8 Hotels by Nicholas Wright
At The Minerva Theatre
2nd August, 2019
8 Hotels by Nicholas Wright
At The Minerva Theatre
2nd August, 2019
at The Minerva Theatre, Chichester
25th August 2018
“Time and time again I’ve explained it, yet the more I’ve explained the deeper the uncertainty has become.”
Most of Michael Frayn’s plays are based on fact, but the main topic of what was actually said to each other has been surmised by the author. More information has come to light, since the production premiered in 1998, but this version hasn’t been updated to reflect this.
“Copenhagen” is a clever, fictionalised account of the meetings of two scientists who worked on the inventions surrounding atoms and atom bombs between WWI and/during WWII. In the play their spirits, along with Bohr’s wife Margrethe (Patricia Hodge), meet after their deaths.
The drama asks many questions as it examines the mystery of why the German nuclear physicist Werner Heisenberg (Charles Edwards) went to visit his Danish counterpart Niels Bohr (Paul Jesson) in 1941. They worked together before the war and then separated as each had allegiances to different countries. Bohr makes the play re-wind and sends Heisenberg back to the drawing board to produce another draft of events as if he were writing a research paper.
The first meeting takes place in 1941 in which the student tries to find out if his mentor knows what the Allies nuclear capabilities are. During Heisenberg’s visit to the German-occupied city, he lectured and discussed nuclear research, as well as potentially developing nuclear weapons. Heisenberg was one of the key pioneers of quantum mechanics (the behaviour and interactions of energy and matter) but he was also one of Hitler’s nuclear scientists. It is a complex relationship which comes together in the afterlife to understand their friendship and its strains. Science brought them together; they feel like father and son or director and student. Politics divided them, yet as they talk about their past, other tensions, such as competitiveness, come to the fore. Margrethe is ever present and offers her insights into their closeness and discrepancies. Margrethe’s presence is a way of keeping the physics at the audience’s level; with a role which would seem demeaning to us today. As Bohr says, the most complex theorems in science are rendered comprehensible by all “so Margrethe can understand them”. That grate but decided to accept her functional role in the context of the time, considering her like the chorus in a Greek tragedy. Hodge makes the most of her role even when silent; being imperious as she communicates much more by shifting one knee, refolding her hands or swivelling her eyes. She icily reminds us that these are men “who determine which cities shall live and which be destroyed”. If it had been Heisenberg who correctly calculated the correct critical mass, the world would look very different. Continue reading Copenhagen
at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester
26th May, 2018
“Why can’t she cook?”
These two plays are by debbie tucker green in lower case, as she insists on styling herself. It’s a brave move for the Minerva theatre to present them to middle class, predominantly white theatre goers.
Even before the play has begun, the choir envelops us sings. We witness even when we aren’t watching. The choir focuses our attention with a lament to the dead. The roll call of names speaks of the shared experience of communal grief; the outward manifestation of loss as well as the celebration of a life. “Another leaves us, another has gone”
Once the stage is set, the lyrical and haunting dialogue is delivered sparely and recycled, rhythmically, sometimes with a different emphasis. The repeated words become imbued with new meaning and the pauses in-between speak their own language. From the start, smell of the communal cooking of a meal in a South African kitchen is both unifying and dividing. We enjoy the flirtatious dance of a granddaughter and her suitor. The memories it evokes as her parents and grandparents recall their own courtship. Eventually only the grandparents are left, with the choir singing softly. Death has taken the rest. “I miss them”, says the grandfather. Each time, a member of the family leaves the stage – an imprint or an echo stays behind. The leaving is never explained, never addressed, and never mourned. Tucker Green is asking why we won’t just talk about it. What “it” is becomes inferred as we speculate.
Laurietta Essien is the final family member to leave, and when she does, we notice Okon Jones and Cleo Sylvestre have collected all the dying and disappearances that has come before, and let the final scene be a eulogy.
Clever as the play is, the inferred devastation of Aids in Africa depends almost entirely on the singing of a South African choir to make it moving.
In the interval, the choir sings in the foyer. The circular stairs and balcony echo the rounded thrust stage, and everyone looks down on the choir below. The choir leader catches my eye with knowing acknowledgement that I am the sole black individual in the audience, and seemingly checks to see if he saw correctly and I smile back to confirm. Continue reading Random/Generations
“Quiz” at The Minerva Theatre, Chichester
“Do we choose a more entertaining lie over a less extraordinary truth?”
Well, this is the third new play by the prolific James Graham I’ve seen in four months. “Quiz” reimagines what may have happened behind the scenes during a now infamous moment in television history, when, in 2001, a contestant on ITV quiz show Who Wants to be a Millionaire was accused of gaming the system to win the million pound prize. The contestant is the “Coughing Major” or Charles Ingram, a former army officer who in 2001 who successfully answered all of Chris Tarrant’s questions to win the jackpot. Suspicions were quickly raised and two years later he was found guilty of deception, a jury believing the charge that he used an accomplice to cough when an answer was correct.
In the years that have passed James Graham finds there’s something brilliantly enduring about their story. But we don’t want to give you that….yet!
First, we are free-wheeled, with a revue-like approach, to learn about the history of popular ITV quizzes and their connection to the commercial nature of the channel. We are reminded that ITV from the outset was built around game-shows such as Take Your Pick, Bullseye and The Price is Right, where the coveted prize was a vacuum cleaner. For the latter, audience members are invited onstage as contestants, and, yes, we, that was me, my husband, and a friend, amongst others, were asked to value a 1951 vacuum cleaner. The correct answer- £39 – the prize: an ice cream voucher!
at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester
16th May, 2014
‘This Englishwoman is so refined
She has no bosom and no behind’
Shamefully, the only memorable Stevie Smith poem, I remember, and fondly, is the notably haunting Not Waving but Drowning from which come these lines which define her: ‘I was much too far out all my life’.
Hugh Whitemore’s play ‘Stevie’ commemorates the witty, melancholic and thoroughly unconventional poet who was quintessentially British, and whose poetry has dropped out of fashion. The biographical drama from 1977, tells the story of Smith’s two lives: the London art scene and suburban private life of monotony. Through a hybrid of conversations and monologue, we are given a stylised, yet vivacious portrait of this enigmatic poet. Chronologically, we track her from the age of three to her death aged sixty-nine when a brain tumour robbed her of the power of speech and Death, her ‘friend at the end of the world’, brought her final coup de grace. Continue reading Stevie
‘Another Country’ by Julian Mitchell at The Minerva Theatre, Chichester
17th October, 2013
‘The love that never falters
The love that pays the price
The love that makes undaunted
The final sacrifice’
In 1980, months after Anthony Blunt’s exposure as the dubbed fourth man in the Cambridge spy ring, Julian Mitchell sat down to write Another Country and explore the possible origins of their national betrayal. As Mitchell writes: ‘People usually become traitors for one of three reasons: money, ideological conviction or revenge.’ He settles on revenge for the institutionalised and hypocritical homophobia. In our current climate, there is an irony in the idea of oppressive attitudes towards homosexuality in Britain driving someone towards Russia where homosexuality is portrayed as a danger to children and the family.
Set in an unnamed 1930s, public school, the investigation focuses on the young privileged elite such as Guy Burgess (Bennett in the play). Burgess was an Eton-educated Foreign Office official, who passed secrets to the Soviets before and during the Cold War as part of the Cambridge Five spy ring – eventually defecting to Moscow in 1951. The play’s revival is timely with the publication of ‘In Spies We Trust ‘By Rhodri Jeffreys-Jones. Here, class is paramount, rank reigns. Continue reading Another Country
27th June, 2013 Minerva Theatre, Chichester
‘It would be more surprising if there was not a ripple of anxiety across both parties.’ Nick Clegg
Orwell’s ‘1984’ may have been visionary enough to sustain it beyond the date of its title but this play was a risk with the ever shifting political seismic plate. David Edgar could not have foreseen the dystopian success of UKIP in the local elections last May which was needed to reflect this latest shift in British politics. In an age where we saw Masa Serdarevic, who became the face of the banking crisis when she was pictured on the front pages leaving the Canary Wharf offices of Lehman Brothers for the final time in 2010, making a big impression on Sir David Hare: it led to The Power of Yes, his own take on the crisis. I expected more from David Edgar who has made his reputation as a political playwright.
Structurally, the play is threefold, beginning in April, 2010, the day after the first televised prime ministerial debate; it jumps forward in time to imagine what might have happened by August 2014. The drama opens in Malaga in Spain where a Labour special adviser, a Lib Dem staffer and a Tory MP, who ran into trouble over the Telegraph Expenses scoop, find themselves stranded at the airport as a result of the Icelandic volcanic ash cloud. The dilemma of negotiating the journey home was as plausible as I remember experiencing.
All three of them already recognise that the election could lead to a hung parliament and they discuss what might happen. It is all so potentially explosive in conversation that the three of them write down a secret that would end their political career if it were revealed, and entrust it to another to ensure that their conversation isn’t leaked.
Ruth Sutcliffe provides a realistic backdrop of constantly changing flight boards which part to allow a clapped-out Peugot 205 convertible to emerge and take centre stage on the revolve. An added frisson is the acquisition of a fourth passenger; an A-level student who is also trying to get home, and holds up a mirror to the covert negotiations, supposedly offers the challenge of what a first-time voter might think. The script grates considerably with this caricature of youth with the word ‘like’ inserted at every opportunity.
There are some strong performances from all three key players – Charlotte Lucas, Jamie Glover, and Martin Hutson – as well as from Eve Ponsonby but all were constrained to type.
When we’ve had ‘Yes Minister’ in the past and the more recently ‘West Wing’ and Denmark’s ‘Borgen’, England’s Lucy Prebble’s ‘Enron’, this is disappointing. I found the earnest political theorising so dull that I did fall asleep from time to time. Yes, there is wit in identifying the lunacy of the language that’s used and the identifying the authorship of the different manifestos though like Bernard Shaw, Edgar does go on a bit.
As with the dilemmas of the Cameron/Clegg coalition, the topicality of the play does mean it’s unlikely to last despite it warning message. The production is billed as a “witty exploration of the morals dilemmas” that affects coalition parties. If only Gordon Brown had switched his microphone off. If Only…..