Archive for September, 2019

Amsterdam (Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond)

Posted: September 12, 2019 in Theatre

Writer: Maya Arad Yasur      Translator: Eran Edry      Director: Matthew Xia

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Amsterdam today remains a city of distinctive architecture and criss-crossing canals, but, in the past, it was also a city of Nazi occupation, collaborators, resistance fighters and Anne Frank. Maya Arad Yasur’s one-act 80-minute play, seen here in a translation by Eran Edry,  seeks to reconcile present with past, probing the origins of modern identity and questioning lingering heritage.

A group assembles as if a team of scriptwriters, bouncing ideas off each other to create characters and develop storylines. Their starting point is an old man living at the top of a modern day Amsterdam building, a nine months pregnant Jewish violinist and the mystery of a 75-year-old unpaid gas bill for 1,700 Euros. As they piece together assorted information and dig into their imaginations, a story emerges that tells of wartime struggles and suggests parallels between 1940s antisemitism and 21st Century racist attitudes.

The play puts itself at risk of being undone by its unorthodox structure, which often proves just as challenging as its disturbing themes. The writer has a tendency to draw us into the story that is being constructed, only to shoot off sharply in a different direction. However, she keeps attention alive with moments of playfulness in her script and director Matthew Xia’s highly animated in-the-round staging brings more of the same. This is Xia’s first production in his role as Artistic Director of the Actors Touring Company.

The play gives the director the freedom to decide upon the number of actors (minimum three) and the lines which they speak. Xia opts for four actors – Daniel Abelson, Fiston Barek, Michal Horowicz and Hara Yannas – all of whom attack their roles with vigour and conviction. The story developed by the “writers” is rounded off with poignancy and irony, but the niggling feeling remains that a conventional dramatisation could have given it much greater power.

Performance date: 11 September 2019

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com

Hansard (National Theatre, Lyttelton)

Posted: September 6, 2019 in Theatre

Writer: Simon Woods      Director: Simon Godwin

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Most of us may feel that we have had enough of politics in our lives right now, but actor turned playwright Simon Woods seems to think otherwise. His play is a forensic examination of the murky territory where the public and private lives of a politician and his wife intersect. It is quite something for a debut play to be premiered at this hallowed venue, taken on by in-form director Simon Godwin and blessed with the dream casting of Lindsay Duncan and Alex Jennings, but this is quite some play.

Robin Hesketh (Jennings) is a minister in the Margaret Thatcher Government of 1988. Every weekend, he negotiates the Hanger Lane gyratory and the Oxford by-pass to reach his constituency home in the Cotswolds and be greeted by his bored, heavy drinking wife Diana (Duncan). Hildegard Bechtler’s design for the Hesketh living space is expansive, stretching to the entire width of the Lyttelton stage, and elegant, but it is entirely soulless, not personalised in any way, and we know before a word is spoken that there is emptiness in the lives of the occupants.

Acted out over just under 90 minutes in real time, the play begins as a battle of wills in which both combatants denounce each other with excoriating wit, sharpened over many years of marriage. Left-leaning Diana despises the old school tie brigade represented by her husband, while Robin scoffs at Diana’s favoured artsy set, citing theatregoers and readers of Ian “McKellen” novels in particular.. Woods’ style has the feel of Oscar Wilde, who delved into similar political territory in The Ideal Husband. Under Godwin’s unobtrusive direction, the fun flows freely, but we are always aware of more serious themes lying beneath the surface.

The pompous, upstanding, possibly promiscuous Tory politician and his obedient wife could easily have been seen as stereotypes, but Woods resists temptations for caricature, giving Duncan and Jennings every opportunity (which both seize with relish) to make the characters three-dimensional. We sense from the beginning that something more than duty binds the pair together and the gradual discovery of what that factor is becomes one of the play’s great pleasures.

Woods is even-handed in political debates, allowing both sides of each argument to be heard. A recurring theme is spurred by Diana’s objections to Robin’s advocacy of the infamous Section 28, which prohibited the teaching of LGBT+ lifestyles in schools. He claims to be fearful that white heterosexual men could become extinct within 20 years, but we see him as conforming to the role for which he was born by upholding the traditional values of his times and not as a monster. That said, the play is not just a history lesson, making us aware that the Section 28 arguments have re-emerged in 2019 and that elitist politicians have never gone away.

There are times when Hansard feels like an enjoyable ride without a clear destination, but, when we arrive at the play’s dénouement, it hits with the force of a sledgehammer. Showing consummate skill, Duncan and Jennings move from splitting sides to breaking hearts at the blink of an eyelid. Woods has set the bar high for his second play.

Performance date: 3 September 2019

Photo: Catherine Ashmore

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com