Brighton Year-Round 2023
Directed by Steven O’Shea, Production Manager Ian Black, Set Design and Painting Michael Folkard, and Set Construction Simon Glazier, George Walter, John Everett
Lighting Design Strat Mastoris, Philip Castle, Will Scott, Sound Design Ian Black, Costume Design Erin Burbridge, Makeup Emese Csoma
Stage Managers Erin Burbridge, ASMs Bryony Weaver, Marian Drew, Dean Martin, Lillian Waddington, Richard Lock, Carol Croft, Gaby Bowring, James Hammond, Laura Valencia.
Light Operation Alex Epps, Sound Operation Philip Castle.
Poster/Programme Strat Mastoris, Production Manager, Kasha Goodenough, Photographer Strat Mastoris, Publicity and Marketing Tobias Clay and Emmie Spencer. Health and Safety Ian Black.
Till January 28th
Farragut North is the rail terminus where political campaign offices sprawl and careers thrive or die, mainly the latter. Beau Willimon’s 2008 play derives from personal experience working for the Democrats 200-04, landing on the NVT stage directed by Steven O’Shea with a flexible stark wooden-panelled set by Michael Folkard featuring clever panels where beds arrive, restaurant tables and campaign HQs apparate.
At its best it’s the political play David Mamet didn’t write. Will Mytum’s third appearance on the NVT stage promises it’ll stay at its best, and with O’Shea’s stylish direction this eight-strong cast make the strongest possible case.
Stephen Bellamy (Will Mytum) at 25 is the smartest political operator and knows it: boyish energy, old campaigner head. Intern Ben (Alec Watson, making his NVT debut) looks up to him starry-eyed as does the far shrewder intern 19-year-old Molly Pearson (Melissa Paris returning after her strong showing in Cock). Stephen even still impresses his boss Governor and Presidential hopeful Paul Zara (NVT stalwart Mark Lester) and hard-bitten NY Times reporter (another NVT regular, Bridgett Ane Lawrence, also voice coach).
The opening scene with Mamet-like overlapping dialogue showcases how everyone revolves around Stephen, and Mytum takes the energy with a veering dangerous affability that turns on a pin. This is a sizzling ensemble effort and Lawrence’s voice-coaching deserves special mention: the company don’t place a note wrong.
So having hung on Stephen’s stories, you find each of these players have a deal and price. How after attracting the openly seductive Molly, Stephen takes a fateful call from opposition Democrat fixer Tom Duffy (Jim Calderwood, a welcome return) to join him for dinner. There’s only Spencer Banks’ Waiter, a man with a story we get late on. But do such stories make any difference to Stephen?
Everything turns on that meeting. Stephen calls Paul, gets voicemail, leaves a half-message. He rushes to meet his boss, and everything falls out. Ida wants a story, Ben wants Stephen to look over his new Governor’s speech because he’s taking shrewd temperature and things are changing. Stephen knows why from that meeting. But. Molly would like consideration, no more. Paul above all needs loyalty.
Even press chief at the Iowa Caucus Frank (John Everett, last seen in Turpin) only asks not to be rounded on. It’s a role usually doubled with Waiter, but we have luxury casting and Everett and Banks both acquit themselves in lightning-flashes of hurt.
But Stephen’s not making good decisions as everything spins out of control. From being the smartest he might be the dumbest, a fall-guy. But he’s resilient, and if he chooses, can bring everything crashing down with him. Can he salvage grace, perhaps find in Molly someone who might one day match him – or revert? Willimon quotes a lesser-known slice of Hamlet from I/iv about a fatal flaw. Looking at Stephen’s arc you might ask where the virtue is.
Willimon’s known for one or two plays, this being the most visible, and screenplays for 2018’s Mary Queen of Scots and American version of House of Cards from 2012. His politically-inspired work might on this showing be best when closest to home. If Willimon seems like a mini-Mamet, far better that than an underpowered naturalist – which is what some American plays can seem in lacklustre productions. The coiled energy of Farragut North remains, and this production gives the lie to previous assessments. It might help restore Willimon’s play, well-regarded at home, not here.
Mytum’s built on his work in Consent and The York Realist last year. Here he’s wired, dangerous; in the final scene danger’s palpable. It’s a magnificent performance, confirming this as possibly the finest UK production of this play ever. It eclipses the decent un-energised Southwark production of 2013.
Lester’s memorably present as the weary, wily Paul, rumpled charm and voice occluding a serpentine survivor’s instinct. Equally capable of volte-face is Calderwood’s Tom, who humanises this Machiavel, someone who more than Paul advises Stephen a way to go next. It’s he who cites Farragut North as a cemetery for people like him. You see Willimon’s experience surface authentically here.
Lawrence’s whiplash Ida is both idiomatic and centres the sheer American sizzle of this production, hard-boiled reporter capable of brutal honesty amidst ruthless put-downs. Watson’s Ben, unassuming, good if not quite as smart (Paul’s estimation, do we take that?) is an unexpected winner as he rapidly learns to bounce ropes he’s thrown against.
Paris’s Molly ranges across the widest emotions of all, from blatant seducer to super-smart admirer, able to second—guess nearly everything, she’s also vulnerable, angry, frightened and steely. Paris deepens the impression she made in Cock and (at BLT) The Revlon Girl. It’s a performance of stature, worthy of Mytum’s dangerous Stephen.
Strat Mastoris’ lighting gradates hotel bedrooms, bars, restaurants and campaign HQs, as well as blackouts. Ian Black’s sound design is remarkable for the clarity of anthems and torch-songs, and undistracting, too, with cued mobile ring-tones.
NVT make the best possible case for this play, revealed here as a small gem of political playwriting. See its wintry charm for the best drama in Brighton this month.