Tag Archives: Helen Skiera

Mephisto [A Rhapsody]

★★★★★

Gate Theatre

Mephisto [A Rhapsody]

Mephisto [A Rhapsody]

Gate Theatre

Reviewed – 8th October 2019

★★★★★

 

“Radical, bold, political, funny, scary, shocking, moving – a truly transformational night at the theatre”

 

‘Mephisto [A Rhapsody]’ is a vital piece of theatre for our times. Everyone needs to see this play. This French text, by Samuel Gallet, adapted from the novel ‘Mephisto’ by German Klaus Mann, effortlessly translated into English by Chris Campbell, has multiple layers of European history behind it, taking an overtly political stance on the contemporary cultural moment. The Gate Theatre has produced a piece that majestically puts its ‘Manifesto For Our Future’ into practice – is this now the most exciting theatre in London?

Gallet’s play follows the trajectory of Mann’s original novel fairly closely, with some crucial alterations. In a fictional provincial town, Balbek Theatre and its company are struggling to find relevance in turbulent political times. The far-right Front Line is on the rise, skirmishes are taking place in migrant camps, pigs-heads are being left outside their front door. Almost oblivious to the looming threat of fascism, company actor Aymeric Dupré (a sensational Leo Bill), all vanity and self-doubt, has his eyes on stardom.

Rather than selling his soul to the Nazi’s though, Gallet’s version of Hendrik Höfgen sells his soul to apathy. He just doesn’t care. When the right-wing actor Michael (a terrifying Rhys Rusbatch) turns against his company members, Aymeric only thinks about himself – and leaves for the capital. His career jets off, but the human, moral cost is clear.

Campbell’s translation is spot on, with contemporary, flowing language whilst keeping the usefully vague geography of the piece. But this production is so much more than the text. A post-interval addition told by Anna-Maria Nabirye (“the only black actor in the show”) interrogates our conceptions of race in theatre, and even the Gate Theatre isn’t left off the hook. One of the startling things about this production is the way it uses a story about actors to provoke theatres, theatre-goers and creatives into political action. We could be apathetic, we could do another Chekhov, or we could try and change the way our audiences think, feel and respond to the world around them. Are they preaching to the converted? Possibly. But how often do you go to theatre and leave actually wanting to DO something?

Basia Binkowska’s design keeps the backstage onstage, with lighting desk and costume rail visible until the surprising and tender ending takes us back in time to Klaus Mann’s hotel room. A golden fun-house mirror makes up the back wall of the stage, offering the audience distorted reflections of themselves and the actors on stage. Kirsty Housley has directed a company where there are no weak links. The action is kept simple, the audience frequently directly addressed, the text divided cleverly between actors/narrators. Housley also uses space masterfully, expansive gaps between characters as well as closeted crowds in ways that make the empty stage seem anything but.

I have slight reservations about the ending of the play, which doesn’t add much to the two hours of theatre before, but it certainly doesn’t detract from the power of this production. ‘Mephisto [A Rhapsody]’ is something special. Radical, bold, political, funny, scary, shocking, moving – a truly transformational night at the theatre.

 

Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich

Photography by Cameron Slater

 


Mephisto [A Rhapsody]

Gate Theatre until 26th October

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Dear Elizabeth | ★★ | January 2019
Why The Child Is Cooking In The Polenta | ★★ | May 2019

 

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Good Dog
★★★★

Watford Palace Theatre and UK Tour

Good Dog

Good Dog

Watford Palace Theatre

Reviewed – 1st February 2019

★★★★

 

“Kwaku Mills gives a commendable spirited performance holding the audience in the palm of his hand”

 

A new production of Arinzé Kene’s hard-hitting yet delicate 2017 play, Good Dog, seems as relevant as ever. Although set in the Noughties and inspired by the 2011 London riots, the themes of frustration and social injustice still ring true. Told in an elongated monologue form, through the eyes of a fast growing teenage boy, a multi-cultural community is seen at breaking point. He witnesses the struggles with crime, poverty, addictions and infidelity that cripples his neighbours. With raging energy and surprising chuckle-out-loud observational humour, this powerful piece of storytelling shows what happens when all hope is lost and life is full of disappointment.

Kwaku Mills gives a commendable spirited performance holding the audience in the palm of his hand single-handedly for over two hours. He moves with dexterity through the different stages of the boy’s life. Transitioning from a naive and opportunistic young teen, to a hardened and disenchanted adult, who finds out the hard way that no good comes from being good in this world.

A large, black, wooden, slatted cube dominates the stage (set design Amelia Jane Hankin), representing such places as the balcony of the boy’s high rise home, the corner shop or train platform that makes up the bleak microcosm. Mills plays and interacts with the cube as if it is another character, becoming an integral partner in the story.

Helen Skiera’s sound design helps to flesh out the performance. The voices of the community the boy observes drips out through the speakers, painting a multi-cultural picture of a down-trodden forgotten pocket of the capital. It was unfortunate that some of this dialogue was missed due to the sound being far too quiet.

Arinzé Kene’s penetrating and quick-witted colloquial writing, feels authentic and tangible. It’s storytelling of the everyday man, for the everyday man. At times it can feel dense and borderline self-indulgent, yet this is a tale that holds an honest mirror up to the world, proving to be a vital piece of theatre. Telling a truth about London life that needs to be witnessed more on stage.

 

Reviewed by Phoebe Cole

Photography by Wasi Daniju

 

Watford Palace Theatre

Good Dog

Watford Palace Theatre until 2nd February then touring UK

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Broken Glass | ★★★★ | March 2018

 

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