150 posts categorized "Shakespeare" Feed

Review: Rising stars in Othello, Wilton's Music Hall

Abraham Popoola Othello  Ghazwan Alsafadi Montano and Christopher Bianchi Duke of Venice Gratiano Othello Photo credit The Other Richard
Abraham Popoola Othello Ghazwan Alsafadi Montano and Christopher Bianchi Duke of Venice Gratiano. Photo: The Other Richard

Othello (Abraham Popoola) and Desdemona (Norah Lopez Holden) are getting married in secret. It’s a Muslim ceremony and Desdemona has learned the Arabic vows. Once the ceremony is over Othello swaps his Muslim prayer beads for a crucifix in a symbol of his public vs private self and an inner conflict to come.

His Othello has a presence from the outset. In a brilliantly nuanced performance he is a noble warrior – a leader who has earned respect – and a man bowled over by passion and love and not afraid to show it. Norah Lopez Holden is a young, spirited, fun and witty Desdemona who has captured his heart. There is an ease and playfulness in their relationship which makes the early lines that hint of what is to come land all the harder.

Speeding the lovers on their way to tragedy is Mark Lockyer’s superb Iago. It is a performance that exudes from every eyebrow twitch, gesture and look – even when he has his back to you (it is staged in the round) his body language speaks volumes. And yet this Iago isn’t played as comedy villain, a Machiavellian rubbing his hands together with glee; I’ve seen actors play Iago's lines for laughs, Lockyer plays them straight, any mirth contained in them is entirely on the audience to find.

Norah Lopez Holden Desdemona stf OTHELLO Photo Credit The Other Richard (3)
Norah Lopez Holden Desdemona. Photo Credit The Other Richard

His Iago is reasonable and contained, convincingly earnest, his true feelings burst out of him in private temper, soothed only by plotting. With those he is trying to dupe he comes across as quite ordinary and trustworthy which makes him so effective - and so dangerous.  While Iago can contain his true feelings in public, Othello can't. His public displays of affection towards Desdemona are easily channelled into pride, self doubt and jealousy. As comfortable as he is with his affection for Desdemona it, ironically, is his Achilles heel in his battle for self control.

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Bridge Theatre's first season - and what we know about London's newest venue

Are we excited about the new Bridge Theatre's first season which was announced today? Ben Whishaw, David Morrissey, Michelle Fairley, Rory Kinnear (in bouffant wig), Richard Bean and Barney Norris? I would say that is quite exciting.  

But I must admit that my excitement was tempered until I found out what sort of prices and seating the new 900-seat flexible performance space theatre would have. There was nothing on the website and initially I balked at paying £50 for membership, knowing so little - if decent seats were the usual West End prices then trips would be infrequent.

However, an offer came through for half price membership so it felt less of a gamble and actually it paid off because although ticket prices go up to £75 it's been possible to get reasonably positioned seats in the stalls for £25. For Julius Caesar you can go in the pit (presumably it's standing but you get real close to the action) for £25. For The Young Marx, which is the first play when the theatre opens in October, I got front row stalls for £25 and for Nightfall that price bought seats on the third/back row at the side of the thrust. Obviously the proof will be in sight lines when watching but as it's a new theatre, I'm hopeful.

If the first season is a taste of the type of work and talent involved and it remains possible to get decent seats for £25/30 then the Bridge Theatre might just become a regular haunt.

 


 


Review: Tweeting, taking photos and the audience on stage, it's the Roman Tragedies experience, Barbican Theatre

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Roman Tragedies, Barbican: About to begin and a warning

Last year's King's of War, at four and half hours long, was just a warm up for Ivo Van Hove's Roman Tragedies in which Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra have been simmered down to a six hour single play. But this isn't just six hours of Shakespeare in Dutch (with English subtitles) Van Hove has taken the notion of a theatre 'experience' (read: long or multiple plays in one day) and then broken the taboos of theatre-going.

Phone off during the performance? Oh no, tweeting and taking pictures is actively encouraged. The traditional 15-20 minute interval has been replaced with a series of 3-5 min scene changes - the voice of an MC tells you how long until the next one. Not that it matters, you can pop out to stretch your legs or take a comfort break whenever you like.

After the first scene change you can change seats or even opt to find somewhere to perch on stage if you wish. There isn't on-stage seating - this production has made that passé - you just find a chair or sofa or something else that is part of the set. There's even a café/bar counter towards the wings where you can purchase a drink or a snack to enjoy during the performance.

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Roman Tragedies, Barbican: Spot @weez and @naomi_jw centre stage

Because the Barbican stage is so big and the set made up of different areas Van Hove once again uses camera's to beam close ups of the actors on a large screen above the stage so you never miss a thing. Once the audience is invited up they become part of the spectacle their reactions and concentration caught in the close ups. It raised a few laughs at times. 

All this serves to put Roman Tragedies firmly on the awards list for 'theatre experience of the year' and for very good reason. It is an experience and one you'll never forget. While it's not necessarily a production to see to get the nuances of the individual plays - there are periods where it starts to wash over you somewhat - you do, however, get a good sense of the narrative and dramatic tensions. And in allowing the audience on stage it serves to demonstrate how public politics and political life is.

It is a production with a handful of really memorable scenes (and moments of startling performance) rather than a whole. Hans Kesting, who was superb as Richard III in King's of War, in this plays Mark Antony in Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra and pretty much steels the show. He got a spontaneous round of applause at one point.

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"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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Andrew Scott's Hamlet is in the press but not in the way Cumberham was during previews

Hamlet_1470x690_version_3This article by the Telegraph about Andrew Scott's Hamlet at the Almeida is interesting for two reasons. Firstly because it picks up on some of the issues of long running times and secondly because it both quotes and links to reviews by bloggers who've seen previews.

My regular readers will know that long running times are a personal bug bear - this production of Hamlet rocks in at 4 hours, or it did the night I saw it. It is not very practical for those who don't live locally and have regular jobs to get up for. I luckily don't have too far to get home but it was still 11.45pm before I walked through the door and my usual alarm is 6.30am. Go at the weekend? It's not always possible, beside when you book way in advance as I do there is no way of knowing just how long the running time is.

I remember going to see Michael Sheen's Hamlet at the Young Vic with a friend who lived in Shoreham and he had to leave at the interval because he was worried about missing the last train home. It doesn't make for a relaxing evening if you are constantly worried about when its going to finish.

Now while I think Robert Icke's production and Andrew Scott's performance are both excellent (full thoughts coming soon) I'm sure there is stuff that could be trimmed, indeed the expectation is it will lose around 15 minutes before press night.  And as the run is pretty much sold out the running time doesn't seem to be putting off sufficient numbers to worry box office revenue but it will be publicity I'm sure the Almeida would rather not have.

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A Midsummer Night's Dream stuck in the mud at the Young Vic

AMNDREVIEW It's about 20 minutes into Joe Hill-Gibbin's A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Young Vic and I'm starting to wonder if the set designer and wardrobe department have fallen out. The entire stage is a thick mud pit and a lot of the cast is wearing white or pale colours.

At first I thought the theme was going to be 'damp summer music festival' as there were wellies and summer skirts and the odd rucksack but no, it wasn't that. Some of the cast certainly weren't dressed for a festival, more for an evening in the city and most quickly dispensed with wellies and shoes anyway.

There wasn't any reference to the mud, not even comic, it was just there and you couldn't ignore it because the actors couldn't walk (or run) in it normally. It was tiring watching them. OK so they could face plant without injury; which was funny the first time. A little bit the second time but after that...

Then about half way through the two hour running time I started to worry that this was just a convoluted way of having some mud wrestling. There was a lot of rolling around in the dirt and the fights between the four lovers got more physical but fortunately it didn't properly go there. It makes you think 'yuk', or 'that must cold and horrible' or 'a bugger to wash out'. It doesn't make you think about the play.

The silver lining of the production were the mechanicals and Puck. Leo Bill's shirt-less, pot-bellied Bottom in skinny jeans with tights on his head was a beacon of sunny mirth as were the rest of the troupe. Aaron Heffernan's Thisbe was a masterclass in acting bad acting and Lloyd Hutchinson's Puck had an amusing disdain for proceedings throughout.

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Review: The cleverly concise Hamlet, Trafalgar Studios 2

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Katie Stephens, Mark Arends, Tom Mannion, Hamlet Trafalgar Studios 2. Photo by Robert Workman.

I'm of the view that Shakespeare's plays generally benefit from a bit of trimming but Flute Theatre has put Hamlet on SlimFast and got its running time down to 90 minutes (without an interval). This idea excites, intrigues and concerns. On the one hand it's an opportunity to narrow the focus, distil the play's central dramatic and emotional threads while on the other you are in danger producing a disjointed, greatest hits version with just the well know speeches. Flute has added to the challenge by having cast of only six.

And what they have done is quite clever. The actors don't double up so much as borrow lines from others. For example, Laertes doesn't disappear back to school for the central section of the play but instead becomes Claudius's spy taking lines from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. It makes Laertes a constant presence while the absence of Horatio serves to alienate Hamlet leaving him brooding without a single ally or confidante.

This Hamlet pushes aside the politics and focuses on the grieving son whose sanity is stretched. Mark Arends, whom I last saw in the fabulous Angry Brigade at the Bush Theatre, plays the prince with a moping, softness and fragility, I could imagine him flopping around his untidy bedroom with the curtains closed, listening to Morrissey. There is also lyrical tone to his delivery which brings out the poet prince and yet there is something painful and brooding deep down that hints of darker things.

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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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Review: Glenda Jackson in King Lear, Old Vic

The stage at the Old Vic is being 'cleaned' as we take our seats and a few of the cast dressed in what looks like their regular street clothes amble around chatting. It is brightly lit and you can see spare lighting rigs at the side of the stage and there isn't much by way of set and props except a white screen and a row of cheap plastic chairs.

It feels like we've walked in on a rehearsal rather than a full blown production and this becomes a bit of problem once the play has started. While there are no scripts to be seen and the actors are definitely in full flow, the direction and sparseness of the stage make it feel, to use PolyG's words, like a glorified rehearsed reading.

4371After about an hour it kicks in although by that I mean it has its moments. Rhys Ifans lights up the stage as a super-hero costumed Fool although as a result his appearances feel all too brief. Harry Melling too feels compelling as Edgar in fact it is the scene where he sees his blinded father for the first time where I was most moved. It is interesting that director Deborah Warner has chosen to distinguish between Edgar and his brother Edmond (Simon Manyonda) by making one a fitness addict and the other a chocolate addict and it is the bad brother that is into exercise.

Jane Horrock's stalks the stage as the painted-on-jeans, high-heels wearing Regan and Sargon Yelda's Kent brilliantly switches between accents as his disguise which works really well.

But this is Glenda Jackson's show or at least it should be. She gives an energetic performance that belies her frail looking frame but it isn't enough to captivate and ultimately engage.

She is a bawdy King Lear, hanging out drinking with 'his' knights in fact this a bawdy production that crudely exposes the sexual innuendo and references. Bare flesh is exposed: Edmund bears his buttocks to the audience while masturbating over his plans to rob his brother of his inheritance, shirts are taken off for fights and and Edgar strips to his birthday suit and runs around, later wearing just plastic bags as pants (I noted the Lidl logo).

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