Tag Archives: Stephen Brimson Lewis

“The Tempest” at the Barbican

If you ever needed a reason to forgive computer company Intel for its annoyingly catchy ad jingle then its collaboration with the RSC is it. A large team, working with designer Stephen Brimson Lewis, has added ground- breaking effects to Gregory Doran’s production of Shakespeare’s late romance, and the result is a big theatrical event.

It’s a good choice of play to unleash the clever technical trickery on. From the shipwreck that sends Prospero’s enemies into his territory, the island becomes awash with projections. And spirits really do melt into air in the case of Ariel, played by Mark Quartley, as a live motion capture suit is employed on stage for the first time. The resulting imagery is appropriate and surely becomes more and more impressive if you understand how difficult it all is. Even so, the designers might be a tad aggrieved to know that all eyes are really on the live actor. Quartley gives a sensitive performance of remarkable physicality that doesn’t really need assistance.

The tech goes to town with the masque that Prospero conjures, its design based on Ben Jonson and Inigo Jones’ work, so that part of the play that can drag looks great. But again, beyond the spectacle, it’s the basics of the show that really work. A large cast of spirits add immeasurably and this is truly an island “full of noises” with a strong score composed by Paul Englishby that combines a variety of genres.

There’s a glitch in the application, too. The autochthonous Caliban could be the key to the island but he isn’t granted any modern magic. This rationale makes sense but it makes the character out of place, with no link to his inheritance – surely a missed opportunity? It’s a game performance from Joe Dixon, but the monster costume, the only foot Brimson Lewis puts wrong, suggests the aim is to get some laughs – what else can an actor do if he gets given a fish as a prop?

The key ingredient isn’t the intel inside but Simon Russell Beale’s performance as Prospero. Directed as a family drama, the relationship with Jenny Rainsford’s Miranda – an excellent performance – is deeply moving. Similarly, as his treacherous brother, Jonathan Broadbent makes a role often forgotten memorable. A complex relationship with Ariel, suggesting a substitute son, is also explored.

Russell Beale can be magisterial with ease but focuses on Prospero’s neurotic moments. The all-powerful magus sees his plan on a knife-edge, adding excitement to the production. This Prospero has many a mini breakdown, as the tension of plotting gets the better of him – at one point he even screams, and the prospect of changing overwhelms him. Doran was clearly sensitive to the possible drawbacks of a high-tech collaboration. Never losing sight of the fine cast here, his supervision shows a calm hand at the helm.

Until 18 August 2017

www.barbican.org.uk

Photo by Topher McGrillis

“Relative Values” at the Harold Pinter Theatre

A new production of Noël Coward’s Relative Values has arrived in London from the Theatre Royal Bath. It’s another sparkling comedy for the West End, boasting star performances from Patricia Hodge and Caroline Quentin, and with respectful direction from Trevor Nunn that is sure to please aficionados of the author.

This is the one where Lady Marshwood (Hodge) finds her son has gone and got himself engaged to a film star (the perfectly cast Leigh Zimmerman), who happens to be the estranged sister of her maid Moxie (Quentin). It’s simply not on. Hodge and Quentin are spot on, making the most of each acerbic line and convincing as two women who have grown close despite the class divide.

As one line in the play points out, this is a comedy idea not to be sniffed at – especially when Moxie, to avoid awkwardness, receives a promotion from maid to companion/secretary. Cue excruciating after dinner drinks and an explosive confrontation between Moxie and her sister that will have you in stitches. All this is aided by the butler, naturally a clever chap with a philosophical bent, performed by none other than Rory Bremner, who makes a great West End debut.

You certainly get your money’s worth. Relative Values is long and Nunn does little to speed it up. It’s a valid decision but I am not sure films introducing each act, providing historical background, are really needed. Some minor roles could be pepped up. But the whole thing, Stephen Brimson Lewis’ set included, drips quality.

Never underestimate Coward. Producers don’t – look at Blythe Spirit  packing them in at the Gielgud. It now seems barely believable that he was once regarded as an unfashionable writer. His observations about class and the changing times of the early 50s, that Nunn takes Coward’s lead in emphasising, leave me cold but then I sometimes feel pretty lonely in these Downton Abbey obsessed times. Coward’s insights into human nature are still pointed and serve his comedy marvelously well. And at the heart of this play Quentin and Hodge make a great team: queens of comedy reigning gloriously.

Until 21 June 2014

www.atgtickets.com

Photo by Catherine Ashmore

Written 15 April 2014 for The London Magazine

“An Ideal Husband” at the Vaudeville Theatre

We sometimes forget what a political writer Oscar Wilde was. An Ideal Husband is the story of a successful MP whose corruption comes back to haunt him. A crime he once committed, and upon which his fortune is based, is used to blackmail him in a play that is as much a comedy of morals as of manners.

This is a luxurious production. Designer Stephen Brimson Lewis’s golden sets deserve the applause they receive, and are all the more impressive for not being slavishly historical. Lindsay Posner’s direction is similarly lavish, the pace is leisurely, so that we can fully savour Wilde’s delicious ironies.

Alexander Hanson and Rachael Stirling play the couple that faces ruin from the unravelling scandal. Both work well with the play’s occasional melodrama, and inject real emotion into their very Victorian marriage. Samantha Bond excels as, “that dreadful Mrs Cheveley, in a most lovely gown” who is, “as large as life and not nearly so natural”. Bond is fresh and deliciously wicked as this crinolined thief and blackmailer.

Elliot Cowan’s performance as the Viscount Goring is revelatory. Goring is the Wildean dandy we all expect but Cowan not only delivers his aphorisms admirably, he adds a depth to the character that includes a truly steely edge.

Both Goring and his fiancée Mabel, charmingly performed by Fiona Button, tackle Wilde’s epigrams with just the right amount of knowing glances, for some of them are silly. But one line resonates: “Always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it.” My advice? Get a ticket for this classy production as quickly as you can.

Until 26 February 2011

Photo by Nobby Clark

Written 12 November 2010 for The London Magazine