Tag Archives: Matt Ryan

“Knives in Hens” at the Donmar Warehouse

This revival of David Harrower’s 1996 play is a trip to the Middle Ages that’s full of sex and ideas. There are just three characters – a ploughman, his wife and a miller – yet it goes beyond a dangerous love triangle to evoke an entire society beset by ignorance and misogyny. More impressive, still, is the precision and insight applied to the struggle to break away from the primitive and embrace investigation and individuality.

This is an impressive piece of writing, with the distinctive dialogue rooted in imagined lives very different from our own. Christian Cooke plays the labouring farmer with breath-taking virility – all that time in a field has clearly done him good – but he also succeeds in expressing an anxiety about his hold on power and his control over the woman selected as a wife. In this role, Judith Roddy gives a strong performance as a person full of contradictions, while appreciating Harrower’s articulation of an ‘internal’ life distinct from modern conceptions. Naming objects is an issue in this society, religion plays a distinct role, and all the while a new scientific view is blossoming. Embodying these conflicts is Matt Ryan’s miller, a character set aside from the village by his semi-technical work. His sense of isolation creates the emotional heart of the play.

Director Yaël Ferber presents the strange eroticism of the work well, showing a clear appreciation of the mediaeval milieu and adding some vivid imagery to match the poetry of the piece. There are some fussy touches (a little too much rolling around and playing with flour), but her skills are a good match for the text. Take the tension injected into a scene where our heroine shows a fear of the written word. Breaking with superstition is part of her attraction to the miller. There is a yearning for a new way of understanding the self and the substance of the world. Suggesting all this with an undertow of violence is a fine achievement on Roddy’s part, making this a miller’s mistress’s tale to be proud of.

Until 7 October 2017

www.donmarwarehouse.com

Photo by Marc Brenner

“Dogfight” at the Southwark Playhouse

Southwark Playhouse staged the European premiere of Dogfight this week. The musical was a hit off Broadway just a couple of years ago, garnering awards and acclaim. Smoothly directed by Matt Ryan, this exciting work is a must for fans of shows, yet also has huge mainstream potential. Do go and see it.

The scene is San Francisco, the night before a group of marines embark for Vietnam. It’s the Corps tradition to host a revolting bet – to see who can bring the ugliest girl to a party. Thankfully, Peter Duchan’s book, tightly constructed throughout, uses this unedifying competition to provide a strong female lead and a fresh-feeling love affair.

It’s easy to see why composers and lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul are hot property. The music and words are assured, the influences are sound (several numbers are sure to please Sondheim devotees) yet the score is complex enough to avoid pastiche. Dogfight isn’t perfect. The songs for the marines are much weaker than those for our heroine, Rose. And scenes of war feel too briefly dealt with, despite an impassioned performance here from the male lead Jamie Muscato.

Dogfight 1 Jamie Muscato (Eddie Birdlace) Photo Darren Bell
Jamie Muscato

There are problems with the production as well. Not all the singing is as clear as you could wish for, Lucie Pankhurst’s choreography seems a little ambitious for the cast and, despite Ryan’s experience, the production seems too small for the show. I suspect this goes back to the material; regular fringe goers know the biggest shows can be happy in small venues, but here the military machismo needs a larger cast and bigger sound to convince.

So with all these reservations, why the strong recommendation? Quite simply Laura Jane Matthewson, who grabs the role of Rose, a great part with strong songs, with both hands. Newcomer Matthewson is a wonderful actress, who makes you believe her character’s innocence, convinces in her defiance and is adorably sweet in the central romantic scene. Most importantly, she sounds great, with a confidently understated style that produces a powerful authenticity. Both the piece and the production may have some faults, but Matthewson’s  performance will make you forget them.

Until 13 September 2014

www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk

Photos by Darren Bell

Written 14 August 2014 for The London Magazine