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Production photos: RSC's historical thriller Imperium officially opens next week at Gielgud Theatre

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RSC's Imperium: Dictator. Photo by Ikin Yum

Following a sold-out run in Stratford Upon Avon, the RSC's historical two-part thriller Imperium has its official opening at the Gielgud next week and guess who will be there?

Adapted for the stage by Mike Poulton (Wolf Hall, Bring Up The Bodies) from Robert Harris’ internationally best-selling Cicero trilogy the story is presented at six one-act plays. 

Told through the watchful eyes of Cicero’s loyal secretary IMPERIUM I: Conspirator chronicles how the great orator’s early success unwittingly paves the way for a brutal and bloody end to the Republic. 


With Rome in chaos at the beginning of IMPERIUM II: Dictator, Cicero must use all his brilliance to restore the power of the Senate from the civic mob and their would-be Emperor: one Julius Caesar. 

RSC Artistic Director, Gregory Doran, directs a cast led by Olivier and Tony Award-winner Richard McCabe (The Audience, BBC’s Collateral) as Cicero and Joseph Kloska (The Crown) as Tiro.

Currently open for previews, each part can be seen on its own or together as one epic story. There are over 10,000 tickets for £10 or under and you will find details on the RSC's Imperium West End website.

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RSC's Imperium: Conspirator. Photo by Ikin Yum

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January theatre round up: Big (big) name castings, highs, lows and lots of actor spots.

The Inheritance Young Vic
Vanessa Redgrave joins the cast of The Inheritance, Young Vic

Theatre gets me through the dark days of January, here are my highlights from the new play and casting announcements, favourite things I saw (and the low moment).  And, thanks to the Julius Caesar press night, there was a bumper crop of actor, director and writer spots too...

* Forbes Mason, who will forever be known as the Lucifer in pants, thanks to Jamie Lloyd's Doctor Faustus, has been cast in the Almeida's Summer and Smoke which opens later this month. Did I mention how much I'm looking forward to seeing Patsy Ferran, who also stars, in that?

* Josie Rourke announced she is stepping down as artistic director at the Donmar Warehouse next year after eight years in the role. My highlights of her tenure, if you were to ask me for the first things that spring to mind, would be the Tom Hiddleston Coriolanus (incidentally my review of that is my most popular post and has been viewed nearly 15,000 times), the all women Shakespeare series and James Graham's Privacy. There are plenty of others but those are what stick most in my mind.

* Vanessa Redgrave (yes Vanessa Redgrave!) has been cast in The Inheritance at the Young Vic which opens next month. I could listen to her voice for hours. Also announced in the cast are Stan-fav's Kyle Soller, Michael Marcus and Luke Thallon plus a whole bunch of new names I’m looking forward to getting to know over a double play day.

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Review: Blood and audience gasps in Julius Caesar, Barbican Theatre

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RSC's Julius Caesar 2017: Photo by Helen Maybanks (c) RSC

Bloody Julius Caesar. Not only does he gets ideas above his station and meet with a messy end but his murderers decide to wear his blood like a face mask, as if they weren't smeared and splattered enough. 

However, it wasn't the sight of the red stuff in this RSC production that earned a collective gasp from the audience it was another death, bloodless but with a realistic snapping sound effect that had more than a few hands over mouths.

Who met with this end? Well that was, I suspect, a big contributing factor in the response but I won't spoil it.

Julius Caesar is a brutal play not just in the violence but in the questions of loyalty and justice.

The writing is on the wall in the opening scene where a celebratory mob are criticised for their fickleness having changed allegiance to Julius Caesar when he is victorious.

Brutus (Alex Waldmann) has the people behind him after his rational speech explaining the reasons for the murder but it is Mark Antony (James Corrigan) who really knows how to work the crowd.

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Quick review: RSC's muscular and angry Coriolanus, Barbican Theatre

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RSC's Coriolanus 2017. Photo by Helen Maybanks (c) RSC

Two military leaders clash on stage. There is nothing delicate or seemingly choreographed, rather sparks fly from the machete-style swords as they make contact with flinch-inducing force. It is powerful, ferocious fight with a genuine sense of danger - certainly from the front row anyway.

This is Coriolanus (Sope Dirisu) and Aufidius (James Corrigan) in pivotal battle that will shape much of what follows. It isn’t a battle merely of physical might and swordsmanship, it's a fight for respect and honour.

Sope Dirisu's, Coriolanus is a formidable presence - you certainly don’t doubt his exploits and achievements in battle even without appearing smeared in the blood of those he’s reportedly slain. There is also no doubting his stubborn pride which leads to his downfall - that and his equally formidable mother Volumnia's (Haydn Gwynne) ambitions for him. So stubborn is he that it is only when you see him struggle with his emotions when his family visit him to plea for Rome that you know he has a chink in his armour, that it is an armour moulded over many years.

When his death comes, the method of his demise is ignoble for the warrior that he is but in that there is an element of tragedy.

This is a muscular, angry production and I'm not going to lie and say I got all the nuances of the plot but it certainly held my attention. I'm giving it four stars. Looking forward to seeing the rest of the RSC's Rome season over the next couple of months

 

 


Review: RSC's gender swap Salome, Swan Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon

Salome-production-photos_-June-2017_2017_Photo-by-Isaac-James-_c_-RSC_220811-e1497002267411This is my first Salome and my first Salome had a man - Matthew Tennyson - playing the titular character. The decision does raise the question of why give over lead female part to a man - it's not like there are a plethora of meaty lead roles for woman. Having not seen a woman play Salome I can't judge what the decision adds or detracts, other than the fact that it immediately pushes the play towards being about a broader spectrum of gender.

It is a sexually charged production that feels like the characters have just stepped away from a Bacchanalian orgy, the residual revelry and lust hanging in the air, the stage lit like an after hours club. A male singer stalks in leather hot pants and bondage-like straps. The male dominated court of King Herod (Matthew Pidgeon) is suited but with ties long discarded and top buttons undone. The soldiers wear white vests showing off their muscular arms even the prophet Iokanaan (Gavin Fowler), when he escapes from his cell beneath the stage, wears nothing but tight underwear.

Matthew Tennyson's Salome, dressed in a body skimming satin slip and high heels is at times feminine and masculine, chaste and flirtatious, victim and vengeful. There is no mistaking the impact s/he has on her step father Herod, there is carnal desire written all over his face when he looks at him/her. It is alarming to watch. Even at his/her most masculine there is a delicacy to Matthew Tennyson's Salome that makes his/her situation feel dangerous. 

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Review: Friendship, politics and power in the RSC's Queen Anne, Theatre Royal Haymarket #RSCQueenAnne

Queen Anne marketing image_ Theatre Royal Haymarket 2017_2017_211146The RSC's production of new play Queen Anne opens with a satirical song about the monarch's many pregnancies, the joke being that her latest was just trapped wind. It is a humorous song with barbs, Anne is portrayed by a man with fake fat belly and voluminous breasts - her reign was said to have seen the birth of political satire, if not an heir to the throne. 

It is one of a handful of satirical songs that pepper the play, reflecting political opinions and gossip, and a growing tool for those trying to manipulate or discredit the monarch, her politicians and advisers. These songs are like the equivalent of an 18th century Spitting Image sketch. There is a disquieting irony to the fact that the same day I was watching the play, our 21st century Parliament was discussing abuse and intimidation in the run up to the last election.

The song feels both cruel and understandable when we meet the Queen (Emma Cunniffe) for the first time. She appears sickly, weak - physically and mentally - evasive on important issues and prone to changing her mind and yet there is something tragic, pitiable and occasionally admirable about her too.

Her personality means she is putty in the hands of her supposed friend Sarah Churchill (Romola Garai) who has wit, intelligence and confidence in abundance. Sarah and her husband John (Chu Omambala) are also skilled at negotiation and manipulation, using the Queen for their own advantage and that of their political allies.

However, Sarah doesn't so much overestimate how much power and influence she has over her friend but just how far she can be pushed. While the Queen is to a large extent a pawn among political factions, in her naivete she is perhaps wiser than the Churchill's give her credit but there is no mistaking the killer blow she ultimately delivers.

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Review: Taking the use of technology on stage to the next level in the RSC's The Tempest, Barbican Theatre

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The Tempest, Barbican Theatre. Photo by Topher McGrillis (c) RSC


The opening storm in the RSC's The Tempest at the Barbican is probably the most spectacular I've seen. The stage is set like the inside carcass of a ship, there is lightning and thunder effects as you'd expect but there are also projections which make the hull look like it is rolling with the waves.

You can't actually hear what any of the actors are saying above the din, which is problematic (if you know the play, then less so) and it sums up neatly this production: high on spectacle and effects but not everything quite works.

Of course it is the motion capture performance of Ariel (Mark Quartley) which is making headlines. On paper having a CGI of a character which is a spirit, that can take on different forms and float is a superb idea. It is a device that is used for particularly scenes, the rest of the time Mark Quartley performs more traditionally, his costume discreetly hiding the gizmos required for the motion capture.

It is quite spectacular to see the CGI Ariel hovering above the stage and encased in a tree when his history is recalled by Prospero (Simon Russell Beale) but the technology isn't quite up to speed and there is a slight delay between the actors movements and what the CGI character does which was a bit distracting and I found myself watching Mark Quartley more than the image. The problem is most acute when Ariel takes on the form of a harpy, he wears a special headset which is supposed to capture the movement of his face as he speaks but the delay is such that it just looks oddly out of sink like a DVD where the movement and sound don't quite match up.

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Review: Not for the squeamish, the RSC's Titus Andronicus, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

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RSC Titus Andronicus production photo 2017. Photo by Helen Maybanks ©RSC

If you don't know anything about Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and you are a bit squeamish then probably best give this a miss. The preview performance I saw last Friday had to be halted as someone was taken ill; at that point Lavinia (Hannah Morrish) was wandering the stage covered in blood from a particular brutal and barbaric attack. This is a gory revenge play with 15 or so deaths of escalating brutality and the RSC doesn't shy away from it.

The play starts off with gangs in hoodies and the police facing off in a sequence that is choreographed like a dance. Titus is essentially a play about different factions at war over who should be Emporer, who should be married to whom and where loyalties lie. When the play proper starts, general Titus Andronicus (David Andronicus) does two things that unwittingly spark the spiralling mayhem. One decision you can back him on, one is distinctly more debatable.

Once the opening hoodie gangs sequence is over the play settles into the style of modern military and politics rather than street gangs which is a bit of a shame. I've seen Titus performed as gangs before and it works but here it feels like a device to add energy to the opening segment of the play which is pretty much the set up for the carnage.

There are still some notes that echo the opening. The sons of Tamora Queen of the Goths (Nia Gwynne) are like laddish thugs who can't believe their luck when their mother marries the Emporer. They enjoy royal life sunbathing by the palace pool and later wear loud designer shirts suggesting they've got the money but not the taste.

The irony of the production is that as the method of killing gets more inventive the more amusing the play becomes. Titus, who seems to be losing his mind, hides out in a Smeg fridge box with holes cut in it and a baby gets passed back and forth between the stage and the audience. It feels like a different play to the politics and plotting of the first half.

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That was May in London theatre-land - casting, transfers, an anniversary and another bumper crop of thesp spots

600Gloria_FINAL_landscapeSmall* Stan fav Colin Morgan has been cast with Game of Thrones’ Ellie Kendrick in Gloria at Hampstead Theatre which just happens to be my newest favourite playwright. So lots of excitement for that. Gloria will also be a 10 year theatre anniversary for me and Colin. I first saw him (and mentally tipped him as one to watch) when he played the lead in Vernon God Little at the Young Vic in 2007.

* Keeping up the Game of Thrones thesp count in London’s theatre land is Natalie Dormer who’s been cast with David Oakes in Venus in Furs at Theatre Royal Haymarket from October.

* Colm Meaney joins Sienna Miller and Jack O’Connell in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof at the Apollo Theatre which opens in July.

* Arthur Darvill of Broadchurch fame has been cast in Hir at Bush Theatre which opens on June 15.

* James Graham (This House) has a new political comedy, Labour of Love, coming to the Noel Coward Theatre in September starring Martin Freeman and Sarah Lancashire.

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That was March in London theatre land - and a bumper crop of thesp spots

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Keith Stevenson in Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road, White Bear Theatre (c) Erika Boxler

* The Almeida's excellent production of Hamlet starring Andrew Scott is transferring to the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End in June.

* And...not to take away from Hamlet's success but putting the tickets on sale at midnight, on a Saturday for Almeida members was an odd decision not least because, if Twitter is anything to go by, there were glitches with the ATG Tickets website and apparently no customer services/tech support available to sort it at that time of night.

* One of my favourite plays of 2016 - Rotterdam - is transferring to Broadway. OK, so not technically London theatre but it was such a great play and production I’m really pleased to see it doing well.

* Back in London and fringe plays doing well, the excellent Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road, which I saw at the White Bear back in January is transferring to Trafalgar Studios 2 in May. Yep, I will be seeing it again because I liked it that much.

* Stan-Fav Simon Stephens is adapting The Seagull (one of the only Chekhov plays I actually like) for a production at the Lyric Hammersmith starring Lesley Sharp in the Autumn.

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