Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Actors Church Covent Garden

“I shall do thee mischief in the wood…
‘Ay, in the town, in the temple…’”

Last July’s Romeo and Juliet at the Actors Church in Covent Garden was a real unexpected surprise in a summer that was full of productions of that play, site-specific theatre that genuinely worked with the idiosyncrasies of the venue and able to exploit them to their full advantage. This year Iris Theatre are putting on A Midsummer Night’s Dream as their main production for the summer, an early showing of which I caught this week, to see whether the magic could be recaptured with this, my most favourite of Shakespeare’s plays.

The venue is St Pauls Church, right in the middle of Covent Garden with its own secluded courtyard filled with trees and shrubbery, which lends itself well to the evocation of the Forest of Arden: Dan Winder’s fluid production places a strong connection with nature front and centre so that the fairies are closer to woodland sprites than the ballet-dressed moppets of old, fitting in perfectly to the grassy knolls, wildflower-strewn groves and secluded bowers, the steps of the church creating a more stately locations where needed. The audience follows the action around the grounds, though there’s only perhaps 2 moves in each half and there’s sufficient room for everyone at each place, sitting or standing – something which is not always the case in promenade productions. Continue reading “Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Actors Church Covent Garden”

Review: Romeo and Juliet, Actors Church Covent Garden

“Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night”

So my second Romeo & Juliet in a central London (but off-West-End) venue in a week but whilst this is a modern dress Romeo & Juliet, it wisely leaves alone from much else tinkering. Set in the grounds and gardens, and finally inside, The Actors Church otherwise known as St Pauls Church in Covent Garden, this is a fresh, thoroughly honest and intimate telling of this familiar tale by Iris Theatre which offers a beautifully direct connection to the material. Fierce from the outset, there’s bottling, punching and flick-knives by the dozen, the opening brawl leaves many of the cast spitting (fake) blood and covered in plasters and bandages for the rest of the show: there’s little holding back from the brutality of the violence endemic in this family feud. But likewise, there’s no hiding from the depth of emotion here as well; this production contains a pair of central performances in an utterly convincing portrayal of teenage lust and passion.

There’s a wonderful use of the nooks and crannies of St Pauls, a surprisingly calm environment enclosed on all sides by tall buildings and the hustle and bustle of Covent Garden. The audience is seated on benches for the longer scenes, but occasionally we wander to different areas to witness a rave in a garden complete with Bonnie Tyler dance routine, or snoop on the lovers in their hammock in a shaded corner, or in a brilliant moment, watch Juliet as she emerges in the window of one of the adjoining houses for the balcony scene. Then as we approach the final scene, we are invited into the church itself and it is a breathtaking moment: lit by hundreds of candles and a striking large blue neon cross, the air laden with incense, the bodies of Juliet and Paris laid on the altar, it is incredibly effective and atmospheric and demonstrates a superbly sensitive understanding of the opportunities provided by this venue. Continue reading “Review: Romeo and Juliet, Actors Church Covent Garden”

Review: Shadowlands, Wyndhams

To be honest, I had to be somewhat dragged to see this show. I remember the film Shadowlands being out at the cinema and along with The Remains of the Day (also featuring Anthony Hopkins) neither one appealed to my teenaged self and that mentality remained with me even as this adaptation of William Nicholson’s play arrived at the Wyndhams Theatre. And boy am I glad that I allowed myself to be persuaded. I absolutely loved it and ended up crying bucketloads for almost the entire second half!

For the few who don’t know the plot, it concerns classic English novelist CS Lewis and his late-developing romance with American poet Joy Gresham, its an unexpected relationship for both of them, starting as a correspondence and then blooms into marriage. However Lewis’ Christian faith is severely tested when Joy is diagnosed with terminal cancer and everything he believed in is turned on its head.

As the central couple, Charles Dance and Janie Dee are simply resplendent, utterly convincing in the portrayal of their relationship. Dee captures the strength of character of this feisty woman which hides a certain loneliness that she ultimately fills and Dance is just mesmerising with a quietly powerful and striking turn as a man who every certainty in life is changed, firstly for the better and then for the worse with a heartbreaking intensity. The play also has fun in showing the repressed nature of so many men of the era, especially in the cloistered lives of Oxford dons, typified by John Standing’s gruff professor and Richard Durden’s buttoned-up brother of Lewis.

So an unexpected delight and one of the most moving things I’ve seen all year: highly recommended.