Review: The Winter’s Tale, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

 Thou metst with things dying,
I with things new-born”

It’s easy to feel a little jaded when it comes to Shakespeare, the same plays coming round with regularity and not always inspiring such great theatre. So I’m delighted to report that Michael Longhurst’s production of The Winter’s Tale for the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is probably the best version of the play I’ve ever seen. The Kenneth Branagh Company’s The Winter’s Tale was a staid disappointment for me, previously the Crucible had let me down too but in the candlelit atmosphere on Bankside, something truly magical is happening.

It’s a tricky play to get right in its split of two very different worlds but where Longhurst really succeeds is in suggesting that Sicilia and Bohemia perhaps aren’t too separate at all. Modern designers often highlight the dichotomy between the chilly stateliness of Leonte’s Sicilia with the freewheeling japery of Polixenes’ Bohemia but in the simplicity of Richard Kent’s design, they’re both very much on the same sliding scale – psychological darkness pervading the light in both worlds, the promise of redemption ultimately illuminating one and the other too. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse”

Review: Pericles, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

“Few love to hear the sins they love to act”

A New Year, a new chance for the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, a venue that critics love to describe as beautifully atmospheric because they’ve never had to sit anywhere apart from the good seats that press agents put them in. For it is a difficult theatre for the regular theatregoer – recreating as it does the candlelit ambience of a 17th century indoor playhouse, it also has that (possibly) Jacobean feature of premium seating at over £60 a pop. At the other end of the scale, £10 standing spots are available in the upper gallery but there, one has to deal with considerably restricted views. 

As a result, it’s thus been a theatre I’ve easily decided not to frequent that often – the levels of discomfort in the backless seats not endearing me much either – but the lure of the last Shakespeare play I’ve yet to see in Pericles and Rachael Stirling, John Light and Niamh Cusack in The Winter’s Tale has tempted me to bite the bullet. That said, I will be unflinchingly honest about the experiences, as it is a theatre where you want to be forearmed with as much knowledge as possible. For reference, I saw Pericles from standing spot D32 in the upper gallery.  Continue reading “Review: Pericles, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse”

Review: The Oresteia, Shakespeare’s Globe

“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.

Continue reading “Review: The Oresteia, Shakespeare’s Globe”

New trailer for A Mad World My Masters

Want to see a trailer for The RSC and ETT’s A Mad World My Masters? Why sure you do.



Sean Foley and Phil Porter’s version of the Thomas Middleton play was a big hit for the RSC in Stratford in 2013 so English Touring Theatre saw it as a good fit to revive and tour around the country. The show is in Brighton this week and goes onto Malvern, Truro, Bath, Darlington, Cambridge and then the Barbican in London from 29th April to 9th May.

Review: The Secret Agent, Young Vic

“The stress is on the second syllable”

In some ways, it might be best to come to Theatre O’s version of Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent with some fore-knowledge of that classic novel to help guide you through this expressionistic interpretation. But in others, it might be better to know nothing as this adaptation proves sometimes problematic in its marriage of physical theatre with the conventions of narrative storytelling. Devised for the Edinburgh festival ahead of a national tour, and now revised, the show lands at the Young Vic where its delights and frustrations can be sampled over a short run.

The company make their intentions clear from the start, a vaudevillean whirl of stylised Victoriana strikes a bold pose and it isn’t long before there’s audience participation, puppets aplenty and a definite air of parodic comedy. But as the silliness subsides, a clearer sense of Conrad’s story emerges and one is struck by how remarkably prescient his writing from 1907 is to our day and age. His world of insurgent terrorism, dark shadows tearing families apart, is told via the story of Adolf Verloc, a hapless would-be spy given with the onerous task of bombing the Greenwich Observatory.


The main problem with this is that having started off with a light-hearted, almost jovial tone, asking the audience to then take these characters so deadly seriously feels like a big ask and one not necessarily deserved. But as the play winds to its violent climax, it does eventually start to strike a more apposite tone with performances shining through the pandemonium – Helena Lymbery’s Professor a chilling presence, Carolina Valdés’ anguished sister – suggesting the hints of what could have been with a more cohesive approach to the story or the style. 

Running time: 75 minutes (without interval)

Playtext cost: £5

Booking until 21st September, then tours to West Yorkshire Playhouse, Warwick Arts Centre, Northern Stage and Theatre Royal Plymouth

Originally written for The Public Reviews