Review: Shakespeare Trilogy, Donmar at King’s Cross

“As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free”

I must confess I hate it when critics roll their reviews of separate shows of a larger ‘event’ into one overarching piece – if you have to buy separate tickets to see the shows, then reviewers should write reviews for each one. Of course, it’s never quite as simple as that, it’s nice to have the space to talk about the whole as well as the constituent parts, but it should be noted that the Shakespeare Trilogy has been just as enjoyable, if not more so, in its individual segments as it was on the epic (and awkwardly timed) trilogy day. 

I have seen all three of the shows before, and reviewed them – Julius Caesar, Henry IV, The Tempest – so that’s my excuse for this composite piece. And for all that Phyllida Lloyd was uber-keen on having the official press response to the trilogy, I have to admit I didn’t see too much artistic merit in running them together. The only real common thread that emerges is Harriet Walter’s epic performance(s) as Hannah, the lifer who is the only character to recur in the prison setting that is used for all three shows. Continue reading “Review: Shakespeare Trilogy, Donmar at King’s Cross”

Review: The Tempest, Donmar at King’s Cross

“She did confine thee”

A slightly odd one this, the Donmar’s all-female adaptation of The Tempest opened at the King’s Cross Theatre late last month, but from what I can tell won’t be officially reviewed until 22nd November. The reasoning being that it is part of their Shakespeare Trilogy (productions of Julius Caesar from 28th October and Henry IV from 17th November are being remounted) and on select days, audiences can see all three back-to-back. And that is how director Phyllida Lloyd wants them to be critically reviewed, as an over-arching trilogy, which is all fine and good but tickets are either £90 or £120 for those days and I ain’t here for that (that said, if you’re 25 and under, 25% of the tickets are being made free due to this great scheme). So the majority of people seeing The Tempest will only see The Tempest and that’s why I’m writing this review now.

For this enterprise, the Donmar has decamped to the King’s Cross Theatre and a well-designed temporary space there (sightlines from the back row – F – are fine and dandy) with the audience seated on all four sides of the theatre. The sense of blank newness is perfectly suited to the institutional setting – Lloyd has returned to the prison set-up that has previously served so well – and retained several members of the ensemble including crucially, the glorious Harriet Walter, who has thrived on the opportunity to expand her already superlative Shakespearean experience. So from Brutus to Henry IV, she now ascends to take on the role of Prospero. Continue reading “Review: The Tempest, Donmar at King’s Cross”

Review: A Midsummer Night;s Dream, Filter at Lyric Hammersmith

“Keith, KEITH, it’s just two fellas kissing”

There was a moment towards the end of this performance, as Ferdy Robert’s burly roadie of a Puck launched into his epilogue, that perfectly encapsulates just how brilliant Filter are and also what magical power theatre can weave over even the rowdiest teenagers. Roberts began “if we shadows have offended” and was interrupted by loud, almost nervous, laughter. He looked up, gently but unflinchingly at the young woman and her friend until they quietened down, and then continued, addressing them directly at first and then widening out to the auditorium as a whole, our entire attention rapt.

It’s no mean feat to keep a theatre full of schoolkids hooked in silence (I attended the final preview), especially when the nature of this production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is so raucous and riotous. It played the Lyric Hammersmith back in 2012 and if it doesn’t have quite the same multiple surprise element as before, it is still highly amusing second time round. Co-directors Sean Holmes and Stef O’Driscoll have condensed the play right down with the company and reconstructed it in their own image, at once deeply respectful of Shakespeare yet also utterly anarchic in the way it is presented here. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night;s Dream, Filter at Lyric Hammersmith”

‘Sharon Rooney and the Henrys’ release their cover of Glasvegas’ ‘Daddy’s Gone’

“Right now I’m too young to know
How in the future it will affect me when you go”

One of the most striking moments in Phyllida Lloyd’s recent production of Henry IV for the Donmar Warehouse was Sharon Rooney’s extraordinary take on Lady Percy, skewering previous notions of the character to make her a vibrant and passionate equal to her husband. And as she bade him farewell, a lament struck up to the tune of Glasvegas’ ‘Daddy’s Gone’, capping off a performance provoked as much thought about Shakespearean gender roles as did the overall all-female casting.
It’s a really lovely tune in its own right but this rendition did feel like something special so it was great hear that it has been recorded under the name of Sharon Rooney and the Henrys and it is now available to download from iTunes here. Profits will benefit organisations that the company have been working closely with like Clean Break Theatre Company and Justice for Women, as well as the Donmar’s outreach work to help women and girls find their voices, exemplified by the company performing Henry IV at the Mulberry School for Girls in Tower Hamlets next week.
It’s a cracking tune enlivened by Rooney’s Glaswegian accent, it’s for a cracking set of causes and remember, you don’t want to be the lonely one sitting on your own and sad… Here’s the link again.

Review: Henry IV, Donmar Warehouse

“What manner of man is he?”

Every time Harriet Walter speaks as the eponymous character, she utterly justifies (not that it needs any justification, mind) the all-female casting of the Donmar Warehouse’s Henry IV, such is the achingly rich poetry that she brings to the verse. Coming in second in what is being loosely termed a ‘prison trilogy’ after a cracking take on Julius Caesar back in 2012, the production reunites director Phyllida Lloyd with Walter and some others from that company to impose their institutional stamp on another of Shakespeare’s works (and yes, it does mean those chairs are back in the stalls!).

Here, the scope of Henry IV Part I and II has been telescoped down to just two hours and in reality, could well be called Henry IV Part I+ as it focuses mainly on a raucously rendered take on that play and throws in excerpts from Act IV Scene V and Act V Scene V from its sequel to round off the stories of Henry IV, Prince Hal and the bounteous Falstaff. It’s an audacious approach but one that really pays off, suggesting that maybe Shakespeare could have done with an editor after all – others may disagree but there’s little that’s really lost in jettisoning a whole heap of supporting characters and their scenes in this instance. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Julius Caesar, Donmar Warehouse

“There is a tide in the affairs of men”

In a year when the Globe has gathered an all-male ensemble which has now made its way to the West End and Propeller continue their innovative range of productions, it perhaps apt that Phyllida Lloyd has turned to an all-female cast for her take on Julius Caesar for the Donmar Warehouse. The overarching conceit that she has adopted, and it is one that the production wears heavily at times, is that it is a play within a play, put on by inmates in a women’s prison, aided and abetted by wardens (or are they?) and so the power struggles within the jail population come to be replicated and challenged in the political struggles within the text.

Perhaps as it should be, the most striking moments come from acting choices that have nothing to do with gender. A bluntly vicious Caesar, Frances Barber’s hoarsely croaked out “et tu…” is devastatingly affecting after the assassination is carried out in a rather unexpected manner and Cush Jumbo’s delivery of “Friends, Romans, countrymen…” is spun completely on its head as it opens under the most violent of circumstances, her Mark Antony is superbly played. And Jenny Jules and Harriet Walter as Cassius and Brutus are both blessed with the kind of emotive verse-speaking that breathes real life and explanatory motive between the text and the interpretation.   Continue reading “Review: Julius Caesar, Donmar Warehouse”

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”