Review: Boudica, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I’d rather walk in blood than walk a slave for he thy Emperor!”

For every Blue Stockings, there’s been a Pitcairn, with a Bedlam inbetween. No matter the AD, the commitment to new writing in the later part of the summer season at Shakespeare’s Globe has thrown a marked inconsistency. And Tristan Bernays’ Boudica proves no different, given an ambitious production by Eleanor Rhode which strives a little too hard to situate the play in an Emma Rice house-style, fun as it may come across. 

So Game of Thrones-style storytelling mashes up against spirited covers of the likes of ‘London Calling’ and ‘I Fought The Law’, a great sense of energy percolating through this wooden O. But Bernays’ play doesn’t always fit easily with this treatment, written in blank verse that has to balance the required info-dump to flesh out this historical fiction with something more fascinatingly insightful about what might have driven the Queen of the Iceni. Continue reading “Review: Boudica, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Snapshot, Hope Theatre

“I wouldn’t know what to do in a darkroom”

Budding (and broke) photographer James and his relationship dramas lie at the heart of George Johnston’s new play Snapshot. His barely-out banker boyfriend Daniel pays the lion’s share of the bills but has problems sharing his feelings, his new benefactor Frank has as many designs on being a sugar daddy as a genuine supporter, and old college friend and aspiring actor Olivia can’t keep away either. 

Structurally, there’s an interesting idea in the play as short scene follows short scene – flashing like the titular snapshots – and providing a non-linear jigsaw to piece together. But James McAndrew’s production loses it in the transitions, more interlude-like than immediate and highlighting the fragmented fragility of the storytelling. Continue reading “Review: Snapshot, Hope Theatre”

Review: The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I will not hear thee speak; I’ll have my bond”

Following the exceptional Rupert Goold/RSC adaptation which played the Almeida over Christmas, it seemed a brave decision for the Globe to also lead their 2015 season with The Merchant of Venice but Jonathan Munby’s production proves to be just as revelatory, albeit in a completely different way. With Jonathan Pryce making his debut here at this venue, accompanied by his daughter Phoebe no less, it is no surprise that his beautifully realised Shylock is at the heart of the show here but it is also good to see Jessica (played by Pryce junior, natch) also take her turn in the spotlight.

In some ways, this echoes the Al Pacino version, showing us how Jessica is cruelly caught in the middle – torn between duty to her father and her Jewish faith, and the delight that a genuine love match with Ben Lamb’s Christian Lorenzo brings to her life. This conflict is fiercely felt – she argues ferociously in Yiddish with her father but there’s no doubting the haunting anguish of the production’s end, her Hebrew lament powerfully affecting as Shylock faces yet another disgrace as we’re reminded that – even if she has shunned him – it is still a familial bond being sundered here. Continue reading “Review: The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Foul-spoken coward, that thund’rest with thy tongue, and with thy weapon nothing dar’st perform!”

The Globe must be loving all the attention that Titus Andronicus has gained as Lucy Bailey’s claustrophobically gory production returns and once again brings with it numerous fainters at every show, that in turn providing an easy hook for feature writers to focus on, garnering the kind of free publicity other theatres could only dream of. That people faint fairly regularly at the Globe is by the by, and far be it from me to get in the way of a good story…

And in some ways, that is kind of the point. It isn’t too far of a stretch to suggest that Titus isn’t one of Shakespeare’s strongest works and so directors have to work hard at making it work and much of what Bailey introduces is excellent. William Dudley’s design manages that all-too-rare thing of actually doing something completely different with the Globe’s space, brilliantly evoking hellish blackness throughout, and Django Bates’ score is superbly eerie. Continue reading “Review: Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Damned by Despair, National Theatre

“Look on this and learn. Let that be your punishment”

I don’t think there is another director who frustrates me quite as much as Bijan Sheibani. The devastating simplicity with which he tackled 2009’s Our Class and the elegiac beauty he brought to the Iranian-themed Bernarda Alba earlier this year has delighted, but he’s also responsible for making 70 minutes seem like a pained lifetime in Moonlight and threw everything including his kitchen sink into the multi-authored chaotic carnival ride that was Greenland. So it is hard to know what to expect from his work, but it seems sure to provoke strong emotion in me one way or another. Sadly, his latest foray at the National Theatre – Damned by Despair – errs towards the latter of the above categories. It is still in previews to be sure, but it is hard to imagine that this isn’t a fatally flawed production. 

The play is a religious epic from 1625, written by Spanish monk Tirso de Molina, and delves into sticky questions of spirituality such as is heaven is reserved for those who spend a lifetime believing and can non-believers be redeemed through the accomplishment of good deeds. This is subject matter of a deeply different kind to what our more agnostic tastes are now suited, but the difficulties inherent in translating such ideas to a modern audience are simply magnified by a clumsy new version by Frank McGuinness and some baffling directorial choices from Sheibani which swung from cringeworthy to laughable and almost always misguided – I fear some serious trimming will need to be done if there’s any hope for the production. Continue reading “Review: Damned by Despair, National Theatre”

Not-a-review: Juno and the Paycock, National Theatre

“Never tired o’ lookin’ for a rest”

When the National Theatre open their booking periods, there is normally a mad scramble to pick up the cheap £12 tickets and so my default position has generally been to take a punt on most, if not every show that comes up, without really considering how much I actually want to see the plays. Increasingly though, I am coming to realise that the rush for a bargain really shouldn’t override my instincts about whether I will enjoy a play or not: it may seem like common sense to most people but to a theatre addict, this is a big step. Which is all leading up to me telling you that I left Juno and the Paycock at the interval.

The play in question was lauded as one of the best 100 plays of the last century and an Irish classic – this is a co-production with the Abbey Theatre, Ireland where it premiered last month (this was the final preview here) – with Howard Davies directing and a cast including Sinéad Cusack and Ciarán Hinds, so one would have assumed it was something of a safe bet. But if I’m honest, the prospect of this play never really stirred any excitement in me and the way the first two acts played out left me completely cold and so I made the very rare (for me) decision to make a quick exit. Continue reading “Not-a-review: Juno and the Paycock, National Theatre”