Review: Julius Caesar, Crucible

“Why, saw you anything more wonderful?”

 Robert Hastie’s opening salvo as the new Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres might not immediately quicken the pulse as we’ve hardly been lacking for productions of Julius Caesar. But it is soon apparent that this is a canny director at work, making his mark on the Crucible Theatre and how its space is used, on our notions of how Shakespeare is traditionally interpreted, establishing what looks like exciting times ahead for Sheffield.

With designer Ben Stones, Hastie opens out the stage into a space of transformative and unpredictable power – the modern political arena is evoked with its UN-style chambers and mod-cons but it is just as much the powder-keg of changeable public opinion. And the way in which the two intersect, feed into each other, thus feels as informed by hatemongering Sun or Daily Mail headline-grabbing antics as it does by the words of a sixteenth century writer. Continue reading “Review: Julius Caesar, Crucible”

Full casting for Robert Hastie’s Julius Caesar

 
Full casting has been announced for Robert Hastie’s upcoming production of Julius Caesar at Sheffield Crucible, his first at the helm, and it looks like an absolute doozie. Not only has he brought back former artistic director Samuel West and tempted definitive-fave-of-this-blog Elliot Cowan back to the stage, Hastie is continuing his commitment to gender parity by recruiting a company of eight men and eight women and sharing out the roles how he damn well wants. 

So the show features Samuel West in the role of Brutus, alongside Jonathan Hyde as Julius Caesar. Zoe Waites will play Cassius, Elliot Cowan will play Mark Antony and Chipo Chung will star as Portia/Octavius. The cast is completed by Lisa Caruccio Came (Calpurnia), Pandora Colin (Casca), Robert Goodale (Lepidus), Alison Halstead (Metellus), Mark Holgate (Cinna), Arthur Hughes (Lucius), Robinah Kironde (Popilus, Clitus), Lily Nichol (Soothsayer), Royce Pierreson (Ligarius, Dardanius), Abigail Thaw (Trebonius) and Paul Tinto (Artemidorus, Pindarus).

In case you’ve forgotten, Hastie directed Michelle Terry in the title role in last year’s Henry V at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, and Sheffield is clearly very lucky to have him leading one of the country’s leading theatrical institutions. Julius Caesar runs at Sheffield Crucible from 23 May to 10 June, with previews from 17 May, and I’ll definitely be making my way northwards for this.

 

 

 

News (and photos): National Theatre gala (plus actors in suits!)

The National Theatre last night hosted its biennial fundraising gala, Up Next, raising over a million pounds to support access to the arts for children and young people across the country. I think they forgot to invite me though… 😜

 

Performances commissioned especially for the event included a new piece by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, alongside performances by Sir Lenny Henry, Anne-Marie Duff and hundreds of talented young people from across London.

Continue reading “News (and photos): National Theatre gala (plus actors in suits!)”

TV Review: Cilla

“The Black bird has landed”

It’s only taken me, ooh, a couple of years to get round to watching Cilla, a 2014 ITV miniseries written by Jeff Pope, in which time the small matter of Cilla Black’s passing has made it a more poignant piece. My main reason for watching though, its arrival on Netflix aside, was to finally catch up with Sheridan Smith’s portrayal of the Liverpudlian light entertainment behemoth, back in the days when she was just a Scouse lass called Priscilla White.

Pope’s script definitely has a touch of the rose-tinted about it but there’s no denying the amazing energy of Liverpool’s music scene in the 1960s that comes across in the first two episodes. Though she has a job as a typist – her mother proudly proclaims “the first in the family to be considered suitable for office work” – Cilla dreams of being a singer and is making quite the name for herself on the club circuit, building a following through club performances with upcoming bands such as a quartet called The Beatles. Continue reading “TV Review: Cilla”

Review: Les Blancs, National

“Do you think the rape of a continent dissolves in cigarette smoke?”

To think that just a couple of weeks ago, I hadn’t ever seen a play by Lorraine Hansberry and now I’ve seen two – the extraordinary A Raisin in the Sun which has now completed its UK tour and this new production of Les Blancs at the National. The sad reality is that there isn’t much more to see now, pancreatic cancer taking her life at just 34, but what a startling legacy this writer left of theatre that delves uncompromisingly into issues of race and identity, that remains as pertinent today as it did the mid-twentieth century when she was writing.

Hansberry didn’t get to complete Les Blancs before her death and so this final text was adapted by her sometime husband and collaborator Robert Nemiroff and it is directed here by Yaël Farber, making her National Theatre debut after her highly acclaimed 2014 The Crucible for the Old Vic. And people who saw that production will instantly recognise Farber’s modus operandi as this show opens in a highly atmospheric manner – a group of matriarchs, led by musical director Joyce Moholoagae, chanting and singing in Xhosa to leave us in no doubt what continent we’re on. Continue reading “Review: Les Blancs, National”

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 3

“People of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them, they went out and happened to things”

I came to Da Vinci’s Demons late but I really enjoyed working my way through Series 1 and Series 2 of this historical fantasy in order to get up to speed for the arrival of the third series. This turned out to be a bit of a bittersweet exercise as the show was then cancelled and the decision made to release the final series in its entirety online. I reviewed the first two episodes here but it has taken me a while to get to watching the rest though sadly, it wasn’t quite the swansong I’d hoped for.

Now thoroughly uprooted from Florence, the multitudinous locations of the many-stranded narrative leave Da Vinci’s Demons flailing aimlessly a little too often, with a sense of confusion about where and when (and indeed why) things are happening and not enough of a grand design emerging, drawing the pieces together with increasing clarity. The most frustrating part of this is the prominence of the programme’s internal mythology, pitching the Sons of Mithras (now bad) against the Labyrinth (possibly good, I think). Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 3”

TV Review: Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands Episode 1

“Some people say that heroes are born and some that they’re made” 

As Da Vinci’s Demons draws to a close and Game of Thrones fans have to wait until the end of April for Season 6 to start, ITV step into the big-budget historical fantasy genre with their 12-part serialisation of Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands. Created by James Dormer, Tim Haines and Katie Newman, Beowulf is based on the epic Old English poem set in the Dark Ages in Northumbria but spins its own fantasy world out of the source material, something that looks promising on the evidence of this first episode. 

With any new series, there’s a certain amount of setting up to be done in the first episode and Dormer’s writing does well to weave plenty of exposition into the story without weighing it down too much. After seeing his father killed by a fearsome beast which he then slaughters, the young Beowulf is adopted by the local thane Hrothgar. This is shown in a brief prologue as as the show starts proper, we’ve skipped a couple of decades ahead where Beowulf, long estranged from his family, returns to the frontier town of Herot to mourn Hrothgar’s passing.  Continue reading “TV Review: Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands Episode 1”

TV Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 3, episodes 1 + 2

“This chemistry sounds much too sophisticated for a horde of heathens”

In this world of Netflix and Amazon dramas, the rules of getting your televisual content out there have changed for everyone and following suit, the entirety of the third series of Starz’ Da Vinci’s Demons has been released for people to go for a binge-watch or bite-site chunks as they see fit. I haven’t got a huge amount of time this week so I thought I’d sample the opening two episodes of this final (for now) season of this highly enjoyable historical fantasy romp, not least to get the cliff-hanger ending of Series 2 out of the way.

And perhaps acknowledging the forthcoming ending (although the series was filmed before the cancellation was announced), the tone of the show has darkened, increasingly bloody and brutal as ritual and warcraft take a more vicious turn with the stakes rising for pretty much every concerned. The Turks’ sacking of Naples gives us the best battle the show has done with fearsome consequences for several characters, Riario’s dealings with The Labyrinth become ever more sinister and even Gregg Chillin’s Zoroaster gets a decent plot for once. Continue reading “TV Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 3, episodes 1 + 2”

DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 2

“This could be the gateway to extraordinary things”

The second series of Da Vinci’s Demons continues the historical fantasy in all its raucous, vaguely homo-erotic glory and feels like a stronger season for it. Having set up the busy world of Medici-ruled Florence and all its enemies, alongside Leonardo’s ongoing mystical quest at the behest of the Sons of Mithras, the show breathes a little here and has no compunction in scattering its main players on separate storylines, whilst folding in new ones to keep the story-telling ever fresh.

Most notably, Tom Riley’s captivating Leo hops on a ship with his pals and a guy called Amerigo Vespucci (Lee Boardman eventually getting to milk an excellent gag) to chase the Book of Leaves all the way to Peru and the depths of Machu Picchu. These South American scenes are just fantastic, magnificent to look at as our heroes take on the Incan Empire in all its gruesome feathered glory to uncover the mystery around Leo’s mother and the hidden power contained with the book. Continue reading “DVD Review: Da Vinci’s Demons Series 2”