Review: The Winter’s Tale, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

 Thou metst with things dying,
I with things new-born”

It’s easy to feel a little jaded when it comes to Shakespeare, the same plays coming round with regularity and not always inspiring such great theatre. So I’m delighted to report that Michael Longhurst’s production of The Winter’s Tale for the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is probably the best version of the play I’ve ever seen. The Kenneth Branagh Company’s The Winter’s Tale was a staid disappointment for me, previously the Crucible had let me down too but in the candlelit atmosphere on Bankside, something truly magical is happening.

It’s a tricky play to get right in its split of two very different worlds but where Longhurst really succeeds is in suggesting that Sicilia and Bohemia perhaps aren’t too separate at all. Modern designers often highlight the dichotomy between the chilly stateliness of Leonte’s Sicilia with the freewheeling japery of Polixenes’ Bohemia but in the simplicity of Richard Kent’s design, they’re both very much on the same sliding scale – psychological darkness pervading the light in both worlds, the promise of redemption ultimately illuminating one and the other too. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse”

Review: Pericles, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

“Few love to hear the sins they love to act”

A New Year, a new chance for the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, a venue that critics love to describe as beautifully atmospheric because they’ve never had to sit anywhere apart from the good seats that press agents put them in. For it is a difficult theatre for the regular theatregoer – recreating as it does the candlelit ambience of a 17th century indoor playhouse, it also has that (possibly) Jacobean feature of premium seating at over £60 a pop. At the other end of the scale, £10 standing spots are available in the upper gallery but there, one has to deal with considerably restricted views. 

As a result, it’s thus been a theatre I’ve easily decided not to frequent that often – the levels of discomfort in the backless seats not endearing me much either – but the lure of the last Shakespeare play I’ve yet to see in Pericles and Rachael Stirling, John Light and Niamh Cusack in The Winter’s Tale has tempted me to bite the bullet. That said, I will be unflinchingly honest about the experiences, as it is a theatre where you want to be forearmed with as much knowledge as possible. For reference, I saw Pericles from standing spot D32 in the upper gallery.  Continue reading “Review: Pericles, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse”

Short Film Review #62

Last year, I made a weekly feature out of short film reviews (if you explore the film tag, you can find them all) but in the name of reclaiming some semblance of a normal life, I’ve put them on hold. Things still pop into my awareness or my inbox though so I thought I’d flag these up. 
Not quite a short film but an interactive video game, 5 Minutes features newly-announced Beowulf Kieran Bew (and it’s good news, he’s a bearded Bew in this one) as a father trapped in a zombie nightmare with his teenage daughter. You can select three levels of difficulty to help them through their journey to try and escape the zombie curse (I’ve managed medium, just about) and it is all rather well done. I’m no expert at all in this kind of thing though so make of it what you will!
And Pet Shop Girls is a delightfully surreal sitcom in the making, full of off-kilter characters and wryly amusing dialogue as we follow a day in a high street pet shop. Written by Kirsty Woodward, Luke Norris and Ed Hancock and directed by Ben Aldridge, it really is rather good, you could imagine it slotting into BBC3’s schedule quite easily. 

A little behind the times here – The Departure saw Gillian Anderson reprise her award-winning role as Blanche DuBois as Andrew O’Hagan’s short film imagined a prequel to Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire. It acts as a kind of prologue to Benedict Andrews’ production, taking place in the modern day and in the days before she arrives at her sister’s home. Directed by Anderson herself, it offers intriguing layers of backstory to events and places merely mentioned in the play proper and has a darkly theatrical feel to it.

Review: The Way of the World, Crucible

“I’m in a maze yet, like a dog in a dancing-school”

I doubt I could have named a single Restoration comedy for you even just a few months ago but trends in theatre change as endlessly as in fashion, and I now find myself having seen three already this year. Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre get in on the act with this revival of William Congreve’s The Way of the World (ahead of Chichester who are putting it on as part of this year’s festival) from 1700, following my trips to the Donmar’s The Recruiting Officer (1706) and the National’s She Stoops to Conquer (1773).

Lyndsey Turner’s production here though is the only one of these that has taken major liberties with the play, in this case setting in the modern day where ‘Restoration’ is a new trend that has swept society. At its simplest, the plot follows the young Mirabell who is courting the delicious Millament, yet comes up against her formidable aunt Lady Wishfort who is set against the match and threatens to withhold her fortune, which many others have their eye on and are willing to commit dastardly deeds to get it. But the play is rarely that simple, and with the directorial device at play, I must admit it challenged me just a little (and made me wish I’d read a synopsis beforehand). Continue reading “Review: The Way of the World, Crucible”

Review: American Trade, RSC at Hampstead Theatre

“I don’t even know what you are speaking of but I sense it’s dirty, underhanded and plain illegal”

And so to complete the set… Having initially declared that I was fine with not seeing any of the RSC new commissions at the Hampstead Theatre when they were announced, I’ve now seen all three of them, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s American Trade following on from Little Eagles and Silence in what has been, to be completely honest, a rather underwhelming season. Billed as a contemporary Restoration comedy, this is an ultra-modern, breakneck 90 minutes of multi-coloured, multi-racial, multi-sexual shenanigans, which also happens to mark Jamie Lloyd’s RSC directorial debut. This was a preview performance on the evening of Saturday 4th June.

Insofar as the plot is concerned, young New York hustler Pharus is offered a golden chance to escape his increasingly tricky situation when an unexpected offer from his unknown English Great-Aunt Marian to run a new modelling agency as part of her PR firm comes through. So he crosses the ocean and make a good impression but ends up finding he is best at what he knows and so the model agency becomes a cover for a prostitution racket. But his cousin Valentina, heir presumptive to the business, is not happy with the new arrival and the threat he poses, so she sets about trying to uncover his murky past whilst trying to work her PR spin on a children’s film star who has gone seriously off the rails. Continue reading “Review: American Trade, RSC at Hampstead Theatre”

Re-review: Romeo & Juliet, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“If love be rough with you, be rough with love”

So having managed to stand through King Lear and partake of a lovely dinner, the evening saw a second visit to Rupert Goold’s highly entertaining Romeo & Juliet. I haven’t got a huge amount to say about this that I didn’t already say in my original review, it really is as fresh and exciting an interpretation of this play that you will ever see, it feels like it could have been written yesterday, so persuasive is the pulsing heart of this production with its innovative immediacy.

I’d actually decided not to see the show again when it came to the Roundhouse in the winter as I thought I didn’t want my happy memories of seeing it at the Courtyard to be affected. But talking to people who did go persuaded me it might be a good thing and I am so glad that I did go again as I felt the production has matured into something richer and stronger. And knowing what the directorial flourishes were meant that I was able to focus more elsewhere, on the subtleties, the little touches that passed me by and enjoying the sheer quality of the performances, especially from the great seats we forked out for, on the front row of the circle facing the stage. Continue reading “Re-review: Romeo & Juliet, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: The Winter’s Tale, RSC at the Roundhouse

“Though I am not naturally honest, I am so sometimes by chance”

Sometimes quite a difficult play to pull off due to the disparate nature of its two main strands, The Winter’s Tale remains a popular choice for the RSC and this production, part of the Roundhouse season, was originally seen in Stratford in 2009. Starting off in the highly ordered Sicilia, Leontes rules with a tight discipline, ill-equipped to deal with the warm emotion of his wife Hermione. Playing the genial hostess to their friend Polixenes, King of Bohemia, rouses a terrible jealousy in Leontes though and charging them with adultery, he sets in train a terrible set of events that hugely alter his life. Much of the second half takes place 16 years later in Bohemia with events much advanced, but we eventually return to Sicilia to revisit Leontes and his court for the final denouement.

David Farr’s production is superbly mounted and works as a timely reminder that even the greatest of men can be undone by a moment of frailty and the echoing impact of the emotions and decisions of those in power throughout the rest of society. It is one of Shakespeare’s most impressionistic plays, there’s perhaps more suspension of disbelief necessary than usual in here, but it works as a tale of human nature and the rewards for those who are faithful and loyal throughout and this production manages to balance the two sides well, provoking huge emotional depths especially in a beautiful rendition of the ending but also raising spirits and laughs aplenty. Continue reading “Review: The Winter’s Tale, RSC at the Roundhouse”

Review: Romeo and Juliet, Courtyard Theatre Stratford

“…the fearful passage of their death-mark’d love”

 

Rupert Goold’s production of Romeo and Juliet at the Courtyard in Stratford marks his first foray there since 2006, now he’s an Associate Director and directs a well-established ensemble here at the RSC in tale of a Montague and Capulet whose love for each other in a hostile world defies a long-held bloody family feud with the most tragic of consequences.

 

Mariah Gale and Sam Troughton may seem like unconventional casting, but they work perfectly together as Juliet and Romeo. She’s a sulky teenager, rebelling at the marital fait accompli presented to her by her overbearing father (a terrifyingly chilling Richard Katz); he’s a hooded brooding soul, initially almost nerdily obsessed with Rosaline, both alone in their respective tribes but their first meeting awakens something deep inside of both of them and their chemistry together is just electric. He comes to life, dancing jigs of ecstatic joy, and she becomes alive to the possibilities of romantic and indeed sexual fulfilment. We never forget though that their’s is a tragic story, and Gale in particular is painfully strong in displaying the deepening realisation that their situation is not one that is tenable. Continue reading “Review: Romeo and Juliet, Courtyard Theatre Stratford”

Review: A Matter of Life and Death, National Theatre

Based on a well respected (although I’d never heard of it, let alone seen it) film, A Matter of Life and Death sees Cornish theatre company Kneehigh take the cavernous Olivier theatre by storm with a highly inventive and physical reinterpretation of this story. Peter, a World War II pilot is shot down whilst on a mission but doesn’t die because the angel sent to collect him gets lost in the fog. Instead, he meets and falls in love with June, the radio operator who tried to help him down. Peter is then forced to plead his case in the court of Heaven to see how his future will play out.

As the romantic leads, both Tristan Sturrock as Peter and Lyndsey Marshal as June seemed a little overwhelmed by the production, not really able to give us much of a sense of the relationship between the two and too often required to do something gymnastic or wacky instead of focusing on the emotion of the moment. In the more light-hearted characters, like Douglas Hodge’s Frank and Gisli Örn Gardarsson’s gymnastic Conductor, there’s more freedom and opportunity for fun, but by and large this wasn’t a production about strong acting. Continue reading “Review: A Matter of Life and Death, National Theatre”