“Demand me nothing: what you know, you know”
Though I’ve been to the theatre a fair bit over the last few years and taken in more than my fair share of Shakespeare, the distribution across his plays has been far from equitable. I’ve seen more Macbeths, Twelfth Nights and Midsummer Night’s Dreams that I can shake a stick at, yet my first and only Othello to date was in Sheffield back in 2011. Not having previously read or studied it, it was never a play that had really appealed and though I really did enjoy that trip to the Crucible, I can’t say I was dying to see it again. But this high-profile National Theatre modern-day update, featuring Rory Kinnear and Adrian Lester under Nicholas Hytner’s direction, proved impossible to resist, not least with preview prices meaning the £48 seats were going for £20 (and with this running time, it was money well spent).
The Venice of the opening is a non-descript place and it is only with the departure to Cyprus, and specifically here a British base on the island, that the military aesthetic of the production comes to full fruition. Vicki Mortimer’s design captures the sun-blasted stone of the Mediterranean location and the claustrophobically stuffy air of the prefab offices and rooms of the military base, with the only real nod to the geopolitics of the modern-day setting a map of the Middle East behind a desk. The production wears the updating quite lightly: on the one hand, nothing feels too forced to fit in with the concept but on the other, it doesn’t always seem like the most inspired. The bland nature of so much of the setting – the generic office, the shared bathroom, the depersonalised bedroom – mutes something of the tragedy, there’s little grandeur on display to match the heights of the emotion.
“Laws are like sausages, it’s better not to see them being made”
‘Released after fifteen years in prison, trapped in a bureaucratic maze, petty criminal Wilhelm Voigt wanders 1910 Berlin in desperate, hazardous pursuit of identity papers. Luck changes when he picks up an abandoned military uniform in a fancy-dress shop and finds the city ready to obey his every command. At the head of six soldiers, he marches to the Mayor’s office, cites corruption and confiscates the treasury with ease. But still what he craves is official recognition that he exists.’
It is probably cheating to use the official synopsis of a play wholesale like this but to be honest, I couldn’t care less after suffering the bloated self-satisfaction of The Captain of Köpenick at the National Theatre. An adaptation by Ron Hutchinson of a 1930s German satire by Carl Zuckmayer, it is a heavy-handed, ploddingly-laboured, fatally-misjudged confection which throws everything plus the kitchen sink into the Olivier but for shockingly low returns.
“It is refreshing to work with somebody who refuses to be depressed even by the most formidable danger that has ever threatened this country”
Set predominantly in the Cabinet Office at 10 Downing Street between 26th and 28th May 1940, at a point when Hitler’s lightning sweep through Europe had pushed Belgium and France to the point of surrender and trapped large numbers of British troops, Ben Brown’s new play Three Days in May looks at the weight of responsibility that fell on Churchill and his War Cabinet. Behind closed doors, the prospect of going it alone against the Nazis was weighed up against the possibility of suing for some kind of peace terms at a pivotal point in British history, played here in a Bill Kenwright production at Richmond Theatre, part of a UK tour.
There is little drama in Brown’s play – given that much of the history is well-trodden territory and the ‘action’ revolves around a series of Cabinet meetings and the politicking inbetween, this is hardly surprising. But there’s little attempt by Brown, or by director Alan Strachan to really address this through an alternative approach and so what we are presented with is curiously flat and weighed down through overuse of silences. Imposing a narrator – Churchill’s young private secretary Jock Colville – to frame the play and loading him with exposition and historical detail makes for a difficult opening, more akin to a history lesson, and the first act – perhaps even the entire play – never really escapes this to kick into life. Continue reading “Review: Three Days in May, Richmond Theatre”