15 posts categorized "Barbican" Feed

Review: Jude Law in Obsession, Barbican Theatre

ImageObsession is the latest production from Ivo Van Hove and the second in a trio of plays he has at the Barbican Theatre this year. Based on the 1943 Italian film which in turn based on James Cain's controversial crime novel The Postman Always Rings Twice, it is set in a nondescript café run by a Giuseppe (Gijs Scholten van Aschat) and his much younger wife Hanna (Halina Reijn). When handsome drifter Gino (Jude Law) turns up, Hanna is quickly charmed and Giuseppe is initially suspicious but when he proves useful around the café Giuseppe lets him stay, inadvertently sealing the fate of all three.

It is a dark and brooding play full of Van Hove's trademarks - close ups of key scenes projected as video on the back and side walls of the stage, stripped back dialogue (Simon Stephens has done the adaptation) and pregnant pauses which are punctured by passionate physical encounters and outbursts. The huge Barbican stage is sparse, a cafe counter which is Hanna's domain, a truck engine suspended in the middle which is Giuseppe's and a old-fashioned square basin which is used for washing.

There is an ordinariness to much of what goes on, Van Hove lingering on the domestic routine. It accentuates the physicality of those moments when a more raw, primal emotion breaks through. There is something of a pacing, impatient animal in Jude Law's performance that marks him as dangerous charmer from the outset.

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Review: Tweeting, taking photos and the audience on stage, it's the Roman Tragedies experience, Barbican Theatre

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Roman Tragedies, Barbican: About to begin and a warning

Last year's King's of War, at four and half hours long, was just a warm up for Ivo Van Hove's Roman Tragedies in which Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra have been simmered down to a six hour single play. But this isn't just six hours of Shakespeare in Dutch (with English subtitles) Van Hove has taken the notion of a theatre 'experience' (read: long or multiple plays in one day) and then broken the taboos of theatre-going.

Phone off during the performance? Oh no, tweeting and taking pictures is actively encouraged. The traditional 15-20 minute interval has been replaced with a series of 3-5 min scene changes - the voice of an MC tells you how long until the next one. Not that it matters, you can pop out to stretch your legs or take a comfort break whenever you like.

After the first scene change you can change seats or even opt to find somewhere to perch on stage if you wish. There isn't on-stage seating - this production has made that passé - you just find a chair or sofa or something else that is part of the set. There's even a café/bar counter towards the wings where you can purchase a drink or a snack to enjoy during the performance.

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Roman Tragedies, Barbican: Spot @weez and @naomi_jw centre stage

Because the Barbican stage is so big and the set made up of different areas Van Hove once again uses camera's to beam close ups of the actors on a large screen above the stage so you never miss a thing. Once the audience is invited up they become part of the spectacle their reactions and concentration caught in the close ups. It raised a few laughs at times. 

All this serves to put Roman Tragedies firmly on the awards list for 'theatre experience of the year' and for very good reason. It is an experience and one you'll never forget. While it's not necessarily a production to see to get the nuances of the individual plays - there are periods where it starts to wash over you somewhat - you do, however, get a good sense of the narrative and dramatic tensions. And in allowing the audience on stage it serves to demonstrate how public politics and political life is.

It is a production with a handful of really memorable scenes (and moments of startling performance) rather than a whole. Hans Kesting, who was superb as Richard III in King's of War, in this plays Mark Antony in Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra and pretty much steels the show. He got a spontaneous round of applause at one point.

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Review: RSC's bonkers Cymberline, Barbican Theatre

B5774-cymbeline_review_hub.tmb-gal-1340When plays are rarely performed you do wonder if there is a good reason for it and Cymberline isn't one of William Shakespeare's best but the RSC has done a superb job with it, particularly given that they do the whole thing.

It's definitely a play of two halves. As we paused for the interval it was all going swimmingly. Queen Cymberline (Gillian Bevan), one of several gender swaps in this production, is angry that her only daughter Innogen (Bethan Cullinan) has married her lover Posthumus (Hiran Abeysekera) and has banished him but not before the newly-weds swap gifts - a ring for Posthumus and bracelet for Innogen. Innogen's evil stepfather (James Clyde) wants Innogen to marry his oafish son Cloten (Marcus Griffiths) but he also has deadly plans for the Queen.

Things take a turn for the worse for Posthumus who, having made his way to Rome, encounters Iachimo (Oliver Johnstone), a playboy, who in hearing about the lovely and chaste Innogen wagers that he can prove she isn't by tempting her to bed. Posthumus bets the ring that Innogen has given him and you can see roughly where all that is going. Anyway that brings us up to the interval with a lot of people feeling rejected/hurt/bereft while others are rubbing their hands together in glee.

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That was August in London Theatre-land (with a late addition)

9383745446_a248156e8f_zAugust always used to be a quiet month for theatre; it was as if everyone decamped to Edinburgh for the fringe. But even though the Royal Court still shuts up shop, elsewhere it just seems to get busier and busier. There is more fringe - and not just pre-Edinburgh shows - and more productions opening at the bigger theatres. As a result I ended up seeing 12 plays and yes I know there are people that see more than that each month but it's above my average.

* The 'hold the front page' story for the month (and possibly the year) was the announcement of funds to be made available to theatres to improve the ladies toilets. There is general under provision in the older theatres which means long queues and they are often so cramped and badly designed you have to be child-sized to get in and out the cubicles.

* The month was also notable for having only one steamy theatre watching experience and by that I mean the 'joy' of sitting in a non-air conditioned theatre on a hot summer evening with sweat trickling down your back while feeling sorry for the actors because at least you can wear shorts and T-Shirt. Yep thanks to Found III for that one.

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Review: Ivo Van Hove's epic Kings of War, Barbican Theatre

9731_xFour and half hours of Shakespeare performed in Dutch (with English subtitles)? With Ivo Van Hove directing I rushed to buy a ticket. 

Bart van den Eynde and Peter van Kraaij have combined Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III into one epic play (there is also a smidgen of Henry IV part 2 at the beginning) which Van Hove has set in what looks like a war bunker.

There are three corridors (of power) that feed the bunker and a camera* follows the actors when they disappear down them, the feed appearing on a large screen at the back of the stage. Some of it is obviously pre-recorded - as much as I would love to believe they had a flock of sheep back stage - some of it is live. There are also cameras hidden on stage which film the action from angles not easily seen by the audience.

Kings of War begins quite slowly. Van Hove's naturalistic directing style has the actors in office mode. After the initial coronation scene which is done without speeches just a red carpet and a train of followers, in a device that will be repeated, there is little ceremony. Henry V (Ramsey Nasr) is portrayed more as a military leader at work than king, around him people sit at desks carrying out their usual tasks, finishing writing a sentence before responding to a question.

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Review: RSC's King and Country cycle - Henry V, Barbican

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Alex Hassell as Henry V. Photo by Alastair Muir

Over three days I watched the landscape that would form Henry V taking shape; the prince not born to be King but thrown into it by his father's deposing of Richard II. His petulant years as the party prince rebelling against this unexpected, unlooked for responsibility, rebelling and yet not quite relinquishing the need to make his father proud. It is an inner battle fought through Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and at the beginning of Henry V we see the new King (Alex Hassell) resolved to his new found responsibility, determined if a little scared and a little nervous. 

This final play in the tetralogy watched back to back, is his journey from infamous youth to warrior and clever politician. When Henry successfully puts down a plot to murder him you see him grow a little in confidence. He needs it for the path ahead when he has to play politics with the French King and make life and death decisions for his former friends and for 1,000 of soldiers.

Before the play begins the stage is lit so that you can see all the backstage areas, the props and bits of sets to be used later. You hear the actors being called to the stage. It is a contemporary start to a history play and yet it is how Shakespeare intended, a way of getting the audience to use their imagination for the trips to France and epic battles that are to come.

Oliver Ford Davis in casual 21st Century clothes - a cardie and scarf - has a slightly wry tone to his lines as Chorus which serve to move the action forward, set the scene and sometimes develop the drama.

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Review: RSC's King and Country cycle - Henry IV parts 1 and 2, Barbican

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Antony Sher and Alex Hassell in the original Stratford production of Henry IV

Saw this production of the RSC's Henry IV parts 1 and 2 back to back on its first visit to the Barbican in 2014. It isn't exactly the same cast and while it is great to have the opportunity to revisit it, the thrill this time was seeing it as part of the King and Country cycle.

David Tennant's Richard II superbly set the scene on Tuesday night with Jasper Britton who played Henry IV taking on Bolingbroke. He said in a Q&A afterwards that playing Bolingbroke changed his performance as Henry and it is this continuity of casting that really brought something extra to the two plays.

At the end of Richard II, Bolingbroke is riding high as the new king. I've seen Bolingbroke played as a reluctant King but not here and yet Richard's murder has already started to haunt him. At the opening of Henry IV, there is unrest in the country and he looks care worn. He is still a powerful leader and expert politician but the reality of kingship and consequence of how he came by the thrown is settling in. 

His disappointment with his son, the party Prince Hal (Alex Hassell) is magnified having seen how Harry 'Hotspur' Percy' (Matthew Needham) conducted himself during his rise. Incidentally I preferred Matthew's Hotspur to Trevor White who played the part in the original production as I found him just a little too fiery to the point of occasionally being irritating.

Henry IV is also the start of a big journey for Prince Hal and like Jasper Britton it was interesting to see his journey, which completes in Henry V, which I'll review separately.

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Ten things I loved about the RSC's King and Country cycle

IMG_4456One ticket. Three days. Four Shakespeare history plays.  I'm bleary-eyed from the late nights and have probably spent more time at the Barbican this week than I have in my own flat but I'd happily do it all over again. Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and Henry V back to back is a journey you are rarely given the opportunity to travel and I'm still buzzing from the thrill of it.

Here are ten of my highlights:

  1. Seeing David Tennant as Richard II, again and it being even better than first time around.
  2. The long, lingering kiss between Richard and Aumerle (Sam Marks) that spoke a thousand words.
  3. Hearing Antony Sher's Falstaff calling for Poins during the Gads Hill robbery scene in Henry IV part 1 (again). Still brilliantly excecuted and brilliantly funny.  I want his "Poins. Poins. Poins." for my own nerdy (and annoying) ring tone.
  4. Watching Alex Hassell go on the complete journey from party Prince Hal to Agincourt victorious Henry V in just over 24 hours.
  5. Likewise Jasper Britton's journey from Bolingbroke the king usurper to the haunted Henry IV and how the first play really informed his performance in the Henry’s
  6. Antony Byrne's thong in Henry IV part 2 in the pub/drunk Pistol scene.
  7. The little mix up at the curtain call of part 1 when the three leads (Jasper, Antony and Alex) realised they weren't in their alloted places and got giggly when they realised their mistake.
  8. Alex and Sam shirtless in the 'locker room' scene in Henry IV part 2 and by that same token the opening bedroom scene with Alex in part 1 - for 'artistic' reasons, obviously. Ahem.
  9. The little treatments that were carried through the plays such as Richard/Bolingbroke’s tussle with the crown being mirrored by Hal and Falstaff and then Falstaff and Shadow.
  10. Feeling like you've been on an epic journey with your fellow audience members as well as the cast (hello to the lady sat next to me who'd flown in from Denver to see the cycle).

Here are my reviews for Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V  and notes from the Q&A with David Tennant and Jonathan Slinger. The King and Country cycle is on at the Barbican until January 24 after which it embarks on a world tour.

 

 


Review: David Tennant is back as Richard II, Barbican Theatre

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Photo from 2013 production by Kwame Lestrade (c) RSC

When David Tennant’s King Richard swept onto the Barbican stage last night head held with haughty entitlement I couldn't help but grin. He’s back. And I confess I didn’t think the RSC could do this production any better but they did, somehow.

Richard II has been revived, albeit with some new cast members to replace those unavailable three years on from the original Stratford and London production, as part of a series of Shakespeare's history plays to celebrate the bards 400th anniversary.  The other plays in the series are a revival of the RSC's 2014 Henry IV parts one and two and 2015’s Henry V which sees Alex Hassell completing the journey from Prince Hal to victorious King. If you have the stamina, and I’m hoping I do, you can see all four plays over three days - Henry IV part one is tonight part two tomorrow afternoon and finishing with Henry V in the evening*.

Seeing them in succession has its own thrill with continuity of cast and plot as well as the opportunity of seeing RII and the two Henry IV’s again - Henry V will be first time viewing.

But last night the bar was set high. There was an energy I don’t remember first time around which heightened emotions to a new level. Tennant was on fighting form eliciting a yelp when he lashed out at one unfortunate character and when he kissed Aumerle (Sam Marks) it was long and lingering and spoke a thousand words.

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Second thoughts: Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet, Barbican Theatre

Definitely warmed to Benedict Cumberbatch's Prince Hamlet on second viewing. First time around he felt a little out of joint with the rest of the cast but with a few more performances completed (and those pesky video incidents in the past) the company and production is starting to gel nicely.

The biggest change to be made since the early previews is moving 'To be or not to be.." from the opening speech to the middle of his feigned madness episode. I liked it at the beginning but it does work really well in its new slot giving Hamlet a moment of brooding introspection amid his rather eccentric behaviour - more madcap that mad I would say.

Now the play starts with Hamlet's exercise of quiet reflection interrupted by the return of Horatio (Leo Bill). It immediately establishes him as a person who has friends, someone who is liked. When the scene then moves to his mother's wedding reception he shares a moment with Ophelia adding another to the list of his fans.

BC's Hamlet feels slightly volatile but self aware and trying to keep it in check. He is definitely a Hamlet with flaws: his ego surfaces occasionally, he can be petulant and contemptuous - he's very human in that respect. He isn't wholly likeable but he carried my emotion more readily this time partly because his inner struggles were more visible. It makes the question of his madness more ambiguous. Is he genuinely losing his marbles but having moments of lucidness? There is a moment when he seems to see his own death and becomes resigned to it.

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