Can't wait to see this next month, it's described as Sesame Street crossed with the Exorcist...
Can't wait to see this next month, it's described as Sesame Street crossed with the Exorcist...
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).
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.
One ticket. Three days. Four Shakespeare history plays. I'm bleary-eyed from the late nights and have probably spent more time at the Barbican this week than I have in my own flat but I'd happily do it all over again. Richard II, Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and Henry V back to back is a journey you are rarely given the opportunity to travel and I'm still buzzing from the thrill of it.
Here are ten of my highlights:
Here are my reviews for Richard II, Henry IV and Henry V and notes from the Q&A with David Tennant and Jonathan Slinger. The King and Country cycle is on at the Barbican until January 24 after which it embarks on a world tour.
When David Tennant’s King Richard swept onto the Barbican stage last night head held with haughty entitlement I couldn't help but grin. He’s back. And I confess I didn’t think the RSC could do this production any better but they did, somehow.
Richard II has been revived, albeit with some new cast members to replace those unavailable three years on from the original Stratford and London production, as part of a series of Shakespeare's history plays to celebrate the bards 400th anniversary. The other plays in the series are a revival of the RSC's 2014 Henry IV parts one and two and 2015’s Henry V which sees Alex Hassell completing the journey from Prince Hal to victorious King. If you have the stamina, and I’m hoping I do, you can see all four plays over three days - Henry IV part one is tonight part two tomorrow afternoon and finishing with Henry V in the evening*.
Seeing them in succession has its own thrill with continuity of cast and plot as well as the opportunity of seeing RII and the two Henry IV’s again - Henry V will be first time viewing.
But last night the bar was set high. There was an energy I don’t remember first time around which heightened emotions to a new level. Tennant was on fighting form eliciting a yelp when he lashed out at one unfortunate character and when he kissed Aumerle (Sam Marks) it was long and lingering and spoke a thousand words.
The RSC has announced it is putting on The Tempest as part of Shakespeare's 400th anniversary year with Simon Russell Beale as Prospero. Simon Russell Beale. But while that is exciting in itself, although not really a surprise, what has really pique my interest is the involvement of The Imaginarium Studios.
Stratford is going high-tech for this production, Intel is a fellow collaborator alongside The Imaginarium Studios. And that is exciting because Imaginarium is Andy Serkis' specialist motion capture studio. Andy Serkis of Gollum/Lord of the Rings, King Kong and Planet of the Apes fame. My imagination is running wild with what they might do with Caliban or Ariel or any number of particular scenes which involve Prospero's magic. This could be pretty spectacular.
Pretty much all of the 21-strong Faction ensemble storm the New Diorama stage at 'curtain up' and immediately set about brawling. At the centre of this battlefield, in the thick of the fight, is Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Christopher York), brother of the King. Time slows down around the upright, almost statuesque Gloucester as he sets out his dissatisfaction with the prospect of peace and his intention to rage his own personal war. As he outlines his plans his body distorts and a light projects a hunch-backed image on the wall.
Though Gloucester describes his physical deformity, in this production it is more a representation of his psyche, his body contorts at moments of particularly grotesque Machiavellian plotting.
Faction has also made some interesting gender swaps. Buckingham is played by Anna Maria Nabirye and there are occasionally hints of flirtation between her and Gloucester as they conspire. When he metaphorically (and literally) stabs her in the back her reaction is almost of having been jilted.
The company's trademark physical style is used to good effect on occasion. When Richard and Anne are crowned they sit on human thrones which serve also as a nice reminder of the human cost of his journey. In the final battle there is a horse of sort for him to ride - again the human form is used to shape a shadow on the wall. But I was expecting more of this physicality - particularly given the brilliant promotional image - and here lies the problem.
Richard III is a great villain and the play is stuffed full of murder either at his own hand or instigation, he's also a clever politician and verbal manipulator - but at times this lacked drama and pace. I was expecting more of the physical cleverness and some of the murders felt a little perfunctory. Some of the speeches and exchanges flew and were gripping but others lacked nuance and were a bit one note. In the end Richard didn't feel quite dangerous enough or charming enough in a production that had some good ideas but not quite enough.
It ran at two hours and 45 minutes including an interval and you can catch it at the New Diorama Theatre until Feb 6.
I'm told by my friends on social media that this doesn't technically count as my first theatre trip of 2016 but that doesn't mean I can't write a bit about it as I won't get a chance to see it live at the Garrick Theatre before it finishes on January 16. Seeing it on a cinema screen is a good substitute and while you don't get the thrill of seeing the live performance you do get to appreciate the performances close up.
So what was it like? Well, I've always been a bit 'meh' about The Winter's Tale mainly because it feels, tonally, like two very different plays separated by an interval. Kenneth Branagh's production doesn't quite manage to erase that feeling but it did something other productions haven't, it made me cry. Several times.
Dame Judi Dench's Paulina, defender of the innocent Queen, Miranda Raison's Hermione, the innocent victim of her husband's personal misjudgement and Jessie Buckley's Perdita, who is divided from her lover, were such touching performances. I've never been quite so consistently moved by Shakespeare.
I've seen funnier productions - although perhaps the smallish cinema audience on a Sunday morning didn't help - but this certainly tugged on my heartstrings. It was also great to see Theatre Hottie Tom Bateman (moustache notwithstanding) and there was great chemistry between him and Jessie Buckley as the two lovers which probably helped provoke the tears when things started going wrong for them.
I'm only human award: This goes to Ben Whishaw who, during the Iliad live reading, mispronounced a name did a delightful giggle at his mistake before slipping straight back into character and carrying on. You can see the reading here (roughly 26 mins in for the giggle).
Best food fight: Cast of Rules for Living, National Theatre, who not only managed to mess up the stage but trod and smeared mashed potato into the carpet and on the drapes at all the exits from the Dorfman stage.
Scariest prop: For Carman Disruption at the Almeida I was sat on the front row not far from the life-sized, prone but visibly breathing bull. It was so realistic it freaked me a little bit. If it had moved its head or a leg you wouldn't have have seen me for dust.
I didn't know you had that in you surprise performance award: Lots of surprises this year Tom Sturridge in American Buffalo, David Dawson in The Dazzled but the award goes Johnny Flynn in Hangmen for a performance that meant the first two words I said to Poly after the curtain call were 'Johnny Flynn' to which she replied 'I know'.
The bloody play of the year: The single stream of blood slowly rolling down the stage towards the audience at the end of Macbeth, Young Vic, was great but the bloody highlight goes to the Almeida's Oresteia. Agamemnon is murdered and his spilled blood slowly seeps out in a growing pool from beneath his corpse.
So the final hottie of 2015, before I decide on which of my hotties was hottest, goes to Ben Lamb who is playing Malcolm in Macbeth at the Young Vic*.
It's hard to find a decent production shot of him but all you need to know is that he wears his combat-style trousers well and if that wasn't enough he likes puppies.
This is him in rehearsal: