25 April 2009

England People Very Nice by Richard Bean

Elmar/Andre/Sweatshop Owner/Tchisikov - Philip Arditti
Officer Kelly/Patrick Houlihan/Rothschild/Asharful/Barry - Jamie Beamish
Hugo - Paul Chequer
Philippa/Anne O'Neill/Camilla - Olivia Colman
Benny/Naz - Rudi Dharmalingam
Norfolk Danny/Carlo/Aaron/Mushi - Sacha Dhawan
Ginny/Eels/Labiba - Hasina Haque
Morrie/Shah Abdul -Tony Jayawardena
Yayah/Rennie - Trevor Laird
Taher/Denham/Lord George/Gordon/Katz/StJohn/Milkman - Elliot Levey
Tatyana/Kathleen/Janice - Siobhán McSweeney
Dick/Barrow Boy/Thomas/Egg-Nog - Neet Mohan
Iqbal/De Gascoigne/John O'Neill/Chief Rabbi/Attar/Iman - Aaron Neil
Sausages/Lilly/Anika - Sophia Nomvete
Turkish Coffee/Major Evans-Gordon/Stetcher bearer - Daniel Poyser
Adriana/Sea-Coals/Rayhana - Claire Prempeh
Laure/Brick Lane Rabbi - Fred Ridgeway
Gaskin/Harry Samuels MP/Police Sergeant - Avin Shah
Sanya/Ida - Sophie Stanton
Camille/Mary/Black Ruth/Deborah - Michelle Terry
Bishop of London/Lord Ballast/Harvey Kleinman/National Front Speaker - David Verrey
Beggar/Anjum - Harvey Virdi

Director: Nicholas Hytner
Designer: Mark Thompson

Seen at the Olivier during what I believe was it's premiere run in a very central and close seat, kindly donated by a dear friend who couldn't make it.

Programme Extract
The noun refugee, derived from the French réfugié, entered the English language in 1685, the year in which France’s Catholic monarch revoked the 1598 Edict of Nantes and denied French Huguenots their right to practice Calvinist Protestantism. The revocation precipitated a large scale movement of Huguenots across the channel. In all it is estimated that some 40,000 refugees settled in England, the majority in London. In the centuries that have followed, London has remained a beacon for incomers, some entering as refugees others seeking economic opportunity. In trickles and floods migrant groups have come from all continents to mark out their future in one of the major capitals of the world. Until the beginning of the 20th century, with the exception of the period of the French wars, there were no restrictions on entry. It was in 1905, with the rise of anti-alien sentiment, that the first peace-time immigration controls were imposed; ten years later, as part of emergency war time legislation, the right to refuge on grounds of religious or political persecution was withdrawn and sympathetic use of the term refugee, to describe the desperate and persecuted incomer, faded from usage. It was not until the Geneva Convention of 1951 that right of refuge in Britain was reintroduced.
Copyright Anne Kershen 2009

The layout of the cast list makes this look like it might be a complicated few hours but is it a very clever few hours. It hurtles through the history of English ethnic progression with a couple of comfortingly familiar and simple plot repetitions that demonstrate the pure inevitability of the pattern of life with our initial resentment to change and infiltration, to our happy acceptance. This is constructed so beautifully and with such humour that the time races by. The performances are wonderful and what could have been a very confusing production slots into place like a child's jigsaw.

It's worth looking around the NT link above for further information. This is a play within a play whereupon the entire cast start and finish each half by returning to the contemporary refugee centre to receive notes from their director. This provides some very amusing interactions which make for further humour when the cast switch back to the period production.

For example, Taher has a problem with a line referring to Pride & Prejudice because he is asked to say "it's like Elizabeth Bennet and Colin Firth" when of course, he feels it should be "like Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy". He rightly argues that it doesn't make any sense so when it finally pops up much later in the period production, the audience love it. I wish I could remember all of the other such references as they were gorgeous.

The set was wonderfully used with backdrops projected from such a height that there was rarely any obstruction or silhouette thrown by the cast who were able to move around the stage freely. Various wooden doors were used as a main back wall through which to enter and exit but also to project drawings of recurring buildings (like a church, changing to a synagog, changing to a mosque) and other clever devices.

The cast were incredible as most of them had to twist and turn into so many different characters. Some of these had recurring plots and dialogue but with different accents however to my ear, they never faltered. Part of the fun was to also see the path that the actors took through the play in their different guises. It seemed like a wonderfully joyous company, all mucking in with the democracy that this play demanded.

I'll admit my poor old bones and larger frame were rather tested in the cramp of the third row but I was happy to not be in the front row which has even less room and danger of spittle fallout. Sadly, I was also in front of a pompous man who felt the need to bellow a commentary when he cottoned on to each plot device and joke about 90 seconds after the rest of the audience.

A fabulous production and there could not have been a more perfect pre-cursor to the day I had ahead of me on Sunday.