Tag Archives: Lucy Bailey

“Kenny Morgan” at the Arcola Theatre

Mike Poulton’s new play is described as being “after” Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea. Provoking a fascinating relationship between the texts, Poulton exposes the real story of what inspired Rattigan’s work – the suicide of the writer’s eponymous former partner – giving a lesson in gay history and intelligently exploring a tragic love triangle.

This is accomplished writing. With impeccable period detail, and well-researched biographical layers, the play has you reaching for a copy of both texts. Those having seen the National Theatre’s recent production of the Rattigan are in for a game of compare and contrast. But Kenny Morgan is more than a companion piece. Using insights into the closeted world of post-war Britain, Poulton raises themes of shame and hope, dealing sensitively with the subject matter of despair.

Lucy Bailey’s direction is commendable in its restraint, her frequent adventurous streak held back. Crafting an old-fashioned feel, slow-paced, with momentum gradually building, Bailey understands what is needed. She has also secured some tremendous performances that confirm the show is worthy of the blanket praise received from critics during its first sell-out run earlier this year.

Paul Keating is remarkable in the title role. Trapped in a loveless relationship with a young man of astounding selfishness (made credible by Pierro Neil-Mee), Kenny’s hysteria is perfectly controlled by Keating. Frustration and tension mount as the hopelessness of his situation becomes clear, and his final plea is truly distressing. In the background is the famous writer Rattigan, part of the “silk dressing gown and cigarette holder set”, still in love with Kenny but unable to offer him public recognition. Rattigan’s public persona, constructed at a cost, makes this a layered role performed to perfection by Simon Dutton.

Also impressive are those living in the boarding house with Kenny, who help to propel the play’s drama. Marlene Sidaway is superb as a char, whose sly remarks about “musicals” add humour, but whose concern is genuine. Likewise, Matthew Bulgo plays a clerk unnerved by Kenny’s intensity and glamorous connections. Finally a former doctor, who gives the most articulate consideration of Kenny’s situation, provides George Irving with a role he is hugely impressive in. These well-rounded characters create a populous world outside the theatrical milieu Kenny is haunted by, opening up Poulton’s play to make it far more than any afterthought to another work but a standalone piece of great strength.

Until 15 October 2016

www.arcolatheatre.com

“Around The World In 80 Days” at the St James Theatre

A rip-roaring comedy adventure that’s a thrill a minute, Laura Eason’s adaptation of Jules Verne’s story makes perfect family entertainment. Phileas Fogg’s race around the world – the result of a bizarre bet based on his confidence in Bradshaw’s guide and Victorian travel – is an extravaganza that keeps kids of all ages enraptured.

As an English gent of the Empire era, Fogg, a character created by a French novelist and adapted by an American playwright, provides laugh-out-loud moments for grown ups. A master of understated observation, Robert Portal is perfect in the lead, with the “mathematical precision” his character lives by making a romance with Mrs Aouda (Shanaya Rafaat) all the more endearing. Fogg is more interested in whist than tourism, taking derring-do in his stride. And all in a top hat. There’s plenty of fun with accents and just four actors take on all the extra roles – bravo! But it’s the superb physical comedy that marks the show. Fogg’s valet Passepartout’s punches alone make Simon Gregor a big hit.

There are escapades on an elephant, jungle rescues, sledges and a shoot out in the American Wild West. In the background, providing even more jokes, is a warrant for Fogg’s arrest following him around the world. Tony Gardner is superb as Inspector Fix (the clue’s in the name) observing that Scotland Yard has sent its best man to solve a robbery at the Bank of England… “as well as myself”.

Director Lucy Bailey inspires awe with her talents. Revelling in the mechanics of theatre, with trapdoors and tricks to make the show magical, her craft is clear to see. Showing us the world, while emphasising the theatre’s intimate scale, Bailey co-opts our own imaginations marvellously. Speed is of the essence, and Eason brings out the pace, but it’s Bailey who is in charge of punctuality here and, like Fogg, she is spot on time.

Until 17 January 2016

www.stjamestheatre.co.uk

Photo by Simon Annand

“Titus Andronicus” at Shakespeare’s Globe

An exciting new season at Shakespeare’s Globe is now under way and the first show to recommend is a revival of Lucy Bailey’s 2006 production of Titus Andronicus. Shakespeare’s most brutal play, notorious for its gruesomeness, shows mankind’s bloodlust within a society driven by violence and revenge. Bailey’s direction is appropriately bold and uncompromising; creating engrossing theatre that is – often literally – close to the bone and not for the faint hearted.

Bailey uses the Globe better than anyone I’ve seen. Working with designer William Dudley, the back of the stage is sheathed in black material, creating a kind of architectural void that reminded me of Anish Kapoor, while a temporary roof of panels makes the space claustrophobic and helps contain an awful lot of smoke. While the tent-like construction doesn’t stop the rain, don’t pity the ‘groundlings’ who stand in the pit too much – this is a great show for them, confirming the £5 tickets as the best bargain in London.

The whole audience finds itself in an arena, appropriate for the political machinations in the play and reminiscent of gladiatorial conflict, with the groundlings pushed and pulled as platforms for speeches are wheeled around. You’re conscious of the crowd and see how Bailey has used the audience as a part of the play – it becomes voters, spectators, even a forest.

The cast members know they are in a hit and their energy is fantastic. William Houston is a grand Titus, reminding me of a young Oliver Reed. He is truly frightening and manic as his world falls apart. Gravitas is provided by veteran Ian Gelder, who plays Titus’s senatorial brother, and Matthew Needham gives a stand-out performance as the emperor Saturninus. Manipulating him are the Goths: Tamora and her sons, “the pair of cursed hell hounds and their dame”, performed superbly by Indira Varma, Samuel Edward-Cook and Brian Martin.

More praise. As well as creating an all-action atmosphere, Bailey handles the play’s macabre humour with a brave hand. A scene where Tamara and her sons pretend to be goddesses to fool Titus (finally) makes sense and presenting Titus in a chef’s hat in the infamous banqueting scene is so breathtakingly tasteless it’s a stroke of genius. And Obi Abili, who plays Tamora’s menacing lover, gets a surprising number of laughs.

Don’t underestimate how gory this production is. Bailey has created an experience that is pretty overwhelming. Back to those groundlings again: I spotted several faces turn pale at scenes of rape and murder (I saw them because I was looking away myself). Three people passed out and cardboard bowls were stationed at the entrances for the ushers to hand out. So all credit to Bailey for such a powerful production, but a final mention to the staff, many volunteers, who dealt with the (literal) fallout amongst the groundlings so well.

Until 13 July 2014

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Simon Kane

Written 2 May 2014 for The London Magazine

“Judgement Day” at the Print Room

Having just celebrated its first anniversary, a spectacular year that has seen this new theatre run by Lucy Bailey and Anda Winters establish itself as an essential fringe venue, The Print Room presents Judgement Day. The play is a new version of Ibsen’s last work When We Dead Awaken that the adaptor Mike Poulton describes as Ibsen’s ‘confession’ about the price paid for a life lived for art.

Arnold Rubek, a renowned sculptor, is the kind of Romantic artist who’s hard to like and easy to mock. Quick to proclaim his genius and espouse aesthetics, he is aware that he has ‘sold out’. In a loveless marriage and on a constant holiday, he re-encounters his first muse, Irena – an ‘association’ neither of them has ever recovered from. Michael Pennington is engrossing as the objectionable Rubek, taking us past the character’s pomposity to make him profound.

Poulton’s version makes Ibsen’s concerns seem fresh and he brings out the master’s lighter touch when it comes to the women who have suffered from being in Rubek’s life. Sara Vickers plays Rubek’s much younger wife, Maia, brimming with intelligence and frustrated sexuality. She is so bored that when a dashing baron arrives on the scene, she’s willing to accept a trip to see his dogs being fed as a first date. Where Maia is full of life, Irena, Rubek’s old muse, lives in the past. Penny Downie convinces in this hugely difficult role, toying with her character’s ambiguity and succeeding in being always believable. No easy task when you’re being followed around by a nun as your rather Gothic fashion accessory.

Judgement Day is heavy on symbolism but Poulton’s text and James Dacre’s direction also deliver a gripping human drama. The language is poetically satisfying and accessible, giving you plenty to ponder on at the end of the play’s 80-minute run. The Print Room has a hit on its hands and, while you are buying your ticket, take my advice and book up for its next production, Uncle Vanya, at the same time.

Until 17 December 2011

www.the-print-room.org

Photo by Sheila Burnett

Written 22 November for The London Magazine

“The Beggar’s Opera” at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

It’s hard to underestimate the success and importance of The Beggar’s Opera. The influence of John Gay’s satirical ballad opera is so enduring that viewing is essential for theatre lovers. As Londoners we are further obliged to attend: the premiere production paid for the construction of the first theatre in Covent Garden and the work teems with references to home that Londoners will love.

In Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s production, 18th-century London is masterfully evoked by William Dudley’s ambitious set. The park is cast as a pleasure garden, the criminals’ party in the shadow of Tyburn: the gallows are garlanded, the maypole formed with chains, but Newgate is only a cart ride away.

The stage is set so well that the story of love and dishonour amongst thieves speeds along. Bigamy and betrayal, awash in the ‘strong waters’ of gin, mean fists are always at the ready. Praise must be given to those often ignored in reviews – the movement and fight directors, in this case Maxine Doyle and Terry King – whose work with this Hogarthian epic never distracts from Gay’s dictionary of abuse. ‘Beggars’ is such a delicious catalogue of invective that it makes you wonder if we have lost the art of the insult.

The cast is as rude as can be. David Caves’ Captain Macheath is convincing as the sensual highwayman and Flora Spencer-Longhurst is refreshingly full blooded as Polly Peachum. But for sheer sauce Beverly Rudd steals the stage as Lucy Lockit.

The Beggar's Opera performed at The Open Air Theatre Regents Park
Beverly Rudd

Rudd is in fine voice – important since The Beggar’s Opera is essentially a musical. Director Lucy Bailey makes the laudable decision to use selections of the original score, performed superbly by The City Waites on period instruments, yet what should be the focus of the show seems like an addition.

Bailey is such an intelligent director that this reservation can be cast aside. Steeped in satire that still feels fresh, Bailey’s take on the highwayman as a celebrity makes her finale riveting and shows her understanding of this genre-busting work. She makes the importance and success of The Beggar’s Opera easy to understand.

Until 23rd July 2011

www.openairtheatre.org

Photo by Alastair Muir

Written 30 June 2011 for The London Magazine

“Snake In The Grass” at the Print Room

For their second production at London’s new theatre, The Print Room, artistic directors Lucy Bailey and Anda Winters have chosen Alan Ayckbourn’s 2002 play Snake in the Grass. It’s a delightfully dark romp involving murder and a haunted tennis court, and the strength of this production confirms that London has an unmissable new venue on its cultural scene.

Bailey directs and deals with Ayckbourn’s black humour in a speedy, efficient fashion; she gets the laughs and spends time on the moving revelations that haunt the characters and give the play its real bite. With the audience sitting like spectators on either side of William Dudley’s spectral, derelict tennis court we are ready to watch a deadly game.

And the cast is equally compelling. Susan Wooldridge plays Annabel. Returning to the UK upon the death of her father, she has to deal with blackmail and an estranged sister who “accidentally” overdosed her father and pushed him down the stairs. Wooldridge is utterly convincing as a disappointed, yet practical woman. When she deals with her sister Miriam’s distress by waving a conciliatory handkerchief as if to shoo her away, you can tell that every movement in this performance is under control.

Sarah Woodward takes on messed-up Miriam with similar intelligence. Described as the gentlest of creatures but also criminally stupid, nobody really knows Miriam and Woodward plays her character mercurially. As for the blackmailer, Mossie Smith’s Alice is delicious to watch as she threatens the sisters and suggests their plans to move to Fulham be abandoned in favour of a caravan park!

Snake in the Grass isn’t just one for the die-hard Ayckbourn fans. With Bailey’s fantastic production getting the most out of the play, it’s game, set and match to The Print Room.

Until 5 March 2011

www.the-print-room.org

Photo by Sheila Burnett

Written 15 February 2011 for The London Magazine

Julius Caesar at The Roundhouse

In a week when political assassination is once more in the news, Julius Caesar might seem more relevant to a contemporary audience than ever. The RSC’s production at The Roundhouse could never presage such current events, but the evening gives us plenty to think about. Director Lucy Bailey thrills by her engagement with history.

Lucy Bailey’s Rome is a bloody place. In the opening scene we see Romulus and Remus wrestling to the death – a bloodlust is the city’s heritage from its founders. Working with designer William Dudley and inspired by the recent Rome TV show, Bailey intelligently toys with our notions of the Romans as civilised. Video projections increase the stage presence of the Plebeians (a character in their own right) to great effect – this is a dangerous mob that rules the Empire on a whim.

Greg Hicks is a natural Caesar. Even eclectically garbed as some kind of generic Barbarian, he is commanding enough to cast a necessary shadow over the play. The evening’s highlight is Darrell D’Silva’s Mark Antony. A “masker and a reveller”, he seems drunk on grief and then violence. Reminiscent of Oliver Reed, it is a captivating performance that will make you want to see him reprise the role in Antony and Cleopatra, also part of this year’s season.

However, Julius Caesar is really the story of Brutus and Cassius. Here Brutus (Sam Troughton) is something like a monk; he is dressed like one and even gestures a benediction in a performance that invokes the play’s religious context. To bring complexity to their coalition, John Mackay attempts to make Cassius more than just a Machiavellian figure. Both are interesting ideas and yet, while there are moments of moving intimacy between the conspirators, both strategies fail to hold interest.

All the cast of Julius Caesar are martial. The characters are at home in Bailey’s world and her direction makes sense of the play’s long combat scenes, invariably presented with clarity and dynamism. Yet they disappoint, and we are hard pushed to share the opinion that Brutus was the “noblest Roman of them all”. What should be his tragedy may interest us but ultimately fails to move us emotionally.

Julius Caesar plays in rep until 5 February 2011

www.rsc.org.uk

Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Written 11 January 2011 for The London Magazine

“Fabrication” at The Print Room

The Print Room is a new theatre for London – and that, in itself, deserves applause. Artistic directors Anda Winters and Lucy Bailey, and BBB Marketing, which owns the building, should get a standing ovation for what they have achieved.

The Print Room’s first production, Fabrication by Pier Paolo Pasolini, is directed by Bailey. She is a bold director, intelligent and inventive. Indeed, Bailey’s only shortcoming seems to be her misplaced passion for Pasolini.

A caveat – I have never enjoyed Pasolini’s work. The Print Room has the coup of premièring his plas in this country, but it is hard not to resist the flippant response that we can see now why nobody else has beaten them to it. It turns out that Pasolini has a lot to say about theatre. But then he has a lot to say about everything. Trouble is, he doesn’t say any of it very well.

Despite Jamie McKendrick’s poetic translation being frank and direct, it cannot get past Pasolini’s perversely Baroque approach, which forces so many ideas on the audience they become opaque. There is no doubt an argument in the text for this. Pasolini toys with irony and the idea of a meaningless tragedy, just as he plays with plenty of other notions. The problem is that none of his arguments is satisfactorily developed.

What makes the evening all the more frustrating is how good the acting is. Jasper Britton gives a stunning performance as a Milanese industrialist who falls in love with his son, who is played with great passion by Max Bennett. Geraldine Alexander and Letty Butler are both wonderful as the mother and girlfriend who attempt to engage with this twisted Oedipal story. Martin Turner plays Sophocles in appropriately ghostly fashion and remarkably transforms himself into a beggar for the play’s final scene. Janet Fullerlove also has a great turn as a fortune teller, giving a highly nuanced performance that manages to add genuine drama.

All perform within designer Mike Britton’s clever set – a rectangular pen in the centre of the theatre that the audience peers into. And yet we return to the problem of what they are asked to perform: Fabrication is wilfully obtuse. But everything else about this production bodes well for the future of The Print Room, and supporting the venue cannot be endorsed enough. I just can’t wait for a different play.
www.the-print-room.org

Until 4 December 2011

Written 19 November 2010 for The London Magazine