Richard Eyre, with Tim Hatley’s design cramming in the atmosphere. David Garrick and Peg Woffington, superbly rendered by Joseph Millson and Dervla Kirwan, are here, as is a long-suffering stage manager, Mrs Garner (a terrific role for Jenny Galloway). Comradeship and rivalry are exquisitely depicted, including in an unmawkish three-in-a-bed-death scene.

When it comes to biography, the play is as brilliant as its subject. Simon Russell Beale takes the lead, giving a dynamic performance that’s at first understated, comes alive whenever Foote is ‘on stage’, then becomes deeply moving when his sense of mischief grows dangerous as his mental health deteriorates.

 Forbes Masson as John Hunter at work with Colin Stinton as Benjamin Franklin taking notes
Forbes Masson as John Hunter at work on Mr Foote’s leg, with Colin Stinton as Benjamin Franklin taking notes

More than the history of an actor, or acting, this play is the portrait of an age. The distinguished surgeon John Hunter amputates Foote’s leg (ruined by a riding accident), while Benjamin Franklin lectures us on science. Prince George dabbles with performance and ascends to the throne (Kelly takes the role, reminding us his talents aren’t just literary). There’s American Independence and insanity as well – the madness of Mr Foote dominates the second act, ruining the pluckiest of comebacks.

Enthralled by the spirit of the times, Kelly isn’t shy of manipulating history for effect. Hence, he appropriates Dr Johnson’s servant, Frank Barber, to be Foote’s dresser, giving us a fine performance from Micah Balfour and a sub text that serves to illustrate Foote’s liberal iconoclasm. Like everything in the play, scenes with the two of them work astonishingly hard.

Care has to be taken when filling a play with such a quantity of ideas and events, yet here all is enrichment and nothing extraneous. Foote hates cant, declaring it the one word in English that is untranslatable. By avoiding cant, Kelly makes his play as fresh as it is erudite, a balance that makes this a triumph of and about the theatre.

Until 17 October 2015

www.hampsteadtheatre.com

Photos by Nobby Clark

“Macbeth” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Olivier-Award-winning actress Eve Best makes her directorial debut at Shakespeare’s Globe this summer with an accessible and exhilarating production of Macbeth. It’s an assured first time effort that sends a chill down the spine even on a hot summer’s day.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given Best’s background, her version of the supernatural thriller puts the performers to the fore. Joseph Millson does a great job in the title role, his Macbeth’s fiery temper increasing the drama and sense of instability. Clearly at home in the Globe – like many of the cast, Millson’s direct addresses to the crowd create a sense of startling immediacy.

Best’s attention to her troupe only has one indulgence – an unnecessarily prolonged scene with the Porter. This aside, with such an excellent cast, giving every role its due is clever. Duncan’s court, at first sight, an array of powdered fops, develop their roles wonderfully and the short scene with Lady Macduff (Finty Williams) is superb.

Full of prophecy and portents rather than politics, Best downplays militaristic bravado, and the female roles in the play benefit from this. The witches, for example, are a beguiling bunch, ironically harmonious, using movement and music to cast a spell. Their fright-factor is all the greater for its understated spookiness.

Samantha Spiro is the star of the show. Her Lady Macbeth is dynamic, her transformation into a Queen astounding, and her performance one of great depth. Macbeth clearly blames her for the path he sets foot on and an alarming scene of domestic abuse is a brave and electrifying take on their famous conjugal complicity.

Until 13 October 2013

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Written 7 July 2013 for The London Magazine

“Love Never Dies” at the Adelphi Theatre

When a theatre’s bar staff wear waistcoats embroidered with the show’s name, it seems pretty clear that the producers are hoping for a limitless run. No question, then, that Love Never Dies, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to the phenomenally successful Phantom of the Opera, represents a major investment. A lot rests on it and the critics know this. More vitally, so does the audience. Before curtain up, there is a palpable sense of expectation in the auditorium, and, perhaps unusually, a wish that all should go well. This is a crowd eager to enjoy itself and, I am pleased to report, it gets what it wants.

Love Never Dies takes place a decade after Phantom and has been 20 years in the making. Maybe the world is more complicated now, certainly this show is more nuanced than its predecessor. The book, by Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton, does not simply replicate the story we already know, although many of the dramatic devices common to musicals are present: a theatrical setting (moved from the Paris Opera to a show on Coney Island), a battle for the love of a beautiful woman and even a prologue that sets the scene for tragedy. Lloyd Webber knows his trade, and these are all highly effective crowd pleasers.

The fairytale romance of Christine and Raoul has turned sour; indeed it was never as perfect as we were led to believe. No longer an isolated genius, the Phantom is now a successful impresario. He blindly relies on the devotion of his followers from Paris, Madame and Meg Giry. These roles demand a great deal from the cast – there are no pantomime villains here or Disney heroics.

The devotion of the Girys may seem inexplicable, but Liz Robertson and Summer Strallen convince. Raoul is now a drunken gambler but Joseph Millson manages to convey the charm his character once had.  Sierra Boggess’s Christine is torn between the commitment she has to her family and the passion for her art and former tutor. Here we have the biggest change. Ramin Karimloo’s portrayal of the lead may be thought too likeable – less phantom, more friendly ghost, but while some tension is sacrificed, it is more than compensated for with an emotional pay off. The Phantom is human and has dreams of being loved.

This is to leave the best until last – Lloyd Webber’s typically strong score. His characteristic eclecticism moves from vaudeville numbers to a haunting child role reminiscent of Britten. The predominant note is a Romantic one, with wonderful strings and bold orchestration. Music and production alike are confident and assured – this is a surprisingly intimate West End musical with a series of close-up scenes.

Cleverly, the anticipation surrounding Love Never Dies is put to good use. As Meg worries about her performance, her colleagues predict that her audience will applaud before her song is through – a prophecy happily fulfilled before Karimloo’s fantastic opening number is completed. The plot hinges on whether Christine, contracted to sing by the Phantom, will perform for him. The result is a grand theatrical moment reminiscent of Sunset Boulevard’s Norma returning to a film set or Evita stepping out onto her balcony. As Boggess performs the title in impressive operatic style, the audience becomes part of the drama – participants in the play itself as her rapturous reception on Coney Island is replicated in London’s Adelphi.

Combine this score with such an accomplished cast and you have a winning formula. Add superb production values and you hit the jackpot.  Jon Driscoll’s video projections are breathtaking. Wonderful art nouveau sets and costumes by Bob Crowley are used with surprising restraint as director Jack O’Brien focuses attention on a story and emotions that are potent enough. This is a production all involved in should be proud of and attendance for Londoners should be compulsory. Let’s hope those waistcoats have plenty of wear in them…

www.loveneverdies.com

Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Written 11 March 2010 for The London Magazine