“Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill ” at The Wyndham’s Theatre.
July 29th, 2017
“Bein’ arrested in this country,”….that’s a coloured folks’ tradition”
As I enter, Christopher Oram’s bar designs transform Wyndham theatre. The front rows of the stalls have been taken out and replaced with cabaret tables, and there is a bar onstage, with seating for more of the audience.
The play’s conceit is that we are watching Holiday perform in a north Philadelphia dive in 1959, a few months before her death at the age of only 44. Lanie Robertson’s play is essentially a one woman show. I was spellbound from the moment Audra McDonald arrives as the troubled jazz and blues singer, Billie Holiday on stage, cocooned in white, stumbling, whether tipsy or drug induced. In role, she drinks, she swears and she rambles, occasionally monitored and cajoled gently to sing by the pianist, Jimmy (Shelton Becton). Macdonald inhabits Holliday’s posture, the tilt of the head and the delicious, sumptuous, smoky voice which is spellbinding. At one stage, she re-enters, clutching a tumbler of booze or her beloved Chihuahua, Pepi, then stumbles about the platform and, in one heart-stopping moment, slips off it.
Amongst a full repertoire, we are given Halliday’s signature song, “ God Bless the Child” which was written for her mother who she call The Duchess; “Ain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness if I Do”, a grim justification of her right to self-destruct; and for me that heart-stopping lament for black victims of lynchings, “Strange Fruit” is particularly haunting. Continue reading Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill
Hangmen by Martin McDonagh
At the Wyndham’s Theatre
January 7th, 2016
‘They could’ve at least sent Pierrepoint. Hung by a rubbish hangman, oh that’s so me.’
2015 marked the fiftieth anniversary since the abolition of the death penalty in England, and Hangmen acknowledges history through references to Hanratty – one of the last prisoners to be executed in the country. ‘Hangmen’ topical is a dry, black comedy set in the late 1960s. It is about a retired executioner, Harry Wade (played by David Morrissey and presumably named after real-life hangmen Harry Allen and Stephen Wade) who’s embittered by playing second fiddle to chief executioner Albert Pierrepoint. The play opens in 1963 with gallows humour in a brutal arresting scene of Harry’s cold-blooded hanging of a desperate young man protesting his innocence.
We’re whisked forward to a pub in Oldham, two years later, on the day that hanging is abolished. The owner, Harry is now displaced in society and no longer a ‘servant of the crown’, but whose 233 executions just two years previously were deemed by the law as a quick, clean and dignified way to dispose of a murderer – far more proper than using the guillotine, which is ‘messy and French’. The male-dominated pub is patronised by a sycophantic, goonish regulars enjoying Harry’s dark notoriety. Harold Wilson’s government has just abolished capital punishment and the press want Wade to give his verdict, which he does in staggeringly bumptious style. Morrisey, distinctive in his suit and dickie-bow tie, towers over all, simultaneously gives us Wade, the bully and Wade, a coward. Still in the shadows, Wade’s former assistant, the self-effacing Syd (Reece Shearsmith) struggles with his own identity against a barrage of Wade’s mean-spirited gags.
Continue reading Hangmen by Martin Mcdonagh