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On Friday evening I saw 'Abigail's Party' at Bath Theatre Royal. It's one f those plays which I am aware of, but have never seen before, and I wanted to see it partly for that reason, and partly as I was interested to see Amanda Abbington (Mary Morstan from Sherlock) on stage. 

It was very good, although it is the kind of play which you watch with a degree of horrified fascination, as Beverley (Abbington) and her Estate Agent husband, Laurence (Ben Caplan) throw a cocktail party at their suburban home for their new neighbours Angela (Charlotte Mills) and Tony (Ciarán Owens), and older, divorced, neighbour, Susan (Rose Keegan) who is there to allow her 15 year old daughter to hold the titular party, free from parental interference.

Beverley is the awful, pushy, hostess, constantly overriding her guests' preferences and wishes, to score points off them and her husband, flirting increasingly desperately with Tony, all the while exposing her own insecurities and lack of taste. Her husband, Laurence, clearly prides himself on his more cultured tastes (he has a matching set of Dickens, and another of Shakespeare, but has read neither, and has prints of Van Gogh and Lowry on the walls,  but is put off when Susan appears to be more familiar with them than he is.

The whole thing is full of attempts to 'keep up with the Jones's', and is horribly true.  It's fun to watch as Angela starts subtly to assert herself, and of course for someone my age, brought up in the 70s, there is also the slightly worrying game of seeing how many pieces of furniture on set / props you can recognise from the homes you visited as a child... 

The play is in Bath until next weekend, then on tour until the end of April. The performance I saw was only the 3rd one, and this showed a little, Abbington stumbled on a couple of her lines, but over all, it was fun - funny and very watchable.

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Last January, I saw Kenneth Branagh's production of 'A Winter's Tale', featuring Dame Judi Dench and Hadley Fraser, as well as Branagh himself. This week, I saw a very different production of the same play, by the 'Cheek by Jowl company'.

It was interesting - a very different production, with an understated set, and a lot of cuts. particularly in the second half of the play. 

In this production, Leontes (Orlando James) is clearly, from the beginning, unhinged - as his jealousy of his wife, Hermione (Natalie Redmall-Quirke) and friend, Polixenes (Sam Woolf) spill over, he poses them like mannequins, in the image of his fevered imaginings,  and swings between affection and violence in his treatment of his son, too. 

In the later parts of the play, once Perdita (Eleanor McLoughlin)  is grown up, the production seems to start to have a little more fun, and to approach the text more irreverently. The shearing celebration becomes a mini-festival, and when Mopsa and Dorcas fall out over which of them the Shepherd's son has promised gifts to, the scene was presented like a Jeremy Kyle show, with Autolycus (Ryan Donaldson) .

I found myself a little disappointed by the way that Paulina's (Joy Richardson)  character was portrayed - rather than her being a courageous,and tragic figure, she came over as more as a scold, which was a shame. (I am pretty sure this was a directorial decision, not down to the actor - she doubled as Mopsa and was excellent in that role).

Over all, I enjoyed the production, but I think it was uneven, and that the first scenes of Leontes' obsessive delusions, and the comedy in the second half, were the strongest parts.

The production is currently touring (dates and locations on Cheek by Jowl's site)

Nice Fish

Nov. 24th, 2016 07:41 pm
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Being in London to see King Lear, I decided also to see 'Nice Fish' at the Harold Pinter theatre - mostly because it features Mark Rylance, who is a superb actor.

It is set on a frozen lake in Minnesota, so the stage is entirely covered in 'ice', and when Rylance (Ron) and his co-star, Jim Lichtscheidl (Erik)  first appear they are suitably dressed for ice-fishing, in thick, padded parkas, hats and balaclavas, nothing but their eyes visible.

It is a very odd play; in fact it is less of a play and more of series of vignettes. It's written by Louis Jenkins, a prose poet, and Rylance, and is low on plot but high on gentle humour and reflections on life.

There are also little puppets, used to show the characters in the distance, and the whole thing is entertaining in a strange, understated way. And there's a perfect moment as 'Erik' attempts to put up a pop-up tent, and Ron 'helps', inadvertently collapses it around him!

It gets a little darker as the evening progresses, with poignant reflections on age and loss and death.

Ultimately - strange but good, and I do like Mr Rylance - he's the best thing about the production.

And if you go to the box office dressed as a fisherman (with rod and line) or as a fish, you could win a pair of tickets. How many west end plays can offer that?

It's on at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 11th February.

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On Thursday, I attended the first ever performance of Bristol Old Vic's newest production, 'The Grinning Man'.

It's a musical, loosely based on Victor Hugo's novel, 'L'homme qui rit' , and is set in an alternative  17th Century Bristol, capital of a divided England, seat of an aging and despotic king, and his children of questionable character.

Our protagonist is Grympayne, an orphan, disfigured by his mutilated face, adopted as a child by travelling showman and puppeteer Ursus, (and his pet wolf.), and seeking the truth about his past. (which is, it turns out, complex and full of coincidences).

The play involves puppets (I loved the wolf, less so the two children, but happily they grow up and turn into people instead of puppets fairly early on, so that was OK!)

It very melodramatic, and at times somewhat surreal, and is very well done. It's pretty dark, with murder and mayhem to spare, but also very funny in places. I particularly enjoyed the foppish Lord David!  Being the first preview, there were inevitably a few minor glitches - one incident where the action briefly stopped and SM had to come on stage, and a couple of moments when players stumbled on their lines, but even with this minor hiccoughs it was well worth seeing.

Judging by the reaction from the audience at this first preview, I think it will be popular.

There is a sample of some of the music from the show, here, and the production runs at Bristol Old Vic until 13th November.

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I spent last Saturday in London, mostly at the Barbican.

I'd booked to see 'Doctor Faustus', with my friend A (with whom I also saw the Jamie Lloyd Co. version back in April), and also to see 'The Alchemist' by myself - they are both RSC productions which have transferred from Stratford to London, and of the same actors appear in both.

They are, however, very different productions.

The Alchemist was written by Ben Jonson and was first performed, at the Globe Theatre, in 1610. This production was the first time I've seen it, and I avoided reading up on it in advance so came to it with an open mind.

This production was in period dress, (although the introductory music moves seamlessly from generic medieval twangly harpsichord to more familiar tunes - snatches of the 'Mission Impossible' and 'James Bond' themes being particularly notable!)

It made the most of every drop of comedy in the text. Dishonourable trio, Jeremy / Face (Ken Nwosu), Dol Common (Siobhán McSweeney) and Subtle (Mark Lockyer) take advantage of the fact that Jeremy the butler has been left in charge of his master's house, while his master flees the plague,  join forces to con their neighbours, with Subtle posing as a learned Doctor and Alchemist, and Face as his friend, the dashing Captain, and Dol as, well, whatever is necessary, from Queen Mab, to wealthy and learned lady.

'Dol Common' (c) Helen Maybanks

It's fast and farcial, as the trio try to prevent their various victims from running into one another, while making as much profit as they can without, of course, actually delivering anything in return!

I'm not a bit fan of farce but I did enjoy the show, and liked the way that this production draws in the audience, making us complicit in their (mis-)deeds!

After the show I met up with A and we had a very good meal, before returning to the Barbican for (for me) the second play of the day.

Doctor Faustus is a very different production, both from The Alchemist and from the previous production of the same play  we saw earlier in the year.

At the start, the Sandy Grierson and Oliver Ryan walk on stage in silence, mirroring each others actions. They each strike a match. The one whose match burns out first plays Faustus, and the other plays Mephistophelis.

It must be challenging, not to know until the last moment which role you will be playing that night!

For the performance we saw, Oliver Ryan played Faustus, and Sandy Grierson, Mephistophilis.

It's still a very odd play.

Oliver Ryan as Faustus (left) and Sandy Grierson as Mephistophilis.

(c) Helen Maybanks

I preferred this version to the Kit Harrington / Jamie Lloyd one I saw, and thought both leads gave extraordinary performances.

The production had some excellent, and at times (intentionally) disturbing characters and costumes: the seven deadly sins were a nightmare burlesque, gluttony in a fat suit, lust as a drag queen, envy in a gimp suit, and covetousness with prostheses allowing it to walk on all fours, for instance.

There were also scary clowns in bowler hats, and worryingly fascist soldiers with black uniforms, masks and red rubber gloves..

Things did not end well for Faustus.  But we knew that.

I'm glad to have seen it. I thought it was very interesting, and that the actors involved were excellent. But I'm not sure I would say I liked it, exactly.

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I had some trouble getting to see 'The Libertine' .

I'd booked a ticket, then had to rearrange due to a work commitment, they sent me a ticket for the wrong night.. and then I was busy recovering from anaphylactic shock and completely forgot to go on the night I did have a ticket for!

Fortunately for me, however, the play is in Bath for nearly 3 weeks, so there was time for me get to see it.

Remember I mentioned that 'The Rover' might have been based on either Henry or John Wilmot (or both of them)?

The Libertine is all about John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester poet, courtier, soldier, critic, libertine and amoral man about town.

Wilmot was the son of Henry Wilmot, who was created Earl of Rochester by Charles II in gratitude for his support during the English Civil War and the Interregnum. He inherited his father's title at the age of 11, and joined Charles' court at the age of 17. He wooed his wife by abducting her (for which he spent 3 weeks in the Tower of London, being released only after grovelling to the King) and served  (apparently with great courage) in the 2nd Dutch War, while still in his teens.

However, this play deals with his later life.

It opens (after orange sellers come through the auditorium as the audience take their sets) with Wilmot (Dominic Cooper) addressing the audience, telling us not to like him, that he is generally at his worst when he appears in a sympathetic light, and goes on to comment that he is permanently 'up for it' with women, and generally also with men...

Given Dominic Cooper's looks, this was not entirely off-putting...

(Photo from  Bath Theatre Royal - (C) Alastair Muir)

His Lordship came over as rude, crude, selfish, but cleverer than several sack-fulls of monkeys, and tragic in his self-destructive habits.

We watched as he wenched and drank his way across 17th C London, and met his match in actress Elizabeth Barry (Ophelia Lovibond), determined to succeed as a serious actress and not , despite his support, to do so dependent on Rochester. I believe this may be Ophelia Lovibond's stage debut - if so, it's an excellent one. She, and Nina Toussaint White ( who plays Rochester's favourite prostitute) both give excellent performances each in their own way standing up to Rochester, and each showing sings of understanding him only too well!

(Jasper Britton as Charles II
Photo from  Bath Theatre Royal - (C) Alastair Muir)

Jasper Britton's Charles II was acerbic and knowing, prepared to turn a blind eye to Rochester's shenanigans only so far (Rochester's attempt to stage a satirical play, including live sex on stage, jokes about the Queen's sex life and a folk dance with dildos are scuppered by the King, who was hoping for a work of literature which would endure and cement his position as patron of the arts...

(the live sex portion isn't shown on stage. The folk dancing with dildos is. In case you were wondering)

It's a very entertaining romp, with a strong cast. Not, however, for those of a Puritan or prudish temperament!

The run at Bath has finished but the play is on at the Theatre Royal Haymarket for 10 weeks. Well worth seeing!

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I'm a big fan of Shakespeare, and it was something of a surprise to realise, a few months ago, that I have never seen a live performance of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. I did see the TV production which the BBC did earlier this year, which I enjoyed, but the story was so familiar I had to stop and think to work out that I really *hadn't* seen it before! I think perhaps because the story pervades so many works of literature it is part of my mental furniture despite not having watched it on stage before!

This production was at the Bath Theatre Royal, as part, fittingly, of their summer season, and features comedian Phill Jupitus , in his first Shakespearean role, as Bottom.

It's an interesting, and successful, bit of casting. Bottom came across as a having (misplaced) confidence in his own theatrical skills, and was, in the final scenes, gloriously indifferent to the difference between laughing at, and laughing with, as the Duke and his court enjoyed the play. And in his scenes with Titania he portyayed Bottom's self-importance and ridiculousness beautifully.

As a whole, I enjoyed the production, and the rude mechanicals' play was hilarious.  I was less convinced by the costume choice for Puck - he appeared naked except for a loin cloth and a lot of blue paint, but unfortunately the bulkiness and mismatch between the blue of the cloth and the paint meant he ended up looking rather like he was wearing a nappy...

Darrell D'Silva and Katy Stephens played dual roles -  Theseus / Oberon and Hippolyta / Titania, which worked well - D'Silva had an excellent line in restrained power, both as ruler of Athens and King of the fairies.

The lovers, Hermia (Eve Ponsonby) and Lysander (William Postlethwaite) and Helena (Maya Wasowicz) and Demetrius (Wilf Scolding)  were excellent - Lysander was presented as something of a hipster, with Demetrius distinctly more buttoned up and formal, although both ended up nearly naked once the fairies were finished with them - the only part which was hard to believe was that Helena was spurned by Demetrius - she was a much more striking and appealing character than Hermia!

I should like to see other productions and see how they compare

The production has now ended in Bath, I'm not sure if it is touring elsewhere.
I regret that I haven't been able to get to see the version of 'Dream' at the Globe, as I've heard very good things about it, and I will be looking out for another production to see, as I was left feeling a little underwhelmed by this one!
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Way back last October, I succumbed to curiosity about what the new Harry Potter story might be, and booked tickets for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child . And, given that you have to buy tickets for two shows, as the story is apparently too long for one, I booked during the preview period when  the tickets were half price!

About 3 weeks ago the tickets arrived.

Last Sunday I caught a train up to London, in order to see the show.

It was a very hot day, so having to queue for security checks was frustrating, although in fairness they were pretty efficient once they opened the doors and got going.

The theatre has been completely redecorated internally, there are lamps with Hogwarts dragons on them, on pillars in the auditorium (and on the canopy outside the theatre) and new Hogwarts wallpaper.

Then of course there is the play itself.

It really is one very long play, show in two parts. Depending on how you book, you can either see the two parts on one day (matinee and evening performance) as I did, or on two successive nights. I think that this is an advantage, as you get to see part two while the end of part one is still fresh in your mind (The break between the two is about 3 hours).

So, what is it like? I'm not going to give a synopsis of the plot, because it hasn't even had press night yet, plus they give you little badges on the way out asking you not to spoil things for later viewers. (although should you decide that you need to know, google and you will find)

What I will say is that it is spectacularly staged - the stage set has an arching framework reminiscent of a railway station, with multiple clocks, and a rather nice display of the phases of the moon on the front arch. The set also includes (at different time) wood panelled walls, moving staircases and a fascinating bookcase.

There are lots of excellent,and very well done, special effects. From the pupils joining the Hogwarts Express and 'magically' changing into their robes, to travel by floo powder, entering the Ministry of Magic through a phone box, transfiguration and use of Polyjuice potion, all of which happen on stage.

Alex Price (Draco) and Anthony Boyle (Scorpius)

Photo from the show's site

It's fun to see some of the characters we are familiar with from the books and films. Noma Dumezweni (Hermione) and Alex Price (Draco) were my favourites of the 'old guard' - Ron doesn't get a lot of opportunity to show how he has developed, which is a shame, but he is still a likeable character. Similarly, I'd have liked to see more of Ginny. Draco is perhaps the most developed of the older characters, and also gets many of the better scenes. More than any of the others, he seems to have developed as a person.

The play focuses upon Scorpius Draco and Albus Potter, and in between the excitement it is about parents (fathers) and children (sons), and the pressures of living up to them them. (and Scorpius)

There are some great set pieces, there are some rather clunky bits of dialogue, to ensure, with sledgehammer subtlety, that no one misses the point. And the plot is both complicated and predictable.

But despite its flaws, it's well worth seeing -  nearly 6 hours of almost constant spectacle, .and as much fun as the books.

I shall be interested to read the script book, to see what is left when it is stripped down to words on a page.

Of course, with the show being sold out until some time next year, if you don't already have tickets it's not going  to easy to try to hold of them, but if you do get the chance to go, take it.

It's fun.

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Happy New Year - a little late, perhaps, as we are 10 days into the  year, but it's my first post this year, so why not!

My parents visited for Christmas, but went home for New Year, so I had a quiet evening in, but then made a day trip to London on 2nd January, so see a matinee of 'The Winter's Tale' at the Garrick Theatre.

It was a real treat, with Judi Dench (as Paulina) being particularly good. I was a little less enthused at Branagh's Leontes   - I have not seen the play before,so I am not entirely sure whether this is down to the play or the actor - Leontes' behaviour is irrational even for a Shakespearean character, and if you are looking for crazy jealousy I think he (Shakespeare) did it better in Othello!

Hadley Fraser made a convincing Polixenes, particularly during the scenes in which  he learns   that his best and oldest friend is prepared to have him murdered on a mere suspicion. I would have liked to see him in a bigger role however - it might be fun to see him and Branagh switch roles, for instance.

But Judi Dench undoubtedly had the meatiest role, as the older woman prepared to speak out on behalf of the wrongfully accused Queen, even at the risk of her own life. She's great!

Well worth seeing. (And it has been broadcast live to cinemas, so will probably be repeated in future, if you want to see it and don't have the opportunity to get to London)

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Over a year ago, I read that Benedict Cumberbatch, of Sherlock, Frankenstein and Smaug fame, was to play Hamlet, live, at the Barbican Theatre in London this year. And I have a group of friends who, like me, like going to the theater- we've previously seen David Tennant in Hamlet, and more recently, in Richard II, and agreed that seeing Mr Cumberbatch's Hamlet would be a good thing to do.

So, with some difficulty, I managed to buy the maximum 6 tickets permitted, (it later turned out that the show was the fastest seller in, well, pretty much ever. I was lucky that there were only a couple of hundred people ahead of me in the queue when I booked - later that day there were lover 10,000)

And a year went by, and on 15th August I reached the point where I was sitting in the stalls, in the Barbican theatre, waiting for the Prince of Denmark.. As the man says 'the readiness is all'

So, was it worth the wait?

I think so.

It should be mentioned that we saw the play on 15th August, which was (although not made clear when we booked, or on our tickets) a preview, 10 days into the run.

The play opens, not with the usual scene of Bernardo and Marcellus on the ramparts of Elsinore, but instead with Hamlet, alone on stage, looking though tea-chests (apparently paced with childhood items) while Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy” plays on an old gramophone player. (The music familiar to many of us as the music from the film 'Moulin Rouge'), establishing him as, at the very least, a little melancholic.

We then moved to a the wedding breakfast, with vast displays of white flowers and of hunting trophies, as Claudius deals with the ambassadors to Norway, Laertes' wish to return to college, an Hamlet's own moodiness.

Hamlet: Scene 2 (official pic by Johan Persson)

Shortly after this picture was taken, Hamlet starts walking on the table and giving the  'O, that this too, too solid flesh..' soliloquy  (with the rest of the cast moved in slow-motion, which I thought was an effective way of allowing the soliloquies to be given, and to be clearly internal,  despite the number of other people on stage.)

Claudius - a trustworthy King

(photo credit as before)

Very effective.

Obviously Cumberbatch is the headliner in the production, but the cast as a whole is very strong:

Ciaran Hinds' Claudius doesn't really let the menacing, dangerous side of the character out in the earlier scenes of the play, but as the play progresses and he begins to fear Hamlet, and his own conscience, he becomes more obviously threatening.

Kobna Holdbrook-Smith was a hugely powerful and commanding Laertes. Given that he has a relatively small amount of time on stage, he packed one hell of a punch.

I don't think I have seen Holdbrook-Smith before but will definitely be looking out for him in future!

Other characters were also, generally, pretty strong - Anastasia Hille as Gertrude made a great foil for Hamlet's flamboyance, and her reaction to Ophelia's madness and death was beautifully done.

Gertrude and Hamlet
I was a little less impressed with Ophelia (Sian Brooke) and with Horatio (Leo Bill) as characters, although I think n both cases this was a fault in the production not in the actors. In neither case did their relationships with Hamlet quite 'jell', for me. Ophelia's madness was beautifully done in its subtle contrast with Hamlet's own feigned madness, but she was less convincing as a object of his love, or even as a 'safe' friend for the emotionally immature Hamlet of this production.
Horatio seemed affectionate but a little distant until the very end of the play, and as a result his anguish at Hamlet's death seemed less consistent with his earlier relationship than it sometimes does. I would love to see the production again, and see whether this changes as Cumberbatch and Bill settle into working together. We did, after all, see a production only 11 performances into the run. I'm planning to see the NTLive broadcast on 15th October, and will be curious to see how the production changes.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstein got what was coming to them.

What of the man himself?

I was *very* impressed.Cumberbatch's Hamlet has moments of pure, 'Sherlock' style intellect, (Hamlet's reaction to the Ghost' command to the soldiers to 'swear' is perfect!) lots of physical work, and much more humour than you normally see in Hamlet.

This Cumberbatch chap is pretty got with the acting. I think he will go far. Who knows, perhaps he will even make it to Hollywood one day!

And the show is worth seeing for the toy fort part alone.

Which brings me on to the set.
Which is huge. The Barbican stage is BIG, and this set takes full advantage of that. And there is a lot going on. The set is the Palace, huge, and formal (and gradually cracking and  deteriorating over the course of the play, mirroring the destruction of the lives of those on stage, and that part really works. There is a sweeping staircase, and a balcony to one side of the stage, which works well for all the plotting.
I was less enamoured of the set dressing - lots of white garlands for the wedding breakfast, and lots of flowers, bizarrely arranged in brass instruments , for the play-within-a-play, as well  as an entire mini-theatre, and a war room. Again, it may be that the scene changes will get a little slicker over time, but I did find some of them a little distracting. I will admit, however, that full size toy fort in which Hamlet plays, establishing his madness, was a lot of fun!
Over all, it's a very good production, with a very strong ensemble cast, some interesting cuts and changes in the text, and just a few too many props! I was happy to see that although some well known lines were cut (Polonius, I'm looking at you) and others appeared in unexpected places, Fortinbras made the cut. There were probably even some sledded Polacks in the wings, if one only knew where to look.
Laertes and Hamlet. Not going to end well.
Oh, and Benedict knocked over a case of swords during the curtain call, proving he is human, and then very tidily picked them up off the floor before taking his bow!
I am very glad that I got to see it, and I'm looking forward to seeing it again at the cinema. And even if you can't see the show lie, do go to the broadcast if you get a chance.  I give it 4.5 / 5 stars. (half off for the flowers-inna-tuba)

(edited to add: the NT Live trailer is up on youtube- well worth listening to!)

Two Plays

Jun. 20th, 2015 09:43 pm
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I had a ticket to see Damian Lewis, John Goodman and Tom Sturridge in Mamet's 'American Buffalo' at a matinee performance, and another to see Chiwetel Ejiofor in 'Everyman' at the National Theatre in the evening.

Which made for a fun day.

The last thing I saw Damian Lewis in was the BBC's adaptation of Wolf Hall, in which he played King Henry VIII.  His role here is very different.

The play is deceptively simple; three no-hopers, none of whom is as smart as they think they are, trying to plan a robbery to recover a rare and valuable coin (the titular American Buffalo (nickel) )

American Buffalo (photo from theatre site)

John Goodman is excellent as the slow-thinking Don, roughly generous towards the young, vulnerable,  Bob (Sturridge), and guilty when Teach (Lewis) persuades him to exclude Bob from their heist.

In fact all three performances are great - Lewis is flashy (and so very 70s!) but also lets us see Teach's underlying insecurity, and Sturridge's Bob is both pathetic and oddly appealing.

It was a beautiful sunny day, so between plays I wandered along the embankment, through a pop up market, and visited Cleopatra's Needle.  Which is nice, and has some only-slightly-shrapnel-damaged sphinxes flanking it, which I don't think I have ever seen up close before.

Everyman  was very interesting. It's an updating (written by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy) of a 15th Century mystery play in which 'Everyman' has to account to God for his actions in life.

Everyman (Image from National Theatre site)

I had mixed feelings about it. Ejiofor is a superb actor, and I enjoyed the verse and the updating of the story, with Everyman starting the evening with an alcohol and cocaine fuelled birthday party, before being confronted with Death, the frailty of his relationships with friends and material possessions, and even with his family.

However, the staging seemed, at times, to overwhelm the play - I can't help but feel that a slightly more muted production might have allowed the acting, and the writing, more space!

I did, however, enjoy the specially printed banknotes, some of which were blown out into the auditorium, and loved Kate Duchene's cleaning lady/God)

Everyman and God (photo from National Theatre production gallery)

Despite some reservations about the over the top staging, I did really enjoy the play, and I'm glad I went.  I may even see the NTLive broadcast to give me a chance to see it again, and see what else I spot on a second viewing.

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While I was in Amsterdam, I saw 'October in the Chair' , by Old Sound Room, which was showing as part of the Amsterdam Fringe.

(C) OldSoundRoom

The production is based on a number of Neil Gaiman's short stories, (mainly from 'Fragile Things') and is superb!

I won't go into too much detail (Spoilers, Sweetie!) but will say that the small cast (five members) manage to portray a large and changing cast, with the help of quick (on stage) costume changes, props and puppets.

I loved the imaginative introduction to the performance, and particularly enjoyed their interpretation of 'Firebird' - and over all, I felt that they captured the tone and atmosphere of Neil's stories.

The Fringe festival is over, now, but the show will be performed in New York at the end of October - well worth seeing, if you can make it!

Richard II

Nov. 2nd, 2013 10:14 pm
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Back in March, when we saw that David Tennant would be playing Richard II at the RSC, some friends and I decided to book tickets, as what could be better that Shakespeare, David Tennant and friends?

The performance we had tickets for was yesterday evening, at the Royal Shakespeare theatre in Stratford Upon Avon.

I booked the whole day off work, and drive up in the morning, so 3 of us were able to meet up and have lunch, and then spend most of the afternoon (joined by the other two members of the party) catching up with one another's news, before a very nice pre-theatre dinner.

And then, the main event!

The Theatre

It was excellent. David Tennant as Richard II was superb, but the cast over all  was very strong - David Tennant is obviously the headline star but this is not a one man show - I was particularly impressed by Nigel Lindsay (Bolingbroke/Henry IV), who is presented as a blunt, plain-speaking man, a warrior, who does come over as, initially, seeking to recover his inheritance rather than to usurp the throne.

Unlike the other men in the play, who appear initially in mail, with swords, Richard is a regal, but frail-looking figure with long hair (Which takes a little getting used to) and long, formal robes - making a clear visual contrast between him and his courtiers.

I think Tennant is strongest in the later scenes in the play, as he loses his grip on his Kingdom. Richard does not come across as a likeable character - even in defeat, he is sarcastic, taunting Bolingbroke.

Michael Pennington's John of Gaunt was excellent - as the only other production of Richard II I have seen is the 'Hollow Crown' TV version, in which Patrick Stewart played Gaunt, so Pennington had a lot to live up to. And he did.

And a special mention is due to Oliver Rix (Aumerle), close to, and loving the King, but ultimately murdering him.

Picture from RSC website and (c) RSC

The only issue I had with the production was with some of the staging - there was a gantry at the back of the stage - we were a little worried that Richard and Aumerle were going to fall off, then later, during Act III Scene III, as Richard appears on the walls of Flint Castle - unfortunately, from our seats in the circle, the King was (apart from his ankles) wholly invisible. The ankles were very regal, but I cannot help but think that being able to see Mr Tennant in the full glory of his gold-embroidered robes might have been more impressive still. It seems a poor choice to have a critical scene in the play invisible to even part of the audience. But other than that, it was a superb production!

The Stratford and London runs are both, I believe, sold out, but the show is going to be broadcast live on 13th November. I recommend it.

Fun fact. On Friday morning, I heard David Tennant talking, on the radio, about a ring which was worn by Ian Richardson when he played Richard II, and given, by his widow, to David Tennant.

Last night, he dropped it. Perhaps he has smaller fingers.


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