70 posts categorized "RSC" Feed

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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Some bits and bobs from the RSC's Richard II Q&A with David Tennant and Jonathan Slinger

To accompany the RSC's King and Country cycle at the Barbican there has been a series of Q&A sessions about each of the plays (Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V) with actors who've played the lead roles. The sessions are recorded for the RSC archive and yesterday was the turn of Richard II with David Tennant, the RSC's current Richard and Jonathan Slinger who played the part in 2007.  Emma Smith of Oxford University steered the discussion.

These are a few of the interesting points that came up.

On the context of doing the play as part of a series and how that informs the performance:

When David Tennant first played Richard II in 2013 it was a stand alone play but it is now being performed as the first of a tetralogy. He said that even though he's only in the first play he is now more aware of certain moments that cast forward to the later plays. There are moments that have extra frisson, for example Richard's warning that Northumberland has betrayed one King and will do so again. (He couldn't remember the lines at first to illustrate and chided himself as he'd only done the play before but when he did remember them got a round of applause. He later congratulated Jonathan on reciting lines easily nearly 10 years on).

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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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RSC goes high tech for The Tempest production - is Gollum coming to Stratford?

Gollum11_lrgThe RSC has announced it is putting on The Tempest as part of Shakespeare's 400th anniversary year with Simon Russell Beale as Prospero. Simon Russell Beale. But while that is exciting in itself, although not really a surprise, what has really pique my interest is the involvement of The Imaginarium Studios.

Stratford is going high-tech for this production, Intel is a fellow collaborator alongside The Imaginarium Studios. And that is exciting because Imaginarium is Andy Serkis' specialist motion capture studio. Andy Serkis of Gollum/Lord of the Rings, King Kong and Planet of the Apes fame. My imagination is running wild with what they might do with Caliban or Ariel or any number of particular scenes which involve Prospero's magic. This could be pretty spectacular.

 

 


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

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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.

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Review: The RSC's muscular Othello

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Hugh Quarshie and Lucian Msamati in the RSC's Othello. Photo: Keith Pattison

The opening scene of the RSC's Othello has a Venetian canal, the water reflecting on the wall of the neighbouring building but this is just a brief moment of beautiful reflection before Iago (Lucian Msamati) uses the pole of the punt to strangle Roderigo (James Corrigan) just enough to force him to his purpose.

In just a few moments it has set the tone for this muscular and sometimes brutal production. Director Iqbal Khan plays up the military background of the story - Iago, Othello (Hugh Quarshie) and others are testosterone fulled soldiers full of battle and killing. We are shown scenes of torture - waterboarding and worse - which are a matter of course in these men's minds.

When the battle starts and finishes very quickly on Crete the soldiers are left idle and passions easily ignited which all works in Iago's favour as he plots his revenge on Othello.

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Review: Cheek By Jowl's Russian invasion at the Barbican with Measure for Measure

Alexander Arsentyev, Anna Khalilulina. Photographer - Johan Persson
Alexander Arsentyev, Anna Khalilulina in Measure for Measure. Photographer - Johan Persson

Cheek By Jowl have done it again. This time they've brought a Russian flavour to Shakespeare's Measure For Measure. It's a Russian cast, performed in Russian* and it's rather taken me prisoner.

The run time is trimmed down to around two hours 10 straight through -  longer than one hour 45 minutes it says on the website - and opens with the Duke (Alexander Arsentyev) leaving Angelo (Andrei Kuzichev) in charge.

All the cast are on stage and move as one like a swarm of insects with the Duke gradually becoming separated. No words are spoken but this feels like part rejection, part ejection and part choice.

And so the scene is set for his disguised return and his journey back to the path of leadership. It is a journey of revelations and lessons through the injustice, immorality and corruption that he witnesses.

Angelo in deciding to follow the law to the letter has had Claudio (Peter Rykov) imprisoned and sentenced to death for getting a woman pregnant outside marriage.

Claudio's sister Isabella (Anna Khalilulina), who is about to take Holy Orders, is persuaded to try and intervene and get the sentence overturned. It pits compassion, leniency and purity against lust and corruption. Angelo holds the power of justice but uses it to try and satisfy his own desire.

I've not seen Measure For Measure before but director Declan Donellan has created a world that is dark, grubby and dictatorial but all the more dangerous for being conducted under the banner of justice.

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