Tag Archives: Nancy Carroll

“Young Marx” at the Bridge Theatre

There’s nothing more exciting than a new theatre. And, bearing in mind that Nicholas Hytner’s new venue is the biggest in London for a long time, its opening night is a major cultural event to really celebrate. In truth, it’s a bit of a box of place – in one of those luxury housing developments you wish you could afford but wouldn’t live in if you could – trying hard to be swish (expensive sarnies) and smelling a bit too new. But the play’s the thing and, to open his new home Hytner, has collaborated with regular favourites to deliver a real crowd pleaser.

The true history of Karl Marx’s early years living in London is fascinating, with a fact-stranger-than-fiction appeal – it seems that Marx was an expert in economics but couldn’t handle his own money. The lead role provides an enviable part for Rory Kinnear, who embraces this larger-than-life, Bohemian (yes, really) philosopher. With One Man Two Guvnors and Dead Ringers writers Richard Bean and Clive Coleman at work, the play is, as you would expect, good, old-fashioned funny.

With the excellent Oliver Chris as Friedrich Engels, the two revolutionaries make a comedy double act. They even have a piano, until the bailiffs call and, as invited, literally, take a chair. There’s more than a hint of the Marx Brothers here – there’s even a cigar or two. Add numerous emigrés with funny accents (Tony Jayawardena is a highlight as the impoverished family’s doctor) and you have more than enough comedy ingredients. Kinnear is even good for some slapstick. Hytner enjoys this stuff – as do audiences – and his direction is faultless.

Just to make sure all bases are covered, we get some light extrapolation of Marxist ideas to give us something to think about, and it’s pretty evenly handled, with nice touches of hindsight. And there’s pathos: the death of a Marx child is movingly portrayed. The treatment of Marx’s wife and mistress short-changes two excellent actors – Nancy Carroll and Laura Elphinstone – and it becomes hard to believe these women stuck around. And there is angst: that Marx fears unleashing the “virus of hope” with his writing is an interesting idea, but we need to see more of Marx’s power, rather than just being told about it. Maybe that would have made things too serious?

Young Marx tries hard to be a hit – and it deserves to be one. Even with the best reputation and address book in the business, starting a new commercial theatre is a brave move by Hytner and his producer Nick Starr. As new plays go, this is a pretty safe bet. But Hytner understandably has a cautious eye on commercial success. A big show to get people talking is exactly what is needed and my fingers are crossed for just that.

Until 31 December 2017

www.bridgetheatre.co.uk

Photo by Manuel Harlan

“The Magistrate” at the National Theatre

Stepping into a gap in the National Theatre’s schedule left by the cancellation of The Count of Monte Cristo, Timothy Sheader’s production of The Magistrate may be a last-minute stocking filler – but it doesn’t feel like one. Packed with laughs and polished to perfection, it’s a real gift for the Christmas season.

This is a theatrical achievement all the more impressive because Arthur Wing Pinero’s 1885 play isn’t all that great on the page. When Agatha marries Aeneas Posket, she lies about her age and turns her son, Cis, from a 19-year-old man into a 14-year-old boy. The ‘larks’ he gets up to drop the whole family, and any passing female, into deep water, forcing his new step-father, a Magistrate, to get involved. The exposition could be slow and the satire weak, but Sheader fills the show with energy, kicking it into life and giving the National’s last hit comedy, One Man, Two Guvnors, a run for its money.

Of course, comedy is all about timing and The Magistrate‘s wonderful cast excels at this: from the excellent Beverly Rudd, who shines in the small part of Popham the maid, to Jonathan Coy, who plays an Army Captain from Agatha’s past with enough bluster to steal a scene or two, and Joshua McGuire, who gets great laughs as the young son “swelling with agitation” as a result of the five years taken off his age. With so much talent on stage it seems that John Lithgow, who takes on the title role, needs to grow into his part a little – he’s certainly upstaged by his wife, played by Nancy Carroll, in absolutely fabulous style.

Musical interludes with lyrics by Richard Stilgoe (with a nod to Gilbert and Sullivan) add even more fun, and the sets from designer Katrina Lindsay are magnificent – pop-up fantasies that make the most of the Olivier stage, they hint at Christmas cards. But this show is so good that it’s not just for Christmas and should entertain for a long time afterwards.

Until 10 February 2013

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 23 November 2012 for The London Magzine

“House of Games” at the Almeida Theatre

David Mamet often writes about professionals, including estate agents, and in the entertaining House of Games it’s the turn of therapists and conmen. Tense and comic in turn, Richard Bean’s version of Mamet’s 1987 film, holds your attention over its 90 minutes, but it fails to really convince.

Nancy Carroll plays Dr Margaret Ford and manages to create a strong stage presence despite problems with the role. Harvard-educated Margaret decides to write a book on conmen but without any preliminary research. Clinical to the point of caricature, she jokes about being Amish, yet runs into an affair with Michael Landes’ charismatic card shark like a doting schoolgirl.

Of course we know that Margaret is going to be tricked. Even if the con is predictable it is fun to watch, mostly because of the team of charming shyster’s she encounters. Trevor Cooper manages to be funny while offensive and John Marquez dim yet appealing.

Despite the casts skills at comedy, director Lindsay Posner injects several moments of suspense, many connected with Margaret’s one time patient Billy. Played superbly by Al Weaver, Billy gets the laughs and then becomes frightening. Combined with Django Bates impressive score there are some highly atmospheric moments.

All the conmen identify themselves as skilled actors. It’s a third profession we are supposed to be thinking about, yet this tempting subtext isn’t pursued sufficiently. Margaret moves from writing science to fiction – so she starts pretending for a living too. Her agent applauds this but it seems a wasted coda and an unsatisfying end that leaves you feeling a little conned.

Until 6 November 2010

www.almeida.co.uk

Photo by Simon Annand

Written 17 September 2010 for The London Magazine

“After the Dance” at the National Theatre

The National Theatre’s contribution to the Terence Rattigan centenary celebrations is one of his least known plays, After the Dance. This provides a provocative insight into the Bright Young Things – that post-WWI, Bohemian generation – and in particular what happens to them in later life. Set in 1938, the play’s serious-minded youngsters observe their elders with disdain. This new generation thinks the party should have ended long ago and, with a new war looming, it becomes clear that any dance now is likely to be a macabre one.

The Scott-Fowlers are a wealthy and glamorous couple, still on the party scene and seemingly enjoying themselves. Reaching for the gin with improbable frequency, even more impossibly they retain their wit. They may not be young but they are still bright and a great source of comedy. Benedict Cumberbatch and Nancy Carroll portray this sophistication perfectly – they positively sparkle.

The Scott-Fowlers are joined by their ‘court jester’ John Reid, played by National Theatre stalwart Adrian Scarborough, who (as usual) manages to steal any scene he is in. We also get to meet their friends, including a cameo from Pandora Colin that is worth the price of a ticket alone. Her character’s vague distaste of her Bloomsbury days now that times have moved on is not only hilarious but reveals the dichotomy this group lives with – obsessed with the past, they are also slaves to fashion.

John Heffernan and Faye Castelow
John Heffernan and Faye Castelow

Aloof to it all, David Scott-Fowler’s cousin and young secretary, Peter, is played superbly by the always impressive John Heffernan. While intrigued with the glamorous life he isn’t ashamed of being the “bore” his elders live in fear of being described as. His fiancée Helen also sees that the pretence of being continually interesting is exhausting, but is in love with the older David and young enough to try to change him. Faye Castelow gives this pursuit an almost sinister edge and shows how Helen fails to recognise the depth of character she lectures about is actually already present. Given the chance to show their characters’ deeper side, Cumberbatch and Carroll excel once again.

There is no doubt that this is a revival to cherish. Rattigan’s masterfully crafted script is directed with characteristic clarity by Thea Sharrock. The production values are as high as we might expect from the National Theatre, with a stylish set from Hildegard Bechtler and breathtaking costumes. Any reference to contemporary events and the economic boom of recent history are (perhaps thankfully) avoided. Entertaining and interesting, impeccably performed and produced, this is the perfect period piece.

Until 11 August 2010

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 9 June 2010 for The London Magazine

“Arcadia” at the Duke of York’s Theatre

If there is one thing in the theatre world everyone can agree on, it is that Tom Stoppard is clever.

He knows a lot about a lot and is good at explaining complicated things that leave the rest of us baffled.

The subject matter of Arcadia is a case in point – a heady brew of landscape gardening, literary studies and physics, played out in one room with alternate acts set in the 18th century and modern times. A rich mix, indeed, and one that potentially overwhelms. The cleverest thing about Stoppard is that he manages to get the audience not just understanding these subjects but also caring and laughing about them.

Credit goes to the cast. Dan Stevens plays the charismatic tutor Septimus Hodge . His role is to explain 18th-century arts and science to both the audience and his prodigious pupil Thomasina Coverly . A painful desire for his mistress Lady Croom is complicated by a touching flirtation with his pupil, and he conveys not just a passion for his studies but also a great sexual presence. Both women, Jessica Cave and Nancy Carroll respectively, present their characters with fitting complexity and make the most of Stoppard’s wonderful ear for period language to great comic effect.

In the present day, the explaining is done by mathematics student Valentine (Ed Stoppard). His brooding presence is so intense as to be unlikeable, and his irritation over the supposed simplicity of iterated algorithms sounds false. This time, explication is for the benefit of the audience and Samantha Bond ’s historian, whose performance becomes inexplicably shrill.

The love triangle in modern times is completed by rival academic Bernard Nightingale , a morally distasteful character portrayed by Neil Pearson, who has surely paid far too much attention to one textual reference about his bouncing around.

Through science and art these two worlds come together. Thomasina’s brilliance foresees the great mathematical discoveries Valentine is working on. Both historians retrace events concerning the earlier set of characters.

But, despite its humour, Arcadia is a melancholy work with a gentle sense of tragedy. The mathematics aren’t understood in the 18th century – with disastrous consequences. Both historians are blinded by their ambition for either professional advancement or to prove an ideological point and make mistakes about what really happened in the past. Attempts to created a paradise garden on earth or to explain that earth with a grand Theory of Everything are inevitably doomed to failure .

Despite all the laughs, destruction seems to be the only outcome of our investigations. What hold us are those brief moments of joy along the way – the journey through Arcadia rather than the place itself.

Until 12 September 2009

Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Written 8 June 2009 for The London Magazine