Tag Archives: James Dacre

Theatre interlude: The Body Of An American

1 Mar


The Body of an American is an award-winning play by Dan O’Brien. It is directed for the British stage by James Dacre, artistic director of  the Royal and Derngate Northampton in a co-production with London’s Gate Theatre in Notting Hill and is the best play I have seen this year.

Using just two actors, playing more than thirty parts, it tells a fictionalised story of the relationship between a playwright (Dan) and a older Canadian photojournalist, Paul (based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Watson), both of who are haunted by ghosts from the past.  In Paul’s case, it is the act of taking a shot of the desecrated corpse of an American serviceman (Staff Sergeant William David Cleveland) in Somalia. The morality of this act and the real or imagined consequences of disclosing the brutality of war crystallises his own depression. For Dan the haunting  is the result of alienation from his family and its secrets – both known and unspoken. The relationship starts by e-mail and develops into a face-to-face meeting in the Canadian arctic.  The two men range over a variety of topics as they seek to explain and understand themselves and each other  and it’s a powerful insight into male conversation.

It is an incredibly intense piece, lasting 90 minutes without a break and requiring enormous concentration from the actors William Gaminara (as Paul) and Damian Moloney (as Dan).   It’s also a pretty intense piece for the audience too.

The production opened in January at the Gate, which is a small 70 seater theatre, and for the Northampton transfer, James Dacre has transformed one of the lesser-used Underground performance spaces of the Derngate theatre  into a claustrophobic tunnel where the audience (probably no more than eighty strong) sit facing each other in two lines of two benches  across an aisle that is some six feet wide and 30 feet long with projection screens at each end, a serious amount of lighting and a ‘bedding’ of shredded plastic on the floor (representing sand or snow). It is in this aisle that the performance occurs – just the actors and two chairs as props which serve as  jeeps, beds, sleds and more). This of course means the audience sees the acting close-up and personal – with the performers not interacting with the audience directly – but certainly making and holding eye contact.

While the economics of this show are probably such that it’s not economic to produce a programme, the venue is selling the playscript, published by Oberon Books (cover image above) at £6.99 and it is well worth it because the author, Dan O’Brien is also a published poet. His words are for reading as much as speaking and the interplay between the actors as they cut rapidly from character to character in mid sentence develops an almost poetic rhythm.

It was an absolutely superlative piece of theatre with remarkable performances by both men – in turns sad, funny, humorous moving and unrelentingly direct.

I can’t recommend it highly enough.


Theatre interlude: A Tale of Two Cities

1 Mar


This year my blog appears to be mutating into a theatre review site.  I will try and redress the balance shortly (there are several incomplete music pieces held ‘in draft’) but I am attending more plays than gigs at the moment.

This production is based on the 1859 novel by Charles Dickens and when I write that it’s a world premiere, playing for three weeks (running to March 15) at the Royal Theatre in Northampton  you’ll probably start smiling indulgently. Some little production just a step up from am-dram perhaps?  Well, you’d be wrong. Royal and Derngate productions (branded as Made In Northampton) have been developing a national reputation for theatrical innovation over the past few years and this is keeps up the standard.  When I go on to point out that the novel has been adapted by Mike Poulton (whose adaptations of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bringing Up The Bodies  are in this season’s repertoire of the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford) you’ll realise that this is a bit special.  A further indication comes with the other ‘name’ on the programme cover: Rachel Portman (Oscar-winning composer for Emma  with further nominations for The Cider House Rules and Chocolat).

Director James Dacre has assembled a larger than usual cast for this production (with eleven professional actors supplemented by the Royal and Derngate Community Ensemble, including a number of undergraduates from the University of Northampton’s BA course in Acting). Given that the Royal’s stage is not that big, things are a bit of a squeeze at some points – although  the set designer, Mike Britton, deserves a name check because of the clever use of space in the trial/tribunal scenes and for putting together a highly atmospheric staging throughout.

The play is constrained by the plot of the novel in that it has to cover a long period of time, with scenes in London and Paris and this means there is not much space to allow for character development since the narrative has to be so fast-paced.  Perhaps Christopher Good, as Dr Manette,  is the actor who gets the most mileage from his part while Oliver Dimsdale, (playing the central character of the depressive barrister, Sydney Carton) was convincing in conveying the depth of his unrequited love for Lucy. In contrast Yolanda Kettle (as Lucy) and Joshua Silver (as Charles Darnay) were hard-pressed to make a mark in their roles.  Mairead McKinley was a magnificently malevolent Madame Defarge – although both she and Abigail McKern (as Miss Pross) need to work on their fight scene which was less than convincing.

At over two hours in length (plus interval), this was a skillful adaptation, well directed and staged and a enjoyable evening’s entertainment. I really hope it transfers to a bigger stage as I think the production would benefit.  I’d certainly recommend it if you can get to Northampton.

P.S. There are some good photos of the production at http://www.broadwayworld.com/westend/article/Photo-Flash-First-Look-at-Joshua-Silver-Yolanda-Kettle-and-More-in-A-TALE-OF-TWO-CITIES-20140228#.UxJIufl_uSo