166 posts categorized "Shakespeare" Feed

Review: Brutal, cold, dystopian Macbeth, National Theatre and a Children of Men comparison

You don't walk away feeling any sense of tragedy merely that you've watched a bunch of unsavoury characters killing each other.

The first time we see Macbeth (Rory Kinnear) in Rufus Norris' production at the National Theatre, he is committing a brutal act of violence on an enemy. It sets the play down a path that doesn't necessarily lead to satisfactory conclusions.

Macbeth-mobileherospot_2160x2160-sfw-5The setting is some point in the future when society seems to have broken down.

It's a landscape of generators, machetes, chest armour held together with parcel tape and clothes and buildings patched-up using whatever is available - mainly polythene it seems.

Only King Duncan (Stephen Boxer) wears a smart, intact, red, tailored suit.

Stylistically it reminded me of parts of Alfonso Cuarón's film Children of Men (which I love), thematically there are similarities too.

The film is about an infertility crisis which leads to societal breakdown and of course Lady Macbeth (Anne-Marie Duff) and her husband are childless.

It could be argued that they seek out self-fulfilment in a desperate and increasingly brutal pursuit of power.

I liked the dark tone of the setting, even the Back to the Future, Doc Brown-esque porter played by Trevor Fox.

And I really liked the witches who were all different in their movements and energy levels and seem to haunt the dark corners of the stage. 

But the characters are nearly as unrelentingly cold and brutal as the landscape they live in and it is easy not to care.

There is no charisma to Rory Kinnear's Macbeth and how can you sympathise with a man - and the woman who spurs him on - who is capable of such horrific acts from the outset?

In this video interview, Rufus Norris describes them as in one sense 'Shakespeare's most happily married couple' but this is no love story or crime of passion.

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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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Attracting next generation of theatre-goers doesn't necessarily alienate older audiences

This headline for a Daily Express review of the Bridge Theatre's immersive Julius Caesar production implies that it is for young people, not people like me who are old enough to be a young persons parent.

Julius Caesar daily express headlineI have absolutely nothing against encouraging younger audiences. In fact, I much prefer to sit in a diverse group whether it is age, gender and ethnicity - the reaction and response is inevitably going to be more varied and more interesting as a result.

OK so perhaps it's nice to go to Hampstead occasionally and sit in the audience feeling young.

julius caesar bridge theatre ticketBut compartmentalising the generations is like saying that once you get to a certain again you only like Oscar Wilde revivals, productions of Shakespeare performed in ruffs and pantaloons and perhaps some Pinter if you are feeling daring.

I like all sorts of theatre; I love fresh interpretations, new writing, contemporary stories, twists on classics and innovative productions. I'm certainly not a purist or a traditionalist.

Being part of the crowd, standing for Julius Caesar was great fun. I wasn't the only 'older' person, we were a mixed group and that made it better - more representative.

However, if this production is trying to attract a younger audience and I believe it is, then it's somewhat ironic that the standing tickets are referred to as 'promenading'.

I mean this isn't the Victorian age and given that you can be just a few feet away from a murder and end up in the middle of a civil war, it's slightly misleading.



Review: It's rock and roll and riot with Ben Whishaw, David Morrissey and Michelle Fairley in Julius Caesar

I'm in a crowd watching a band play rock tunes, it's getting lively and animated.

Merchandise and refreshment sellers weave their way through the rhythmically nodding heads and shuffling feet.  Hands have started clapping along to the music and flags are being waved.

Centre Abraham Popoola - Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre - Photo credit Manuel Harlan
Centre Abraham Popoola - Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre - Photo: Manuel Harlan

It's like a gig except it isn't a band name emblazoned on the banners, T-Shirts and posters, it is the face of Julius Caesar (David Calder). This is a political rally and it feels celebratory.

Given the mix of edgier and popular tracks on the band's play list, Julius Caesar is a lot more popular in music circles than President Trump, with whom we are obviously supposed to draw parallels.

When the man himself appears, we are quickly herded to one side with shouts of 'Get out of the way!' by serious-looking, ear-piece wearing security.

This is to become a common occurrence throughout the play - the tone of the herding reflective of whether it is part of the action or to make way for parts of stage rising up out of the floor we are standing on. But more on that later.

Ben Whishaw (Brutus) - Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre - Photo credit Manuel Harlan
Ben Whishaw (Brutus) - Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre - Photo: Manuel Harlan

Calder's Julius Caesar is a commanding presence or perhaps the circus around him makes him so.

Ben Whishaw's Brutus is a politely muted form on the periphery of the hullabaloo; afterwards he sits at a café table, drinking red wine and deep in a book which he has to wear glasses to read. This is obviously more his comfort zone.

In fact he is often seen with a book, playing with the glasses in his hand when he has to leave off reading.

He is incongruous to his name: he thinks, he considers, he lacks the brutality of mind and personality that perhaps would mean a different fate.

When he does get angry - the verbal fight between him and Cassius (Michelle Fairley) crackles with tension and there is some superb angry eating by Ben - it is out of frustration that his carefully thought through plans are not quite the success he envisioned.

Mark Antony (David Morrissey), by comparison, is a far more brutish - dangerous - character in many ways. Turning from Caesar's supportive 'yes' man into a Venus fly trap.

Ironically, he uses words far better than the bookish Brutus and crucially he seems to understand the crowd better - another fatal flaw in Brutus and his co-conspirators well-meaning plan.

I've seen the 'Friends, Romans, countrymen...' speech delivered with obvious irony even borderline sarcasm. Morrissey's delivery is the perfect blend of grief, passion and reason - you don't realise cleverness of it until after the crowd has dispersed. From there he is merciless compare to Brutus' mercy. 

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

Julius Caesar_ 2017_ the conspirators kill Caesar_2017_Photo by Helen Maybanks _c_ RSC_214266
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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My best of theatre list for 2017 - with some rom-com, Chekhov and Christmas surprises

If you'd told me at the start of the year that there would be a rom-com, a Chekhov and a Christmas play on my best of list, I'd have laughed in your face. Just goes to show you should always expect the unexpected...here are my favourite plays of 2017, in no particular order and links are to my reviews.

An Octoroon - Orange Tree Theatre - publicity photo by The Other Richard
An Octoroon - Orange Tree Theatre - publicity photo by The Other Richard

Dirty Great Love Story, Arts Theatre

Let's face it most rom-coms are a bit rubbish - they generally aren't that funny - but this tale of modern romance had me guffawing with laughter and I wasn't on my own.

An Octoroon, Orange Tree Theatre

This is a play that reminded me why I love going to the theatre and I could write pages on it. Thought-provoking, sometime uncomfortable to watch and yet it was still entertaining. It's transferring to the National Theatre in June and I'll definitely be getting a ticket.

Apologia, Trafalgar Studios

In my review I said: "Apologia is a play of sharp humour and depth that slowly breaks down the defences to reveal something raw and emotional. You will laugh and you will have a lump in your throat." It was also a great play for female characters.

Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road, White Bear Theatre and Trafalgar Studios 2

This odd-ball, misfit comedy was a breath of fresh air and it got a much deserved transfer so I got to enjoy it a second time.

Hamlet, Almeida

Up there as one of the best Hamlet productions I've seen, it made me see the play anew.

BU21, Trafalgar Studios 2

Writer Stuart Slade took real testimonies from terrorist attacks around the world and used them to create a story around a fictional attack in London. The result was an honest, awkward and funny piece that was also really clever.

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My 5 biggest theatre disappointments of 2017

Not everything is brilliant or lives up to expectations. These are the plays that disappointed me the most in 2017.

Obsession, Barbican Theatre

Ivo Van Hove had two plays in my best of list last year but Obsession, starring Jude Law, felt at times pedestrian and aloof where it should have been passionate and tense.

HamletAgainst, Almeida

While I always enjoy watching Ben Whishaw on stage the play itself was so disappointing. On reflection, in my review I think I was still trying to like it  but it was just so doughy, lacking any punch or defined focus.

Woyzeck, Old Vic

Was really excited to see John Boyega on stage but like Against, the play was a disappointment. You can see where it is going early on - there is a particular line which is like having a gun on stage - but it takes a long, long time to get there. It also felt like it was trying too hard to be shocking and edgy.

Nuclear War, Royal Court

I'm a huge fan of Simon Stephens but I wasn't a fan of this at all. It felt like an experiment that shouldn't have made it out of the rehearsal room. It was so abstract and difficult to make sense of its 45 minute running time felt too long.

Hamlet, RADA

Ah yes the Tom Hiddleston/Kenneth Branagh Hamlet I was so excited about this. Love Tom Hiddleston but I'm not a fan who sees everything he does through rose-tinted spectacles (Ben Whishaw/Against is a case in point) and this felt like a huge opportunity missed. It's a small, intimate space and the play was staged in the round with the stalls seating effectively 'on stage' but it seemed as if Kenneth Branagh had directed it for a huge West End theatre.  There was no subtlety, no surprises, no innovation and given that the last two Hamlet's I've watched have been among the best I've ever seen it was really disappointing. I'm still a little bit cross about it.

Related: My best of theatre list for 2017

My theatre 'StOlivier' awards 2017

Step aside best actor/actress/play etc this is what was noteworthy for me in theatre land, in 2017.

Menagerie award The Ferryman was an award winning play in many way but for me it deserve an extra gong for fur and feathers - a cute little rabbit and a goose both made scene stealing appearances. Babies? Schmabies. Real, live animals on stage are the thing.

Exhibit A: Roman Tragedies, Barbican Theatre
Exhibit A: Roman Tragedies, Barbican Theatre

Event theatre and star studded audience award Ivo Van Hove's  six hour Roman Tragedies at the Barbican was an event for many reasons not least for allowing audience members to wander onto the stage between scenes and perch wherever they could get a seat. Photos, without flash, and tweeting (see exhibit A) were also encouraged. It also attracted probably the most thespy audience I've seen so far: Simon Stephens, Rupert Goold and Kate Fleetwood, Kyle Soler and Pheobe Fox, John Heffernan, Angus Wright, Jamie Lloyd, Ruth Wilson, Ian McDiarmid, Jonjo O’Neill, Jeremy Herrin and Leo Bill.

Best kiss When Paddy Considine and Laura Donnelly's characters kissed in The Ferryman, Royal Court it was so charged with years of repressed feelings it took my breath away and broke my heart a little bit.

Best spit - Not since I (probably) gave an award to the cast of Richard III for all spitting on Ralph Fiennes has their been a gobbing incident worthy of note but step forward Jasmine Hyde who spat so spectacularly on Harry Melling during Jam, Finborough Theatre.

Hottie of the month kinda lives on...these were my particular favourites in 2017: Theo James, Andrew Garfield, Douglas Booth and James Norton but if I had to choose one it would be Theo because I'm such a huge fan and it was the first time I've seen him on stage.

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10 plays I'm really looking forward to seeing in London 2018

Julius Caesar, Bridge TheatrePrompted by the Daily Telegraph's rather uninspiring and quite frankly lazy list of upcoming theatre treats - three plays which have already opened? Oh come on - here's my list of what I'm already really excited about seeing in the first half of 2018*.

1. My Mum's A Twat, Royal Court Theatre - Patsy Ferran, I love Patsy Ferran and this is the first of two plays she's doing in 2018 and it's a solo piece *insert big smile here*

2. Julius Caesar, Bridge Theatre - Ben Whishaw playing Brutus alongside David Morrissey and Michelle Fairley and the chance to mingle with the Roman mob? Already booked to see it twice.

3. The Brothers Size, Young Vic - Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney who also penned Oscar best picture winner Moonlight (which I loved) and starring Sope Dirisu who was brilliant in One Night In Miami at the Donmar and the RSC's Coriolanus.

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