Tag Archives: Richard Bean

“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

“One Man, Two Guvnors” at the National Theatre

Richard Bean’s adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s commedia dell’arte play, One Man, Two Guvnors, is a story of lovers, disguise and an overworked servant, set in 1960s Brighton. The decade is a great excuse for a nostalgic design, rock ’n’ roll songs, and plenty of saucy jokes that some sensitive souls might frown at. And the seaside is an appropriate location for the silly stuff we see on stage – it’s picture postcard time at the National Theatre, with plenty of slap and tickle to enjoy.

The humour couldn’t be less sophisticated, and the gags as old as they come (“men will do anything to get you into bed. Lie, cheat, buy you a bed”). We are offered some theory as an excuse. Commedia dell’arte deals with stock characters and director Nicholas Hynter makes sure his cast delivers the broadest of performances. None of this stops the play from being funny – predictability is part of the joke, but it does make delivery the most important thing. Here, One Man, Two Guvnors does very well indeed.

The lovers we encounter include Pauline Clench (Claire Lams) and her RADA-trained fiancé Alan Dangle (Daniel Rigby) whose postured emoting gets more laughs than his lines. Their marriage is endangered by Rachel Crabbe (the excellent Jemima Rooper) disguised as her brother, who has been killed by her lover Stanley Stubbers, played effortlessly by Oliver Chris, the nice-but-dim public school boy who, taking inspiration from the street, disguises himself as Dustin Pubsign. His is the star turn of the night.

Chris steals the show, which might surprise some, since One Man, Two Guvnors seems rather unashamedly designed as a vehicle for James Cordon. As the servant who takes on two jobs, he rarely leaves the stage and his energy is fantastic. The physical comedy poses no problems for Cordon and he deals playfully with his colleagues, especially his own love interest Dolly (sassily portrayed by Suzie Toase), but his character is supposed to be more hapless than devious and – whisper it – Cordon doesn’t possess quite enough charm to hold the role.

And yet Cordon’s star appeal overpowers any deficiencies in his performance. His confidence is enough to entertain and he’s undoubtedly a crowd pleaser. If audience participation strikes you as a little tawdry, then stay away. But, as they say on the X Factor, the audience is the judge, and the level of near hysteria following Cordon’s every move makes for an electric atmosphere.

www.nationaltheatre.org.uk

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 26 May 2011 for The London Magazine

“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