The week at the theater: Get Up, Stand Up !; Value engineering: scenes from the Grenfell investigation; Love and other acts of violence | Theater


Get up, get up! could hardly fail to ignite, with the flair of the music and the sparkle of the subject. Live on stage, some of the most glorious and overwhelming acts of the past 60 years: Is This Love, I Shot the Sheriff, Redemption Song. The titles immerse you in the short incendiary life of Bob Marley, who died of cancer in his thirties. Arinzé Kene – who triumphed as an actor in Girl from the north of the country and One night in Miami and as a playwright with Misty – expands its repertoire of successes. As Marley, he’s both catchy and easily coiled up. He can appear to touch the sides of the stage with his outstretched arms as he hits the roof with his sonorous notes.

Yet this jukebox musical, directed by first-generation British Jamaican Clint Dyer, and written by Billy Elliot playwright Lee Hall, who is a white Briton, spits rather than flames. It’s roughly designed like a gig, starting with a warm-up act that plays a precursor of Island Records to Marley and reggae – My Boy Lollipop – and observes that Jamaican dialect is no more difficult to follow than Shakespeare. Charles Balfour’s murky lighting feels like a concert, as does Chloe Lamford’s design of crammed sound systems. You know you moved from Kingston to England only because it’s snowing and a black cab won’t stop for a black man.

The goal is quick impressions, but what should be a fleet is meager. Tiny scenes of big events – gang shootings, parental abandonment, falling in love, becoming politicized – turn on and off without any sense of danger or being led. The images of Black Lives Matter do not seem to be taken for granted. The music survives but the meaning is diminished.

We took the trouble to give a good cry to the women around Marley: they all sing worthy of parting the Red Sea, and made me want to see them in the center of the stage; never has the sight of three wonderful choristers in a glass box seemed so revealing. As Marley’s wife, Rita, Gabrielle Brooks, who flew into Twelfth Night and I open, is the other knockout. West End audiences always seem to love a defiantly jerking off woman as she received a slap earlier, and Brooks’s No Woman, No Cry gets one of the roars of the night. But she’s worth a roar everywhere. A lioness of Judah.

Value engineering is an essential game. Oral statements sworn to the Grenfell Inquiry were edited by Richard Norton-Taylor with Nicolas Kent, who is also in charge. The resulting scenes, which lasted four years, are further proof of the institutional contempt for citizens who are neither rich nor white. They are also a reminder of principles that have vanished into the bilgey rhetoric of recent public life. Insistence on the truth. Insistence on careful examination of the facts. Clear logical thinking. Careful examination of accepted systems. Failure to respect the law. The hypothesis of an intelligent audience.

At the Tabernacle in west London, a 15-minute walk from Grenfell Tower, witnesses and their examiners sit at rough wooden desks in bright, constant light. As chairman and adviser to the inquiry, Thomas Wheatley and Ron Cook are on stage throughout: barely moving, focused, daring. Behind them, a screen displays e-mails sent by witnesses, blueprints of the building and – briefly – images of the fire that spread through the tower: as if, according to a firefighter, “someone had poured gasoline on one side of the building “. The detail is technical, flawless. The catalog of neglect and unwillingness to take responsibility is building up every minute.

“Right, clinical”: Thomas Wheatley, Ron Cook, and Sarah Coates in Value Engineering: Scenes from the Grenfell Inquiry. Photograph: Tristram Kenton / The Guardian

The architect who thought it was “too onerous” to verify compliance with building rules, agreeing under questioning that he saw his work as above all aesthetic – what happened to design-oriented? function ? The consultant of the fire safety advisers who tells the architect “we can turn the proposal into something acceptable”. The cladding contractor who did not know the history of the fires on the cladding of high-rise apartment buildings and who also found the building regulations “quite complicated”. The borough surveyor who did not notice that cavity barriers were missing around the windows, which would have prevented internal fire from spreading to the siding, and who, knowing that the composition of the siding had changed, did not knew nothing about polyethylene, a combustible component.

“Value engineering” – the attempt to achieve a result with maximum savings – gets to the heart of the problem. At Grenfell, that meant cutting costs without worrying too much about safety. There was a twisted practice, which included training some of the “savings”. There was a weak-minded neglect – an innate disdain for professional skills. And there was a lack of imagination of the human consequences. Kent’s production is accurate, clinical; it forces us not to pay attention to personalities but to systemic failure, to listen to the truth rather than the excitement of the drama. It does, however, give a glimpse of the horror of June 14, 2017. A firefighter took it upon himself to try to save a boy who had called for help on a high floor. He found elevator doors opening onto the smoke; he heard a strange crackle coming from outside; he couldn’t reach the boy.

The Donmar has reopened, redesigned by Haworth Tompkins, in a less comprehensive way than originally intended – Covid scaled back plans – but with new space and more toilets, improved ventilation and with the bar turned, open, tempting you rather than before squeezing you go out. HT buildings are like a good plot: they move you forward, push you from street to stage, barely realizing you’re persuaded. A mural by Tom Scutt – scarlet, pink and black, wrapped around a circular pillar, flashes through the building: like the Donmar itself, it is festive and industrial.

Tom Mothersdale and Abigail Weinstock in Love and Other Acts of Violence at the Refurbished Warehouse in Donmar.
“Interesting Tense”: Tom Mothersdale and Abigail Weinstock in Love and Other Acts of Violence at the refurbished Donmar Warehouse. Photography: Hélène Murray

The season – which will feature Max Webster’s update to Henri v and a play by Jackie Sibblies Drury on Mary Seacole – opens with a work specially commissioned from Cordelia Lynn, author of Léla & Cie and versions of Three sisters and Hedda Gabler (called Hedda Tesman). Love and other acts of violence is all about rum. It opens with a thrill, with young revelers Tom Mothersdale and Abigail Weinstock on Basia Bińkowska’s stripped-down wood and grain design. Mothersdale, like him, contracts with smugness, physical desire and political zeal, using his intricate magnified gestures to convey a half-concealed threat; he is tortured, his wrists twist backwards; he’s predatory, hovering so far over Weinstock (her) that she’s forced to backbend. In her debut on stage, Weinstock is beautifully still, restrained, intriguing. They are meeting up. It rages against capitalism; she has anguished soliloquies; their love affair becomes emotionally, verbally and physically violent as the world around them becomes more and more repressive.

They aren’t entirely plausible as a couple, but they’re interestingly tense. Are they doomed to failure? Lynn finds the answer in a version of inheritance that I find it hard to believe. The play jumps violently: to 1918, to Lviv, western Ukraine and detailed naturalism; Bińkowska creates a living room in finely crafted wood. Here – in the Lviv pogrom – the horror is happening. Here, seems to say Lynn, are the origins of the struggle of her modern couple: in ancestral violence. I admire the boldness of his jumps; I didn’t believe in psychology. Easier in the theater – and in life – to convince myself with the power of memory than with an idea of ​​blood heritage.

Number of stars (out of five)
Get up, get up! ??
Value Engineering: Scenes from the Grenfell Inquiry ??
Love and other acts of violence ??

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