Review: Julius Caesar, Bridge

 
“He thinks too much – such men are dangerous”
 
Though it is billed as ‘a promenade staging’ and the website refers to ‘mob tickets’ and ‘immersive ticket holders’, make no mistake that if you’re in the pit for Julius Caesar, you’re standing. For two hours. There’s a bit of movement, as in five paces that way or this when a new bit of the set has to wheeled into place but don’t be distracted into thinking there’s anything more on offer here than can be gotten further along the South Bank at the Globe (apart from a roof of course, which allows them to charge five times the price, or three times if you book your tickets via TodayTix).

 
And as with being a groundling, there are decided pros and cons to experiencing theatre this way. The first half of Shakespeare’s political thriller works extremely well under this modern-dress treatment from Nicholas Hytner. As you enter the Bridge’s auditorium, reconceived into the round here, the pit is filled with a rock gig, vendors sell beer and baseball caps, a febrile energy fills the space which carries through to the arrival of David Calder’s populist Caesar with his red cap and puerile slogan ‘Do this!’ (Contemporary allusions are clear but later on you may find the mind gets weirdly drawn to Murdoch more than Trump…).

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Review: Tomorrow Creeps, VAULT Festival

“He received them with a strange delight”
 

As an intellectual exercise, Golem!’s Tomorrow Creeps is something of a delight – a new play by David Fairs stitched together from 16 works by Shakespeare and shot through with lyrical inspiration from Kate Bush. And in the dark and dank surroundings of the Cavern, with creepingly textured sound work from Odinn Hilmarsson and a powerfully atmospheric lighting design (uncredited), the potential of the piece is palpable.

 The reality is something a little more elusive though. In this shadowy world, strangeness abounds. The Hollow Hero has imprisoned The Fallen Tyrant but needs his help for something or other; the malevolent Tyrant misses his dead wife as she is called The Spectral Queen, it turns out she’s closer to hand than he thinks; and the supernatural haunts everything they do with noted kook Hecate willing to cause nuisance at the shake of a salt cellar. 

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Full cast for the RSC’s upcoming Macbeth revealed

The full cast for the RSC’s upcoming production of Macbeth has been announced.

Christopher Eccleston, making his debut at Stratford-upon-Avon,  as Macbeth and Niamh Cusack as Lady Macbeth had already been announced and will be joined by:

  • David Acton (Duncan)
  • Raphael Sowole (Banquo)
  • Edward Bennett (Macduff)
  • Bally Gill (Ross)
  • Luke Newberry (Malcolm)
  • Tim Samuels (Lennox)
  • Mariam Haque (Lady MacDuff)
  • Donna Banya (Donalbain/Gentlewoman)
  • Stevie Basaula (Bloody Captain/Second Murderer),
  • Katy Brittain (Doctor)
  • Raif Clarke (Boy)
  • Paul Dodds (Chamberlain 1)
  • Michael Hodgson Porter)
  • John Macaulay (Chamberlain/Lord)
  • Tom Padley (First Murderer)
  • Josh Finan (Company)
  • Afolabi Alli (Company)

The production will be directed by Polly Findlay and runs at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre from 20 March to 18 September with previews from 13 March.

 

Review: King Lear, Minerva

“He hath always but slightly, known himself”

As I wrote when the full cast was first announced, “the world is hardly crying for more productions of King Lear but if you’re going to put it on, you might as well go balls out on some amazing casting”. And now that the time has come to trek over to Chichester Festival Theatre to catch Ian McKellen revisiting a role he has already been most renowned for playing, you’re left in awe once again at the luxuries casting director Anne McNulty has brought to bear in Jonathan Munby’s modern-dress and modern-spirited production.
Chief among them is Sinéad Cusack’s Kent. It’s a casting decision that deserves the emphasis for Chichester has long been a venue where female representation has struggled across the board and though it is still early days yet for Daniel Evans’ tenure here, any steps are welcome. Tamara Lawrance as Cordelia is another example and a powerful contrast too. Where Cusack brings all her experience to bear as a superbly nuanced Kent (whose disguising gains real resonance), Lawrance brings a freshness of spirit to her most compassionate reading of Lear’s youngest daughter.
Dervla Kirwan and the superlative Kirsty Bushell once again make me wish that the play were in fact called Goneril and Regan, such is the biting glee of the latter’s vindictiveness, set against the chilling froideur of the former who clearly sees herself entirely as a queen-in-waiting. Jonathan Bailey’s troubled Edgar and Damien Molony’s manipulative Edmund pique all sorts of interests and I was also impressed with Michael Matus’s vivid take on Oswald.
And at the heart of them all, and truly a part of an ensemble rather than its leading light, is McKellen’s breathtaking take on Lear. A role he has played before, a play he has acted in several times, there’s a clear sense of him relishing the (relative) intimacy of the Minerva as he inhabits every breath of the mental fragility afflicting his monarch. As carpet turns to chalk, crowns to knotted handkerchiefs, you feel every year of Lear’s (and McKellen’s) age as his disintegration leads to belated insight. Tremendous and tragic, thoughtful and thorough, a profoundly excellent piece of theatre.  
Running time: 3 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Manuel Harlan
Booking until 28th October
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News: RADA President Kenneth Branagh to direct Tom Hiddleston in Hamlet

Kenneth Branagh’s Olivier Award-winning theatre company will join forces with RADA for a co-production of Hamlet, to support the transformation of RADA’s Chenies Street site in London, further developing the Academy as a world-leader in dramatic arts training.

The production will feature RADA alumnus Tom Hiddleston in the title role and will play a strictly limited three week run at RADA’s 160-seat Jerwood Vanbrugh Theatre from 1-23 September 2017.
All funds raised will support the RADA Attenborough Campaign, which aims to raise £20million, enabling the regeneration of the Academy’s Chenies Street premises.

The acting company and creative team are made up from members of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company and RADA. They are:

  • Ayesha Antoine (Rosencrantz / Bernarda), 
  • Lolita Chakrabarti (Queen Gertrude), 
  • Nicholas Farrell (King Claudius), 
  • Sean Foley (Polonius / Osric), 
  • Tom Hiddleston (Hamlet), 
  • Ansu Kabia (King Hamlet / Player King / Gravedigger), 
  • Caroline Martin (Horatia),
  • Eleanor de Rohan (Guildastern / Marcella / Priest), 
  • Irfan Shamji (Laertes / Player Queen) 
  • Kathryn Wilder (Ophelia)

Hamlet will be designed by James Cotterill with lighting design by Paul Pyant (both RADA graduates) and sound design by Paul Ardittiand Christopher Reid. Lucy Bevan and Emily Brockmann are casting directors for the production.


To ensure that the ticket release is fair, a ballot will open at midday on 1 August, which can be entered online until 6pm on Sunday 6 August, and by phone from midday on 1 August until 5pm on 5 August (lines are open daily 10am – 5pm). Successful applicants shall be notified by or on 8 August and will then have 48 hours to book their tickets on 9-10 August.
Selected at random, all successful ballot applicants are guaranteed the opportunity to purchase a maximum of two tickets within the allotted 48 hour booking window. Tickets for specific dates however cannot be guaranteed and all dates are available on a first-come-first-served basis. 
Purchases will be limited to a maximum of two per person across all performances. No tickets to be sold by third parties and resale of tickets is strictly prohibited. To help prevent the chance of resale, customers will only be able to collect their tickets on the day of the performance (60 mins before the show begins). Bookers must bring relevant documentation to collect their tickets, and photo identification will be required for under-25s bookers to gain access to the auditorium.
Additionally, no returns shall be offered for the production. Consequently there will be neither a returns queue, nor day tickets available to purchase for Hamlet at the RADA box office in person or online.
Twenty percent of tickets will be priced at £15 and are only available to audiences aged 25 and under. A further twenty percent will be priced at £45, with the remaining tickets at £95.

Casting for Chichester’s King Lear announced

“Reason not the need”

The world is hardly crying for more productions of King Lear but if you’re going to put it on, you might as well go balls out on some amazing casting (all credit to casting director Anne McNulty here). Jonathan Munby’s production had already announced Ian McKellen as part of the ensemble (teasing an interesting casting breakdown that didn’t actually come to anything) but that’s a small niggle in what is otherwise some excellent news.

  • Sinéad Cusack as Kent
  • Dervla Kirwan, Kirsty Bushell and Tamara Lawrance as Goneril, Regan and Cordelia
  • Jonathan Bailey and Damien Molony as Edgar and Edmund
  • Sinéad Cusack as Kent
  • Michael Matus (Oswald), Dominic Mafham (Albany) and Patrick Robinson (Cornwall) in there as well
  • Danny Webb as Gloucester
  • Did I mention Sinéad Cusack as Kent?
  • I can take or leave Phil Daniels as the Fool but he may well surprise.

Tickets are all sold out so you might want to monitor regularly for returns or hope for the transfer which one suspects is already in the making.

Too-hot-to-re-review: Hamlet, Harold Pinter

“I shall not look upon his like again”

My lack of willpower when it comes to theatre is infamous, even more so on the rare occasions when I get invited to be someone’s plus one, with the responsibility of filing my own review lifted from the shoulders for once. Thus I found myself at the Harold Pinter for the transfer of the Almeida’s Hamlet, a production I enjoyed immensely on the two occasions I saw it in North London and whose charms I wasn’t entirely sure would translate to the larger theatre here. 
Those fears were largely unfounded – the scale of the intimate family drama that Robert Icke has fashioned from Shakespeare’s ever-present tragedy amplifies effectively, and Andrew Scott’s deeply conversational style still resonates strongly (in the stalls at least) through the familiar verse, finding new readings and meanings. If I’m brutally honest, I don’t think I gained too much from this repeat viewing but that’s just my rarified position – it is still a thrilling piece of theatre and it’s a thrill to see it in the West End.
Running time: 3 hours 35 minutes (with 2 intervals)
Booking until 2nd September, Juliet Stevenson leaves the company on 1st July when she is replaced by Derbhle Crotty

Review: Julius Caesar, Crucible

“Why, saw you anything more wonderful?”

Robert Hastie’s opening salvo as the new Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres might not immediately quicken the pulse as we’ve hardly been lacking for productions of Julius Caesar. But it is soon apparent that this is a canny director at work, making his mark on the Crucible Theatre and how its space is used, on our notions of how Shakespeare is traditionally interpreted, establishing what looks like exciting times ahead for Sheffield.
With designer Ben Stones, Hastie opens out the stage into a space of transformative and unpredictable power – the modern political arena is evoked with its UN-style chambers and mod-cons but it is just as much the powder-keg of changeable public opinion. And the way in which the two intersect, feed into each other, thus feels as informed by hatemongering Sun or Daily Mail headline-grabbing antics as it does by the words of a sixteenth century writer.
Increasingly, that’s where the best modern Shakespearean productions are coming from, the ones that emphasise contemporary resonances whist understanding its classic underpinnings. And Hastie delivers in spades – supernumeraries from Sheffield People’s Theatre heckle loudly from the audience and are as easily incited to mob rule by Elliot Cowan’s excellent Mark Antony as the likes of Katie Hopkins wishes she had the insidious power to do.
Zoe Waites’ Cassius tips the gender politics of Jonathan Hyde’s thoroughly old-school Caesar into stark relief, and Samuel West’s Brutus is the embodiment of liberal intellectualism that seems so ill-equipped to deal with a fast-changing world. Their climactic debate is thoroughly scintillating, dimly but evocatively lit by Johanna Town (credit too to Emma Laxton’s sound work and Richard Taylor’s brooding score), a properly titanic struggle. Regime change rarely seemed so exciting.
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
Booking until 10th June
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Review: Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I would you were as I would have you be”

Emma Rice’s Summer of Love got off to a slightly sticky start at the Globe with a mystifying take on Romeo and Juliet from Daniel Kramer and as we move onto Twelfth Night, which she is directing herself, there’s a similarly uncompromising attitude in place. For the production reminded me nothing so much as a camp episode of Monarch of the Glen (sadly not Monarch of the Glum) and whilst it is often fun to watch, it’s not always the most effective treatment.
Rice’s iconoclastic approach is there from the get-go – a prologue set onboard the SS Unity before its shipwreck sees the company dancing merrily to Sister Sledge. And once in this decidedly Celtic Illyria, Orsino has a Lionel Richie mullet, Andrew Aguecheek is a would-be b-boy, serenades are played on cassette decks…why we’re in 1979, as good a time as any to explore cross-dressing hijinks of gender exploration. 
Too often though, the play jibes against the interpretation or rather, it doesn’t seem to gain anything from the setting, especially when wafts of contemporary dance pop up out of nowhere. The text has been bluntly cut and laughs are generally externally imposed – Toby Belch quoting Gloria Gaynor for instance, or all the Scottish country dancing – and the language left neglected, lines like Aguecheek’s ‘I was adored once too’ scarcely milked for comedy or pathos, the emotion of the final reunion is marred by incidental music and staging that pulls away any intimacy.
There are bright spots – Carly Bawden makes for a wonderfully determined Maria and her singing is full of character, Joshua Lacey’s archetypal 80s hunk of an Orsino is fun, and Tony Jayawardena and Marc Antolin connect well as Belch and Aguecheek, both delivering strong physical performances. But the sexuality of the piece is absent, Anita-Joy Uwajeh’s Cesario just feels too timid, neither convincing of love for Orsino or in rebuffing Annette McLaughlin’s muted Olivia.
Perhaps I was spoiled by seeing the Royal Exchange’s superb version of the play last week which found all sorts of sexy and strange, raucous and romantic magic. Here, even the introduction of cabaret star Le Gateau Chocolat as Feste doesn’t explode with all the fabulousness it should, the character barely incorporated to the action of the play at all. Not even Katy Owen’s spirited take on Malvolio is safe, a misjudged attempt at real depth in the final seconds snatched away by an incoming jig. It is an undoubtedly bold production but also an uncomfortable fit; perhaps then the fitting epitaph for Rice’s artistic directorship.
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Hugo Glendinning
Booking until 5th August
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Review: Twelfth Night, Royal Exchange

“When that I was a little boy”
Even with the best of intentions, it can be a little too easy to forget that there’s more to LGBT+ than just the G. Representations of gay men are increasingly common in our theatres but pickings are slim if we look towards the lesbian, bi, and transgender characters and stories. So it’s interesting to see directors turning to Shakespeare, and specifically Twelfth Night, to address that in a couple of high profile productions this year. Simon Godwin shifted the nature of Malvolio’s illicit passion by casting Tamsin Greig as Malvolia, and now Jo Davies has moved along the acronym by casting transgender performer, writer and activist Kate O’Donnell as Feste at the Royal Exchange.
And far from any suggestion of a gimmick, it’s a deeply sensitive, nuanced take on the role that breathes a real sense of contemporary life into the show. Her experience on the cabaret circuit shows in the ease with which she entertains her audience, whether onstage with the text or bantering off-book with the stalls crowd in the interval, but as funny as she is, there’s a depth to her stage presence too. An extra-textual moment where she clocks the cross-dressed Viola in the dark with a hint of recognition, the gorgeous melancholy with which the resonance of her final song grabs you – “when I came to man’s estate…”, this is the verse sprung to life anew.
This is far from just Feste’s show though, the ensemble is shot through with quality to provide a most entertaining take on this oft-performed play. Kate Kennedy uses every inch of her 6 foot 3 frame to glorious effect as an Olivia who is more keen than most to cast off her mourning weeds as ultimately evidenced by the splendid randiness of her ‘Most wonderful!’, coming close to Alexandra Gilbreath’s all-time-greatest rendition. There’s comedy too, physically in the height disparity with Faith Omole’s Cesario but also through the delicious chemistry between the pair, listening to them spar verbally is a real pleasure.
There’s joy too in the beautiful use of music and song – composed by Alex Baranowski and played live, dark folk mixed with electric guitar, none better than Cesario’s unashamed aural seduction of Kevin Harvey’s most appealing man-boy of an idle-rich Orsino. Anthony Calf’s contemptuous Malvolio is a slightly OCD cyclist, which plays out hilariously in several ways, and Mina Anwar is a striking Maria (one who is far too good for this Sir Toby though). Leslie Travers’ design uses sand in the most ingenious way and her modern-dress costumes are full of some exceptional tailoring – Olivia and Feste both sport highly desirable overcoats.
So a freshly imaginative interpretation then and given that this is my third Twelfth Night of the year, very much successful in that enterprise without feeling the need to drastically reconceive its approach to Shakespeare. For its changes are subtle, no less important for their imperceptibility but you suspect this is how we effectively change the worldview when it comes to trans visibility and integration into a wider theatrical culture that has done too little for it thus far. Bravo to O’Donnell, Davies and the entire Royal Exchange team. 

Running time: 3 hours (with interval)
Photos: Jonathan Keenan
Booking until 20th May
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