There’s an element of good theatre that I love: and that is the joy of being on stage emanating from the performers. You get that ‘I’m having a ball being here with these guys’ sort of buzz which is contagiously optimistic – even if the play is dark or … a bit naff. Ok, it’s called good ensemble playing, and it’s the sign of a good director who has allowed creativity – fun even – to happen in rehearsal.
So, recently I’ve seen two extraordinary plays, both written in 1990s and both zinging with now-ness! Martin Crimp’s ‘The Treatment’ directed by Lyndsey Turner, and Tony Kushner’s ‘Angels in America’ directed by Marianne Elliott. I remember seeing them back in the day and being blown away … but in both these revivals the acting – without exception – is immaculate and the productions so fine that that all the wit and weirdness in the plays hit home.
‘Angels’ is set in Reagan’s America in the mid 1980s when the AIDS crisis was rampant and the politics were hard-line conservative. It deals with – well everything really: love, loyalty, death, heaven, hell, truth, lies and sexuality – homosexuality in particular.
And cynicism and corruption. This is best represented by the deeply conservative, deeply fucked up lawyer, Roy Cohn – (Nathan Lane – brilliant!). Kushner’s villain is based on the real Cohn who worked for Joseph McCarthy in the 50s, hunting down alleged communists – including the Rosenbergs whom he condemned to death – and he was Donald Trump’s attorney until his death from AIDS in 1987.
The National offer £20 seats daily (apparently) – I seriously reckon it’s worth the queue! The cast include Denise Gough, Andrew Garfield, Russell Tovey, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and James McArdle: and each one of them takes on smaller parts as well as their main roles with relish and commitment.
Cynicism and corruption are at the heart of The Treatment too. It is a very dark comedy set in New York that exposes the viciousness of the media world where dehumanised predators devour people to get at their story. It’s scary, funny, and truly bizarre … and it poses the question ‘Who owns your story?’ Once it’s told, it’s turned into something else – ‘ a pitch’ and you can kiss goodbye to ownership or control. Indira Varma is brilliant as Jennifer, the terrifying producer, Aisling Loftus as Anne, the damaged victim. And Ben Onwukwe as the blind taxi driver – genius!
And then above a pub in Highgate I saw the musical ‘Paper Hearts’ where there is not even a hint of cynicism and corruption! Now I’m not a musical fan … but the sheer joy of the seeing the 11 strong company on stage together (and it’s not a big stage – trust me) is truly captivating.
Every single member of the cast blew me away with their acting skills, beautiful singing voices and their ability to prance around doing all that whilst playing musical instruments! I saw this company do an hour-long version in a teeny weeny venue in Edinburgh last summer … this time it ran over two hours, but I was totally unaware of the added time which is praise indeed! The story is barking, but the music, composed and played by Daniel Jarvis is fabulous … and the direction, by the ebullient Tania Azevedo is perfect!
If you’re in Hamburg for the next couple of weeks, you can catch it there … makes you forget the ghastliness of the world for a bit!