Sir Peter Hall: 1930-2017 – a photo retrospective

In sad news, the death of Sir Peter Hall, one of the great names in British theatre, has been announced today. Sir Peter died on 11 September at University College Hospital, at the age of 86, surrounded by his family.
 
As the below statement from the National Theatre reminds us, his achievements were unparalleled, his devotion to the arts undoubtable. And in this selection of photos from some of his productions for the NT, his was a rare artistic vision indeed.

Continue reading “Sir Peter Hall: 1930-2017 – a photo retrospective”

DVD Review: Macbeth (1979)

“Round about the cauldron go”

Who’d’ve thought that it would be a production from 1979 that would be one of the most enduringly successful translations from stage to screen. It helps immensely of course that this RSC production of Macbeth features a couple by the name of Ian McKellen and Judi Dench as its central lovebirds, with a young gentleman named Trevor Nunn on directorial duties at a point when playfulness didn’t seem like a dirty word to him.

The original production from 1976 played in the round to small audiences at The Other Place and Nunn recreates that intimacy by keeping his company on a circular set and keeping (mostly, one imagines) to the theatrical devices used, rather than employing anything too cinematic. So we’re left with what feels like pure Shakespeare, exceptional actors doing little else but acting as if their lives depended on it and holding the audience utterly in the palms of their hands. Continue reading “DVD Review: Macbeth (1979)”

Review: Clarion, Arcola

“I’ve never been convinced by newspaper economics”

They say write of which you know and as a former showbiz editor of the Daily Express, amongst other journalistic credits, it should come as little surprise that Mark Jagasia’s debut play is set in the world of print journalism. More specifically, Clarion takes place in the offices of the kind of tabloid that revels in 300 consecutive days of ‘shock’ headlines about immigration and has few scruples about the tactics it employs in an age of declining sales.

Jagasia clearly has a fondness for his time on Fleet Street and that shines through the satirical comedy here – the almost childlike rantings of a giddily autocratic editor, the salt-of-the-earth plainness of the news editor, the booze-and-expense chugging foreign correspondent, the batty astrologist, the overenthusiastic work experience kind, the journalist with pretensions of becoming a novelist. The larger scenes of criss-crossing banter have a well-wrought energy and sharpness of wit that is frequently laugh-out-loud funny. Continue reading “Review: Clarion, Arcola”

Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle

“Praising what is lost makes the remembrance dear”
 

Whether considered a problem play or no, the fact that All’s Well That Ends Well is performed relatively infrequently is testament to the inherent difficulties of the play. Helena’s relentless pursuit of a man who does not love her, her determination to have them betrothed, the way she later inveigles her way into his bed, the story is an uneasy tale to take in a world of more enlightened sexual politics and though Nancy Meckler’s production for the RSC, here in Newcastle for a week, shines a fantastical light on the play (although not as successfully as the National’s excellent Grimm-like version from 2009) I think the issue around its uncommon revival is more careful avoidance rather than criminal neglect. 

Joanna Horton is good as the poor physician’s daughter who is adopted by the Countess of Rousillon yet finds herself falling in love with her ‘brother’, Alex Waldmann as a Prince Harry-inspired Bertram who soon heads abroad pretty sharpish. She follows him to the French court, winning the favour of the King by utilising her father’s knowledge and persuading him to offer Bertram’s unwilling hand in marriage as reward. Again he flees (this time to the battlefield) and again she follows, determined to get her man even if it means tricking him into bed and as one is meant to assume with the ginger Prince, combat has a maturing effect meaning that he allegedly becomes quite the catch and her doggedness is thus rewarded. Continue reading “Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle”

Review: Hamlet, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle

“Brevity is the soul of wit”
 

I can’t say I wasn’t warned… Work has seen me up in the north-east for a few days this month and so coinciding with the RSC’s short residency at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle which sees one of their ensembles putting on the three shows from their bit of the summer season. And I’d been told that their Hamlet was a difficult beast but I wasn’t quite prepared for quite how awful I would find it.

David Farr’s modern(ish) take eschews star casting for the integrity of this ensemble, giving Jonathan Slinger the opportunity to take on this most celebrated of roles, but it is a chance they take so thoroughly by the horns with Slinger’s determination to put his own stamp thereon, it never feels real or organic, just a strained effort to be different. And at 3 hours 40 minutes, it is a lot to bear. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle”

Review: Little Eagles, RSC at Hampstead

“All these dreams of fire and steel in one little head”

The best of intentions always tend to go awry from time to time and so it is with theatre bookings. I would not normally have considered going to see Little Eagles, as Russian space history is not generally a subject I care that much about, at least not enough to pay money to see. But, as it was one of the new commissions by the RSC and being performed by the Ensemble, whom have grown into a fabulously cohesive unit and therefore pretty much making anything they do a must-see as they come into the final furlong of their time together.

Marking the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned orbit of the earth, Rona Munro’s play follows the development of the Soviet space programme by Sergei Korolyov, a former gulag inmate with the meagrest of resources who managed the incredible even in the face of great political pressure. But it is a slow, long play with little variation of tone or voice; there’s no attempt to question this version of events and even the joy of seeing these actors in fascinatingly different roles did not really mitigate against this. Continue reading “Review: Little Eagles, RSC at Hampstead”

Review: King Lear, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“A man may see how this world goes with no eyes”

 
A double bill of Shakespeare is something that not even I would undertake lightly but as an opportunity to visit the newly opened Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon, it was something I couldn’t resist: King Lear in the afternoon for the first time and a revisit of Romeo & Juliet in the evening. Typically, the old maxim about not booking shows to see particular actors came and bit me on the posterior with a depressing predictability, as the main reason for seeing this King Lear was in order to see Kathryn Hunter’s Fool, but as she unexpectedly withdrew from the ensemble at the beginning of the year, the role is now being covered by Sophie Russell.
 
This was only my second ever Lear, Derek Jacobi’s at the Donmar being the first and whilst I enjoyed seeing that with fresh eyes and not knowing the story, it was nice to watch this one with a little more comprehension of exactly what was going on! Though I was still a little perplexed by the mix of time periods covered in the costumes, the courtiers in classical garb but the outside world seemed to be inspired by the First World War, a mixture that was a little too haphazard for my liking. But overall, it did actually combine to quite epic effect, led by Greg Hicks’ powerful turn as Lear. I got more of a sense of a man going mad from Hicks, as opposed to the fragility, even possible onset of senility, of Jacobi’s interpretation, with his viciousness towards Goneril being particularly shocking in a way I didn’t remember so much. Continue reading “Review: King Lear, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: The Winter’s Tale, RSC at the Roundhouse

“Though I am not naturally honest, I am so sometimes by chance”

Sometimes quite a difficult play to pull off due to the disparate nature of its two main strands, The Winter’s Tale remains a popular choice for the RSC and this production, part of the Roundhouse season, was originally seen in Stratford in 2009. Starting off in the highly ordered Sicilia, Leontes rules with a tight discipline, ill-equipped to deal with the warm emotion of his wife Hermione. Playing the genial hostess to their friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia, rouses a terrible jealousy in Leontes though and charging them with adultery, he sets in train a terrible set of events that hugely alter his life. Much of the second half takes place 16 years later in Bohemia with events much advanced, but we eventually return to Sicilia to revisit Leontes and his court for the final denouement.

David Farr’s production is superbly mounted and works as a timely reminder that even the greatest of men can be undone by a moment of frailty and the echoing impact of the emotions and decisions of those in power throughout the rest of society. It is one of Shakespeare’s most impressionistic plays, there’s perhaps more suspension of disbelief necessary than usual in here, but it works as a tale of human nature and the rewards for those who are faithful and loyal throughout and this production manages to balance the two sides well, provoking huge emotional depths especially in a beautiful rendition of the ending but also raising spirits and laughs aplenty. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, RSC at the Roundhouse”

Review: Antony and Cleopatra, Courtyard Theatre Stratford

“Give me my robe, put on my crown; I have immortal longings in me”

Never mind ‘the Scottish play’, it appears that it’s the role of Mark Antony that has some kind of a curse attached to it. Last year saw the Dutch Hans Kesting break a leg before The Roman Tragedies arrived at the Barbican (he delivered a barnstorming performance from his wheelchair), and now Darrell D’Silva is having to perform with his left arm in a sling after suffering severe injuries to his hand after a prop firearm malfunctioned during the technical rehearsal. He has now rejoined the cast after surgery, but press night has been postponed to try and make up some rehearsal time. So my first trip to the Courtyard Theatre at the RSC in Stratford which should have been to one of the final previews actually ended up being earlier in the run than planned.

This is a modern-dress Antony and Cleopatra, featuring guns and suits to tell this great tragic love story of two powerful individuals brought together yet unable to escape their circumstances. Rome is ruled by a triumvirate (what a great word!) after Julius Caesar’s assassination, yet all is not well. Mark Antony has had his head and heart captivated by the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra and is spending more of his time there than in Rome. Taking advantage of this is the ambitious Octavius Caesar who turns on the third triumvir Lepidus, setting the scene for an almighty showdown between the two rivals. Continue reading “Review: Antony and Cleopatra, Courtyard Theatre Stratford”