Tag Archives: Sam Yates

A Separate Peace

★★★★

Online

A Separate Peace

A Separate Peace

Online via www.theremoteread.com

Reviewed – 2nd May 2020

★★★★

 

“Where this production undoubtedly succeeds is in Stoppard’s writing and the magnificent performances of a stellar cast”

 

“Limitation, like desperation, can be the mother of invention” says the award-winning film and director Sam Yates, talking about his revival of Tom Stoppard’s 1966 play “A Separate Peace”, broadcast live as a real-time performance via Zoom. It is an apt rephrasing of Plato’s original quotation (“Necessity is the mother of all invention”), but then again Plato was also a strong advocate of the idea that theatre, as an artform, was immoral, disrespectful and a distraction of the mind. Not many people would agree with this, and over time, theatre has endured, and conquered greater obstacles over the centuries, and I have no doubt that it will survive the current crisis in due time.

In the meantime, however, the practitioners and audiences need something to fill the void created by the temporary closure. This has been met in part by some high-quality recordings of stage productions. Inevitably these don’t replicate the experience of live theatre. The ‘Remote Read’ series, of which “A Separate Peace” is the first, sets out to produce live virtual theatre by embracing the limitations of lockdown rather than by opposing.

Stoppard’s’ play is an inspired choice, which touches on themes of isolation and a central character who wants no social interaction at all. Set in a private nursing home, the smooth running and peace of mind of its staff is disrupted by the arrival of a new patient, John Brown. He has money, which he believes entitles him to pay for the room despite the fact he is perfectly healthy. All he wants to do is get away from the ‘chaos’ of the outside world. The nursing staff know nothing about his motives for this, or his background. Simultaneously content with taking his money, they find his presence discomforting. “We have to keep the beds for people who need them”. Half a century on this is one of many lines that resonate right now.

Where this production undoubtedly succeeds is in Stoppard’s writing and the magnificent performances of a stellar cast. Although a reading, there is little evidence of a script in hand and there is a spontaneity to the actors’ interpretation that belies the lack of a live audience. We sympathise with David Morrissey’s John Brown, albeit guiltily, as he slowly gives us clues as to why he chooses to check himself into the nursing home. The four nursing staff who unravel these clues operate on a kind of good-cop-bad-cop system. Ed Stoppard’s Matron has a knuckle duster of steel beneath his kid gloves, whereas Maggie Service’s Nurse doesn’t even bother to wear the gloves. In the background is the Doctor, played by Denise Gough like the desk sergeant coolly analysing the reality and digging deep. The most watchable is Jenna Coleman’s flirtatious yet duplicitous Nurse Maggie who teases out the mystery from the man.

By default, however, there is an experimental feel to the whole piece and while the objectives of the producers must be highly commended, this does not come close to a true theatre experience. It lies in a no man’s land somewhere between a radio play and a televised broadcast. Sam Glossop’s sound design is impressive, as is Andrzej Goulding’s occasional back projection, but the format ultimately disappoints visually. It is all too tempting to shut down the screen and just listen and let our imagination paint the picture, and the formidable cast ensure we are able to do this.

The technology for this media is in its infancy and, while I’d like to see it grow, we can only hope that there isn’t the time for it to reach maturity. Yes, it is definitely a necessity in the current situation, but let us hope that the mother of this invention is only a surrogate one, and we will soon be handed back to our natural environment when the theatres reopen.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

 

A Separate Peace

Online via www.theremoreread.com

 

Last ten shows reviewed by Jonathan:
Love, Loss & Chianti | ★★★★ | Riverside Studios | February 2020
Message In A Bottle | ★★★★ | Peacock Theatre | February 2020
Musik | ★★★★ | Leicester Square Theatre | February 2020
Nearly Human | ★★★ | The Vaults | February 2020
Tell It Slant | ★★★ | Hope Theatre | February 2020
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

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

Review of Glengarry Glen Ross – 4 Stars

Glengarry

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS

Playhouse Theatre

Reviewed – 10th November 2017

★★★★

“this is a play that hinges on the language – a snappy mix of the toxic and intoxicating”

 

Written nearly thirty-five years ago, David Mamet’s play charts two days in the lives of four desperate real estate agents who unscrupulously engage in a number of unethical, illegal acts – lies, flattery, bribery, threats, intimidation and burglary – to coax unguarded clients into buying undesirable real estate. The world premiere at the National Theatre was acclaimed as a triumph of ensemble acting. In this revival at the Playhouse, directed by Sam Yates, the accolade still rings true with a first rate cast headed by Christian Slater. Although the word ‘headed’ is a slight misnomer – it is very much an ensemble piece.

Each character is as intrinsic as the next to the narrative flow, which makes this a difficult review to write, as fifteen minutes into the first act the show is brought to a halt when one of the actors collapses on stage. For forty minutes the audience wait while the safety curtain remains lowered. Eventually Slater arrives onstage to announce that the show will go on, with the understudy reading in for the actor. The cast continue with gusto, but one can’t help feeling that the momentum has ebbed ever so slightly. Even if one can’t see it in the performances, it is there in one’s perception of them.

But allowances aside, this is a play that hinges on the language – a snappy mix of the toxic and intoxicating. What is remarkable in the writing, and the performances, is the way it is clear that the bullishness, the pugilistic barrage of insults thrown at each other, the lies and the cajoling, is all a veneer. The outward depiction is that of masculinity to the extreme, but what we sense is the struggle, the vulnerability and the resignation to the fact that the game might be over.

The first half introduces the characters to us through three short scenes set in a plush Chinese restaurant (design by Chiara Stephenson). Kris Marshall is unrecognisable as he takes on the role of the dispassionate office manager, refusing to yield to the pleas of the older, yet junior, Shelly Levene – the past-its-sell-by-date old timer who yearns for the good ol’ days. Stanley Townsend evokes his exhausted hope and fragile nostalgia.

It is after the interval that the play comes into its own though. We have already been introduced to Slater’s snake-like Ricky Roma, but here he shifts up a gear, lifting the action with it. Probably the most assured yet two-dimensional character. You instantly know not to trust his smile, yet when he does launch into an explosion of insults and expletives you are still gleefully taken aback. It is invigorating to watch. Mamet’s text is savage, yes, but also laced with biting comedy.

It is a shame, then, not to witness the acclaimed Robert Glenister, to my mind one of our finest stage and screen actors. We wish him well and look forward to him stepping back onto the stage. As they say, the show goes on, and this one will.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Marc Brenner

 

Theatre Tickets

 

GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS

is at the Playhouse Theatre until 3rd February 2018

 

 

Click here to see a list of the latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com