The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #6

The Merry Wives of Windsor

Dorney Court, Berkshire
I’m becoming less and less tolerant of men taking women’s roles, especially when there’s no reciprocity, and as much as I like Paul Chahidi – I don’t see why he gets to be one  of the titular merry wives here opposite Mel Giedroyc. Rebecca Gatward’s fourth-wall smashing direction is very much in keeping with the Globe’s often broad sense of comedy but for me, it lacks any subtlety at all.


CymbelineAs the world’s newest country, there’s something special about the South Sudan Theatre Company forming especially for the Globe 2 Globe Festival, so it’s a bit harsh that they were then lumbered with CymbelineSam Yates splices their show with his newly-filmed clips in a Welsh forest somewhere near Milford Haven but as talented as Hayley Atwell is and Kevin Harvey too, it’s a rather dull experience – I remain unconvinced about the play.

Henry VIII

There’s no doubting that Henry VIII is one of the less-exciting plays in the canon and though Mark Rosenblatt ventures into the beautiful gardens of Hampton Court Palace with Danny Sapani as his monarch, struggling to come to terms with his longed-for heir being a girl (Pauline McLynn delivering the news well), it’s never that compelling. Even the clips of the 2010 Globe production remind more of its inertia than anything else.

Coriolanus

There have been some pretty sweet gigs on the Complete Walk and Dromgoole’s roadtrip to Rome with Dominic West for Coriolanus has to rank up there. A stylishly shot film that comes close to a perfume ad in its luxuriousness and moody glances, it’s nonetheless most effective.

Review: The Ruling Class, Trafalgar Studios

“How do you know you are God?” 
‘Simple. When I pray to Him, I find I am talking to myself.’”

When a revival of a play is prefaced by “rarely-seen”, it’s hard not to assume that there’s often good reason for that and so it felt with Peter Barnes’ The Ruling Class. As a piece of drama, it feels dated and heavy handed, its formerly satirical edges altogether too manic and blunted. But as a piece of theatre, it has a peach of a leading role for which Jamie Lloyd has renewed his Trafalgar Transformed relationship with James McAvoy, who delivers it with an often breathtaking stage presence.

His 14th Earl of Gurney is a paranoid schizophrenic aristo called Jack who thinks he is Jesus and inherits the family pile after his father’s suicide, much to the consternation of his relatives. But even as they plot with a psychiatrist to get him shut away, Jack finds his way to (relative) sanity and locates a new target for his considerable energies – the House of Lords. That it is the aristocracy bearing the brunt of much of Barnes’ bite makes it clearer to see why the play has languished rather, its class-based pointedness showing its age. Continue reading “Review: The Ruling Class, Trafalgar Studios”

Not-a-Review: Blithe Spirit, Gielgud

“I long ago came to the conclusion that nothing has ever been definitely proved about anything “

Less of a review (the show is still previewing) and more of a musing on ‘actor tourism’ which is surely the main reason for this umpteenth revival of Noël Coward’s Blithe Spirit. The announcement of Angela Lansbury’s return to the London stage after nearly forty years was met with a surprisingly huge outpouring of excitement which subsequently went into overdrive with her elevation to damehood in the New Year. And such veneration is curious to observe when one is on the outside of it.

I think I missed the memo about Lansbury. I mean I’m pretty sure I’ve been in the same room when Murder She Wrote has been on but it was never something I’ve been enthusiastic about and in my personal pantheon of leading ladies, I have to say she is a long way off national treasure status. And clearly this will be controversial as evidenced from the audience in the Gielgud though – her arrival onstage was applauded, her exits were whooped, her curtain call garnering a considerable standing ovation. Continue reading “Not-a-Review: Blithe Spirit, Gielgud”

Review: Inadmissible Evidence, Donmar Warehouse

“Asking a working writer what he feels about critics is like asking a lamppost what it feels about dogs”

Inadmissible Evidence focuses in almost exclusively on Bill Maitland, a lawyer whose life is falling apart. Everyone important to him seems to be abandoning him, work colleagues, the numerous secretaries he’s sleeping with, his angsty daughter, and he exists in a bubble of self-obsessed torture and suffering – nicely realised in Soutra Gilmour’s office set that highlights his isolation – and presumably on the way to some sort of nervous breakdown. Douglas Hodge is thus never off the stage in a marathon of a performance that rarely lets up: he’s desperate to be the life of the party yet prey to numerous neuroses; unable to really connect with anyone yet constantly talking and raging at them; in this world it is all about him and so the play becomes all about him too.

Such focus on Maitland means that the rest of the ensemble have to work extremely hard to make any sort of meaningful impact in the production, Osborne’s writing not helping them a great deal. Daniel Ryan fares best as colleague Hudson, Serena Evans triples up effectively as a series of clients and Al Weaver makes a quietly moving study of his married man arrested for cottaging. But Esther Hall is completely wasted as final mistress Liz, given the merest opportunity to shine as she does extremely well here and Karen Gillan did not seem quite equal to the task as the secretary who has just had enough, coming across as flat and unresponsive, especially up against Hodge. Continue reading “Review: Inadmissible Evidence, Donmar Warehouse”

Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I hope, upon familiarity will grow more contempt”

Hoping that the above quote doesn’t ring true, this revival of Christopher Luscombe’s 2008 The Merry Wives of Windsor slips back into Shakespeare’s Globe ahead of a US and UK tour taking in Santa Monica, New York, Milton Keynes, Norwich, Richmond and Bath through to December.

The only of Shakespeare’s plays to take place in his contemporary England, it takes some of the characters familiar from the Henry IV plays, most notably Falstaff and creates a pleasing romp as he chases after the wives of two gentlemen from Windsor but doesn’t reckon on just how cunning the women are. There’s also a young couple straining to be together in the face of parental disapproval, some comedic foreigners, some funny business with a laundry basket and a whole load of farcical fun. It plays here, as nicely explained in the programme, as a bit of a forerunner of the modern tv sitcom and it really does work.

A nice thing about this play is its balanced treatment of women, with 3 strong, funny female characters all of which are played with aplomb. Sue Wallace’s Mistress Quickly is nicely knowing in her manipulation of Falstaff and compassionate in rearranging the love affairs of the youngsters. And Sarah Woodward and Serena Evans as Mistresses Ford and Page respectively are just an absolute delight as the mischievous cohorts with a visibly strong friendship. Andrew Havill’s Basil Fawlty inspired mugging as Ford fits in perfectly with the tone of the piece and as Falstaff, Christopher Benjamin wins our sympathies as well as making us laugh.

The only slight disappointments for me was the sagging of the pace in the first half and Ceri-Lyn Cissone and Gerard McCarthy as the rather bland lovers, typified by their overlong duet. William Belchamber’s fey Slender and Philip Bird’s linguistically-challenged Caius were much funnier and more interesting and there was no hint at all of the former drinking buddy of Prince Hal in McCarthy’s Fenton, meaning he came across as just dull.

As a little aside, I do find it curious programming that this sits alongside the two Henry IV plays this year. With the crossover in characters but not the casting and the fact that this doesn’t really square with the timelines of the history plays, it just sits a little odd in terms of the season as a whole. And with Allam’s Falstaff so fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help but compare, however this is but a minor quibble.

It is clear why this production has been revived though: it is superbly acted throughout the ensemble, it is huge amounts of fun and once it gets started it just romps through its proceedings with a vibrancy and energy that should win over audiences no matter where it plays.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3.50
Booking until 2nd October

Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews