Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare

I have a mixed time with some shaken-up Shakespeares – othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith; Twelfth Night at the Young Vic; Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace; and Measure for Measure at the Donmar

“Condemn the fault and not the actor of it?”

I’m the first to say that modern adaptations of Shakespeare need to do something different to justify their place in today’s theatre ecology. Lord knows there’s been enough traditional renditions of his work, and still they come, and even if there are always going to be people coming for the first time, there’s also a real need to make his plays speak to contemporary society in a way that is unafraid to challenge his reputation. It is perhaps no surprise that it is female directors and directors of colour who are at the forefront of doing just that and there have been four key examples in London most recently – Jude Christian’s othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub’s Twelfth Night at the Young Vic, Brigid Larmour’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace and Josie Rourke’s Measure for Measure at the Donmar.

And of course, having demanded that this is what directors do, I found myself disappointed at the majority of these, for some of the same reasons and some different ones too. Perhaps the most formally daring is Christian’s othellomacbeth which smashes together the two tragedies to create something which ends up less than the sum of its constituent parts. Its intentions are certainly noble, seeking to highlight the female voices in these plays and give them prominence. But the reality is that in the two substantially reduced treatments here, everything becomes diminished, not least narrative clarity. There’s one cracking idea which connects the two, which you suspect might have inspired the whole production, but ultimately, it is not enough to hang the whole thing on. Continue reading “Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare”

Review: One Love: The Bob Marley Musical, Birmingham Rep

“Let’s get together and feel all right”

There’s much to enjoy in One Love: The Bob Marley Musical, not least the joyous celebration of some of the most enduringly famous music in the world. And writer and director Kwame Kwei-Armah does a decent job at balancing the populist demands of a jukebox musical with something more dramatically satisfying. The result has been a sell-out success for the Birmingham Rep and I only just managed to squeak this into the schedule before it closes at the weekend,

Using 20 or so of Marley’s songs, Kwei-Armah takes us through an eventful few years in the singer’s life as the success of his artistry launches him from an accomplished reggae musician to international icon, pushing his concerns from simply getting records out to matters of national diplomacy as he finds himself intertwined in Jamaican politics. He also has internal conflicts with his band and a turbulent personal life to deal with, as well as converting to Rastafarianism. Continue reading “Review: One Love: The Bob Marley Musical, Birmingham Rep”

Review: One Night In Miami…, Donmar

“I’m way too pretty not to be in the movies”

Just a quickie for this, as it has now closed. Kemp Powers’ One Night In Miami… takes place on 25th February 1964 in the aftermath of Cassius Clay’s prize-winning fight with Sonny Liston. In a Floridian hotel room, he marks the occasion by hanging out with his friends Malcolm X, singer Sam Cooke and sports star Jim Brown as they reflect on the momentous point in the US civil rights movement that they variously find themselves involved in. And what could have been a dry debate is brought wonderfully to life by Powers’ script, Kwame Kwei-Armah’s direction and a great cast.

Sope Dirisu’s Clay is on the cusp of converting to Islam and changing his name but Dirisu finds the man behind the myth most delightfully, David Akala’s Brown is genially laidback, and Arinzé Kene sings wonderfully as Cooke whose integrationist views contrast strongly with Francois Battiste’s Malcolm X who is advocating a more militant course of action. There’s also Dwane Walcott and Josh Williams as the two wary guards from The Nation of Islam, adding tension and unpredictability, and altogether it proved a most fascinating and illuminating piece of drama. 

Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Booking until 3rd December