Tag Archives: Trevor Nunn

Agnes Colander: An Attempt at Life
★★★★

Jermyn Street Theatre

Agnes Colander

Agnes Colander: An Attempt at Life

Jermyn Street Theatre

Reviewed – 18th February 2019

★★★★

 

“aesthetically seductive with some captivating acting and thought-provoking perceptions”

 

In an intimate and eloquent production at the Jermyn Street Theatre, an accomplished ensemble of actors and creatives join together to bring to life a long-neglected work by Edwardian playwright, Harley Granville Barker. Using one of his list of possible subtitles, ‘Agnes Colander: An Attempt at Life’, he broaches the sensitive issue of women’s lack of freedom in that era but, more delicately, examines how relationships change when they become sexual. Married at seventeen, Agnes has left an unhappy, respectable marriage to become an artist. When, three years later, her husband orders her home, she moves to France with Otto, a passionate, Danish painter, while being pursued by the smitten Alec.

These three men reflect her emotional struggle and the play follows the considerations and deliberations of a woman whose strength and conviction make her want to shape her own destiny. However, with the examples of writing by Shaw, Wilde and Ibsen freshly censored, he knew that a play which questioned the code of acceptable female behaviour in that society would never be approved by the likes of Lord Chamberlain, so it lay tucked away, unrevised and unperformed, until its recent discovery by Richard Nelson.

This early piece is entirely conversational, consisting of a series of dialogues and sometimes missing a link or background, but Trevor Nunn directs a distinguished cast, engaging our empathy with the characters on a personal level and opening our thoughts on whether it is possible to love with body and soul. Naomi Frederick’s alluring performance as Agnes draws us into her conflicting complexity of thoughts, feelings and ideals and her deeply sincere nature. The ardent Otto is played with increasing coarseness, creating a contrast to Harry Lister Smith’s nuanced, if timorous, portrayal of young and besotted, yet determined, Alec. Emmeline Marjoribanks re-establishes the norms of female conduct in an appealing interpretation by Sally Scott, not without desires but quick to cover them up.

Robert Jones’ set design is an elegant backdrop to his period costumes and detailed props which further combine with the actors’ movements and sublime tones and hues of the lighting (Paul Pyant) to conjure up a semblance of continuous oil paintings. Although this is not a perfectly constructed drama – a little stilted due to the linear form and an ending which is rather too neatly tied up – it is an enjoyable and involving portrait of Agnes. Well-suited to the small stage it is aesthetically seductive with some captivating acting and thought-provoking perceptions.

 

Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington

Photography by Robert Workman

 


Agnes Colander: An Attempt at Life

Jermyn Street Theatre until 16th March

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Woman Before a Glass | ★★★★ | January 2018
Mad as Hell | ★★★ | February 2018
The Dog Beneath the Skin | ★★★ | March 2018
Tonight at 8.30 | ★★★★★ | April 2018
Tomorrow at Noon | ★★★★ | May 2018
Stitchers | ★★★½ | June 2018
The Play About my Dad | ★★★★ | June 2018
Hymn to Love | ★★★ | July 2018
Burke & Hare | ★★★★ | November 2018
Original Death Rabbit | ★★★★★ | January 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com

 

Fiddler on the Roof
★★★★★

Menier Chocolate Factory

Fiddler on the Roof

Fiddler on the Roof

Menier Chocolate Factory

Reviewed – 6th December 2018

★★★★★

“warm and intimate, yet vast and epic at the same time”

 

“Fiddler on the Roof” is based on the stories of one of the most famous and beloved of all Jewish writers; Sholem Aleichem, who came to be known as the ‘folk singer’ of the Russian shtetl. Written between 1894 and 1914 the stories were a series of stand-alone monologues told by the character of Tevye to the reader. Aleichem had started to amalgamate these into a dramatic adaptation but died before he could finish it, but what he had already managed to do in his tales was to capture the hunger and the passion of his people trying to survive under desperate circumstances, but also the humour and the irony.

The often-staged musical has reflected this with varying degrees of success, but it is safe to say that Trevor Nunn’s revival hits the notes perfectly with a truly magical mix of mockery and menace. The story centres on Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his attempts to maintain his Jewish religious and cultural traditions as outside influences encroach upon his family’s lives, not least of which is the edict of the Tsar that evicts Jews from Russia. At the same time, he is coping with the strong-willed actions of his three eldest daughters who wish to marry for love and whose choice of husband moves further away from the customs of the faith and heritage that he is, sometimes reluctantly, clinging onto. This production brings to the fore the deeply rich humour of Joseph Stein’s book. But we are never quite allowed to escape the shadow of the impending threat of exile.

Andy Nyman makes this show his own with his portrayal of the patriarch ruled by his wife, Golde (a perfectly pitched performance from Judy Kuhn). Nyman’s effortless stage presence sculpts a wholly heartfelt and honest portrayal of his character, veering between tradition and compassion, and bending his beliefs, where necessary, for love. He knows exactly when to switch on and off the comedy, a skill matched by the entire ensemble. The same sensitivity is applied to Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics. Often unfairly branded as kitsch, the poignancy and the irony are accentuated by the fine performances. And combined with Jerry Bock’s sumptuous score, orchestrated for an eight-piece band, it is an exceptionally moving piece of musical theatre.

Choreographer Matt Cole remains faithful to Jerome Robbins’ original which is a feast for the eye. In fact, all our senses are treated to this outstanding rendition. Full of belly laughs it is a cry from the heart. The gorgeous strains of “Sunrise, Sunset” segue into a euphoric wedding dance which, in turn, is broken by the arrival of a vicious tsarist pogrom.

It is warm and intimate, yet vast and epic at the same time. It speaks softly to each of us yet its message shouts out to all of us. The source material is over a century old, but it is still sadly topical and the final scene where the villages flee their homeland is breathtakingly stirring. The musical ends not with a bang but a whisper. Not with a chorus line but a band of silent souls heading towards an uncertain future. The lone fiddler is beckoned, and he steps down from the roof to follow them.

All that can follow this is the standing ovation this production deserves. A production that is heading towards a far from uncertain future.     

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Johan Persson

 


Fiddler on the Roof

Menier Chocolate Factory until 9th March

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Gronholm Method | ★★★★ | May 2018

 

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