Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

Macbeth, Greenwich Theatre 28 February

February 29, 2020



Picture from Davy’s Wine Vaults/Twitter

The Lazarus Theatre production of Macbeth at the Greenwich Theatre was manly, clear and straightforward, at least when you could make out the words.  (A scene with Macduff’s pregnant wife addressing her bump was almost entirely lost on me, and it was sometimes difficult to understand what Lady Macbeth was saying.)

In line with manliness, the witches were male and as well as having some witchy exchanges cut they wore gas masks in one scene,  The direct approach meant that the pace of the action and there was on occasion the feeling that the cast just wanted to get it over with quickly.  There was no real distinction between the external world of action and heroism and the inner one of evil, obsession and femininity.

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow raised a small shiver at the end, while Macbeth’s address to sleep was rather thrown away as he busied himself with washing off blood.  The murderers waylaid Banquo in complete darkness, rather contrary to their own words on the occasion.  Duncan became simply a comic figure at times.  The scene where Malcolm relates his imaginary failings to Macduff was even more tedious than normal, though that probably can’t be helped.

It was one of those productions where you can ask yourself what they are quarrelling over–if there is no glory, magnificence or colour (apart from Lady Macbeth’s dress) then what is the point.  But it will have been useful in helping anyone studying the text for an exam remember who the characters are and what they do.

Twelfth Night, Brockley Jack 16 January

January 17, 2020



As far as we know, this comedy was first performed on the sixth of January (the twelfth day of Christmas) 1601, while in the play Antonio advises Sebastian

In the south suburbs, at the Elephant,
Is best to lodge (III.iii.39-40)

So Brockley on the 16th of January was pretty close both in time and space, and appropriately enough this production was very much mainline pub theatre Shakespeare.  In particular, ID tags, mobile phones and messages from electronic devices were very much in evidence.

At the beginning I was just alienated by the people rushing around but then I was drawn in by the poetry and the combination of absolute beauty with absolutely accurate psychological insight.  I enjoyed the boyish charm of Jessica Kinsey playing Viola playing Cesario.  The character of Feste was elided, so his machinations fell to Maria, while Olivia was very much a no-nonsense North Country lass who seemed to be mourning as a matter of form to pass the time.

The audience laughed or at least chuckled quite frequently, which is far from a given at Shakespeare comedies, and this was a very reliable performance of a very reliable comedy.

But what interested me was Olivia with her hard-bitten morning and her name that contains ‘Viola’, as does Malvolio’s name.  First of all, I thought that as in some kind of student clique Olivia (I, Viola) was trying to get in on the sibling mourning thing, while Malvolio (Viola, olm)  was trying to get in on Olivia, just not very adroitly.

Then I decided that in fact this was all an hallucination of the drowning Sebastian, where he fantasises Olivia as a longed-for ideal of salvation but Malvolio (who remains unreconciled) serves a a reminder that all is not well.  In fact, Sebastian is deluded and confined like Malvolio but in a watery grave.

When Malvolio says

I will be revenged on the whole pack of you! (V.i.380)

he will indeed, for they are all dead…

Hamlet, Bread and Roses 29 September

September 30, 2016




Hamlets, father and son


I enjoyed my trip to Clapham to see a sensibly slimmed-down version of Hamlet that also included a song from Cymbeline interpolated.  In true Shakespearean style we had an all-male company entering and exiting by the door of an upstairs bar to play on a stage erected at one end of the room; a strategically-placed curtain led me to expect Polonius to be stabbed through it, but that was not to be.

I thought that Benjamin Way’s mercurial and mood-shifting (but not mad) Hamlet was very good, and I also enjoyed the Queen Gertrude of Lee Peck.  The production kept the action moving and was as promised crystal-clear. At times I thought we might be going in a different direction with Hamlet just Hamlet and his rages and reveries and the rest orbiting distantly around him; but that was not to be either.

During the interval Claudius was anxiously checking his smartphone and behind me the young people were keen to see who had got whom on Tinder and Plenty of Fish; but maybe these were not connected.

When I was a young, I was tormented by the characters’ names clearly not being Danish–apart from Gertrude. Last night, that was still worrying me-the back of the Signet edition says that the story comes from one Saxo Grammaticus who had Feng instead of Claudius, Gerutha for Gertrude and no names for the rest.   It also occurred to me for the first time that if you took away the poetry [laughs bitterly], the story with its rain, death, cold, death, infidelity, death, treachery, poison, death, muddy graves, regrettable gravedigger jokes, rats, cold wet death and so on could be typically Danish.   But the willow grows aslant a brook is surely nowhere else but Warwickshire…

See here for a video clip from a performance in Norway.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Brockley Jack 23 August

August 23, 2012


Rehearsal photo from Perfect Shadow Mingled Yarn’s Facebook page

O, how this spring of love resembleth
The uncertain glory of an April day,
Which now shows all the beauty of the sun,
And by and by a cloud takes all away!

That’s what’s called mise en abyme even in Brockley–part of the work reflects describes or encompasses the whole.  We had flashes of brilliance and forebodings of genius from Shakespeare and a very good production from Perfect Shadow Mingled Yarn.  Fraser Wall as Proteus in his crotch-hanging cerise trousers and looking very beautiful well portrayed the rawness, grace, clumsiness and inconstancy of youth and Elliot Fitzpatrick was also very good and slightly more firm of purpose as Valentine.  I enjoyed the use of manic music and foregrounded scene changes to emphasise the mad impetuosity of youth and the 70s-style office furniture and drinks on trays everywhere to serve the unendurable tedium of the grown-up world.  (Was that a reference to Mad Men, taken with the tailoring?–looked like a slightly later period to me.)

Most of the things I was looking forward to seeing worked very well–in its place, Who is Sylvia? what is she was unbearably affecting, though or because Proteus wasn’t really singing.  And it had an earlier unscheduled outing as Who is Julia? just to show what lying hounds men are.  Crab turned out to be merely a stuffed toy dog, which was a bit of a let-down for the biggest animal role in Shakespeare.

But  Yes Yes Yes Yes I say

Good Good Good Good

Go Go Go Go.


The Two Noble Kinsmen, The Space E14, 24 February

February 24, 2012


Picture from Just Enough Facebook page illustrating another venue

The Two Noble Kinsmen may be the last play that Shakespeare contributed to (he collaborated with John Fletcher).  It’s based on The Knight’s Tale from Chaucer, something that nobody has ever read through without dying of boredom.

On this occasion, the audience in The Space Arts Centre (it looked like an ex-church to me) managed to outnumber the cast by 12 to 9.  In fact, given the resonant church acoustic and the lack of absorbing bodies, the director could have been more careful about actors facing away from the audience.  But an approach based on singing, dance and stylisation seemed very effective to me.  Palamon and Arcite painting each other’s naked torsos with metallic paint had a disturbing eroticism, as indeed did their relationship in general and Emilia’s remembering her dead childhood friend Davina.

Emilia (a very lovely Sorcha Finch-Murray) had some very lovely speeches; otherwise it was the musical interludes that were most effective for me.  I didn’t really understand why her sister  Hippolyta was played as a brash American (apart from the actress Stacy Sobieski herself being American).  Jason Devoy was commanding as Theseus and put-upon as the Jailer.

I certainly think that people should go to this show and see what The Two Noble Kinsmen is all about.  Many thanks to MAST Stage Productions and Just Enough for putting it on!

So that just leaves Two Gentlemen of Verona and 2 & 3 Henry VI for me to achieve Shakespearean completeness.

Richard III Old Vic 09 September

September 11, 2011

Not quite what we saw from our coign of vantage (picture from

This production starred Kevin Spacey in the title role.  The first half seemed to be more Ubu Roi than Shakespeare:  farce and corpses.   I approved of the repeated elimination of royals`and nobles of course, but could have done with fewer words.   Some cuts might have been in order:  the text of a Shakespeare play is helpfully considered as the totality of what might be given under the title of say Richard III rather than what one would give in a specific performance.  I wasn’t convinced by the seduction of Lady Anne either:  it resembled a schoolboy proof of a mathematical theorem, which starts with a statement of the problem, ends with the desired answer, and has something you’re not meant to look at very closely in the middle.

After the interval, things improved and I was impressed by a scene between Richard and Queen Elizabeth that developed Aeschylean power and scope.  At the end Kevin Spacey got a standing ovation from most of the audience.  Since the production largely involved him standing downstage centre with others disposed symmetrically in respect of him, I’d assumed he was the director too.  But no, Sam Mendes was credited.

I felt that the production suffered from a lack of contrast:  if the realm really consists of a few square metres of bare boards with no apparent sign of beauty, nobility, or wealth, then there’s really nothing shocking in what Richard does (and we’re back to Jarry or perhaps Pinter).

Henry VI Part 1 Rose Theatre 15 May

May 15, 2011


Photo from Robert Piwko Facebook page

I wondered beforehand what kind of space the Rose Theatre was going to be.  The picture above gives some idea:  there’s the normal kind of archaeological excavation with a gallery or walkway around it.   On this side there’s enough space for a few rows of chairs and a playing space, while the corresponding walkway on the far side lets the actors process and display themselves; they can also use the space in-between (water, cement, excavations) for fighting.

In Henry VI the English are about to conquer France for good but are baulked by internal dissension springing from the boy-king failing to exercise leadership on their own side together with the dissolute and treacherous Dauphin and the devil-worshipping, cowardly and promiscuous Joan of Arc on the other.

Well.   The boy overdoes his case there.  The one thing the text does credit Joan and Charles with is acting in the best interests of France.  The combination of a broken sensualist and a delusional prostitute who are nevertheless touched with grace because their cause is just is one that would have worked mightily for a better writer than a different writer from Shakespeare, but here we are focused on intestine strife among the English instead.

I wouldn't be so keen on that red rose if I were you lad (from Robert Piwko FB page)

At the beginning, I was a bit confused because the English were wearing fleur-de-lys patterned stuff as above, which I took to be French.  But the English had red fleurs-de-lys and the French blue, so they were all the same really…The production made effective use of the unusual setting, and I thought that Morgan Thomas was an absolute standout as an efficiently malign Bishop of Winchester, while Oliver Lavery looked highly convincing as the Duke of Gloucester.  I admired what David Vaughan Knight did with the caricature role of the Dauphin as well.

The staging meant that it was very difficult to make out the words of La Pucelle (Suzanne Marie) where she reveals herself to be in league with dark spirits etc etc.  Well they may be embarrassing, but we should be able to hear them and make up our own minds.

My reservation about this show is that I think the text really needs large-scale bling, glorious pomp and circumstance to bring it off–I’m far from sure it’s strong enough to stand unaided in a small-scale production like this one.

But definitely worth a visit!

Russian Theatre in London 2011

December 26, 2010

That's a good poster...

Note that updates to this posting will now be found here.

Russian plays in Russian

See the posting below about Sovremennik’s visit in January.  You also get the occasional production in Russian at the Shaw Theatre.

Russian plays in English

The Overcoat (Gogol’) Brockley Jack Theatre, 19-29 January; details here; and my reactions here.

Naughty Chekhov (‘The most funniest collection of Chekhov’s farces and comedy sketches’) Lord Stanley Pub NW1, Jan 10 – Feb 6; details here.  I have a feeling a Lord Stanley pub  was a famous gay haunt in the days I worked in HIV/AIDS and knew about such things.  There are more Russian plays promised here, but it’s not clear which and when.

The Seagull (Chekhov) Baron’s Court Theatre 22 Feb – 6 Mar; details here.  ‘…uses a new translation which attempts to be the most accurate ever written.’

Meanwhile, the Arcola have written from their new base at 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston London E8 3DL to say that their new season will include Anna Karenina by Helen Edmundson, adapted from the novel by Leo Tolstoy (details here); Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov in a new version by Helena Kaut-Howson & Jon Strickland; and  Seagull by Anton Chekhov in a new translation by John Kerr, Joseph Blatchley & Charlotte Pyke.

I am a seagull.  No, that’s not right…I am two seagulls.

Along the same lines (but perhaps more so) ,  one can find various listings for live relays of The Cherry Orchard from the National in June.  They might even announce details of the play itself sometime…

Non-Russian plays in Russian

The Tempest (Shakespeare) Barbican 7-16 April 2011; details here.

The Tempest (Brockley Jack) 27 April

April 27, 2010


Black Square by Kasimir Malevich

The first night of The Faction’s production of The Tempest was announced as lasting for an hour and fifty minutes with no interval; I caught myself looking at my watch several times to check that time was really passing and there were no programmes either.

I had difficulty in working out what the production concept was supposed to be.  There were some indications that it was meant to be set in a brothel: Miranda (Hannah Douglas)  was wearing a man’s shirt as her sole outer garment–and some modesty-preserving trunks–while the Ariel of Kate Sawyer was clad in a black bustier, tight black trousers, and high-heeled shoes.  The disco-style masque certainly added to the house-of-ill-repute atmosphere, and came off very well.  This Ariel could definitely sing, though she did come pretty close to flubbing her lines on more than one occasion (as did other members of the cast).   And how did the Caliban of Robert Fisher have such a neat haircut?

My real problem was with a rather complete lack of colour and visual interest (a very odd thing for The Tempest–surely you need to see some of the colour, fantasy and complete dottiness).  The painting by Malevich above gives the general idea, though the light-coloured border makes it rather too interesting.  Or perhaps I’m overlooking the obvious and it was set in a brothel decorated Malevich-style.

I suppose that the other idea of the production was that the real relationship was between Prospero and Ariel–and Gareth Fordred’s Prospero was really rather impressive, commanding the stage with his sidelong and expressive glances.  Similarly, I enjoyed the Trinculo of  Mark Leipacher.

Apart from the points above, the production did involve rather a lot of the characters addressing their big speeches to the audience from the same spot downstage centre–but it may be difficult to avoid in such a small space.

I don’t really have the energy to work out what the cuts were:  in the absence of programmes, there is a cast list with photos on The Faction’s Facebook page here.

Measure for Measure Almeida Theatre 24 February

February 24, 2010


The girl at the ticket desk said they’d sent my ticket out to me and the theatre did not look as full as I expected (given that I thought I’d got the last ticket for this show).

But it was wonderful once it began!  Walls revolved to make insides and outsides and prison cells, and the characters confronted each other in consecutive pairs over (or occasionally without) a table:  Angelo and Isabella, Isabella and Claudio, Friar Ludovico and Isabella.  As Isabella, Anna Maxwell Martin burned as a pale flame in a black dress, sometimes flickering humanly when caught by a draught, while for once the comic scenes with Elbow (Tony Turner) were funny!  In fact there was a great deal of laughter from the audience at appropriate points throughout the play.  And the lucid direction kep the thing moving triumphantly forward.

Another picture from the same place...

Rory Kinnear played Angelo as a bureaucrat presented with a chance to go astray and abuse his power without becoming any less the constrained and timid thing he was, and it was highly convincing.  Through the course of the performance, the Duke of Ben Miles descended from being the benign if absent father to a second-rate showman, flickering this way and that to try to make his plot come out…

At the end, the Duke said to Isabella that she had to marry him and she stood, leaning forward and silent, perhaps her mouth twitched a little…