Tag Archives: jonathan pryce

The Height of the Storm (Wyndham’s)

Florian Zeller’s play The Father (presented, as here, in Christopher Hampton’s translation), addressed the issue of an old man, Andre, suffering from dementia, and the efforts of his daughter Anne to keep the situation as normal as possible.

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Eileen Atkins and Jonathan Pryce

In The Height of the Storm, we again have a central character called Andre with a daughter called Anne.  He (played with sensitivity and flashes of power by Jonathan Pryce) is first encountered looking out of the kitchen window, the night after a storm, and we feel there is a loss pervading the house, somewhere, as Anne (Amanda Drew) talks of estate agents, managing alone, and flowers.

We are therefore somewhat wrongfooted at the appearance of Madeleine (a matter-of-fact Eileen Atkins, the centre of this home), wife to Andre and mother to Anne and to Elise (Anna Madeley), who joins her after a shopping expedition, leading to a flash of exposition about mushrooms, meals, and family togetherness.

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Eileen Atkins, Amanda Drew, Jonathan Pryce, and Anna Madeley

Whether we are seeing what is real, or whether one, or both, of the parents have died, we are never quite sure.  Some scenes seem to be running in Andre’s confusion where he imagines his wife has only gone to her vegetable patch while their daughters are grieving for her loss; other times he is a frustrated observer at his own memorial rites.

What is certain is the cornerstone of this half-a-century of marriage, into which even the interpolation of “The Woman” is ultimately meaningless; whether she is a lost love and mother of an unknown child, or whether she is a well-meaning representative of a care home, we are never sure, and even her name becomes mangled in a sequence of similar appellations.

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Jonathan Pryce

Pryce evokes the coming on of Alzheimer’s convincingly, from the stares of fear, the twitching, the repeated gestures, the angry outbursts, the confusion, and the ever-brief glimpses of a fragile lucidity.  Atkins, pursed-lipped and resigned, is the carer and the force to which he clings, and to which her daughters return, even when their presence is resented (the moment she angrily dismisses Anne with the f word is genuinely shocking, and funny).

As in The Father, there is a man who might be one thing, and might be another, and there is an uncomfortable and briefly threatening scene where we can taste the fear in the old man’s gait, and want nothing more than to reassure him that all is well.  Drew – who played Anne in The Father when I watched it – is very good as the elder child who tries to assume control of a situation she cannot understand any more than we can; and Madeley hovers on the sidelines, helpless to intervene or come to terms with her loss.

The last scene, to me, felt very final, as if these ghosts remained bonded in the house they had created, neither really knowing which one wasn’t there any more: perhaps Madeleine’s anecdote about the hotel was the fact no-one wanted to discuss?  What was really on the card with the flowers, and who dropped it?

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Anyone who has lost someone close will want to see this, and will be intensely moved by the writing and the performances.  Jonathan Kent directs, Anthony Ward designs (and the set brilliantly evokes an ordered mind which has started to disintegrate, with its chair, window, knick knacks, and extensive library), and Lucy Cohu and James Hillier do what they can with small but necessary roles.

This production belongs to Pryce and Atkins, though, who match each other moment by moment, and completely convince throughout.  This rather marvellous, quiet, and short (80 minutes) piece runs at the Wyndham’s until the 1st December.

Photos by Hugo Glendinning.

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The Merchant of Venice (Globe Theatre, Bankside)

A trip to the outdoors today and Shakespeare’s Globe for one of my favourites of the Bard’s plays, in Jonathan Munby’s production of ‘The Merchant of Venice’.  Jonathan Pryce, last seen on stage by me in King Lear, now plays Shylock, the Jewish usurer who plays Dominic Mafham’s Antonio for a ‘merry bond’ of a pound of the merchant’s flesh should he default on a loan of 3,000 ducats.  Antonio himself has sought this loan for his young friend Bassanio (Daniel Lapaine), who, despite being aware of, and repelling, the advances of the older man, still openly seeks his help to woo fair Portia (Rachel Pickup), who is herself trapped in the will of her late father where a successful suitor for her hand must choose a casket which contains her picture.

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There are many ways a Merchant can be performed.  Here, the gay angle between Antonio and Bassanio is very much in evidence, while Pryce’s Shylock is a complex man who reveres his God and Testament (when Antonio dashes it to the ground, Shylock stoops to pick it up, brushes the dirt away, and kisses the volume) while nurturing a hate of Christians which seeks him to eventually sit in court, sharpening his knife, setting out his scales, and almost salivating at the thought that the merchant whose ships have failed might bleed to death at his hand.

A non-Shakespearian coda of Shylock’s forced baptism while his daughter Jessica (played by Pryce’s real-life child Phoebe) sings a Yiddish lament, is a moving close to a play which normally ends light with the farcical ring swap sequence between the two couples.  It almost swings the pendulum so we feel some sympathy for the Jew, despite his bloodthirsty and uncharitable conduct before the judge.  Not that Antonio appears noble and just in this play – in roughly grabbing Shylock by the beard, laughing at his religion, or spitting at his clothes, he appears racist and undeserving of the regard of Bassanio or his wife (disguised as a young doctor, whose eloquence and knowledge – although both founded in the chaos and panic of the judgement in court – save the day).

Jessica’s flight from home with jewels and ducats, and her easy conversion to Christianity, flaunting a cross around her neck through the second half of the play, is quickly accepted by the young Christians in this piece, although they still refer to her as ‘infidel’.  It contrasts sharply with the obvious distress of the Jew who, judgement given that he must convert, clings to an Antonio who himself was earlier grovelling and crying for his life, with pitiful sobs and moans.   For him the loss of his God is akin to the loss of life.

In the tradition of other Globe productions, the music gives a special atmosphere to the piece, as does Gobbo’s coercion of audience members to play his ‘fiend’ and ‘conscience’.  As Gobbo, Stefan Adegbola gives this play well-balanced comedy, as do the second set of lovers, Portia’s maid Nerissa (Dorothea Myer-Bennett) and Bassanio’s wisecracking companion, Gratiano (David Sturzaker).  I also liked the unlucky Princes of Morocco (Scott Karim) and Arragon (Christopher Logan), who chose wrongly in their suit for Portia.  Morocco’s greed and Arragon’s foolish vanity are well-conveyed, and both men play their parts well.

Mafham is an excellent Antonio, a man who teeters on the pathetic at times, whose life will not be happiness as his idol, Bassanio, is aware of his interest and constantly pushes him away, literally in their embrace where Antonio leans in for a kiss and Bassanio recoils sharply.  He may be accepted as friend by Portia but it may break him to see her and the young man he craves being so content together.

This is probably Pryce’s show, though, and he is convincing as Shylock, whether isolated in the court, giving the ‘Hath a Jew eyes’ speech, or collapsing from his court bluster to the man who has lost all because of his hate for others.  It gives an interesting dynamic to see him act alongside his daughter, and I think he does succeed in portraying all the facets of this complex role.


King Lear (Almeida Theatre)

Over a year ago I booked for the latest in a long line of theatrical Lears, this time with Welsh actor Jonathan Pryce, who has been a favourite of mine since my schooldays when the film Brazil was released. So I was intrigued to see how he would do in the greatest of all mature Shakespearian roles, and how Michael Attenborough’s production would present the story of betrayal, ageing, and intrigue.

In a sparse set with a trapdoor, a handful of entrances, and some magic dust in the form of the lightning storm which plagues Lear and his followers, all our attention is on the performers, and as the Almeida is a small space any audience member is in the thick of the action, which might be something to be aware of if you are squeamish in any way about fake blood and eye gouging!

As well as Pryce as lead name in the cast, his three daughters are played by Zoe Waites (Goneril), Jenny Jules (Regan), and Phoebe Fox (Cordelia). As Cordelia is a small role in comparison to her sisters, whether or not she is memorable is squarely on the shoulders of the actress playing her – and although Fox makes the early map scene vibrant with her spitting anger and contempt for her sisters, she becomes less interesting once she becomes the Queen of France. Waites is a terrific Goneril, a true serpent bitch, while Jules plays Regan as – to my eyes – a damaged daughter, perhaps abused in some way by her doting father? Because there is a definite hint of incestuous attraction here, which makes a viewer uncomfortable and takes away a bit of sympathy from our wronged king. If this line of plot is to be taken into account, this man deserves to have the doors closed upon him.

Edmund (Kieran Bew) is less successful at his characterisation than Edgar (Richard Goulding), while Clive Wood makes an excellent Earl of Gloucester. As the exiled, disguised Kent, Ian Gelder is good, but he doesn’t dispel memories long held of another Kent for the National Theatre, Ian McKellen (himself one of two superb Lears I have seen, the other being Tom Courtenay). The others in the cast are less important, and with a bit of doubling up all bases are covered.

So what of Jonathan Pryce’s Lear? His is one of frustration and black comedy rather than tragic dementia, although the ‘I believe this lady to be my child’ bit was moving, as was the sequence with the dead Cordelia. Scenes with the Fool were well done, and the opening map and banishing of Cordelia/Kent scene had all the might of majesty the role requires. So I wasn’t disappointed, and I recommend this production to Shakespeare beginners and aficianados alike.

(One word for the staff member in the circle, though – paying customers don’t want to hear creaky seats throughout, ok?).


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