Monthly Archives: November 2016



(Peter Crawley’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 11/13.)

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. (Or so Jane Austen winked.) But Henry James’s 1880 novel Washington Square, adapted for the stage in 1947 by Ruth and Augustus Goetz, wondered how that desire might alter when the roles were reversed.

Here, Catherine Sloper (an engagingly timorous Karen McCartney) is a young woman with a significant fortune but few romantic prospects. We are frequently told that she is gauche and graceless, and, more to the point, so is she: inhibited by a sardonic and implacable father (Denis Conway’s magnetic Dr Sloper) who imprisons her in the shadow of her idealised, deceased mother. When a penniless suitor arrives (Donal Gallery’s fascinatingly insincere Morris), hell-bent on marriage, she believes that youthful desire can defy elder tyranny. He, of course, smells a rat after her inheritance. In both cases, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

This vision of 19th century New York could be wrapped up snug in a reassuring costume drama, but though designer Jonathan Fensom provides a townhouse of rich detail with voluminous period dresses, his palette is admirably muted, all sepia and tobacco browns, as slyly oppressive as the portrait of Catherine’s mother, draped with a shroud. It also allows director David Grindley to focus on the play’s truer identity, as a courtroom drama with hearts in the dock.

“Suspicion?” scoffs Conway when challenged by Marion O’Dwyer’s enjoyably good-hearted aunt Lavinia. “It is a diagnosis, my dear.” Conway gives a performance of inflexible conviction, softened slightly by a cumulus of facial hair, believing that all falsehood will crumple under his wry stare. And so he builds a case, calling witnesses (Tara Egan-Langley as Morris’s sister), presenting exhibits (the fine gloves of a supposed pauper), confident that Morris will break under cross-examination.

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Photo: Irish Times.



(Ken Jaworowski’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/20; via Pam Green.)

“Abigail’s Party” may be the most uncomfortable comedy in New York right now, and I’d sit through it again in a second. Here, humor and unpleasantness are intertwined, and that leads to laughs — many, many laughs — that are part gleeful and part appalled.

Set in 1977 at a cocktail party from hell, the story opens on Beverly (Sarah Street) and Laurence (John Pirkis), the hosts, preparing for their guests. The tension in their marriage is subtle at first, with a smattering of frustrated comments and irritated replies.

Their smiling neighbors arrive, and the stress begins to build. Angela (Lily Dorment) and Tony (Nick Hetherington), another married couple, are a bit less mismatched, yet they too have troubles, as does Susan (Colleen Clinton), whose 15-year-old daughter, the unseen Abigail, is throwing a bash of her own within earshot.

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(Charles Isherwood’s article appeared in the New York Times, 11/16.)

Last time I checked, there were not a lot of laughs in Shakespeare’s tragedy about a Moorish general beset by the green-eyed monster. Yet giggles abound in “Othello: The Remix,” a clever and exuberantly performed hip-hop version of the play that opened on Wednesday at the Westside Theater.

If the unlikely combination of hip-hop and Shakespeare rings a bell, it’s because the writer-composers, directors and stars of the show — known as the Q Brothers, GQ and JQ — have concocted this kind of madcap mash-up before. They had an Off Broadway hit back in 1999 with “The Bomb-itty of Errors,” adapted from — well, you can guess — and have written versions of several other Shakespeare plays.

This is the first time they have brought to New York an adaptation of a tragedy into what is essentially a rapped opera, with minimal dialogue. (Coming up: “Hamlet” and “Macbeth.”) But the Q Brothers are smart to play to their strengths. While their version conforms broadly to the original, it is continually infused with impish humor; it’s as much a spoof of “Othello” as it is a serious attempt to translate the play into a contemporary musical idiom.

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1962:  Welsh actor Richard Burton (1925 - 1984) in Joseph L Mankiewicz's film 'Cleopatra'.  (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

1962: Welsh actor Richard Burton (1925 – 1984) in Joseph L Mankiewicz’s film ‘Cleopatra’. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Listen at:

Film presenter Antonia Quirke reports from Pontrhydyfen a small village in the Afan Valley, in Neath Port Talbot Port Talbot in South Wales which is the birthplace of one of her favourite movie actors; Richard Burton. Here she uncovers the development of his cinematic voice.

In this programme Antonia uses Burton’s voice to illustrate how cinematic voices have changed and she meets with leading dialect coach Penny Dyer to deconstruct it along with examining the new methods deployed in today’s films
Richard Burton had a strong Welsh accent and a weak voice as a child. However when his adoptive father saw how talented he was at remembering Shakespeare and other poetry, he ironed out the Welsh accent and took him outside to the valleys to project loudly across them. For months and years the young Richard did this – literally yelling King Lear across the mountains – until he arrived at the incomparably strong almost-Welsh voice we know and love.

Burton’s voice was idiosyncratic, often strange and powerful with unusual speech patterns. His public and private voice was one and the same.

Sian Phillips discusses her film roles alongside Burton, and in a new study, cultural historian Peter Stead tells how Burton’s Welshness shaped his character and career.

We also hear from actor and voice over artist Simon Greenall and impressionist Jon Culshaw who dissect Burton’s voice and reveal how they create their own vocal sounds and adapt their mimicry. .

Producer: Stephen Garner.



(Michael Paulson’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/15; via Pam Green.)

Audra McDonald’s pregnancy was a surprise. But was it an accident, an illness or neither?

That is the question the producers of the Broadway musical “Shuffle Along” are asking a court to decide as it demands that an insurance company, Lloyd’s of London, compensate the show for what it says were more than $12 million in damages. The show closed in July, four months after performances began, when Ms. McDonald, who was 45 at the time, became pregnant, and the producers decided they could not continue once she went on maternity leave.

The show, with a full title of “Shuffle Along, Or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed,” was a new musical, written and directed by George C. Wolfe, that explored the history of one of the earliest all-black musicals on Broadway. It was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, but won none; its post-opening grosses were strong, ranging from $755,787 to $985,656 a week.

The cast featured several much-honored performers, but Ms. McDonald, who has won six Tony awards, was its biggest star, and, the producers said, the biggest attraction for ticketbuyers. Her role involved substantial tap dancing, and she left the cast, citing guidance from her doctor, three months before giving birth to a daughter, Sally James McDonald-Swenson. (Ms. McDonald is married to the actor Will Swenson.)

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(Philip Olermann’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/25.)

Austrian director Philipp Preuss’s new stage adaptation of Albert Camus’ 1942 classic L’Étranger (The Stranger) takes place entirely inside a three-walled cage made of upright LED tubes: a static stage set that proves surprisingly adaptable. When the inscrutable protagonist Meursault attends his mother’s funeral, the light flickers, like a sunset filtered through trees. After his imprisonment for the murder of an Arab man in French Algiers, the white shards form the bars of his cell.

In the novel’s pivotal murder scene, as Meursault walks down the beach toward the scene of his crime, with “the cymbals of the sun clashing on my skull”, the stage manager whacks up the lights until the audience have to shield their eyes – not a bad metaphor for a text that, in spite of its widely agreed upon brilliance, many these days find hard to approach head on.

France’s relationship with Camus’s first novel remains complicated. Edward Saidsaid the book was “informed by an incapacitated colonial sensibility”. Recently theatre-makers have found it easier to access the material in a roundabout way, via Algerian writer Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation, a feted production of which is currently at Munich’s Kammerspiele theatre.

Preuss’s production, at Berlin’s Schaubühne, has more hope in the enduring relevance of Camus’s absurdist tale. “Existentialism has become a visual cliche – chain-smoking gloomsters wearing black polo necks,” the director says. “But there’s something very contemporary about Camus’s rejection of ideology. Ironically in France, because of the political associations The Stranger attracted after the 1961 Paris massacre [the bloody crackdown by French police on an Algerian anti-war protest], the text that first tried to articulate a post-ideological age was one that struggled to do so.”

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Photo: Guardian



(Anita Gates’s article appeared in the New York Times, 11/25.)

Florence Henderson, who began her career as an ingénue soprano in stage musicals in the 1950s but made a more lasting impression on television, as the perky 1970s sitcom mom on “The Brady Bunch,” died on Thursday in Los Angeles. She was 82.

Her death was confirmed by David Brokaw, her publicist. He said that she died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and that her family said the cause was heart failure.

“She was quite active until she started not feeling well several days ago,” Mr. Brokaw said. “It was felt that she would just bounce back from it.”

Ms. Henderson was making a film in Norway in 1969 when she was asked to appear in the pilot episode of “The Brady Bunch,” an unapologetically upbeat comedy about a widow with three daughters who meets, marries and makes a sunny suburban California home with a widower who has three sons. The series ran from September 1969 to March 1974, attracting viewers during a period of extreme social change and the Vietnam War, neither of which touched the Bradys’ world.

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Listen to ‘The Birthday Party’ at:

‘The Birthday Party’ by Harold Pinter

Stanley, an erstwhile pianist lives in a dingy seaside boarding house run by Meg and Petey. He is comfortable there, like a surrogate son. Two sinister strangers turn up – Goldberg and McCann. They claim to know him from the past. They turn Stanley’s birthday party into a menacing and terrifying encounter. Franz Kafka meets Donald McGill in Pinter’s iconic comedy of menace.

An Irishman and a Jew walk into a seaside boarding house. And what? A parable about power and persecution? Or maybe it’s marginalised minorities taking their revenge against seedy Albion? Pinter’s slippery and sly black comedy has a huge resonance for today.

Harold Pinter was one of the writers championed by the Third Programme – and in the late 1950s commissioned one of his early plays before he had his first stage hit. Pinter himself acknowledged the role the Third had had in his own cultural education. For the 70th anniversary, Drama on 3 presents a new production of The Birthday Party, now considered a Pinter classic, but which on its first London opening only lasted a week.



(Laura Collins-Hughes’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/16; via Pam Green.)

Christopher Bayes is not your average Ivy League professor. Likewise, the casts he assembles when he directs aren’t the typical bunch of strangers plucked from auditions and thrown together in a rehearsal room.

These actors are members of an informal company that he refers to wryly as the “Lopsided Caravan of Misfit Toys.”

A little after noon on a Wednesday, in costume for a photo shoot, a gaggle of them stood onstage with Mr. Bayes at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn, clowning for the camera. Their show, for Theater for a New Audience, is the commedia dell’arte classic “The Servant of Two Masters,” so they wore half-masks or carried swords — all very 18th century. But their humor was a timeless kind of silliness.

Andy Grotelueschen, one of the actors, stood ramrod-straight. “O.K., spit in my mouth!” he commanded, and opened wide. Instead Mr. Bayes poked a finger into his gaping maw — also a gross-out move, but unexpected, which sent a wave of laughter through the company.

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(Lyn Gardner’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/23.)

What a difference four years make. When Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female version of Julius Caesar, set in a women’s prison, premiered at the Donmar in 2012, cross-gender casting was still perceived by some as a novelty, and theatre’s feminists were only stirring. By the time the second production in the trilogy, Henry IV, opened in 2014, research carried out for Tonic Theatre’s Advance programme had highlighted the shocking gender inequality on Britain’s stages and Maxine Peake was playing Hamlet in Manchester.

Now, as a pared-down version of The Tempest completes the trilogy – in which each filleted production is remarkable, but when seen consecutively are utterly extraordinary – there is a growing critical mass of gender-blind casting. Glenda Jackson is playing King Lear at the Old Vic and Anna Francolini is Captain Hook at the National Theatre, where Tamsin Greig will soon play Malvolio.

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