Previous month:
January 2013
Next month:
March 2013

February 2013

Two ways to do Shakespeare? Really?

Must admit my jaw dropped when I read the opening line of Tim Walker's review of Macbeth at the Trafalgar Studio's: "When it comes to performing Shakespeare, the choice has long been traditional costume or grunge."

Either a sub with a grudge has hacked at his copy, omitting some sort of explanation of this sweeping statement (perhaps he just means Macbeth productions?) or he hasn't seen many productions of Shakespeare.

Firstly what exactly is 'traditional costume'? If Walker is referring to 16/17th century dress, well there aren't that many of them these days - the Globe seems to be single-handedly keeping ruff-makers in employment.

So that leaves everything else. There wasn't anything grungy about the Las Vegas set/casino-themed Merchant of Venice I saw and what about the many suited and booted productions of Hamlet, Richard III and Othello. I've seen second world war themes, Victorian themes plays performed in costumes of the period in which they are set and as for The Tempest designers pretty much demonstrate free-rein.

I have only seen three productions of Macbeth including the grungy Trafalgar Studios production Walker refers to. The first was a Cheek By Jowl production and was clean modern dress, neat military jackets, black t-shirts with black military fatigues. The second was by the RSC a couple of years ago and was a hybrid conservative Jacobean dress with medieval and modern flourishes. The only grunge was in the murder and Macbeth's dress as it became dishevelled to match his mind.

The only other thing I can think of is that Walker means something else by grungy.

Claire Foy talks playing Lady Macbeth on Radio 4's Front Row

James-McAvoy-Macbeth-Claire-Foy-Lady-Macbeth-in-Macbeth-Trafalgar-Studios-Photo-Johan-Persson-e1361529192641-615x337Claire Foy was on Radio 4's culture programme Front Row this evening talking to John Wilson about her part in Jamie Lloyd's Macbeth opposite James McAvoy.

She said that having studied Macbeth at school she felt she had a pretty good idea what the play was supposed to be like and was therefore initially sceptical about director Lloyd's post-apocalyptic vision for the production.

Asked about having to learn the Scottish accent she said having the Scottish cast around her helped and they were kind to her about pronunciation. She's gone for a softer accent compared to the others. Best compliment was her brother saying she didn't sound like Mrs Doubtfire.

On Lady Macbeth she says that she believes no one is totally evil and that she thought about part a lot before going for the audition.

"There is a tendency to assume that ambition is for her but she never says she wants to be Queen."

Wilson asked about the strong implications in this production that Lady Macbeth has lost a baby or that there is an absence of children (in the production James McAvoy's Macbeth touches her stomach when they meet up for the first time after the battle).

Continue reading "Claire Foy talks playing Lady Macbeth on Radio 4's Front Row" »

Critics' reviews for James McAvoy's Macbeth start to trickle in

Last night was press night for James McAvoy's Macbeth - I saw it quiet early in preview and it still had some work to do so I've been curious about how it would evolve and what the critics would think.

Will add more reviews as they come in - some critics were obviously up late last night others have opted for a lie-in.

Charles Spencer, The Telegraph ****

Thinks it packs a "powerful punch", commends McAvoy and Claire Foy (Lady Macbeth) but thinks it would benefit from a shorter running time

Paul Taylor, The Independent ****

Also commends McAvoy's "natural performance" and comments: "The idea that his world contracts into a kind of hellish solipsism is thrillingly conveyed here..." His only grumble is that he felt it was a tad over the top for his taste.

Libby Purves, The Times (£) ****

Describes it as "riveting" but warns: "McAvoy gives it all that Shakespeare offers, and redeems my earlier doubts. Yes, he is a Macbeth worth seeing, though one that is not for the fainthearted."


RSC release trailer for Hamlet - don't get excited

One day I'm going to get around to writing a post about the trend for theatre companies to produce trailers for their plays and generally how rubbish they are.

I mean, would this trailer inspire you to go and see Hamlet in Stratford? Could be anybody in those fencing suits and I don't think even the RSC could pull off gravity defying soil on stage.



Review: Joe Wright's Trelawny of the Wells at the Donmar Warehouse

159769_2_previewMay I be bold and say I think screen director Joe Wright has got a hit on his hands with his stage directorial debut at the Donmar. Not that it takes much for the bijou Donmar to sell out, not much at all.

Arthur Wing Pinero's play, with 'ornamentation' by Patrick Marber is a joy to watch from start to finish - and it is still in preview. Mr Wright who was sat in the same row as Poly and I had every right to look pleased at the end.

It's a comedy of social differences - the colourful, uninhibited theatre types in one corner and the reserved middle classes on the other. Rose Trelawny, star attraction at the Sadlers Wells theatre, wants to cross the class divide having fallen in love with Arthur Gower (Joshua Silver) the son of a gentleman but the life of a lady doesn't prove to be quite what she expects.

Wing Pinero makes his actors exaggerated luvvies whose performance style, in which they don't so much speak the words as act them, is becoming outdated. His middle classes, by contrast bring decorum and propriety to new heights of stiffness and boredom.

Continue reading "Review: Joe Wright's Trelawny of the Wells at the Donmar Warehouse" »

Review: If You Don't Let Us Dream We Won't Let You Sleep at the Royal Court

Molony2_2487160cWhen the playwright lists past works with titles such as Socialism Is Great and Capitalism: A Lecture Series you kind of get an inkling about the direction a new play about the current financial issues is going to take. 

Anders Lustgarten's If You Don't Let Us Dream...  starts out with a series of short scenes linked loosely by a narrative which takes free market principles and capitalism to its extreme. Social disorder is effectively privatised and sold off as bonds. The lower the crime rates the more money is made by investors until the bankers realise they can make more money by hedging on crime going up.

The scheme is such a success generating capital too for the government that more and more is privatised to the point that measures and targets in hospitals and prisons dehumanise those they serve.

Several characters have threads running through the scenes culminating in a final lengthier segment where they come together as a protest group, occupying a disused court house. The group is planning to put capitalism on trial as a publicity stunt.

This is a lean production; a stripped back stage with props, costumes and odd bits of furniture all on view around the edges, brought into use by the actors when needed. It also has a refreshingly lean running time of 75 minutes.

Continue reading "Review: If You Don't Let Us Dream We Won't Let You Sleep at the Royal Court" »

Review: Great Expectations at the Vaudeville Theatre


Dickens' novel Great Expectations is one of my favourites and as a result I approach any adaptation with low expectations. There is so much to be tripped up by in adapting such a rich and multi-layered story especially condensing it down into something play length.

It being Dickens there is also much that lends itself to a theatrical performance and here is where the decisions get tough. What do you leave out, what do you focus on and how theatrical do you make it?

This production has toured before arriving in the West End and boasts TV actors Jack Ellis, Chris Ellison and Paula Wilcox who all seem perfectly cast as Jaggers, Magwitch and Miss Haversham respectively.

The point of entry for the story is actually the end of the tale. A mature Pip (Paul Nivison) meets Estella (Grace Rowe) in Miss Haversham's dining room. The set is impressive - cobweb strewn, dilapidated with a large table (that doubles as smaller stage occasionally) complete with the infamous abandoned wedding cake.

Continue reading "Review: Great Expectations at the Vaudeville Theatre" »

James McAvoy's Macbeth at Trafalgar Studios - second thoughts

164635_2_previewDirector Jamie Lloyd's actors burst onto the Trafalgar Studios main stage full of the adrenalin of battle and heat of victory. Dressed in drab, practical, modern clothes that look like they've been worn and handed down many times, their weapons are a mixture of machetes, axes and guns that, like the clothes, are showing signs of wear and tear.

This dystopian Scotland set Macbeth flexes its muscles from the outset. The women join the men as soldiers demonstrating physical as well mental prowess in Shakespeare's tale of power and manipulation.

It is a very physical production that leads up to a final battle between Macbeth and Macduff that sees the two opponents trying to hack at each other with primitive weapons - certainly no dainty sword-fighting here.

McAvoy is very much the leader of the pack, fit and muscular - not quite back to Wanted standards but he's certainly been working out. He puts in an assured and nuanced performance too. He is at times terrifyingly strong and unpredictable while at others shows a real mental vulnerability and tenderness.

Continue reading "James McAvoy's Macbeth at Trafalgar Studios - second thoughts" »

James McAvoy's Macbeth - first thoughts

The man himself is fabulous, totally at ease on stage and his scenes with Claire Foy's Lady Macbeth have an air of tenderness mixed with an aloofness born out of a shared tragedy. (Had a bloody good snog as well, saw JM lick his lips after ;0)

It is quite messy but not in the way I expected. Only splatters flying in mine and @polyg's direction were drink related unfortunately.

Think the setting - dystopian Scotland - is both a blessing and a hindrance, sometimes used well others not so. There is one staging device they'll be hoping is talked about but will be remembered for different reasons, certainly by those sitting in the stage seats on a sleety evening.

Not sure everything in the production is quite well-oiled enough yet but press night isn't until Tuesday so there is time yet and director Jamie Lloyd had his notebook with him (didn't go back stage during the interval though - is that usual?)

The first half works better while the second gets weighed down by the long, fairly static scene between Malcolm and McDuff especially after the energy and drama of the McDuff family murder with our charismatic anti-hero. I'd be tempted to get the red pen out and cut back myself.

Oh and the joy of the Scottish accents especially James McAvoy's cannot be underestimated.

More soon when I've properly digested.

Safe bets vs creativity in London theatre

The Guardian's theatre critic Lyn Gardner wrote an interesting blog post today questioning whether arts funding cuts mean we are going the way of Broadway where the big stars draw in the crowds and wield enough influence to dictate which roles they play. It is a safe bet for producer and for the star's reputation.

The big West End theatres generally play it safe - they have to, they are businesses after all and need many bums on seats. Less well know work, with a less starry cast that makes it into the big theatres has generally had a successful run at one of the smaller producing theatres, like the Royal Court.

For an obsessive like me, the West End is on the periphery of what is exciting about going to the theatre. It is at the smaller venues, producing varied work with varied casts where I prefer to get my kicks.

I think the funding cuts are going to hit some of the smallest theatres the hardest those that already struggle and it would be a terrible shame to lose any venue, that produces good work, because of Government cuts.

However, if it was to get to a point when the likes of the Royal Court, Almeida Theatre and to a certain extent the National felt they had to parachute in big names, into safe plays in order to be a success then I really would worry about the state of London's theatre.