69 posts categorized "RSC" Feed

"Alas he is mad" - How Andrew Scott's Hamlet, Almeida Theatre, scared me

Hamlet_1470x690_version_3REVIEW (contains potential spoilers) In 2011 Michael Sheen played Hamlet as the inmate of a mental hospital at the Young Vic hallucinating ghosts and prone to ranting and raving. Since then we've had a string of comparatively sane Hamlets, that is until now. The big difference in Robert Icke's approach, compared to Ian Rickson's, is in the process of the decline, the gradual loss of faculty.

The pomp and ceremony of court have been stripped away much like the Royal Exchange production which starred Maxine Peake. This is a modern royal family with modern, minimalist Scandi decor within their ancient castle - you get glimpses of the stone corridors via security cameras. Indeed the security cameras and the occasional appearance of suit and ear-piece wearing heavy are one of the few concessions to the fact that this is a royal family. The politics and threats of war are kept to TV news reports (in Danish with subtitles)

It is a loving family too, relaxed and at home in each others company or at least the extended family unit is. Ophelia (Jessica Brown Findlay) is a daddy's girl and Gertrude (Juliet Stevenson) is genial and tactile, you get the sense that Laertes (Luke Thompson) and Ophelia are like a much loved nephew and niece. They sit relaxed on a sofa together just like any other family. After Gertrude and Claudius's (Angus Wright) wedding party, the newly weds are drunk and giggly and roll around lustfully. And, while Hamlet (Andrew Scott) is the quietly grieving and melancholy son, when he and Ophelia are alone there appears to be a genuine love or at least affection between them.

Under Robert Icke's direction there is back story in every gesture, touch and look in these opening scenes which makes the betrayals, hurts and horrors to come all the more stark. It is also a perfect back drop against which Hamlet and Ophelia can lose their minds. And this is what sets this production apart. Andrew Scott's delicate soul Hamlet is slowly pulled apart by grief, the weight of revelation about his father's death and the way his uncle and Polonius (Peter Wight) try to manipulate him.

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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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Review: RSC's King Lear, Barbican Theatre and why it's better than the Old Vic's

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Photo by Paul Stuart (c) RSC

The RSC's King Lear, which stars Antony Sher and is currently enjoying a season at London's Barbican Theatre, took me by surprise. Lear isn't a play I particularly like, despite repeated viewings in order to 'convert' my opinion. However, I think the RSC may have just made me a believer.

It comes hot on the heels of seeing the Old Vic’s King Lear production last month, starring Glenda Jackson, which had reinforced my bad feelings about the play. Seeing both versions in quick succession means comparisons are inevitable. Both are stripped down productions. The Old Vic has gone contemporary with a white screen, cheap plastic chairs and the cast dressed in modern street clothes (much has been made by critics of Glenda Jackson’s cardie).

The RSC opted for a vast brick wall as a backdrop and the odd prop but the royal family at the start are opulently dressed - long robes embellished with gold embroidery although with lines that had a cleaner, modern spin.

Lear wears a heavy fur coat and is carried onto the stage with his golden throne encased in a glass box, flanked by attendants carrying huge golden discs as if he floats, celestial in a higher universe. Immediately you see a King for whom appearance, status and the appropriate deference is intrinsically linked to power and rule. It sets the scene for a man who wants to have his cake and eat it. He doesn’t want the responsibility of kingship, the cares of rule but he doesn't want how he is treated or lives to change.

This production opened in the summer in Stratford, long before the American election but the way Lear protests when he isn’t treated with the respect he feels he’s due made me think of the thin-skinned, president elect Donald Trump.

It is ironic that the RSC production with its less modern setting should resonate with current political figures while the modern take in the Old Vic production felt contemporary only in look. The lack of stateliness made Glenda Jackson’s Lear less petulant and entitled and, on reflection, less understandable.

In fact one of the strengths of the RSC production is that all the key characters had clearly defined story arcs and took you on the journey with them.

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

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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.

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Possibly my favourite Hamlet... so far... thanks to the RSC and Paapa Essiedu (Royal Shakespeare Theatre)

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Paapa Essiedu as Hamlet for the RSC 2016. Photo (c) Manuel Harlan

I've seen Hamlet more times than any other play. I think my most recent trip to see Paapa Essiedu as the prince - directed by Simon Godwin for the RSC in Stratford - was my 15th different production.

In a good Hamlet I'll see something I haven't seen before or it will make me think about the play in a slightly different way. I've seen some really, really good productions but there is usually one or two characters or something else that hasn't quite worked for me. Ophelia is often a problem, she's a difficult character to make convincing. But I think this RSC version has come very close to getting it all right.

Production spoilers warning

First of all, the key characters felt rounded, fully formed and fleshed out, understandable and convincing - from Hamlet to Horatio. Simon Godwin has set the play in modern day Africa and stuck to that setting and culture throughout but crucially without any awkward contrivance. When Hamlet and Laertes fight armed with two sticks, the poisoned blade is concealed within one of them. It works brilliantly.

But I'm jumping ahead to the end of the play. Paapa Essiedu is a young Hamlet which is always more agreeable and Simon Godwin opens with his graduation. He's with his friends, happy and no doubt feeling on top of the world and a world away from Elsinore where we see him next sombrely following his father's glass coffin. He is visibly upset when we see him in the throne room with his mother and newly crowned uncle  - Ben Whishaw was similarly snotty and teary - and you feel his grief, shock and bewilderment about the turn of events.

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My second Doctor Faustus of 2016, this time the RSC's take and some comparisons with Jamie Lloyd's version

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Sandy Grierson as Mephistopheles in Doctor Faustus Photo by Helen Maybanks (c) RSC

Mephistopheles sits perched on his haunches, on a box like an bird or some cloven-hoofed half beast of the underworld. Soot blackened feet, white suit, no shirt he watches with just the merest hint of bemused satisfaction.

Hell is all around us he says mildly at one point but Dr Faustus's inability to grasp that is a constant source of gentle amusement shown by the slight curl of the corner of his mouth and merriment behind the eyes.

Mephistopheles, in this instance, is played by Sandy Grierson (last saw him playing Ariel brilliantly in The Tempest), Dr Faustus is played by Oliver Ryan. It's important to distinguish because it isn't always that way around. The two actors arrived on stage identically dressed and decide which role they will take by simultaneously lighting matches and seeing which finishes burning first.

It is a nice device and perhaps on the London leg of the run I'll see Sandy Grierson playing the manic, edge of madness  Faustus or at least that is how Oliver Ryan plays him. During those moments when Faustus might regret his decision to sell his soul to Lucifer, his spells of indecision are almost desperate, frenzied but then this is a man who doesn't enjoy getting what he asks for that much. The extent of his fall into sin and depravity is laid bare in his scene with a girlish looking Helen of Troy. It's an uncomfortable moment.

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Me and Shakespeare - a list

CgtmglOWgAAbcEOOn the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death it seems appropriate to do a list:

First Shakespeare I saw

Midsummer Night's Dream at Tolethorpe Hall - Performed by a local am dram society outside in the grounds, the stage skirted by trees and shrubbery it was quite magical. The cast would just melt into the darkness of the leaves and branches.

Last I saw

Coincidentally it was A Midsummer Night's Dream, this time at the Lyric Hammersmith and it was brilliantly funny.

Plays I studied

Henry IV part 1 for O-level, Richard II and The Tempest for A-level, Hamlet, Othello, Richard II, Richard III, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night for my degree.

The plays I've yet to see

Cymberline (booked to see in the Autumn), Antony and Cleopatra, Henry VI (seeing an abridged version as part of Ivo Van Hove's King's of War tomorrow), Henry VIII, Merry Wives of Windsor, Pericles and King John.

Favourite play

Hamlet. Always see something new in every production and I'm still waiting for the perfect Ophelia.

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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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