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”

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #9

“Man is a giddy thing”

Much Ado About Nothing

Quite a bold gambit here, as Jessica Swale’s Sicily-set scenes are interpolated with Jeremy Herrin’s glorious 2011 production. And most glorious within that production, Eve Best’s heart-breaking, life-affirming recounting of a star dancing is placed front and centre. So Katherine Parkinson and Samuel West are up against it a bit, swanning luxuriously but longfully around the Villa Ida in Messina, never too far from Best and Charles Edwards doing Beatrice and Benedick as well as they ever have been done.


All’s Well That Ends Well
Continue reading “The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #9”

Review: Oppenheimer, Swan

“We could make a star on the surface of the Earth”

Michael Billington notes in his Guardian review that John Heffernan’s work in the title role in Tom Morton-Smith’s Oppenheimer will “elevate [him] to star-status” but to those of us in the know, he’s long been held in such lofty acclaim. From supporting roles in a wide range of interesting productions to taking the lead in Richard II and Edward II, he has steadily revealed himself as an actor of consummate skill and strength and I make no bones in asserting that he is truly the Dame Judi Dench of his generation.

And as ‘Oppie’, the leader of the Manhattan Project and as such the father of the atomic bomb, he really does live up to the billing. There’s such an easy personability about him that is a perfect introduction to a man who is a brilliant physicist, irresistible to women and surrounded by friends as they rail against 1930s fascism in Spain. But where the dexterity comes is in showing us how the weight of such increasingly terrible responsibility haunted and conflicted him in different ways – professionally, personally, philosophically, psychologically. Continue reading “Review: Oppenheimer, Swan”

Review: The Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare’s Globe

“She is spherical – like a globe”

There’s something lovely about the exposure that director Blanche McIntyre is now receiving (see this interview, if not the comments) although some of us may have been aware of her talent for a wee while now. She now makes her directorial bow at the Globe with a nifty take on The Comedy of Errors. As two sets of identical twins rattle around an evocatively near-Eastern Ephesus, there’s a good deal of humour but cleverly there’s also an underlying tone of real pathos that McIntyre gradually brings to the fore.

Matthew Needham and Simon Harrison’s Antipholuses (Antipholi?) have a marked similarity that excuses Hattie Ladbury’s Adriana’s case of mistaken identity as she enthusiastically tries to iron out another rocky patch in her marriage and as their manservants, Brodie Ross and Jamie Wilkes make a fine pair of Dromios as their hapless helplessness in the face of much confusion allows for some of the funnier, slapstick-inflected moments of the production to come forth.

As is often the case at this venue, the comedy is broad, extremely so, but the usage of turkeys and octopi would surely put a smile on even the most churlish of faces, and there’s a delightful strangeness to the work of Stefan Adegbola as a mysterious Dr Pinch. And as the physical bluster eventually subsides, there’s a charming deal of affection that comes shining through in the end as the mayhem subsides, even if just for a moment.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 12th October

Review: Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Foul-spoken coward, that thund’rest with thy tongue, and with thy weapon nothing dar’st perform!”

The Globe must be loving all the attention that Titus Andronicus has gained as Lucy Bailey’s claustrophobically gory production returns and once again brings with it numerous fainters at every show, that in turn providing an easy hook for feature writers to focus on, garnering the kind of free publicity other theatres could only dream of. That people faint fairly regularly at the Globe is by the by, and far be it from me to get in the way of a good story…

And in some ways, that is kind of the point. It isn’t too far of a stretch to suggest that Titus isn’t one of Shakespeare’s strongest works and so directors have to work hard at making it work and much of what Bailey introduces is excellent. William Dudley’s design manages that all-too-rare thing of actually doing something completely different with the Globe’s space, brilliantly evoking hellish blackness throughout, and Django Bates’ score is superbly eerie. Continue reading “Review: Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Howl’s Moving Castle, Southwark Playhouse

“I don’t cook! I’m a scary and powerful fire demon!”

Though not intended to be, this is a review of a preview. I was booked into the press night for Howl’s Moving Castle at the Southwark Playhouse but the creative team behind the show needed more time to work through some technical challenges and so the press night was delayed by a few days. My diary being what it is, I could not reschedule. This is the first stage adaptation of one of Diana Wynne Jones’ novels – though this was memorably animated by Studio Ghibli into a gorgeous film version – and director/designer team Davy and Kristin McGuire have taken a massive step up from their miniature theatre show The Icebook which combined paper cutouts with video work to create an exquisite pop-up book to create a full-scale festive show at the Southwark Playhouse. The ambition at work here is quite considerable and the initial impact of the design with its giant cut-out storybook castle is fantastic. And as the video work starts on the blank screens either side of the castle, it’s clear that this is something quite different.

It’s not a story that immediately springs to mind as one that could be transported onto the stage but Mize Sizemore’s adaptation is cleverly done, paring back the tale to just four characters. Sophie is an 18 year old girl working in a hat shop who unintentionally angers the Witch of the Waste who then casts a spell, turning her into an old woman. To try and break free, Sophie ends up in the home of mysterious wizard Howl, whose flying castle can move between time, space and all manner of dimensions but along this journey, she discovers that she is not the only one in need of rescue. Continue reading “Review: Howl’s Moving Castle, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: The Boy James, Southwark Playhouse

“I came to realise forever is too long”

Belt Up Theatre played Southwark Playhouse last year and return there once more, this time with their show The Boy James, written by Alexander Wright and inspired by the early life of JM Barrie. Tucked away in a space created in one of the vaults at the rear of the building rather than the main auditorium, we’re guided to a cosy sitting room cum study dressed with faded draped fabrics and umpteen childhood toys and mementos by a young pyjama-clad boy, who with great enthusiasm encourages us to make friends with the people around us and play games like tag and I-Spy.

It is a thoroughly enchanting introduction into this world and perfect at drawing the audience into the child-like wonder with which the story is told. The comfortable cocoon of innocence is broken by the arrival of the adult world in the shape of James, Barrie himself, with his weary experience and also in the shape of another intruder who brings violence and sexual awareness to this world, really pushing home the message about the sadness of losing childhood innocence and the pain that the adult world brings with it. Continue reading “Review: The Boy James, Southwark Playhouse”