Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Ward’

Sweeney Todd, Adelphi Theatre, London’s West End, March 2012

21 March, 2012

Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, yet it’s a dictate usually unheeded, and like Verdi’s Rigoletto, Sweeney Todd’s actions lead to the death of the woman he holds most dear.

The last time I saw this musical drama by Stephen Sondheim was in Chicago with Bryn Terfel as the eponymous character. It was performed at the Lyric Opera House, a vast auditorium seating over three and a half thousand, and Terfel was brilliant of course, but the smaller space at the Adelphi suits this musical work very well, providing a more intense experience. The curved rear of the set made me feel part of the action in this dark staging that uses the full space and height available.

This fine production by Jonathan Kent, with designs by Anthony Ward, was seen at the Chichester Festival Theatre last summer, and transfers the action from the Victorian era to 1930s London. The darkly atmospheric lighting by Mark Henderson cleverly portrays Sweeney in a different glow from other characters, and provides an air of mystery to the ovens and meat processing area in the basement.

Imelda Staunton and Michael Ball, image Tristram Kenton

Before the prologue we see a darkish stage with cleaners wiping the floors, and clattering and banging going on, when suddenly … the ballad breaks forth. In the end we are back to the same scene, having witnessed an extraordinary story of vengeance, with Michael Ball as a grippingly effective Sweeney, and Imelda Staunton as a plain, homely, yet secretly spooky Mrs Lovett, her dream of a place by the sea beautifully sung.

The supporting roles were all well cast, with tenor Robert Burt as the Italian barber and Dr. Dulcamara-like character Pirelli, and John Bowe and Peter Polycarpou very fine in the villainous pairing of Judge Turpin and the Beadle. James McConville was a wonderfully scraggy yet forceful Tobias, and the other characters all looked and acted their parts as if born to the roles. My only complaint is a few times when the chorus sang together the sound could be deafening, but as a gripping tale, well told, this is hard to beat. The visual effects are excellent yet never get in the way of the story.

Performances continue until September 22 — for details click here, and for cheap tickets here.

Hedda Gabler, Richmond Theatre, March 2010

22 March, 2010

If we as humans are motivated by sex, money and power, then Rosamund Pike’s Hedda shows a complete absence of interest in the first two, and her twisted use of power is what produces the final bang in this well-judged production by Adrian Noble. Pike portrays a beautiful, unbalanced, quick-witted but somewhat vacuous young woman, bored after a five month honeymoon, and opposing the attitudes of those around her. Her husband, Tesman is well played by Robert Glenister as a generously enthusiastic academic, apparently oblivious to his wife’s nasty streak, and Tim McInnerny portrays an engagingly Machiavellian Judge Brack, who would use his power to coerce Hedda into a sexual ménage-a-trois for his own pleasure, while Hedda herself cannot use her own power for anything, either useful or self-indulgent. Then we have Colin Tierney’s Loevborg, a brilliant and creative man with an addictive personality, inspiring Hedda to destruction rather than creation as she secretly consigns his masterpiece to the flames.

Hedda’s feminine characteristics are shown to be strikingly opposite to those of the three other women in the play. Anna Carteret is a bustling and sympathetic Auntie Juju, quite different from the lazily cold Hedda. Janet Whiteside is quietly self-effacing as Bertha the maid, where Hedda is an attention seeker, and Zoe Waites is warily friendly as Mrs. Elfsted, whose warm enthusiasm has helped Loevborg to recover from his alcoholism and create a book length manuscript that will stun the intellectual world. Hedda can do nothing to inspire anyone to intellectual creation, and her sadistic suggestion of burning Mrs. Elfsted’s hair off, as she once threatened to do as a schoolgirl, shows how little she has matured in becoming an adult. She is still her father’s daughter, fascinated by guns, and incapable of bearing the child that Aunt Juju intimates she is carrying.

This is a Hedda who can only oppose and destroy what others create, and the whole cast works together perfectly to give Rosamund Pike a role she fills with languid sparkle and cold beauty. The designs by Anthony Ward help create exactly the right atmosphere, and Hedda’s costume reminded me of the glorious silk dresses seen in one or two of Vermeer’s paintings. Congratulations to the wardrobe department, and of course to the way she wore it.

This production continues its tour to the Royal Centre, Nottingham on 22nd – 27th May, the Oxford Playhouse on 29th May – 3rd April, and is later expected to transfer to London’s West End.

Enron, Royal Court Theatre, October 2009

18 October, 2009


With its sound effects, lighting, and occasional choreography this was the Sesame Street version of the Enron story, explained for those who missed the real thing. It was educational, showing the rise of the company under chairman Ken Lay, a glad-hander who had little idea of how the Enron bubble expanded nor why it was bound to implode. Lucy Prebble’s stage drama starts by focusing on the competition and sexual frisson between Jeffrey Skilling and Claudia Roe, showing Lay to be a decisive gambler who chooses Skilling to be the new chief executive, with his wild ideas of trading energy rather than producing it, as Roe wanted to do. Skilling then turns the aggressively ambitious Andy Fastow into chief financial officer so he can pursue his mad ideas of creating the Raptors — almost wholly owned subsidiaries of Enron — for swallowing debt. These extraordinary beasts, in which only a minority share of a minority share of a minority share was backed by real money, are well-staged as humans with alligator heads. For a public company the accountants, in this case Arthur Anderson, have to sign off on such creative accounting, and their doing so led to their own collapse.

As to the collapse of Enron itself we were shown how desperately they needed George Bush to win the 2000 presidential election to give them the deregulation of the Energy industry they’d been banking on to pay off the Raptors. In the process they failed, but screwed California, a folly that should never have happened if Ken Lay had half the political nous he imagined he had. Bush, who referred privately to Lay as ‘Kenny Boy’, had more important things to do than rescue him or his house of cards, and while Skilling got out before things went publicly pear-shaped, Lay continued to talk up the company to everyone. He and Skilling both screwed the employees, whose pension funds were tied up in Enron stock that became valueless as their jobs disappeared and the company went belly up.

This play showed a great deal about the rise of Enron, but omitted the story on how Lay, Skilling and Fastow were nailed. Living in America, I well remember in December 2002 being asked by English ingénues whether I really thought anyone would ever be convicted for the Enron fiasco. I replied that they already had, and the point is that Americans were apoplectic about this nonsense. It was criminal, and was prosecuted the same way a major crime family, or conspiracy, would be prosecuted. First you go for the smaller fry, giving them light sentences in return for cooperation so you can bring down larger game, until eventually you reach the top. This is what happened, but by the time they got to Ken Lay he conveniently died, leaving his wife with their ill-gotten gains. Skilling is now in prison, but his appeal is pending before the supreme court for sometime in 2010.

Samuel West did an excellent job of portraying Skilling as a man driven by a conviction he could outsmart everyone else, and really wasn’t guilty of anything worse than being a victim to forces beyond his control. Tim Pigott-Smith was Ken Lay, with his Texan accent and cheerful demeanour, sailing smooth seas and blithely unaware of the raptors beneath. Tom Goodman-Hill portrayed Andy Fastow, showing him to be a small man, rather like a graduate student whose PhD thesis wouldn’t even get him a receptionist’s job at the US Treasury, and Amanda Drew played Claudia Roe as a very smart, very sexy and attractive lady, who was lucky to be sacked when she was.

The whole thing was well directed by Rupert Goold, with clever designs by Anthony Ward. I particularly liked the ‘alligator’ raptors, and the Lehmann Brothers appearance with two men in one coat. Despite slight misgivings, it was an evening that didn’t drag for a minute, and like Sesame Street kept the audience entertained while informing them of the basics they ought to know.

In 2010 this is playing at the Noel Coward Theatre in London’s West End.