Posts Tagged ‘Paul Jesson’

Derek Jacobi as King Lear, Richmond Theatre, April 2011

3 April, 2011

From the first moments of irascible folly to the final moments of grief as he cradles the body of his dearest Cordelia, Derek Jacobi’s Lear came alive on stage in a way that made this relatively long play seem to race past in no time.

The production by Michael Grandage, touring from the Donmar, uses an almost bare stage to concentrate our minds on the characters and their interactions. Christopher Oram’s set of tall slats making an open box of the stage emphasised the immense proportion of the drama in which each character is in one way or another a victim. Wonderful lighting  design by Neil Austin — I loved the silhouettes as Lear is seated to await his meeting with Cordelia — and a terrific soundscape by Adam Cork helped bring atmosphere without ever overpowering the action. The heralding of the storm by lighting and sound created a sense of bleakness that moved the play forward to the next stage without losing any of the tension between Lear and his nasty elder daughters.

These ladies were coolly and cleverly played by Gina McKee as Goneril, and Justine Mitchell as Regan. When Regan puts Lear’s old servant in the stocks, and even more when her husband gouges out Gloucester’s eyes, Ms. Mitchell combined elegant beauty with cool sadism — superb acting. The third sister, Cordelia, was beautifully played by Pippa Bennett-Warner, and her dark skin colour compared to her two sisters suggested a Cinderella-like fiction that her sisters are step-sisters. In fact there is a Jewish story about a man who asked his three daughters to declare their love for him, and while the first two say they love him “as much as diamonds”, and “as much as gold and silver”, the third one declares she loves him “the way meat loves salt”. He throws her out, she becomes a servant and the Cinderella part of the story starts.

This more complicated story was beautifully acted by the whole cast. Tom Beard as Albany was calmly authoritative as he faced down Alec Newman’s Edmund at the end, and Newman himself showed nefarious intent throughout the play by his body language, making me wonder that the other characters did not see through it and look beyond his words. Paul Jesson was a wonderfully sympathetic Gloucester, but it was Jacobi’s Lear that overwhelmed my sympathies, and made this a truly great performance.

This Donmar production has already been to Glasgow, Milton Keynes and the Lowry, Salford. After Richmond its tour continues to the Theatre Royal at Bath, April 5–9; and Hall for Cornwall in Truro, April 12–16.

The Cherry Orchard, Old Vic, June 2009

26 June, 2009

the bridge project

This, the last of Chekhov’s plays, is being produced along with The Winter’s Tale, as part of The Bridge Project using a mix of British and American actors.

It was presented more as comedy than tragedy in Sam Mendes’ production, performed to a translation by Tom Stoppard. The comedy was effective in showing the head-in-the-sand attitude of a family who are more concerned with romance and betrothal than finding a way out of their financial difficulties. Indeed, Sinead Cusack came over well as the mother, Ranevskaya who is in denial of her impecuniosity, and unwilling to face the prospect of tearing down her beloved cherry orchard and using the land for summer cottages. Simon Russell Beale as the ex-serf Lopakhin did a splendid job of trying to impose some rational behaviour on these once-wealthy landowners, warning them they will lose the whole estate if they do nothing. As they remain paralysed in a state of denial he buys it himself, owning the place to which his father and grandfather were once indentured.

While I regard Ranevskaya and Lopakhin as the principal characters, the rest of the cast did very well, and this was a team performance without anyone dominating things. When Ranevskaya returns from Paris to her estate she brings her 17-year old daughter Anya, well portrayed by Morven Christie, and the girl’s German governess Charlotta, dramatically played by Selina Cadell, who did a wonderful job of the conjuring tricks in the party scene. Rebecca Hall as Ranevskaya’s adopted daughter Varya had excellent stage presence with her brooding angst, and yearning for Lopakhin. The large cast comprises some twenty-odd characters, so I shall only mention two or three more. Ethan Hawke was suitably irritating as the student and ex-tutor of Ranevskaya’s late son, Paul Jesson was good as the sentimentally silly brother of Ranevskaya, and Richard Easton did an excellent job as the old retainer who is left behind in the sealed-up house after the others have all left. As he slumps in a chair, falls off and lies on the ground we hear a sharp crack, signifying the beginning of the end of the cherry orchard as the first tree falls.

The set design by Anthony Ward was a raised platform with carpets but no other scenery, and the lighting by Paul Pyant worked well, as did the sound by Paul Arditti, with music by Mark Bennett. Costumes by Catherine Zuber were of the period, namely start of the twentieth century. All in all a simple but effective production, and a fine performance from the cast of British and American actors.

The Winter’s Tale, at the Old Vic, June 2009

6 June, 2009

the bridge project

This delightful Shakespeare play is being produced along with Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard as part of The Bridge Project using a mix of British and American actors.

It was given an excellent production by Sam Mendes. It is about the destructive suspicions of King Leontes who accuses his heavily pregnant wife, Hermione of adultery with King Polixenes, a visitor for the past nine months. A courtier, Camillo is ordered to poison Polixenes, but believing in the queen’s innocence he warns him to leave, and they flee together. The baby daughter is then abandoned in the wild, where she is found and brought up by a shepherd, and given the name Perdita. Sixteen years later, Polixenes’s son, disguised as a shepherd, meets her and they fall in love. When Polixenes rages against his son’s match, the couple flee to Leontes’s court, followed by the shepherd bringing tokens of Perdita’s true identity, directed by an engaging rogue named Autolycus. Leontes already knows of his wife’s innocence from the Oracle at Delphi, and a statue of her has recently been completed at the house of Paulina, the widow of the courtier who originally took the baby girl into the wild and was himself eaten by a bear. Polixenes and Camillo arrive, and after matters relating to Perdita are settled, Paulina shows the assembled company a great wonder. The new statue of Hermione comes to life, after which Paulina and Camillo, who had both believed in her innocence, become engaged, and everyone celebrates the miracle.

The role of Leontes was brilliantly played by Simon Russell Beale, with Rebecca Hall elegantly portraying his wife. Paul Jesson was a convincing Camillo, and Sinead Cusack a wonderfully sympathetic Paulina. Polixenes, Perdita, and Polixenes’s son were all well portrayed by Josh Hamilton, Morven Christie, and Michael Brown, and the shepherd was delightfully played by Richard Easton. Autolychus was superbly performed by Ethan Hawke, and his singing added just the right colour.

The entire production was a delight, and the simple sets by Anthony Ward and modern costumes by Catherine Zuber allowed the actors to dominate the stage, which they did very well, aided by Paul Pyant’s lighting design that used spots and darkness to very good effect. This is part of the Bridge project, with a mixed cast of American and British actors, each using their own accents, and the performance came over very naturally. An excellent Winter’s Tale for the summer months.