Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Old Vic

“He hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age”

There was certainly a raised eyebrow or 3 when it was announced that the leads in Mark Rylance’s take on Much Ado About Nothing for the Old Vic would be Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones. Neither have previously taken on the roles of the warring Beatrice and Benedick and having worked together recently on Driving Miss Daisy (which others liked even if I didn’t), their’s is a pairing with history. But undoubted quality aside, it is a brave move to cast so daringly and with a production that relocates Shakespeare’s play to England in 1944. 

Does it work? Making the Aragonese soldiers into a company of GIs has a visual impact that works well and turning Sigh No More into a bluesy harmonica-driven ditty is inspired. But putting Shakespeare’s language into the mouths of American soldiers doesn’t always work “my Lord…” and without wanting to open too far the can of worms that is the subject of race, I’m not so sure the lack of comment on a 1940s inter-racial marriage, never mind the issues of honour flung about later, really flies. Messina as the home front is neat though, making the Watch a Dad’s Army-style collection of ragbags and kids (including one called Beryl, maybe?). 

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Review: The Only True History of Lizzie Finn, Southwark Playhouse

“They must be her winter knickers…”

Perhaps better known as a novelist (A Long Long Way and The Secret Scripture have both been Booker-nominated), Sebastian Barry’s 1995 play The Only True History of Lizzie Finn receives its UK premiere here at the Southwark Playhouse in a production by award-winning director Blanche McIntyre. Having carved a niche for herself as the most celebrated dancer in Weston-Super-Mare, Lizzie Finn finds herself swept off her feet by an Irish soldier returning from the Boer War. Despite their completely different backgrounds, they return to their homeland anticipating married bliss but at a time when changes in the land laws are causing huge societal changes in Ireland, life is far from easy.    

The play is not without its challenges. Made up of sequences of short scenes, sometimes just a few lines long, the rhythm of the production is something that takes getting used to: James Perkins’ design of wide steps, whilst effectively evoking the seafront, doesn’t seem particularly well-suited to the format. But in the rather impressionistic approach by McIntyre, moments of visual grace emerge from these scenes, like embers spiralling out of the fire, flashing brightly and disappearing into the dark. I particularly loved the doubling of actors at the Castlemaine’s dinner party to create a witty echoing of an earlier scene.   Continue reading “Review: The Only True History of Lizzie Finn, Southwark Playhouse”

Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s Globe

In the dying heat of a lovely Indian summer, I finished my set of Globe plays by watching the all-female version of The Taming of the Shrew, complementing the all-male shows I had seen earlier in the month. It is a funny choice for this treatment I think as it is such a questionable play in how it treats its heroine, but I suspect this was part of the challenge for the troupe.

The way they get round it is to play up the power struggle side of things and clearly demonstrating that Kate’s submission is in fact much more knowing, a way to keep Petruchio onboard in unknowing bliss, rather than a genuine capitulation. This allows Kathryn Hunter to play with Shakespeare’s text beautifully, pulling out new meanings as Janet McTeer’s blokey arrogance is tolerated with grim smiles.

But even with working it out this way, there was something a little odd about the production. As my first all-female experience, it was a little arresting and it was hard to shake the feeling that too often they were playing ‘men’ rather than the actual characters per se, something the audience lapped up but resulting in a sense of artifice that remained ever-present rather than allowing us to be subsumed in a fully realised world.

A curiosity but not a hugely successful one for me if I’m honest.