Letter from London: Theater

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“Hangmen” may be coming to New York, and it’s worth putting on your list. By Martin McDonagh (“The Pillowman,” “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” “In Bruges”), his latest is London’s biggest hit. It’s a message play (against capital punishment), but the message doesn’t get in the way of drama, suspense –- and humor. What is the second-best hangman in England to do on the day they have abolished hanging? Most of the action takes place in a small pub in Oldham, and the northern England accents are a challenge at times. The pub regulars, a cub reporter and the best hangman all interact with Harry in his pub in a suspense story that keeps you hanging…on the outcome. David Morrissey is perfect as Harry, but there’s isn’t a weak performance on the stage.

In movie theaters from Thursday, March 3, on NTLive.
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“Les Liaisons Dangereuses,” on the other hand, has two flaws –- Dominic West (star in “The Wire” and “The Affair”) is badly miscast here, lacking the sinister charm required of the principal seducer. And why do this revival at all? It is neither a new take on the film or earlier stage productions –- or a better one. Except for Una Stubbs as the sophisticated provocateur Madame de Rosemonde.

Ellen and I were also struck by the relatively young audiences -– and low ticket prices –- at both shows.
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Ken Roman


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Posted: 12/11/15 by Ben Rosen

“Hangmen.” What a delight! A play by a first-rate playwright that combines comedy and thrills with fine acting, writing and direction to produce a really rewarding theater experience. This new Martin McDonagh play, his first in ten years, follows such hits of his as “The Pillowman,” “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” and “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.” I’ve seen the first two of those; this is far more entertaining.

Unlike his earlier work, “Hangmen” is set not in Ireland but in England, albeit the north, where the accents can be as tricky for American ears to comprehend as are the Irish brogues. I have to admit that I lost lots of dialog that the rest of the audience howled at. Should it transfer to Broadway, something will have to be done – maybe subtitles.

Now, granted, one doesn’t usually wake up in the morning craving to see a play about hangmen, much less one with actual hangings on stage. (Well, they looked real to me.) And one doesn’t expect a bunch of laughs to accompany a play like this. But trust me, you’ll quickly buy into the author’s unlikely premise.

“Hangmen” takes place, except for a prologue, in 1965, the year that capital punishment was outlawed in the UK. The principal character is a former hangman, now somewhat of a local celebrity, who runs a bar populated by fawning admirers. Several threads run through the plot: his rivalry with his former superior over who was the more accomplished at his trade; his missing daughter; and a mysterious and menacing younger man, a visitor from “the south” who keeps everyone off-kilter.

Veteran actor David Morrissey plays the protagonist hangman chillingly well. The rest of the cast is the usual superb British ensemble. But standing out from all was the young visitor, played by Johnny Flynn, whose prior credits include several roles with Mark Rylance: “Richard III,” “Twelfth Night” (as Viola!) and “Jerusalem.” I mark him as a future breakout star; he seems to me that talented. Remember the name: Johnny Flynn.

Playing at Wyndham’s Theatre, booking through March 5.


Posted: 12/11/15 by Ben Rosen

“Les Liaisons Dangereuses” This was the last of eight plays we saw during our London trip. And what a way to end the nine days – a superb performance based on Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of the 18th-century Laclos novel. Even if you’ve already seen the 1985 Royal Shakespeare Company version (1987 on Broadway, with Lindsay Duncan and Alan Rickman) or the 1988 film version (Glenn Close and John Malkovich) , you’ll be riveted by this new revival at the Donmar Warehouse, whose artistic director Josie Rourke directs it luminously.

Unlike the elaborate costume drama movie, which, for fun, we re-watched last night, the Donmar version is performed on a small, almost bare, stage. Yes, there is a chaise longue, but that is necessary for the plot-shaping assignations.

The undeniable star is uber-actress Janet McTeer as La Marquise de Merteuil. It’s hard to takes one’s eyes off her. Close behind is her lover, co-conspirator and rival, Le Vicomte de Valmont, Dominic West (most recently seen here in the television series “The Affair”). An undeniable additional treat is the proximity of the audience to the performers in the Donmar’s three-sided seating; at times, we were as close as three feet away from her. That was fun.

Plays through Feb. 13.

One Response to “Letter from London: Theater”

  1. Hangmen is really coming to NYC, January 18-March 4, 2018 at the Atlantic Theater, where you might have seen other U.S. “Irish” premiers-The Cripple of of Innishmaan, , The Beauty Queen of Leenane, and The Lt. of Inishmore.

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