Richard Attenborough dies aged 90

RichardAttenborough07TIFF

Actor and director Richard Attenborough has died at the age of 90. Born in Cambridge in 1923, Attenborough began acting aged 12 and made his professional stage debut aged 18. The RADA graduate was one of the original cast members of The Mousetrap at the Ambassadors in 1952. He also starred in stage productions of The Little Foxes at the Piccadilly Theatre, Arthur Laurents’ The Way Back and 1952 comedy Sweet Madness.

Attenborough was a respected screen actor, appearing in more than 70 films with a breakthrough role as Pinkie in 1947’s Brighton Rock, a role he had previously performed on stage at The Garrick Theatre, and starring in other cinematic milestones such as The Great Escape, Doctor Dolittle and Jurassic Park. Behind the camera, Attenborough became an award-winning director, with his film Gandhi winning eight Oscars in 1982.

Attenborough was appointed a CBE in 1967 and knighted in 1976, being made a life peer in 1993.

He is survived by his wife, Sheila Sim, whom he married in 1945, his daughter, Charlotte, and his son, Michael, theatre director and former artistic director of the Almeida Theatre.

The Crucible, The Old Vic – Performance review

by Rachel Creaser
Star rating
****
A heartening piece of pure drama.

There's great physicalistation from the ensemble (Credit: Johan Persson)

There’s great physicalistation from the ensemble (Credit: Johan Persson)

Last night’s thunderstorm may have been forecast, but I have a feeling it may have been the doings in The Old Vic which spurred the storm to build to such intensity …

The design really sets the tone for this production: the space is awash with a dreary sepia tone and a constant smokiness in the air – there is no bright and lightness in the place. The Crucible is part of The Old Vic’s second in-the-round season – it fit the world of the play very well, and drew the audience further into the murkiness.

Directed by Yaël Farber, she hits us hard from the very beginning, and doesn’t let up throughout the three-hour production. With a story of Salem witch trials, false accusations, lies, revenge, power, God and the devil – how could it not be hard-hitting?

Richard Armitage’s portrayal of John Proctor is authoritative yet touching: he’s just as compelling to watch in quieter moments as when bellowing out in anger. Armitage has great chemistry with both of his leading ladies: Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth, played by Anna Madeley, and the formidable Abigail Williams, played by Samantha Colley. Both women have great presence: Madeley has a gripping emotional intensity, while Colley forcefully commands the attention of the audience.

Armitage's turn as John Proctor is commanding to watch (Credit: Johan Persson)

Armitage’s turn as John Proctor is commanding to watch (Credit: Johan Persson)

The movement in the play is a real highlight. Marama Corlett (playing Betty Parris) kept me engrossed as she contorted herself during a fight with an internal spirit. The movement work from the other young girls in the ensemble was also engaging and bewitching.

What I found most impressive about the production was that I found myself involuntarily shaking my head in disbelief on several occasions; I was utterly frustrated with Judge Hathhorne and his cronies – showing that the power of Arthur Miller’s storytelling is yet to dampened by time. The play may have left me feeling slightly depressed at the unfairness of life, but the most important outcome of this production is that it left me feeling something.

For people looking to go and see some impressive theatre this summer, this production has a lot to offer, and is highly recommended.

The Crucible runs at The Old Vic until 13 September 2014. Visit www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2014/the-crucible to buy tickets and for more information.

Theatre casualties in Arts Council national portfolio announcement

Richard Frame (Hermia), Thomas Padden (Theseus) & Sam Swainsbury (Demetrius)

Propeller in performance: the theatre company’s future is thrown into doubt without Art Council funding

Arts Council England (ACE) has revealed the organisations who will, and will not, be part of their national portfolio for 2015–18. All-male Shakespeare company Propeller, Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond and radical touring company Red Ladder have not made ACE’s portfolio list, resulting in loss of funding.

Propeller were told by the ACE, ‘’We decided that, taking into account the quality and level of your artform provision available nationally, we preferred other applications.’ Responding to ACE’s comments, the company and Propeller’s director Edward Hall said: ‘Whilst a lack of commitment from ACE to high-quality touring theatre on a financial basis is perhaps understandable, Propeller’s national reach and quality of work cannot be called into question as our track record amply demonstrates. I am sorry that this decision will prevent us from continuing to pursue our national touring programme which has delighted so many thousands of people and which will prevent our company from pursuing its commitment to delivering affordable, high-quality drama in the regions.’

News of Orange Tree Theatre’s funding loss from the ACE came as the new artistic director Paul Miller began his first day in the role. He told BBC news: ‘I think the big, national contradictory pressures that are on the Arts Council were just so great that something had to give – and on that occasion it was us.

‘Once upon a time, the Orange Tree was a fledgling start-up company that had its first Arts Council funding. For new younger companies to get into the system, it means that existing organisations cannot simply take for granted that they will continue to be regularly funded. There are still many ways in which we can continue to take wonderful theatre in our lovely space. We just have to find a financially different way of doing it.’

Other organisations face smaller cuts: The Barbican will lose 18% of funding, while The Southbank Centre, National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company will each receive a 3.6% reduction.

Some theatre organisations enjoyed a boost, with increases in funding for Unicorn of 28% and Hull Truck of 46%; welcome news for Hull Truck following the ACE’s assessment of the theatre company earlier this year as facing ‘immediate and serious financial risk’.

This year saw a 2% rise in the allocation of funding to regional companies, with 47% dedicated to organisations in London and 53% to those outside of the capital.

ACE chair Sir Peter Bazalgette said of the portfolio announcements: ‘We are in the premier league of creative nations and this portfolio will keep us on top in an era of tight funding. We can delight in our arts organisations and museums for the sheer inspiration they bring to our daily lives as well as their contribution to the creative sector. I’m proud that we’ve been able to deliver such a strong and well balanced portfolio.

‘With 46 new entrants to the national portfolio, with increased funding for grants for the arts, and with creative people and places being maintained at its current level over the next period, this settlement represents a commitment by Arts Council England to new talent and building England’s arts and culture capacity all over the country. When funding is declining you have to set priorities – this we have done.’

New Year Honours for British actresses

Dame Angela Lansbury: the actress is recognised in 2014's New Year Honours (Credit: Featureflash)

Dame Angela Lansbury: the actress is recognised in 2014’s New Year Honours (Credit: Featureflash)

The Queen’s 2014 New Year Honours list has recognised and celebrated some of the country’s leading acting and theatre talent: theatre, film and television actress Angela Lansbury is to become a Dame of the British Empire for her services to drama, charitable work and philanthropy. Bafta and Olivier Award winner Penelope Keith will receive the same honour for her services to the arts and charity, as will choreographer Gillian Lynne, director of more than 50 shows in the West End, on Broadway and on tour, for her services to dance and musical theatre.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, a collaborator of Gillian Lynne’s on productions such as Cats and Phantom of the Opera, said that he was ‘thrilled that the grand lady of British musical theatre has got the recognition she deserves.’

Accolades for women in the arts continues: Canadian-born stage and television actress Lynda Bellingham is to be awarded an OBE for voluntary service to charitable giving in the UK. Actress and writer of Gavin and Stacey, Ruth Jones, will receive an MBE.

There were also a few notable male honours in this year’s selection, including CBEs for television actor Michael Crawford and former Royal Court artistic director Dominic Cooke, as well as a knighthood for Michael Codron, the owner of London’s Aldwych Theatre, for his services to theatre.

National Theatre: The Light Princess – Performance review

Nick Hendrix as Digby and Rosalie Craig as Althea in the National Theatre's The Light Princess

Nick Hendrix as Digby and Rosalie Craig as Althea in the National Theatre’s The Light Princess

Star rating
*****
There are all sorts of reasons to bring students to see this production.
By Sarah Lambie, TD editor

Comparisons are weak for a show which has a beauty all of its own, but to put the National Theatre’s new musical by Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson into context, I am drawn to reference The Wizard of Oz (and, by extension, Wicked) and The Pillowman, by Martin McDonagh, combined in both magic and darkness through the eyes of the brothers Grimm.

In reality, the original core of the story was written by the Victorian Englishman George MacDonald: friend to Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll of Alice in Wonderland. It draws on a rich history of fairy tale – the traditional subject matter of prince and princess, warring kingdoms, indiscriminately evil baddies – but has that dark and human edge that was lost when the Grimms’ and Hans Christian Andersen tales were taken over by Disney. Its emotional heart has depth and truth which are as compelling for an adult audience (almost exclusively so on the press night I attended) as for the young people for whom the piece is ostensibly written.

Amos and Adamson tread the line carefully between the cliché and the seemingly new, and the musical writing helps a good deal in creating a sense that something unexpected is happening here – the orchestration is imaginative, and while there are only really a couple of melodies one takes away after the first hearing, it’s fulfilling musical whole.

Rae Smith’s designs for the production are nothing short of magical, and each new scene finds a different way to draw the audience’s eye around the stage. I suppose it could almost be accused of being distracting, but really I just felt that I ought to come back and see the show again in order to have a good look at the details I’d missed. There is, despite its beauty, no danger of the performances being upstaged by the set, because these too are wonderful: Rosalie Craig in the title role sings beautifully, and apparently effortlessly as well, despite being continually either harnessed to the flies or manhandled around the set by four acrobats whose strength, commitment and discretion gained the biggest cheer of all at the curtain call.

The choreography by Steven Hoggett is understated: this is not a dance show in the way that other musicals are, but as a fan of actors moving around the stage in a way that has been clearly designed (I know that others aren’t), I enjoyed it very much. This is an ensemble of individual actors with individual characters rather than the slightly homogenous sense that one can get from more traditional musical choruses. A central love scene in which the light princess never once touches the ground is also beautifully choreographed, and I found myself wanting it to go on for twice as long.

There are all sorts of reasons to bring students to see this production. While they will often concentrate only on the performances, this also has the potential to be inspirational for young people from the perspectives of direction, writing, composition, and design: set, lighting, and sound. On this latter subject, I must say that this was the third musical I’d seen in a week – one other being an extremely long-running and successful West End show – and the only one of the three in which I could hear without effort, or even downright irritation, every single syllable. A testament to the sound designer, Simon Baker, but also to the quality of the performers and a director (Marianne Elliott, whose recent successes for the National include War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) who understood, in the minority it would sadly seem, that a microphone on an actor doesn’t negate the need for articulation and clarity. The piece also touches on a number of issues that arise both within drama and in other subjects – equality, fairness, peace, gender and sexual discrimination, conservation and the environment … there is much for students to discuss having watched what began as an ordinary fairy tale.

The audience of which I was a part at its official world premiere gave The Light Princess a standing ovation, and one of which I think it was utterly deserving.

The Light Princess, a new musical, by Tori Amos and Samuel Adamson, playing at the National Theatre until 9 January 2014.