Round-up of news, treats and other interesting things

You go away for a week, hoping they’ll put any exciting news on hold but no, there were headlines aplenty…

Michelle Terry being revealed as Emma Rice’s successor as Artistic Director of the Globe. I think this is a brave and inspired choice, for Terry is a deeply intelligent actor (Tribes, Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, Cleansed) and a superb Shakespearean at that (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, The Comedy of Errors).

Rice seemed to consider Shakespeare a puzzle that needed unlocking for (new) audiences but you were left wondering if there was a touch of square peg round hole syndrome in the way the plays were manhandled. It is tempting to think that Terry will be a smoother fit whilst maintaining a sense of adventurousness (she played Henry V after all) although this is, of course, pure conjecture. Still, exciting times ahead.


Bristol Old Vic’s production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, featuring a superlative performance from Lesley Manville alongside Jeremy Irons, has at long last announced its transfer into the West End. It was one of my highlights from last year and takes up residence in the Wyndham’s from 27th January until 8th April.

As with Alan Ayckbourn, my lack of desire to see Oscar Wilde plays on the stage is often tested by casting decisions that I find hard to resist. Adding Anne Reid to Eve Best in A Woman of No Importance is one of those decisions.


The Bush Theatre are having a busy time of it. Not only is Jon Gilchrsit stepping down as Executive Director, they’ve announced casting for two of their upcoming productions.

Ramona Tells Jim
Written by Sophie Wu
Directed by Mel Hillyard
Designed by Lucy Sierra
Cast includes: Ruby Bentall (Ramona), Joe Bannister (Jim) and Amy Lennox (Pocahontas).

A Bush Theatre and Sheffield Theatres co-production
Of Kith and Kin
Written by Chris Thompson
Directed by Robert Hastie
Designed by James Perkins
Cast includes: Joanna Bacon (Lydia and Carrie), Donna Berlin (Arabelle), James Lance (Daniel), Chetna Pandya (Priya) and Joshua Silver (Oliver).


Get a look here at the cast for The Unknown Island, a world premiere directed by the Gate’s new Artistic Director Ellen McDougall and adapted by Ellen and Clare Slater (Literary Manager, Donmar Warehouse) from Jose Saramago’s short story The Tale of The Unknown Island.

The Unknown Island is a play about getting stuck, about trying to escape, about shooting for the moon, about going further than the furthest thing. This is a play about finding something you didn’t think you needed.

The Gate welcomes back Jon Foster (Idomeneus, Trojan Women) and introduce Thalissa Teixera (Othello, Shakespeare’s Globe and Yerma, Young Vic), Hannah Ringham (co-founder of SHUNT) and Zubin Varla (War Horse, National Theatre and Twelfth Night, Donmar Warehouse).


And to round things off, the ever-lovely Amy Booth-Steel doing something lovely to the song ‘Despacito’ on a ukelele.

Round-up of news and treats and other interesting things

In Bechdel Testing LifeBechdel Theatre presents four short plays by Isley Lynn, Rabiah Hussain, Guleraana Mir, and Lizzie Milton. Each play is inspired by a real-life conversation between women.

The Experiment:
Inspired by the famous Bechdel Test, which asks: “Are there two female characters? Do they talk to each other? About something other than a man?”, women were asked to record their own conversations with each other – to pass the Bechdel Test in real life.

Their recordings were then given to a team of fantastic female playwrights.

The Result:
Four new plays exploring the relationships that make up our daily lives but are less often represented in fiction.

Bechdel Testing Life is a celebration of the complex, intimate, hilarious, and genius conversations that take place when women get together. It plays at the Bunker Theatre on 22nd and 23rd July.


(c) Hugo Glendinning
The National Theatre has today announced that Lizzy Watts will take the title role of Hedda Gabler which, following a sold-out run at the National Theatre earlier this year, begins a UK tour on 2 October. Beginning at Theatre Royal Plymouth, the tour will journey across the UK to Edinburgh, Leicester, Salford, Norwich, Hull, Aberdeen, Northampton, Glasgow, Wolverhampton, Woking, Nottingham, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, York and Milton Keynes.

Just married. Bored already. Hedda longs to be free…

Lizzy Watts’ theatre credits include Strife at Chichester Festival Theatre, The Angry Brigade and Artefacts at The Bush, A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Globe, Blink for Nabokov and Wasted for Paines Plough. TV includes The Durrells and Midsomer Murders and plays Ivy Layton in BBC Radio 4’s Home Front.


(c) Helen Maybanks
The Donmar Warehouse has announced Becoming: Part One, a series of workshop performances written and performed by Rosalie Craig and Michelle Terry. This unique project represents the first time a public performance has taken place in the Donmar’s rehearsal space on Dryden Street from Tuesday 27 June to Saturday 1 July. 

We were all born.
‘And immediately like, immediately that was the time I thought “And I’m a Mum.”’
Writers and performers Rosalie Craig and Michelle Terry share their very personal experiences of giving birth six months ago, remembering now because they are already starting to forget.

Since they becoming mothers at the end of 2016, Michelle and Rosalie have been working with the Donmar to explore how the theatre might work in new and different ways to allow them to be both artists and new mothers. The pair wanted to reflect on this turbulent time of change, so the Donmar co-commissioned them to research and write about this first ‘golden year’ – a phrase used in child development studies to refer to the first twelve months of a child’s life.

Join them for a limited run of very relaxed, workshop performances at the Donmar’s rehearsal space on Dryden Street. While the show is aimed at adults, babes in arms are also welcome. You are invited to stay on after the performance to continue the conversation.

The Donmar has been a consortium member of Parents in the Performing Arts (PIPA) since 2016. As a partner of PIPA’s Best Practice Research project, we are trialling news ways of working to inform industry practice on working with parents and children. We will share the learning from the process of creating Becoming: Part One with PIPA.

A podcast of Becoming: Part One will be released later this year.  

And the Bush Theatre has announced that this summer it will be hosting a run of The B*easts, written and performed by the pride of Middlesbrough herself Monica Dolan (W1A, Appropriate Adult, The Witness For The Prosecution). Three previews of the production will take place in Theatre’s recently refurbished Attic on 26 – 28 July, before opening at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Tickets for the Bush Theatre run are now on sale. 

Referencing the modern obsession with putting your own child first against our responsibility as a society towards our children as a whole, this dark tale – written by and starring BAFTA award-winning actress Monica Dolan – explores how far one mum will go to put what her child wants first. 

Dolan’s first solo play, a searing ‘What If?’ story, explores the pornification of our culture and the sexualisation of our children. In a society where sexuality and gender are such a huge part of who we are, how we identify, and how we are defined, 

The B*easts looks at how soon is too soon to strive for perceived sexual ideals. Can the journey to reach that supposed perfection start before we are even consciously aware of the journey we have begun? The B*easts follows the repercussions of an event which could plausibly present itself and unfold within today’s culture. It invites us to examine our culture from an extreme perspective, taking a circumstance that we see as abhorrent and abnormal and showing how it can germinate in what we have come to regard as normality. As Tessa, the central character says, ‘you only have the choices you can see’. So when, and how, do you start noticing that your moral compass may be being directed by popular culture?

2017 What’s On Stage Award nominations

Best Actor in a Play, sponsored by Radisson Blu Edwardian
Ian Hallard for The Boys in the Band
Ian McKellen for No Man’s Land
Jamie Parker for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child 
Kenneth Branagh for The Entertainer
Ralph Fiennes for Richard III

Best Actress in a Play, sponsored by Live at Zédel 
Billie Piper for Yerma 
Helen McCrory for The Deep Blue Sea
Lily James for Romeo and Juliet
Michelle Terry for Henry V
Pixie Lott for Breakfast at Tiffany’s Continue reading “2017 What’s On Stage Award nominations”

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #10

“Come, sit on me”

The Taming of the Shrew

Christopher Haydon takes Eve Best and John Light over to the Villa Businello-Morassutti in Padua, to make me sure that the world is in need of a proper production of the Best/Light Shrew as they spar achingly, beautifully, with each other. Toby Frow’s rambunctious 2012 production also comes up a treat with Samantha Spiro and Simon Paisley Day equally impressing.

The Winter’s Tale

And another, with Michelle Terry directing an almost painfully raw performance from Mariah Gale in Apothecaries Hall, her wounded Hermione breathtakingly good, especially with the strong contrast of the vibrant Yoruba production from the Globe II Globe festival.



As You Like It

A curiously low-key take here as Bryan Dick’s Touchstone and Marty Cruickshank’s Corin wander Belgium’s Ardennes Forest with a good deal more time devoted to the clips, in this case from Thea Sharrock’s interpretation of the play from 2009, with a stellar Naomi Frederick and Laura Rogers riding roughshod over Jack Laskey.

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #7

Love’s Labour’s Lost

Gemma Arterton and Michelle Terry (almost) in the same play, how my heart doth beat. Sam Yates’ Love’s Labour’s Lost combines Arterton and David Dawson dashing delightfully through the corridors of the Royal Palace of Olite of Navarre, Spain as Berowne and Rosaline, whilst drawing in elements from the gorgeous 2009 production at the Globe – one of my favourite clips from the whole Complete Walk.
Measure for Measure

Queer as Folk hits Austria (I suppose I’m showing my age, the more contemporary reference would be Game of Thrones) as Aidan Gillen takes on Measure for Measure at Vienna’s Burg Liechtenstein. Last year’s production at the Globe gets a look in too and reminds me that I think it was much maligned for trying a more comic take on the play for once. 

The Two Gentleman of Verona

A slightly different take from Christopher Haydon here as he has location footage – filmed at the Scaligero di Torri, Verona with Meera Syal and Tamara Lawrance – but opts to explore the play’s dramatic links to the rest of the canon. So we get clips of 10 of Shakespeare’s other plays and are shown how devices and plots are reused time and time again. 

Othello

Possibly one of my most favourite potential productions in the making here, as James Dacre takes David Harewood and John Heffernan to Othello’s Tower in Famagusta, Cyprus where they nail it. Please make this happen somehow.
Timon of Athens

Timon of Athens sees Dromgoole go for the similar star wattage of Dominic West in Coriolanus, opting to focus on Simon Russell Beale wandering through atmospheric parts of Athens with no other actors or productions to distract. And it works wonders again, even if I’m not sure I need to see the play again in a hurry. 

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #5

“When we are born, we cry”

Entries #1, #2, #3 and #4 – and here’s number 5. 

Actually taking Lear to the White Cliffs of Dover seems like a good enough reason to mount the entire Complete Walk project if you ask me, and director Bill Buckhurst doesn’t disappoint. Belaris Free Festival’s interpretation gets a wee whirl before we move to Kent where Kenneth Cranham’s disoriented monarch comes across powerfully in jerky jump-cuts and voiceover and then ultimately powerful soliloquy. Skipping to the end of the play, Joseph Marcell then takes on Lear for a sensationally powerful reunion with Zawe Ashton’s deeply considered Cordelia.


I must confess I do find it hard to get excited about King John and despite a huge affection for the much-missed Trystan Gravelle, I saw nothing here to change my mind. Filmed at Northampton’s Holy Sepulchre church, with inserts that acted almost as a Shakespearean documentary in covering the death of Shakespeare’s son at the time of writing the play, this one just didn’t do it for me I’m afraid.


Philip Cumbus’ anguished Clarence in his cell; Prasanna Puwanarajah and Paul Ready giving subtly comic life to the murderers on his way to him; Clare Higgins’ Margaret looming ominously in the shadows, Michelle Terry’s (for yes, she directs too!) take on Richard III uses all the shadowy sinister atmosphere of the Tower of London to capture the mood of the play rather successfully. It is contrasted with a silent film version which is amusing to watch at first but spookily effective in the end in the way it portrays Richard’s climactic dream. (NB: click on the title for the full clip.) 

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #4

“Come now, what masques”

With 37 films to work through and no need to do them all in one weekend as the Complete Walk was originally designed, I’m rather enjoying working my merry way through them at my own pace. First, second and third sets of film can be found here. 

Given how many Dreams I’ve seen this year, it’s a little surprising that A Midsummer Night’s Dream can still surprise me but such is the enduring beauty of the play. Nikki Amuka-Bird and David Caves take on Hippolyta and Theseus in the stately surrounding of Wilton House in the English countryside in Wiltshire, done with a romance here by Rebecca Gatward that is rarely seen these days. The flip to the brilliantly feisty pairing of John Light and Michelle Terry’s Oberon and Titania (from the 2013 Globe version which ranks as myall-time favourite) is vibrant, but it’s gorgeous to go back to the further developing of an unexpected tenderness between two characters who rarely receive it. A snippet of Pearce Quigley‘s Bottom is a bonus but it is Caves and Amuka-Bird who are the bees knees here.

Going to the ruins of Juliet’s Tomb itself (‘twas a room in a monastery) in Verona, and constantly switching with a second location (perhaps said room in a modern setting), Dromgoole’s Romeo and Juliet becomes extraordinarily powerful. Jessie Buckley’s final speech is just heartbreaking, really quite hauntingly affecting. Luke Thompson’s Romeo doesn’t quite hit the same heights but it’s still a beautiful encapsulation of the play.

Re-uniting father and daughter Jonathan and Phoebe Pryce from Jonathan Munby’s achingly moving production at the Globe in 2015, this rendering of The Merchant of Venice has the special opportunity of carrying its main actor from the staged to the filmed version, also by Munby. The swaggering demands of Dominic Mafham’s Antonio give way to the quiet confrontation between Shylock and a soon-to-depart Jessica, given real piquancy by being filmed in The Jewish Ghetto in Venice. Munby then goes for the greatest hits of the play, fitting in the ‘Hath not a Jew eyes’ and then Portia’s ‘quality of mercy’, but it is the subtle interplay between father and daughter in the Venetian half-light that sticks in the mind.

Review: Henry V, Open Air Theatre

“This revolt of thine is like another fall of man”

It would be great to live in a world where gender-blind casting isn’t newsworthy in and of itself but we don’t and so it should be shouted out and celebrated wherever it happens, until the day that it just feels rightly commonplace. What should always be celebrated though is the opportunities being given to some our greatest actors to take on powerful leading roles – the intrigue of Glenda Jackson’s return to the stage, the trifecta of Harriet Walter’s Donmar leads soon to be capped off with Prospero and here at the Open Air Theatre, the glorious Michelle Terry rising to the challenge of Henry V.
Insofar as Robert Hastie’s modern-dress production has a conceit, it’s of a group of actors coming together to put on a play, waiting for Charlotte Cornwell’s Chorus to anoint one of them with the leading role – and it’s hard not to feel a frisson of delight as she bypasses the cocky guy pushing to the front to place the crown on Terry’s head. And from then, it’s a relatively straight-forward production, playing out on the wide expanse of Anna Fleischle’s square of riveted iron, props kept to a minimum, John Ross’ movement coming to the fore in impressionistic battle scenes lit beautifully by Joshua Carr.
Terry makes a fascinating Hal, giving us a strikingly mature monarch from the off as she lacerates the French ambassador with every utterance of the word ‘mock’, silences the martial drumbeats with rousing speeches aplenty and invests every tough decision with the emotion it deserves, from Scroop’s betrayal to Bardolph’s execution (by firing squad) marked by the ceremonial mounting of his hat. For me, only the wooing of Princess Katherine (a poised Ben Wiggins, doubling very well with the Boy) lacked a little je ne sais quoi as the production lost a little of its magic glow post-interval.
Still, there’s pleasure aplenty in an excellent supporting cast. The thrill of Captains Fluellen, Gower, Jamy and MacMorris played by Catrin Aaron, Cat Simmons, Jessica Regan and Polly Frame respectively is palpable (Aaron really is superb here), Alex Bhat’s prancing Dauphin bounds onto the stage as if a refugee from Into the Woods or Enchanted, contrasted well by Phil Cheadle and Dwane Walcott’s more serious French soldiers, and Philip Arditti and Beruce Khan stand out as chancers Pistol and Nym.
And perhaps wisely, in these times of increasingly charged political rhetoric with the EU referendum literally on the horizon, Hastie underplays the jingoistic nationalism of the play, preferring instead to point up the moral complexity of war and exactly what we expect of those who offer up their services. The poignant post-war hymn (composed by Yaron Engler) becomes a beautiful act of remembrance, a cautionary note of continental co-operation being the message that shines through. Proof, as if it were needed, that Terry is one of our finest Shakespeareans and that more opportunities for her, and others, to explore the full heft of the canon should be theirs by right. 
Running time: 3 hours (with interval)
Photos: Johan Persson
Booking until 9th July

The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa

“I wasted time, and now doth time waste me!
Well I didn’t really waste time, I just prioritised. Over the many ways in which Shakespeare’s 400th death anniversary was celebrated and fitting in something of a social life, the Globe’s Complete Walk – specially commissioned bitesize films of each of his 37 plays – just felt like a step too far, plus there was always the assumption (or should that be presumption) that the films would resurface in a more accessible way. And so it seems to be coming to pass, with three of them now available on the BBC’s iPlayer.

   

My favourite of these three was Antony & Cleopatra Starting with a plethora of snippets from both Rome and Egypt from Jonathan Munby’s 2014 production starring Eve Best and Clive Wood, leading up to a stunning adaptation of Cleopatra and Iras’ final moments filmed at the Red Pyramid at Dahshur in Egypt. Beautifully shot with real restraint from Mark Rosenblatt and gorgeously spoken by Eleanor Matsuura and Katy Stephens respectively, the superb musical accompaniment written and performed by Norwegian violinist Bjarte Eike with his baroque ensemble Barokksolistene combine to spine-tingling effect.


Another film to combine Globe productions with the new was Richard II, Bill Buckhurst getting to film inside Westminster Hall at the Houses of Parliament for its added piquancy. There we find uber-present James Norton’s monarch surrendering his crown to Dominic Rowan’s Bolingbroke, spliced with Simon Godwin’s 2015 production at the Globe with Frederick Neilson and Charles Edwards as the monarch at the beginning and end of his reign. I could watch Norton and Rowan for days, this only faded a little in comparison with the wonders from the Pyramids.



Oddly enough, the most formally interesting of the trio – Hamlet – was the one that stirred me the least. Though filmed at the Danish castle at Kronborg, Elsinore itself, the location didn’t actually bring too much to the table for me. And the format from Dominic Dromgoole, passages from the play fragmented into 4 voices, didn’t spark as much as I thought it would, even though those voices belonged to Michelle Terry, Alex Jennings, Nikesh Patel, and Ashley Zhangazha. 


Review: Cleansed, National

“Felt it.

Here. Inside. Here.”

I think I have to admit to liking the idea of Katie Mitchell more than the reality. In the build-up to each appearance her productions makes on these shores, long-form pieces emerge, delving into her practise, and some of the mystery behind why she has become so totemic a figure in European theatre yet still regarded with some suspicion by parts of the British establishment (qv this piece in the Guardian). And I think yeah, she is different but maybe this time I’ll get it, maybe this time instead of just being challenged as an audience member, I’ll feel connected to her work too.

Safe to say though that Sarah Kane’s Cleansed was not the production for this breakthrough to occur. A notable event in marking Kane’s debut at the National Theatre and also a long-awaited return for Mitchell to the main programme on the South Bank after years of being frozen out by Hytner’s reluctance to let her loose on anything but children’s shows, it is naturally a hugely challenging event. Warnings abound of graphic scenes of physical and sexual violence, fainters have been reported at several performances (I reckon at least a couple of those must have been faking it just to get early release though), once again we ain’t in Kansas.

Not that we ever would have expected to be. Cleansed was the third play of five that Kane completed and blisters uglily from the start with its inspiration that “being in love is like being in Auschwitz”, testing a set of human relationships under the barbaric conditions of institutionalised torture. Short scene after short scene plays out as a woman hunts for her murdered brother who has come back to life, as a gay couple have their love for each other tested in the extreme, as a sex worker is endlessly exploited, as shadowy figures execute crime after crime under the control of sadistic and enigmatic Tinker.

It is unrelenting stuff – amputations, blindings, penetration, burnings, forced sex changes, drugs, rats, extended male and female nudity, all overseen by the gnomic figure of Tinker. And larger than that, Mitchell too looms, her tinkering with time slowing down key scenes of real menace and encouraging a real rawness from her company, especially in the surprisingly prescient forays into the fluidity of gender identity. But equally, the dream-like melding of one sequence into the next has an almost monotonous feel to it, the muted horror of so much stage violence experiencing considerably diminishing returns by the end.

And ultimately, I found myself disconnected entirely from Cleansed, this strangely dispassionate feeling at odds with what I felt I ought to be experiencing. There’s no doubting the ferocity of Michelle Terry’s performance as Grace, as anguish upon indignity is piled upon her, or Tom Mothersdale’s inscrutable turn as Tinker (has ever wanking seemed so joyless), or the intricacies of Alex Eales’ set design which allows improbable stage directions to manifest from thin air. But whether in Mitchell’s direction or Kane’s text or some unholy combination of the two, Cleansed completely lost me.      
         

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes (without interval)

Booking until 5th May