In Death of England, Rafe Spall delivers the performance of a lifetime in this punchy monologue by Clint Dyer and Roy Williams at the National Theatre
“These are my dad’s words, not mine”
When the Dorfman gets it right, it really is something special. The combination of our National Theatre’s calibre and the intimacy of its smallest theatre means that when a play dares to do something different in there, the results can be extraordinary. I felt it in the pit for the first run of London Road, in the genius pre-show of Barber Shop Chronicles, and it is now in evidence once again with Clint Dyer and Roy Williams’ epic monologue Death of England, featuring a stunning performance from Rafe Spall, directed by Dyer.
Ferocious and fearless, we first meet Michael on the mother of all benders while he mourns the death of his father and then quick as you like, he flashes into storyteller mode and proceeds to not so much dismantle the fourth wall as to charm it into buying him six pints and then home for an unsatisfactory fumble. For about a quarter hour, Spall sets up Michael’s world beautifully by bantering with audience members with consummate ease, offering a sniff of this, a taste of that, seeking validation too as we come to realise how fragile a man he currently is. Continue reading “Review: Death of England, National Theatre”
Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)
Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre
The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions. A truly joyous and momentous occasion.
So much goodness! The National Theatre have just announced details of productions stretching deep into 2020, and with writers like Lucy Kirkwood, Kate Tempest, Roy Williams and Tony Kushner, and actors like Lesley Manville, Maxine Peake, Conleth Hill, Cecilia Noble and Lesley Sharp, it is hard not to feel excited about what’s ahead.
“So thanks to you, some dork meets a girl, not much of a Christmas story…”
On the sixth day of Christmas, Black Mirror also gave to me…only bloody Jon Hamm!
Well this was a White Christmasbut necessarily like the ones you used to know. Black Mirror’s 2014 Christmas special saw writer Charlie Brooker go feature length and director Carl Tibbetts get crazy fortuitous as Jon Hamm just declared his love for the series and his interest in appearing in it one way or another, the result being this interlinked triptych of stories, combining as ever to chilling effect.
Hamm plays Matt, a man working in some unspecified remote location and sharing a cabin with Rafe Spall’s Joe. They’ve been living together for five years without really communicating but this particular morning, Joe wakes up to Matt making Christmas dinner, determined to get the story of how he ended up in this isolated place. And sure enough, it is a tale of human exploitation of technological advancement. Continue reading “12 Days of Christmas – Black Mirror Christmas”
With Hedda Gabler, the ever prolific Ivo van Hove is making his National Theatre debut, so you can forgive him returning to a production which he has launched twice before – with the exceptional Dutch actress Halina Reijn in Amsterdam and with Elizabeth Marvel in New York. This time however, he’s working with a new version of Ibsen’s play by Patrick Marber and has the equally extraordinary talents of Ruth Wilson leading his company. And as with his revelatory A View From The Bridge, this is a contemporary reworking of a classic that will frustrate some with its froideur but left me gasping at its gut-wrenching rawness.
As ever, van Hove’s spatial intelligence lends itself to a re-appreciation of the theatrical space in which he’s working. He’s invited audiences onstage at the Barbican, and backstage too and here in the Lyttelton, the wings are closed off by Jan Versweyveld’s gallery-like white box and so characters make their entrances and exits through the same doors that we use – Judge Brack even arrives via the rear stalls at one point. And van Hove keeps things off-kilter onstage too, often pushing the action out to the far edges, focusing the eye on unexpected details like the eloquent sweep of Hedda’s back, the tapping foot of a nervy ever-watching Berthe. Continue reading “Review: Hedda Gabler, National”
“Of course he has a knife! I have a knife. We all have knives. It’s 1183 and we’re all barbarians!”
It was more morbid curiosity that drew me to this 2003 TV movie remake of The Lion in Winter than anything, its most recent appearance on a London stage hardly setting the world alight, but a cast list that included John Light and Rafe Spall as well as the more luminary lights of Glenn Close and Patrick Stewart (taking the roles made famous by Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole in the 1968 film) added to the appeal. What was interesting though was how much I’d forgotten about James Goldman’s approach to this dynastic struggle, as humourous as it is historical.
So though it might appear dry – Henry II’s determination to overrule his estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitaine in naming their son John (of the Magna Carta) as his successor rather than the older Richard (of the Lionheart) – it’s actually a spiky family comedy-drama as the brothers, completed by Geoffrey the other one, duck and dive through the political machinations of their parents and the ever-present threat of Philip II of France whose sister Alais is contracted to be betrothed to whoever will be heir and is currently Henry’s mistress. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Lion in Winter (2003)”
“When somebody says they love you, it means they see something in you they think is worth something…it adds value to you”
Clearly Nick Payne was onto something. In his play Constellations, the infinite possibilities of the relationship between characters Marianne and Dave – as originally played by Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall – are explored and wouldn’t you know it, fate conspired to bring them together again (Hawkins and Spall that is) in UK film X+Y, and this time with a different twist on the illness. For one reason or another, I didn’t get round to seeing X+Y (or A Brilliant Young Mind as the US would have it) at the cinema last year, which is madness considering how tailor-made for me this film is, but ultimately I’m quite glad I got to watch it in the privacy of my own home as there was a fair amount of ugly crying by the end!
Which in itself isn’t that surprising as it was written by talented playwright James Graham (The Man, This House) in a beautifully, unashamedly warm-hearted manner. Inspired by documentary Beautiful Young Minds, it follows Nathan Ellis (Asa Butterfield), a teenager somewhere on the autistic spectrum who is something of a mathematical genius. Encouraged by his maths tutor Humphreys (Spall), himself a former prodigy and suffering from his own condition, and the tireless patience of his widowed mother (Hawkins), he’s selected to represent the UK at the International Mathematical Olympiad but to do so means facing up to some major challenges. Continue reading “DVD Review: X+Y”
When a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party, the first few lines of Nick Payne’s play Constellations suggest a rom-com in the making as time restarts and a new possibility plays out, it’s clear that there’s something much more eloquently sophisticated at work here. Premiering at the Royal Court upstairs, Michael Longhurst’s production manages to be both intimate and epic, the story of two people somehow expanding to fill several universes of heartfelt emotion.
When a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party, the first few lines of Nick Payne’s play Constellations suggest a rom-com in the making as time restarts and a new possibility plays out, it’s clear that there’s something much more eloquently sophisticated at work here. Transferring from the Royal Court upstairs to the Duke of York’s in the West End, Michael Longhurst’s production sacrifices nothing in the scaling up to the larger venue and if anything, gains in epic power.
When a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party, the first few lines of Nick Payne’s play Constellations suggest a rom-com in the making as time restarts and a new possibility plays out, it’s clear that there’s something much more eloquently sophisticated at work here. Marking the Broadway debut for all concerned, Michael Longhurst’s production manages the transatlantic transfer seamlessly and one wonders where the show could end up next.
Woking. After successes in the West End and on Broadway, Nick Payne’s play Constellations is now touring the UK, starting off at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking. Which is as good a place as any to see a rooftop beekeeper and quantum cosmologist meet-cute at a party and find themselves exploring the many possibilities that their relationship could take as scenes are played and replayed, shifting their journey together subtly but ineffably into new places.
Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall. Perfect casting for the effervescent, wise-cracking Marianne and the slightly nerdish but endlessly endearing Roland, their intensity beautifully matched especially in the poignant flashforwards.
Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall. That perfect casting retained for the transfer, their ease with each other and the technical challenges of the script even smoother than before and if the larger venue challenged them at all, there was no evidence of it.
Ruth Wilson and Jake Gyllenhaal. All change for Broadway – Wilson’s immense subtleties (is that an oxymoron?) made an ideal, if less kooky, Marianne and Gyllenhaal gave an interestingly judged performance as Roland, less obviously blokey but no less moving.
Louise Brealey and Joe Armstrong. And to the tour, Brealey really makes her mark with a more brittle, abrasive interpretation that contrasts so effectively with the warmer moments, and Armstrong exudes a hugely likeable affability that you would certainly chase across universes to find and keep.
Can I really put my finger on why I like this play so much? Why I think it is one of the smartest pieces of new writing that I’ve seen in recent years? I’m not sure that I can. It’s to do with the way it wears its scientific concepts so lightly – I mean I couldn’t tell you anything about quantum physics right now but during the play, it feels like maybe I could. It’s to do with the all-too-human instinct to wonder what if I’d done that differently, what path might that have led me down. It’s to do with the expression of such powerfully felt emotion that yet feels intelligently reasoned. It’s to do with free will. It’s to do with love.
I cried a little bit. Well quite a bit.
I cried so much I couldn’t speak for about quarter of an hour afterwards.
I cried a lot, but a New Year’s Day hangover probably had something to with my emotional state too.
I cried a surprisingly small amount, almost just the artful single tear in fact.
Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I don’t tweet him. Atom-based clusters of balloons trail from the corridor into the theatre, hexagonal tiles mark out the physical space the actors occupy, and Lee Curran’s lighting tracks the darkening mood perfectly.
Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I don’t tweet him. Some of the finer details are lost in the larger space but the evolving scale of the work is artfully done, capturing something even grander about the emotional contours of the play. This time, it is the sound design by David McSeveney that resonates stronger, delineating each fundamental shift so clearly.
Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I tweet him, I don’t meet him. It looks as good as ever but the detail of Curran’s lighting is what captures my attention – the shift in the flashes of colour through to blood red, the antiseptic white of the harsh future scenes, the individual balloons picked out in lights with their own secrets.
Tom Scutt’s design is inspired – I tweet him, I don’t meet him and now I probably never will. Since the show has been end-on, there’s been a key scenic detail that I’ve missed every time. Every time. There aren’t enough potential universes to explain this. I need to go again.
Can I put my finger on why I like Constellations so much? Even on my fourth viewing, there are details that come to me anew. There are details that have still yet eluded me. There are scenes that somehow pack a gut-punch as fierce as the first time – why wouldn’t language shift that way. There are replayed scenes that I could continue to watch over and over – notes in hand or not 🙂 And in perfect keeping with the theme of the show, Michael Longhurst has kept the production the same but different, or is it different but the same in a remarkable way. Marianne may wear an almost identical outfit whether it’s Hawkins, Wilson or Brealey wearing the shoes but she has exuded such a singular sense each time which has been breathtaking to behold. And partnered by the affable/affectionate/rumpled charms of Spall/Gyllenhaal/Armstrong, they’ve all been Marianne and Roland but their own Marianne and Roland and brilliantly so.
I loved it.
I loved it.
I loved it.
I loved it.
Running time: 70 minutes (without interval) Photos: Helen Maybanks Booking until 17th May, then touring to Liverpool Playhouse, Bristol Old Vic, Nuffield Theatre Southampton, The Lowry Salford, Cambridge Arts, Richmond Theatre and Theatre Royal Brighton
“If only we could understand why it is that we’re here and what it is we’re meant to spend our lives doing”
No word of a lie, the moment I heard that it would be Ruth Wilson joining Jake Gyllenhaal in the Broadway production of Nick Payne’s Constellationswas the moment that I decided that I would make my own long-awaited debut appearance in New York. It is a play that both captivated and broke my heart at the Royal Court Upstairs and again in its subsequent West End transfer, so I had no worries about it scaling up to the Samuel J Friedman Theatre – the only concern being that Wilson and Gyllenhaal would match up to the incandescent performances of Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall.
Fortunately they more than meet the challenge, offering up performances that simultaneously echo their predecessors whilst also finding something new, neatly reflecting the multiverse theory that underpins Payne’s writing here. On paper it might seem terribly scientific – “at any given moment, several outcomes can co-exist simultaneously” – but in reality, it is ineffably, unbearably human in the gorgeous contours of Michael Longhurst’s finely tuned production as scenes play and then instantly replay, shifting subtly but crucially each time with the story of Marianne and Roland’s relationship. Continue reading “Review: Constellations, Samuel J Friedman Theatre”