Writer Michael Wynne, director Jeremy Herrin and actors Joseph Millson and Rachael Stirling in discussion with the Royal Court’s Diversity Associate, Ola Animashawun.… Read more
Kate is delighted when she finds a country retreat that ticks all the boxes. Gathering together a select group of her closest friends to celebrate New Year’s Eve, she is keen to start 2010 afresh. But successful, stressed-out thirtysomethings in search of a good time in the sticks can make for one very fearsome party… and some surprising resolutions.
Michael Wynne’s buoyant new comedy takes a microscope to modern dilemmas about life, love and retro board games. Michael Wynne’s previous plays include The People Are Friendly and The Knocky for the Royal Court, and Sell Out, Dirty Wonderland and The Boy Who Left Home. He also co-wrote the film My Summer of Love.
Director Jeremy Herrin’s recent work includes Tusk Tusk, The Vertical Hour and That Face, all at the Royal Court.
Listen to The Priory podcast featuring writer Michael Wynne, director Jeremy Herrin and cast members Joseph Millson and Rachael Stirling discussing the production.
Listen to Michael Wynne chat to Aleks Sierz about The Priory and The People Are Friendly on theatrevoice.com.
Running time 2hrs (approx) plus 1 interval
Select a Date
Dates in November
|Thu 19 Nov 2009||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs|
|Fri 20 Nov 2009||7:30pm||Jerwood Theatre Downstairs|
Sold out Performances
- All performances are now sold out.
4 stars What’s On Stage, by Michael Coveney, 27 November 2009
It is an almost inconceivable Royal Court main stage scenario: a group of middle-class young professionals gather for a New Years Eve party in an oak-panelled country retreat and tear each other apart.
Michael Wynnes new play comes across as a Big Chill variation with a few bitter twists that leave Kate and her friends gasping for air while the ghost of a hooded monk peers through the window.
Kate (Jessica Hynes), a budding writer, has booked the gig after a traumatic break-up and rebound reunion with long-ago boyfriend Carl (Rupert Penry-Jones), an out-of-work actor married to a thrusting, self-obsessed television producer, Rebecca (Rachael Stirling).
They are joined by travel writer Ben (Alastair Mackenzie) and his flaky new girlfriend they met yesterday Laura (Charlotte Riley). In a bizarrely Ray Cooney-style opening sequence, Kate prowls designer Robert Innes Hopkinss old priory – vaulted walls and light-up stuffed deer heads – while a secretive man in black the hooded monk? pops on and off with a Sabatier kitchen knife.
This sets up a farce expectation that is literally in shreds by the end, after Carl and Rebeccas marriage is laid bare, coke-sniffing compounds the effects of hours of drinking, a fancy dress interlude goes wrong, an iPhone is trampled to bits and the Sabatier features in a wrist-slashing suicide bid.
Sounds like Alan Ayckbourn in the raw? In a way, it is, but Wynnes sharp, funny writing and Jeremy Herrins exceptionally well acted production ensure total authenticity so that by the end the play feels positively radical in this main stage bastion of the cutting edge.
Hynes Kate, a character in turmoil after the death of her mother and a miscarriage, is relying heavily on best friend Daniel, a willowy gay architect played with quivering sensitivity by Joseph Millson, who weakens momentarily with the intrusion of a local, non-monastic pick-up (Nick Blood).
The play is a giant step for Wynne, who first surfaced on the Courts young writers programme fifteen years ago and co-wrote the beautiful, touching movie My Summer of Love based on ex-RSC publicist Helen Crosss affecting novel of the same title.
His control of situation and character is impressively mature, and the performances of Stirling as a media bitch and Riley as a dangerously impulsive, sexy outsider are nothing short of revelatory. Its the most surprisingly conventional play in Sloane Square in a very long time: a really strong draught of seasonal bad cheer.3 stars The Guardian, by Michael Billington, 27 November 2009
Michael Wynne seems to be charting the progress of his generation at seven-year intervals. After the Birkenhead-based The Knocky and The People Are Friendly, he now turns his attention to a gang of success-orientated thirtysomethings gathered for a new year bash. Since the action takes place in a remote, allegedly haunted rural pile, it’s rather like The Big Chill meets Agatha Christie.
The reunion is the idea of Kate, a part-time writer and literacy teacher lately dumped by her lover. To console herself, she brings together a group of old friends. Daniel is a gay architect, Carl is a once-hot actor now famed for his coffee ads and Ben is a travel writer. Unexpectedly, Carl turns up with his wife, Rebecca, a child-obsessed BBC exec, and Ben arrives with a gushing beautician, Laura, who he met and got engaged to the night before. As soon as Daniel announces all they want is “a really calm new year” we know the fur will fly.
The idea of a seasonal party that falls apart has a good, Ayckbourn-like ring to it. And Wynne raises a lot of laughs from the intrusion of the outsider, Laura, into the cosy circle. Vivaciously played by Charlotte Riley, she is much the most dynamic character whether she is busily telling Daniel “I love the gays” or encouraging everyone to survey their year’s highs and lows: since Kate has lost her mother, lover and unborn baby, the game gets off to a somewhat unfestive start. Wynne also neatly points up the way these seekers of new year’s peace go bananas when they find they can’t get broadband or an iPhone is smashed.
… Jeremy Herrin’s production has plenty of moment-by-moment vitality. Jessica Hynes’s Kate touchingly talks of a longing for faith: it’s simply “the believing in God part that’s the sticking-point”. Joseph Millson is excellent as her gay chum who drools over an internet date who suddenly turns up, and then panics that the boy has robbed him. And Rupert Penry-Jones and Rachael Stirling are equally good as the struggling actor and his high-flying wife who ceaselessly bitch about each other without having the courage to let go. Wynne’s play is undeniably engaging to watch. I just hungered for something more nutritious than an attack on the ultimate hollowness of the me-first generation.3 stars The Independent, By Paul Taylor, 1st December 2009
Your aim is to start the New Year without the usual hangover of regret, shame, and weakness of will and armed with a more lucid and limber approach to your love life. One solution might be to have yourself cryogenically suspended between Boxing Day and 2 January. It would be a less risky strategy than that adopted by Jessica Hynes’ nervy, depressive Kate, a loser who is behindhand on the full-length book and the biological clock fronts and who forms the suffering centre of this entertaining, if faintly hollow tragicomedy by Michael Wynne. For an away-from-it-all alternative celebration of the incoming year, she has hired a Gothic pile and invited a bunch of chums. The pile is even called The Priory, the very name which conjures a rich person’s media-genic clinic.
Jeremy Herrin’s superlative cast squeezes every ounce of hilarity and pain from the stressed-out thirty-somethings. Rachael Stirling is magnificently monstrous as Rebecca, the kind of privileged, professionally frustrated mother who bullies others via her guilty, born-again obsession with her little children. Her lofty inattention to the feelings of her so-called friends is counter-balanced by the tactless curiosity of Charlotte Riley’s Laura, a jumped-up Essex girl who turns out to have layers of hurt under the squawky social ecstasy. Her treatment of Daniel a delicious study by the ever-excellent Joseph Millson of a kindly, rather anal gay man is a painfully funny mix of presumptuous intimacy and anthropological cluelessness.
The Arts Desk, By Aleks Sierz, 27th November 2009
If its not quite the time of year to start making New Year resolutions, then its not far off. Everywhere, you can read the signs: bright lights on the main shopping streets, merry cash registers ringing and the sound of yule logs being felled in empty forests. Plus chronic gift anxieties and a grim foreboding about the coming Election Year. In Michael Wynnes new comedy, The Priory, which opened last night at the Royal Court, a New Years Eve party gives us a taste of whats to come.
And that taste is pretty astringent, a bit like Bombay gin laced with cranberry juice and topped off with the bitter aftertaste of impure coke. So heres the recipe: take one secluded former priory, all gothic arches and brash elegance, and hire it for a New Years Eve party. Which is exactly what Kate, a thirtysomething writer whos had a bad year, has done. As she waits for the arrival of some old friends in order to see out the old and toast in the new, theres a definite sense of foreboding.
At first her friends seem to be a typically bright collection of shiny, happy, smiley people. So theres Daniel, the gay architect, young trendies Ben and his new fiance Laura, plus actor Carl and his wife Rebecca, a programme-maker. Yes, we are among the status-conscious middle classes, power couples with their loud voices, successful careers and smug satisfaction instantly visible, like a pair of brightly coloured earrings catching the bright lights of mediaworld.
Yet, it soon becomes apparent, Kate doesnt quite fit in. Surrounded by her old friends, she seems distracted and lonesome. Amid all the ping-pong of Wynnes sharp satire and comic one-liners, she embodies a sad but profound sense of solitude. Gradually, as we find out why, we are reminded that it is among other people that we often feel the deepest loneliness, and how rarely this condition, which is as contemporary as an iPhone, is the subject of drama.
In the second half of The Priory, as the revellers discover the dressing up box and the surfaces become littered with empty bottles, the punchy jokes cant quite distract you from the plays bigger themes. For standing sober in the corner are all those ponderous questions about the nature of happiness, the definition of a good life, the search for love, all topped off by a sense of existential solitude. Suddenly, you dont feel like laughing any more.
And, offstage, lurk the secret tyrants of the modern couple – the kids. Bigmouth Rebecca and diffident Carls children are often referred to; Kates ticking biological clock is nodded at; and even Daniel feels the social pressure to conform. Success cannot be complete unless you have kids; no kids means failure. Social suicide.
The plays inevitable revelations, deftly handled by director Jeremy Herrin, eventually pit Jessica Hyness desperate Kate against Rachael Stirlings bossy Rebecca, with Rupert Penry-Joness weak-willed Carl watching on the sidelines. As Ben and Laura, Alastair Mackenzie and Charlotte Riley deliver a shrill, up-tempo double act, while Joseph Millson gives Daniel a strong dose of dry wit. Yes, cheering in the New Year involves a lot of laughs, but when the fun is this hectic, can a hangover be far behind?
3 stars Financial Times, by Sarah Hemming, 30th November 2009
The title of Michael Wynne’s new play naturally sets up expectations. Are we to get a peep behind the doors of the famous rehab clinic for tired and emotional celebrities? Well, no, but the ghost of that idea lingers, as do reminders of the original purpose of a priory, as Wynne tells his cautionary tale about a bunch of thirtysomething media types trying to see in the new year. As the evening degenerates from friendly gathering to cat-fights, all of it fuelled by booze and coke, Wynne homes in on the confusions of his generation, where an excess of spirits can’t quite make up for spiritual emptiness.
Kate (an increasingly frazzled Jessica Hynes) has tried to organise a civilised party with a few old friends in a one-time priory turned country retreat. But along with their luggage they bring rather too much emotional baggage. Impulsive travel writer Ben brings his newly acquired fiance – love’s young dream, until she steps on his iPhone. Failing actor Carl (with whom Kate had fancied more than a New Year’s Eve kiss) omits to leave behind his frightful, overbearing television producer wife. Even Daniel, Kate’s sensible gay soulmate, has in tow a youth he met on the internet. With no television or electronic gadgets to distract them, the friends make their own entertainment, drinking themselves silly and trading harsh home truths.
It is a perceptive piece, laced with Wynne’s customary wit and insight. And it has serious points to make about success, failure, peer pressure and loneliness. Timely points too – New Year is often a time for soul-searching. Wynne’s characters warn you off the dangers of talking too much veritas after too much vino.
There is plenty to savour, though, in Jeremy Herrin’s production and the excellent cast’s delivery. Rachael Stirling is horribly good as the egocentric TV producer, while Rupert Penry-Jones squirms and sulks enjoyably as Carl and Joseph Millson has lovely comic timing as Daniel.
Variety, by David Benedict, 1st December 2009
A weekend in the country has yielded dramatic dividends for everything from “A Little Night Music” and “The Norman Conquests” to “The Mousetrap.” But if “The Priory” secondhandedly yokes those plays’ unexpected guests, emotional misalliances and even a whiff of country-house horror, playwright Michael Wynne renders them into a neat tragicomedy that is almost a guilty pleasure.
With the spirit of success and the specter of failure hanging over the New Year’s Eve celebrations of a group of media-type old friends teetering on the edges of early mid-life crises, the effect is like watching a stage version of “thirtysomething,” albeit with bigger laughs.
But if the conceit is unoriginal, its familiarity works to the comedy’s advantage. Fairly hopeless Kate (Jessica Hynes), who has organized the gathering at a renovated priory in the middle of nowhere, observes to architect Daniel (pin-sharp Joseph Millson) that this isn’t going to be a big drunken party: “A few friends. People we like. No craziness.” But her statement clearly is so far off the mark, it sets up an amused ripple of anticipation.
True to satisfying form, things begin to go comically wrong almost immediately with the arrival of Ben (Alastair Mackenzie), a globe-trotting travel writer who appears with — cue snobbery — beautician Laura (Charlotte Riley). The couple has just become engaged — after only one night. Cracks widen further when formerly successful actor Carl (Rupert Penry-Jones) also turns up with an unexpected plus one: his legendarily ghastly wife, Rebecca.
Played with relish by Rachael Stirling, who has a masters in withering disdain, Rebecca is a self-absorbed children’s TV producer. Despite parading the lives of her offspring to childless Kate, she evinces the maternal warmth of a freezer. Putting such a monster into the mix allows Wynne to up the stakes and the bitching as the rest of the group try (and fail) to put up with her.
Gradually every one of them is revealed to be nursing discontent beneath a facade. Throughout the first half, the gap between what they say and what the audience observes of their behavior grows increasingly funny.
For all their exclamations of delight at being away from it all, they are secretly dependent on contemporary life choices, whether it’s Ben’s beloved iPhone or Dan’s stymied ongoing Internet chat with a much younger man.
Even soon-to-be-published novelist Kate, who appears to eschew the blandishments of modern life, turns out to have been lying on several fronts. As the drinks are downed — not to mention Carl’s cocaine stash — the backbiting builds up.
Director Jeremy Herrin’s expertly controlled production is alive to the fact that Wynne is juggling a would-be caustic commentary with something more compassionate. Herrin not only times the comedy with notable precision, he gives the moments of second-act pain their full due without tipping over into indulgence.
- Writer Michael Wynne, director Jeremy Herrin and actors Joseph Millson and Rachael Stirling in discussion with the Royal Court’s Diversity Associate, Ola Animashawun. Download this Podcast