Tag Archives: June Watson

“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

“Escaped Alone” at the Royal Court

Sometimes the theatre seems obsessed with youth: plays about teenagers, hot new stars and valiant efforts to attract ‘new’, i.e. younger, audiences. But here’s a play that takes old age and experience seriously, while highlighting another important debate – about women in the theatre. The 77-year-old Caryl Churchill’s new play is for four older women, a brilliant piece confirming that being radical isn’t about age but about sheer skill and vision.

Escaped Alone is short, under an hour, and director James MacDonald tightly controls the duration. It’s worth paying attention to Christopher Shutt’s audio work here, with sounds and silences in the piece as carefully constructed as the impeccable script.

Despite the brevity, Churchill manages more than most playwrights. This is a buy-one-get-two-free play, mixing genres to startling effect. First a group of friends, chatting in the garden – the conversation observed to perfection and their relationships conveyed with marvellous economy – is funny, wise and topical.

Monologues interrupt, revealing the women’s current fears. These are poems on anxiety, depression and regret, each one capable of moving you to tears. Circling around the theme of loneliness, the show is explicit about the “bitter rage” we all contain.

ESCAPED ALONE by Churchill,    , Writer - Caryl Churchill, Director - James Macdonald, Designer - Miriam Buether, Lighting Peter Mumford, The Royal Court Theatre, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson/
Linda Bassett

And then there are scenes of storytelling. Dystopian tales of earth, wind, fire and water that Churchill has wicked fun with. The outrageous scenarios bring laughs, but the abject isn’t far away. Absurd suggestions, worthy of any conspiracy fantasist, these apocalypses come close to our darkest imaginings.

Linda Bassett takes the lead in these stand-alone scenes, so she excels among an amazing cast. She’s joined by Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham and June Watson, who each seem incapable of putting a foot wrong, and it’s hard to imagine another ensemble this strong.

The production marks a stellar beginning to the Royal Court’s anniversary year. The venue’s tagline, ‘sixty years young’, feels appropriate for Churchill’s fresh work. Settling into the home of previous career triumphs, Escaped Alone is just as experimental and challenging, bold both structurally and thematically. Forget those angry young men… it’s time for these wise old women.

Until 12 March 2016

www.royalcourttheatre.com

Photos by Johan Persson

“The Cripple of Inishmaan” at the Noël Coward Theatre

The latest star on stage in Michael Grandage’s season at the Noël Coward theatre is Daniel Radcliffe, taking the title role in The Cripple of Inishmaan. Martin McDonagh’s 1996 comedy, set around the arrival of a film crew making a documentary in 1930s Ireland, is a viciously funny piece that’s worth seeking out regardless of casting.

All eyes are on Radcliffe, of course, and the pressure on the critic to give a verdict pales in significance with that on him to perform. His accent isn’t as strong as those of other members of the cast, and he doesn’t have the same comic aplomb, but there’s nothing here to be ashamed of. Making the role even more physically demanding than it needs to be is testament to his determination, and his thoroughness impresses.

And in terms of Radcliffe’s career this is a clever move. The Cripple of Inishmaan is an ensemble piece. Radcliffe gets further credit from a controlled performance as part of the group; there’s never an attempt to upstage, and his intelligence about the dynamics on stage, shared by director Grandage, is clear.

Pat Shortt and June Watson
Pat Shortt and June Watson

There are several wonderful performances to enjoy. Pat Shortt shows himself the natural comedian as Johnnypateenmike, the village’s self-appointed news service: the scene with his ‘drunken mammy’ June Watson had me in tears of laughter. And Cripple Billy’s adopted aunts Ingrid Craigie and Gillian Hanna have a marvellous command of the stage that reveals their appreciation of McDonagh’s language.

It is the writer who is the real star here. McDonagh’s depiction of a rural community so dull that Billy’s only entertainment is to watch cows, and so insular that everyone regards this as a little risqué, is deliciously offensive. The jokes are worthy of any stand-up and the entertaining plot turns continually enforce serious, satisfying themes. McDonagh’s playfulness, with audience expectations and prejudices, make this revival a welcome one. And you get to see a star into the bargain.

Until 31 August 2013

www.michaelgrandagecompany.com

Photos by Johan Persson

Written 24 June 2013 for The London Magazine