Review: Rosmersholm, Duke of York’s Theatre

Neil Austin’s lighting design in Rosmersholm at the Duke of York’s Theatre is a thing of beauty and Hayley Atwell is excellent but Ibsen is still Ibsen…

“You see, this is what happens when the general public becomes engaged in politics — they get duped into voting against their own interests”

Chances are if Helen McCrory can’t make me like a play, then few others will be able too either. I first saw Henrik Ibsen’s Rosmersholm with Anthony Page’s production for the Almeida which was…eek…more than 10 years ago now. It didn’t click with me then and in the assured hands of Ian Rickson here, it still leaves me cold. 

You do have to admire the bravado of producer Sonia Friedman, opening a play like this cold into the West End without resorting to any hint of stunt casting.And creatively, this is a triumph. Neil Austin’s hauntingly perfect lighting of Rae Smith’s austerely grand designs is a thing of pure beauty as it evolves throughout the show. Continue reading “Review: Rosmersholm, Duke of York’s Theatre”

Review: Twelfth Night, ETT at Richmond Theatre

“For women are as roses…”

It is seriously impressive how sparklingly fresh Jonathan Mumby has managed to make Twelfth Night in his production for English Touring Theatre which I caught at Richmond Theatre this week. The familiarity, even overfamiliarity, which many have with Shakespeare’s work means it can often be hard to get too excited about yet another production but Mumby’s work here has all the hallmarks of a successful and subtle reinvigoration.

Colin Richmond’s artfully distressed design and an original suite of songs from Grant Olding locate this version of Illyria in the folky fancies of Brian Protheroe’s Feste, a move which pays dividends in extending its oft-melancholy mood to all and sundry. So Hugh Ross’ Malvolio is more tragi than comic, a deep sadness apparent under the prickly exterior. Milo Twomey’s Aguecheek is a rueful soul indeed and Doña Croll’s Maria has a marvellous pragmatism.

Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, ETT at Richmond Theatre”

Review: Boris Godunov, Swan

“Everywhere they curse the name of Boris”

The instinctive reaction when one hears of a production of a lesser-known work by a well-known writer tends to be one of healthy scepticism, as one waits to find out whether there was a good reason for its relative obscurity. But sometimes there are mitigating circumstances and Alexander Pushkin’s 1825 play Boris Godunov – receiving its first ever professional production in English here at the Swan Theatre – sufficiently provoked the ire of the state censors so that it was 30 years after his death before it was first approved and even then, continued political pressure ensured its limited impact.

The uncensored version was finally translated by Adrian Mitchell, premiered at Princeton in 2007 and selected now by Michael Boyd to mark his swansong as AD at the RSC, as part of the ensemble-led globetrotting A World Elsewhere season. And one can see why the Russian authorities wouldn’t have taken too kindly to Pushkin’s satire, indeed still to this day, as wrapped up in the tale of men lying, cheating and murdering their way to become Tsar in the late 1590s is an excoriating indictment of the Russian ruling elite. And what Boyd teases out in this fast-moving version, is that such autocratic leadership is seemingly endemic in this country and so its resonances play out right up to the current day.


Lloyd Hutchinson is an exhilarating presence as the titular Boris, whose increasingly wearied Ulster tones show the weight of a wrongfully seized crown as rumours swell that he murdered the old Tsar’s young heir Dmitry to secure his own place on the throne; Gethin Anthony has a striking energy as the monk Grigory who later grasps the chance to imitate Dmitry and manipulate his way into the hearts and mind of the people and thus grab power for himself, his quicksilver shifts in mood revealing a thrilling emotional instability; and there’s great work from Lucy Briggs-Owen’s pragmatically covetous Polish princess and from James Tucker and Joe Dixon as key courtiers who never allow anything as small as significant political differences to their leader to get in the way of their own advancement. 

Boyd keeps his staging to a minimum on the thrust stage of the Swan, which highlighted his main conceit of the various costumes from different Russian ages hanging at the back of the stage, the players slowly working their way through the wardrobe to reach the Putin-inspired suits of the final scene. And this motif of the changing clothes also allowed for the production’s most striking moment in its evocation of battle-scenes through the beating of coats on the floor, surprisingly effective in its stirring simplicity and indicative of the extremely tight ensemble. John Woolf’s music has a similar unfussy quality that keeps it hauntingly moving and fans of stage gore won’t be disappointed with some grisly moments.

I was kindly invited as part of a bloggers’ event which meant I was lucky enough to get a Q+A session at the end of the show which was lots of fun and highly illuminating in a number of areas: the reality of the experience of actors in a rep season, the relationship with the audience in the open space of the Swan (which brought to mind something of the groundling experience at the Globe for me), the Shakespearean connections that many others were able to draw with Pushkin’s work, and the interesting note that this wasn’t intended to be a comedy but rather that the black humour came naturally through the process of putting it together. Boris Godunov is indeed funnier than one might expect but it also contains two powerful studies of the corrosive effects of chasing power which are superbly brought to life by Hutchinson and Anthony. 

Running time: 2 hours (without interval)

Programme cost: £4
Booking until 30th March

Review: Hamlet, National Theatre

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”

It is apparently a truth universally acknowledged that any actor aiming for greatness needs to tackle Hamlet, Shakespeare’s most revered epic, and it is now the turn of Rory Kinnear, under the directorial baton of Nicholas Hytner at the National Theatre to make his entry into the canon (this was the second preview). Recently we’ve had David Tennant and Jude Law, John Simm is currently performing it in Sheffield (I’ll be there on Wednesday) and Michael Sheen will be making his mark at the Young Vic next year. I don’t have a problem with this so much as just wish that there was a similar epic role for women which was restaged and revived as often to allow a comparable ticket to magnitude.

This is very much a modern-day Elsinore. Suited security guards with earpieces are ever-present, state of the art bugging technology is used, a briefcase of tools of torture is brandished and high-definition television cameras record political and battlefield broadcasts. Thus the familial quarrel at the heart of this play is firmly located in the wider political sphere of this dangerous Denmark and it is a mostly highly effective updating. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, National Theatre”

Review: Macbeth, Cheek by Jowl at the Barbican

“If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well it were done quickly” 

And first a moan. I’d intentionally booked front row seats for this back in December, so upon arrival I was a little surprised to find that there was another row of seats in front of ours, row AA which is set a little closer to the ground but with nowhere near sufficient a rake to prevent people’s heads being seriously in the way. This extra row was added in to sell extra tickets due to it being a sellout and whilst I’m happy for the Barbican with their success here, I’m most annoyed that it subsequently affected my enjoyment of the evening.

Cheek by Jowl return to London with their interpretation of Macbeth, Shakespeare’s examination of the cost of chasing power and limitless ambition without responsibility, using their trademark inventiveness to create an otherworldly experience. Setting up in the Silk Street Theatre at the Barbican, there is excellent use of the space throughout the play: the opening haze-filled scene seems to take place in a seemingly endless void, later on the rear wall is used most effectively with spotlights and shadows thrown up. So much is left dark or in shadow, the audience is left to let their imagination fill in the gaps. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, Cheek by Jowl at the Barbican”