Tag Archives: Tara Fitzgerald

“The Secret Theatre” at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Running in repertory with the excellent Romantics Anonymous, this new play by Anders Lustgarten is a similarly accessible affair, with an emphasis on entertainment. Everyone loves a bit of Tudor history and this story of spymaster Francis Walsingham, impeccably performed by Aidan McArdle, delivers plenty of it. While the famed intelligencer comes to find himself trapped by “too many stories” – from the Babington plot, to the Spanish Armada – Lustgarten condenses the happenings expertly, and the exciting intrigue is perfectly marshalled by director Matthew Dunster.

We get a monarch – Good Queen Bess, of course – none other than Tara Fitzgerald rising to the task with the aid of costumes by Jon Bausor. She appears gloriously like a painting at first, in a dress that itself deserves an award. But this is a far cry from the Virgin Queen. Bringing Elizabeth I to the stage must count as the biggest challenge for both writer and performer – and it becomes their biggest achievement. It’s a new take on the queen we can recognise and enjoy: this bullying and foul-mouthed “mad dog” (Lustgarten does swearing on stage very well) is used for dramatic purposes to great effect.

Tara Fitzgerald and Aiden McArdle
Tara Fitzgerald and Aiden McArdle

Lustgarten has a reputation as a provocative and political writer. His version of Elizabeth might possibly shock if you take his contrary streak too seriously. But the politics, in the form of parallels with our own increasingly surveyed state, are neat and often funny. It’s never subtle, but if you have good point then why not shout about it? Small gripes are the piece’s lack of peril (much of the tension comes from Dunster’s brilliant use of the candlelit venue and composer Alexander Balanescu’s contribution), and that emotion is generally in short supply – although McArdle does his best. But as a spy story the history works as well as you would expect and there are strong turns from espiocrats Burleigh, Pooley and Phelippes played by Ian Redford, Edmund Kingsley and Colin Ryan.

The Secret History is historical fiction that uses the past to tell a new story about our own times. Having done his research, Lustgarten is entitled to play around – and don’t forget that there have been plenty of outlandish theories about Elizabeth. Some of the speculation here is far-fetched, and not all of it is sure-footed: Lady Frances and Sir Philip Sydney have some distinctly modern sensibilities, while a nice try at depicting a working-class perspective isn’t given time to develop. The play escalates into conspiracy theory quickly – but spies are ripe for that and it all works well theatrically. With a nice twist to solidify its thought- provoking ambitions, we are sent home happy and, just maybe, a little wiser about the theatrics behind power.

Until 16 December 2017

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photos by Marc Brenner

“Farewell to the Theatre” at Hampstead Theatre

Farewell to the Theatre, a new play at Hampstead, takes as its subject the life and work of Harley Granville-Barker. A pivotal figure in British theatre, the multi-talented Granville-Barker is today known primarily as a playwright. Boldly taking on another writer as his subject, the play’s author, Richard Nelson, shows off his own experience with an impeccably crafted, intelligently layered script.

Granville-Barker was also an actor and it is easy to imagine he would have been proud of these performances at Hampstead. Ben Chaplin takes on the lead with a commanding intelligence and complexity: Granville-Barker was a severe critic with a cruel tongue but also a wish to be kind. Jemma Redgrave is superb as the Chekhovian sister to a persecuted lecturer Granville-Barker is staying with. Tara Fitzgerald is wonderful as a retired actress mooning over a young boy performing in the college play, a role that allows William French to make an impressive debut.

Granville-Barker moved from acting to direction. His lessons about ensemble work haven’t been lost on director Roger Michell, whose control and sensitivity bring out the best in Farewell to the Theatre’s cast as well as its script. Michell’s pacing is superb. Avoiding all traces of indulgence, he takes the production at “a good clip”, just as Granville-Barker advised we should deal with Shakespeare: at 100 minutes straight through we are left satisfied but wanting more – not an easy trick to pull off.

Ultimately, the influence Granville-Barker has on the stage stems from his work as a theoretician: born of a passion for the theatre that, during the course of the play, we see under threat. Farewell to the Theatre is a play Granville-Barker is writing – about a thespian tired of the business that surrounds putting on a play. It is an exhaustion I guarantee you will not feel if you see this one. Concluding with an impromptu performance of a mummers’ play, here we have the magical power of theatre confirmed, in a simple, effective, efficient fashion.

Until 7 April 2012

www.hampsteadtheatre.com

Photo by Stephen Cummiskey

Written 9 March 2012 for The London Magazine