“Fear no more the frown o’ the great”
You wait for a production of relatively little-performed Shakespeare play and then three come along in the same year. Melly Still is doing Cymbeline for the RSC in the summer, Emma Rice is reclaiming and renaming it Imogen for her inaugural season at the Globe and inside at the same venue, it is being performed as part of a run of the Bard’s late plays in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, directed by Sam Yates.
Ah yes, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. I’ve not been much of a fan of this theatre, for purely practical reasons rather than artistic ones, but with this programming that has allowed me to tick off Pericles and see Rachael Stirling, Niamh Cusack and John Light onstage, I’ve succumbed to a rash of bookings. With that, I’ve opted to be brutally honest about the experiences as a paying customer. Continue reading “Review: Cymbeline, Sam Wanamaker”
“Why must we go over and over the woes of the past?”
There’s something a little unfortunate about labelling your version of Aeschylus’ The Oresteia as “a radical reinvention” when Robert Icke’s extraordinary reinterpretation of the same source material for the Almeida has now successfully transferred to the West End. Nevertheless, Rory Mullarkey’s adaptation for Shakespeare’s Globe also emerges as something rather arresting, not least in director Adele Thomas’ canny use of creatives pushing well outside the visual (and aural) aesthetic normally associated with this venue.
Hannah Clark’s design pulls on a wide range of influences to provide a wealth of striking images – niche cinema like Angelopolous’ The Travelling Players (the almost shifty looking Chorus) and Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain (Clytemnestra’s magnificent posturing) mix with contemporary security uniforms (the opening messenger) and traditional Greek costumery as we know it (Agamemnon’s battle-dress). Along with Mira Calix’s diverse (including electronics) score, it’s an eclectic mix to be sure but one that pays off to create an out-of-time strangeness which really suits the production.
Mullarkey’s textual adaptation is also an unwieldly collation of disparate elements, poetic rhythm slips into modern-day colloquialisms, epic speeches slides into operatic sung passages. The shifts may be a little jarring at times but again the cumulative effect is rather impressive. The three acts follow the woes of the House of Atreus – Agamemnon sees the war veteran suffer at the vengeful hands of his wife Clytemnestra for sacrificing their daughter, The Libation Bearers sees her suffer at the hands of her son for killing his dad and The Eumenides pops him on trial and established trial by jury, as you do.
“He stinks of drink and urine
And thinks he’s so alluring”
One might have hoped that a musical version of William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor by the RSC with a cast that includes Dame Judi Dench, Haydn Gwynne, Simon Callow and a Strallen (natch) would be an enjoyable thing to experience to but on listening to it, it’s clear there is abundant reason I was able to pick up the CD of the live recording for the princely sum of £1 in the RSC shop.
Paul Englishby’s score is an unholy mess of a pick’n’mix bag that someone else has chosen for you – its conflicting styles a dizzying confection that sprawls across the narrative rather than supporting it. Not knowing whether the next song is going to be a tango or a madrigal, take its cues from Big Band or Brecht, or recall Andrew Lloyd Webber or an East London music hall is a most bizarre experience and the cumulative effect is extremely wearying – I have to say it was a real struggle to listen to the whole album in one go. Continue reading “Album Review: Merry Wives the musical (2006 RSC Cast)”
“Which is the wiser here, Justice or Iniquity?”
You don’t get many Measure for Measures for the pound, in the grand scheme, so Outgoing Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole probably thought he was onto a winner in choosing it to be part of his final summer season and indeed the last play he’ll direct as AD. But these things come in threes and we’ve been blessed with two other major productions – Cheek by Jowl’s Russian-language version shook the rafters of the Barbican earlier this year and Joe Hill-Gibbons promises to do the same at the Young Vic with Romola Garai in the Autumn.
But no matter, we can be assured of diverse interpretations – for the first two at least – and Dromgoole’s version for the Globe does precisely what he does best, unfussily traditional productions blessed with a striking clarity (best evidenced by his superlative 2013 A Midsummer Night’s Dream). Here, we get to see Mariah Gale, one of our finest young Shakespeareans, deliver a stunning account of one of Shakespeare’s more complex female characters in Isabella and we also bear witness to Dominic Rowan ascending to the leading man status (with which he has arguably merely flirted before) as Vincentio. Continue reading “Review: Measure for Measure, Shakespeare’s Globe”
“Isn’t it bliss? Don’t you approve?”
I always assume that people know where the name of this blog came from but for those that don’t, it is a lyrical reference from Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. Which gives a seamless segue into this post about two cast recordings of the show – the first from the 1995 National Theatre production and the second from the 2010 Broadway revival. The first is most notable for capturing one of the greatest moments in musical theatre, possibly even theatre full stop.
Judi Dench’s extraordinary rendition of ‘Send in the Clowns’ may be close to becoming a party trick (if there’s a gala, she’ll be there) but it truly is a remarkable thing. The cracks in her voice are a perfect match for the ageing star that is Desirée and the speak-singing style allows her to act the hell out of the song – the way in which she sighs ‘weeeellllll’ near the end is just spine-tingling. 4 minutes 23 of pure perfection. Continue reading “CD Review: A Little Night Music (NT vs Broadway Revival Cast recordings)”
“Are you out of your princely wits?”
Review the seat or review the play? Whilst I’d love to just focus on The Duchess of Malfi, the experience at the newly constructed Sam Wanamaker feels so inextricably entwined with the level of (dis)comfort that comes from the seating and exacerbated by ticket prices that are best described as hefty and take little real account of the relatively restricted view many of them offer. It’s all very well for critics to dismiss such concerns when they’re not having to compromise on sightlines due to cost but it all adds up to a very real part of one’s theatrical experience.
So safe to say, I was hugely uncomfortable for large parts of the afternoon and bitter about the price I was paying for the privilege. But having been exhorted to go and see the play due to it being a decent piece of drama (and crucially far superior to Jamie Lloyd’s recent version which I loathed) I kept reminding myself that the tip was a good one. And it is impossible to deny that Dominic Dromgoole’s production is a strong one, well suited to the unique charms of this new theatrical space which is lit entirely by candles. Continue reading “Review: The Duchess of Malfi, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse”
“Must I bite?”
Marking the final entry in the Globe to Globe festival is the UK with this production of Henry V which reunites Jamie Parker with the role of Prince Hal that he played in 2010’s Henry IV Part I and II. The boy has now become king and the play covers his attempt to reconquer the English gains in France, most notably at the battle of Agincourt, and his growth into a leader who can inspire men to follow their duty to their country. Parker clearly has a close affinity to this character and it was a clever move to wait a couple of years before taking on this particular part as he is able to bring even more clear-spoken gravitas, colour and detail to this very human king.
Around him though, is a production by Dominic Dromgoole which errs very strongly towards the broadest crowd-pleasing comedy it can manage. Bríd Brennan’s beautifully versed Chorus and Olivia Ross’ poised Princess Katherine impressed as did the multi-part antics of Chris Starkie and Beruce Khan (additionally stepping in as understudy for an indisposed Matthew Flynn). But too often, the overreliance on the comic tone just fell flat for me. The Pistol, Bardolph et al antics were as bawdy as they have ever been, which ended up undermining their darker side (is the treatment of the French soldier really a subject of comedy?) and the tragedy of their fates (Boy is particularly hard done by). Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Shakespeare’s Globe”
“Do the thing you have to to get your client off”
Helen McCrory first came to my attention as one of the lead characters in legal ensemble show North Square. Broadcast on Channel 4 in 2000, it featured a cracking ensemble that also included Rupert Penry-Jones, Dominic Rowan and Phil Davis, yet it only had the one series which I don’t think you can get on DVD but it is available to watch on Channel 4’s 4 On Demand service.
Written by Peter Moffat, North Square is a drama set in a criminal chambers in Leeds and centres on a group of young, irreverent barristers all determined to make their mark by using unorthodox methods and unconventional approaches to counter the dusty practices of a legal profession they want to lead into the twenty-first century. They are led by their chief clerk, the highly manipulative Peter McLeish played brilliantly by Phil Davis, who is determined to make a success of this enterprise and has no scruples about negotiating with the criminal families that rule Leeds in order to maximise business opportunities even as it poses a moral quandary for some of the lawyers. Continue reading “DVD Review: North Square”
One is constantly learning when going to/reading /writing about theatre, there’s just so much of it to take in! Unknown to me, Eduardo Di Filippo is apparently a giant of Italian theatre but even this, The Syndicate – a version of Il Sindico Del Rione Sanità by Mike Poulton – is receiving its British premiere here, indicating that my ignorance is perhaps a little forgivable. Playing at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre, it boasts a healthy cast of 20 headed by Sir Ian McKellen, on a break from filming The Hobbit.
McKellen plays Antonio Barracano, a man smuggled to New York by the local Godfather after murdering a man in his native Naples. After many years accumulating wealth and reputation by working for the mob there, he returns to his hometown as a man of standing amongst the criminal classes who look to him to dispense his own individual brand of justice and one particular case, intervene in a vicious dispute between a son and his father, the son’s murderous urges reminding Don Antonio of his own youthful indiscretion. Continue reading “Review: The Syndicate, Minerva”