Posts Tagged ‘Claire Skinner’

Review – Rabbit Hole – Hampstead Theater

February 19, 2016

It’s a treat for me to get to see new plays by American playwrights. The language and the people are, for once, familiar; I relax and enjoy spending time with people I recognize. So it was with Rabbit Hole, the Pulitzer prize winning play making its UK debut at the Hampstead Theater. Since David Linsay-Abaire’s last play (that I saw), Good People, was my favorite show of 2014, I booked for Rabbit Hole immediately, without bothering to read anything about it. I advise you to do so now as well, while there are still a few tickets left; consider this your spoiler alert as I’ll shortly be discussing the plot of this play. If you don’t want to know anything, just stop reading and get a ticket. If you trust my tastes, you won’t regret that decision.

But for those of you who need a little more persuading, let me say that the pleasure of the slow burn of this play about grief is hard for me to put into words. Deaths come to plays and pass quickly; grief comes to our world and stays forever. People learn to cope with it – or they don’t – and this evolution, this accommodation, is at the heart of this story. Becca (Claire Skinner) and Howie (Tom Goodman-Hill) seem like they might have once been a normal couple, but the grief of dealing with their young son’s accidental death have left them like two castaways on a storm-swept island, with enough to eat but absolutely no ability to relate to or even recognize one another as struggling with the same problems. Claire’s sister Izzy (Georgina Rich) and mother Nat (Penny Downie) come visit them at their house, but with the amount of engagement Claire can spare for them, she might have well just turned on the TV. The world is not real for her. These other people are not real for her. And when her husband reaches out to her, he might as well be pointing a leafless stick at her for the welcome she gives him. It’s just crushing: they’re both drowning and neither of them can do a thing to help the other.

I found the words of this play very every-day and the opposite of overwrought; they were simple, accurate, and quietly heartbreaking. Absolutely crushing, though, were the tiny interactions of the people with their environment showing the great pits of despair sucking at them from the inside like a black hole trying to turn them inside out. Howie chills out by watching videos of his son; Claire is unable to bear the sight of the dog she holds responsible for the accident. It got to the point that when the son’s cartoons disappeared off of the fridge, I worried about who was responsible. Had Claire finally gone off the edge?

The acting is generally quite good, although I thought Izzy was too bouncily abrasive and seemed to clash oddly with Claire’s much more settled middle class self; perhaps, though, it’s Claire who’s moved a bit up in life but it really felt to me like Linsay-Abaire had just not got the character written right (although in Good People he showed he was quite good at this, who knows what happened). Once I’d gotten past the initial scene with Izzy and Claire, though, I settled right down for a lovely two hours of having my soul crushed delicately and subtlely, so, at the very end, I found myself shocked to feel hot tears pooling up in my eyes (as they are, again, as I write this) for the tiny firefly of hope we are left with in the final scene. It was only a faint glow, seen through clenched hands, but it just destroyed me because I had long ago given up the belief that there was actually ever going to be anything to hope for.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, February 15th, 2016. Rabbit Hole continues through April 16th.)

Review – The Father – Tricycle Theatre at Wyndham’s, London

November 17, 2015

I didn’t catch The Father when it was at the Tricycle, so I completely missed any hype about it – best new French play of 2014 – but I did see some nice things said about it once it made it to Wyndhams. One of the things I found appealing was a 90 minute running time – ideal for after work – and, as it turns out, rather affordable seats (my back of stalls jobs were £35 and clearly cheaper can be had as the upper sections of the house were closed off when I went).

So …. we have a father (Kenneth Cranham) and his daughter, Anne (Claire Skinner), and dad is obviously a bit unwell as Anne’s need to have a carer around. Dad’s been fighting with the carer – she’s a thief! Or, actually, she’s not – Dad just forgot where he put his watch. And (scene change) maybe Anne isn’t really his daughter, maybe it’s a woman with brown hair. And what about dinner? Didn’t Anne’s husband go into the kitchen with a chicken? But Anne says she hasn’t been married for years … so who’s this other guy? And who is making Dad cry? (And can someone please tell me why Dad prefers his other daughter so much and why he has to constantly mention she’s the one he really loves?)

A lot of elements of this play are just perfect. I loved the way it showed the way time elides for those with Alzheimers, backwards, forwards, sideways, while simultaneously there are moments of pure lucidity that make both the patient and the carer unsure of just how well the patient is. I also enjoyed the realistic depiction of the truly incredible stress it puts on all the family – from the carer who’s life is taken over, to the partner who’s totally lost the ability to have a family life other than as a carer’s adjunct, to the father who simultaneously argues his wellness while abusing people and is also himself the victim of abuse.

However, the desire to show non-narrative time wound up leaving me feeling too jounced around. While I got answers to some questions, I was never sure about most of the ones concerning the daughter, and the experience of time began to seem to me more important than actually expressing a plot. In the end, this was an interesting play, but not, I think, an excellent one; still, it was worth my time and certainly deserves its West End run.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, November 16, 2015. It continues through November 21st.)

Spoiler-free Review – Deathtrap – Noel Coward Theater (2010)

August 24, 2010

So. Deathtrap, like Mousetrap, is a play where you need to hide the ending from any readers/potential audience member (assuming they haven’t seen the film) in order to ensure they have a good time – if there is a good time to be had.

What a tricky position to be in, to figure out how to criticize a play in which most of what you say has to circle around giving away any of the key plot points! Is there really any point in reviewing a show under this kind of constraint? How honest can I be? Does it take away the whole point of writing the review?

As it turns out, in this case I had a very good evening, so I’m willing to play along with Ira Levin’s little game and keep the secret(s). What does that let me say, though? First, make sure you get a seat at row G or further back – in fact, you may just want to go for one of the balcony seats altogether. Second … hmm … if I say Deathtrap is a murder/mystery/thriller, does that tell you enough? I mean, there’s going to be a murder, you know that, right? I mean, with a title like “Deathtrap,” that’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?

So: five characters in a late 70s setting. Simon Russell Beale (playing, er, a writer, but mostly he seemed to be Simon Russell Beale, not Sydney); his plucky, kooky, wife Myra (Claire Skinner, about 15 years too young for the role but somehow managing to look well over 45 anyway); a hunky young dude who seemed utterly insincere all the way through the play but made up for it by, um, being hunky (Jonathan Groff as Clifford, a younger writer); Helga the wacky Swedish psychic (the venerable Estelle Parsons, total scene stealer, she was); and straight man and Sydney’s lawyer, Porter (Terry Beaver).

For many people, the cast list alone would be enough, but I’m a burnout and I still demand a good show no matter what name player is on stage. And by golly Deathtrap delivers the goods. It is scary, it is funny, and it is so self aware of the fact it’s a play that it makes it even easier to suspend your disbelief and really get behind the totally outrageous action (and plot). I really did not expect almost anything that happened in the show, as it was so cleverly written that it outsmarted the audience by predicting its own reveals (as much of the play is about writing a play) and then going down a completely different path. Still, it’s not so frightening that I couldn’t handle it (I’m a bit of a pansy); the artifice of it all puts enough separation between you as audience and the action on stage that you don’t have to be grossed out, you can just have a good laugh. Except for … well, Simon Russell Beale making out with someone from 10 feet away, he’s really just a bit old for that kind of passionate display, but this will probably be some people’s favorite part of the show.

Anyway, this is an utterly professional, well polished production of the sort I think London does very well, and I expect audiences will be packing the house of the Noel Coward for the length of the run. Though it’s a show made to appeal to audiences rather than push them into new places, how can I fault it for doing what it says on the tin? You will have a good time, and you can thank me for keeping the secrets under my sombrero. I may be a critic (of sorts) but I do want YOU to have a good time, too.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Monday, August 23rd, 2010. For another point of view, see the West End Whingers, whom I don’t think engage in spoilery activity despite warning of same. Deathtrap runs through January 22nd, 2011. I’d say it would be a real palate cleanser during panto season; you may want to wait until then to see it if you don’t manage to sneak in a cheap visit during previews, which end September 16th. And for God’s sake if you’ve come a-visiting, please go see this and not that stale old Mousetrap; so much better to run out of the theater laughing and with your heart pounding because you’ve just had so much fun and not because of an angry sense of just having wasted your evening.)