Tag Archives: Sinead Cusack

Stars Who Stalked the Stage in 2009

19 Jan

The year 2009 has been a great year for the theatre not just in terms of good productions but also because we saw an influx of big name stars gracing the stage. I have to admit that although I have become more of a theatre stalker now I still get excited to see big name actors and actresses go back to their theatre roots. If I must confess, it was Ian McKellen’s star turn in Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) repertoire productions of King Lear and The Seagull that dragged me back into the theatre, not looking back since. With this list however, I will not attempt to cite the best performances I have seen these actors perform, it’s enough that they made my theatre experience in 2009 “such fun”.

Richard Dreyfuss, Elizabeth McGovern and David Suchet in Complicit, Old Vic Theatre

This production was saddled with problems to begin with, it’s opening date was pushed back, and Mr. Dreyfuss not able to remember his lines that he had to use a special headset so his lines can be fed to him. It was not an outstanding performance coming from him but altogether it was still a treat to see him on stage opposite the much better Suchet. McGovern didnt do much either but I hardly recognize her from her films looking a bit thinner but still beautiful.

Go here for a full review of this production.

Rowan Atkinson in Oliver!, Drury Lane

Confession. I have not seen Oliver! anywhere else before so after being prodded by friends who are huge fans of not just Oliver! but big musicals (I prefer plays in case you havent guessed) I decided to join them in this outing. I was more thrilled to see how Jodie Prenger will do, if you’ve got short term memory, she won the BBC’s search of Nancy in that I’ll Do Anything program with Andrew Lloyd Webber himself as a main judge. As for Rowan Atkinson playing Fagin, well, not having any other claim of reference I thought he did quite well. The kids absolutely loved every minute that he was on stage. Atkinson has since left the production in July 2009.

James McAvoy in Three Days of Rain, Apollo Theatre

How can I pass this one up? It’s James McAvoy! He’s Scottish (okay Glaswegian if we are being accurate) and almost everything that he starred in I loved, but I have to say that his dual performance as Walker and his dad Ned was quite not up there. McAvoy had presence alright but it wasnt that overwhelming. I would like to see him again, hopefully with a much better character, Hamlet perhaps?

Ciaran Hinds in Burnt by the Sun, National Theatre

I have seen Ciaran Hinds in most of his tv and film work but never on stage so it was such a surprise that he too will make a welcome return to the theatre. He played a decorated hero of the Russian revolution so in a way the character wasnt a bit of a stretch but the highlight of this evening was actually meeting him. Starstruck indeed!

Ken Stott and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in A View from the Bridge, Duke of York’s

I thought that this was hands down the best performance from an actor I have seen this year. I totally fell in love with Ken Stott’s portrayal of Eddie and felt guilty that I have ignored his recent stage performances. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio provided really good support and Hayley Atwell played Catherine so well as opposed to her treatment of Major Barbara the previous year. On Broadway this year, it’s interesting that it’s Liev Schrieber playing Eddie opposite Scarlett Johansson.

Ethan Hawke in The Winter’s Tale and The Cherry Orchard, Old Vic

Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey made this possible through their annual Bridge Project which if I am not mistaken is now on their 2nd year where a company of both English and American actors will perform two productions in repertoire and bring it across the Atlantic with the final stop usually in the UK. Last year it was Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Anton Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard. I am excited to see both because of Simon Russell Beale, who may not be a big named Hollywood or film star which was of his own choosing but he is considered one of the greatest stage actor of his generation. The interesting thing surrounding this production apart from the inclusion of Sinead Cusack and Rebecca Hall is the casting of Ethan Hawke. I have a soft spot for Ethan having grown up watching most of his films. I was very thrilled to find out that he has forayed into theatre and was part of this company. Although I had a bit of a problem with him as Trofimov in The Cherry Orchard, but as Autolycus in Tale, by golly, he was sensational! The slow but equally powerful pace of the first half of Tale was balanced by a burning second half with great music played by Hawke himself.

Go here to read my full reviews of The Winter’s Tale and The Cherry Orchard. Did I also mention that SRB finally got a photo with me too?

Gillian Anderson, Toby Stephens and Christopher Eccleston in A Doll’s House, Donmar Warehouse

I am on an ongoing quest to watch as much Henrik Ibsen plays and so when it was made known that a revival will be staged at the Donmar with Gillian Anderson playing the lead role who is not a stranger to the West End having done What The Night is For and The Sweetest Swing, it will be interesting to see her take on Nora, considered to be one of the most interesting of Ibsen’s female characters.

Gillian Anderson was just stunning and gave a very fine performance as the devoted wife then changed woman. Her Nora is beautiful yet vulnerable. Toby Stephens as husband Thomas Vaughan played his self righteous role of a politician with much bravado, kudos as well to Anton Lesser as the faithful Dr. Rank, and I thought that the sub-plot rekindled romance between Kelman and Christine -excellently played here by Christopher Eccleston and Tara Fitzgerald was superbly played. I still would have liked to see a faithful adaptation of the play although this new version was quite engaging. Overall an inspired and wonderful production with high octane performances from all members of the cast.

Helen Mirren in Phedre, National Theatre

After scoring Best Actress accolades left right and centre for her fine performance of Queen Elizabeth II in The Queen, the whole world was watching when it was announced that Dame Helen will grace the proscenium arch of the National Theatre by playing the role of Racine’s Phedre. As if conveniently to capitalise on Miss Mirren’s current popularity and stature, the NT Live feature was also introduced wherein a live performance of the play will be watched across over 60 cinemas in cities across the globe which whilst highly ambitious in its inception stage is really a clever way of reaching audiences everywhere particularly those who can not travel to London and witness the performances live. So how did Dame Mirren do onstage as a mourning wife slash highly infatuated with her stepson the next? Although it was a thrill to see her onstage, I have to say that she didnt win me as the passion stricken woman. I was hoping to see more from her, laid bare, her heart and soul stripped. It was still an experience that hopefully will not be the last. A superb supporting cast included Dominic Cooper.

Jude Law in Hamlet, Donmar West End

Having missed David Tennant’s sterling performance of Hamlet because of surgery on his slipped disc during X’mas 2008, I must say I was quite excited to see Jude Law’s take on Hamlet last summer. Tickets sold out quite fast and toward its run, there were queues starting so early in the morning for patrons hoping to get day tickets, the frenzy of it all indeed, quite reminiscent of when Tennant did Hamlet. This was my second time to see this tragic play of the Danish prince, having seen a quite capable Edward Bennett tackle the role who was Tennant’s understudy in 2008. So how was Jude Law? Was he more than just a pretty face? Did he pull it off? Well, I thought he was amazing! I almost expected him to fail but no, he was just very good through and through. I was clinging to his every word and believed in him. I even thought I was merely watching a really good actor, who just happened to look and was named after him. Another reason why I wanted to see this production was because of Penelope Wilton who played Gertrude. The success of this production was just so that it made its way to Broadway in September and just closed in December with a record breaking run.

Rachel Weisz in A Streetcar Named Desire, Donmar Warehouse

Another theatre buzz last year was the news that Rachel Weisz will play the lead role of Blanche Dubois, Tennessee Williams’ femme fatale in A Streetcar Named Desire. Thoughts such as, isn’t she a bit too young as Blanche? She will be out of her depth with this one. Didn’t she do all those Mummy films? Yes, but wasn’t she also good, surprising us all in John Le Carre’s thriller The Constant Gardener, winning her the Academy for Supporting Actress? And sitting in the front row, watching her every move, changing her clothes in front of you, convincing you she is all pure, you will be attracted to Miss Weisz like a moth to a flame. It was another theatre coup for Miss Weisz eventually won this year’s Evening Standard Best Actress for her spirited portrayal of Blanche.

Kevin Spacey in Inherit the Wind, Old Vic

Mr Spacey, who incidentally is the Old Vic Theatre’s artistic director makes a welcome return to the stage with David Troughton in Inherit the Wind, which is a Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee’s 1955 play based on the 1926 Scopes Monkey Trial in which Tennessee schoolteacher John Scopes was put on trial for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution in contravention of a state law insisting that only religious explanations for the origin of mankind be taught. Matthew Harrison Brady (David Troughton) and Henry Drummond (Spacey) battle it out for the prosecution and defence respectively. I have seen Spacey on stage before in A Moon for the Misbegotten with an equally brilliant Eve Best and Speed the Plow opposite Jeff Goldblum, and Spacey have always given consistenly excellent performances including this one. It was announced that in the 3rd year of the Bridge Project he will also co-star in one of its productions.

I have yet to see Keira Knightley and Damian Lewis in Moliere’s The Misanthrope at the Comedy Theatre, and quite looking forward to finally see Dame Judi Dench in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Rose Theatre and Rosamund Pike in Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler at the Richmond. If you havent tried the theatre before, it might help at first to watch an actor whose previous work you are already familiar with, it might make you keep coming back to see more and as the theatre always needs a fresh new audience, who knows that could be you? And don’t be a stranger and say hello!

This article was first published in my pal’s Filmstalker site as part of the annual Stalkers Top Ten.

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Theatre Review: The Winter’s Tale

29 May

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Plot: Leontes (Simon Russell Beale), mistakenly believes that his childhood friend Polixenes (Josh Hamilton), the King of Bohemia, is having an affair with his wife, Queen Hermione (Rebecca Hall). In his jealousy, and consumed by “tremor cordis”, he tries to murder Polixenes, who flees, and accuses his wife of adultery and that the child she is carrying is Polixenes’. Imprisoned and put on trial, the Queen collapses when the King refuses to accept divine confirmation of her innocence. The child is abandoned to die on the coast of Bohemia but when she is found and raised by a shepherd, redemption and reconciliation may just be possible.

This is the second time I have watched a company perform in repertory a Chekhov and Shakespeare revival, RSC’s The Seagull and King Lear in 2007 and this time The Bridge Project’s The Cherry Orchard and The Winter’s Tale. Why am I bringing this up in my review? I suppose it’s the fascination to the actors dedication and discipline as they switch characters every so often during a work week than most women have to deal with their mood swings. Both plays deal with tragedy and hope and I’d like to set that tone as I review this piece.

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Now I have never seen such male jealousy displayed here in great magnitude by Leontes. I always thought being jealous is more of a woman thing. Leontes is so angry, that you know he just couldnt think straight and you can see him agonising over it at the same time. I wasnt sure whether to sympathize with him or to gloat that he deserved losing his son and his wife but at the same time you also feel for him, feel his pain for his wrong judgment. This is again, another outstanding performance from Simon Russell Beale who shone the brightest in the first half of this play. His delivery of your actions are my dreams! whilst snarling at Hermione was tortured yet vulnerable. His moments with the baby whom he initially called a bastard was endearing, touched by its cooing but after another momentary lapse of confusion breaks free and wishes the child ill. I mean how he managed to even show fine acting by means of his body language, I will never know.

Not to be outdone is the luminous but talented Rebecca Hall who definitely owned the courtroom as she defended herself of the accusations hurled at her by her King. Their reunion in the end was absolutely moving. Sinead Cusack was excellent as the fierce Paulina. I thought she was better as Paulina than Ranevskaya. The most famous Shakespearean stage direction, Exit, pursued by a bear, describing the death of Antigonus elicited an appreciate laughter from the audience.

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Now Ethan Hawke. I have a soft spot for him having watched most of his films. I was thrilled to find out that he has forayed into theatre and was part of this company. I had a bit of a problem with him as Trofimov in The Cherry Orchard, but as Autolycus, he was sensational! The slow but equally powerful pace of the first half was balanced by a burning second half with great music played by Hawke himself. Richard Easton as the Old Shepherd, Paul Jesson as Camillo, Josh Hamilton as Polixenes and Tobias Segal have done noteworthy performances. I have to say Sam Mendes did it again! If you’re in the UK and a fan of Shakespeare, dont miss this stunning production.

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The Winter’s Tale: 4.5/5
Playing at the Old Vic until August 15

Photos courtesy of BAM’s Flickr photostream and the New York Times

Theatre Review: The Cherry Orchard

26 May

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Plot: Madame Ranevskaya (Sinead Cusack), who has spent five years in Paris to escape grief over her young son’s death, returns to her home in Russia ridden with debt. She is obliged to decide how to dispose of her family’s estate, with its beautiful and famous cherry orchard. Their former serf, now coarse but wealthy merchant Ermolai Lopakhin (Simon Russell Beale) suggests that Mme Ranevskaya develop the land on which the orchard sits. Eventually Lopakhin purchases the estate and proceeds with his plans for a housing development. As the unhappy Ranevskayas leave the estate, the sound of saws can be heard in the orchard.

I have been waiting so long for tonight. It’s been 7 months that I have been SRB-deprived and it shows- I am just so uninspired, bored out of my wits! Sure I still go to the theatre but I often come out unmotivated save for a couple I have seen in recent weeks, but the barometer to which I measure this seeming lack of interest is the evidence of my non-blogging for the last 2 months. Now all that will change, the buck stops here because he’s back, yes, my SRB’s come home! For starters, we’re breathing the same air tonight!

I am still riding high on the seemingly honorable mention of being touted as SRB’s devoted blogger by the Times, but as I had to see this play with fellow theatre trotters, I didn’t really want to be an embarrassment, so my normal behaviour when watching an SRB play should have to wait. Did I mention I have already plotted an attack plan having spotted the Old Vic stage door in the interval?

Seriously now, my thoughts. So after a stint in Broadway and a tour that included Singapore, Spain, Germany and New Zealand, The Bridge Project, a collaboration that came into fruition thanks to the theatre genius of Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey has come back home. I was really looking forward to see this for I havent seen any other Cherry Orchard production and I absolutely adore Anton Chekhov’s work having enjoyed RSC’s The Seagull in 2007 and the Donmar WestEnd’s Ivanov last year. The first scene showed Lopakhin waiting, sitting on this really small chair and the minute he started speaking with that unmistakable plummy voice, he had me, hook, line and sinker. Simon Russell Beale owns this play, just like the cherry orchard he eventually possessed, the play truly belonged to him. Every nuance in Lopakhin’s character, his vulnerability, his unrequited love for Ranevskaya, the playfulness with Varya, the guilt, the joy is delivered brilliantly, you just can not wait to see him come back on that stage.

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This is not to say that the other performances were not good, as it was a delight seeing Sinead Cusack play a frivolous character and then eventually hit hard with the reality of her situation. And Rebecca Hall! By golly but I was jealous of her all evening! I couldnt take my eyes off SRB as he gave her all those knowing looks that it reminded me of that song from Yentl. Hall held her own pretty well as Varya, and the proposal that never happened is one to be remembered. I am a card holding member of the unrequited love fan club united so I know exactly how that feels and the agony of it all captured in essence here.

The Whingers may have observed that SRB is not himself this evening probably having sensed my presence but I digress! Besides, my restraining order expired yesterday. So bring on The Winter’s Tale Friday night!

And I couldn’t say this enough, nice to have you back home. x

The Cherry Orchard: 3.5/5
Playing at the Old Vic until 15 August

Addendum 1
Twitter exchange between yours truly and Kevin Spacey the same evening:

FeignedMischief: I just came back from a preview of The Cherry Orchard and enjoyed it! You have another hit in your hands! Winters Tale Friday!
KevinSpacey: Excellent. Glad you enjoyed it. We are very excited to have such a remarkable company of actors on our stage.
FeignedMischief: Confession. I booked both shows 3 times bec of Simon Russell Beale, hope you 2 can collaborate in the future.

Addendum 2
Fellow theatre trotter, PaulinLondon who saw the play with us Tuesday evening and was also my seatmate was way too kind to dedicate a portion of his own review of the play to mention my fascination with SRB. I was so worried all evening as to how my restrained fidgeting and sighing at the sight of SRB was affecting his viewing experience but for what he had to say about it, I feel so much better now. Paul says, it helped having Feigned Mischief sit beside me. As more than just a casual fan of Simon Russell Beale, she took enjoyment of the play to a whole new level. But then again even if you’re not sitting next to a Simon Russell Beale stalker, it is still worth a look… Cheers for this Paul, and we will Audio Boo next time I hope! x

Addendum 3
Here’s the much awaited West End Whingers take on this play, and to sincerely say that I found their review much amusing. Cheers Andrew & Phil! x

Theatre Review: The Winter’s Tale & The Cherry Orchard, Brooklyn Academy of Music

3 Mar

This is a first in FeignedMischief and hopefully not the last. I am talking about having a guest theatre reviewer, in this case reviewing The Bridge Project’s production of The Winter’s Tale and The Cherry Orchard currently playing in New York.

So how did I finagle a guest reviewer you might ask? As some of you might know, I have been shamelessly using my blog as a platform for my unrequited love for Simon Russell Beale, and you would think that nobody would bother reading it, apparently some have done and now I am shy. As if! Well, one of those who have read through my pining and yearning is Abigail who professes that since she has loved SRB longer, that she deserves him more. Last week, she just happen to cross the Atlantic and coincide her holiday to see the plays! Talk about devotion! So yes, she very kindly will share with us her thoughts of the play (and SRB!) and as a bonus treat, some bits on the Q&A that happened afterwards.

So without further ado, let’s hear it from Abigail.

During a recent trip to NY I saw both the plays featuring the skills of Simone’s (and my!) beloved SRB – Winter’s Tale and Cherry Orchard – plus a Q&A with some of the cast after the performance of the latter. As requested, my thoughts on them both I will now relate.

First overall impression – Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theatre is in a part of Brooklyn that’s quite nasty but it is a really fabulous theatre and worth a visit if you’re in the area.

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Second overall impression – the plays are doing good business and SRB is getting plenty of love! Both times I was there the theatre was sold out and there was a queue for returns. I also heard comments about how good he was and the regular BAM audiences seem know him well, since he has been in plays there previously, so I overheard quite a few people saying that they always see him when they can and wish he would go to NY more often.

So first of all – The Winter’s Tale. Beautiful set, lots of candles. SRB plays the jealous king very well – angrily, of course, but also lots of agonising so that you can see he is torturing himself and you have sympathy for him rather than just thinking he is a nutter. And the endis very, very touching – annoyingly I was sitting right at the side so a lot of the time I was seeing the back of his head rather than his face but he even acted well with that! The middle of the play changes direction sharply and it takes a moment to reconcile yourself to the sudden change of tone but it is well done, and entertaining. Whole cast excellent – Rebecca Hall as Hermione particularly so.

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And then – The Cherry Orchard. Again beautifully staged and SRB very good as the rich ex-peasant trying to persuade his family’s ex-masters to stop prevaricating and do something to get themselves out of their financial mess. There is a fab moment when he interrupts a party to tell them he has bought their estate and stamps round a circle of chairs, almost like a Russian dance, throwing them over to show that it’s his now and he can do what he wants.

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The after-show talk was very interesting. The cast agreed that the Cherry Orchard had been harder to learn than The Winter’s Tale, and SRB added that it was because the language was more ordinary, whereas in Winter’s Tale he got to say words like “sluic’d”, which stick in the brain. One question was about the relevance of the Cherry Orchard in our current economic climes. Sinead Cusack answered about people living in bubbles and not facing up to troubles ahead. SRB added that CO had played on the night of Obama’s inauguration and that had been meaningful for him (SRB) when he had said the lines about being “the master of the estate where my grandfather was a slave”.

Another question to SRB was prefaced with a lot of flattery about how he always brings out the hidden sensitivity of characters and that his Hamlet was the best she had seen, so how does he do that? After going a bit pink and modestly saying he didn’t know what she meant, he said that one key to understanding Lopakhin was the idea that he was in love with Ranevskaya because she had been kind to him as a child – that brought out the vulnerability of the character.

Those were the main bits, I think – and probably more info than anyone wanted to know, except me and thee, Simone! Both plays highly recommended when they come over here in spring/summer (though I think BAM is a much nicer theatre than the Old Vic so I’m glad I caught them there).

Talk about whetting our appetite! Thanks Abigail for this wonderful review and be seeing you soon!

Click here to book your tickets for The Bridge Project at The Old Vic that will start in the UK on 23 May

Photos courtesy of BAM’s Flickr photostream