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Jude Just the Job

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Catching up with Anna Christie at the Donmar a week or so after it opened has been a sheer pleasure. Rob Ashford's production is thrilling -- the scene at sea where Jude Law's Mat Burke is washed onto the deck of Anna's cargo ship is one of the most extraordinary stagings in the Donmar's history -- and the performances first-rate.

It's controversial, though, to have the interval after the third act, leaving a short final act of reconciliation two days after the truth has come out. It's not as effective a ploy as, say, delaying the interval in The Seagull to the end of the third act, so that the two year gap and its impact on Nina can be dramatically highlighted.

But maybe it's worth it just for the scene change from ship to shore; Paul Wills's design, which must have cost a fortune, is absolutely brilliant, and creates a convincing world of sailors' bars, below decks accommodation, and raging seas in a permanent fog.

Jude Law has certainly beefed up as Mat, made himself larger and more bestial, pent up with rage and inner strength. He's not a natural giant, as Liam Neeson was when he played the role opposite his future wife, the late Natasha Richardson, so he's had to work hard.

The result is, I think, his best stage performance to date, and he is superbly partnered by Ruth Wilson as Anna, pouty-mouthed and glistening with pain and vulnerability as the abused prostitute with an art of gold.

In some ways, Anna's dad, the old Swedish sea salt Chris Christopherson, is the hardest role, with an extreme accent and a ragbag of "by yimminys" and "that ol' devil sea"s to discharge, and David Hayman is the best I've seen.

Hayman is gnarled, sinewy, tragically torn between his life on the horizon and his love for his daughter, which is now tainted with guilt and regret. I can't think when Hayman last acted on the stage -- he's a big player in film and television, has been for twenty years -- but it's sure good to see him back.

His has been a fascinating career, making and producing films, but I remember him first as a leading light at the Glasgow Citizens when he played Hamlet in the all-male production that announced the new regime of Giles Havergal and Philip Prowse, Nijinsky in Chinchilla, Robert David MacDonald's play about the Ballets Russes, and even Lady Macbeth in a rehearsal skirt (his spouse was Gerard Murphy).

Yesterday's matinee, like all the performances, was completely sold out, with a queue for returns round the block. Fourth in line was Rosemary Wilton, elder sister of Penelope and a former BBC arts producer; I roamed the stairways in the interval to see if she had got in, but could find only actor John Quentin and playwright John Antrobus on my travels. 

This is Rob Ashford's third Donmar production, following his wholly successful revival of Parade and his partially successful revival of A Streetcar Named Desire (in which Ruth Wilson was outstanding as Stella).

I thought wistfully of the first while sitting through the Southwark Playhouse brave stab at Jason Robert Brown's Civil War and lynch mob musical. One would not have rained on this Parade so much, perhaps, had not musical theatre standards elsewhere on the fringe -- at the Menier, certainly, and the Union, occasionally the Landor -- been so high at the moment. 

The sound sytem was so bad it was still ringing in my ears 24 hours later. I hope I don't have to sue anyone for contracting tinnitus. The sound design at the Donmar, on the other hand, is another work of discreet genius by Adam Cork, creating a great wash of sea, soul and shanty and making the scene changes as entertaining as the rest of the play.





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