Kit Harington in Doctor Faustus – Review

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Game Of Thrones Star Displays His Acting Skills (and his body)

Kit Harington in Doctor Faustus at Duke Of Yorks Theatre - reviewed by Paul Seven Lewis
Kit Harington in Doctor Faustus

Kit Harington stars in a modernised in-your-face version of Doctor Faustus at the Duke Of York’s Theatre, in which he sells his soul for celebrity. Yes, the blood was sometimes over the top but this production is an engaging, contemporary take on the Christopher Marlowe play.

Making the protagonist want to be a celebrity magician may have been designed to appeal to a younger crowd, although it did seem a trivial ambition to me, given the price he has to pay. There was another price, the cost of a coherent plot. Then again, perhaps the young brains coped better than mine.

Jamie Lloyd‘s production was gory, sexual, violent, disgusting and many other things designed to shock but much of it worked. What I liked best was that the Devil and his disciples were so lacking in glamour or sexiness. Some had saggy bodies and all were dressed in grubby underwear. Their dancing would shame dads at a party. It made Faustus’ blindness to any consequences of his deal with the Devil even more clear.

Soutra Gilmour‘s grey set, revealing the drab backstage of the theatre, reinforced this sense of the hellish emptiness of celebrity.

Kit Gets Most Of His Kit Off

Anyone expecting to be titillated by the nudity is likely to be disappointed. Early on we see full frontal nudity but, as it suggests Adam and Eve and the original sin of the first human beings to be tempted by the Devil, it is the opposite of sexual. The only other flesh revealed in any quantity is Harington’s when Kit gets most of his kit off in the second act. He has a great body but the naked flesh reminds us of the earlier scene and suggests vulnerability rather than sexuality.

Some people have suggested Kit Harington only got the lead because of his success on TV as Jon Snow in Game Of Thrones. That’s as may be but he was actually very good. He spoke the Elizabethan poetry well and offered a convincing portrayal of Faustus’ ego and anguish, although I have to say I wasn’t ultimately moved by it.

Jenna Russell damn near stole the show as Mephistopheles. She was world weary and sarcastic and exuded an inner sadness- and she’s a good singer, as people who stayed in their seats during the interval discovered.

The Painkiller with Kenneth Branagh & Rob Brydon

Branagh & Brydon excel in bedroom farce

Kenneth Branagh & Rob Brydon in The Painkiller
Kenneth Branagh & Rob Brydon in The Painkiller

For the second time in six months, a star known for his serious acting has amazed me with his skill at comedy. Just as when I saw David Morrissey in The Hangmen, I was surprised and delighted to find that Kenneth Branagh’s talent for farce was the outstanding feature of The Painkiller at the Garrick Theatre.

He plays a hired killer who gets drawn into helping a suicidal photographer. This being a farce, he ends up the victim of many misfortunes including suffering from the effects of a tranquilliser. Branagh’s portrayal of exasperation, his slurred and mixed up words, his comedy walk were a revelation from an actor I had previously known and admired in Shakespeare and Chekhov.

It helped that his opposite number was Rob Brydon, who was every bit as funny as you would hope. Thanks to them and the rest of an excellent cast, there were times when I, along with most of the audience, was crying with laughter.

Sean Foley adapts & directs top class comedy

Considerable credit should go to the French writer Francis Veber and Sean Foley who adapted and directs this now vintage play. Like all good farces, it is built on step-by-step misunderstandings that lead logically to a ridiculous conclusion.  Any moments when you might question the likelihood of something happening are lost in the sheer speed, another vital element in farce.

Taking the whole thing seriously, in other words not being deliberately funny, is another key factor in successful farce. In this respect, I couldn’t fault any member of the cast. Mark Hadley was brilliant as the confused Hotel Porter attempting to carry out his job in the face of an increasingly bizarre situation deserves a special mention.

Alice Power’s clever set was as crucial to making the farce work as any of the characters. Two identical hotel rooms with an adjoining door and an imaginary wall split the stage into two halves. We the audience could see what was going on in each room but the participants couldn’t.

 

Hangmen with David Morrissey at Royal Court

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Martin McDonagh’s Play Feels Like A Classic Farce

David Morrissey in Hangmen
David Morrissey in Hangmen

Hangmen by Martin McDonagh already feels like a classic. The pompous, arrogant man brought down by jealousy is the stuff of many great comedies. The sharp dialogue and the fast moving farce would be a gift to any actors but in the hands of David Morrissey and his fellow cast, they became comedy gold.

I never realised Morrissey is such a great comic actor. He starts off strutting the stage like a bantam cock as the second best hangman in Britain, newly redundant with the abolition of hanging and relishing the attention. Then comes an amazing moment when he seems to deflate before your eyes.

The second act in which one misunderstanding leads to another and disaster looms had me in stitches. Every line, every action counts. Together they make this one of the finest plays I have seen.

The Father with Kenneth Cranham at Wyndham’s Theatre

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

An Acting Tour-de-Force By Kenneth Cranham

Claire Skinner and Kenneth Cranham in The Father
Claire Skinner & Kenneth Cranham in The Father

When The Father opens, it appears to be straightforward comedy about Alzheimers. In other words, easy laughs at the way the old man can’t remember things.

By scene two, when one woman goes into the kitchen and a new actor comes back out, it’s clear we are in a very different play, a drama in which we are inside the father’s head and are as confused by what’s going on as he is. By the end, I was as emotionally wrung out as him.

My mother had Alzheimers, which may have made me recognise the grief more, but experiencing the man’s desperate retreat into second childhood at the end had me in tears. It was an acting tour-de-force by Kenneth Cranham.

The Father, directed by James McDonald, is a French play written by Florian Zeller, who is clearly a huge talent, and translated by Christopher Hampton, whose credits include the hit translation of Art. Claire Skinner provided excellent support.

Dinner With Saddam at Menier Chocolate Factory

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

The first course Anthony Horowitz’s witty play is better than the second

Sanjeev Bhaskar in Dinner With Saddam at Menier Chocolate Factory, reviewed by Paul Seven Lewis
Dinner with Saddam

Dinner With Saddam by Anthony Horowitz has a winning way with witty dialogue and farce.

As the harassed head of the household in war torn Iraq, Sanjeev Bhaskar’s reactions both facial and verbal are very funny and his comic timing is perfect. It should be said that the whole cast was good.

You could say the first course of Dinner with Saddam is better than the second. The second act loses impetus with the arrival of Saddam Hussein (Steven Berkoff) and a massive dose of politics. It’s not that I didn’t find the analysis of the West’s position on Iraq interesting but it simply wasn’t that funny.

The Menier Chocolate Factory is a wonderful place for a theatre, intimate and exciting. This was my first visit. It won’t be my last.

A View From The Bridge at Young Vic

Mark Strong and Nicola Walker in A View From The Bridge at the Young Vic
Mark Strong & Nicola Walker in A View From The Bridge at the Young Vic

This Is Why I Love Theatre

I fell in love with theatre as a child and have been going now for over fifty years. I’ve seen hundreds of performances and I nearly always enjoy the experience but it’s very rare that I recapture the excitement I felt when I first sat in a theatre and the lights went down and actors came on stage to tell a story.

But it happened when I saw Arthur Miller’s A View From The Bridge at the Young Vic back in 2014. It is a brilliantly written play about a man’s obsession with his wife’s teenage niece but this was all about the production and the acting.

Mark Strong, Nicola Walker and Phoebe Fox played the three central characters- a husband, wife and the niece whom they had raised. The stage, with the audience on three sides, was completely bare. The actors were in bare feet. Everything in Ivo Van Hove’s production was was focused on the words and the acting. And what acting.

Having great dialogue helps but you still need to be able to speak it with conviction. This company’s deep understanding- of the words, the rhythms, the nuances, the silences, the looks- drew me into their world totally.

Everything That Is Best In Theatre

At the Young Vic, I was completely absorbed in the underlying sexual tension between the husband and his surrogate daughter, the self deception and the looming inevitable tragedy. The only ‘prop’ was music, an emotional extension of the human voice, used to great effect.

When the end came, there was one coup de theatre that made my jaw drop. As all the characters drew into a huddle in the middle of which a fatal fight was taking place, what I first thought was water (like tears) began pouring on them from above. Then I realised it was red and soon the actors and the stage were soaked in blood.

It was a simple enough effect and may even sound over the top, but coming at the culmination of such a tense two hours, it was stunning. It was a moment when time stood still.  It was everything that is best in theatre and why I have had a love affair with the stage for over fifty years.