Tag Archives: Robert Workman

The Jazz Age

★★★★★

The Playground Theatre

The Jazz Age

The Jazz Age

The Playground Theatre

Reviewed – 15th October 2019

★★★★★

 

“Jana Robbins and Anthony Biggs’ direction is jaw-droppingly masterful”

 

“The New Yorker called him a 44 year old unemployed screenwriter from a forgotten era. The Jazz Age, they called it.” So says Ernest Hemingway about his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald in Allan Knee’s new play, The Jazz Age. It’s a quote dripping with delicious irony, as neither Fitzgerald, The Jazz Age nor Knee’s tribute of the same name are in any way forgettable.

The play follows the lives of the two writers who arguably encapsulated The Jazz Age more than anyone else – Hemingway (Jack Derges) and Fitzgerald (Robert Boulter), as well as Scott’s wife Zelda Fitzgerald (Hannah Tointon). Set mostly in Paris during the Roaring Twenties, the story closely recounts the tale of the trio’s young lives, particularly focusing on the complex relationship between them. Beginning with Scott’s scouting of Hemingway and Scott and Zelda’s whirlwind romance, the narrative continues with Hemingway’s rise to fame, Scott’s downwards spiral into self-pity and alcoholism and Zelda’s ever loosening grip on her own sanity.

Scott credits Hemingway as “holding a mirror up to the world and writing what you see,” a metaphor which also applies here – the story is written with clarity and panache whilst the attention to detail is absolutely spot on. From the moment the audience enters they are transported into a twenties Parisian Jazz club, Darren Berry’s three piece band enticing them in with sultry, buttery-smooth tones whilst Gregor Donnelly’s grandiose design wows them. Cabaret tables peppering the front row are a particularly pleasing touch – what better way to immerse the viewer into the play’s world than to make them part of the set?

As one might expect, the music is part of what makes The Jazz Age such a joyously stimulating experience – like icing on a cupcake, you’d notice if it wasn’t there. Never superseding, it is woven into the fabric of the play and evolves with the scenes it introduces – sometimes upbeat and fun, sometimes gentle and beautifully wistful. Its utilisation for changes in setting allows the story to seamlessly flow whilst making sure that classy Cabaret atmosphere never slips.

The stars of the show, however, are the characters themselves. Jana Robbins and Anthony Biggs’ direction is jaw-droppingly masterful – this is as close as you’re going to get to seeing Scott, Zelda or Hemingway actually come back to life. Boulter’s Scott is initially cocksure and arrogantly naïve, particularly apparent in his brazen forwardness towards Zelda during their first encounter, however Boulter’s transformation into the hollow, quivering spectre Scott becomes later on is measured impeccably and heart-breaking to witness. Tointon beautifully embodies the flapper girl Zelda, moving playfully yet gracefully and truly bringing the rhythm of the music to life. It is never one note however – Zelda may at one point be oozing with seductive charm and then suddenly switch into a complete manic breakdown, making her mesmerising to watch.

Derges’ Hemingway is quite simply breathtaking. Seldom have I seen an actor master the dry wit in a play like Derges does here. Every savagely witty putdown is timed effortlessly and laced with a palpable weariness and nonchalance. Hemingway’s overt machoism is never shied away from either and his cool confidence contrasts spectacularly to Scott’s nervous energy. The friendship between the two writers is definitely the most believable part of The Jazz Age and is what makes the final moments so beautifully poignant.

What’s really great is that you don’t need to know anything about the actual lives of these characters to feel a deep affinity with them. You can simply sit back, let the music seduce you and enjoy being whisked away to The Jazz Age for one evening. I urge everyone to go and watch it – it’s sublime.

 

Reviewed by Sebastian Porter

Photography by Robert Workman

 


The Jazz Age

The Playground Theatre until 19th October

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Fanatical – the Musical | ★★★ | November 2018
Sacha Guitry, Ma Fille Et Moi | ★★★½ | January 2019
My Brother’s Keeper | ★★★★ | February 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

The Ice Cream Boys

The Ice Cream Boys

★★★★

Jermyn Street Theatre

The Ice Cream Boys

The Ice Cream Boys

Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 11th October 2019

★★★★

 

“There’s never been a better time to make this study, and the Jermyn Street production does it with panache”

 

On 11th October 2019, two days after Jermyn Street Theatre opened its new production, newspapers reported that former President of South Africa Jacob Zuma was to stand trial for corruption charges in relation to billion-pound arms deals. Charges against Zuma are not new; these same charges had simply been held off until now.

This is all very timely for The Ice Cream Boys. The sweet name belies the murky political intrigue at its heart. The single act play posits a meeting between two architects of the rainbow nation’s modern history: Zuma and his former intelligence services mastermind, Ronnie Kasrils.

In Gail Louw’s new play, we’re asked to enter into the fantasy of Kasrils and Zuma meeting in the present day. They’re old men now, their paths crossing in a starched hospital room as they both await tests and treatments for the sorts of conditions that come to men in their eighties. Zuma reports that he’s slow to pass water (‘Prostate’, he says grimly) and Kasrils that he has a possible skin melanoma after ‘all that time in the sun’. But the men, former allies, have plenty of unresolved differences. Cue a complex but taut psychological interplay, as the pair play metaphorical (and literal) chess and debate lives spent steeped in divisions of race and class.

Set design (Cecilia Trono) is simple but clever, neatly invoking a clinical white hotel room that acts as a kind of purgatory. The men are left alone to spar but for occasional interruptions by their nurse – and their past. When history intrudes, often in the form of painful memories, lighting (by Tim Mascall) shifts, jarring back to the cool, sanitised hospital room after.

The two male leads – Andrew Francis as Zuma and Jack Klaff as Kasrils – hold the stage with astonishing personality. Klaff, especially, is spellbinding, using his whole physicality to invoke Kasrils and maximising his passing resemblance to the man. The South African accents, so often mangled, are almost faultless, and the charisma such that we find ourselves in a bind as to whether to warm to or despise these deeply flawed individuals.

It might be easy to overlook the third player here; Bu Kunene as Thandi, the nurse tending to her patients with increasing exasperation. The play has Thandi transforming into numerous other characters, appearing magically transformed each time – from Zuma’s mother to Nelson Mandela, Kunene delivers with skill and a quiet certainty. So understated is her performance, especially as an increasingly steely Thandi, and so in contrast to the bombast of the Zuma and Kasrils characters, that it shows a real talent for handling sensitive characterisation. It’s also essential to see a woman here, playing and representing the many women who were implicated and caught up in – and harmed by – the political and personal machinations of the men.

The politicians appear variously as children, laughing and singing in fond waves of nostalgia and petulant when denied ice cream, and as uncompromising despots debating solutions for their divided country. Each is misty-eyed at memories of the women who influenced them – but in the next breath, we’re graphically reminded of Zuma’s rape accusation (dismissed in court but presented as near-fact here, with Zuma barely bothering to deny it).

And this is the truth of politics; complicated, messy issues led by complicated, messy and perhaps ultimately irredeemable individuals. There’s never been a better time to make this study, and the Jermyn Street production does it with panache.

 

Reviewed by Abi Davies

Photography by Robert Workman

 

The Ice Cream Boys

Jermyn Street Theatre until 2nd November

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Original Death Rabbit | ★★★★★ | January 2019
Agnes Colander: An Attempt At Life | ★★★★ | February 2019
Mary’s Babies | ★★★ | March 2019
Creditors | ★★★★ | April 2019
Miss Julie | ★★★ | April 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (A) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (B) | ★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (C) | ★★★★ | June 2019
Pictures Of Dorian Gray (D) | ★★ | June 2019
For Services Rendered | ★★★★★ | September 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews