“A poet’s art is to lead on your thoughts through subtle paths and workings of a plot. I will say nothing positive; you may think what you please…”
It’s not too often that I open a review with mention of the sound design but Max Pappenheim’s work in The Little at the Southwark Playhouse is undoubtedly worthy of the accolade. In this intimate auditorium on the architecturally clean lines of Anna Reid’s set, there’s an extraordinary sense of being in vaulted palace chambers and cathedrals as echoes and reverberations amplify our imaginations perfectly.
It’s the kind of creative invention that those familiar with director Justin Audibert have come to expect and it is thrilling to see it maintained whether working in the vast Royal Shakespeare Theatre where his recent Snow in Midsummer was excellent, or on this much smaller scale where it is a real delight to see someone really understanding how to play to all sides of a thrust stage. There’s also a fascinating choice of material here in this revival of James Shirley’s The Cardinal, a 1641 play whose claim to fame is being one of the last to be performed before Oliver Cromwell pulled the plug on show-business.
“This bodes some strange eruption to our state”
It shouldn’t be newsworthy in this day and age but it is impossible to ignore and important to recognise this does mark the first time that a black actor has played the title role in Hamlet at the RSC in the 50+ years since its founding. The task falls to 25-year-old Paapa Essiedu (last seen at the Royal Court but most memorable from the Finborough’s Black Jesus) in Simon Godwin’s production, which relocates the play to West Africa.
It is an interpretation full of bold choices – opening at Hamlet’s Wittenberg graduation ceremony whose celebratory mood is shattered by his father’s funeral cortège scything through the stage – and largely successful, underpinned by Essiedu’s assuredly capricious performance of impulsive exuberance. This Hamlet is a lover not a fighter, an artist rather than a soldier, youthfully funny but full of a student’s swagger rather than lived-in experience. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”
“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me”
I am aware that I’m flying in the face of received wisdom here but I really wasn’t a fan of the RSC’s Richard II. The announcement of David Tennant in the leading role ensured its sell-out success (regardless of the actual strength of the production) and its transfer to the Barbican after its initial run in Stratford-upon-Avon likewise proved to be the quickest of sellers. Its critical notices have been close to superlative too, so the level of expectation was certainly high.
But for all of this, I found Gregory Doran’s production to be largely quite dull, it hardly ever provoked excitement or even piqued my interest in the slow-moving telling of its tale of regime change and the corrosive effects of absolute monarchy on the individual. The inferences of a Christ-like demeanour to this King are heavily played and Tennant laps this up, irascible and irritable throughout and increasingly given to thoughts of his own divinity. Intentional perhaps, but hard to like. Continue reading “Review: Richard II, Barbican”
“Men may construe things after their fashion clean from the purpose of the things themselves”
I hadn’t originally intended to take in Gregory Doran’s all-black version of Julius Caesar for the RSC, not for any particular reason than just that it didn’t really appeal. It seemed that my instincts had paid off when it was announced that, with a rather odd sense of timing, the production would be filmed in Stratford-upon-Avon and shown on television before it made its transfer to London’s Noël Coward Theatre and then on to a UK tour. But upon watching this televised version which mixed location shooting with action filmed on-stage, I was utterly seduced by Doran’s reinterpretation which sees the play relocated into some unspecified modern African dictatorship.
Most of what I said about the production in my review of the film still holds true so I won’t repeat myself too much. Having been spoiled by the intimacy that television cameras provided, it was a little difficult to readjust expectations in light of being seated in the rear stalls. Missing so much of the detailing, and indeed the clarity of much of the text in a couple of heavily-accented places, meant that I never felt quite as connected to the action as I had previously been, an interesting thing to discover given that the live experience is the one that is always trumpeted. Michael Vale’s crumbling set design did look impressive though, with its looming statue an ever-present reminder of the seeming inevitability of oppressive leadership.
“Men, at some times, are masters of their fate”
In the near-overwhelming deluge of Shakespeare love on the BBC which is about to reach its crescendo with the debut of the Hollow Crown season, the decision to film and broadcast the RSC’s current production of Julius Caesar seems a rather perverse one. The show, an all-black adaptation relocated to an unspecified modern African state by director Gregory Doran, has yet to complete its Stratford-upon-Avon run and will embark on a major UK tour including a residency in the West End’s Noël Coward Theatre, so it seems a little counter-intuitive to present it on our televisions – I only hope this does not impact on ticket sales (though given it played on BBC4, one does wonder what viewing figures were actually like…).
Of course, watching a play on screen is not the same as watching it live and though this starts with the opening scene recorded at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, the first transition cleverly moves us into location filming and so the production gains a filmic quality which makes use of varied locations, including a return to the RST, direct addresses to camera, ‘found’ cellphone footage and voiceovers to really translate the theatrical interpretation into something new for the screen, as opposed to simply replicating it. The relocation is a simple, yet powerfully effective one, the overthrowing of a military dictator by less than honourable types is something which will seemingly always have currency in the modern world, but more importantly the concept is worn lightly with little shoe-horning necessary to make it work. Instead it flows beautifully and naturally to great effect. Continue reading “TV Review: Julius Caesar, BBC4”
“Open the clouds”
It is rare that one witnesses people encouraging the clouds to open at any performance at the Globe, it seems like a needless temptation of fate! But nevertheless, Tony Harrison works in the phrase into this play and on this occasion at least, the heavens did not open (although Mary did still get assumpted!) Starting off with God and the creation and whipping through key stories from the Bible – ostensibly with messages incorporated for us in modern life – until we reach the last judgement, The Globe Mysteries is Tony Harrison’s own adaptation of his 1977 version of The Mysteries for the National Theatre.
Played with a cast of 14 who cover over 60 roles between them, we move from the Garden of Eden through Noah to the birth and death of Jesus and then beyond. There’s a rough chronology which sees us sweeping through time so that we end up more or less in a modern-day setting around the time of Jesus’ death which means the whole range of the costume department is exploited. Harrison’s text is a rough kind of verse, with rhyming couplets and modern reference points aplenty but it is a deeply traditional set of stories which doesn’t take well to the transfer and overall, I found it to be rather problematic. Continue reading “Review: The Globe Mysteries, Shakespeare’s Globe”
“Have you ever been in love…?”
I would have loved to have gone up to Sheffield to catch one or more of the plays in the David Hare season currently playing, there’s some really interesting casting and I haven’t experienced much of Hare’s work at all, but two trips there last month and a tight schedule this month means it doesn’t look likely, so I had to look closer to home. And almost as if it was meant to be, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama obliged with a production of The Blue Room at the Bridewell. A free adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde (which seems an endlessly popular play for reinterpretations), this show is perhaps most (in)famous for the Donmar Warehouse’s production in which Iain Glen and Nicole Kidman covered all the roles and set certain critics’ flames alight.
The show features a daisy-chain of 10 anonymous characters in endless sexual encounters, one having sex with another until the final character meets the first and the circle is completed. Hare kept this structure in his version but moved to the action from fin-de-siècle Vienna to “one of the great cities of the world, in the present day” and had 2 actors play all the parts, demanding great versatility in portraying the multiple takes on lust, sex, class, power. This version though has a different person playing each part. Continue reading “Review: The Blue Room, Guildhall at the Bridewell Theatre”