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Phil Willmott travels through theatreland...

And encounters Joan Rivers and two of London’s hottest leading men.


It must be said that most people would be happy with a forty minute Joan Rivers stand-up routine, so it’s to her credit that she goes to considerably more trouble in her latest show to bring us a (long) one act play, through which she can step in and out of the action for barbed asides and poignant reflection.

Set in her dressing room at an awards ceremony the action finds her worried that she’ll soon be put out to grass by youth obsessed TV execs whilst she battles with incompetent staff and replacing a missing frock. Events spark a series of reflections on the triumphs and tragedies of her 70 plus years.

If the polished comedy patter sometimes seems a little tired we’re more then compensated with brave moments of quiet reflection on the tragedies of her life during which she manages an extraordinary rapport with her audience that few performers achieve. Against the odds the melding of stand up, confessional and sitcom works beautifully.

Elsewhere this week it’s been good to see two of “my boys” turning in fantastic performances. I cast Eddie Redmayne in his first leading part and several years later, with some spiffy awards and major Hollywood roles under his belt, he’s back on stage at London’s Royal Court in U.S. political drama Now or Later.

His performance as the gay, wayward son of the president is as skilled as one would expect within an impeccably acted and directed production, however this is a very disappointing play.

Required to respond to the build up to the U.S. presidential elections, presumably several months ago, writer Christopher Shinn concocts a lame scenario that pales in comparison with the big personalities and roller coaster twists of the real thing played out 24/7 on our news.

The plot requires us to believe that the president’s son was allowed to a fancy dress party dressed as Mohamed, with no security, on the eve of the election and that the first family then spend election night swapping beedin’ obvious platitudes about the consequences rather than in a West Wing style frenzy.

The fact that all Shinn has to say about the presidential elections can be wrapped up in an 80 minute playing time also suggests he may not have been the right man for the job.

Rising star Owen Young has just finished a season playing Leonardo in my production of Blood Wedding and it’s great to see him back in action with the title role in the gay-medieval-king-gets-poker-up-the-arse-shocker, Edward II., impeccably staged by young director Owen Horsley in the atmospheric crypt of St Andrews Church in Holborn.

In a twitchy yet sophisticated performance Young conveys all the complexities of this troubled monarch split between love and political expediency and Horsley has cleverly halved the text and playing time to turn in a taut, fast moving political thriller.

Every word and intention of the young handsome class is crystal clear, aided by a spare but simply brilliant sound and lighting design by Kristina Hjelm and Helen Atkinson that makes great use of the claustrophobic brick vaults around us.

I loved the audacity of this directors rethink. He takes us backstage at the major political events which usually take centre stage and even the percussive clatter of the actors footsteps through this cellar is used to great effect (the dead walk silently in bare feet). Highly recommended.

Joan Rivers is appearing at the Leicester Square Theatre until September 18th, Now or Later is currently playing at The Royal Court Theatre in Sloane Square and Edward II is performed at St Andrew's Church, St Andrew Street, Holborn, EC4A 3AB (Wed-Fri only) at 7pm and ends Sep 26.

http://www.philwillmott.co.uk/


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