75 posts categorized "RSC" Feed

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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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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