149 posts categorized "Shakespeare" Feed

Review: Ralph Fiennes is Richard III, Almeida Theatre

RIII_IMAGE_1470x690_72As soon as I stepped into the Almeida auditorium and saw the stage I got the reference. There was a grave-sized earthy hole around which there were spotlights and actors dressed in white, forensic-style jump-suits who were excavating bones. The last to be lifted is a twisted spine which is a macabre sight and sets the tone.

The grave excavation is a nice merging of history and fiction and is used to book end Rupert Goold's production. It was also a promising start to what is one of my favourite Shakespeare plays.

When Ralph Fiennes' Duke of Gloucester appears for the 'winter of discontent' speech it is a slow, deliberate delivery. He makes sure he has everyone's attention, holding people's gaze. (I've embedded a video of another speech at the bottom of the post to give you a taste.)

His Richard is a snake, slithering slowly, fixing you in his eyes so that you daren't look away but a snake which has a sudden deadly bite. I've seen productions where he's played as a loveable villain - dangerous but charming. There is no such charm here. He is pure evil, prone to occasional violent outbursts, particularly towards women when his violence turns sexual. He is a coward in that respect. He's not a hands-on murderer as he is sometimes portrayed, he leaves that to others, instead he picks his fights with those he can easily overpower.

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Review: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Southwark Playhouse or when Stan went on stage to play a flower #7actordream

Midsummer-1At the end of this promo video for Go People's A Midsummer Night's Dream an actor says that 'everyone single person will come away with a slightly different experience' and they weren't kidding. I've had actors deliver lines at me, ad lib lines at me, throw stuff at me, sit next to me, even fall in my lap but I've never been dragged on stage to play a part before. Not until last night at the Southwark Playhouse anyway.

This isn't A Midsummer Night's Dream for purists, Go People have added an extra premise that they are a company of seven actors attempting to play all 17 parts. They also only have about four props between them but are going to give it a go with a bit of imagination and imagining from the audience.

When Puck (Melanie Fullbrook) is asked by Oberon (Ludovic Hughes) to fetch a wild pansy to use as a love potion, in lieu of a prop flower Puck grabbed me. So there I am in the middle of the stage with Oberon gripping my hands and intently telling me all about how he discovered said love potion. At least I think that was the speech he was delivering, at the time I was more concerned with the fact that I was actually on the friggin' stage and feeling just a teeny bit self-conscious.

But it didn't end there. I was whisked off to wait back stage by Puck while the next scene was in progress.  Then Puck said something like 'have fun with it' and lead me back on stage to 'work my flower magic'. Randomly waving your hands sort of works for a magic potion being administered, doesn't it? Later Oberon assisted by holding my hand and moving it in a delicately, elegant gesture. And I just wanted to face palm thinking 'yep that would have been better'.

Now at this point I should add that earlier we'd been asked to imagine there was a large oak tree in the middle of the stage which all the actors subsequently stepped around when moving from one side to the other. So when I was excused from my flower magic duties I felt I should carefully avoid the imaginary tree on my way back to my seat, in keeping with the spirit of things, which seemed to go down quite well. 

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

Hamlet production photos_ March 2016_2016_Photo by Manuel Harlan _c_ RSC_187338
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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Tom Hiddleston's next Shakespeare role: some speculation and wishful thinking

Ntlive_template-large_0Catching up with BBC Radio 4's Front Row podcast this week there was an interview with Tom Hiddleston in which he was asked about whether, having already played the likes of Coriolanus, Prince Hal and Henry V whether there were any other Shakespeare characters he'd like to take on.

His answer was:

"I do have my eyes on something...you'll find out very soon, I think."

Now if that doesn't give us an excuse for excitement and speculation then I don't know what would. We can't assume stage, although that it what I'm keeping my fingers crossed for but who will he play?

He can tick off history and Roman tragedy from the canon. Obviously there is a Hamlet sized hole in his CV but is theatreland ready for another big starry Hamlet hot on the heels of Benedict Cumberbatch and with Andrew Scott is playing the Dane early next year at the Almeida? It's an obvious choice - a bit obvious and predictable - but my second thought was a comedy: I could see him playing Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing.

I've subsequently done a bit of Googling and found this interview with Kenneth Branagh from 2014 in which he hints that he'd love to direct Tom in Much Ado. Ken's theatre production company currently has a residency at the Garrick, so there is that.

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Review: Ivo Van Hove's epic Kings of War, Barbican Theatre

9731_xFour and half hours of Shakespeare performed in Dutch (with English subtitles)? With Ivo Van Hove directing I rushed to buy a ticket. 

Bart van den Eynde and Peter van Kraaij have combined Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III into one epic play (there is also a smidgen of Henry IV part 2 at the beginning) which Van Hove has set in what looks like a war bunker.

There are three corridors (of power) that feed the bunker and a camera* follows the actors when they disappear down them, the feed appearing on a large screen at the back of the stage. Some of it is obviously pre-recorded - as much as I would love to believe they had a flock of sheep back stage - some of it is live. There are also cameras hidden on stage which film the action from angles not easily seen by the audience.

Kings of War begins quite slowly. Van Hove's naturalistic directing style has the actors in office mode. After the initial coronation scene which is done without speeches just a red carpet and a train of followers, in a device that will be repeated, there is little ceremony. Henry V (Ramsey Nasr) is portrayed more as a military leader at work than king, around him people sit at desks carrying out their usual tasks, finishing writing a sentence before responding to a question.

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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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Rehearsal photos: Kenneth Branagh's Romeo & Juliet with Richard Madden and Lily James

Remember the sexy promo photo for Kenneth Branagh's production of Romeo & Juliet with Richard Madden and Lily? Well the rehearsal images are in, here's a selection:

Romeo and Juliet (Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company) - Richard Madden (Romeo), Lily James (Juliet) Credit Johan Persso
Romeo and Juliet (Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company) - Richard Madden (Romeo), Lily James (Juliet) Credit Johan Persson
Romeo and Juliet (Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company) - Kenneth Branagh, Lily James (Juliet) Credit Johan Persson 00139.jpg
Romeo and Juliet (Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company) - Kenneth Branagh, Lily James (Juliet) Credit Johan Persson


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Review: The hilarious and inventive A Midsummer Night's Dream, Lyric Hammersmith

Jonathan Broadbent as Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Tristram Kenton
Jonathan Broadbent as Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Photo by Tristram Kenton

From the moment Peter Quince (Ed Gaughan) steps out from behind the curtain and says 'you'll have a great evening but it probably won't be this one' you know this isn't going to be A Midsummer's Night's Dream like you've seen it before.

Filter Theatre has added its own play within the play (within the play - "it's meta"), Peter Quince and the mechanicals are re-imagined as a house band but with Bottom otherwise occupied, a replacement has to be found. 

The key scenes of Shakespeare's story of love, jealousy and fairies are extracted and performed with disregard to the fourth wall, without any pretence that it is real and with a liberal sprinkling of popular references and ad-libbing.

Oberon (Jonathan Broadbent) is a Lycra clad, asthmatic super hero or super villain depending on his mood. He doesn't hide his in-vain attempts to fly although he does come up with one rather amusing solution.

Puck (Ferdy Roberts) is dressed as a Lyric Theatre handyman with a tool belt in which he also keeps equipment for sound effects. He likes nothing better than an excuse to take the weight off and swig from a can of Fosters.

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Review: RSC's King and Country cycle - Henry V, Barbican

Henry-v-2-large
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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