15 posts categorized "Jacobean drama" Feed

Review: RSC's The Alchemist, Swan Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon

The Alchemist production photos_ May 2016_2016_Photo by Helen Maybanks _c_ RSC_194712
Mark Lockyer (Subtle) and Ken Nwosu (Face) in The Alchemist. Photo by Helen Maybanks (c) RSC

Every time a character mentions the philosopher's stone in The Alchemist I can't help but think of Harry Potter. If you don't know the play but know the Potter series then you'll understand why the very idea of the stone's existence gets the characters in The Alchemist excited (and avaricious).

In Ben Jonson's play Subtle (Mark Lockyer), a conman, tricks a rich gentleman and some Anabaptists into believing that he can produce the stone. It is one method that he and his fellow tricksters - Face (Ken Nwosu), a butler and Dol Common (Siobhan McSweeney) a prostitute - use to embezzle money from unsuspecting acquaintances. The house where Face works is the front for their business while his master is out of London avoiding the plague.

The charlatan and his partners have also tricked a gambler into believing they can get him a lucky charm from the fairy queen and a shopkeeper that Subtle can advise on the most propitious design and layout for his new tobacco shop. Of course there is one debunker of 'the alchemist's' powers in the form of Surly who sets about trying to expose him as a thief.

Continue reading "Review: RSC's The Alchemist, Swan Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon" »


Dr Faustus Q&A with Kit Harington and Jamie Lloyd and tales of slow-dancing and 'weird shit'

6a0133ec96767e970b01b7c80f05da970b-320wiSo I found myself back in the Duke of York's watching Dr Faustus again last night - there was a pair of £15 tickets on the front row so I couldn't resist. Following the performance there was Q&A with director Jamie Lloyd, Kit Harington plus Craig Stein, Brian Gilligan and Garmon Rhys.

Chairs were set up on the tiny bit of stage that protrudes from underneath the safety curtain behind which the clean up operation could be heard. Jamie Lloyd said he felt for the stage management team who had the big job of cleaning up after each performance (puke of various colours, soil, flour, poo, blood and food).

Everyone was in relaxed and jovial mood which made for an often amusing discussion. Here are some of the highlights:

Jamie and Kit were asked about casting:

JL said he has a list of plays he wants to do and he wanted to work with Kit so he sent him a couple of things to look at one of which was Dr Faustus.

KH said if he reads a script and then wants to immediately read it again then he wants to do it. He likes juicy, wacky and weird roles: 'I love weird shit'. In Dr Faustus he loved the contemporary sections of the play spliced with the Marlowe original. 

How do you learn your lines and approach the role?

KH said that JL likes the actors 'off book' and he looked at how much there was in the script and thought 'oh shit' so he booked a cottage in Wales, cut off from everything and 'spent four days pummelling it'. Then there was one of those pauses when everyone is thinking it but no one wants to say until JL kindly stepped in quipped 'but what about the lines?' Much laughter at that, naturally.

Once he recovered he went on to say how he didn't know what the premise would be. He saw a magician friend and thought it would be like the poster (pictured).  But then JL told him that Dr Faustus is just in his room, it's all in his head and everyone is in their pants. So he approached it as if he going through a psychotic episode, that he is on some big, bad trip.

Continue reading "Dr Faustus Q&A with Kit Harington and Jamie Lloyd and tales of slow-dancing and 'weird shit'" »


Re-review: Has Kit Harington's performance blossomed in Dr Faustus, Duke of York's Theatre?

Jenna Russell and Kit Harington in Doctor Faustus. Running at the Duke of York's Theatre London until 25 June 2016  CREDIT Marc Brenner
Jenna Russell and Kit Harington in Doctor Faustus. Photo: Marc Brenner

When I saw it during preview, I had very mixed views about director Jamie Lloyd's Dr Faustus, starring reborn Game of Thones hunk Kit Harington. It was very much in 'suck it and see' mode - I described it as "trying very, very hard" - so I was curious how it would bed in. The £15 Monday ticket sale gave me the opportunity to have a second look and re-evaluate.

The production didn't get great press reviews but I still don't think it really matters in terms of the audience pull - Kit is one of the stars of the world's most popular TV show after all and there is still a crowd at the stage door afterwards.

At the curtain call the first time, Kit looked wary and relieved and Jenna Russell was obviously watching out for him. On Monday he looked relaxed and happy and so he should, the show is better, albeit still with some flaws.

The biggest differences are the pace and performances. First time around it set off at a gallop and never slowed, losing the nuances of the story and performance amid a cacophony of mud, music, magic, blood, vomit and dance. Only the strongest performances - Jenna Russell, Forbes Mason and Colin Teevan - stood out. Kit just melted into the background, at least when he was fully clothed he did.

The production has calmed down a notch. Now rather than Faustus throwing a can of drink over himself and sticking pencils up his nose before he even speaks his first lines, the opening is more simply done moving from watching TV to delivering the soliloquy. There is more light and shade in the pace and in the performances and as a result I noticed Kit more. He felt more like the lead rather than part of the ensemble.

Continue reading "Re-review: Has Kit Harington's performance blossomed in Dr Faustus, Duke of York's Theatre?" »


Review: Gruesome and funny - RSC's The Jew of Malta

RSC_Malta_3
L-R Geoffrey Freshwater, Jasper Britton, Matthew Kelly in the RSC's The Jew of Malta. Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Step aside Richard III you have a rival: Barabas, the Jew of Malta. And sorry to say it, your highness, but I think he might just steal your Machiavellian crown. In fact Christopher Marlowe's play opens with a speech by Machiavel (Simon Hedger) which should have been a clue as to what was to come.

I was Jon Snow going into this (I knew nothing) and what unfolded was a brilliantly gruesome black comedy.

Barabas (Jasper Britton) is rich from money lending and Ferneze (Steven Pacey) the governor of Malta needs a cash tribute for the Emperor of Turkey. Tribute is of course the polite 16th Century way of saying extortion. Ferneze decides to tax the Jews rather than the Christians to raise the tribute. When he complains all of Barabas' money, valuables and home are seized.

While Barabas can't stop Ferneze he can take revenge, and revenge is something he delivers with a Machiavellian flare and gruesome flourish. No-one, not even his own daughter, is immune to his plans and manipulations. All are pawns and collateral damage if necessary with Barabas one step ahead of all those who want to divert him from his purpose.

Continue reading "Review: Gruesome and funny - RSC's The Jew of Malta" »


Review: Sandals, stage blood and sweet revenge in The Broken Heart, Sam Wanamaker Theatre

01b6b3b6-ce51-11e4-_874104c
Owen Teale and Amy Morgan in The Broken Heart. Photo Marilyn Kingwill

John Ford's more well known work is Tis Pity She's a Whore* and while that focused on the incestuous relationship between a brother and sister The Broken Heart is about brotherly betrayal.

Set in the court of the King of Sparta, Ithocles (Luke Thompson) stops his sister Penthea (Amy Morgan) marrying her betrothed Orgilus (Brian Ferguson) by marrying her off nobleman Bassanes (Owen Teale).

Later, having returned victorious from battle, and seeing how his sister suffers he has feelings of regret. He falls in love with Princess Calantha (Sarah MacRae) who is set to marry someone else. Meanwhile Orgilus, despite warnings, plots his revenge.

Director Caroline Steinbeis makes the most of the source material. She draws out the comedy as well as the passion and drama and the two hours and 45 minute running time (including interval) is peppered with some great moments however it is not until the plot threads start to come together that it really satisfies.

Owen Teale stands out as Bassanes, he's tyrannical, irrational and jealous and yet the performance just skirts the comic so that you don't know whether to be afraid or laugh, particularly when he is staring right at you from just two feet away.

Continue reading "Review: Sandals, stage blood and sweet revenge in The Broken Heart, Sam Wanamaker Theatre" »


Review: RSC's The White Devil, Swan Theatre

JS43382138
David Sturzaker and Kirsty Bushell in RSC's The White Devil

Contemporary settings, modern beats, graphic murders and racy love scenes have become common features of RSC productions in recent years. And its great, giving the Shakespeare and Jacobean plays a vitality, freshness and youth that they probably had when they were first performed, before it all became a bit high-brow and any interference or irreverence was sacrilege.

The slight problem is that it has raised expectations and I think this might have tempered my enjoyment of The White Devil yesterday. It was good - slickly done and performed - but there was something missing. Discussing it on the train back to London with @polyg and @nick730 the consensus seemed to be that it lacked a certain flourish.

It does make the job of reviewing it slightly tricky. It is easier to write about what did and didn't work rather than trying to put your finger on what it didn't quite have.

The White Devil is a classic Webster revenge tragedy. An affair between Vittoria (Kirsty Bushell) and  Duke Bracciano (David Sturzaker) creates scandal among the nobility as both are married. Vittoria's husband Camillo (Keir Charles) is nephew to a powerful Cardinal and papal candidate. Bracciano's wife Isabella (Faye Castelow) is the sister of the Duke of Florence.

The society the two lovers move in is already deeply spoilt and corrupted; noblemen murderers are banished rather than sentenced to death. Murder has become a currency to get what you want and if it can be carried out with an element of theatre then all the better.

Continue reading "Review: RSC's The White Devil, Swan Theatre " »


Review: Lisa Dillon is the RSC's riotous Roaring Girl, Stratford Upon Avon

35193-rectangle
Lisa Dillon as Moll Cutpurse in the RSC's Roaring Girl

Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton's The Roaring Girl is one of a trio of plays running at the Swan Theatre which have great parts for women and I was with @Polyg when she tweeted that she wanted to be Lisa Dillon who plays protagonist Moll Cutpurse.

Director Jo Davies' production is fast, loud and brash with music accompaniment coming from electric guitars, drums and a double base. The plot involves an almost dizzying number of characters and storylines. All centred around affairs of the heart, entrapment and duplicity with both sexes behaving badly.

However, through it all there is Moll. A tobacco-smoking, male-attire wearing woman who can look after herself. She lives by her wit, acumen and occasionally nifty fight moves in order to maintain her independence in a man's world. She has a reputation as a pick-pocket and her choice of dress and lifestyle leads many to the conclusion that she is loose woman. The irony is that despite her methods she isn't what she seems and is often the better person.

Continue reading "Review: Lisa Dillon is the RSC's riotous Roaring Girl, Stratford Upon Avon" »


The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse experience (or why?)

Sam-wanamaker-playhouse-i-001One critic described the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse as like a jewellery box. It is the bijou, indoor version of The Globe, lit entirely by candles and it is certainly an atmospheric environment in which to see a play. But will I be rushing back? Probably not.

The popularity of The Globe, the outdoor version of a Jacobean Theatre, has always perplexed me. I've tried seeing productions there from the seats (hard, backless, expensive benches, too far from the stage) and from the pit (standing for hours, straining to see what is going on but cheap).

It is almost always cold and the audience distracting. I want to concentrate on the play not my backache, the chill or wondering why that woman has brought a baby along. There are many very good reasons why theatres aren't built like this any more.

So an indoor theatre, next door to The Globe, seemed like a good idea; at least it would eliminate the potential for inclement weather. The problem, as I've already hinted, is that the Sam Wanamaker is bijou. Yes it is like a jewellery box but it is also like trying to cram an adult audience into a dolls house-size theatre.

Continue reading "The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse experience (or why?)" »


Review: Gemma Arterton is the Duchess of Malfi at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Normal-1
Gemma Arterton, Duchess of Malfi, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

First trip to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse which Poly described perfectly as "like being in a doll's house" to which I would add "and about as comfortable" but I won't dwell on that here.

I'm not sure whether she was also thinking of the theatre's likeness when she later described Gemma Arterton's Duchess of Malfi as like a porcelain doll - Poly is very clever so she probably was and it is an entirely appropriate description on both accounts.

In this traditional production of John Webster's play of jealousy and revenge Arterton is a beautiful and sweet Duchess, whose pursuit of happiness with the one she loves is almost innocently blind, so much so that the audience couldn't help but gasp when she unwittingly reveals her husband's identity to her brother's spy.

Against such a Duchess Alex Waldmann makes a perfect Antonio, he too being so sweet and un calculating. It also creates a beautiful white back drop against which the Duchess' two evil brothers can play the blackest of baddies.

Continue reading "Review: Gemma Arterton is the Duchess of Malfi at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse" »


Review: John Heffernan and Kyle Soller pucker up in Edward II at the National Theatre

Edward1
Rehearsal pic: John Heffernan as Edward II with Kyle Soller as Gaveston (right)
Feels like the National Theatre has been sprinkled with a little by Propeller dust such is the energetic, slightly irreverent approach to its production of Christopher Marlowe's Edward II. But while the irony of Propeller's contemporary take on Shakespeare is a very traditional all-male cast, the National Theatre has brought the Jacobean play bang up to date by, among other things, populating the nobility of the story with more women.

And, where productions of Shakespeare's Richard II only very occasionally hint that the King's relationship with his favourites might be homosexual, here Edward II's is saliva-swappingly obvious. Whether it was so in Marlowe's time I don't know, but what the National has created is a very passionate, energetic and refreshing piece utilising multimedia which bursts the production out of the confines of the traditional performance space.

The stage has a simple carpeted dias behind which are the backs of scenery flats which make up a room we can't see inside but for glimpses through windows and doors. Around the edges and with views right to the back of the cavernous Olivier stage are racks of costumes, props and pieces of furniture.

The play is launched with a count down of images of English monarchs projected on two huge screens either side of the stage. Starting with the Queen we head back through history arriving at the image of the medieval King Edward II as played by John Heffernan. On the stage is the man himself, in regal splendor about to be crowned, accompanied by a rousing chorus of the national anthem.

Celebratory feelings are soon forgotten when the King withdraws with his nobles to an ante-chamber - the 'room' at the back - to discuss matters of state. What goes on inside is relaid by hand-held video cameras via the screens. The root of the disquiet is the King's desire to have his favourite Gaveston (Kyle Soller) returned from exile, something the nobles are vehemently opposed to.

Continue reading "Review: John Heffernan and Kyle Soller pucker up in Edward II at the National Theatre" »