Review: Eventide, Arcola

“It’s hard to get things right while they happen to you”

With his second play Eventide, one gets a sense of what the Barney Norris-verse is about. As with the aching splendour of last year’s Visitors, we’re in rural England and focusing on the smaller details of the big picture, the individual lives that make up a society that is struggling to keep pace with the changing world. An elegant three-hander played out over two key encounters a year apart, Alice Hamilton’s production is full of subtleties and subtly powerful acting that does real justice to Norris’ emerging voice as a playwright of real note.

In the pub garden of an establishment in deepest Hampshire, three lonely souls share their sorrows, specifically in one case as it is the day of a funeral but also more generally as the rural economy on which they all depend has become increasingly depressed, the world of farming very much no longer what it used to be. Pub landlord John is throwing in the towel and selling to a chain, church organist Liz is losing money foot over pedal as local gigs are so thin on the ground and Mark, whose best friend’s funeral it is, can’t go because a rare job offer – as painful as it is – has come up. Continue reading “Review: Eventide, Arcola”

Review: As You Like It, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Though I look old…I am strong and lusty”

From the minute Michelle Terry’s Rosalind launches into an actual tizzy at the sight of Orlando’s ripped body (an inordinately but irresistibly muscular Simon Harrison), the warmly joyous spirit of Blanche McIntyre’s As You Like It is never in doubt. The contrasting textures of Shakespeare’s elegant yet complex comedy are well balanced, its musical elements pushed to the forefront with a folkish score from Johnny Flynn but above all, there’s a sense of intelligent fun that delights in taking its time to reveal itself.

Terry has been establishing herself as one of our leading Shakespeareans and this energetic and impulsive take on Rosalind is an absolute privilege to watch. Constantly on the edge of her emotions, she skips from the giddy heights of love at first sight to the crushing pain of banishment in the blink of an eye. And as she explores the nature of love and the heart, her heart in particular, her deftly comedic manner whilst disguised as Ganymede is just glorious, her continual delight at what she is discovering a constant joy.  Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, Orange Tree

“It’s rotten when you’re tied to a life you don’t like”

Whilst the news that the loss of its Art Council funding is a terrible blow (especially as Paul Miller’s reign as Artistic Director has barely begun), it was a little surprising for me to hear how vociferous the response was – apparently this venue is much more well-loved and well-regarded than anyone knew. Its mix of revivals of dusty half-forgotten plays and examples of the safer end of new writing has never really connected with me and so despite the best efforts of some to persuade me otherwise, it’s never become a must-see theatre for me.

And at first sight, it doesn’t appear that much has changed with Miller’s opening salvo of a DH Lawrence play that is rarely performed but looking further into his debut season, there’s much more excitement to be had – writers like Alice Birch and Alistair McDowell and directors David Mercatali and Paulette Randall suggest a realignment of the theatre to a more pleasingly contemporary aesthetic (though not exclusively, there’s still some Bernard Shaw in there) that could well see me turning into a regular. Continue reading “Review: The Widowing of Mrs Holroyd, Orange Tree”

Review: Blue Stockings, Shakespeare’s Globe

“The only thing a woman can own is knowledge”

The experience of a groundling at the Globe can range from the sublime (Eve Best clasping your hand) to the ridiculous (standing for two and a half hour in the pouring rain) yet it is a unique kind of experience that always keeps me coming back for more. At £5 a ticket, it is the bargainous type of risk that is worth taking and with plays like Jessica Swale’s Blue Stockings, the dividends it pays forth make up for the sheer sogginess of the journey home. Swale is perhaps best known as a director, particularly for her inimitable takes on Restoration comedies but also for striking contemporary work of devastating precision but she now returns to Shakespeare’s Globe, where she directed 2010’s Bedlam, as a playwright with this, her first play. 

The play is set in 1896 in Girton College, Cambridge which 20 years prior, became the first college in Britain to admit women. But though they can study, they are denied the right to graduate, their time at university leaving them with little but the stigma of being a “blue stocking”, a woman whose education was deemed unnatural and thus leaving her unmarriageable. Swale explores the year their right to graduate was finally put to the vote, following a group of four students as they are introduced to the novelties of university life, albeit segregated and belittled by the vast majority, where taking exams has to compete with the richer pleasures that a modicum of independence brings.  Continue reading “Review: Blue Stockings, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Make the coming hour o’erflow with joy and pleasure drown the brim”

 All’s Well That Ends Well occupies an enigmatic place in the Shakespearean canon, grouped as one of the ‘problem plays’ since it does not fit neatly into one category or another – an enigmatically dark comedy full of ambiguity and curious ethics which means it is not one of the more regularly performed plays, indeed this is the first production to grace the stage of the Globe.

Helena is in love with the arrogant Bertram, son of her guardian the Countess of Rousillon, despite him being well out of her league as she is but a commoner. But when she utilises the skills left to her by her deceased physician father to cure to the King of France of a painful fistula and he gratefully offers a reward of her choosing, she seizes the opportunity to have the king allow her to marry the man of her choosing. Bertram does not take too kindly to being coerced thus and reluctantly submits to the betrothal but declares he will never be a true husband until two seemingly impossible conditions are met and leaves France for Italy to become a soldier, hoping to never see Helena again but she is one determined young lady. Continue reading “Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, Shakespeare’s Globe”