Review: Bérénice, Donmar Warehouse

“Like sands through the hourglass…”

The quote above is not actually from Alan Hollinghurst’s new version of Racine’s 1670 play Bérénice, but to be honest, no lines from it stuck in my head long enough over a post-show drink for me to record them and thus we have Days of our Lives… The reason that that came into my mind is because the predominant image of Lucy Osborne’s striking design of Josie Rourke’s production is of streams of sand tumbling from the ceiling even as we enter the auditorium, which has been partially reconfigured into the round, with stalls right being shifted 45 degrees to where the stage usually is but the circle seats remaining where they are.

Bérénice has long been in love with Titus, but as she is a Palestinian queen and he is the new Emperor of Rome, theirs is not an easy romance. He decides to finally take her as his wife now that power is his but when he discovers that the Roman public are not that keen on the prospect of a foreign queen, Titus is forced to weigh his personal feelings against his imperial duties. He sends his best friend Antiochus to comfort Bérénice though it soon becomes apparent that he is also in love with her and so a tangle of pained feelings and unfulfilled passion plays out between the trio. Continue reading “Review: Bérénice, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Digital Theatre

“Can the world buy such a jewel?”

Well you can now buy a copy of Josie Rourke’s Much Ado About Nothing which parlayed the star quality of its leads David Tennant and Catherine Tate into massive box office success but watching it again, I’m not so convinced of its jewel-like propensities. Revisiting this particular show did it no real favours in my mind, exposing its limitations and the lack of subtlety that characterises so much of the production.

Relocated to a Gibraltar naval base in the 1980s, the brashness of that decade was clearly taken onboard as a key note for the whole thing. But whereas from the back row of the Wyndhams, it seemed to work in filling the theatre, in the up close and personal of the camera lens, the broadness doesn’t work quite as well. Tennant comes off slightly better with a more natural reading of the lines as a cocky Benedick but Tate never really gets under the skin of Beatrice, the emphasis too much on artifically contrived comedy which never allows her to just be. She is always made to work harder by Rourke who perhaps should have trusted her actor a bit more as she really comes into her own from ‘kill Claudio…’ where she demonstrates her dramatic gift and indicates what might have been of lines like “there was a star danced…” had she been mugging less right before delivering it. Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Digital Theatre”

Review: Outward Bound, Finborough

“It’s made me very particular about my hyphen”

Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers. One of the difficulties of writing about shows is the balancing act between trying to give enough information to give a palpable sense of a production without giving away too much of it to preserve as much of its revelatory nature as possible. Major plot points are frequently given away in reviews, especially of classics (which always strikes me as a little arrogant, this idea that because the reviewer has seen the play 60 times doesn’t mean that the reader necessarily has – I loved the surprises that King Lear held for me when I saw it for the first time last year), but then the act of writing about theatre lends itself to detailed analysis which can’t afford to be coy.

The plot of Sutton Vane’s 1923 play Outward Bound hinges on a major revelation, not so much in a whodunit sense but rather in the direction that the play then takes. It comes fairly early in the show and so when debating this issue, my companion thought it would be ok to mention it in the review, but reading the blurb on the production, the enigma is preserved and I think I prefer it that way round. But I suppose there’s then an element of me having my cake and eating it here – in not wanting to talk about ‘it’, I’ve flagged up its presence something rotten! But anyhoo, to the show in hand. Continue reading “Review: Outward Bound, Finborough”

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Wyndhams

“Man is a giddy thing and that is my conclusion”

Marking Josie Rourke’s first major piece of work since the announcement of her appointment as the next Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse, this production of Much Ado About Nothing is perhaps more notable, for those less interested in theatrical musical chairs, for reuniting David Tennant and Catherine Tate, one of my all-time favourite pairings from Doctor Who. It is actually the first time I’ve seen the play, though I adored the Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson film when I was younger, and fans of this play are being spoiled as the Globe are also mounting a production which opens in the coming weeks.

The play has been moved to the heady days of the early 1980s and apparently is set in Gibraltar. I say apparently because the first I heard of it was reading the programme on the way home in which there’s an essay about life there which I assume means it serves as the location. I didn’t see any monkeys or a big rock, but I suppose it allows for the military base to be used as a reason for putting all of Don Pedro’s men in spiffing white naval uniforms 😉 (At least I think they’re naval, military of some description anyway.) Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Wyndhams”

Review: An Ideal Husband, Vaudeville

“Now that the House of Commons is trying to become useful, it does a great deal of harm “
 

Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, a tale of morality, blackmail and political corruption, arrives at the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand for a winter residency, featuring the husband and wife team of Alexander Hanson and Samantha Bond alongside the luminary talents of Elliot Cowan and Rachael Stirling in the lead roles.

On the surface, Wilde’s play is the saga of a rising political star, Sir Robert Chiltern, whose career is threatened by the villainous Mrs Cleveley who is possession of the knowledge of the past indiscretion which led to him securing a small fortune and the undying respect of his virtuous wife. Mrs Cleveley wants his support on a new scheme and is willing to blackmail him to get her way, but when his wife Gertrude finds out the truth, her perfect ‘ideal husband’ is besmirched, she declares she can no longer love him and it is left to their dear friend Lord Arthur Goring. But on closer examination, it is becomes a passionate plea for true love to be willing to forgive everything, something given extra poignancy when one considers that Wilde’s affair with Lord Alfred Douglas would become public and wreck his life within the very year this play was first produced. Continue reading “Review: An Ideal Husband, Vaudeville”

Review: The Revenger’s Tragedy, National Theatre

The Revenger’s Tragedy is a Jacobean revenge play of dubious authorship but these day, attributed to Thomas Middleton. It is set in a decadent Italian court full of moral decay but in Melly Still’s new production here at the Olivier auditorium in the National Theatre, it has taken on a whole new lease of life.

The story is full of backstabbing intrigue and intricate plotting which required a lot of attention. Vindice is our hero of sorts, but he is determined to be revenged on the Duke, as whilst he’s seemingly a fine upstanding type, actually raped and pillaged the fiancée of Vindice a few years back. His home life is a little eventful too, his Duchess is a narcissistic, sexually voracious, hedonist who is lusting after her husband’s bastard son; and their other sons are a motley crew of bad’uns. One of them, the handsome Lussurioso, has decided to buy a lovely young woman from her mother, but she turns out to be the sister of Vindice. Thus, the scene is set for a strange mix of tragedy and comedy as we hurtle to the oh so very bloody climax. Continue reading “Review: The Revenger’s Tragedy, National Theatre”