Tag Archives: Tamsin Greig

“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

“iHo” at the Hampstead Theatre

To give Tony Kushner’s play its full title – The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures – is to sell it short. This is a history of left-wing politics and activism in the US that sweeps across the whole of the 20th century. And it’s also a family drama of parodic contemporary complexity that turns into a meditation on death. Thanks for the abbreviation, but it’s “iHo, iHo and off to work we go” with such a dauntingly demanding piece.

It can be hard to connect with characters taking abstract ideals so seriously, but Kushner makes Communist Party member Gus convincing, and asks us to question why the values he has lived by might feel alien. A kind of leftist Willy Loman, Gus is a superb role in which David Calder excels. The declaration that he is soon to take his own life sends his family into a spin and adds mounting emotion to the text. Dividing the house among his children, each of whom make King Lear’s kids look positively benign, brings secrets out of the woodwork, adding further tension.

Gus’s sons Pill (Richard Clothier) and Vito (Lex Shrapnel) are joined by Tamsin Greig, who plays his daughter. She’s the favoured child, heir to all that theory, and, as the play grows, her increasing concern with mortality sees her performance gain in strength. Along the way the sibling dynamics provide a lot of humour. I-Ho is very funny. The younger generation’s complex personal lives (let’s just mention Pill’s affair with a prostitute, confirming Kushner’s obsession with commodification) and their academic partners provide a lot of laughs, with outrageous narcissism and jargon-laden chat. I’ve a theory they’re all imprisoned by identity politics: a trend that’s ripe for exploration.

The part of Aunt Clio provides such a blast for Sara Kestelman that it’s a real highlight. Once a nun, then a Maoist and now moving on to Christian Science, she’s described as addicted to the “metaphysical crack pipe”. With characters like her it’s hard not to love the play. But a warning is needed: nothing about i-Ho is easy. More than one scene has the large cast talking over one another. It’s masterfully handled by director Michael Boyd but proved too much for some audience members. It feels as if Kushner is cramming more than one play into the night. Each of the three acts here would have been satisfying. Cumulatively, by the end of three hours, if you managed to keep up you definitely deserve a certificate.

Until 26 November 2016

www.hampsteadtheatre.com

Photo by Manuel Harlan

“Jumpy” at the Royal Court

There’s a reason plays about generational conflict are perennial – they make great dramas. April De Angelis’ new play Jumpy is no exception. With a nod to the classics, and great observations on modern life, the focus here is on a mother and daughter relationship as funny as it is fraught.

Tilly is an odious teenager. Bel Powley plays her superbly, making the most out of her deliberately inarticulate character, full of shocking yet recognisable spite and ignorance. The Royal Court audience seems full of mothers nodding and sometimes glancing at the shame-faced teenagers they have dragged along. They deserve this sweet compensation. Surely, like Tilly’s mother Hilary, they are good parents – but still suffer. The “brand of exquisite torture” Tilly inflicts is funny, but the real joy is to laugh at the teenagers as much as the middle-aged.

De Angelis has written some strong male characters in Jumpy. There is a fine performance from Ewan Stewart as Hilary’s husband and Richard Lintern is deliciously credible as Roland, an oily divorcee whose clichéd mid-life crisis pails in comparison with the women in the piece. Hilary’s friend Francis (Doon Mackichan) takes up burlesque dancing, with “post-feminist irony” of course, in a scene that is one of the funniest you will see on stage this year.

But Francis, who characterises being 50 as a “crisis”, can’t match our “mental-pausal” heroine Hilary. It is a role Tamsin Greig excels in – and she holds the audience whether she’s wisecracking or weeping. A former protestor at Greenham Common (kind of), still keen on good deeds and personal projects, she reads Dickens and has Great Expectations for her daughter but is full of “wobbles”. Greig is marvellous at injecting pathos into her struggle. De Angelis’ text skates over issues and leaves plot points hanging, so the play’s most poignant moments, which really are moving, are down to Greig’s performance.

It isn’t fair to extol Greig exclusively. The supporting cast are too strong for that. Powley in particular is an actress it is safe to say we will see more of, and De Angelis is a great comic writer. This is a play not to be missed – and take a teenager if you can.

Until 19 November 2012

www.royalcourttheatre.com

Photo by Robert Workman

Written 26 October 2011 for The London Magazine

“The Little Dog Laughed” at The Garrick Theatre

It is always satisfying to have a play’s title explained to you.  The Little Dog Laughed is set within the world of Hollywood so quoting a nursery rhyme to point out the nonsense that goes on in tinsel town makes a lot of sense.

The plot is simple.  A successful actor’s agent has to deal with her client’s ‘recurring case of homosexuality’ which threatens to come to light when he becomes involved with a prostitute, who in turn discovers he is about to be a father.

To complicate matters, the actor is about to start a new project in which he plays a gay character.  His agent insists this will only work, and acclaim only be awarded, if he is known to the world as heterosexual.

The potential for farce is plentiful and the play has lots of laughs.  Rupert Friend plays Mitchell the actor, Harry Lloyd the rent boy Alex, and Gemma Atherton his girlfriend Ellen.  All three manage to convey endearing characters we can warm to despite their faults.

It is a shame that with an English cast, the east coast/west coast division that the play contains isn’t fully conveyed.  Yet this hardly matters when the laughs are arriving so regularly.  Friend’s charming naivety compares wonderfully with Lloyds well-pitched sarcasm.  Atherton’s character has satisfying layers.

It is Michell’s agent Diane who really allows the piece to take off though.  Tamsin Greig plays the role of Diane masterfully – this is a great character and Greig knows it. Rapacious, ambitious or just a realist?  Diane has jokes about being all three, but it is not just a case of the devil getting all the good lines.  The scripts clever observations about theatre and how it differs from film are embodied in some delightful improvisation from Greig.  Her raised eyebrows deserve an award.

Just in case all this doesn’t sound fun enough and perhaps celebrity doesn’t attract you, Douglas Carter Beane’s award winning play concerns itself with much more – primarily that characteristic American theme – the pursuit of happiness.

For some characters this lies in a search for innocence.  In a touching speech about childhood recollections, Ellen’s captivation with the image of the good life will come to explain her strange decision-making.  Alex values freedom more and, while pragmatic, ends up as the one who makes the fewest compromises.

It is the omniscient Diane who presents to us what the pursuit of happiness is often substituted with – stories and the telling of them.  As author to several other people’s fate she is a delightfully sinister figure, all the more so since she insists on making sure everyone is happy. And the audience surely is.  The fast paced direction from Jamie Lloyd perfectly compliments the writing.  A minimalist design from Soutra Gilmour is both stylish and appropriate to the theatricality of the piece.  After all, you don’t need many props for a fantasy.  Carter Beane’s play has a British debut it deserves.  The quality of the writing makes it a play not to be missed.

Until 10 April 2010

www.nimaxtheatres.com 

Photo by Alastair Muir

Written 21 January 2010 for The London Magazine