Review: ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore, Cheek by Jowl at the Barbican

“Tis not, I know, my lust, but tis my fate that leads me on”

A quick glance at my Top 25 Plays of 2011 on the right sidebar will show you that Cheek by Jowl’s The Tempest was one of the absolute highlights of my theatregoing year and so by rights, I ought to have been highly excited for the company’s return to the Barbican with ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore. But it was the Russian sister company that took on Shakespeare last year and my only other experience with CbJ’s English work was a rather painfully dull take on Macbeth, also at the Barbican, which meant I was a little equivocal about this prospect. Great word-of-mouth persuaded me to take the risk though, booking for late in the run, and it was well-founded as it turned out to be a highly inventive, energetic and deeply sexy evening at the theatre.

It was my first experience of the Jacobean tragedy, a cautionary tale about the problems of wanting to bonk your sister, which has been thoroughly revitalised in this modern-dress version which pulses along with the punchy soundtrack that starts the show along with a rather fun full-cast dance routine. Giovanni comes back from university, full of incestuous thoughts about his sister Annabella who is being pursued by a number of suitors. But as it turns out, she only has eyes for her brother too and though she ends up betrothed to Soranzo, watched by the vengeful Hippolita, the ramifications of their love have a deadly impact as religion, culture, corruption and morality collide. Continue reading “Review: ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore, Cheek by Jowl at the Barbican”

DVD Review: Macbeth

This filmed version of Macbeth follows on from the well-received Hamlet, starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart, that was also captured for posterity but given the filmic treatment rather than just recorded on stage. The entire adult cast, including Stewart and Kate Fleetwood as the murderous couple, from the original Chichester production reunited to film this in high definition in the gloomy tunnels and bunker-like rooms at Walbeck Abbey.

Director Rupert Goold relocates the action to the Cold War Era thus making war-torn Scotland something closer to Stalinist Russia:, the hallmarks of fascism are ever-present with giant posters of the ruler dominating rooms, a police state mentality prevailing with torture used to maintain fear and control over the people as the Macbeths seek to sate their bloodlust and desire for the crown through any means necessary.

I’m not too sure how I feel about Stewart as an actor, something about him just turns me off, but he is undoubtedly impressive here, demonstrating a clinical control over the verse and playing the dictator-like ambition turning to paranoid desperation with conviction. Fleetwood’s Lady Macbeth was chillingly effective as the driving force behind this blood-thirsty ambition, portraying a real malevolence that curdles inside her as the loveless marriage begins to crack.

Goold’s assignment of the weird sisters as surgical-masked nurses who are frequently seen around the edges of scenes puts a stronger emphasis on the supernatural side of things, suggesting the ominous inevitability of his fate and perhaps even manipulating it themselves. Polly Frame, Sophie Hunter and Niamh McGrady are all excellent though and the visual and sound effects employed on their performances adds an extra layer of disturbing menace.

As ever, Macduff and Malcolm’s killer scene dragged interminably, but there were nice performances from Tim Treloar as a bookish Ross, Suzanne Burden as the butchered Lady Macduff. But what shines as the biggest benefit to the whole thing is the use of close-ups to really capture the nuances of performances that could well have escaped people on the front row, never mind up in the gods. There’s a level of detail that one is allowed to observe here, that really elevates this from a mere recording of a staged production and demonstrating where this format has a clear value and shouldn’t just be dismissed as ‘no substitute for the real thing’.

Yes, this is not the same thing as going to the theatre but nor is it pretending to be and instead offers an opportunity that couldn’t really be equalled whilst sat in the stalls and made this an interesting and significant thing to watch.

Review: Judgment Day, Almeida

“The train is coming…”

Judgment Day is a play by Austro-Hungarian playwright Ödön von Horváth, which has been translated here at the Almeida theatre by Christoper Hampton. One of the first commissions after Michael Attenborough’s arrival as Artistic Director, Hampton has long been a champion of this writer and this is the first full production of this play in this country. Von Horváth wrote much of his anti-Nazi work in Germany in the 1930s, but opted to remain in the country to study the encroaching rise of Nazism, instead of fleeing like many of his compatriots such as Brecht.

It’s the story of Hudetz, a stationmaster of a small village who, distracted one evening by a popular local girl eager for a kiss, fails to make the necessary signal to a passing train causing a devastating fatal crash. The girl Anna then perjures herself to defend Hudetz as he seeks to escape justice, despite his unhappy wife also witnessing the events. We then see the effects of overwhelming grief on this pair as they struggle to carry on with their lives, exacerbated by the ever-changing moods of the townspeople, whose vicious, bigoted anger seems to be refocused with every new piece of gossip that comes their way. Continue reading “Review: Judgment Day, Almeida”

Review: The Chalk Garden, Donmar Warehouse

The Chalk Garden is a 1955 play by Enid Bagnold, revived here by Michael Grandage at the Donmar Warehouse and featuring a top-notch cast, not least of two women who are surely dames-in-waiting.
The plot starts with Mrs St Maugham’s attempt to employ a governess for her unruly granddaughter Laurel. Miss Madrigal is the successful applicant and brings with her, into this quirky English household, not least a wealth of knowledge about how to make things grow in the chalky soil of the garden. As Laurel and Miss Madrigal come to know more about each other, secrets begin to unfold and realisations occur as to how what needs to change in order to make everything right.


It is sheer theatrical delight watching this cast, Tyzack and Wilton are just note-perfect throughout. Tyzack is witty, candid, uniquely eccentric and Wilton is mesmerising as a woman possessed of a serene calm and quiet steeliness which equips for most tasks in hand. With these two luminary talents onstage, one might have forgiven the rest of the ensemble for wilting a little but they really don’t, they flourish. Felicity Jones is just right as the psychologically disturbed Laurel, Jamie Glover’s manservant cannot hide his own psychological damage from years in jail as a conscientious objector and Clifford Rose’s judge is also nicely played.
To be sure, it does feel like an old-fashioned play and the ending reflects that completely, but there’s something strangely soothing about the message it conveys that fits this production perfectly. The detailing of the period set is brilliant, full of atmospheric detail and combined with the excellent acting, makes this a certain hit for the Donmar.