DVD Review: Hamlet (1990)

“What means your lordship?”

Having just seen a corking production of Hamlet at the RSC, I wasn’t expecting to like Franco Zefferelli’s 1990 adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, not least because Mel Gibson couldn’t possibly be a good Hamlet could he but I have to hold my hands up, I enjoyed it much more than I was expecting. Granted, from low expectations that might not always mean a huge amount but it was good enough for me, Glenn Close’s Gertrude an impressive Shakespearean debut amongst a quality cast combining youth and experience.

It’s full of interesting choices, not all of them 100% successful but intelligently considered nonetheless in creating a cinematic version of this theatrical behemoth that stands out on its own merits. So Ian Holm’s Polonius becomes a dour-minded, almost cruel figure that is very much at odds with how I’ve ever seen the character played, Hamlet and his mother Gertrude are shown to be locked in an Oedipal relationship (I like to think this is a nod to the fact that Close is just 9 years older than Gibson though I doubt it – I don’t think I’ve seen this interpretation onstage recently though), Helena Bonham Carter’s Ophelia a strikingly self-possessed figure from the start.  Continue reading “DVD Review: Hamlet (1990)”

Review: Bingo – scenes of money and death, Young Vic

“I’m stupefied by the suffering I’ve seen”

I started the year with the best of intentions to try and cut down on the number of shows I’m seeing and specifically to stop going to things I know I won’t like (mainly because of the cast). In this respect Bingo at the Young Vic was a double whammy as it had some of the worst word-of-mouth I’ve ever heard from fellow theatre-goers and I don’t even particularly like Patrick Stewart. But I allowed myself to be suckered into getting £10 tickets for a Wednesday matinee (by someone who then bailed at the last minute!) and safe to say, it was not a good experience.

Edward Bond’s play looks at the final years of Shakespeare’s life as the playwright returns to Stratford-upon-Avon having given up on writing, given up on his daughter and wife whom he loathes and generally given up on life. In the midst of his depressed funk is the enactment of the Enclosures Act which enabled the landed gentry to evict many of the poor and in which Shakespeare is complicit as he allows himself to turn a blind eye – though he is not completely without conscience as he sees the wider impact of these actions on a runaway girl who is brutalised by society. But even this makes it seem more interesting than it actually was as the first half was just criminally dull. I found it extremely hard to stay awake and there were a ton of walkouts. Continue reading “Review: Bingo – scenes of money and death, Young Vic”

Review: The School for Scandal, Barbican

“You can indeed each fear remove,
for even scandal dies if you approve”

Commencing before the curtain ‘rises’ with a futuristic-Georgian fashion show, complete with gossiping fashionistas, it is clear from the outset that Deborah Warner’s production of Sheridan’s The School for Scandal is no stately Peter Hall-esque costume piece, but rather something completely different. Employing much of the same visual language employed in her 2009 Mother Courage for the National, the Brechtian feel is very much here in the deconstructed pieces of set lying against walls, stagehands visible onstage and placards announcing the scene changes.

At a time of ever-increasing tabloid gossip, injunctions, superinjunctions and Twitter, Warner is clearly keen to draw direct comparisons between Sheridan’s Georgian London society (who presumably twittered rather than tweeted) and the shallower end of our own contemporary society obsessions with celebrity and consumerism. This is done in the most heavy-handed of ways, so the scandalous intrigue and politics that surrounds the plot of romantic entanglements, debated inheritances, saucy liaisons, unhappy marriages is dressed in designer shopping bags, a thumpingly loud soundtrack and all sorts of modernities. Continue reading “Review: The School for Scandal, Barbican”

Review: Edward II, Shakespeare’s Globe

So my second trip to the Globe took me to Edward II, a play by Christopher Marlowe which was another all-male production and actually carried over almost the entire cast from Richard II which was a nice touch I hadn’t realised until I got there. I like the idea of a company doing more than one play as it means that the bonds within the group have time to really develop and become something more special than if just for a short run.

Covering most of the key events of Edward II’s reign, the play hooks around the relationship between the King and his favourite, Piers Gaveston who was showered with love, gifts, lands and titles by his royal lover. Though interestingly, the shock value from the play would originally have come from the social/class barriers that were breached rather than the sexual ones, as the barons and lords of the court would have been outraged at the fact that Gaveston was of lowly birth rather than the fact that he was a man. For at the heart of this play is a debate about politics and the lengths to which the establishment will protect what they see as theirs by right.

The relationship between Edward and Gaveston is perfectly played and completely unafraid of being physical. Gerard Kyd as the favourite brings a fabulous energy and a freedom to his movement and behaviour which instantly sets him apart from the rest of the staid court. And with Liam Brennan’s touching King matching him for passion, their’s was a moving, believable relationship. The rather refreshing liberal take on homosexuality both in the play and this production was negated somewhat by the giggling tourist-heavy audience of the Globe though.

But there is much else to the play, with the viciousness that spurned wife and Queen Isabella pursues the downfall of her errant husband’s lover and then the King himself as she takes her own lover, the fiercely ambitious baron Mortimer. Justin Shelvin was convincing as the tyrannical baron, but I wasn’t too sure about Chu Omambala as the Queen, not really hitting the emotional depths of either despair or vengeance, literally being outshone in every sense by Gerard Kyd’s Gaveston. The all-male casting actually didn’t make that much of a difference in the end, which I suppose is the point, it felt natural and worked with the material.

I loved being a groundling again, even with a show that was over three hours, as it was very musical with lots of drums, tribal dancing to represent battles and being up close to the actors makes me feel a little sorry for the people who are sat down on the hard wooden benches!

Review: Richard II, Shakespeare’s Globe

In a season entitled Regime Change, the all-male company are tackling Richard II, Shakespeare’s fast and loose take on the life of headstrong Richard II, this historical figure whose autocratic rule and unconventional approach to matters of state led to his cousin Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV, deposing him with the help of a large faction of his family: this schism forming the basis for the long-running Wars of the Roses. On a personal note, this was my first trip to the Globe and standing in the Yard was the only way to get in so I took a packed lunch and wore some comfortable shoes!

Mark Rylance takes on the title role and it is very much his show and this came across as both a good thing and something of a negative too. He dominates proceedings as this melancholy monarch who is lacking the political nous to deal with the challenges in his kingdom, thereby minimising the role of Bolingbroke somewhat rather than presenting them as two sides of the same coin: for indeed both of these men come to learn the same lessons, about the loneliness of the realities of being king. Continue reading “Review: Richard II, Shakespeare’s Globe”