Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Campbell Moore’

Clybourne Park, Wyndham’s Theatre, London’s West End, February 2011

6 February, 2011

The title of this play refers to an area of Chicago (about 1400 north) around the junction of Clybourn and Larrabee. It’s a little southeast of the Steppenwolf Theatre, home to the playwright Bruce Norris, and just north of the infamous Cabrini Green housing estate. The general area is often referred to as Old Town where, in the late 1950s and 1960s, there was an exodus of white residents as black families started to move in. Many years later a process of gentrification started on the north side of Chicago, and by the early 1990s it was beginning to take hold in Old Town as block by block young professionals started buying up the lovely frame houses and remodelling them.

Bev (Sophie Thompson) tries to give her maid (Lorna Brown) some unwanted junk, photo by Donald Cooper

The new buyers had to keep within the city’s planning laws, and the second part of this play starts with a meeting between realtor, lawyer, buyers and local (black) residents. The buyers are so-o-o keen. The young pregnant wife is so liberal (“half my friends are black”) and so frightfully wary of offending the black people, but she just doesn’t quite get it. In fact hardly anyone gets it — they’re all so desperately keen to talk that no one listens, so they simply talk over one another when it suits them.

The audience in the theatre loved it when the participants got heated and started telling racial jokes, two of which were quite nasty. The trouble started when the black lady politely tried to say something several times, and eventually got it off her chest, saying she was concerned about the neighbourhood changing its character. But the innuendo was clear and when she got a reaction, her husband bristled with a counter-reaction, and things deteriorated. Ironically, the black lady’s parents had worked for the couple who sold the first house to a black family in 1959 — and it was this particular house.

That happened in Act I where we learn that they defied the local residents’ committee. They did this because their son had committed suicide after getting nasty jibes from his neighbours, following his return from the Korean War. Then in Act II the young husband tries to make peace with the black residents by saying he hates his current neighbours in the suburbs, with their yellow ribbons on their cars. A yellow ribbon shows you’re the proud parent of a someone serving with US forces in Afghanistan or Iraq, and the young husband thinks he’s being liberal and therefore in some confused way anti-racist. The black husband however has three sons serving overseas, so the white man is coming full circle to the issue that led to the original sale to a black family.

The trouble with these people is that they think they know more than they do, which the playwright Bruce Norris makes perfectly clear in both acts with definite statements about capital cities and the origin of the word Neapolitan. In Act I the wife says it means new city, which is correct, and her husband says it means from Naples, which is also correct. They argue. In Act II both parties are in agreement about the beauty of Spain, but then that drifts to Morocco, and the husband asserts its capital is Rabat (correct) while others think it’s Marrakech or Tangier. He’s right, but the point is that while everyone is reasonably well endowed in the IQ department, their emotional intelligence is lamentable.

Both acts end with people angrily leaving through the door, but at the very end a letter surfaces, as do ghosts of the past.

Direction by Dominic Cooke kept the action moving at a great pace, and with excellent designs by Robert Innes Hopkins, very well lit by Paule Constable, this was a fine production. Acting was more variable. Lorna Brown and Lucien Msamati were very good as the black couple, Sarah Goldberg was brilliant as the young wife in Act II, and her husband was very well played by Stephen Campbell Moore. Having lived in Chicago for thirty years, I found some of the accents didn’t quite ring true, and one or two portrayals seemed a bit over the top. When things got over-heated and the angry racial jokes started, most of the audience seemed relieved to burst into loud laughter, but that was their issue not the actors’. It’s a clever play, using the housing market to expose the repressed anger of many black Americans and the self-satisfied ‘liberalism’ of many white professionals.

After transferring from a sell-out at the Royal Court, performances at Wyndham’s Theatre continue until May 7 — for more details click here.

All My Sons, Apollo Theatre, London’s West End, September 2010

26 September, 2010

For a fistful of dollars would a man supply defective equipment to the front line of his own side in a war? Yes, because those dollars provide for his family, his sons, and his largesse to his neighbours. Such crooks can be good family men — think of the Mafia barons. But in this play, Joe Keller — brilliantly portrayed by David Suchet — is a warm character who loves everyone and would never stoop to any such shenanigans. Or so it appears. Arthur Miller wrote the play in 1945, and honed it to perfection before releasing it in 1947. Miller was a craftsman, with his hands as well as his pen, and saw this play as a make or break for him. It’s as close to perfection as you can get, and with direction by Howard Davies and a beautiful set by William Dudley, along with superb acting by the whole cast, it must be the best thing on the West End stage at the moment.

Zoë Wanamaker and David Suchet, photo by Nobby Clark

The play revolves around one character, Larry, who’s never on stage. He’s the son who disappeared during the war, but there was no body, no proof that he died, and his mother Kate — beautifully played by Zoë Wanamaker — refuses to believe he’s gone forever. She even gets a neighbour to construct an astrological chart to show he couldn’t have died on the day he disappeared. Stephen Campbell Moore was superb as the other son, Chris who survived the war, showing him to be the most reasonable, level-headed character you could imagine, and Jemima Rooper as the late Larry’s sweetheart Ann Deever was equally wonderful. They want to get married, but Kate won’t have it while Larry is still alive, and if she admits he’s dead . . . well her whole world will crash down. Why? When Daniel Lapaine as Ann’s brother George flies in to stop the marriage the audience hears another side of the story. Ann and George’s father, who was once Joe’s neighbour and business associate, went to prison for producing that defective equipment but George has just visited him and now thinks he’s innocent. Was he imprisoned unjustly? Can the wonderful, homely Joe Keller be the real culprit?

Ann, Joe, Chris and Kate, photo by Nobby Clark

Surely not, and they talk George round into being reasonable, until he eventually says, “I never felt at home anywhere but here”. But there’s more to come, including the issue of the impending marriage, and Kate’s denial that Larry is dead. So Ann is finally forced to bring out a letter from Larry she carries with her, and this leads to the final dénouement.

David Suchet, Zoë Wanamaker, and the others were so natural, I believed all the emotions I saw on display, and Miller’s play has a deft logic that packs a huge emotional punch. I came out feeling utterly drained . . . and I was merely in the audience! How do the actors do it — night after night?

Unfortunately there are very few nights left, as the run ends on October 2nd. It’s a sell-out of course, but worth any number of phone calls and trips to the theatre to get returns.