Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare

I have a mixed time with some shaken-up Shakespeares – othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith; Twelfth Night at the Young Vic; Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace; and Measure for Measure at the Donmar

“Condemn the fault and not the actor of it?”

I’m the first to say that modern adaptations of Shakespeare need to do something different to justify their place in today’s theatre ecology. Lord knows there’s been enough traditional renditions of his work, and still they come, and even if there are always going to be people coming for the first time, there’s also a real need to make his plays speak to contemporary society in a way that is unafraid to challenge his reputation. It is perhaps no surprise that it is female directors and directors of colour who are at the forefront of doing just that and there have been four key examples in London most recently – Jude Christian’s othellomacbeth at the Lyric Hammersmith, Kwame Kwei-Armah and Shaina Taub’s Twelfth Night at the Young Vic, Brigid Larmour’s Much Ado About Nothing at the Watford Palace and Josie Rourke’s Measure for Measure at the Donmar.

And of course, having demanded that this is what directors do, I found myself disappointed at the majority of these, for some of the same reasons and some different ones too. Perhaps the most formally daring is Christian’s othellomacbeth which smashes together the two tragedies to create something which ends up less than the sum of its constituent parts. Its intentions are certainly noble, seeking to highlight the female voices in these plays and give them prominence. But the reality is that in the two substantially reduced treatments here, everything becomes diminished, not least narrative clarity. There’s one cracking idea which connects the two, which you suspect might have inspired the whole production, but ultimately, it is not enough to hang the whole thing on. Continue reading “Blogged: shaking up Shakespeare”

Review: Boudica, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I’d rather walk in blood than walk a slave for he thy Emperor!”

For every Blue Stockings, there’s been a Pitcairn, with a Bedlam inbetween. No matter the AD, the commitment to new writing in the later part of the summer season at Shakespeare’s Globe has thrown a marked inconsistency. And Tristan Bernays’ Boudica proves no different, given an ambitious production by Eleanor Rhode which strives a little too hard to situate the play in an Emma Rice house-style, fun as it may come across. 

So Game of Thrones-style storytelling mashes up against spirited covers of the likes of ‘London Calling’ and ‘I Fought The Law’, a great sense of energy percolating through this wooden O. But Bernays’ play doesn’t always fit easily with this treatment, written in blank verse that has to balance the required info-dump to flesh out this historical fiction with something more fascinatingly insightful about what might have driven the Queen of the Iceni. Continue reading “Review: Boudica, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: The Inn at Lydda, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

“Some things are better left out of the history books”

Have you heard the one where Jesus, the three wise men and Caligula walk into a pub? No? Well it is pretty much the set up for John Wolfson’s curious new play The Inn at Lydda, at least once you’ve thrown John the Baptist and Tiberius Caesar in there as well. An eclectic bit of programming in the candlelit surroundings of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Wolfson has spun his tale from a tidbit in the New Testament Apocrypha and taken it to almost-farcical levels of comedy.

Ailing Roman Emperor Tiberius Caesar has heard of a legendary healer over in Judea and so off he pops to be cured by him, only problem is we’re in the days between the Resurrection and the Ascension. Stopping off at a hostelry in the city of Lydda where this news filters through, their party bumps into Tiberius’ lascivious great-nephew and heir Caligula, plus three weary travellers who have been waiting 33 years to reunite with a man who might just be hiding in a nearby cave. Continue reading “Review: The Inn at Lydda, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse”

Review: Macbeth, Omnibus and Clapham Common

“Upon this blasted heath you stop our way”

Following handsome bearded men down shadowy paths has long been a vocation on Clapham Common but for the next couple of weeks, the entertainment being provided is of a more theatrical bent as the Omnibus presents a promenade production of the Scottish play which leads its audience on a journey both outside and in. It’s a canny, modernised take on Macbeth which makes inventive use of its locale to thrust us right in the midst of the action.

Whether huddled around a bonfire in the empty paddling pool, jammed into a crowded alleyway, guests at the banqueting table or spectators in the midst of hand-to-hand combat, Gemma Kerr’s production is more site-responsive than truly immersive and is the better for it, with less distraction from the bleakness of this world that has been created, where society is crumbling and the privations of long-running war are felt keenly by everyone. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, Omnibus and Clapham Common”

Review: The Lady From The Sea, Royal Exchange

“What is it you long for?”

The second part of my double bill at Manchester’s Royal Exchange was the production in the main theatre Ibsen’s The Lady From The Sea. Presented here in a new version by David Eldridge, using a literal translation by Charlotte Barslund, it marks the third time Eldridge has delved into the Nordic playwright’s work, this time working his stuff on one of his lesser-performed works. Just as a quick aside, I can highly recommend the blueberry cheesecake muffin from the bar at the theatre, it was a little piece of heaven!!

Set in a small fjordside Norwegian town, living a passive half life between sea and mountains, Ellida broods over her past love, despite having settled into a comfortable marriage of convenience with Doctor Wangel. Her reluctance to play the role of doting wife and stepmother results in Wangel bending over backwards to try and please her by inviting a man from her past to stay and cheer her up yet a web of misunderstandings and frustrations, that stretches all the way throughout this household, as the pull between domesticity and emotional freedom is explored. Continue reading “Review: The Lady From The Sea, Royal Exchange”