147 posts categorized "Shakespeare" Feed

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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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

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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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