Review: Twelfth Night, Royal Exchange

“When that I was a little boy”

Even with the best of intentions, it can be a little too easy to forget that there’s more to LGBT+ than just the G. Representations of gay men are increasingly common in our theatres but pickings are slim if we look towards the lesbian, bi, and transgender characters and stories. So it’s interesting to see directors turning to Shakespeare, and specifically Twelfth Night, to address that in a couple of high profile productions this year. Simon Godwin shifted the nature of Malvolio’s illicit passion by casting Tamsin Greig as Malvolia, and now Jo Davies has moved along the acronym by casting transgender performer, writer and activist Kate O’Donnell as Feste at the Royal Exchange.

And far from any suggestion of a gimmick, it’s a deeply sensitive, nuanced take on the role that breathes a real sense of contemporary life into the show. Her experience on the cabaret circuit shows in the ease with which she entertains her audience, whether onstage with the text or bantering off-book with the stalls crowd in the interval, but as funny as she is, there’s a depth to her stage presence too. An extra-textual moment where she clocks the cross-dressed Viola in the dark with a hint of recognition, the gorgeous melancholy with which the resonance of her final song grabs you – “when I came to man’s estate…”, this is the verse sprung to life anew. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Royal Exchange”

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

Manchester’s Royal Exchange have announced the details for their production of Twelfth Night which arrives this spring. It is directed by the award-winning Jo Davies who makes her Royal Exchange debut with Shakespeare’s whirlwind comedy. Faith Omole, Kevin Harvey and Mina Anwar return to the Exchange as Viola, Orsino and Maria, Kate Kennedy takes on the role of Olivia and Anthony Calf is Malvolio. 
 
And in its own spin on the gender, identity and love issues at the heart of the play, award-winning Manchester-based transgender artist and activist Kate O’Donnell makes her Royal Exchange debut in the role of Feste, the wise observer in this foolish, lovesick kingdom. Live music from the critically acclaimed folk musician Kate Young and lap-tap guitarist Joe Gravil adds to the complexity of this intricate comedy which probes gender-politics and ideas of belonging. The play runs from 13 April – 20 May.
 
The cast is completed by Aaron Anthony, Simon Armstrong, Harry Attwell, Daniel Francis-Swaby, Tarek Merchant and Jill Myers. The creative team includes Designer Leslie Travers, Lighting Designer Jack Knowles, Sound Designer Pete Malkin and Composer Alex Baranowski.

Continue reading “Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things”

Review: The Rolling Stone, Orange Tree

“Memories fade. Memories contort and change”

First seen last year at the Royal Exchange in Manchester and Leeds’ West Yorkshire Playhouse where it was partially cross-cast with a striking reinvention of Anna Karenina, Chris Urch’s The Rolling Stone has kept on rolling down to Richmond where it has now opened at the Orange Tree. And at its helm, Ellen McDougall continues to prove herself one of the more exciting and inventive of a new generation of directors, with a simple but searing production. 

The title comes the name of a Kampala newspaper that outed gay Ugandans by publishing their names and addresses and calling for their execution and Urch examines its fallout in the micro-perspective, looking at how it played out for one family. Joe has just become pastor of an Anglican church, under the aegis of the manipulative Mama, but neither are aware that Joe’s younger brother Dembe is happily cavorting with a mixed-race doctor from Northern Ireland called Sam. Continue reading “Review: The Rolling Stone, Orange Tree”