191 posts categorized "Shakespeare" Feed

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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Review: Giles Terera in Othello, National Theatre

The National Theatre's Lyttelton stage has been transformed with steps and terraces around the performance space, creating a look that is a cross between an ancient greek theatre and a fighting pit.

Othello National Theatre Nov 2022
Othello, National Theatre, Nov 2022

Before the play starts, images of past productions of Othello and the year they were performed are projected onto the steps and back wall as a reminder of the story's timelessness.

When the play begins an angry mob confronts Othello (Giles Terera) about his marriage to Desdemona (Rosy McEwan), and one of them holds a rope tied into a noose. It's a startling reminder of the lynch mobs of the not-too-distant past.

The production is consciously white, with Terera the only person of colour in the cast. It serves to emphasise the racism and jealousy that fuels the tragedy and Othello's isolation.

A sort of chorus - called 'system' on the cast list - is almost permanently present on stage, either seated or standing on the steps. They are like the personification of an infection, the sickness of emotions that grows in Othello's mind synchronising their jagged and exaggerated movements.

And there is something that is part creepy, part peaceful in how they gather and sit with Othello as he dies. 

Paul Hilton's Iago is played with the chill and wit of a good comic book villain. The system moves and are animated by what he says and does; sometimes, there is something grotesquely comic in how they respond.

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Review: Richard The Second, Omnibus Theatre - accomplished and timely revival

Anna Coombs' adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard II sees the story slimmed down for five actors, with three of the cast playing more than one character.

Richard the Second  Tangle 2022. Photo by Bettina Adela (6)
Raheim Menzies and Daniel Rock in Richard the Second, Omnibus Theatre, Nov 2022. Photo by Bettina Adela

It focuses the attention on King Richard (Daniel Rock) and his cousins, the loyal Aumerle (Lebogang Fisher) and Henry Bollingbroke (Raheim Menzies), and the power tussle between them for the crown.

The production sets out its stall dressing the stage with step ladders of various heights. Who will climb, and how high will they go?

From the opening scene, where Henry accuses Mowbray (Sibusiso Mamba) of lying and murder, and Richard flip-flops over his decisions, it's a one-sided fight in terms of who is most suited to lead, but with this position of power, it's more complex than suitability.

It is the first incident that chimes with contemporary British politics of the last few years.

Menzies' Henry is a born leader, he is level-headed compared to Richard, and his campaign for what he is entitled to feels just next to the King's abuse of power.

He seems thoughtful and considered, while Richard makes decisions on a whim and falls into poetic whimsy. His justification for what he does is a divine right; he is anointed in holy oil at his coronation, after all.

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Review: Kit Harington in Henry V, Donmar Warehouse

Henry V opens with a burst of energy at a nightclub with a worse for wear party prince. It's a scene lifted from Henry IV part 2 and is an important reminder of Henry V's past and subsequent transformation into a serious king.

It is a great scene-setter for this modern-dress production and a performance of Henry that leaves the lines blurred between heroic and ruthless leader.

Henry V Donmar Warehouse poster

One of the first things we see the new king decide is whether to go to war with France. His claim to the French throne is explained by a Bishop, with the help of a family tree projected on the stage's back wall.

There is a satirical note in the way the hereditary links are drawn. However, it is Kit Harington's controlled switch in tone when addressing the French ambassador after being insulted, which is the first glimpse of Henry's character as king.

He is angry but sparing, there is no chewing the scenery, and yet it magnifies his power and presence even when he isn't on stage.

His divine status is emphasised subtly in choral and operatic pieces sung by members of the cast. The music serves as a reminder of the role the church plays in driving Henry to war with France as well as lending a tragic tone to the story.

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Lockdown London theatre walks: Southwark Playhouse and my stage debut with Freddie Fox

I made my London stage debut alongside Freddie Fox at the Southwark Playhouse. It's not how I anticipated the evening panning out as I chose a seat on the front row (it was unallocated seating) to watch a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Southwark Playhouse Feb 2021

Poly was supposed to be with me but hadn't been able to make it, so I was on my own. I entirely blame her for what happened. The actors would never have chosen me to play a flower had she been sat beside me. I'm convinced.

I should probably mention that a comic device of this production was that it had too few actors to play all the parts - seven actors when there are 17 characters  - and only about four props. The fourth wall was broken at the start as we were asked to use our imagination.  

But I didn't need to imagine being dragged onto the stage to play the 'love-in-idleness' blossom which Oberon uses for a love potion.

Despite wanting to imagine being back in my seat, it wasn't easy when the actor playing Oberon was holding my hand, delivering an impassioned speech while looking deep into my eyes.

I thought I conveyed mortification and embarrassment without words particularly well.

However, when the scene was over, and I was able to return to my seat, I got the first laugh of the play by stepping around the tree we'd been asked to imagine in the middle of the stage. #proud

But it didn't end there.

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Lockdown London theatre walks: Bridge Theatre and a conversion to the groundling experience

One of the newest theatres in London, the Bridge Theatre has already made an impression, not least for making the groundling experience enjoyable.

Bridge Theatre Feb 2021
Bridge Theatre lockdown Feb 2021

Yes, yes, I know there are plenty of groundling fans out there, but whenever I've tried it at the Globe, I've ended up frustrated with the view, tired and cold.

But the groundling experience at the Bridge was completely different. It was indoors for a start. More importantly, there was no fixed stage for the audience to queue up early for so you could get a spot at the front and see properly.

Crowds are always problematic for me as I'm short, so I end up trying to peer over peoples shoulders to see.

I get ahead of myself; I haven't even mentioned the play. Actually, it was two different Shakespeare productions: Julius Caesar and then A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Attracted by the starry cast

And I have to confess if Julius Caesar hadn't starred Ben Whishaw - and Michelle Fairley and David Morrissey - I may not have bothered. And I certainly wouldn't have opted for the groundling experience. (I booked a seat for later in the run, just in case.)

Because the Bridge is a new theatre, the auditorium has been designed to be flexible with a wide variety of staging options. For Julius Caesar (and then MSND), this meant bits of stage rising from the floor so that the location of the performance changed frequently.

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Lockdown London theatre walks: Barbican Theatre - the stage for epic Shakespeare and event theatre

There were few people outside my theatre friends who could understand my excitement at having spent 6 hours watching Shakespeare performed in Dutch. But it was brilliant, and it was at the Barbican theatre. 

Barbican Theatre entrance March 2021
Barbican Theatre lockdown March 2021

The Barbican is one of only a few big theatres in London I actually like. The auditorium is not only spacious - no cramped seating and having to stand up every time someone wants to get to their seat - but it also has great sightlines.

Its size means it can have big productions, epic in fact hence the 6 hours of Shakespeare.

That was Ivo Van Hove's Roman Tragedies where he cut and shut Coriolanus, Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, so you got to see how all those stories interrelate.

It was the follow up to Kings of War which had been a mere 4.5 hours and took a similar approach to Henry V, Henry VI and Richard III (with a smidge of Henry IV part 2 at the very beginning). In hindsight, Kings of War was just a warm-up act - but a bloody good one.

These productions could legitimately be called 'event' theatre. They were more than long plays, they were a new play watching experience. 

Ivo Van Hove broke the taboos of theatre. You were allowed to Tweet and take photos during the performance (except during particular scenes). The audience was invited up onto the stage at certain points to sit among the actors and see the drama unfolding close up.

He used cameras - handheld in some instances to get close to the actors and take the audience into otherwise hidden corners of the set and stage.

And alongside that, you get Van Hove's naturalist directing style and contemporary setting which brings a new dimension to Shakespeare.

In fact, when I rummage through my archive, the Barbican has become the stage for epic Shakespeare.

It's become the London home for the RSC, and it was where I got the opportunity to watch the King and Country Cycle: Four plays in two days - Richard II, Henry IV part 1 and part 2 and Henry V.

Seeing them like that, you got to appreciate the little treatments that carried through all the plays and the 'full story' of Henry V from the landscape he was born into to his most famous victory.

Another epic production, but more so because of its star lead, was Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet. Memorable for the ticket scramble and (smugly) managing to get tickets to see it more than once.

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Sunday theatre questions: Which play have you seen the most?

Theatre-land is a mixture of new plays and revivals, but there are certain classics which regularly get staged - which have you seen the most? Is there a particular reason why you've seen one play more than any others?

Which play have you seen the most

The hands-down winner for me is Hamlet. I think I've seen 17 or more different productions, but I confess it was less than literary reasons that got me hooked initially.

Yes, Hamlet was one of the set texts in my final year at Uni but that year also saw the release of a film version of Hamlet starring Mel Gibson.

He was one of my teen crushes so; naturally, I ran to the cinema to see it and then went back to see it again... and again.

I have no idea if it was well done - I wasn't really watching it for the play - but it helped me get really familiar with the key speeches. Handy when exam time came around.

The very first production

The first stage production of Hamlet I saw was on a student trip to Theatr Clwyd. It was memorable for several reasons no least because one of the actor's costumes caught fire  - it was all fine, quickly stamped out by another actor without even a pause in their speech.

But it wasn't until I saw it again years later - in 2008 - with David Tennant as Hamlet that it really sparked my interest/obsession. The speeches were still familiar, and the production just opened up the play in different ways.

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Sunday theatre question: Which stage role would you choose for your favourite actor?

This Sunday's theatre question is inspired by a comment Ben Whishaw made in an interview about needing to do more Shakespeare. Watch the video to hear more about the question and my choice.

Would love to hear what your choice would be, let me know in the comments. Some suggestions already made over on my Instagram channel include David Dawson in a Simon Stephens play and David Tennant as Richard III. 

I'm going to make more of an effort to add my Sunday Theatre questions here every week as posting has got a bit sporadic but in the meantime, if you want to delve into the archive they on my social media channels:

YouTube channel Facebook page or Instagram.

And in keeping with the Ben Whishaw theme, you can find my edited highlights of a Q&A he did with director Katie Mitchell here.