Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor, RSC at the Barbican

In the spirit of the season, I’m not commenting too much on the RSC’s The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Barbican

“I hope we shall drink down all unkindness”

Fiona Laird’s production of The Merry Wives of Windsor is the third of the RSC’s show to open at the Barbican this winter and whilst it is certainly an eye-catching revival with its Only Way is Essex tendencies, it really wasn’t the one for me.

Running time: 2 hours 45 minutes ((with interval)
Photo: Manuel Harlan
The Merry Wives of Windsor is booking at the Barbican until 5th January

Review: Macbeth, RSC at the Barbican

Despite a cast including Christopher Eccleston and Niamh Cusack, this proves another disappointment of a Macbeth as the RSC start their Autumn residency at the Barbican

“Better health attend his majesty”

Its enduring popularity on school curricula means we will probably never be free of it but in a year when both the National Theatre and the RSC have swung and missed with modern takes on Macbeth, surely it is time to give it a rest. Rufus Norris’s post-apocalyptic production felt unmoored and lacklustre in the unforgiving Olivier and now taking up residency at the Barbican, Polly Findlay’s interpretation for the RSC similarly lacks clarity and intent.

There’s plenty of ambition here and it is tempting to see the influence of a certain Dutch auteur (barefeet actors, clocks counting down to deaths…). But the over-riding aspect of Findlay’s direction is its headlong speed as it hurtles through a cut-down version of the text. Too much has been sacrificed here in the name of accessibility with precious little time given to allow emotional beats to play out, for motivations to be understood, the hurly-burly rules. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, RSC at the Barbican”

Full cast for the RSC’s upcoming Macbeth revealed

The full cast for the RSC’s upcoming production of Macbeth has been announced.

Christopher Eccleston, making his debut at Stratford-upon-Avon,  as Macbeth and Niamh Cusack as Lady Macbeth had already been announced and will be joined by:

  • David Acton (Duncan)
  • Raphael Sowole (Banquo)
  • Edward Bennett (Macduff)
  • Bally Gill (Ross)
  • Luke Newberry (Malcolm)
  • Tim Samuels (Lennox)
  • Mariam Haque (Lady MacDuff)
  • Donna Banya (Donalbain/Gentlewoman)
  • Stevie Basaula (Bloody Captain/Second Murderer),
  • Katy Brittain (Doctor)
  • Raif Clarke (Boy)
  • Paul Dodds (Chamberlain 1)
  • Michael Hodgson Porter)
  • John Macaulay (Chamberlain/Lord)
  • Tom Padley (First Murderer)
  • Josh Finan (Company)
  • Afolabi Alli (Company)

The production will be directed by Polly Findlay and runs at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre from 20 March to 18 September with previews from 13 March.

 

Review: The Merchant of Venice, RSC at East WinterGarden

“Tell me where is fancy bred”

This was actually the first time I’ve been to the cinema to see some theatre, this being a rare example of the production in question being one that I hadn’t seen. Polly Findlay’s production of The Merchant of Venice for the RSC suffered a little by following a most striking one at the Globe and the reviews said as much. But with a little distance, the comparison was much less fresh in my mind and the novelty of this screening – cabaret tables, a bar, interval food from Wagamama – made it a rather fun experience.

Findlay adjusts the balance of her interpretation so that Antonio becomes its centre as well as its titular character, his presence dominates the stage at the beginning and end, his relationship with Jacob Fortune-Lloyd’s Bassanio so often merely homoerotic made explicitly homosexual. In the midst of Johannes Schütz’s anonymous golden-hued set, their passion is made manifest from the beginning and becomes a driver throughout, marriage to Portia and the commitments it entails take second place. Continue reading “Review: The Merchant of Venice, RSC at East WinterGarden”

Review: Treasure Island, National Theatre

“Thanks for all the pies and adventures”

The big family-oriented show at the National Theatre this winter is Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (though as it runs in rep right through to April, one hopes Spring will have sprung by then) which has been adapted for the stage by Bryony Lavery. But whilst Polly Findlay’s production has some very definite plus points, not least in an inspired design by Lizzie Clachan which utilises so much of the Olivier’s potential, it doesn’t quite have the full shiver-me-timbers factor to make it an undoubted success.

Clachan frames the theatre’s large revolving drum with a set of lowering curved ribs which suggest all kinds of mystical maritime adventures – the frame of a trusty ship, the ribcage of a giant whale, the quivering trees of a strange island. Deep in the revolve is where the real treasure is though, a warren of cabins that reflect the social hierarchy of the time and later on the maze of tunnels in which the gold can be found. Combined with the sensational starry skyscape up above, Bruno Poet’s lighting looking stunning, this is the National doing what it does so well. Continue reading “Review: Treasure Island, National Theatre”

Review: Emil and the Detectives, National Theatre

“No-one has time for other people’s troubles in a city”

It’s a rare occasion that I get to go to the theatre not knowing anything about a show in advance and so when the opportunity comes, it makes for a nice change. And in this case a huge surprise as Emil and the Detectives turned out to be a show with a cast full of kids! I now know that Erich Kästner’s 1929 novel is a much beloved children’s classic, though it never found a home on my bookshelf, and adapted here by Carl Miller, the tale of smalltown boy Emil going on a life-changing journey through the scary metropolis of Berlin and finding an unexpected solidarity with an army of street kids – the Detectives – is a solid entry in the National’s roster of family shows.

On the face of it, Bijan Sheibani seems an odd choice of director, an undoubtedly patchy track record leaving huge question marks but the National’s faith has been largely repaid here with a mercifully flaming skeleton-free production. Bunny Christie’s set design is a glorious masterpiece, using Constructivist angles and a stark spareness to allow for a range of different atmospheres and locations to be evoked, and the collaboration with Sheibani really pays off in key moments when the simplest solution is often used to great effect. Lucy Carter’s precise lighting comes into play in ingenious chase scenes with Ian Dickinson’s sound adding suitably creepy notes. Continue reading “Review: Emil and the Detectives, National Theatre”

Short Film Review #25

Mr John from Julian Kerridge on Vimeo.

Sometimes, it’s the smallest things that are most affecting and Julian Kerridge’s 2005 film debut Mr John is full of gorgeous, intimate details that make it a most charming prospect. Benedict Wong’s Mr John is an agoraphobic television critic but the arrival of a pretty upstairs neighbour, in the form of Nicola Stephenson’s Carol, forces him to look at the limits of his world anew. Their burgeoning relationship is a delight to behold – the gift of a casserole, a love for volcano documentaries, the re-organisation of a video collection – the quirky aspects of what makes her utterly adorable is perfectly played by Stephenson, the wry smile as she walks down the steps at the end enough to melt any heart. And Wong is appealingly nerdish as Mr John, initially disgruntled at the intrusion into his hermit-like existence but soon won over and willing to confront his greatest fear. Just lovely. Continue reading “Short Film Review #25”

Review: Timon of Athens, National Theatre

“We have seen better days”

Relevance. From the moment that Timon of Athens was announced as part of the upcoming season at the National Theatre with its look-alike poster image, it was clear that this would be a production straining for resonance in the modern world. This is nothing new of course – the recent Antigone opened with an evocation of the capture of Bin Laden, the RSC have relocated Julius Caesar in a modern-day African dictatorship, numerous Comedies of Errors have touched on people-trafficking – but in his quest to update this neglected Shakespeare problem play for our times, Nicholas Hytner seems to have suffered very much from square peg round hole syndrome. Aspects of this production may well improve as the preview period progresses, my problems with it ran much deeper.

Timon starts the play as a major player on the London social scene, showering the city and his acolytes with his financial largesse and a dubious open door policy. But such cultural and personal philanthropism comes at a serious price when it emerges that Timon is in fact bankrupt and when he turns to those who he has lavished with money and gifts, they turn their back on him and offer no help. He exacts a stinking revenge on them during a feast and then retires from society to become a bag lady. Even then, an unexpected discovery means that he cannot truly escape his former life but his influence is channelled into a darker stream of action as civil unrest is steadily growing. Continue reading “Review: Timon of Athens, National Theatre”

Review: Antigone, National Theatre

“When things must be, they will be”

Though the prospect of a different kind of Greek tragedy is one that is dominating our headlines at the moment, the ancient Greek kind remain an enduring presence in our theatres. Sophocles’ Antigone is the latest to re-emerge at the National Theatre with director Polly Findlay using Don Taylor’s version of the play, originally done for the BBC in the 1980s. Her production locates this version of Thebes somewhere in the North of England in the late 1970s (at least that’s when I reckoned but others in the group were less sure) in which Jodie Whittaker and Christopher Eccleston take the leading roles.

Thebes has been wracked by civil war and turmoil and in the aftermath of a particularly bloody struggle between the two brothers fighting over the throne, Creon seizes control and becomes king. To stamp his authority on the city, Creon opts to bury one brother but leaves the body of the other more rebellious one to rot outside on the battlefield. This horrifies Antigone, sister to the men and niece to Creon, and despite a royal decree forbidding anyone to touch his body on the pain of death, she sets about doing what she thinks is right. Continue reading “Review: Antigone, National Theatre”

Review: The Kitchen, National Theatre

“What is there more?”

The Kitchen was one of Arnold Wesker’s first plays and follows on from the Royal Court’s well-received (if not by me) Chicken Soup with Barley in a year which has been something of a revival for Wesker. Written in 1959 and inspired by his own experiences of working in the catering industry, it is set in 1957 in the basement kitchen of a large London restaurant, the Tivoli. The dynamics of a swirling multi-cultural mass of chefs, waitresses and kitchen porters are exposed as they slowly build to the mad rush of a huge lunchtime service. Playing in the Olivier at the National Theatre, this was a late preview performance.

Director Bijan Sheibani has assembled a cast of 30 who rush about Giles Cadle’s circular kitchen set with increasing fervour as prep turns into service and the banter with all its personal enmities, tribal groupings and rivalries between kitchen staff and dining-room staff becomes increasingly fraught, and of course largely forgotten as the rush passes and the calm of the afternoon allows for a more reflective atmosphere. The less intense evening service provides a final act is no less dramatic though as slow burning stories finally explode. Continue reading “Review: The Kitchen, National Theatre”