Tag Archives: James Marlowe

A Hero of our Time

★★★★

Stone Nest

A Hero of

A Hero of our Time

Stone Nest

Reviewed – 18th September 2020

★★★★

 

“the performances burn with an energy that transfixes throughout”

 

Since March, and I’m far from alone here, the only theatre I have been able to witness has been either beamed through a computer screen or, more recently, outside under our unpredictable skies. Consequently, one is bound to carry a heightened sense of expectation when returning to an indoor space for the first time. Any concerns, though, that these expectations are not reached are swiftly thwarted by HUNCHTheatre’s impassioned and inspired adaptation of Mikhail Lermontov’s “A Hero of Our Time”.

Having enjoyed critical success in Edinburgh and at the Arcola Theatre in 2018, it now comes to the Stone Nest: a former, nineteenth century Welsh Chapel tucked away on the corner of Shaftesbury Avenue. From the eighties it was the home of the infamous Limelight Club until it became just a pub; but for the last decade has stood empty. Until now. With its Norman style gallery and grand dome, it seems an appropriate space for presenting the moody, melancholic thoughts of Mikhail Lermontov. “A Hero of Our Time”, Lermontov’s final prose work, focuses on the anti-hero Pechorin whose tragic demise foreshadowed the author’s own death during a duel.

The romanticism of the setting, however, is outweighed by the somewhat poor acoustics of the church. However, Oliver Bennett and Vladimir Shcherban’s adaptation is inventive enough to be able to dispense with the backdrop and rely purely on their dramatic achievement. The writing is skilfully modern, and the performances burn with an energy that transfixes throughout. Bennett, as Pechorin, embodies the nihilistic intensity mixed with the melancholic sensitivity of the Romantic hero. The rich tones of his voice frame the aphorisms that are sometimes unbearably cruel, but impeccably aimed to wound his intended target. It is often difficult to feel a real sympathy towards this kind of self-centred protagonist, but Bennett reels us in with his winning charisma.

James Marlowe as Grushnitsky, his long-suffering friend, gives as good as he gets as the two face each other off over the young Princess Mary. Initially the underdog, Marlowe’s stage presence gives a real stealth to the character that ultimately threatens to usurp the hero’s tragic status. The two actors create an electrifying bond; and caught in its crossfire is Florence Roberts who convincingly plays the two pivotal women: Princess Mary, the pawn in the game (but don’t underestimate the power of the pawn!) and Pechorin’s ailing ex-lover, Vera.

The lines are blurred between comedy and tragedy, between the past and the present; but it is clear that we are witnessing a vital piece of theatre here. It exposes the conflicting emotions of the characters as being universal. It is not always comfortable – like biting into a lemon. The bitterness is as immediate as the sharp language of the text. Marred only by a few moments of extraneous physicality, the offbeat and avant-garde permeates the production.

The irony, the insight, the fatalism, the humour, the violence and the love; all embedded in Lermontov’s original, have not been lost over time. This is a show that resonates today just as compellingly; and these actors are the heroes of our time.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

 


A Hero of our Time

Stone Nest until 19th September

 

 

Click here to read our November 2018 review from the Arcola Theatre

 

Last ten shows reviewed by Jonathan:
The Importance Of Being Earnest | ★★★½ | The Turbine Theatre | February 2020
Closed Lands | ★★★ | The Vaults | March 2020
Max Raabe & Palast Orchester | ★★★★★ | Cadogan Hall | March 2020
The Kite Runner | ★★★★ | Richmond Theatre | March 2020
The Last Five Years | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse | March 2020
A Separate Peace | ★★★★ | Online | May 2020
The Understudy | ★★★★ | Online | May 2020
Godspell Online in Concert | ★★★★★ | Online | August 2020
Henry V | ★★★★ | The Maltings | August 2020
St Anne Comes Home | ★★★★ | St Paul’s Church Covent Garden | August 2020

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
★★★★★

Southwark Playhouse

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 17th May 2019

★★★★★

 

“a thoroughly fascinating, moving and evocative piece of theatre”

 

Written in 1922 by F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is just one of many short stories that comprise his “Tales of the Jazz Age” collection; though undoubtedly one of the better-known. Fitzgerald was inspired by Mark Twain who lamented the fact that the best part of life came at the beginning and the worst part at the end. Fitzgerald tried to turn this idea on its head, but instead discovered that youth and old age are mirrors of each other. A witty and insightful satire it tells the story of Benjamin Button who is born an old man and mysteriously begins ageing backwards. At the beginning of his life he is withered and worn, but as he continues to grow younger he embraces life, falls in love, goes to war, has children, goes to school and eventually, as his mind begins to devolve again, returns to the care of his nurses.

A difficult tale to categorise, but at its heart it is a fantasy. A fairy-tale. A love story underpinned by a mysterious curse. Writer Jethro Compton with composer Darren Clark have embraced that heart and transplanted it into a Cornish folk tale to produce a thoroughly fascinating, moving and evocative piece of theatre. The story is told in a time-honoured fashion by the five characters, washed up on the rugged Cornish coast. And the music emerges naturally from the ebb and flow of the narrative as though one cannot exist without the other. This extends to the five cast – all master story tellers and multi-instrumentalists – who perform, move, act and sing together as one. You can hear it in their harmonies which are breathtakingly beautiful.

Whatever liberties have been taken with Fitzgerald’s story, in my mind, only improve on the original. Spanning most of the twentieth century, the epic structure fits perfectly into the small-town Cornish setting. This is ‘Under Milk Wood’ meets ‘Sliding Doors’ as we are shown how the smallest chain of events can change a life irrevocably – for better or for worse. The show is a conjuring trick where seventy years are crammed into two hours and over forty characters into the five actors onstage. With Chi-San Howard’s choreography it is a master class in dexterity.

When not behind the piano, guitar, accordion, drum kit, Matthew Burns and Joey Hickman have the lion’s share of the roles. Meanwhile, James Marlowe completely nails the unenviable task of portraying Benjamin Button reversing from sixty to twenty with an outstanding performance (the very old and the very young Benjamin are puppets forged from the flotsam and jetsam of the Cornish beach). Like a broken clock that tells the right time twice a day, he finds true love twice in his life. With the same person: Philippa Hogg and Rosalind Ford play respectively (among a myriad other characters of course) the young Elowen, whom he marries and the older Elowen with whom he is reunited; and it is these two who steal the show and provide the most haunting and beautiful moments. And with Ford’s cello, Hogg’s violin and their combined voices, I defy anyone to remain dry eyed throughout the evening.

This is quite a sensational piece of musical theatre that takes a curious tale and adds its very own eccentricities. The only minor quibble is that it is just a bit too long, but that said, the magic sustains from start to finish. Or from finish to start, whichever way you want to look at it.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography courtesy Jethro Compton Productions

 


The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Southwark Playhouse until 8th June

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The Trench | ★★★ | October 2018
Seussical The Musical | ★★★★ | November 2018
The Funeral Director | ★★★★★ | November 2018
The Night Before Christmas | ★★★ | November 2018
Aspects of Love | ★★★★ | January 2019
All In A Row | ★★ | February 2019
Billy Bishop Goes To War | ★★★ | March 2019
The Rubenstein Kiss | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Other People’s Money | ★★★ | April 2019
Oneness | ★★★ | May 2019

 

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