Review: The Rover, Swan

“Come, put off this dull humour with your clothes, and assume one as gay and as fantastic as the dress my cousin Valeria and I have provided, and let’s ramble”

I’ve not been heading up to the RSC with that much regularity recently, but I’ll go anywhere for Alexandra Gilbreath and given that The Rover had the added bonus of Joseph Millson, the trip was a no-brainer. It also helped that it was written and directed by women, not that frequent an occurrence in Stratford. And written not just by any woman, Aphra Behn was one of the first professional female playwrights and this play dates from 1677.

And directed by Loveday Ingram, it is a sprightly bit of fun indeed. Set in the heady mist of carnival time, all bets are off as the normal rules of society are suspended. Three sisters disguise themselves to escape the strict futures ahead of them, and a group of Englishmen arrive in port ready and willing to create the lads on tour archetype. Chief among the sisters is Hellena, due to enter a nunnery so more than happy to make the acquaintance of the rakish and randy Willmore. Continue reading “Review: The Rover, Swan”

Review: The Mother, Tricycle

“Living with my son again is the best thing that could possibly happen to me; apart from your death”

If it ain’t broke, why fix it? The extraordinary success of The Father, now back in the West End for a second run ahead of a UK tour, has resulted in the Tricycle inviting another Florian Zeller play over from Bath. And if The Mother doesn’t quite scale the same heights of exquisite agony, it houses another storming lead role for another great British actor, Gina McKee following in Kenneth Cranham’s esteemed footsteps.

In the bleached white desolation of Mark Bailey’s design, wife and mother Anne is being hollowed out by depression. Triggered in the main by her adult son Nicholas’ departure from the family home, her sense of empty-nest-syndrome is exacerbated by her severe doubts about her 25 year long marriage to Peter, an upcoming trip to Leicester for a conference masking what she thinks is an affair, her confusion multiplied by her fondness for a bottle, pills or alcohol, either will do. Continue reading “Review: The Mother, Tricycle”

The 2014 Ian Charleson Awards

First prize

Susannah Fielding, for Portia in The Merchant of Venice (Almeida Theatre)

Second prize

Tom Mothersdale, for Yasha in The Cherry Orchard (Young Vic)

Third prize

Cynthia Erivo, for Poins and Earl of Douglas in Henry IV (Donmar Warehouse)

Commendations

Stefano Braschi, for Soranzo in ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe)
Rebecca Collingwood, for Blanche in Widowers’ Houses (Orange Tree Theatre)
Ncuti Gatwa, for Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet (HOME, Manchester)
Emma Hall, for Phaedra, Aphrodite, and Artemis in Hippolytos (Antic Face, at The Colepit)
Jennifer Kirby, for Lady Percy in Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 (Royal Shakespeare Company)
Daisy May, for Celia in As You Like It (Tobacco Factory Theatre, Bristol)
Frances McNamee, for Finea in A Lady of Little Sense (Theatre Royal, Bath)
Ekow Quartey, for Hans in Spring Awakening (touring production by Headlong/West Yorkshire Playhouse/Nuffield Theatre)
Michael Shelford, for Willie Mossop in Hobson’s Choice (Octagon Theatre, Bolton)
Thalissa Teixeira, for Chorus in Electra (Old Vic)

Review: Love’s Labour’s Won (Much Ado About Nothing), Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“I did not think I should live till I were married”

In a brief programme note, Gregory Doran declares he’s “sticking his neck out” to suggest that Much Ado About Nothing may also have been known as Love’s Labour’s Won during Shakespeare’s lifetime and thus makes a novel yet inspired partnership with Love’s Labour’s Lost in an RSC double bill. Whether true or not is by and by in the end (though Shakespearean scholars will doubtless disagree) as Christopher Luscombe’s cross-cast productions combine to great effect as well as standing proud in their own right in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

Where Love’s Labour’s Lost was set just before the outbreak of the Great War, Love’s Labour’s Won picks up English society as peace has finally been achieved and the Christmas of 1918 might at last be a merry one and from the outset, it feels like a more fitting interpretation. Beatrice’s independence of mind having been nurtured by the freedom of being able to work; Don John arriving as a soul-weary, battle-scarred PTSD sufferer; the rush of Claudio, Benedick, even Pedro to thoughts of marriage an emotional response to an unimaginably traumatic conflict – there’s a pleasing fit to it all. Continue reading “Review: Love’s Labour’s Won (Much Ado About Nothing), Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. You that way: we this way”

Always a fan of a project, the RSC have paired up Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing – which they posit may have been once known as Love’s Labour’s Won – relocated the plays to an England either side of the First World War and let Christopher Luscombe loose at them with a single company, led by Edward Bennett and Michelle Terry. The RSC have hit on a cracker in uniting this pair, reuniting them in fact as they are RADA chums of old, with the wry looks and crackling tension between Berowne and Rosalind clear from the off.

A truly excellent comic actor, Bennett has the wonderful gift of always seeming on the verge of corpsing and for Berowne, it really works. The last to be co-opted into the King of Navarre’s aesthetic scheme of abstinence for him and three buddies, the first to point fingers when incriminating love poems start to appear once ladies arrive on the scene, Bennett shows us that this is a man well aware of the daftness of the enterprise he’s gotten swept up in. But he’s also an actor of much depth as he conveys the genuine sense of surprise that accompanies his own unexpected tumble head over heels and the crushing heartbreak of the play’s end. Continue reading “Review: Love’s Labour’s Lost, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: Punishment without Revenge, Arcola

“I may exaggerate beyond all sense and reason”

The third of the Spanish Golden Age plays for me was Punishment without Revenge – El Castigo sin Venganza – another Lope de Vega play but rather than the (not so) comic stylings of green breeches, this is a straight up tragedy and consequently emerges as the strongest of the lot. In the court of the Duke of Ferrara, an illicit passion builds up between the Duke’s bastard son Federico and Cassandra the Duchess of Mantua, the woman he is sent to collect to be a bride for his father. They submit to their urges when the Duke leaves for battle but on his return, the abuse to his honour must be avenged.

William Hoyland is excellent as the vituperative Duke, possessed of a deadly charm with the most vicious edges with some striking speechifying; Nick Barber’s handsome Federico pairs well with Frances McNamee’s Cassandra (a nice casting touch as they also portray lovers in another of the plays) as they pursue their doomed love in spite of the threat it poses to them; and even a lighter side is allowed to shine through the court shenanigans in the form of Simon Scardifield’s manservant and the blustering courtiers of Chris Andrew Mellon and Jim Bywater. Continue reading “Review: Punishment without Revenge, Arcola”

Review: A Lady of Little Sense, Arcola

“She is as thick as potato mash”

The remit of the Spanish Golden Age rep season, a co-production between Arcola Theatre, the Ustinov Studio, Theatre Royal Bath, and the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, is to bring to light three rarely performed plays from what they term “the last unopened treasure chest of world drama”. But whilst the academic interest of delving into this cultural period is undoubtable, the quality of the drama uncovered feels variable.

Lope de Vega’s A Lady of Little Sense, or La Dama Boba from 1613, is a romantic comedy whose tales of the arranged marriages of two sisters recalls The Taming of the Shrew. Wealthy businessman Don Octavio has two beautiful daughters to marry off but the educated Nise has an arrogance to match her intelligence and her sister Finea is as dopey as they come – the suitors that come to take their hands thus have to decide the lesser of two evils. Continue reading “Review: A Lady of Little Sense, Arcola”

Review: Don Gil of the Green Breeches, Arcola

“What’s your disguise for?”

The signs were there, I just chose not to see them. The main one being that the author of Don Gil of the Green Breechesor Don Gil de las Calzas Verdes was Tirso de Molina, who also wrote Damned By Despair, otherwise known as one of the biggest car crashes at the National in a goodly while. But I didn’t investigate too much – I allowed myself to be seduced by the notion of an ensemble performing new translations of three neglected plays from the Spanish Golden Age and the murmurings of good reviews from Bath where they opened last year.

But suffice to say that Don Gil did not do it for me. A broad cross-dressing comedy of sledgehammer subtlety, one can identify some similarities with Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night which preceded this play by about a decade, but what is more notable is the poor comparison that it makes. The plot twists endlessly and mindlessly through a set of baffling contrivances and clearly cognisant of this, Tirso de Molina has one character or another recap just where we’re at at the beginning of what feels like every scene, there’s nothing but exposition and it is still clear as mud. Continue reading “Review: Don Gil of the Green Breeches, Arcola”