Unlikely as it may seem to those who know Anthony Minghella only by his movies, the writer-director was involved more quietly in the creation of a number of contemporary dance pieces.
His last, “Self-Assembly,” is being presented in “Reading Room,” an evening of five uncategorical dance works by the Jonathan Lunn Dance Company, arriving from a tour into London’s Southbank Center on June 4 for two nights.
Close friends since they were drama students at Hull U. in the 1970s, Minghella and Jonathan Lunn first created work together in 1987. Abandoning music, “Hang-Up” saw Lunn and Lauren Potter dancing to a specially written text by Minghella in which two lovers held a tense, late-night phone conversation, spoken in performance by David Threlfall and Juliet Stevenson. The intimacy, secrets and lies yielded dialogue so strong that, when recorded for BBC Radio, it scooped the Prix Italia.
“Reading Room” was to have been a further collaboration. Following Minghella’s untimely death, however, Lunn is staging their 2006 “Self-Assembly” — a witty dissection of a couple attempting to build their relationship using assembly instructions — with a recording of the writer narrating. The program stands as a happily accidental commemoration of Minghella’s gift for ambitious artistic collaboration.
Back in 1984, the London Theater Critics’ Circle presented Minghella its most promising newcomer award for “Two Planks and a Passion,” which he capped two years later by winning best play for “Made in Bangkok.” He ceased writing plays shortly afterward. Theater folk are hoping that 21-year-old playwright Polly Stenham, who last year scooped every available newcomer prize, doesn’t go the same way.
With her startlingly assured debut, “That Face,” now playing in the West End after a brief season at the tiny Royal Court Upstairs, Stenham is working on adapting the drama for the screen. However, as a second viewing of her emotional roller-coaster confirms, its many virtues are supremely theatrical.
Take the charged final scene. The quartet of key characters — wayward mother, desperate son, formerly absent father, angry daughter — are thrown into the ultimate confrontation. It’s written with such astonishing compassion that their contradictory needs and demands keep tearing at each other’s — and the audience’s — heartstrings. Onscreen, you’d have to lose tension by cutting between them, but onstage, Stenham and director Jeremy Herrin keep all four characters simultaneously in focus.
That said, there’s no getting around the fact that, as a dangerous, upper-class lush and her adolescent son struggling to keep his mother sane, Lindsay Duncan and a magnificently raw Matt Smith are the most spellbinding double act in town.
Vacillating between comic disdain and soul-baring neediness, a wrecked but glowing Duncan swaggers and sways about, held together — just — by a killer instinct for emotional blackmail. Smith, meanwhile, as a son catapulted too young into being his mother’s caregiver, appears to mainline emotional energy. Scalded by her love, he shivers with hope and self-loathing while pleading with her to behave.
All of which suggests that although Stenham’s play is set in a moneyed English family, complete with daughter on the verge of being expelled from a posh boarding school, the form it most closely echoes is the American family drama. (Not for nothing are the furious husband and wife named Martha and George). Surely a Gotham transfer beckons?
If that happens, the show is likely to be in the hands of Sonia Friedman, producer of the London run. Having just scored 10 Tony noms (six for “Boeing-Boeing,” four for “Rock ‘n’ Roll”) Friedman is now putting together a revival of Harold Pinter‘s “No Man’s Land” with producer Michael Colgan at Dublin’s Gate Theater.
Starring Michael Gambon and David Bradley (both “Harry Potter” screen stalwarts), the production will also feature British TV comedy actor David Walliams of “Little Britain,” under Rupert Goold‘s direction and will begin perfs in late August.Goold’s schedule is not exactly empty. His production of “Macbeth” with Patrick Stewart is up for six Tonys. That ceremony will be sandwiched between rehearsals for his new adaptation of Pirandello’s “Six Characters in Search of an Author,” previewing at the regional Chichester Festival Theater beginning June 27.
Then it’s to Ireland for Pinter before redirecting the Sam Mendes/Cameron Mackintosh production of “Oliver,” for which the BBC TV casting of leading lady Nancy was to be announced May 31. That musical revival begins previews at the Theater Royal Drury Lane on Dec. 12. Maybe after that Goold can take a day off.