Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Katzplace

A youthful and enthusiastic Much Ado About Nothing from Exploding Whale in the Katzpace Studio Theatre in London Bridge

“Is not that strange?”

A new theatre for me is always a treat and one tucked away under a bierkeller even more so (I still don’t know how I resisted some pre-show spätzle to go with my lovely Rosarda beer…). Katzpace has been open for a year in the basement of the wittily named Katzenjammers and it even has its own theatre company in residency – Exploding Whale – who are currently mounting a revival of their 2015 production of Much Ado About Nothing.   

In this quirky little 50 seater studio, a quirky little adaptation emerges, wittily directed by Mischief Theatre’s Ellie Morris. Relocated to a modern office setting, its first half is full of delightful little twists. Office politics in place of military tensions, work parties in place of masquerade balls, and the consequent tangled inter-relationships as suited to strip-lighted open plan rooms as they are to Sicilian sunshine. It’s a surprise they haven’t gone the whole hog and have war break out because someone used the microwave to reheat fish!   Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Katzplace”

Review: Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre

Antony and Cleopatra is a lengthy evening at the National Theatre but one which pays rich rewards, particularly in Sophie Okonedo’s majestic performance

“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have Immortal longings in me”

Or Cleopatra and Antony as it turns out. Ralph Fiennes is plenty good in Simon Godwin’s modern-dress production of Antony and Cleopatra for the National Theatre, but Sophie Okonedo is sit-up, shut-up, stand-up amazing as she holds the ancient world and the entirety of the Olivier Theatre in her hand (and then wipes it clean with a look of disdain, as she wittily does after a messenger slobbers kisses all over it at one point). It is often acclaimed as one of Shakespeare’s greatest roles for women but an actor still has to do great things with it and here, Okonedo more than delivers.

In the opulent cerulean blue of Hildegard Bechtler’s design with its sunken pools and luxury, and in the magnificent array of statuesque costumes by Evie Gurney (such capes!!), her Cleopatra is a figure of immense poise. Even in her most capricious moments, there’s a knowing, performative quality to her that demonstrates just how much she’s controlling the narrative here, even when left alone by her Antony. And when together, there’s a palpable, mature connection between them – made all the more tragic by a prologue that presents a tableau of the final scene – their destinies entwining even as they’re increasingly doomed. Continue reading “Review: Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre”

Review: Twelfth Night, Wilton’s Music Hall

The Watermill Theatre’s 2017 production of Twelfth Night is revived to glorious effect in the atmospheric surroundings of Wilton’s Music Hall

“If music be the food of love, play on…”

I was absolutely blown away by the Watermill’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream back in May, and so the news that their similarly actor-muso Twelfth Night from last year would be being revived at Wilton’s Music Hall was most welcome. And if it doesn’t quite live up to the magic of that first time for me, it is still a most enchanting and unmistakably bold take on the play 

Paul Hart’s production relocates Illyria to the 1920s, jazz is flourishing, prohibition is rife and the shadows of WWI haven’t quite yet dissipated. Katie Lias’ design concentrates the action in the Elephant Jazz Club and the historic atmosphere of Wilton’s proves perfect for this treatment. And without giving too much away, the dipping down into the audience is done brilliantly.  Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Wilton’s Music Hall”

Review: Pericles, National Theatre

Combining with the joyous feel of carnival with the sincerity of the most serious of dramas, this musical  Pericles proves a heart-lifting triumph at the National Theatre for their Public Acts programme

“Pericles likes to play
Pericles likes to woo
Pericles never pauses to think things through”

What is a national theatre for? You’d be forgiven for answering ‘complaining about’ given the amount of sniping regularly aimed at the institution. But with the launch of Public Acts, the National Theatre’s new national initiative, you feel that they’ve alighted on the answer. The desire to “create extraordinary acts of theatre and community” by collaborating with a range of organisations whose community reach is second to none, the first result of which is this production of Pericles which brings over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier Theatre.

Emily Lim’s production is thus a huge endeavour but one whose heart swells effortlessly to accommodate the full scope of its representation. The choice of Pericles is a canny one and Chris Bush’s adaptation loses none of its essentially random character, the introduction of music from Jim Fortune further democratising it and adding opportunities for participation. So as the titular Prince of Tyre is forced on a character-building journey for the ages, Tarsus becomes a land of kazoos and cheerleaders, Pentapolis rain macs and wry humour (“it’s a man-fish” ‘or a fish-man, it’s unclear’), Mytilene a party island presided over by a drag queen.  Continue reading “Review: Pericles, National Theatre”

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Gray’s Inn Hall

Antic Disposition move Much Ado About Nothing to 1940s France with much success, and play it in the austere surroundings of Gray’s Inn Hall

“There was a star danced, and under that was I born”

Bienvenue à la Place de Messina pour Beaucoup de bruit pour rien. For Antic Disposition’s take on Much Ado About Nothing relocates Shakespeare’s evergreen comedy in the summer of 1945 in a village in rural France. War is over, the checked tablecloths are out, the vin rosé (or Orangina si tu veux) is flowing and with an Anglo-French company, a hugely characterful take on the play emerges.

Drawing on the influence of Jacques Tati to deliver a unique blend of physical comedy and neatly observed verse-reading, co-directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero transport the play effortlessly into this new milieu. Louis Bernard’s Dogberry is a complete revelation in this respect, a constant presence since he’s the manager of the village bar and to be honest, I could watch a whole play of him just bumbling about with his comic shenanigans.  Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Gray’s Inn Hall”

Casting news aplenty!

I round up some of the recent casting news, including Queen Margaret at the Royal Exchange, Wasted at the Southwark Playhouse, Measure for Measure at the Donmar and The Woods at the Royal Court.

Shakespeare wrote more lines for Queen Margaret than he did for King Lear yet we know very little of her. Jeanie O’Hare re-acquaints us with one of Shakespeare’s major but rarely performed characters in her new play Queen Margaret. In a production that draws on original language from Shakespeare, director Elizabeth Freestone and Jade Anouka as Margaret, retell an iconic moment in British History through the eyes of the extraordinary Margaret of Anjou. This captivating exploration of The Wars of the Roses seen through the eyes of this astonishing, dangerous and thrilling woman opens the Royal Exchange’s Autumn Winter 2018/19 Season.

Anouka is joined by Islam Bouakkaz (Prince Edward/Rutland), Lorraine Bruce (York), Samuel Edward-Cook (Suffolk/Clifford), Dexter Flanders (Edward IV), Helena Lymbery (Hume), Lucy Mangan (Joan of Arc), Roger Morlidge (Gloucester), Kwami Odoom (Somerset/Richard), Bridgitta Roy (Warwick) and Max Runham (Henry VI). Continue reading “Casting news aplenty!”

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Roman Theatre of Verulamium St Albans

OVO Theatre’s Much Ado About Nothing gets transplanted to a 50s American diner in the ruins of the Roman Theatre of Verulamium in St Albans, and to great effect

“I saw him scurrying away in melancholy like James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause

A first trip to St Albans for me, and to the atmospheric surroundings of the Roman Theatre of Verulamium, where OVO Theatre have established quite the reputation for open-air Shakespeare alongside their more regular programming at the Maltings Theatre. And the prospect of a Much Ado About Nothing drenched in 1950s Americana was one that piqued my interest, even if the well-realised shiny set design sits a little incongruously among the Roman ruins.

Adam Nichols and Janet Podd’s bold re-envisioning of the play pays dividends in all sorts of unexpected ways – this is Messina but not as we know it. We find ourselves in 1959 at Leonata’s Bar and Grill, a fine music venue somewhere in the Midwest, where the crew of the USS Gull are to rock up after a tour in the Far East. And in a bit of extratextual business at the beginning, we see Leonata’s daughter Hero Beyoncé her way into the role of lead singer in up-and-coming band The Sonnettes. The name of the woman she replaced? Joanna. Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Roman Theatre of Verulamium St Albans”

Review: The Tempest, St Paul’s Church

Iris Theatre’s production of The Tempest at St Paul’s Church doesn’t quite conjure enough of a spell over its audience in Covent Garden

“Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises”

I’ve dipped in and out of Iris Theatre’s open air Shakespeares since starting this whole blogging lark. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of Covent Garden, St Paul’s Church and its gardens are an unexpected spot of contemplative beauty. And at their best, the productions here utilise the idiosyncracies of this space perfectly – their 2010 Romeo and Juliet remains one of the best I’ve ever seen.

But operating in one of the busiest spots of one of the busiest world capitals also has its drawbacks. And competing against the noise of the flow of Covent Garden street theatre can make the theatre here a challenge. Throw in the practicalities of ushering a large crowd around a limited space, for the shows here are always promenade, and it is far too easy to lose the spell under which audiences need to remain.   Continue reading “Review: The Tempest, St Paul’s Church”

Review: Kiss Me, Kate, London Coliseum

Opera North’s production does nothing to address the inherent problems of Kiss Me, Kate and thus feels like a relic of the past

“The overture is about to start,
You cross your fingers and hold your heart”

Revivals speak a lot to where an organisation sees itself. With its heady combination of Shakespearean drama and Cole Porter’s musical wit, Kiss Me, Kate has all the air of a sure bet about it and indeed, Jo Davies first mounted this production for Opera North in 2015, this revival of that revival being directed here by Ed Goggin as it opens here at the Coliseum.

But for all its familiarity, and that inherent bankability, it feels a problematic choice to stage. In a contemporary Britain, in a society switched onto #MeToo, even the sexual politics of something as notionally fatuous as Love Island are being newly parsed and much of what has long been considered acceptable, or tolerated due to ‘classic’ status, is rightly being reassessed.   Continue reading “Review: Kiss Me, Kate, London Coliseum”