News: October UK theatre news update

We’re beginning to see the fruits of some more of the lockdown programming that has seen theatres across England respond in a variety of impressive ways

Nottingham Playhouse’s Unlocked Festival continues to rocket up the must-see list as it announces more details. Their local writing commission has ended up with two winners – Wayward Thread’s Hand Me Down and Lapelle’s Factory’s Shuck, both of which will now receive work-in-progress performances as part of the festival.

Casting has also been announced for James Graham’s Bubble, which will star the marvellous Pearl Mackie and the equally marvellous Jessica Raine. They join the likes of Mark Gatiss and Jade Anouka reading ghost stories on
Halloween, new work from Naomi Obeng and a concert starring Rosalie Craig, Sandra Marvin and Jodie Prenger. Continue reading “News: October UK theatre news update”

Review: Imperium II – Dictator, Gielgud

In which Imperium II: Dictator continues a compelling look at (Roman) politics at the Gielgud Theatre but in which I also feel obliged to point out just how male-heavy Imperium skews 

“We are at the mercy of the people of Rome”

Previously on Imperium

  • we enjoyed ourselves
  • we struggled to differentiate between the many names beginning with C
  • we puzzled at why people wore their togas with one bit draped impractically over a forearm
  • we marvelled at how shiny everyone’s leather sandals seemed to be
  • and we grieved at how woefully the wonderful Siobhán Redmond was underused, at how indeed the whole production treats women

The second part of this summer’s Roman epic – Imperium II: Dictator – continues much in the same vein as the first. Mike Poulton’s adaptation capturing much of the sweeping vistas of Robert Harris’ Cicero novels, and Richard McCabe excelling as that noble Cicero who increasingly reveals himself as all-too–hubristically-human.  

But as we reach the seventh hour of drama in this testosterone-heavy world, you can’t help but feel that the women, both of the time and of this company, are relatively hard done by. Between the male gaze of Harris to Poulton to Doran to McCabe, the relentless focus on the political over the personal doesn’t give us much sense of Cicero the man versus Cicero the politician. Continue reading “Review: Imperium II – Dictator, Gielgud”

Review: Imperium I – Conspirator, Gielgud

Imperium I: Conspirator is the entertaining first part of the seven hours of a proper Roman epic from the RSC (thankfully with air-con in the Gielgud Theatre)

“Stupid people tend to vote for stupid people”

With the weather as it is, there are worse ways to spend a day in London than in the blissfully air-conditioned Gielgud Theatre. There, you can partake in the near seven hours of the two-part theatrical extravaganza that is Imperium. First seen at the RSC last winter, Mike Poulton’s adaptation of Robert Harris’ Cicero novels have a suitably epic feel to them and, anchored by an excellent lead performance from Richard McCabe, also have a real thrill factor.

The first part – Imperium I: Conspirator – follows Roman consul Cicero’s valiant efforts to defend the republic and the rule of law against rebellion and rivalries. And in the hands of McCabe, his silky rhetoric is a joy to behold as he secures his primacy, relying on political manipulation where necessary. Whether defeating Joe Dixon’s Catiline, trying to outmanoeuvre Nicholas Armfield’s slippery Clodius or pin down the wildly ambitious young buck named Julius Caesar (a superb Peter de Jersey), his actions are gripping.  Continue reading “Review: Imperium I – Conspirator, Gielgud”

Full cast of the RSC’s Imperium announced

The Royal Shakespeare Company has announced casting for the upcoming productions of Imperium parts one and two. Richard McCabe will take on the role of Cicero in Mike Poulton’s adaptations of Robert Harris’ novels alongside Siobhan Redmond as Terentia, Cicero’s wife. Joseph Kloska will play Cicero’s servant Tiro, who narrates their adventures. Continue reading “Full cast of the RSC’s Imperium announced”

Review: Oppenheimer, Swan

“We could make a star on the surface of the Earth”

Michael Billington notes in his Guardian review that John Heffernan’s work in the title role in Tom Morton-Smith’s Oppenheimer will “elevate [him] to star-status” but to those of us in the know, he’s long been held in such lofty acclaim. From supporting roles in a wide range of interesting productions to taking the lead in Richard II and Edward II, he has steadily revealed himself as an actor of consummate skill and strength and I make no bones in asserting that he is truly the Dame Judi Dench of his generation.

And as ‘Oppie’, the leader of the Manhattan Project and as such the father of the atomic bomb, he really does live up to the billing. There’s such an easy personability about him that is a perfect introduction to a man who is a brilliant physicist, irresistible to women and surrounded by friends as they rail against 1930s fascism in Spain. But where the dexterity comes is in showing us how the weight of such increasingly terrible responsibility haunted and conflicted him in different ways – professionally, personally, philosophically, psychologically. Continue reading “Review: Oppenheimer, Swan”

Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle

“Praising what is lost makes the remembrance dear”
 

Whether considered a problem play or no, the fact that All’s Well That Ends Well is performed relatively infrequently is testament to the inherent difficulties of the play. Helena’s relentless pursuit of a man who does not love her, her determination to have them betrothed, the way she later inveigles her way into his bed, the story is an uneasy tale to take in a world of more enlightened sexual politics and though Nancy Meckler’s production for the RSC, here in Newcastle for a week, shines a fantastical light on the play (although not as successfully as the National’s excellent Grimm-like version from 2009) I think the issue around its uncommon revival is more careful avoidance rather than criminal neglect. 

Joanna Horton is good as the poor physician’s daughter who is adopted by the Countess of Rousillon yet finds herself falling in love with her ‘brother’, Alex Waldmann as a Prince Harry-inspired Bertram who soon heads abroad pretty sharpish. She follows him to the French court, winning the favour of the King by utilising her father’s knowledge and persuading him to offer Bertram’s unwilling hand in marriage as reward. Again he flees (this time to the battlefield) and again she follows, determined to get her man even if it means tricking him into bed and as one is meant to assume with the ginger Prince, combat has a maturing effect meaning that he allegedly becomes quite the catch and her doggedness is thus rewarded. Continue reading “Review: All’s Well That Ends Well, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle”

Review: As You Like It, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle

“I am that he, that poor unfortunate he”

As You Like It is one of those plays that I find hard to get too excited about since I feel like I’ve seen it a hundred times. And Maria Aberg’s production for the RSC came with the additional baggage of over-enthusiastic acclaim from certain quarters that usually leave me sceptical but when in Newcastle the same week as the RSC… As suspected, the Laura Marling soundtrack riled me, its folks stylings seeming somewhat faux for a reason I can’t really articulate without resorting to calling it smug. But in Pippa Nixon, it has a truly excellent Rosalind.

Set in a Glastonbury-inspired Forest of Arden, Nixon is startling as a genuinely androgynous figure once transformed, making the scenes with Alex Waldmann’s Orlando a thrilling experience in its gender-questioning ardour. And she’s a compelling presence throughout whether battling her fierce father or coaching her would-be lover in the school of romance. It all builds into a touching finale of nuptial bliss, which eventually wore down most of my scepticism, but I’m not entirely convinced that the setting works so well elsewhere. Continue reading “Review: As You Like It, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle”

Review: Hamlet, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle

“Brevity is the soul of wit”
 

I can’t say I wasn’t warned… Work has seen me up in the north-east for a few days this month and so coinciding with the RSC’s short residency at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle which sees one of their ensembles putting on the three shows from their bit of the summer season. And I’d been told that their Hamlet was a difficult beast but I wasn’t quite prepared for quite how awful I would find it.

David Farr’s modern(ish) take eschews star casting for the integrity of this ensemble, giving Jonathan Slinger the opportunity to take on this most celebrated of roles, but it is a chance they take so thoroughly by the horns with Slinger’s determination to put his own stamp thereon, it never feels real or organic, just a strained effort to be different. And at 3 hours 40 minutes, it is a lot to bear. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle”

Review: Damned by Despair, National Theatre

“Look on this and learn. Let that be your punishment”

I don’t think there is another director who frustrates me quite as much as Bijan Sheibani. The devastating simplicity with which he tackled 2009’s Our Class and the elegiac beauty he brought to the Iranian-themed Bernarda Alba earlier this year has delighted, but he’s also responsible for making 70 minutes seem like a pained lifetime in Moonlight and threw everything including his kitchen sink into the multi-authored chaotic carnival ride that was Greenland. So it is hard to know what to expect from his work, but it seems sure to provoke strong emotion in me one way or another. Sadly, his latest foray at the National Theatre – Damned by Despair – errs towards the latter of the above categories. It is still in previews to be sure, but it is hard to imagine that this isn’t a fatally flawed production. 

The play is a religious epic from 1625, written by Spanish monk Tirso de Molina, and delves into sticky questions of spirituality such as is heaven is reserved for those who spend a lifetime believing and can non-believers be redeemed through the accomplishment of good deeds. This is subject matter of a deeply different kind to what our more agnostic tastes are now suited, but the difficulties inherent in translating such ideas to a modern audience are simply magnified by a clumsy new version by Frank McGuinness and some baffling directorial choices from Sheibani which swung from cringeworthy to laughable and almost always misguided – I fear some serious trimming will need to be done if there’s any hope for the production. Continue reading “Review: Damned by Despair, National Theatre”

Review: Antigone, National Theatre

“When things must be, they will be”

Though the prospect of a different kind of Greek tragedy is one that is dominating our headlines at the moment, the ancient Greek kind remain an enduring presence in our theatres. Sophocles’ Antigone is the latest to re-emerge at the National Theatre with director Polly Findlay using Don Taylor’s version of the play, originally done for the BBC in the 1980s. Her production locates this version of Thebes somewhere in the North of England in the late 1970s (at least that’s when I reckoned but others in the group were less sure) in which Jodie Whittaker and Christopher Eccleston take the leading roles.

Thebes has been wracked by civil war and turmoil and in the aftermath of a particularly bloody struggle between the two brothers fighting over the throne, Creon seizes control and becomes king. To stamp his authority on the city, Creon opts to bury one brother but leaves the body of the other more rebellious one to rot outside on the battlefield. This horrifies Antigone, sister to the men and niece to Creon, and despite a royal decree forbidding anyone to touch his body on the pain of death, she sets about doing what she thinks is right. Continue reading “Review: Antigone, National Theatre”