171 posts categorized "Shakespeare" Feed

My best of theatre list for 2017 - with some rom-com, Chekhov and Christmas surprises

If you'd told me at the start of the year that there would be a rom-com, a Chekhov and a Christmas play on my best of list, I'd have laughed in your face. Just goes to show you should always expect the unexpected...here are my favourite plays of 2017, in no particular order and links are to my reviews.

An Octoroon - Orange Tree Theatre - publicity photo by The Other Richard
An Octoroon - Orange Tree Theatre - publicity photo by The Other Richard

Dirty Great Love Story, Arts Theatre

Let's face it most rom-coms are a bit rubbish - they generally aren't that funny - but this tale of modern romance had me guffawing with laughter and I wasn't on my own.

An Octoroon, Orange Tree Theatre

This is a play that reminded me why I love going to the theatre and I could write pages on it. Thought-provoking, sometime uncomfortable to watch and yet it was still entertaining. It's transferring to the National Theatre in June and I'll definitely be getting a ticket.

Apologia, Trafalgar Studios

In my review I said: "Apologia is a play of sharp humour and depth that slowly breaks down the defences to reveal something raw and emotional. You will laugh and you will have a lump in your throat." It was also a great play for female characters.

Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road, White Bear Theatre and Trafalgar Studios 2

This odd-ball, misfit comedy was a breath of fresh air and it got a much deserved transfer so I got to enjoy it a second time.

Hamlet, Almeida

Up there as one of the best Hamlet productions I've seen, it made me see the play anew.

BU21, Trafalgar Studios 2

Writer Stuart Slade took real testimonies from terrorist attacks around the world and used them to create a story around a fictional attack in London. The result was an honest, awkward and funny piece that was also really clever.

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My 5 biggest theatre disappointments of 2017

Not everything is brilliant or lives up to expectations. These are the plays that disappointed me the most in 2017.

Obsession, Barbican Theatre

Ivo Van Hove had two plays in my best of list last year but Obsession, starring Jude Law, felt at times pedestrian and aloof where it should have been passionate and tense.

HamletAgainst, Almeida

While I always enjoy watching Ben Whishaw on stage the play itself was so disappointing. On reflection, in my review I think I was still trying to like it  but it was just so doughy, lacking any punch or defined focus.

Woyzeck, Old Vic

Was really excited to see John Boyega on stage but like Against, the play was a disappointment. You can see where it is going early on - there is a particular line which is like having a gun on stage - but it takes a long, long time to get there. It also felt like it was trying too hard to be shocking and edgy.

Nuclear War, Royal Court

I'm a huge fan of Simon Stephens but I wasn't a fan of this at all. It felt like an experiment that shouldn't have made it out of the rehearsal room. It was so abstract and difficult to make sense of its 45 minute running time felt too long.

Hamlet, RADA

Ah yes the Tom Hiddleston/Kenneth Branagh Hamlet I was so excited about this. Love Tom Hiddleston but I'm not a fan who sees everything he does through rose-tinted spectacles (Ben Whishaw/Against is a case in point) and this felt like a huge opportunity missed. It's a small, intimate space and the play was staged in the round with the stalls seating effectively 'on stage' but it seemed as if Kenneth Branagh had directed it for a huge West End theatre.  There was no subtlety, no surprises, no innovation and given that the last two Hamlet's I've watched have been among the best I've ever seen it was really disappointing. I'm still a little bit cross about it.

Related: My best of theatre list for 2017


My theatre 'StOlivier' awards 2017

Step aside best actor/actress/play etc this is what was noteworthy for me in theatre land, in 2017.

Menagerie award The Ferryman was an award winning play in many way but for me it deserve an extra gong for fur and feathers - a cute little rabbit and a goose both made scene stealing appearances. Babies? Schmabies. Real, live animals on stage are the thing.

Exhibit A: Roman Tragedies, Barbican Theatre
Exhibit A: Roman Tragedies, Barbican Theatre

Event theatre and star studded audience award Ivo Van Hove's  six hour Roman Tragedies at the Barbican was an event for many reasons not least for allowing audience members to wander onto the stage between scenes and perch wherever they could get a seat. Photos, without flash, and tweeting (see exhibit A) were also encouraged. It also attracted probably the most thespy audience I've seen so far: Simon Stephens, Rupert Goold and Kate Fleetwood, Kyle Soler and Pheobe Fox, John Heffernan, Angus Wright, Jamie Lloyd, Ruth Wilson, Ian McDiarmid, Jonjo O’Neill, Jeremy Herrin and Leo Bill.

Best kiss When Paddy Considine and Laura Donnelly's characters kissed in The Ferryman, Royal Court it was so charged with years of repressed feelings it took my breath away and broke my heart a little bit.

Best spit - Not since I (probably) gave an award to the cast of Richard III for all spitting on Ralph Fiennes has their been a gobbing incident worthy of note but step forward Jasmine Hyde who spat so spectacularly on Harry Melling during Jam, Finborough Theatre.

Hottie of the month kinda lives on...these were my particular favourites in 2017: Theo James, Andrew Garfield, Douglas Booth and James Norton but if I had to choose one it would be Theo because I'm such a huge fan and it was the first time I've seen him on stage.

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10 plays I'm really looking forward to seeing in London 2018

Julius Caesar, Bridge TheatrePrompted by the Daily Telegraph's rather uninspiring and quite frankly lazy list of upcoming theatre treats - three plays which have already opened? Oh come on - here's my list of what I'm already really excited about seeing in the first half of 2018*.

1. My Mum's A Twat, Royal Court Theatre - Patsy Ferran, I love Patsy Ferran and this is the first of two plays she's doing in 2018 and it's a solo piece *insert big smile here*

2. Julius Caesar, Bridge Theatre - Ben Whishaw playing Brutus alongside David Morrissey and Michelle Fairley and the chance to mingle with the Roman mob? Already booked to see it twice.

3. The Brothers Size, Young Vic - Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney who also penned Oscar best picture winner Moonlight (which I loved) and starring Sope Dirisu who was brilliant in One Night In Miami at the Donmar and the RSC's Coriolanus.

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Quick review: RSC's muscular and angry Coriolanus, Barbican Theatre

Coriolanus production photos_ 2017_2017_Photo by Helen Maybanks _c_ RSC_231764
RSC's Coriolanus 2017. Photo by Helen Maybanks (c) RSC

Two military leaders clash on stage. There is nothing delicate or seemingly choreographed, rather sparks fly from the machete-style swords as they make contact with flinch-inducing force. It is powerful, ferocious fight with a genuine sense of danger - certainly from the front row anyway.

This is Coriolanus (Sope Dirisu) and Aufidius (James Corrigan) in pivotal battle that will shape much of what follows. It isn’t a battle merely of physical might and swordsmanship, it's a fight for respect and honour.

Sope Dirisu's, Coriolanus is a formidable presence - you certainly don’t doubt his exploits and achievements in battle even without appearing smeared in the blood of those he’s reportedly slain. There is also no doubting his stubborn pride which leads to his downfall - that and his equally formidable mother Volumnia's (Haydn Gwynne) ambitions for him. So stubborn is he that it is only when you see him struggle with his emotions when his family visit him to plea for Rome that you know he has a chink in his armour, that it is an armour moulded over many years.

When his death comes, the method of his demise is ignoble for the warrior that he is but in that there is an element of tragedy.

This is a muscular, angry production and I'm not going to lie and say I got all the nuances of the plot but it certainly held my attention. I'm giving it four stars. Looking forward to seeing the rest of the RSC's Rome season over the next couple of months

 

 


Review: Tom Hiddleston is a huggy Hamlet in Kenneth Branagh's stagey production, RADA

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RADA's Hamlet (l-r): Eleanor de Rohan, Caroline Martin, Tom Hiddleston and Ayesha Antoine. Credit Johan Persson

A spotlight picks out Tom Hiddleston's Hamlet sat at an upright piano. He plays and sings; the lyrics are familiar and it takes a second or two to place them - these are Ophelia's words taken from when she is lamenting the death of her father. Giving these words to Hamlet is interesting not least because opening the play with the Prince mourning his father death reminded me of how Tom Hiddleston's friend Benedict Cumberbatch opened his Hamlet with a similar display of melancholy. 

It is not the last we see of Tom Hiddleston's varied talents, later he will dance with 'Rosacrantz' (Ayesha Antoine) and 'Guildastern' (Eleanor de Rohan), picking up Rosacrantz and spinning her around and later throwing her onto the sofa for 'japes'. He's a lively Hamlet and a huggy Hamlet, throwing his arms around Horatia (Caroline Martin) and his friends when they arrive, then later Ophelia (Kathryn Wilder) and hugging tightly his mother (Lolita Chakrabarti) in the closet scene - he even hugs Laertes before the start of the duel. There is a lot of passion in those hugs.

And, in his skinny black jeans with black pea coat collar turned up - or hoodie or tight t-shirt - he cuts a dashing figure, his lean, muscular frame combined with his energy is an altar to health and vitality. He may be wearing black but you can picture him still going for long runs or to the gym to work out.

But, and this is where the Tom Hiddleston fans may want to turn away, there is otherwise little sign of what is going on beneath the surface of this Hamlet. There are sparks of affection - a lovely tender moment between him and Ophelia for example - but I didn't feel him. Yes, he shouts and gets angry but he gives little in his performance that would tell you what is really going on in his head. Likewise with the soliloquies; they are technically flawless but I didn't feel like the tears or sentiment came from anywhere deep. I've laughed, cried, been frustrated by, been afraid of and afraid for Hamlet in past productions but for Tom Hiddleston's I didn't feel anything. The blame for this, I think partly lays in the direction.

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Review: Taking the use of technology on stage to the next level in the RSC's The Tempest, Barbican Theatre

The Tempest production photos_ 2017_ Barbican Theatre_2017_Photo by Topher McGrillis _c_ RSC_222722
The Tempest, Barbican Theatre. Photo by Topher McGrillis (c) RSC


The opening storm in the RSC's The Tempest at the Barbican is probably the most spectacular I've seen. The stage is set like the inside carcass of a ship, there is lightning and thunder effects as you'd expect but there are also projections which make the hull look like it is rolling with the waves.

You can't actually hear what any of the actors are saying above the din, which is problematic (if you know the play, then less so) and it sums up neatly this production: high on spectacle and effects but not everything quite works.

Of course it is the motion capture performance of Ariel (Mark Quartley) which is making headlines. On paper having a CGI of a character which is a spirit, that can take on different forms and float is a superb idea. It is a device that is used for particularly scenes, the rest of the time Mark Quartley performs more traditionally, his costume discreetly hiding the gizmos required for the motion capture.

It is quite spectacular to see the CGI Ariel hovering above the stage and encased in a tree when his history is recalled by Prospero (Simon Russell Beale) but the technology isn't quite up to speed and there is a slight delay between the actors movements and what the CGI character does which was a bit distracting and I found myself watching Mark Quartley more than the image. The problem is most acute when Ariel takes on the form of a harpy, he wears a special headset which is supposed to capture the movement of his face as he speaks but the delay is such that it just looks oddly out of sink like a DVD where the movement and sound don't quite match up.

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Review: Not for the squeamish, the RSC's Titus Andronicus, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Titus Andronicus production photos_ 2017_2017_Photo by Helen Maybanks ©RSC_222146
RSC Titus Andronicus production photo 2017. Photo by Helen Maybanks ©RSC

If you don't know anything about Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus and you are a bit squeamish then probably best give this a miss. The preview performance I saw last Friday had to be halted as someone was taken ill; at that point Lavinia (Hannah Morrish) was wandering the stage covered in blood from a particular brutal and barbaric attack. This is a gory revenge play with 15 or so deaths of escalating brutality and the RSC doesn't shy away from it.

The play starts off with gangs in hoodies and the police facing off in a sequence that is choreographed like a dance. Titus is essentially a play about different factions at war over who should be Emporer, who should be married to whom and where loyalties lie. When the play proper starts, general Titus Andronicus (David Andronicus) does two things that unwittingly spark the spiralling mayhem. One decision you can back him on, one is distinctly more debatable.

Once the opening hoodie gangs sequence is over the play settles into the style of modern military and politics rather than street gangs which is a bit of a shame. I've seen Titus performed as gangs before and it works but here it feels like a device to add energy to the opening segment of the play which is pretty much the set up for the carnage.

There are still some notes that echo the opening. The sons of Tamora Queen of the Goths (Nia Gwynne) are like laddish thugs who can't believe their luck when their mother marries the Emporer. They enjoy royal life sunbathing by the palace pool and later wear loud designer shirts suggesting they've got the money but not the taste.

The irony of the production is that as the method of killing gets more inventive the more amusing the play becomes. Titus, who seems to be losing his mind, hides out in a Smeg fridge box with holes cut in it and a baby gets passed back and forth between the stage and the audience. It feels like a different play to the politics and plotting of the first half.

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My favourite plays of 2017...so far #midyearreview #theatre

via GIPHY 

2017 is already the year that brought us Andrew Scott's Hamlet, Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman and my introduction to playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins and it's only six months in. There are a further nine plays I couldn't not include in my 'best of so far' list and that was with the bar set very high. I've still got Angels in America, Ben Whishaw in Against, Rory Kinnear in Young Marx and the awarding winning Oslo to come later this year, among many others potential theatre treats - the end of year list is already looking tricky to narrow down.

Anyway, here's what I've enjoyed the most in 2017 so far. Feel free to agree/disagree...

(In no particular order, because that would be too traumatic to do.)

1. Amadeus, National Theatre  This was supposed to be a 2016 play but I gave up my ticket for the early part of the run because of work pressures, good words from @PolyG made me rebook for January and I'm so glad I did. It was a play that unexpectedly floored me. It's returning next year and yes I've got a ticket.

2. Out Their On Fried Meat Ridge Road, White Bear Fringe theatre kicked off in fine style with this brilliantly warm, funny, odd, dark, misfit comedy that was the antidote to everything disturbing that was going on the world at the time. It transferred to Trafalgar Studios 2 and I got to enjoy it all over again.

3. Hamlet, Almeida  I've seen a lot of Hamlet's and there is usually something new in each but Andrew Scott's prince in Robert Icke's production made me look at the play with completely new eyes. Sorry Sherlock but this was a battle that Moriarty definitely won. It's transferred to the West End.

4. An Octoroon, Orange Tree Theatre  Was tipped off about American playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins and this is the first of his plays I've seen. It's a play I could write reams and reams about and reminded me why I love going to the theatre. Gloria, another of his plays is currently on at Hampstead Theatre, it didn't quite make this list but it is still really good.

5. Rotterdam, Arts Theatre  This was in my 'best of' list last year but after a stint off Broadway it's come back to London to the bigger Arts Theatre. It made me laugh, it made me gasp and it made me cry - all that even though I've seen it before and knew exactly what was coming. That's why it's back on the list. It's on until 15 July.

6. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Old Vic  It's possibly the only Tom Stoppard play I really like and this was a great production that was lively, entertaining, profound and melancholic . There was a brilliant rapport between the two leads - Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire - and David Haig as The Player was worth the ticket price alone.

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