Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare

I have a mixed time with some shaken-up Shakespeares – othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith; Twelfth Night at the Young Vic; Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace; and Measure for Measure at the Donmar

“Condemn the fault and not the actor of it?”

I’m the first to say that modern adaptations of Shakespeare need to do something different to justify their place in today’s theatre ecology. Lord knows there’s been enough traditional renditions of his work, and still they come, and even if there are always going to be people coming for the first time, there’s also a real need to make his plays speak to contemporary society in a way that is unafraid to challenge his reputation. It is perhaps no surprise that it is female directors and directors of colour who are at the forefront of doing just that and there have been four key examples in London most recently – Jude Christian’s othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub’s Twelfth Night at the Young Vic, Brigid Larmour’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace and Josie Rourke’s Measure for Measure at the Donmar.

And of course, having demanded that this is what directors do, I found myself disappointed at the majority of these, for some of the same reasons and some different ones too. Perhaps the most formally daring is Christian’s othellomacbeth which smashes together the two tragedies to create something which ends up less than the sum of its constituent parts. Its intentions are certainly noble, seeking to highlight the female voices in these plays and give them prominence. But the reality is that in the two substantially reduced treatments here, everything becomes diminished, not least narrative clarity. There’s one cracking idea which connects the two, which you suspect might have inspired the whole production, but ultimately, it is not enough to hang the whole thing on. Continue reading “Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare”

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: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace – totes spoiler free!

“It’s because you love him too much”

So a slightly odd position to be in, as we saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 nearly 7 weeks ago at their first previews. And with the #keepthesecrets campaign already in full force then, I didn’t write up a review, opting instead for this preview of sorts. And even now, I’m loathe to write too much about it, for it really is the kind of play, and production, that benefits from the multiple elements of surprise contained within.

And it really is packed full of them, from all aspects. Based on an original new story by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, Thorne’s play revels in the richness and full depth of the Harry Potter universe to the point where the named cast are described as playing “roles include…” so as not to spoil what’s to come. This does have the knock-on effect of making this a play not really suitable for newcomers but I can’t imagine too many of them will have booked! Continue reading “Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace – totes spoiler free!”

Preview: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace

“How is that even possible?!”

Well it’s finally here, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 have landed at the Palace Theatre in a blaze of insane publicity and media coverage desperate for a touch of that JK Rowling magic to drive web traffic. In some ways, I’m no different (hence this post!) but in one crucial way I do have the advantage – I’m one of the lucky audience members who has now seen both shows, along with the one and only scene-stealing appearance of Sprocket the owl.

It’s no secret that Rowling is asking people to #KeepTheSecrets and there’s always an interesting tension about whether or not one should observe an embargo when you’ve paid for your ticket (a whole £10 per show too, we weren’t going crazy!). So for now, I’m leaving you with this little collection of teasers about some of my favourite things from the show and be warned, they do increase in mild spoilerishness (mostly about staging, the final E is the one to avoid if you’re not sure…forgive me JK!). Continue reading “Preview: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace”

Review: The Physicists, Donmar Warehouse

“Questions? Observations? Misgivings?”

Forming the final entry in her debut season as Donmar AD, The Physicists continues Josie Rourke’s realignment of the Donmar’s artistic policy. And as with Making Noise Quietly, it is into previously unknown areas for me as this play was written in 1962 by Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt (although Rourke commissioned a new version here from Jack Thorne), someone I’ve never previously heard of. Wikipedia informs me he was a proponent of epic theatre but what it translates to here is a tragi-comedy with a farcical first half, which darkens to a more serious second which reflects its Cold War origins.

It starts off like the punchline to a joke: three nuclear physicists are in a mental asylum. Herbert Georg Beutler, who believes he is Sir Isaac Newton, Ernst Heinrich Ernesti who is convinced he is Albert Einstein and Johann Wilhelm Möbius who has regular visitations from King Solomon. It emerges that the first two have murdered their nurses and that Möbius seems set to follow suit, but as the reasons for their actions slowly become apparent, it is clear that something greater is at stake here. Continue reading “Review: The Physicists, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Hamlet, Young Vic

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”

The Young Vic continues to be allergic to the idea of people just using the main entrance into the auditorium to take their seats: people who have booked for Hamlet have been advised to turn up 30 minutes early in order to take in the ‘pre-show journey’. But whereas withGovernment Inspector and Beauty Queen of Leenane, it was just being guided a different way within the building, here we are guided out of the theatre and taken round the back entrance to wind our way through the corridors backstage past some rooms which have been dressed up with non-responsive cast members sitting around before reaching the seats, it adds very little to the experience (aside from getting us wet on the way there) and ultimately seems a pointless exercise. The most remarkable thing about this section was that the gym had a massive sign that talked about rules for ‘Excercise’: someone at the Young Vic needs to get their spell-checker switched on.

But to the play, labelled one of the theatrical events of the year as it features the return to the stage of Michael Sheen in what is Jerusalem director Ian Rickson’s Shakespearean debut. And as is often the case with such an oft-performed classic, an interpretation has been imposed upon the material to try and cast it in a different, and newly revelatory way. Once the seating area has been located, the uniformed orderlies, utilitarian grey carpet and circle of plastic chairs hint at what is to be revealed, as a ghostly prologue with Hamlet gazing on his father’s coffin before it is lowered into the ground, leads into the opening scene which takes place as if in a therapy session. For as it turns out, Elsinore is, I think, a mental asylum in the late 1970s and so the play takes on a new perspective on madness. I say new, I mean it borrows heavily from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Young Vic”