January 29th, 2012

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The Recruiting Officer, Donmar Warehouse: Mark Gatiss Interview

Photo credit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00vcwm7

Delicious long article on The Recruiting Officer in yesterday's Independent.

The odd couple: Mackenzie Crook and Mark Gatiss are back together again
Mark Gatiss and Mackenzie Crook, two of television's finest oddballs, are joining forces in a new production at the Donmar Warehouse.

Selected highlights:

- Its writer, George Farquhar, quit acting after he injured a fellow performer in a stage fight. He had better luck as a playwright; his Restoration comedy blockbusters included The Constant Couple (1700); The Twin Rivals (1702) and The Beaux' Stratagem (1707)
- The Recruiting Officer, a romping satire of love and war, replete with bed-hopping, fiancée-swapping and cross-dressing, was originally performed in London in 1706
- The Donmar production will be significant as the first show to be staged by the theatre's new artistic director, Josie Rourke, who recently took the helm from Michael Grandage following his 10-year tenure
- Gatiss: "I always wanted to do Restoration comedy," he says. "It seems like so much fun. I get to say 'Split me!'
- Gatiss was unknowingly preparing himself for his career from a tender age. Born in Sedgefield some five years before Crook, he was an avid reader of Sherlock Holmes, and an avid watcher of Doctor Who, for which he now also writes. "I did go to drama school, at Bretton Hall in Yorkshire, but it was such a bad course that we had to fall back on our own devices," he recalls. He and three fellow students – Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton and Jeremy Dyson – created a live sketch show, The League of Gentlemen, "which we took to Edinburgh, won the Perrier Award and got ourselves a radio series"
- Gatiss made his name playing oddballs. "It's a cliché," he admits, "but it's true that all the fun lies in baddies, grotesques and comic roles. For me, the joy of The League was in the dressing up; the wigs and teeth. Now I get asked to play vicars all the time. I've only ever played one. I got offered three gay vicars in a day last year."
- It's no coincidence, of course, that his rise has been accompanied by a re-acceptance of the geek in popular culture, which can only be good for his career prospects. Doctor Who, for which Gatiss is partly responsible, has undoubtedly driven this resurgence. "Sci-fi and fantasy used to be a TV staple throughout my childhood," he agrees. "Then it just stopped dead. It was seen as culty, a minority interest. The massive success of Doctor Who has opened all those doors again. It's no longer to be sneered at; in fact, people get worried if you don't have genre credentials. Geek preoccupations have become incredibly mainstream – even the geek look is cool. I do get that slight feeling of 'my favourite band's too popular' when I hear people talking about these things and don't quite believe that they're real fans!"
- There is one geek ambition that he has yet to realise, however: his own action figure. "The toys I never had as a boy, because they didn't exist, are now taking over my life," he says. "There's an invasion of amazingly beautiful Doctor Who toys in my house. It's like crack. I've got about 30 daleks. When I was finally in Doctor Who as Professor Lazarus, they sent me a photo of a maquette they'd made for a figurine of the character. It was beautiful, but they make a series of maquettes before deciding which ones to manufacture and which to discard. And they never made mine!"
- Gatiss "It's important to please your inner eight-year-old. The things that used to make you happy tend to be the things that still make you happy. I've got massively back into collecting fossils like I did when I was a child. And I just bought my brother-in-law a telescope for Christmas, of the size and strength that I always wanted and never had. We went out into the back garden and looked up at Jupiter; it was profoundly moving, because all I ever wanted as a boy was to see Jupiter and its four main Galilean moons. They're like little diamonds."

Follow the link to the full article:

'The Recruiting Officer' is at the Donmar Warehouse, London WC2, from 9 February.
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Travelling Light, National Theatre, directed by Nick Hytner

Damien Molony as Motl Mendl
Photo credit: http://knox.villagesoup.com/ae/story/travelling-light-live-from-london/480373

Cut and pasted from the National Theatre's website:

In a remote village in Eastern Europe, around 1900, the young Motl Mendl is entranced by the flickering silent images on his father’s cinematograph. Bankrolled by Jacob, the ebullient local timber merchant, and inspired by Anna, the girl sent to help him make moving pictures of their village, he stumbles on a revolutionary way of story-telling. Forty years on, Motl – now a famed American film director – looks back on his early life and confronts the cost of fulfilling his dreams.

Nicholas Wright’s new play is a funny and fascinating tribute to the Eastern European immigrants who became major players in Hollywood’s golden age. The award-winning Antony Sher returns to play Jacob.

For more information and to book tickets follow the link:

Travelling Light will be broadcast to cinemas across the UK and around the world on 9 February 2012 as part of National Theatre Live. To find your nearest cinema and to book tickets follow the link:

Raks's Review

I will lay my cards on the table upfront. I loved this play and specifically this production. I am a HUGE Nick Hytner fan; I love most, if not all, of his productions; and my favourite plays at the National over the years have all been directed by Nick Hytner - my two favourite productions EVER are Mother Clap's Molly House and The Man of Mode, both directed by Nick Hytner.

So what did I like and why did I fall in love with the play and this production?

I loved the portrayal of a very close-knit Jewish community, populated with a vast array of very interesting and diverse characters. Each character was a very detailed and rich character study and felt very real. It gave a real sense of the Jewish community at the time, and its internal politics, power structure and dynamics, ie the way it worked. It also felt very much as though this story of a Jewish community, and the people within it, was being told from the inside by someone who had a deep love for the community (Nick Hytner is Jewish).

Surprisingly for me, Antony Sher was not the main lead - the main lead was Damien Molony playing Motl Mendl, whom I have not seen live on stage before. I thought he was just outstanding. He captured my sympathy and empathy right from the outset, and I was immediately interested in his dreams and ambitions and I really wanted to hear his story.

For me, again bringing my own baggage to bear on the piece, what I connected with was Damien Molony's character, Motl Mendl. How he loved the family and the community that he was a part of quite deeply, but how he longed for escape so that he could engage with and reach the wider world (the mainstream). His desire not to be "limited" by his race and/or ethnicity. His dream to make beautiful, innovative and pioneering movies, about everyone and for everyone, not just Jewish movies about his own community.

However, I equally understood the deep desire of Antony Sher's character, Jacob Bindel, to want to use Motl Mendl to simply record the people and the way of life so that it would be there for posterity, long after they were gone. As Nick Hytner says in the introduction, that way of life is now gone and lost forever. So it is important to record and document social and family history and moving pictures, even silent pictures, were a great way of capturing characters and place.

This play and this production really gives a very rich sense of a specific community, in a very particular place, at a specific point in time. I loved that!

As well as looking at issues of Jewishness, race and ethnicity, this piece also looks at issues of gender. What was it like for a young woman to live in those communities; could she have a career or was she only useful as a wife and a mother; how much freedom of choice did she have in choosing a spouse or was this dictated by her family, specifically her male elders; how much sexual freedom did she have; what if she got into trouble; what options were available; and if an unmarried woman got pregnant, bringing shame onto her family, would she really be cast out of the community and left to die in the cold of winter?

Finally, the piece has a real ebb and flow to it. The story grips from start to finish, because the characters are interesting and you care about them and what happens to them. The scenes run seamlessly one into another, and the piece just flows along. I like it in the theatre when there is a powerful story being told, that makes you want to hurry back to your seat from the interval, because you are really keen to find out what happens next! The scenes flow and the story sings.

If I had one complaint I would actually like a follow-up companion piece which told the next part of the story. So this play concentrates on how Motl Mendl started film-making, using his Jewish community in Eastern Europe as a backdrop. I would like a second part to look at his story and his journey when he got to America. How hard it was as an alien and an outsider to make his way, any discrimination and prejudice he faced and overcame, whether he had to stay within the Jewish niche or how he managed to break into the mainstream, whether Motl actually ever got to make the beautiful movies that he wanted to make, not limited by race and ethnicity. So my request is ... can we please have a part 2?!

In summary, I am highly highly higly recommending this play, and specifically this production - please do go and see it either live at the theatre, or in cinemas when it has its NT Live on 9 February.

I will be seeing this production again, and I may (just!) come back and flesh this review out a bit more after a second, and third, viewing! I also need to read the programme (I have not done so yet) and explore the NT website fully, to read up on, and all about, the history and the context. So I will definitely be revisiting this review in the near future.

Antony Sher as Jacob Bindel
Photo credit: http://knox.villagesoup.com/ae/story/travelling-light-live-from-london/480373