199 posts categorized "Shakespeare" Feed

Review: Eddie Izzard's Hamlet, Riverside Studios - grappling with performance and personality

Eddie Izzard hamlet poster

When someone plays not just many characters but all the characters in a classic play as Eddie Izzard does here for Hamlet, I have two key questions: How will they do it and why, i.e. what will it add?

When I saw Andrew Scott's one-man Vanya, while a technically brilliant performance, it didn't add to or elevate the play. I missed seeing him riff off other actors.

The jury was still out at the interval of Eddie Izzard's Hamlet. I simply wasn't sure what to make of it, but for different reasons to Vanya. It didn't feel like it was missing other actors, perhaps because I'm used to Eddie Izzard being a solo performer.

Here, the problem was how inextricably linked Eddie Izzard's persona is with her stand-up, at least in my mind. She has a distinct comic style and tone, which is evident in the 23 different characters she plays.

Was she being tongue-in-cheek? I could see her doing little bits of Hamlet in her stand-up show, but this is the whole play, which, while there is some humour to be found, is a tragedy.

But while I grappled with the question of comedy, some scenes worked really well with some interesting decisions.

She plays the characters mostly by taking a step into a different position. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are the exceptions; here, she talks with his hands, which is very silly, but it works for the characters who are puppets of Hamlet's uncle Claudius.

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Review: Romeo & Juliet, Duke of York's Theatre starring Tom Holland and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers

Romeo and juliet duke of yorks theatre

Director Jamie Lloyd is behind this new production of Romeo & Juliet with Spider-Man Tom Holland as the star name. He's a director whose work I love, particularly for the way he takes familiar plays and makes you see them differently.

Could he work his magic on this Shakespeare classic and make me like a play I've started to avoid?

I've seen a good handful of productions of Romeo & Juliet, and my main problem has been believability. There has rarely been sufficient chemistry between the star-crossed lovers to make their teenage 3-day meet-fall-in-love-marry-die story feel genuine.

It doesn't help that the 3-day tragi-romance begins with Romeo moping because he's so in love with another girl. (Fickle youth.)

But watching Jamie Lloyd's production, it's like he's asked a mate to hold his pint while he throws an emotional punch.

The staging is stripped back and still. There are a couple of mic stands and a step-down near the front of the stage where the actors sometimes sit.

Jamie Lloyd has embellished this sparse, prop-free backdrop by mixing in live video. A camera projects particular scenes on a huge screen above their heads, creating a cinema-screen-sized close-up.

The handheld camera also allows the actors to roam and break away from the traditional performance space. (At one point, Tom Holland's Romeo goes up onto the roof for a quiet cig.)

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Review: Love's Labour's Lost, Royal Shakespeare Theatre - contemporary touches adds a freshness

RSC love's labour's lost posters 2024

Love's Labour's Lost, starring Luke Thomson, is the play that got me back to Stratford. It's been years since I jumped on a train to the West Midlands as it's become more of a faff since direct trains from London were ditched (such an idiotic decision).

Was it worth the journey?

Director Emily Burns has brought a contemporary freshness to Love's Labour's Lost. It's set in a luxury, exotic resort where Ferdinand, King of Navarre (Abiola Owokoniran), Berowne (Luke Thomson) and two other friends have signed an oath to study, fast and stay away from women for three years.

Even the Princess of France (Melanie-Joyce Bermudez) and her three ladies are not permitted beyond the grounds where the King insists they meet. However, this permitted 'off-site' doesn't stop Ferdinand falling in love with the Princess, Berowne falling for Rosaline (Ionna Kimbook) and Longville and Dumaine falling for the other two ladies.

Secret wooing, disguises and mistakes with letters ensue.

The contemporary resort setting works well with servants and courtiers becoming spa staff. There are sun loungers, golf tees and a tennis coach. Stripping away the court puts the focus on the men's behaviour. It also fits with the sassy way the women out-wit them and put them in their place.

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Review: Player Kings, Noel Coward Theatre - a vehicle for Ian McKellen at the expense of something richer

Player Kings at the Noel Coward Theatre is Henry IV parts 1 & 2 squished together to create just under four hours of Shakespeare with one interval.

Ian McKellen is the big star name, playing Falstaff with Richard Coyle as Henry IV and Toheeb Jimoh as Hal.

Prince Hal's behaviour is presented as influenced by his spending so much time hanging out in taverns and with thieves, and I really liked that.

It is particularly notable in the way he fights. There is one moment when his actions towards Hotspur, whom his father admires, are certainly dirty and dishonourable. It puts both characters in a different light.

Richard Coyle, as Henry IV, has such a commanding stage presence that you could hear a pin drop every time he appeared. He presents a formidable and slightly scary King.

Robert Icke, who has adapted and directed the play, leaves little room for guilt about the means by which Henry came by the crown.

Although the fact that Henry was able to leap out of bed and wrestle with his son when he was supposedly dying did feel a little comical.

Ian McKellen is going to be my favourite Falstaff. This production felt like it was a vehicle for him to do a series of comic turns.

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Review: Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma in Macbeth, Dock X

Macbeth poster

Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma's Macbeth is being staged in an industrial warehouse in Canada Water, south east London, which means there is space around the auditorium to start setting the scene.

As you step in from the dockside entrance, there are banners emblazoned with an 'M' and the sound of jet aircraft flying overhead. A military base-style siren goes off to let you know that the house is open.

Getting to your seat involves a walk through a battle-scarred street scene, and once inside, there are military personnel. The ominous post-battle sounds continue. It's a charged atmosphere.

The raked seating is on three sides of the stage, so even sitting almost at the back, it didn't feel too far away from the stage. The aisles are used during the performance for some even closer encounters.

A bomb-damaged concrete slab and a series of steps form the performance space. At the back are electronic sliding doors with frosted glass, which obscures all unless objects - or people - are very close.

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Review: David Tennant and Cush Jumbo in Macbeth, Donmar Warehouse - headphones pros and cons

Macbeth Donmar Warehouse David Tennant Cush Jumbo 2023
David Tennant playing Macbeth was always going to be a hot ticket. (David Tennant playing any character on stage will be a hot ticket.)

Why then stage it at the Donmar Warehouse, which has such a small capacity? Is it because of the headphones?

You see, this production isn't your standard 'actors on stage speaking'. The actors are mic'd up - nothing unusual about that - but the audience hears everything through headphones, including the soundscape and 'other' voices.

That is much easier to set up and deliver in a small theatre, given that everyone has to have working headphones to experience the play.

What it does is put the voices of the actors in your ear. You can hear the shouts and, more importantly, the whispers. It means the actors have a different performance platform.

There is no need for projected 'stage whispers' because you have the natural effect of the actors whispering in your ear. Performances can be smaller while maintaining the intensity.

It also gives the Donmar three performance spaces. There is the raised white, 'stone' like slab, which acts as both stage and table and a glass-walled booth at the back of the stage (Ivo Van Hove/Jan Versweyveld-esque?).

And then there are the disembodied voices you hear in your ear. It transports the witches and their prophecies into Macbeth's (David Tennant) head.

However, hearing the play through headphones, while it delivers an enhanced and unique experience in many ways, is not a wholly satisfying experience, but more of that later.

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Review: Kenneth Branagh's King Lear, Wyndhams Theatre - pacey, fresh and youthful production sometimes loses its heart

Web Doug Colling (Edgar as Poor Tom)  Joseph Kloska (Gloucester)  Kenneth Branagh (Lear)  and Dylan Bader-Corbett (France) for the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company's King Lear at Wyndham's Theatre - photo by Johan Persson
Doug Colling (Edgar as Poor Tom), Joseph Kloska (Gloucester), Kenneth Branagh (Lear) and Dylan Bader-Corbett (France) for the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company's King Lear at Wyndham's Theatre - photo by Johan Persson

I'm calling this production the Wildling King Lear. The costumes, which involved fur and animal skins, lots of belts and tunics, reminded me of the tribe in Game of Thrones.

It's possibly not what Kenneth Branagh was going for in this production in which he stars and directs, or maybe it was because there is something tribal in its tone.

Sharpened staffs are the weapons of choice and an instrument to stamp the ground in an approving or threatening manner. 

The stage is wrapped in a semi-circle of large flat stones. These stones, coupled with a doughnut-shaped disc hanging above the stage, are a palette onto which planets, the moon, clouds and sometimes faces of characters are projected.

It enhances the otherworldly/ancient England feel, which is probably why the doughnut when lit a certain way, reminded me of another fictional reference: The Eye of Sauron in Lord of the Rings.

When we first meet King Lear, staffs are held aloft to make a canopy above his head, and for a moment, he looks up to where they all connect—a symbolic and ironic gesture, knowing what will happen next.

Branagh's production is an extremely pacey 2 hours straight through (King Lear normally clocks in at over 3 hours). It satisfyingly zips through the story with enough to give you the gist. 

You do lose some of the subtle detail and character development in not dwelling, which makes some characters appear overly fickle in their choices.

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Review: Hamlet, Bristol Old Vic (live recording for cinema release) - angry Hamlet is a prince of action

Hamlet bristol old vic live recording
Hamlet, starring Billy Howle, a live recording from Bristol Old Vic


The fat has been cut from this Bristol Old Vic production of Hamlet, leaving the meat of the play. There is no Fortinbras subplot, the ghost and player scenes are stripped to the bare essentials.

It's a minimalist, stark modern set, just doors and a staircase - although the way it is filmed, you don't get to appreciate it in perhaps the same way you would watching it at the theatre. What you do get is the close-ups of the actors.

The only face you don't see is the ghost which is an interesting choice; Hamlet (Billy Howle) doesn't doubt for a second this cloaked, hooded figure is his father, but is it? Does he just want it to be?

Howle's Hamlet, in this trimmed play, becomes a man of action; there is little room for confirmation, doubt and indecision. In fact, he is manic, angry and enraged - mad in purpose or a loose canon?

This contrasts with the cool, quiet of Finbar Lynch's Claudius. If he didn't confess, you wouldn't believe he had a hand in Old Hamlet's murder rather, he is protecting the realm from an heir who swings from irritating to unhinged.

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Review: Hamlet, Southwark Playhouse: Slimmed down version has lost context and depth

Hamlet Southwark Playhouse Jan 2023
Hamlet poster, Southwark Playhouse, Jan 2023

This slimmed-down production of Hamlet by Lazarus Theatre Company at the Southwark Playhouse clocks in at just 95 minutes. It focuses primarily on the younger characters - Hamlet, Horatio, Laertes, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

The story is framed as a sort of therapy session, there is a circle of chairs, and a voice over a tannoy proclaims it is a 'safe space'. The tannoy is a device used for the 'adults' communicating throughout the play - on the few occasions they feature.

I'm definitely not a Shakespeare purist, I  like the idea of trimmed-down Shakespeare. There are chunks of his plays that were appropriate for the time they were written that can be easily cut for modern audiences without impact on the story.

Too many cuts

But too much has been removed in this production. If you aren't familiar with the story, I'm not sure you'd get much from it.

It's a play I've seen plenty of times (and studied), so I could easily fill in the gaps. What was lost for me was the context, the layers and the nuance.

If you never see Hamlet (Michael Hawkey) interacting with Claudius and Gertrude or see the adults plotting and manipulating, you lose part of what is driving him and what he is up against. You miss the politics of family and succession. 

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Theatre best of: Stan's top 10 plays 0f 2022

Best of theatre 2022
This feels like a moment; I haven't been able to do a best-of theatre list since 2019 because of 'you know what'. It's been huge fun revisiting the plays I've seen - nearly 50. And while that total is down on pre-pandemic levels, it was still tricky to narrow down my choices, but here goes.

1. The Collaboration, Young Vic

Synopsis in a sentence: Andy Warhol's star is waning, and young artist Jean-Michel Basquiat's star is rising; they have nothing in common but are persuaded to collaborate.

From my review: "I was gripped in the presence of two great artists and gripped by their stories. I laughed, I gasped, I cried, and if I felt compelled to tap my toes at the start, by the end, I was on my feet, and that's something I rarely do."

The play is now on Broadway, and look out for a film version (an actual film, not a filmed stage version).

2. Henry V, Donmar Warehouse

Synopsis in a sentence: The wayward Prince becomes King and has to prove himself to his country and foreign powers.

Not going to lie, Kit Harington surprised me with his performance in this.

From my review: "This is a powerful production of Henry V. Harington's nuanced, often quiet and considered Henry V perfectly highlights the complexity and often contradictory nature of the character and the role of leadership.

3. The Human Voice, Harold Pinter Theatre

Synopsis in a sentence: A woman has a final phone call with her lover, who is getting married the next day.

From my review: "It hasn't gone down well with all the critics, but I thought it was mesmerising and gripping. Hats off to Ruth Wilson."

4. Ministry of Lesbian Affairs, Soho Theatre

Synopsis in a sentence: A lesbian choir get a coveted spot on the main stage at Pride, mainly because they are the only lesbian choir to apply.

From my review: "It is a funny, interesting and occasionally challenging play that had me walking out of the theatre with a big grin on my face. And that is a big win."

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