marjorie73: (Default)
 You may remember that I saw the Donmar's all women Shakespeare trilogy in London just before Christmas. The plays were filmed, and the first, Julius Caesar was shown at (a limited number of) cinemas on Wednesday.


 

I was very impressed when I saw it live (which happened to be one of the performances being filmed for this), which is why I wanted to see it again.


It's still very good. I did feel that, as with some other theatre broadcasts I've seen, that the camera was often focused in too close - by zooming in on the face of the person speaking, much of the subtly of the production as a whole was lost, and some of the camera angles, using cameras on the actors themselves, also detracted from the performances, as it made things, to my mind, a bit disjointed, and the production less coherent, which is a shame, as it was a really good production, and I didn't feel tht the filed version did it justice!


That said, it was still worth seeing, and if they show the other two, I will see them as well!

marjorie73: (Default)


Phyllida Lloyd first directed her all-female version of Julius Caesar 2 or 3 years ago, at the Donmar Warehouse, and followed up with a production of Henry IV, with a final production of The Tempest.


And all three are now being performed as a trilogy. People can see the plays separately or, as I did, can see all three in one day.


All of the plays are performed in the round (or technically, in the square), and are set in a women's prison, which does add an extra layer to the plays. Each actor plays the role of a prisoner, as well as their roles within the plays, and each play is introduced by  different actor, in character, explaining their character's offence, and there are moments in each play when the prison environment breaks through, and the play is interrupted, by the 'guards' or a person falling out of character. (for instance, in one of the tavern scenes in Henry IV, as Falstaff quarrels with the  'Hostess' (Zainab Hassan), they insult her increasingly personally, until she breaks character in distress and and the 'guards' intervene)


This works surprisingly well, and invites us, the audience, to pay attention to the parallels in the plays with the prisoners own lives, and how the plays may speak to them.


Seeing all three plays together was amazing - for one thing, it allows you to see how incredibly versatile and skilled the actors are, but also to see how their characters develop.


In Julius Caesar, Harriet Walter is Brutus, Jade Anouka is a wonderfully eloquent Mark Anthony, and Jackie Clune a somewhat Trump-esque Caesar, and the prison setting worked very well indeed.

Clare Dunne's Portia was as eloquent as Mark Anthony - every un-heard and ignored woman..


Henry IV (which compressed Parts I and II into about 2 hours) featured Harriet Walter as Henry IV, tired, world-weary, less querulous than is sometimes the case, and obviously a prisoner of his own crown, softening the final scenes as Hal tries the crown.

Jade Anouka was an excellent Hotspur, and Clare Dunne as Hal,resplendent in headphones, baseball cap and Chelsea shirt!


The scenes as Hal draws back from his relationship with Falstaff are made particularly poignant by the setting - Dunne introduces the play in character as a prisoner about to be released after a drug-related sentence, and so the farewells, and the idea of giving up excess and debauchery echoes with the 'reality' of the prisoners' respective positions.


The Tempest was, of the three plays, the one which  was most sceptical about, in terms of whether it would work in the pared down 'prison' setting, given the magical and fantastical content, and of course it was bound to draw comparison with the wonderful (and high-tech) RSC production we saw last week.

Harriet Walter as Prospero (photo from Donmar site)


I need not have worried. Of the three plays this was perhaps the most successful.

Harriet Walter as Prospero gives a searing, heart-breaking performance - she introduces this play in character as 'Hanna', an inmate in her 60s, in her 4th decade of a life sentence - it highlights the way that the Island is a prison, despite Prospero's power there, and her grief and regrets.

The play also draws in the audience - on entrance we were all given tiny torches, which were used to create hundreds of stars, almost the only 'special effect' in the production.

Jade Anouka was again a stand-out performer, as Ariel, and the 'spirits' which guide the shipwrecked mariners were all dressed as prison guards, an insight into the 'inmate's' view of their situation.

As the play ended, rather than bringing the curtain down on Prospero's final words:

And my ending is despair,                      
Unless I be relieved by prayer,              
Which pierces so that it assaults            
Mercy itself and frees all faults.              
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.        
     
 

the production leaves Hanna alone in her cell (reading Margaret Attwood's 'Hag-seed') while the other inmates, not in civilian clothing, say their farewells, thanking her for her support and help.

It's an infinitely moving way to end the performance, and the trilogy.

I would urge eveyone who can to see the trilogy, although that may be tricky -the run at Donmar Kings Cross finishes on 17th December.

However, they were filming the performances I saw, so (though the cameras were a little intrusive at times) I think this must mean there must be a reasonable chance that it may be available in cinemas or on DVD at some point in the future. Which is a Good Thing.

I would love for anyone who thinks that Shakespeare isn't relevant to modern audiences, or isn't for them, to see these plays.

(Edited to Add: The company have created more background for the prison Characters, which can be found at Donmarshakespearetrilogy.tumblr.com )

marjorie73: (Default)
Way back in June, tickets went on sale for a production of 'Coriolanus' at the Donmar Warehouse in London, with Tom Hiddleston in the title role.


I was originally hoping to go with friends, but it appeared that everyone else had the same idea, and despite trying the moment that the tickets went on general sale, it was almost sold but immediately and I could only get a single ticket, and only on New Year's Eve.

So, Tuesday saw me setting off for London, on a surprisingly quiet train, travelling through water-logged country (but not as much flooding as I'd expected - most of the rivers were very full, but didn't, for the most part, seem to have burst their banks, or at least not within sight of the railway!) I'd built in lots of extra time in case of travel delays, so I arrived with plenty of time to check into my hotel (also booked back in June, which is just as well, it would have cost me more than twice as much had I left it to closer to the time to book!), eat and change before heading to Seven Dials and the Donmar Warehouse.

I haven't been there before - it's not a big space -just 4 rows of seats in the stalls, wrapped round 3 sides of the stage, and a slightly larger number of seats (I think) up in the circle. I was in the back row of the stalls, and right round almost at the end of the row, so I saw a lot of the action side on, but although this did mean missing some of the actors facial expressions at times, this wasn't a major issue. (and if I am 100% honest, there are worse fates, than to find oneself forced to stare at Tom Hiddleston's backside.. Or Hadley Fraser's, come to that.)

I haven't ever seen 'Coriolanus' before,(I saw parts of the Ralph Fiennes film version, but not all of it) and I am not familiar with the play (although I think  may read it now) and I think it has probably been cut quite a bit for this production, but it's not difficult to follow, and the lack of familiarity meant I was really focused on the dialogue, and not on waiting for familiar speeches or quotations.


For others who may be equally unfamiliar, the play focuses on Caius Martius,(later Caius Martius Coriolanus)  a noble of Rome. At the start of the play, we see the People of Rome are discontented, calling for bread, and fairly priced grain. Martius is one of the few to stand against them, sowing the seeds of their hatred of him. Mark Gatiss, as Menenius, is  more conciliatory and diplomatic (shades of his Mycroft, but much more approachable!)

In this production, there are few props or scenery, and the citizens mark their discontent with graffiti on the brick wall at the back of the stage, the Senate is represented by a row of chairs, and other than a lectern there are no other furnishings. Costumes are similarly sparse - a mixture of modern clothes with swords and leather breastplates which works surprisingly well.

Martius goes off to war, and we meet his formidable mother, Volumnia (Deborah Findlay) and his wife, Virgilia (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen). Volumnia is clearly the kind of Roman mother who expects her sons to return bearing their shields or upon them - and Findlay and Hiddleston do a fantastic job of showing the relationship between mother and son - it's obvious that Volumnia has shaped Coriolanus's character - he is desperate for her approval, and she is single minded in her pride.

We then see Martius as soldier, taking part in the war against the Volscians - at the siege of Corioli, he is the ultimate soldier - where others falter and  are willing to give up, (in the face of rains of ash, and fire) he swarms up a ladder and into the city, to reappear, bloodied from head to toe, as his companions give him up for lost, pausing only to reassure them before moving on to engage the Volscian general, Aufidius (Hadley Fraser) in single combat. he is, perhaps inevitably, victorious.  The fight was a very physical one, with the actors sword-fighting, then wrestling, throwing each other around the stage.

I admit that I lost the plot very slightly here. On account of that nice Mr Hiddleston taking his top off and having a quick shower. In a way which was, I am sure, entirely necessarily and justified. I'm sure Shakespeare would have said so, too. There is probably a footnote in a lost folio somewhere suggesting it.

Anyway, after his shower, and being given the name Coriolanus for conquering Coriolis all on his own, Coriolanus returns to Rome where he falls out with the populous due to his unwillingness to play politics. All joking aside, Hiddleston was superb - he brilliantly conveyed a mixture of contempt for the system and pride in his own achievements - as Coriolanus spectacularly, and inevitably, shoots himself in the foot.

It was at this point that I started to doubt the wisdom of the early Romans. It seems to me, that if you have a spectacularly successful soldier who has recently single-handedly invaded and defeated a rival city-state, then it is, to say the least, a little short-sighted to piss him off, throw rotting fruit at him and banish him from the city. You might make him angry, and you won't like him when he is angry..

Whatever his other failings (personal relationships, for one) Coriolanus doesn't lack chutzpah, and goes straight to Aufidius (last seen, if you recall, being comprehensively defeated both in battle and in single combat by Coriolanus) to put himself forward as a conquering-general-for-hire, in a home-erotic scene which leaves you wondering whether Aufidius is going to cut Coriolanus's throat, or take him to bed...

By this point, it's not hard to see that things are not going to end well, and they don't. Coriolanus is, ultimately, a tragic hero, and he finds himself, inevitably, at the gates of Rome at the head of an invading army, facing first his friend and mentor Menenius, and then his wife, child, and mother, as they try to persuade him not to invade and conquer his former home. The moment when he gives in to his mother's entreaty, and you can see him make that choice, to sacrifice himself, rather than his wife, son, and mother, is heartbreaking. Particularly as Volumnia seems unaware of the consequences of her action.

The play concludes with Coriolanus submitting to Aufidius's judgement for having failed to drive home his attack on Rome, and is executed (lots more blood.)

Over all? If I want to be picky, there were times when the use of the chairs on stage as props was a bit irritating, and I felt that the small child playing Coriolanus's son was mostly a distraction (He didn't speak until the final scenes, but appeared at various points to do.. nothing much)

But these are very minor points - the positives are much greater, and I loved that hiddleston gives us a Coriolanus who is very human.


The run at the Donmar is completely sold out, but the production is being broadcast to cinemas as by NTLive - on 30th January in the Uk, and other dates elsewhere - well worth seeing if you manage it (I'm going - I want to see it all again)

And did I mention? that Hiddleston is a damn fine actor.

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