Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bridge Theatre

Nicholas Hytner gives us an utterly inspired take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge Theatre, with Gwendoline Christie in stupendous form

“Come now; what masques, what dances shall we have”

You can tell a lot about a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream from the way it treats its Hippolyta. Possessed of so few words, her presence is nevertheless vital for setting the tone of the play and from the moment you walk into the Bridge Theatre, you just know Nicholas Hytner has got it right. This conquered queen is caged in a glass box, as if an artefact in some grotesque museum and as an impassive Gwendoline Christie fixes us with her  stare, it’s a definitive commentary on the gender politics here before we’ve even started.

But even once the play starts, her power is no less unremarkable. As Hermia claims she knows not by what power she is made bold, one look at Hippolyta’s hand against the glass leaves you in  no doubt of the source of her new found confidence. Small but powerful changes that set the scene perfectly for Hytner’s most striking innovation which, as it reveals itself in the following act, proved to be one of the most thrilling ways to re-infuse excitement into this oft-performed classic. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bridge Theatre”

The 2018 Ian Charleson Award

I remain unconvinced we should be rewarding classical roles over the breadth of the theatre out there but hey ho, it’s not my award! A good selection of performances nominated here nonetheless – and Gill feels a worthy winner.

Winner

Bally Gill for Romeo in Romeo and Juliet at the RSC

Second place

Hannah Morrish for Octavia in Antony and Cleopatra at the National Theatre

Third place

Luke Newberry for Malcolm in Macbeth at the RSC

Other nominees

Daniel Burke for Diomed in Troilus and Cressida at RSC
Heledd Gwynn for Katharine and Dauphin in Henry V by Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory 
Tyrone Huntley for Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Watermill, Newbury
Martins Imhangbe for Bagot and Aumerle in Richard II at the Almeida
Toheeb Jimoh for Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Crucible
Aaron Pierre for Cassio in Othello at Shakespeare’s Globe
Ellora Torchia for Emilia in Two Noble Kinsmen at Shakespeare’s Globe
Helena Wilson for Mariana in Measure for Measure at the Donmar Warehouse

Review: Twelfth Night, Rose Playhouse

Twelfth Night in the roaring twenties? OVO Theatre bring their inventive musical take on Shakespeare to the Rose Playhouse

“Glitter all over the room
Pink flamingos in the pool”

OVO Theatre were responsible for my first visit to St Albans with last year’s Much Ado About Nothing in the grand surroundings of the Roman Theatre of Verulamium there. This year, my travel time may have been significantly cut down but once again there’s no less history in their venue choice as their musicalised production of Twelfth Night takes place in the archaeological wonder of Bankside’s Rose Playhouse.

And also once again, there’s an intriguing mismatch between said history and the setting for the reinterpreted play. Roman ruins formed the backdrop for a 50s American diner last time around; here, the darkness surrounding Tudor stone suggests endless ocean as we find ourselves on the SS Illyria in all the hedonistic excess of the roaring twenties. A bold move and one which has its moments in Adam Nichols’ production. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Rose Playhouse”

Review: Macbeth, Watermill

As good as the effort is here at the Watermill, I can’t help but feel it is time to give the Macbeths a rest – it ain’t all that as a play!

“What’s done is done”

Circumstances prevailed against me getting to see the Watermill’s Macbeth before its final day so I’m cheating by just firing up a mini-review. Truth be told, I only really booked for Paul Hart’s production on the strength of his track record in re-imagining Shakespeare so successfully – I had no real desire to see this particular play again, so soon after two major disappointments at the National and the RSC.

And as inventive the approach is here – music suffused throughout, an ensemble always split 50:50, adventurous creatives onhand – I can’t help but feel that Macbeth is oversold as a play. Any (if not all) attempts to update it seem doomed to some kind of failure as it really does resist modernisation. Billy Postlethwaite does a decent job as the Scottish king but I think I’ll be resisting seeing this play again anytime soon.

Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Pamela Raith
Macbeth is booking at the Watermill Theatre until 30th March

Review: A Midsummer Night’s DROLL, VAULT Festival

The Owle Schreame’s A Midsummer Night’s DROLL is a supremely silly and highly enjoyable Shakespearean adaptation at the VAULT Festival

“This is the silliest stuff that I ever heard”

The Owle Schreame’s A Midsummer Night’s DROLL begins with a bit of a lecture, informing us how theatre survived during the Puritans’ purge, by going underground. Rough and ready adaptations of plays, called drolls, were performed guerilla-style – anticipating today’s pop-up theatre festivals…?! – wherever there was a Will and a way.

And once the intro is out of the way, we dive headlong into this raucous version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, claimed as the oldest surviving adaptation of a Shakespeare play. With its focus almost entirely on the Rude Mechanicals, it is huge amounts of fun, full of songs, silliness and a real commitment to the value of crowd-pleasing entertainment. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s DROLL, VAULT Festival”

20 shows to look forward to in 2019

So many of the recommendations for shows to see next year focus on the West End. And for sure, I’m excited to catch big ticket numbers like All About Eve, Come From Away, and Waitress but I wanted to cast my eye a little further afield, so here’s my top tips for shows on the London fringe (plus one from the Barbican) and across the UK.

1 Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam at the Barbican
Simon Stone’s sleekly contemporary recasting of Euripides is straight up amazing. Anchored by a storming performance from Marieke Heebink, it is as beautiful and brutal as they come. It’s also one of the few plays that has legit made me go ‘oh no’ out loud once a particular penny dropped. My review from 2014 is here but do yourself a favour and don’t read it until you’ve seen it.

Macbeth, Watermill Theatre
2018 saw some disappointing Macbeths and I was thus ready to swear off the play for 2019. But the Watermill Ensemble’s decision to tackle the play will certainly break that resolve, Paul Hart’s innovative direction of this spectacular actor-musician team will surely break the hoodoo…

3 Noughts and Crosses, Derby Theatre, and touring
Pilot Theatre follow on from their strong Brighton Rock with this Malory Blackman adaptation by Sabrina Mahfouz, a Young Adult story but one which promises to speak to us all. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2019”

Review: The Tragedy of King Richard the Second, Almeida

Simon Russell Beale and Leo Bill shine in Joe Hill-Gibbins’ perfectly reimagined The Tragedy of King Richard the Second at the Almeida Theatre

“Thus play I in one person many people”

It’s tempting to think of this production of Shakespeare’s Richard II as specifically designed to rile up Billington and sure enough, he fell into the trap and reviewed the show he wanted to see rather than what was presented to him. He sees what Shakespeare should be; here, Joe Hill-Gibbins shows us what Shakespeare can be. 

The Tragedy of King Richard the Second is undoubtedly a consequential adaptation. Compressed to 100 minutes without interval, spoken at speed and set entirely within a grey-walled cell, it is disarming and disruptive. But it also works beautifully once you’re attuned to its rhythms as it makes the blind pursuit of power its central thesis, underscored by the desperation of the elite to cling onto their political influence. Continue reading “Review: The Tragedy of King Richard the Second, Almeida”

Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor, RSC at the Barbican

In the spirit of the season, I’m not commenting too much on the RSC’s The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Barbican

“I hope we shall drink down all unkindness”

Fiona Laird’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor is the third of the RSC’s show to open at the Barbican this winter and whilst it is certainly an eye-catching revival with its Only Way is Essex tendencies, it really wasn’t the one for me.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes ((with interval)
Photo: Manuel Harlan
The Merry Wives of Windsor is booking at the Barbican until 5th January

Film Review: Twelfth Night (2018)

With Sheila Atim playing both Viola and Sebastian, this film of Twelfth Night has many a highlight even if it is ultimately overlong

“You will hang like an icicle on a Dutchman’s beard”

As a debut for both Shanty Productions and Adam Smethurst as screenwriter and director, this Twelfth Night is an intriguing thing. At a more than healthy 2 hours 45 minutes, its slavish adherence to the text can feel like a bit of a challenge as it occasionally feels like it is moving at a glacial pace. On the other hand, it has Sheila Atim doing double duty as shipwrecked twins Viola and Sebastian and so it proves a great showcase for her.

Filmed over a single month in West Sussex on an economical budget, this contemporary imagining of Shakespeare’s tale of mistaken identities and affections gone haywire benefits from some astute casting. Shalini Peiris’s Olivia is younger than the average but it’s a choice that makes sense of her impetuous nature, and leaning into Antony Bunsee’s experience makes for a compelling Malvolio, the unlikeliness of any relationship between them all the more stark for once. Continue reading “Film Review: Twelfth Night (2018)”

Review: The Moors, Tara Theatre

The Moors proves a fascinating look at Shakespeare and race at Tara Theatre

“I never get cast in Ibsen or Chekhov”

It’s almost like a pub quiz kinda question – how many black characters did Shakespeare actually write? The answer’s three (Othello, Aaron from Titus Andronicus and the Prince of Morocco from The Merchant of Venice) and even with that number, they’re often far too uninterrogated (the last two in particular) as representations of migrants on stage.

It is this kind of thinking that drove Tonderai Munyevu to write The Moors, a Two Gents Productions running at the Tara Theatre. A freewheeling two-hander that poses some really big questions about integration and representation, it follows two African men on the hunt for Shakespeare and coming up hard against the realities for actors of colour. Continue reading “Review: The Moors, Tara Theatre”