Posts Tagged ‘Oxford Playhouse’

Bacchae in Oxford, 21 October

October 23, 2017

Picture from OGP20217 FB page

It cannot be said that my trip to Oxford for the Greek Play was a great success.  I discovered that the classical section of Blackwell’s had been moved up a floor to make way for the coffee shop )and the second-hand section had been reduced as well).  I felt mildly interested by a Collected Papers of Milman Parry but not enough to buy it.  I also visited the Oxfam Bookshop, as one does.

At the Oxford Playhouse, people had been moved forwards, sometimes into seats already occupied by others, and the masses of private school pupils were silent like a field of turnips.

Gosh, it was just so boring!  It seemed to have been reimagined as a ballet from the 1930s with music by Sir Arthur Bliss and an Art Deco cube for the set, but the chorus hardly moved, never mind getting off the ground.  The idea of having three Dionysuses meant there was never even an illusion of Pentheus confining them or him, and though Pentheus delivered his lines effectively that would not hold my interest on its own.

Then the thing had ground along so slowly there was an INTERVAL, so I rushed off to the station and quite by chance came across the rather lovely Chiltern Railway train to Marylebone, which also had decent free WiFi.  And there was a trilingual announcement in English, Arabic and Chinese at Bicester Village Retail Outlet.

Gosh, that was so exciting!  And not so long after I was back in South London!

The Tempest/Буря Oxford Playhouse 9 March

March 10, 2011



Alonso finds himself arraigned Vyshinsky-style


The scenery for this production of The Tempest by Cheek by Jowl’s Russian operation comprised three panels, each with a door in it through which characters sometimes appeared.  Our Prospero (Igor Yasulovich) was a Soviet-era gaffer, while Miranda (Anya Khalilulina) was a wild young thing, as I suppose she might be, having been reared so far from polite society.  The fact that she and Ferdinand (Yan Ilves) were determined to fuck each other’s brains out as soon as they laid eyes on each other did at least make Prospero’s warnings about pre-marital intercourse seem less paranoid.  But then he was paranoid in this interpretation.


Ferdinand and most admired Miranda


We in the second row were rather worried by Miranda and Ferdinand washing with various degrees of nudity, and Ariel (Andrey Kuzichev) persecuting Trinculo (Ilya Iliin) with a watering-can.  But we escaped a wetting ourselves!

So how far did it make sense doing it in Russian.  There was  typically Russian (or indeed CbJ) unity of ensemble, and the psychology of Prospero’s absolute power made more sense than in an English-language milieu.  We had a peasant-Soviet masque that came to a sudden end with Our revels now are ended cued by the house lights going up and a worried sound engineer appearing from backstage.


Would-be murderers


We enjoyed some richly comic business at the end with Stephano (Sergey Koleshnya), Trinculo and indeed Caliban (Alexander Feklistov) as apprentice oligarchs.  Cailban managing to master a hand-held credit card reader was surely the audience’s highspot of the evening.

So where was the poetry?  Projected on screens by the sides of the stage–the surtitles (sidetitles?) showed Shakespeare’s words, and they worked very well.  The programme did not credit any translator, but the appear to have been using the 19th-century version by Mikhail Donskoy.  The element of defamiliarisation makes you see Shakespeare’s characters anew, without the  familiar comfort of  mysterious beauty.  But then that’s what he wrote and if he’d wanted to do something starker he would have used different words…


The Invention of Love (Tom Stoppard) Oxford Playhouse 21 February

February 21, 2010


Still from YouTube trailer

Still from YouTube trailer

The play began with a dead A. E. Housman (or was he only dreaming?) meeting Charon before being ferried across the Styx in a punt, and continued with scenes from various stages of Housman’s life:  as a student; living in digs with Moses Jackson; lecturing to students; the old Housman meeting the young Housman beside a poetically unidentified river; together with some parallel appearances by Oscar Wilde.

The Oxford jokes certainly hit home with the audience, and Stoppard succeeded in making textual criticism seem both understandable and interesting.  The title of the play refers to Catullus inventing the love-poem and hence your own love as something you reflect/talk/write about in all its messiness, and the examples of Latin poetry that made their appearance were very lovely without quite capsizing the play.

The crucial scene surely has to be were Oscar Wilde ridicules Housman for the egregious bathos of:

Shot? so quick, so clean an ending?
Oh that was right, lad, that was brave:
Yours was not an ill for mending,
‘Twas best to take it to the grave.

Oh you had forethought, you could reason,
And saw your road and where it led,
And early wise and brave in season
Put the pistol to your head.

After making a few attempts at self defence, the older Housman stood stoically, occasionally twitching his glued-on moustache, and seeming much more genuinely poetical that Wilde, whose appalling facility and cleverness here is surely Stoppard’s reflection on himself.

Another still from YouTube

The student actors here made effective use of hair dye and facial hair to conceal their appalling youthfulness, and I was especially impressed by Matthew Osman as Housman, with his bravura lecture before the interval curtain and his uncertain stoicism, while Joseph Robertson as Younger Housman and Jonathan Webb as Jackson were also very good.  What might have been rather a reckless staging, with Stygian punt and red rowing-boat came off too…

The Magic Toyshop Oxford Playhouse 30 January

January 30, 2010


Picture from Magic Toyshop group on Facebook

Oh dear.  The moment this began with Melanie (Bella Hammad) praying downstage centre I knew it was all a mistake and I wanted to leave and go home.

I  think the main problem was that this was a student production where the director’s wealth of extravagant ideas was not curbed by the normal lack of resources.

And the adaptation seemed not to have managed to get the essence of the thing out, so that what was implicit in the novel (and should perhaps have emerged from the interactions between the characters in a stage adaptation) was made painfully explicit–as in Melanie’s opening prayer, voicing her unspoken and unrealised desires.  But I suppose if you start off by remarking It may seem odd that a group of modern students should want to take on and perform a fairly obscure 1960s feminist text, then this doesn’t bode very well for what happens.

There were some decisions I just didn’t understand:  in the novel, for instance, Melanie is struck by how dirty Finn is at their first meeting (dirt…adult male flesh…sex), but here he was perfectly well-presented and only appeared dirty in a later scene so that Uncle Philip could berate him.  And how can Uncle Philip’s small shop of hand-made toys have a cellar full of large tea-chests with say Philip Flower/ Legs stencilled on them, as though it was a mass-production outfit?

As to the performances:  all the actors were obviously the same age, which you can’t help in a student production.  Will Spray’s Uncle Philip was handsome and upright, not squalid and confined as the part demanded, while  Bella Hammad as Melanie did not really seem to internalise her exile from Eden.  Ollo Clark and Chris Morgan had good Irish accents as Finn and Francie.  Madeleine Dodd’s accent as Mrs Rundle was less convincing, but did remind me that Angela Carter was surely removed from South London to Yorkshire at a tender age.

I enjoyed the string quartet.  Dismiss me.  Enough.

Northern Medea In Oxford

January 7, 2010

The Oxford Playhouse have emailed as follows:

Northern Broadsides in association with The Onassis Programme present


By Euripides – a new version by Tom Paulin

Tuesday 2 to Saturday 6 February


This Medea is a contemporary take of classic Greek tragedy. Its monumental storyline features one of theatre’s most spectacularly vengeful women. Abandoned by her husband, Medea wreaks revenge through unspeakable acts of violence, unleashing a hurricane of destruction in a world where everything has gone horribly wrong.

The North

The North

Tom Paulin’s gritty modern language version brings real punch and immediacy to the drama. Powered by the muscularity of Northern Broadsides’ northern voice and vigour of its actors, Medea will be a theatrical event where poetry and live music ignite on stage, giving real clout to this timeless drama.  Northern Broadsides is one of the UK’s most celebrated exponents of classic drama, consistently creating world-class theatre with a voice style firmly rooted in the north of England. Renowned for its down to earth and high-energy approach, Broadsides’ have an inimitable style, which is fresh, authentic and unique.


Medea plays at Oxford Playhouse from Tuesday 2 to Saturday 6 February. For information and to book, contact the Ticket Office on 01865 305305 or visit our website at: