Tag Archives: Trevor White

“Thebes Land” at the Arcola Theatre

Warning: this blog may contain hyphens. Lots of them. Franco-Uruguayan playwright Sergio Blanco’s acclaimed piece returns as part of its director-translator Daniel Goldman’s CASA Latin American Theatre Festival. Ostensibly an exploration of patricide, we watch a dramatist’s encounters with a murderer in prison. But we also watch the construction – writing and rehearsals – of the very play we are watching. Confused? Don’t be. Described as a multiple-reality drama, Thebes Land uses its novel approach to fantastic results.

Blanco sets up layers within his play marvellously; unravelling the motives behind a brutal murder, while commenting on the process of any play coming to the stage. The playwright, performed by Trevor White, greets us and makes what’s going on transparent… and then not so. But Blanco and Goldman wear their learning lightly. Deflating any pretentiousness only adds to the cleverness and the humour – White is excellent here – and it’s a lot of fun.

Take meeting our convicted killer Martin – first as a ‘real’ criminal, then as the actor called Freddie who plays him. Alex Austin makes both roles convincing, switching with skill and reflecting the text’s magnificent dynamism. Austin is more than good – he is Daniel-Day-Lewis-in-1985-good. The play gets funnier, as our RADA grad questions the motivations of a character whose life is so far removed from his own. Suddenly this whole theatre thing starts to look silly!

There’s drama in Thebes Land, too. Austin makes his literally caged character bristle with violence. There are a good few jumps as tension is heightened by Goldman’s direction. As for unexpected twists, Blanco urges we don’t read the play before we see it, and he’s worth listening to. I was genuinely shocked at one revelation here, and by the way the metatheatricality develops.

Ultimately, of course, making theatre is serious stuff. The elision between art and life gains power from Blanco’s approach. Randomness in the creative process is examined brilliantly – with a little help from Whitney Houston. While the link to myth and Oedipus Rex (predictably a red rag for our over-earnest writer) is broadened to explore the darkness that is within us all. There’s a connection and responsibility between artists, audience and subject that’s not to be laughed at.

Emotions blossom from the play displaying artifice so blatantly. We feel an insight into our writer (yet more credit to White) and affinity with the actor whose work we see progress. As for Martin – there’s respect for the serious investigation into his crime and punishment. The fictional status of all three becomes mind-bogglingly blurred, likewise their relationships. An unbearably touching moment of filial affection is followed by erotic tension. Having both in the same play, without being creepy, is an indication of how complex this text is: an intellectual-comedy-thriller-satire-tragedy like no other.

Until 7 October 2017

www.arcolatheatre.com

Photo by Alex Brenner

“Purple Heart” at the Gate Theatre

It’s a brave decision for a playwright to make a child one of the central characters of a play. In Bruce Norris’ Purple Heart, receiving its UK première at the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill, Thor is a 12-year-old caught between his grieving mother and grandmother after his father dies in Vietnam. Given the raw intensity of the part, it would be almost impossible for a child of the same age to play it so the first medal awarded to this production goes to the actor Oliver Coopersmith, who is 20, for an astonishingly convincing portrayal of a precocious, disturbed pre-teen.

The family trio mourns in different ways. The resilience of youth is matched by the stoicism of age, with Linda Broughton playing Grace, a mother-in-law whose best intentions and insistence she is “on top of it” would test anyone. Grace’s attempts to control her son’s widow have an underlying insecurity that Broughton develops well. In the central role, Amelia Lowdell gives a similarly layered performance; the focus of a close-knit community obsessed with sending condolence casseroles, she is close to suicide through grief and alcoholism. Lowdell makes her fragile character the focus of our sympathy, despite her vicious streak.

Matters become more complex with the arrival of Purdy, a Vietnam veteran and a fourth, fine performance from Trevor White. It doesn’t take long for the soldier’s clean-cut manner to slip and White manages this superbly, making the most of every movement. Purdy is more a device than a well-rounded character: Norris uses him to pull out ideas and give Purple Heart some weight. At times, his character makes the play seem a touch sensational but the writing is original enough to fascinate.

Christopher Haydon’s intelligent direction serves Norris’ text well. Most of the conversations have an interrogatory feel that is delivered with an appropriate military pace. Better still, Haydon clearly appreciates the author’s quirky comedy; despite being a play about grief Purple Heart is full of laughs. It’s the darkest of humour, one that gives even poor jokes an edge. It’s a work unafraid of crudity, even silliness (Thor’s novelty jokes, gifts from his father, make continued appearances) – all to bring out the plays painful questions. Norris is known to London audiences primarily through his success at the Royal Court – this early work is every bit as good as the smash hit Clybourne Park, and deserves just as many awards.

Until 6 April 2013

www.gatetheatre.co.uk

Photo by Hugo Glendinning

Written 6 March 2013 for The London Magazine

“A Long Day’s Journey Into Night” at the Apollo Theatre

Director Antony Page’s new production of Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey Into Night marks a welcome return to the London stage by David Suchet. Taking the glorious role of tyrannical patriarch James Tyrone, successful actor and obsessive miser, Suchet’s performance is spectacular. In charge of a family haunted by the past, and with little hope for the future, Suchet isn’t just technically brilliant – listen as his American accent carefully slips into an Irish brogue – his stage presence is so commanding that it has you on the edge of your seat.

American Laurie Metcalf also returns to London, playing Tyrone’s wife Mary, and her performance is magnificent. Addicted to morphine, administered after the birth of her son, Metcalf’s lucidity wavers as she misguides her family and deals with her own demons. Sometimes painfully honest, at others simply a “ghost” inhabiting her own world, hers is a harrowing rendition.

Mary’s addiction serves to point out the failings of her whole family – the “fake pride and pretence” of her husband and her sons, finely performed by Trevor White and Kyle Soller. As the day becomes drink and drug fuelled, there’s “gloom in the air you could cut with a knife” but in this talented cast’s hands the play manages to remain tense despite its frequently delivered doom-laden conclusions.

To add tension to A Long Day’s Journey Into Night is no small achievement as the play isn’t exactly suspenseful: this long day starts out fraught and doesn’t get any better. O’Neill’s miserabilist masterpiece is a cruel, brutal, examination into family life. Page has cut down the time we spend with the Tyrones – just under three hours – but this is an intense experience that can be hard work. When “the old man” bemoans being typecast you can’t help but think of Suchet and Poirot but, happily, Suchet couldn’t be further from fiction – this is a job he is up to and does achingly well.

Until 18 August 2012

www.nimaxtheatres.com

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 13 April 2012 for The London Magazine

“Twisted Tales” at the Lyric Hammersmith

Roald Dahl’s Twisted Tales is a selection of stories, told to a group of Haywards Heath commuters by a stranger who joins them on their journey. Skilfully adapted by Jeremy Dyson, of The League of Gentlemen fame, they mix suspense with the macabre and, as one would expect, all of them have a twist at the end.

The ensemble cast play a variety of parts as the stories change. Selina Griffiths excels in this diversity, and Trevor White, who plays The Stranger who knows all the denouements except one, is deliciously creepy.

What Dahl knew, and what this team preserves in adaptation, is that “imagination is a ferocious beast”, so it’s best to let the audience do a lot of the work themselves. The bare aesthetic of the design by Naomi Wilkinson is a highly effective element in director Polly Findlay’s atmospheric production. An expert knowledge of how suspense works creates great theatrical moments – sometimes coming from high drama, such as a bet with high stakes, at other times centred around a small domestic detail, such as drinking a cup of tea.

There is plenty of humour in the production but it might not be dark enough for some. Many of the laughs come from period details – that surely wasn’t Dahl’s intention, and it can dissipate tension. But these giggles about accents and class don’t detract from the enjoyment of the evening as a whole. If only commuting was always this entertaining.

Until 26 February 2011

www.lyric.co.uk

Photo by Alastair Muir

Written 25 January 2011 for The London Magazine