Author: Joanne Corrigan

Ralegh: The Treason Trial, Winchester Great Hall & Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

“Immersed in history on the stage where it happened!”

On the 17th November, 1603 in The Great Hall, Winchester hundreds gathered expectantly as Sir Walter Ralegh was brought before the Court to be tried for treason. On the anniversary of this historic trial 415 years later an audience again gathered in the Great Hall to hear the trial re-enacted from verbatim accounts by sources present at the original trial and compiled, edited, dramatised and directed by Oliver Chris. The only difference this time was the absence of ruffs and doublets in favour of the bureaucratic dress of a modern day courthouse.

With 12 members of the audience sworn in as jury members, the performance became a court hearing as the Attorney, Coke, played by Nathalie Armin proceeded to read the indictment and deliver ‘the proofs’. As in 1603 it was done with ‘intemperate zeal’ as Coke declared to the jury and gallery that Ralegh was “the most vile and execrable traitor that ever lived” haranguing and attacking him at every turn. Modern dress maybe but with no right to counsel and with little or no protection from judges, Popham, Cecil and Howard, Ralegh, was left to defend himself against the circumstantial, somewhat contradictory and often hearsay evidence levelled at him.

Simon Paisley Day gives an impressive and studied performance as Ralegh, railing against the court’s decision not to produce the only witness to the alleged conspiracy, Lord Cobham, whilst entreating the jury to accept his protestations of innocence.

At the conclusion of the evidence the jury were taken out to consider their verdict and given just 15 minutes, the time it took the original jury to deliberate and make a decision. Joined by the Clerk of the Court to ‘guide’ us through the evidence, the ‘12 good men and true’ or in this case 7 good women and 5 good men, set about their task having diligently taken notes throughout. A straw poll at the start of the debate revealed a unanimous group but with the Clerk’s interpretation of the evidence, an imperious Amanda Wright, after a quarter of an hour, which flew by, 5 members had been swayed. As the Foreman of the Jury it would not be appropriate to reveal our majority verdict save only that some of us would have been be-knighted and some beheaded!

Whilst one can re-enact history, even with the benefit of hindsight, one cannot rewrite it. The reaction of the audience when the verdict was read out was testament to just how much everyone had become enthralled with the drama being played out in front of them.

After its short run at the Winchester Great Hall, 16th-18th November, it transfers to the atmospheric Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe for a limited run from the 24th-30th November.

PHOENIX RATING:


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Company, Gielgud Theatre

“Everybody Rise!”

It’s not always wise to re-imagine a piece of work previously fêted as a great musical but when the composer gives his blessing and that composer is Stephen Sondheim we can all breathe a sigh of relief. Director Marianne Elliot’s gender swapping Company not only works but brings the 1970’s musical bang up to date, adds a whole new dimension and is, dare I say it, an improvement on the original.

Rosalie Craig’s Bobbie hits her 35th birthday and regardless of a really good job, a great apartment and several boyfriends, an awareness of a ticking body clock and whether it’s time to commit looms large especially when surrounded by well-meaning friends, all couples, who have opinions and are not slow in sharing.

One of those couples is Paul (Alex Gaumond) and his fiancé Jamie (Jonathan Bailey). Originally Amy, but in this updated version it makes complete sense that Bobbie would have at least one male couple amongst her friends and without having to change any of the dialogue, Bailey gives an incredibly honest, searing and funny performance of  “Getting Married Today”, a man, on the morning of his wedding, suddenly struck by the realisation of his situation, previously denied to him and getting cold feet, albeit temporarily!

Another of Elliott’s great coups is the luring of Broadway royalty Patti LuPone back to the West End stage after 25 years away. The multiple Olivier, Tony and Grammy award winner said she wouldn’t do another musical after her last show War Paint closed in 2017, declaring them too gruelling and exhausting, but couldn’t resist the opportunity to work with Elliott – and thank goodness!

LuPone’s star quality and portrayal of the acerbic Joanne is sheer class and no musical theatre fan worthy of the name should miss this opportunity to witness her imperious performance, not just of Ladies Who Lunch, but throughout. Everybody rise!

Completing the line-up is Mel Giedroyc as Sarah, George Blagden as PJ, Ashley Campbell as Peter, Richard Fleeshman as Andy,  Richard Henders as David, Ben Lewis as Larry, Daisy Maywood as Susan, Jennifer Saayeng as Jenny, Matthew Seadon-Young as Theo and Gavin Spokes as Harry and there’s not a weak link to be found as they master Liam Steele’s clever choreography around a very effective set designed by the Olivier and Tony winning Bunny Christie, who previously collaborated with Elliott on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

From Sarah and Harry’s sitting room, featuring some very funny competitive martial arts, Bobbie’s bedroom with multiple doors and overlapping visitors to subway train carriages carrying Another Hundred People, Company sweeps you along on a journey through New York peppered with wit, irony, regret, bitterness and hope.

Craig’s Bobbie is a complex mix of defiance, confusion, denial, longing and finally an understanding and acceptance of who she is and what she wants and her rendition of Being Alive, is yet another interpretation of what’s gone before but no less effective.

This production is stylish, sublime and simply marvellous. Oh Mr Sondheim, What Would We Do Without You?

PHOENIX RATING:

Company is at the Gielgud Theatre and has just extended its run to March 30.

Photographs: ©Brinkhoff/Mogenburg

You can buy tickets for this spectacular show, HERE! Read more

The Unspoken, Barons Court Theatre

“A challenging complex play that seeks to explore the dynamics of a father/daughter relationship”

The latest work from award-winning writer Jody Medland has opened at Barons Court Theatre and runs until September 22nd.

The Unspoken tells the story of Jimmy, a widowed miner struggling to cope with life. Living with his daughter Maggie, blind since birth, he keeps her as a slave and prisoner in the mistaken belief he is protecting her from the evils of the outside world.

In the confines of the basement space of the Curtain’s Up pub, home to Barons Court Theatre, the isolation of Maggie kept chained in one room when not ‘doing chores’ is evocative. With only a crackly radio for company when her Father is at work, Hannah Tarrington is impressive as Maggie, a young woman brainwashed into believing her life is good, she lives in a large ‘palace’, her Father is a respected architect and they eat venison and duck, when the reality is a tiny hovel, poor rations and a brutish Father who regularly beats her. She hears the voice of her dead Mother telling her he loves her really and promises better things to come. A dying Jimmy, full of conflicting emotions and convincingly played by Will Teller, returns home from work one afternoon, remorseful of his treatment of Maggie, while the subsequent arrival of Dr Rose will change her life forever……

The Unspoken is a challenging complex play that seeks to explore the dynamics of a father/daughter relationship.  In itself, a complicated subject for any play, however, there are so many other issues alluded to in just 60 minutes there are more questions than answers and as a result serves to lessen the belief in the main story.

The unseen visitor at the front door, claiming to be a priest and who tries to tempt Maggie to let him in, is revealed to be a convicted sex offender – an example of the ‘bad’ from which Maggie needs protecting from by her Father, but this just over complicates and distracts. Jimmy unable to save his brother Robbie in an accident at the pit, a memory of putting an injured bird out of its misery prompting the idea of killing Maggie to end her misery, is too much, as the audience already understands the desperation of the Father and his situation. Similarly, the level of violence he inflicts early on somewhat reduces any sympathy for his plight and it is vital to care for both Father and Daughter if you’re to go along with the play’s premise.

Dr Rose is also presented as an ‘outsider’ who does not fit in due to his disability following an accident and it’s perhaps a little too simplistic to accept that he would be in love with someone he’s never met based on her Father’s wishes for her to be looked after. Elliot Blagden displays a touching sympathy in his portrayal especially when he surveys the conditions from which he plans to rescue Maggie and would have liked him introduced sooner.

Writer Jody Medland is also the Director and it can be terribly hard to ‘let go’ of some aspects of your hard work, even if it would benefit in the long run, so completely understand why he’s tried to keep so much of it included. It would be interesting to see how an independent Director would have approached the play but all credit to anyone bringing new writing to the stage and keeping fringe theatre alive and this should be applauded and encouraged.

Barons Court Theatre, 28a Comeragh Road, London W14 9HR Tickets: londontheatres@gmail.com

PHOENIX RATING:


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