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London Review Roundup

Reports on Fear, Henry V, The Last of the Haussmans, Posh, and Twelfth Night

By London
Jamie Parker in Henry V
(© John Haynes)
Jamie Parker in Henry V
(© John Haynes)
If you're traveling to London this summer for the Olympics, or for any other reason, that's no reason to ignore the theater. Luckily, there are a handful of commendable productions which allow you to get a grip on the native temperament.

It's always both entertaining and educational to catch a Shakespeare production at the Globe, and few are better than their current Henry V, which pushes every patriotic button for an English citizen in recounting the tale about the young King's decision to go to war on French turf against a larger and supposedly more efficient foe.

This production boasts a superb performance in the title role by the hot up-and-coming Shakespeare interpreter Jamie Parker. Indeed, a spectator need only wait for the "Once more unto the breach" call to arms and Parker's cry of "God, for Harry, England and Saint George" to witness both his craft and the audience's response.

Urged on by director Dominic Dromgoole, Parker pauses after each of the three proper nouns following "God" so that spectators can repeat after him, which they do resoundingly. Moreover, Dromgoole lets the handsome and stocky Parker loose all emotions, including a tearful uncertainly before the Agincourt battle and the growing tenderness when wooing Princess Katherine (Olivia Ross). The director also gets the pathos from all the characters, as well as the humor regularly cropping up from Fluellen (Brendan O'Hea), Pistol (Sam Cox), and Nym (David Hargreaves).

In Laura Wade's shocking Posh, at the Duke of York's, the members of the aptly-named Riot Club prove to be later versions of the Bard's Prince Hal in his reckless days. As one of them says, when they go about trashing the private restaurant room where they're having their annual bad-boys ritual, "Our lot are in power now."

Wade uses these scoundrels -- who are modeled on Oxford University's Bullingdon Club, whose former members include Prime Minister David Cameron and London mayor Boris Johnson -- as a metaphor for upper-class men who assume entitlement. In the bargain, she mercilessly sends up the ruling class.

Before the fellows are through wrecking the premises, neatly outfitted by set designer Anthony Ward, they've reviled a classy hooker (Charlotte Lucas), insulted the owner's daughter Rachel (Jessica Ransom) and gone frighteningly farther with owner Chris (Steffan Rhodri). Is there retribution? Wade has the answer in an epilogue (there's a book-end prologue, too) that's just about as cynical as she could make it.

As directed slickly by Lyndsey Turns, the fine young actors vivifying this display of dreadful manners also sing several numbers in Spring Awakening fashion and reap heavy applause when they do.

Helen McCrory, Rory Kinnear, Julie Walters
in The Last of the Haussmans
(© Catherine Ashmore)
Helen McCrory, Rory Kinnear, Julie Walters
in The Last of the Haussmans
(© Catherine Ashmore)
Changes wrung to British natives through the last 50 years get an intense going over by first-time playwright Stephen Beresford in The Last of the Haussmans at the National's Lyttelton Theatre under Howard Davies' sure-handed direction. While this dysfunctional-family opus does go on longer than it should, the play also includes some canny observations about the ways in which human nature may change superficially but at its core remains reliably consistent.

Judy (Julie Walters) was an English flower child 40 years back and remains one in her advanced years, a fact that doesn't hearten son Nicky (Rory Kinnear) and daughter Libby (Helen McCrory). They've both come home -- despite unresolved quarrels with Mom and with each other -- to help clean up the family property and, more pressingly, to make certain they're not tidying it in order for the premises to be sold out from under them.

Adding to the continually flaring contentiousness is Libby's daughter Summer (Isabella Laughland) and Peter (Matthew Marsh), a physician with an eye for Libby, who isn't averse to returning the compliment, not to mention shy pool-boy Daniel (Taron Egerton), who's developed a crush on Libby. Unfortunately, Nicky, an ineffably sad gay man, has Daniel in his sights, compounding the emotional battles.

Beresford's achievement is demonstrating with compassion that no matter in what era each of these six people was raised, he or she is often in the right about the others and just as often in the wrong. The upshot is that although they spat non-stop, the love binding them remains plain enough to see. Moreover, as off-putting as they can be, they each somehow enrich Daniel's adolescence.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has had at least one undeniable success. It's put the notion of "the one percent versus the 99 percent" into the international lexicon, and this is what writer-director Dominic Savage unflinchingly examines in his menacing Fear, now at the recently relocated Bush Theatre.

The establishing scenes on designer takis' sleek set -- where James Whiteside's embedded floor lights denote location -- alternate between cocky thief Kieran (Aymen Hamdouchi in a keen-eyed, riveting performance), his tough-minded mother (Lorna Brown) and sycophantic mate Jason (Jason Maza), and young and successful mergers-and-acquisitions executive Gerald (Rupert Evans) and pregnant wife Amanda (Louise Delamere).

What Savage indicates early during his 80-minute exercise in urban terror is the inevitable clash of these particular haves and have-nots. When it happens, the results are dire. How the seemingly soulless Kieran deals with the guilt that overtakes him is part of Savage's ultimate point, which is that acting to better yourself without considering the outcome has unexpected consequences. The manner in which he says it, however, ignores some of the logic he's built into his script. As a result, he undercuts the play's toughness, but not enough to cause major damage.

Emily Taaffe in Twelfth Night
(© Keith Pattison)
Emily Taaffe in Twelfth Night
(© Keith Pattison)
Since England is an island that has historically relied on its navy, the incidents of shipwrecks showing up in Shakespeare's canon can understandably be seen as reflecting national character. That could be why the Royal Shakespeare Company so often revives Twelfth Night, now at Stratford-Upon-Avon's Roundhouse Theatre.

In director David Farr's modern-dress treatment, the shipwrecked and separated twins Viola (Emily Taffe) and Sebastian (Stephen Hagan) both emerge from a triangular four-foot-deep tank within Jon Bausor's notion of a dizzyingly dilapidated hotel. More importantly, though, the production contains possibly the funniest-ever realization of the much-loved smiling-while-cross-gartered appearance Malvolio (Jonathan Slinger) makes before the haughty Olivia (Kirsty Bushell) -- and many of the play's other sequences pack the same oomph.


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