Tag Archives: Michael Grandage Company

“Labour of Love” at Wyndham’s Theatre

Thirty years of a political party’s history doesn’t sound like a West End hit. But, as this new play by James Graham joins the transfer of his Ink just down the road, you can’t question the young playwright’s commercial acumen. I am sure someone has worked out the last time a living writer had two new plays performing at the same time – it doesn’t happen often and is to be celebrated. Graham’s talent is obvious – the strength of his writing lies in his humour, and Labour of Love is funny from start to finish.

There’s a conventional love story here, which develops a little too late, between the MP whose career we follow and his constituency secretary, Jean. Their fumbling romance is sweet and gets laughs. There’s love of a place, too: a concerted effort to depict the constituency as a character, detailing the destruction of a community. It’s a shame that the Nottingham location is depicted as The North – it isn’t, it’s The Midlands. Pushing accents geographically up the country must have been a conscious decision, but seems odd given how thorough Graham’s research is. But it’s really the love of the Labour Party that is interesting. The history is entertaining, the observations acute, the use of hindsight effective and all of it is, yes, funny. Graham has written a lot about politics and his satire is distinctive. He seldom doubts the good intentions of our rulers and portrays them as human. While many would succumb to cynicism, Graham resists, which makes his work level headed and quietly inspirational.

Taking the leads are Martin Freeman as the amiable MP and Tamsin Greig as Jean. The comic timing of both is immaculate. Freeman is given more to work with when developing his character, and he suggests the passage of time in the play effectively. However, the play belongs to Jean. A card-carrying member of the party since she was 12 (she lied about her age), with a sincerity and passion that is palpable, her plain speaking and fruity swearing make her irresistible.

Jeremy Herrin’s direction is clear and thorough – the competency of the cast and strength of the script mean fancy touches aren’t necessary. Going backwards then forwards in time means it helps to know the history a little, as the archive footage offered isn’t quite enough. I feared for an American contingent of Freeman fanatics, but they seemed to enjoy themselves enormously. Graham isn’t shy of a bad pun or lame joke – he provides both with remarkable rapidity. Freeman and Greig tackle the speed of the gags with ease, making each and every one a winner.

Until 2 December 2017

www.labouroflovetheplay.co.uk

Photo 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

“Privates on Parade” at the Noël Coward Theatre

Privates on Parade marks the start of the Michael Grandage Company’s exciting residence at the Noel Coward Theatre. Peter Nichol’s play about an army song and dance unit in Malaysia during a time of colonial struggle, has “the Queers and the Boys” camping it up to entertain the troops. The service is a refuge for gay men and misfits fleeing from Atlee’s Britain, but the vicissitudes and corruption of Army life, along with a mad major, make the escapism on stage essential: no matter how hard these guys try, their lives are far from a cabaret.

Taking the flamboyant lead is the Unit’s ‘Auntie’, Acting Captain Terri Dennis, a man on a mission to do his best for the boys on stage and off. Simon Russell Beale is hilarious in the role (his Marlene Dietrich routine has the audience in stitches), but he’s more than this – showing us the man behind the costumes. He makes the crass seems classy and the double entendres close to wit. The ensemble’s rendering of Denis King’s songs is skilful, with just the right amount of fluff to remind us that these men are, for the most part, amateur performers and conscripts far from home.

By contrast, it’s when the music ends, that things start to drag. Only Harry Hempel manages to match Russell Beale in finding the depth needed when the piece aims at intense drama. The end-of-empire politics of the play are supposed to jar with the high jinks on stage but the elements of farce in military life aren’t played with a dark enough edge and the rest of the show is so funny you really just want to focus on that. Grandage is lucky that Russell Beale as Carmen Miranda still makes the show worth it.

Until 2 March 2013

www.michaelgrandagecompany.com

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 13 December 2012 for The London Magazine