ANGUS WRIGHT - Reviews

For the RSC, Angus appeared in The Tragedy of Thomas Hobbes at Wilton's Music Hall in London from 12 November - 6 December; for the National Theatre, he appeared in Mrs Affleck at the Cottesloe Theatre from 20 January 2009.

Mrs Affleck
Little Eyolf
is one of Ibsen’s least known plays. It combines the scientific spirit of Naturalism with Expressionism and Symbolism and is regarded Ibsen’s greatest achievement by some, a complete failure by others. In his foreword to Little Eyolf the Ibsen biographer Michael Meyer states: “After a dynamic first act all external action virtually ceases and the characters spend the rest of the play stripping each other of their protective spiritual padding until at the end they are humbled and bare like criminals shaved for execution.” George Bernard Shaw compared watching Little Eyolf with a visit to the dentist: “(…) the torture tempts us in spite of ourselves. We feel it must be gone through.” Little Eyolf is a haunting play that recalls classical Greek tragedy but it is also modern in showing the tragic depths concealed in the banality of everyday life.
Samuel Adamson who had worked with Marianne Elliott on the successful adaptation of Ibsen’s Pillars of the Community set Mrs Affleck, his reinterpretation of Little Eyolf, in a coastal town in Kent in 1955 - a transition which many critics deemed a mistake. Marianne Elliott stated in a platform lecture at the NT that she had chosen the 1950s because she wanted to avoid an alienation of the audience which she had often observed in period pieces – it was too easy to distance oneself from events that had happened a long time ago. As Elliott considered the repression of women who are restrained by rules on how to behave a central issue of the play she chose the mid-1950s as the perfect setting for her production. Adamson filled his adaptation with references to that time and the luxurious but sterile design (Bunny Christie) recalls the aesthetics of Hitchcock’s film Marnie.
Mrs Affleck is not an easy play to watch. Charles Spencer praised the production for capturing the Fifties atmosphere but considered the play too bleak: “Mrs Affleck, a reinterpretation of Ibsen's Little Eyolf by Samuel Adamson, denies us even the smallest glimmer of hope.” (The Daily Telegraph, 29 January 2009) The same point could be made about dramas such as King Lear, Oedipus Rex or Antigone and this criticism was not shared by Mr Spencer’s colleagues. Yet most critics found fault with the new setting and argued that it distracted from the core of the play: “The most curious aspect is why playwright Samuel Adamson should have chosen to update Ibsen’s Little Eyolf and set it in fifties England. The programme strives to give readers a condensed history of the period, from the booming suburban affluence to the rapid technological advances and the posturing youth culture, but this merely raises the question of why transpose the play to a period that necessitates such explanation. Surely, if there is a strong resonance, it will make itself felt? In the event, the answer is no. The piece, in its exploration of passion in marriage and the loss of a child, is timeless. However, the awkward period markers simply serve to distract attention from the more potent, personal depiction of a couple’s psychological unravelling. As a result, the subject matter feels further removed, the time period artificially stamped on top. (Evelyn Curlet, The Stage, 28 January 2009) There are strong performances from Angus Wright as the tormented writer and Claire Skinner as his passionate wife, stifled by conventions. Benedict Nightingale found high praise for the actors: “Angus Wright’s hitherto neglectful Alfred had meant to devote himself to the boy. Skinner’s Rita had made it clear that she wanted her husband for herself only. His death brings rancour and guilt to boiling point, giving us two fine performances, especially from a restless, defiant and now half-crazed Skinner.” (The Times, 29 January 09)
Carolin Kopplinę

The Tragedy of Thomas Hobbes
The RSC commissioned the young American dramatist Adriano Shaplin, co-founder of the experimental underground troupe, The Riot Group, and author of the only play ever to win a First of the Firsts in Edinburgh, Pugilist Specialist, to write a play about the philosopher Thomas Hobbes. But Shaplin’s drama entails much more than The Tragedy of Thomas Hobbes. It not only brings to life a society in turmoil represented by the conflict between Hobbes and a new breed of scientists led by Robert Boyle who put their trust in practical experiment. It also demonstrates how experimental science took over as performance art when Cromwell shut down the theatres: “[Shaplin] shows painted and powdered men banished from the boards. He shows the solid chaps who were to form the basis of the Royal Society - John Wilkins, Thomas Willis and particularly Robert Hooke - strutting around on platforms, expatiating as they anatomise brains, peering at fleas under microscopes, demonstrating air pumps - and galvanising audiences as they did so.” (Susannah Clapp, The Observer, 23 November 2008) Elizabeth Freestone’s highly theatrical production is staged in the amazing Wilton’s Music Hall where the RSC designed three-tiered, scaffolded playing areas that accommodate the changes of location from coffee house to Boyle’s laboratory. Thomas Hobbes is brimming with ideas and keeps the audience on their toes. Some critics found the production too long and the play confusing for audiences. John Thaxter saw “dozens of brilliantly staged set pieces and opportunities for bravura acting. But Elizabeth Freestone’s staging (…) is too rich a mixture to take in at one sitting.” (John Thaxter, The Stage, 19 November 2008) Michael Billington agreed with Thaxter yet he also found praise for Thomas Hobbes: “But for all its excess, the play is full of springy writing: Boyle for instance claims that ‘a democracy of seeing is my aim’ while Hobbes puts down his rival’s experiments as ‘a tinker’s parody of beauty.’” (Michael Billington, The Guardian, 19 November 2008) The production was cross-cast with The Merchant of Venice and The Taming of the Shrew. Stephen Boxer and Amanda Hadingue play the two adversaries Hobbes and Boyle, Shaplin had decided to have the somewhat effeminate and peace loving Boyle played by a woman. Angus Wright gives a marvellous performance as the actor Daniel Rotten who had played the great female roles before Cromwell closed the theatres. Forced into prostitution to make a living, he is persuaded by Robert Boyle to become his assistant only to be upstaged by Boyle’s new favourite – Robert Hooke. Rotten quickly switches over to Thomas Hobbes’s faction and finds himself rehearsing a polemic play penned by Hobbes himself to expose his rival Robert Boyle to ridicule. The performance goes terribly wrong. But the actor triumphs in the end in a brilliant scene from Thomas Shadwell’s The Virtuoso, a lampoon of the Royal Society: “James Gardon and Angus Wright act everyone else off the stage with their dazzling thespian pyrotechnics as Restoration actor laddies” (John Thaxter, The Stage, 19 November 2008).
Carolin Kopplinę

More reviews of The Tragedy of Thomas Hobbes:
The Stage
The Guardian
The Observer (note: this link is to the article in the Google cache as it is no longer on The Observer website.)

Revenge is a dish best served cold
In Tim Carroll's vibrant and imaginative production Angus avoids old Shylock clichés and portrays his character as a proud and composed man who betrays no emotion to his enemies. Shylock has endured Antonio's insults for years and only smiles sarcastically when he gets more of the same. Displaying any sign of anger or pain would be equal to defeat. Even with his friend Tubal he acts as if nothing can touch him - his daughter Jessica betrayed his beliefs by eloping with a Christian, stealing his money and jewellery and then peddling his beloved wife's ring? He expected far worse! Only in the trial scene does Shylock lose his composure - he tears open his shirt and bares his chest to Antonio welcoming death. Some of the critics did not appreciate Wright's stoic performance but Peta David praised his "slick and dapper Shylock, successfully breaking away from stereotypical images of Jewish money lenders." (Peta David, The Stage Online, 11/4/2008) Tim Carroll has directed ten plays at the Globe Theatre; he trusts and involves the audience. His production does not provide an interpretation of the play, we have to think for ourselves. By using a minimal set and costume design Carroll helps to focus on Shakespeare’s language which is spoken with rare clarity. Belmont is shown as an icy fairy tale world dominated by stalactites, a cold prison to Portia (a mesmerizing Georgina Rich) who seems resigned to her fate until Bassanio’s choice makes her icy cage burst wide open. The performance opens and ends with a communal dance by the whole cast - including Shylock.
Carolin Kopplin

The Royal Shakespeare Company's production of The Merchant of Venice, with Angus Wright as Shylock, ran in repertoire at The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon from 3 April - 27 September 2008 before transferring to Newcastle.

More reviews of The Merchant of Venice:
The Guardian
British Theatre Guide
What's on Stage
Reviewsgate