The new play’s the thing, even when it’s very old…. Here are four I’ve seen over the past few weeks, three of which I haven’t managed to squeeze yet into separate blogs due to lack of enough hours in the days, but that I’d nevertheless recommend. As usual, I’ve listed productions in closing date order.
The exception on both of those points is Barney Norris‘ Eventide. You can read much more about that and Barney in my two-part interview with him. But, Londoners, I’m afraid you can no longer see Eventide at the Arcola. For now (at least until, hopefully, it makes a London return season), you’ll need to branch out and see it on tour.
If you follow me on Twitter (@TerriPaddock) – please do! – you’ll be able to see my initial reactions from trips to the theatre (and also the occasional #theatreselfie when I’m in the mood). Scroll down to see the tweets for these shows collated below.
Other shows I’ve seen recently, and blogged about separately, include: Showstopper! The Improvised Musical, Leslie Bricusse tribute Pure Imagination, Tooting Arts Club’s revival of Barrie Keeffe’s Barbarians (for which I’m returning to chair a post-show Q&A with author and company this coming Tuesday – don’t miss!), All Star Productions’ fringe revival of Sondheim’s A Little Night Music and Daniel Dingsdale’s wonderfully vicious celebrity culture satire Dark Tourism.
The First Man
Let’s start with the slight fudge: Eugene’ O’Neill’s The First Man isn’t exactly new – it premiered in 1922 – but, incredibly, this is its UK premiere so I say it still qualifies. In the great American dramatist’s chronology, this play came four years after Beyond the Horizon (for which he won his first Pulitzer Prize), two years after Anna Christie (second Pulitzer) and The Emperor Jones (renowned as one of the first major New York plays casting a black man as the lead), and just a few weeks before The Hairy Ape, which in a bizarre something in the programming air fluke, receives a London rare revival, opening next Thursday at the Old Vic.
I imagine I’ll return to reflect more on The First Man, comparisons with more expressionistic offering The Hairy Ape (whose success helped consign The First Man to obscurity) and O’Neill in general – not least some of the excellent insights offered by The First Man’s director Antony Biggs at the pre-show Q&A I attended at Jermyn Street this week – once I’ve seen the Old Vic production.
“I can’t share you with anyone”
In the meantime, I can assure you that, particularly if you’ve seen any of O’Neill’s better known (and similarly semi-autobiographical works), like The Iceman Comedy and Long Day’s Journey into Night (which came decades later, in 1939 and 1956, respectively), The First Man is definitely worth a visit.
The “tale of male pride, family jealousy and maternal longing” and certainly the doomed Martha (a dignified Charlotte Asprey), whose body and soul aren’t quite equipped for motherhood, are strikingly familiar. And the chattering flock of busybody relatives that swarm around her and seek to drive a wedge between her and her work-obsessed husband Curtis (Adam Jackson-Smith) are a horror, none more so than Kate Copeland‘s sour-faced sister-in-law.
Ticking is not only a new play, it’s the first play that Paul Andrew Williams has either written or directed – so a premiere and a double debut. But Williams’ Bafa-nominated television success, and consequent pulling power, was evident by the wealth of talent arrayed both onstage and off in tiny 98-seat Trafalgar 2 on opening night.
“Only a privileged upbringing gives you the arrogance to want to denounce it.”
I was squashed in with an audience including Martin Freeman, Nick Moran, Charles Dance and David Baddiel to watch the always watchable Niamh Cusack and Anthony Head as the bewildered middle-class parents, who have travelled halfway around the world to a grubby Asian jail for a final visit with their wayward son, a nervy Tom Hughes, determined to find someone else to blame as he counts down the minutes (tick tick ticking) on death row.
All three give powerfully tense performances, and Williams adeptly keeps us guessing until the end who is really a victim, who a villain. I hope this first stage outing is not his last.
American Christopher Shinn‘s new play also questions the identify of victims versus villains and where to jab our collective fingers of blame. Ryan McParland plays the much-talked about but not much-liked title character and, let’s be frank, he’s an oddball. His brief time onstage, not least during some graphically interactive online porn sessions, makes for uncomfortable viewing. But just because he’s game, does that mean he can feel no shame?
The play is inspired by a real-life incident at Rutgers University in 2010, when a gay student who had been covertly filmed having sex committed suicide. Was he bullied? Was it that that drove him to kill himself?
Having to watch what you say [my paraphrase] is “the price you pay for being someone people will listen to”
Teddy’s story becomes a hot political point-scoring opportunity on campus, where other young relationships – heterosexual, homosexual, try-anything-sexual – are constantly forming, fraying, breaking and reforming. And Matthew Marsh‘s eyes-on-the-bigger prize (i.e. a run at the Senate) University president is losing his patience trying to keep up with PC terminology.
After the matinee I attended, I had the big bonus pleasure of catching up with Matthew (a friend), and debating politics in the play, and the world at large, over coffee. That’s a way to spend a Saturday afternoon that will always get my vote.
Weeks after seeing this, I’m still dwelling on the gentle evocation of lives quietly lived and cultures quickly slipping away.
The setting for Barney Norris‘ three-hander is inspired by a pub where he worked in his hometown in Salisbury. And you can’t help but feel that the three characters populating Eventide – sozzled publican John, young road maintenance worker Mark and part-time village organist Liz – probably all pulled up a pew or ordered a pint from him in some form or another. Such real, deeply flawed and terminally conflicted humans.
“Isn’t it funny how time just seems to happen to you? And you never really seem to do anything except go along with it.”
James Doherty, Ellie Piercy and Hasan Dixon all heroically inhabit these characters who all struggle to make their marks on a world that’s moving too fast for them. Barney’s Up in Arms Theatre company co-founder Alice Hamilton directs.
Following its run this month at London’s Arcola Theatre, Eventide tours to Bury St Edmunds, Oxford, Salisbury and Bristol until 14 November 2015.
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Tags: Anthony Head, Antony Biggs, Arcola Theatre, Barney Norris, Christopher Shinn, Dominic Cooke, Donmar Warehouse, Eugene O'Neill, Eventide, Jermyn Street Theatre, Matthew Marsh, Niamh Cusack, Teddy Ferrara, The First Man, Ticking, Tom Hughes, Up In Arms Theatre