Tag Archives: Lyric Hammersmith

“The Seagull” at the Lyric Hammersmith

Simon Stephens is a busy man. This week his play Heisenberg received its UK premiere and his new version of Anton Chekhov’s classic has opened. Dauntlessly tackling the 1895 piece, full of unrequited love triangles, the passion and depression in the original comes into focus. There’s no period frippery – not a samovar in sight – no agendas and the sometimes ponderous discussions of Art (capital A) feel unforced. The language is efficiently modern and startlingly down to earth: “get a grip,” says one character. Stephens has grabbed Chekhov ferociously.

There’s plenty of fresh insight and energy all around, abetted by Sean Holmes’ direction and a strong cast. The production is marked by direct addresses, admittedly not all successful, that illustrate a determination to engage the audience. Brian Vernel’s Konstantin has an indie rock star vibe (despite the classical mix in the show’s excellent soundtrack) that makes him feel modern. His unrequited love, Nina, gains a similarly contemporary touch from Adelayo Adedayo’s performance. The character is desperate for fame, fame, fatal fame. But when that dead seagull is presented by Konstantin in a plastic bag she wallops him with it: good girl! Getting in the way of their love, Nicholas Gleaves plays the writer Trigorin with a dash of aloof celebrity that aids the coherence and relevance of Stephens’ approach.

Cherrelle Skeete as Marcia
Cherrelle Skeete as Marcia

The real star of The Seagull is the actress Irina, and Lesley Sharp grasps this part magnificently. While her desperate love for Trigorin is clear, and explicitly depicted, the production calls for her comic skills and Sharp delivers. This snobby Sloane gets laughs for every “darhling” she utters. There are a lot of laughs all around in this production, with the play’s many characters each getting a turn, as desires battle with a cynical cruelty that’s surprisingly funny. Stephens has a great eye for eccentricity and the crazy things this boho crowd gets up to. As the depressed Masha, renamed Marcia with an impressive performance from Cherrelle Skeete, observes: “People are just odd.”

Humour is maintained for a long time. I suspect it might annoy some people. But we know The Seagull is a tragedy and changing key is Holmes’ biggest achievement. For the final scene, mental health issues come to the fore. We see how obsessive, in their own ways, all these characters are. A lot of anger is revealed and not just in the case of our young lovers. The delusions and detachments we’ve been laughing at become dangerous amongst such fragility and an acute sense of the toll time has taken on all. Stephens appreciates the complexity of Chekhov’s vision and has orchestrated it in a new and exciting manner.

Until 4 November 2017

www.lyric.co.uk

Photos by Tristram Kenton

“Herons” at the Lyric Hammersmith

Featuring yet more troubled youths, playwright Simon Stephens’ 2001 play has been revised under the direction of Sean Holmes. Set one year on from a murder (details are deliberately vague) – there are bullies, broken homes and lots of lies. This is a frustratingly slippery, provocatively outrageous play. But by carefully playing with naturalism, Stephens’ unsettling world of disturbing imagery and ambiguity is brought to life.

The direction emphasises Stephens’ oddities too emphatically: think gnomic pauses and sudden shouting. But Holmes has a crisp hold on the play’s tension and it’s exciting even while you scratch your head. Hyemi Shin’s ambitious design, with its flooded stage looking great during fight scenes, is fussy, if impressive. But with the heavyhanded symbolism of a dam wall threatening to burst at a pivotal moment, the set assaults us with metaphor.

The production has, appropriately, a fledgling cast. At times all the strangeness causes problems. The school uniforms are bizarre, the behaviour outlandish. And who on earth walks around with an inflatable doll? The point is that these teenagers frequently behave like infants. Face painting and blowing bubbles one minute, swearing enough to make a sailor blush the next. Do the characters even understand how offensive they are? The play’s most troublesome scene – an anal rape with a golf club handle that’s difficult to justify – leaves the protagonists themselves in shock.

A scene from Herons by Simon Stephens @ Lyric Theatre Hammersmith. Directed by Sean Holmes. (Opening 21-01-16) ©Tristram Kenton 01/16 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com

Moses Adejimi, Ella McLoughlin and Billy Matthews (above) make a tight trio of bully boys, creating a choral round out of Stephens’ expletive-obsessed script. It’s a shame more wasn’t made of the writer’s lyricism. Matthews takes the lead, reminiscent of Pinkie in Brighton Rock. But, like his nature-loving victim, performed valiantly by Max Gill, extreme reactions place a barrier between characters and the audience; maybe it’s best to think of this as a fence through which we watch a human zoo?

Another bludgeoning simile – films of primates distractingly projected throughout the play – confirms the production as a nature study rather than anthropology. There’s the observation (twice) that the youngsters aren’t allowed to be children anymore but Holmes moves us a long way from social comment: the focus is that “in nature terrible things happen all the time”. It’s a questionable exercise of dubious appeal.

Until 13 February 2016

www.lyric.co.uk

Photos by Tristram Kenton

“Twisted Tales” at the Lyric Hammersmith

Roald Dahl’s Twisted Tales is a selection of stories, told to a group of Haywards Heath commuters by a stranger who joins them on their journey. Skilfully adapted by Jeremy Dyson, of The League of Gentlemen fame, they mix suspense with the macabre and, as one would expect, all of them have a twist at the end.

The ensemble cast play a variety of parts as the stories change. Selina Griffiths excels in this diversity, and Trevor White, who plays The Stranger who knows all the denouements except one, is deliciously creepy.

What Dahl knew, and what this team preserves in adaptation, is that “imagination is a ferocious beast”, so it’s best to let the audience do a lot of the work themselves. The bare aesthetic of the design by Naomi Wilkinson is a highly effective element in director Polly Findlay’s atmospheric production. An expert knowledge of how suspense works creates great theatrical moments – sometimes coming from high drama, such as a bet with high stakes, at other times centred around a small domestic detail, such as drinking a cup of tea.

There is plenty of humour in the production but it might not be dark enough for some. Many of the laughs come from period details – that surely wasn’t Dahl’s intention, and it can dissipate tension. But these giggles about accents and class don’t detract from the enjoyment of the evening as a whole. If only commuting was always this entertaining.

Until 26 February 2011

www.lyric.co.uk

Photo by Alastair Muir

Written 25 January 2011 for The London Magazine