Reviewer: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud

“A manly enterprise”

Propeller’s 2013/14 tour sees them revive their productions ofThe Comedy of Errors and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with the latter kicking things off in a few venues this winter before the former joins it in rep early next year. The all-male Shakespeare company has rightfully garnered considerable praise for its innovative ensemble-driven approach to the Bard’s works but returning to this interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, previously seen in 2003 and 2009, sees them lose a little of that special magic that they have previously brought to bear.

Located in a Victorian attic of sorts, the story of the course of true love is surprisingly leaden in a protracted first half which fails to reveal any real sense of purpose to Edward Hall’s production. The ducal court is dull with a criminally insipid Hippolyta, any character that does arrive in Will Featherstone’s performance is too little too late; there’s a quartet of curiously bloodless lovers, with only Dan Wheeler’s Helena really standing out; and the Rude Mechanicals are serviceable but little more. Joseph Chance’s Wizard of Oz-inspired Puck really is the saving grace with his supple slyness.  Continue reading “Reviewer: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud”

Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Propeller at Hampstead

“It will make the man mad, to make a woman of him”

It is nigh on impossible to put on a production of The Taming of the Shrew these days without first considering how to solve the issues that lie at the heart of this problematic play. Last year saw the Globe play it for laughs hugely successfully and it also saw the RSC up the erotic ante with less effective results, we now get the all-male Propeller interpretation in London which takes a yet different route into one of Shakespeare’s more difficult works. In direct contrast with their take on Twelfth Night, there is a marked lack of sexual attraction in this world, instead this is firmly a tale about power and control and just how brutal the male exercising thereof can get.

Ed Hall’s production plays up the framing device of Christopher Sly’s drunken shenanigans and firmly locates the main body of the story, of Petruchio’s brutish diminishment of the spirited Kate, in the play-within-a-play. This is achieved mainly by the rather nifty device of having Sly himself co-opted into being part of the play put on for his benefit – Vince Leigh’s sizzled tinker morphing into a viciously virile Petruchio who then becomes the calculatingly hard focal point, failing to realise just what is being revealed of his true self in the telling of this tale.  Continue reading “Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Propeller at Hampstead”

Re-review: Twelfth Night, Propeller at Hampstead Theatre

“Ay marry, what is he?”

It’s over six months since Propeller started their most recent tour and so a similar amount of time since I saw Twelfth Night back in Guildford, a production I enjoyed immensely and ranked as my 13th favourite of the year. And as is now their wont, their tour makes a late stop at Edward Hall’s London abode at the Hampstead Theatre for an extended stay where both their productions (The Taming of the Shrew is the other this time round) will play in rep. Getting to revisit a show like this is something of a luxury and a rare opportunity at that, I ummed and aahed briefly about booking again but the lure of the front row was too strong for me to resist. 

And I am glad I went back for seconds, for this really is my kind of Shakespearean comedy. Not so much in the all-male playing of it but rather in the restraint with which it goes for the laughs, concentrating instead on a tone of sustained melancholy. In emphasising the bittersweet notes as it does – from the start, it is clear Liam O’Brien’s Feste prefers a more mournful ballad – the play is given, for me at least, a greater sense of depth. A real feeling of loneliness, pain and bitterness to so many of these characters creates an ideal counterweight to the broad humour once it comes and makes us feel their ups and downs so much more. Continue reading “Re-review: Twelfth Night, Propeller at Hampstead Theatre”

Review: Twelfth Night, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud

“What kind of woman is’t?”

In what is now a bit of a tradition (although I was abandoned by my usual partner in crime), late November sees me travel to the Yvonne Arnaud theatre in Guildford, as it has become one of the first places that Propeller visit as they commence their lengthy tours around the UK and beyond. Indeed my first ever Propeller experience was here with the frankly outstanding Richard III, which with The Comedy of Errors made for an incredible introduction to this all-male company. The most recent double bill of Henry V and The Winter’s Tale didn’t quite live up to that billing for me, despite still being some of the most imaginatively reinterpreted Shakespeare I saw all year, and so there was no doubt I would continue to make the pilgrimage to Surrey. 

This time round, they are revisiting their 2006/7 productions of The Taming of the Shrew (which will start performances in late January) and Twelfth Night which commenced earlier in the month and which I saw at this midweek matinée. And from the lowering storm clouds that form the ever-present backdrop, it is clear that this is going to be no fluffy romp but rather a bittersweet take on Shakespeare’s rich comedy of frustrated love and sexual confusion. Sure, the production is full of the raucous innovation that Propeller bring to their reassessment of the Bard’s work and so we have here – amongst many, many other things – boxing matches, the La’s, tap dancing, nose flicking, and shirtless moving statues. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Propeller at Yvonne Arnaud”

Review: The School of Night, Soho Theatre

“It may not be iambic pentameter but it is pretty f*cking close”

In advance of the start of the Edinburgh Festival, there have been many opportunities to sample some of the works going up there in venues across London, though the only one that I managed to fit into the schedule was The School of Night at the Soho Theatre. The main attraction was the fact that the company contained a number of the Showstoppers crew whose work I have enjoyed several times and so I was in no doubt of their improvisational skills. But where that previous show saw the team coming up with a musical on the spot, helped (or hindered) by audience suggestions, The School of Night sees them focusing on the world of literature, culminating in the creation of a uniquely special Shakespeare play that is shaped and guided by whatever the audience calls out.

Starting off with some improv games based on the reading material of the audience and stories we were encouraged to share, the troupe immediately demonstrate their considerable gift of rapid-fire, quick-witted wordplay and repartee which soon had me howling with laughter. There’s something delightful in the sheer abandon with which the players create such imaginative worlds out of seemingly nothing and they obviously relish the freedom given to them in this opening section. Continue reading “Review: The School of Night, Soho Theatre”