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”
“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”
“I shall do thee mischief in the wood”
It’s taken me a while to get around to the Globe this year – their Tempest was fine but not particularly inspired and so my enthusiasm for booking for Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream waned. But the thought of missing Michelle Terry was not one I was prepared to countenance and taking a chance on an Indian summer, I booked for a random Friday matinée for the latter, hoping that the rain would hold off. Fortunately it did and with perhaps my lower expectations, I was entirely dazzled by Dominic Dromgoole’s production of what is one of my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays, which cast the newly opened Michael Grandage adaptation firmly in the shade.
Pleasingly, especially for someone who knows the play quite well, the production abounds in new textures and fresh insight into characters, relationships and events. I loved the early establishment of the former relationship between Joshua Silver’s Demetrius and Sarah MacRae’s Helena and their definite lingering attraction – I’ve never heard the beginning of “ohhh spite” loaded with such meaning – which makes their conclusion much more dramatically satisfying. Puck as a posh stroppy teenager is an inspired choice with Matthew Tennyson’s angular presence; the way in which Pearce Quigley’s Bottom has to be coaxed into accepting Titania’s advances makes perfect sense; the Rude Mechanicals’ play being unrehearsed chaos is entirely appropriate and of course, downright hilarious.
Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 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”
“Reserve your tears for the bedroom Madam, this is whist!”
With just a handful of films under his belt, Joe Wright has made quite the name for himself as a director of some theatrical flair – perhaps nodding to childhood time spent at the Little Angel Theatre that his parents founded – but it is only now that he has made his directorial debut in the theatre with Trelawny of the Wells at the Donmar Warehouse. Whether by design or by accident, it marks the third notable recent outing for the otherwise neglected Victorian playwright after the Rose’s The Second Mrs Tanqueray and the National’s The Magistrate but it cleaves closer to the gently farcical nature of the latter than the melodrama of the former. The text here has been ornamented by Patrick Marber, though more learned writers than I will be able to tell you by how much.
The play focuses on Rose Trelawny, a star of the melodramas that filled the Victorian stage, who opts to give up her career in the theatre when she decides to marry her paramour, the aristocrat Arthur Gower. But when the social chasm between her and his family drives them apart, drastic measures on both sides are necessary to try and restore their relationship. But for a play about the theatre, it had little of the breathless joy and theatricality that I had assumed Wright would bring into play and not all of that can be ascribed to the fact that this was a preview. Continue reading “Review: Trelawny of the Wells, Donmar Warehouse”