Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)
Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre
The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions. A truly joyous and momentous occasion.
Cheek By Jowl’s Russian-language take on The Tempestis seared on my memory as a most vivid interpretation of the play that I can’t imagine being bettered – any other version of Miranda and Caliban’s relationship just feels wrong now. So the news that their collaborators from Moscow’s Pushkin Theatre were returning once again to the Barbican at the end of a major tour of another of Shakespeare’s plays, Measure for Measure. And once again, Declan Donellan and Nick Ormerod’s reimagining makes an indelible stamp that ensuing productions at the Globe and Young Vic will have to work hard to live up to.
Starting off very much in the abstract as the 13-strong company move as an amorphous single body in and out of the shadows of Ormerod’s container-strewn set, murkily lit by Sergey Skornetskiy. But as the cast make circuit after circuit, subtle differences in their movements set the scene of this particular Vienna, a world where authoritarian rule dominates harshly, and in which individual freedoms are challenged. As its ruler, Alexander Arsentyev’s Duke appears paralysed by a crisis of faith and so surrenders the pressures of ruling to his bureaucratic deputy Angelo, a fervent Andrei Kuzichev, but as this is Shakespeare, he disguises himself as a friar and hangs out nearby to observe the outcome.
Celebrating the twentieth anniversary of this particular production and the launch of The Sophie Hamilton Archive which chronicles over 30 years of their work, getting to attend a screening of Cheek By Jowl’s As You Like It was a fabulous way to spend a Sunday evening. Shown in the very Noël Coward Theatre (or Albery as was) where it was recorded, the event was made extra special by the attendance of the entire revival cast who proudly took their bows onstage at the end, in front of the film of them taking their bows on that same stage – a lovely moment.
Declan Donnellan’s original production dates back to 1991 and as pointed out by one of the speakers tonight, its cross-gender and colour-blind casting made and still makes it a most transformative piece of theatre and one with great foresight (even if sadly, messages about women taking on male roles still haven’t quite sunk in) in a pre-Propeller, Section 28-pasing age. What emerges as most pleasing is the utter lack of gimmick with no overarching conceit to justify the decisions here, starting simply with a troupe of identically dressed actors and the desire to tell a story. Continue reading “Review: Cheek By Jowl’s As You Like It, screening at Noël Coward Theatre”
“Tis not, I know, my lust, but tis my fate that leads me on”
A quick glance at my Top 25 Plays of 2011 on the right sidebar will show you that Cheek by Jowl’s The Tempest was one of the absolute highlights of my theatregoing year and so by rights, I ought to have been highly excited for the company’s return to the Barbican with ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore. But it was the Russian sister company that took on Shakespeare last year and my only other experience with CbJ’s English work was a rather painfully dull take on Macbeth, also at the Barbican, which meant I was a little equivocal about this prospect. Great word-of-mouth persuaded me to take the risk though, booking for late in the run, and it was well-founded as it turned out to be a highly inventive, energetic and deeply sexy evening at the theatre.
It was my first experience of the Jacobean tragedy, a cautionary tale about the problems of wanting to bonk your sister, which has been thoroughly revitalised in this modern-dress version which pulses along with the punchy soundtrack that starts the show along with a rather fun full-cast dance routine. Giovanni comes back from university, full of incestuous thoughts about his sister Annabella who is being pursued by a number of suitors. But as it turns out, she only has eyes for her brother too and though she ends up betrothed to Soranzo, watched by the vengeful Hippolita, the ramifications of their love have a deadly impact as religion, culture, corruption and morality collide. Continue reading “Review: ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore, Cheek by Jowl at the Barbican”
My first Cheek By Jowl production was Macbethlast year but I have to say I was a little underwhelmed by it to be honest but seeing that their new production to arrive at the Silk Street Theatre at the Barbican was a Russian-language version of The Tempest (and my record with foreign-language Shakespeare at the Barbican has been a resounding success thus far) I was easily tempted back to try this out: be warned, this review contains much detail as I absolutely loved it! This production is by their Russian sister company, the Chekhov International Festival but directed and designed by CbJ’s Declan Donnellan and Nick Ormerod putting a unique spin on Shakespeare’s tale of art and illusion, magic, betrayal and power as Prospero seeks to avenge the wrongs done to him and restore his daughter to what he sees as her rightful place.
Igor Yasulovich’s Prospero is grizzled, embittered and cantankerous from the off, there’s a real climate of fear on the island as the inhabitants are all-too-aware of their master’s capricious moods as he sees himself very much as the patriarch of this place. Donnellan has drawn on a Russian aesthetic at a time poised somewhere between communism and capitalism. So Trinculo and Stephano’s abuse of Prospero’s dwelling takes place in a high-end boutique exposing their materialistic tendencies and the masque at the wedding is a whirl of Communist worker propaganda and peasant dancing. That this is what Prospero calls to a halt in a moment of meta-theatre in order to deliver his ‘our revels now are ended…’ soliloquy is given an even stronger power as art and politics combine in a flash of stark realisation as the stage manager comes on, the show stops, Yasulovich talks to us as himself, stripping back all the artifice before us. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest / Буря, Cheek By Jowl at the Barbican”
“If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly”
And first a moan. I’d intentionally booked front row seats for this back in December, so upon arrival I was a little surprised to find that there was another row of seats in front of ours, row AA which is set a little closer to the ground but with nowhere near sufficient a rake to prevent people’s heads being seriously in the way. This extra row was added in to sell extra tickets due to it being a sellout and whilst I’m happy for the Barbican with their success here, I’m most annoyed that it subsequently affected my enjoyment of the evening.
Cheek by Jowl return to London with their interpretation of Macbeth, Shakespeare’s examination of the cost of chasing power and limitless ambition without responsibility, using their trademark inventiveness to create an otherworldly experience. Setting up in the Silk Street Theatre at the Barbican, there is excellent use of the space throughout the play: the opening haze-filled scene seems to take place in a seemingly endless void, later on the rear wall is used most effectively with spotlights and shadows thrown up. So much is left dark or in shadow, the audience is left to let their imagination fill in the gaps. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, Cheek by Jowl at the Barbican”