Review: As You Like It, RSC at the Barbican

I find much to enjoy in Kimberley Sykes’s production of As You Like It for the RSC at the Barbican, particularly Lucy Phelps’ epic Rosalind

“Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly”

The critical reception for Kimberley Sykes’ production of As You Like It for the RSC was a little lukewarm this summer, all 3 stars and grudging praise. But I found myself really rather seduced by its many charms, as it opens the winter residency for them at the Barbican. And in Lucy Phelps, a Rosalind full of big dyke energy for the ages. Read my four star review for Official Theatre here.

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Photo: Topher McGrillis
As You Like It is booking in rep at the Barbican until 18th January

Review: The Country Wife, Southwark Playhouse

Visually striking, an anarchic take on The Country Wife at the Southwark Playhouse

“Write as I bid you, or I will write ‘whore’ on your face”

A swift run through The Country Wife as it is finishing its residency at the Southwark Playhouse this weekend and I’m not too sure I got on with it all too well. Luke Fredericks’ vibrant production for Morphic Graffiti certainly has a muscular visual appeal but I’m not convinced it offers a case for a revival of William Wycherley’s play.

Originally a Restoration comedy, it has been updated to the world of the Bright Young Things of the 1920s. And in it, randy upper class people chase other randy upper class people and… well, that’s about it. Whether through the shift in era or something more deliberate, the women of the story find themselves front and centre, particularly pleasing as it is about them asserting their sexuality.

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Review: King Lear, Minerva

“He hath always but slightly, known himself”

As I wrote when the full cast was first announced, “the world is hardly crying for more productions of King Lear but if you’re going to put it on, you might as well go balls out on some amazing casting”. And now that the time has come to trek over to Chichester Festival Theatre to catch Ian McKellen revisiting a role he has already been most renowned for playing, you’re left in awe once again at the luxuries casting director Anne McNulty has brought to bear in Jonathan Munby’s modern-dress and modern-spirited production.

Chief among them is Sinéad Cusack’s Kent. It’s a casting decision that deserves the emphasis for Chichester has long been a venue where female representation has struggled across the board and though it is still early days yet for Daniel Evans’ tenure here, any steps are welcome. Tamara Lawrance as Cordelia is another example and a powerful contrast too. Where Cusack brings all her experience to bear as a superbly nuanced Kent (whose disguising gains real resonance), Lawrance brings a freshness of spirit to her most compassionate reading of Lear’s youngest daughter.

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Casting for Chichester’s King Lear announced

“Reason not the need”

The world is hardly crying for more productions of King Lear but if you’re going to put it on, you might as well go balls out on some amazing casting (all credit to casting director Anne McNulty here). Jonathan Munby’s production had already announced Ian McKellen as part of the ensemble (teasing an interesting casting breakdown that didn’t actually come to anything) but that’s a small niggle in what is otherwise some excellent news.

  • Sinéad Cusack as Kent
  • Dervla Kirwan, Kirsty Bushell and Tamara Lawrance as Goneril, Regan and Cordelia
  • Jonathan Bailey and Damien Molony as Edgar and Edmund
  • Sinéad Cusack as Kent
  • Michael Matus (Oswald), Dominic Mafham (Albany) and Patrick Robinson (Cornwall) in there as well
  • Danny Webb as Gloucester
  • Did I mention Sinéad Cusack as Kent?
  • I can take or leave Phil Daniels as the Fool but he may well surprise.

Tickets are all sold out so you might want to monitor regularly for returns or hope for the transfer which one suspects is already in the making.

DVD Review: The Shadow in the North

“I thought you had a bit of milk in your coconut”

The second (and last) of the Sally Lockhart Mysteries to be adapted for the television, The Shadow in the North very much pales in the shadow of The Ruby in the Smoke for me as the lesser of the two, which is a real shame as I did love the latter and felt it showed great promise in setting up the mini-franchise. This story sees Sally following up a client who has lost her savings after investing in a company, on Sally’s advice, which went bust suspiciously. The mysterious industrialist behind that company the Swedish Axel Bellman quickly set up again and so Sally’s instincts are aroused as she investigates the business dealings in order to get compensation for her client. But accusing such a powerful man of corruption and fraud sets her on a most dangerous course and puts the lives of those around her at severe risk.

So the ingredients are there, and the story is one I enjoyed reading, but something was just missing. The mystery never quite has the drive to keep the story going, the tone ends up being rather dour rather than dark and subsequently doesn’t grip like it ought. And its nature means that Billie Piper’s Sally is given less chance to interact with the key players around her – it is Pullman’s fault rather than the show’s but it is a real shame that Hayley Atwell’s Rosa is dispatched to marital bliss in the country within 10 minutes of the show starting as they made a great team. Instead, the personal intrigue is around whether Sally will admit to her feelings for JJ Feild’s Fred (still so handsome!) and Matt Smith’s Jim, thankfully no longer the narrator, hangs around like a bit of a spare part, though gets to do a lot of the investigating (bizarrely though off-screen and on his own…). Continue reading “DVD Review: The Shadow in the North”

Review: Doctor Faustus, Shakespeare’s Globe

“The reward of sin is death”

The tale of Faust is one which is seemingly never far from our stages in one form or another, whether it is opera, another opera or Icelandic acrobatics. But Christopher Marlowe can lay claim to perhaps being the first to dramatise this story back in Elizabethan times and this production of Doctor Faustus marks the first time it will have been performed at Shakespeare’s Globe.

A strange mixture of dark tragedy and broad comedy, the play looks at the danger of recklessly pursuing the quest for knowledge, power and wealth without due responsibility. Faustus, tired of his life of dusty scholarship, makes a pact with the Devil exchanging his soul after death for 24 years of service from his trusty servant Mephistopheles. Blinded by the material benefits that easy access to the dark arts garners him, the reality of eternal damnation doesn’t hit until far too late. Continue reading “Review: Doctor Faustus, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: The Spanish Tragedy, Arcola

“Vengeance is mine. Ay, heaven will revenged of every ill”

The Spanish Tragedy was written by Thomas Kyd in the 16th century and is regarded as one of the first ever examples of the revenge tragedy. Kyd’s play proved to be highly influential on other Elizabethan writers such as Marlowe, Jonson and indeed Shakespeare, Hamlet in particular takes much inspiration from several key elements of this play. It is presented here at the Arcola Theatre in Hackney, one of the most interesting fringe venues in London, with a great cafe and bar for pre/post-show interactions.

In the aftermath of a bloody war, the royal leaders of war-torn Spain and Portugal plan a marriage between their families in the hope of forging peace. But the bride already has a secret lover. When he is murdered to make way for the new groom, his father Hieronimo is forced down a brutal path of vengeance from which there is no return. Watched throughout by the ghost of a soldier and Revenge, personified here by a chillingly played, creepy little girl, there seems no doubt about the inexorable path of vengeance that Hieronimo takes, the implication being that their supernatural influence is guiding the grieving father. Yet the heart of the play is more about the human reaction to being wronged, and the pervasive need for retribution, no matter the consequences. Continue reading “Review: The Spanish Tragedy, Arcola”