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: Sweet Charity, Watermill

Fun, laughs and yes, a good time. You’ll sure get a tingle in your feet for this Sweet Charity at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury

“I don’t pop my cork for every guy I see”

You can never have too much charity it would seem, and as Rebecca Trehearn prepares to take on the role of Charity Hope Valentine in Nottingham next month, Gemma Sutton tackles it here at the beautiful Watermill Theatre in Newbury. Sweet Charity, the 1966 musical by Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields and Neil Simon is a curious choice for the constant revival it receives. Its sexual politics are askew, its dialogue cheesily dated, and these are issues that Paul Hart’s modernised take has to occasionally battle to address.

Setting it in contemporary New York has its pros and cons. Notions of metropolitan isolation and the trials of working in a gig economy are more resonant than ever. But without lyrical updating, ideas of female aspiration remain rooted in the last century – you win some, you lose some. The casting of Sutton (so very good recently in The Rink) is a definite win though, a bright splash of colour in a mostly monochrome world and it is nigh on impossible not to be enchanted by her determination to find love in a cruel world. Continue reading “Review: Sweet Charity, Watermill”

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 Country Wife, Minerva

A cracking cast can’t quite make sense of a modern updating of The Country Wife at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre

“What is wit in a wife good for, but to make a man a cuckold?”

How many productions does it take for a playwright to have a moment? We could be on the cusp of a Wycherley wave, with the second production of The Country Wife to arrive this year (the first being at the Southwark Playhouse in April). 

But though this Restoration writer is proving popular, directors seem unable not to tinker with his work – that production was set in the 1920s and Jonathan Munby here moves it even further to the present day, casting new light but also dimming its intent. Continue reading “Review: The Country Wife, Minerva”

Not-a-review: The Chalk Garden, Chichester Festival Theatre

The Chalk Garden fails to do it for me at Chichester Festival Theatre, despite the presence of the likes of Penelope Keith, Oliver Ford Davies  and Amanda Root

“Oh, if I could only be somewhere other than where I am”

But question The Chalk Garden at Chichester Festival Theatre, insufferably dull as it turned out to be.

Running time: 2 hours 5 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Catherine Ashmore
The Chalk Garden is booking at the Chichester Festival Theatre until 16th June

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Watermill

A brilliantly inventive, inclusive and entertaining take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a great success at the Watermill Theatre

“Shall we their fond pageant see?”

In a week when Shakespearean-inclined eyes are trained on the opening of Michelle Terry’s tenure at the Globe with a season that promises to be “gender blind, race blind and disability blind”, it is gratifying to see other theatres in the UK already delivering this. And unsurprisingly, this kind of approach is full of rich potential to shake up your Shakespeare anew, making the Watermill’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream an unalloyed pleasure.

Paul Hart’s production is full of innovative touches which work separately like a treat and also combine into something really special. It wears its actor musicianship lightly as music is used brilliantly to delineate the otherworldliness of the woods. If ‘I Put A Spell On You’ might seem overly literal for the dosing of love-in-idleness but lyrically it proves a remarkable fit the love/hate relationship of this Titania and Oberon, so too of Puck’s frustration at that latter father-figure. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Watermill”

News: Cast and creative team announced for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York

There’s always a new or different way to do things, no matter how ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ London-based commentators get, and so the news of Europe’s first ever pop-up Shakespearean Theatre – SHAKESPEARE’S ROSE THEATRE feels like a good thing to me. Taking up residence in York this summer, the Rose looks set to replicate something of the Globe experience, groundlings and all, for a whole new audience.

The 10-week season will consist of four plays, performed in repertory by two companies of actors 

  • A tragedy – Macbeth
  • A comedy – A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • A tragic love story – Romeo and Juliet
  • A history – Richard III

Romeo and Juliet and Richard III will be directed by the award-winning Lindsay Posner, while York Theatre Royal’s Olivier Award-winning Artistic Director Damian Cruden will direct Macbeth, and Associate Director Juliet Forster will be putting her stamp on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

And particularly pleasing to see is that even in this setting which might be perceived as traditional as it gets, there’s a playfulness to the approach to the plays (from Cruden and Forster at least). Antony Bunsee and Amanda Ryan play Theseus and Hippolyta but in a bit of a switch, will also play Titania and Oberon respectively. There’s a female Puck too, plus Amy Lennox as Hermia which leaves me in no doubt as to which of these will be my priority to see! Continue reading “News: Cast and creative team announced for Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre in York”

Review: Sunshine on Leith, West Yorkshire Playhouse

As unlikely a Proclaimers musical may seem, this gorgeous production of Sunshine on Leith at West Yorkshire Playhouse is probably the best thing I’ve seen this year

“Your beauty and kindness
Made tears clear my blindness”

Is a jukebox musical still a jukebox musical when you don’t know most of the songs? You feel that most people would be hard pressed to name more than two songs by The Proclaimers and so it is part of the genius of Stephen Greenhorn (writer) and James Brining (commissioner and director) that they managed to fashion something so perfect, that somehow still feels so familiar, from the back catalogue of the Edinburgh brothers.

Sunshine on Leith was first seen at the Dundee Rep in 2007 and though it has toured Scotland a few times since, it has rarely been seen south of the border. So who else to revive it but Brining himself for West Yorkshire Playhouse. And what a straight-up, fantastic success it is. London has seen its fair share of big musicals open this month but none have made me cry, never mind feel so much as this. Continue reading “Review: Sunshine on Leith, West Yorkshire Playhouse”

Review: An Officer and a Gentleman, Curve

Emma Williams reconfirms her star status in this 80s musical adaptation of An Officer and a Gentleman at Leicester’s Curve Theatre ahead of a UK tour

“Way to go, Paula! Way to go!”

From its opening number (which provides an unsettling reminder that Status Quo actually had a decent tune or two), this major new musical of An Officer and a Gentleman shimmers with a sense of real quality. Some might demur at the notion of a movie remake peppered with a random assortment of pop songs from the 1980s but the resulting piece of theatre is highly enjoyable.

This is down to the integrity and craft of Nikolai Foster who rightly takes this source material (book by Douglas Day Stewart and Sharleen Cooper Cohen from his original screenplay) seriously. We may be in 1982 but there’s no jokey visual gags about that decade here, just an over-riding sense of life on the edge for the working class community of Pensacola, Florida, looking on at the US Naval Aviation Training Facility that dominates their city. Continue reading “Review: An Officer and a Gentleman, Curve”