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 When I saw that Andrew Scott (Moriarty from 'Sherlock') was going to be playing 'Hamlet' at the Almeida Theatre, this Spring, with Juliet Stevenson as Gertrude, I couldn't not try to get tickets. I didn't manage it directly, but my friend A did, which meant that last night he and I fortified ourselves with an excellent Turkish meal before heading to the Almeida.

 

 


This production of the play is almost uncut, and is directed by Robert Icke, who was also responsible for the horribly effective and chilling 1984.

 

It was very interesting, and very different from the last couple of versions I have seen. This iteration of the court of Denmark is modern, the stage divided by sliding glass doors allowing to see behind the arras at times, the opening scene sees Horatio and Marcellus spot the ghost on the bank of screens showing feeds from security cameras, and updates such as Fortinbras's invasion are shown as news reports (complete with Danish headlines running across the bottom of the screen).

 

Andrew Scott's Hamlet is not, for the most part, as maniacal as you might expect, from seeing his Moriarty - from the outset, he came across as anxious and uncertain, constantly fidgeting with his watch, and lacking in self-confidence. His soliloquies are often conversational, and this is definitely a Hamlet in which the madness seems genuine rather than feigned.

Production Photo: Claudius, Hamlet and Gertrude

Gertrude (Juliet Stevenson) and Claudius (Angus Wright) are passionate with one another, unable to keep their hands off each other, but I wasn't entirely convinced by Claudius-as-villain , except in the final poisoning scene.


I was left feeling a bit ambivalent about the production. I would quite like to see it a second time. But I found it interesting, and worth seeing. 


Hamlet is at the Almeida until 15th April.

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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)

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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 )

The Tempest

Dec. 8th, 2016 09:00 pm
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On Saturday,I went with  some friends  to see the RSC's production of 'The Tempest' in Stratford on Avon.


The production has been created in collaboration with the imaginarium studio, (Which did the motion capture special effects for films such as the Lord of the Rings) .

Stage, pre-performance

Going in the the theatre, the set is striking, the huge, broken shell of a  ship, and then of course the performance begins - Simon Russell Beale is, at first, not  a striking Prospero,a small figure, in a simple, dark, academic gown, but he grows in strength and power as the play progresses.

Simon Russell Beale as Prospero (Photo (C) RSC)


Ariel, (Mark Quartley) is one of the stars of the show, performing, as he does, with his own avatar - it's fascinating to watch, as mostly he is on stage at the same time as the projected version of him; sometimes in the shadows, sometimes more obviously. The avatar takes all sorts of different forms,  including a huge, winged harpy, and seemed almost synchronized with his movements, but sometimes with a slight lag, and occasionally appearing to be moving a little in advance of him!

Ariel in the cleft tree (C) RSC

It was absolutely stunning.


I was a little concerned that the special effects might overshadow the play itself, but I didn't feel that they did, largely due to Mark Quartley and Simon Russell Beale's performances.

I was slightly underwhelmed by Caliban,who seemed to be defined by grotesque costuming (and a fish) but had little opportunity to let any character show. I don't find the 'comedy' between Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban very funny, but it was well done (particularly Tony Jayawardena as Stephano.)

All in ll, I was very impressed, and enjoyed the play a lot. I know it is due to be broadcast to cinemas on 11th January and I am tempted to go to see it, to have the chance to look more closely at the details.

The live play is at Stratford until 21st January, and then in London at the Barbican from 30th June until 18th August next year.

There is a video about the making of the special events, for those who are interested!

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As Glenda Jackson has been working as an MP for the past 25 years, meaning I have never before had the opportunity to see her live on stage, so when I saw that she was playing Lear, I immediately booked a ticket.


Closer to the performance, more cast members were announced - Celia Imrie and Jane Horrocks as Goneril and Regan, respectively, Rhys Ifans as the fool, and Harry Melling as Edgar...


It was an interesting production - it's in modern dress, with fairly minimal sets, and the practice which seems to be popular just now, of having cast members and stage hands on stage as the audience come in to the auditorium, and a blurring of lines between cast and crew.


For much of the play, there is very little in the way of set, although this changes in the storm scenes, when  curtain of black plastic, together with lights and sound effects - very effective!


And the performance itself?



Very very good, in parts, but uneven.

Jackson's Lear is physically frail from the start, but terrifyingly powerful in every other way, an aging despot, whose mental state then gradually deteriorates during the play, showing the slow ruin of the old king more effectively than many Lears - her delivery of "O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven, Keep me in temper: I would not be mad!"  is heart-breaking. Lear is far from being a likeable character, but Jackson is an excellent Lear.


Jane Horrocks and Celia Imrie as Regan and Goneril seem underused, for such excellent actors, and there was little sense of the daughters' frustration or the justifications for their treatment of their father, leaving them as slightly one-dimensional villains, which was a bit disappointing. Although they do get the chance to show their vamping skills in their scenes with Edmund (Simon Manyonda).


Edmund himself is full of energy and malevolence - he delivers his opening speech while working out, skipping, doing one-handed press-ups. And without it affecting his delivery of the speech at all, which is pretty impressive. However, as with other aspects of the production, having started well, the director goes  step too far, and we have a scene in which he bares his buttock (and they are, I admit, nice buttocks) to the audience while he has a quick wank. It seemed somewhat unnecessary.


Edgar (Harry Melling) is good, but he seem ineffectual in his early scenes, and the Dover scene, (not) on the cliff top seems a wasted opportunity.


Rhys Ifans is excellent as the Fool, and the relationship between him and Lear is one of the most convincing in the production, he comes over as genuinely attached to Lear, but unafraid to challenge him. And his little ad-libs - a snatch of Dylan on mouth-organ and a comment on Edgar's bin-bag couture which I am pretty sure isn't in the original text!


So, all in all, a good production with some great performances, but with some odd directorial choices. I mean, stamping in Gloucester's eyeball, properly wince-inducing. Throwing the second one into the stalls? Not so much.

4 out of 5 stars from me! Well worth seeing. And on until 3rd December (And there is a radio adaptation to be recorded and broadcast by the BBC on Boxing Day, if you can't make it to London)

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I have never seen 'Two Noble Kinsmen' before, and I chose not to read the plot in advance, so as to come to it fresh.


(If, like me, you are unfamiliar with the plot, skip to the end of the post for a synopsis).

It was interesting to see it so soon after having seen 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' as, like that play, it features Theseus and Hippolyta, just before their wedding (although here they are interrupted by a small war!)


I think the costume designers had fun with this production - Duke Theseus  (Gyuri Sarossy) shows up for his wedding in a glorious, gold-frogged military greatcoat over a Greek-themed shirt, he goes hunting and maying in blinged-up motorcycle leathers, with 3D skulls on the shoulders!


He's also surprisingly willing to put of his wedding in order to go fight a battle, and seemed closer to, and more attracted by, his (admittedly extremely attractive) friend Pirithous than to his bride!


Hippolyta (Allison McKenzie)  has a gold helmet and tribal tattoos, and looks every inch the warrior queen.(She also, at one point, had an entirely unexplained chainsaw, which I suspect may not have been mentioned in Shakespeare's original script and stage directions)

Palamon and Arcite (Photo from RSC website)

The production is very physical - there are wire panels which descend to create a cage-like effect around the stage as Arcite (Jamie Wilkes) and Palamon (James Corrigan)  are imprisoned, and the pair of them then climb up, hang off, and generally clamber around on them, meaning that for those in the front rows you get up close and personal with the actors! (indeed, at one point, Palamon bounced into the empty seats next to me, and addressed a couple of lines to the young woman sitting in the next seat along!)

I really enjoyed the production - there was a very strong cast, the plot (through preposterous) moves swiftly and there is a lot of humour, despite the somewhat bloody plot. It's a play about love, as much as anything. Arcite and Polamon are at all times, even when fighting one another, very close, and poor Emilia, the cause of their discord, is herself unenthusiastic about either of them and describes her far closer, and deeper feelings for a female friend.

The Jailer's Daughter (Danusia Samal) who is, Ophelia-like, driven mad by unrequited love, is a fascinating character - vulnerable and yet, of all the characters, genuinely loved. Her father, uncle and suitor all working together to try to heal her, and despite her not being named, is one of the more rounded characters.

Well worth seeing.

Plot Summary


For those who, like me, are unfamiliar with the play, the plot is fairly straightforward.



Theseus, Duke of Athens, is about to marry his Amazonian bride, Hippolyta, then the celebrations are interrupted by the arrival of three widowed queens, who beg him to drop whatever he is doing, and rush to Thebes to fight the tyrant Creon and allow them to find and bury their husbands, slain in battle and denied proper rites. Theseus agrees, after some persuasion, to put off his wedding and go to fight instead. Meanwhile, noble cousins Palamon and Arcite discuss leaving Thebes in disgust at the corruption there, but when they hear Theseus is attacking, they decide to fight for their city, if not for their Duke.


Theseus is, naturally, victorious, and Palamon and Arcite are taken prisoner. While imprisoned, they see Hippolyta's sister, Emilia, and both fall instantly in love with her, and fall out with each other. Arcite is then released by Theseus, on condition her leaves the country, but chooses to remain, in disguise, in the hopes of wooing Emilia. He is successful in the midsummer games and Theseus (who totally fails to recognise him) gives him a post as servant to Emilia. Meanwhile, Palamon remains imprisoned. His jailer's daughter falls in love with him and releases him, hoping he will love her back (He doesn't, so she goes mad, gets caught up in some Morris Dancing (which propbably doesn't help)  and is eventually  cured by her prior suitor posing as Palamon, on the reccommendation of a Doctor, .)



Arcite finds Palamon in the forest, brings him supplies and feeds him up until he is fit enough to fight to the death over Emilia. They are discovered by Theseus, who admires their manliness, so rather than executing them sends them home to prepare, prior to a duel to the death involving their closest friends as well as themselves, with the winner to marry Emilia and the loser to be executed. Their friends are surprisingly ready to agree to this.

"So mate, will you come and fight for me? If we lose, we all get executed. If we win, I get to marry the girl"
"Sure, why not Sounds fun"

Both pray to the gods and receive encouragement from them, and prepare to fight.


Arcite wins the duel, but is then stumbled to death by a horse, and has a tearful-but-manly farewell scene with Palamon, to whom he bequeaths his bride-to-be, so that Palamon (and his friends) are not, after all, executed.


Emilia, you notice, has no say in any of this, but ends up with a *very* manly and only slightly battered husband, so is presumed to be happy.

The play is on in Stratford until 7th February 2017, so you've plenty of time to see it!

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Jut over a week ago  I drove up to Stratford - upon - Avon to see' Two Noble Kinsman' at the RSC.

I had the day off work (having inadvertently booked the play for the Friday not the Saturday night!) so had time to make the trip a leisurely one. Traffic was heavy so I left the main road and went cross country, resulting in my meeting a flock of sheep, and coming upon an unexpected folly!


I had time for a meal in Stratford's oldest pub (at least it claims to be so, and who am I to argue?), The Garrick.

The pub is on the left in this picture - the house on the right, with the American flag, is Harvard House - it dates to 1596 and was built by one Thomas Rogers, who left it to his grandson, one  John Harvard, who emigrated to the American Colony in Charleston, in 1637, where he died in 1638, leaving his library and half his assets to the proposed new college to be established... The house became the property of Harvard University in 1909) .

I then had a stroll through the town, passing Shakespeare's birthplace (I was a day or two early to go to New Place, which has been closed for several months and only just reopened. Maybe will visit in September when I am back in Stratford.

Shakespeare's Birthplace

The performance was in the Swan Theatre, which was another first for me - the last few productions I have seen have been in the main, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, which is in the same bulding as the Swan, but is significantly bigger (it seats about 1,000, compared to the Swan's 450)

Swan Theatre, RSC

The play was still in previews, which meant I was able to get an excellent seat (front row of the stalls) at a very reasonable price!  It's a relatively small theatre with a thrust stage, so many of the audience are seated to the sides,rather than the front of the stage.

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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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After my trip to London to see Harry Potter, I returned to London the following  weekend for a very different theatrical production - Shakespeare's Richard III , featuring Ralph Fiennes as Richard, and Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Margaret, at the Almeida Theatre in Islington.

ralph fiennes as Rochard III, blurred moving

Production photo

The Almeida is fairly small, so the setting is very intimate, a feeling increased by the fact that this production uses the side aisles a lot, for entrances and exists (and let me tell you, glancing to one side an realising that Richard III is just standing, silently, there, is quite unnerving!)


The play opens with a scene form the 2012 excavation of the car park in Leicester where Richard's remains were found. Actors in hi-vis vests are digging on stage as the audience make their way to their seats. I am not entirely convinced that this framing helped the production; Shakespeare's Richard not having a great deal in common with the historic one.


Fiennes is a chilling Richard - convincingly murderous, with little of the wry humour you sometimes see.And at times, as when he literally licks blood from the block after Hastings' execution, utterly horrifying.   And he draws the audience in, making everyone complicit in his deeds.


In one scene, as he is plotting the murder of his nephews he approaches members of the audience, asking "is thy name Tyrrell" , as if expecting to find a mercenary murderer in the front row, and so convincingly that it does not seem at all unlikely that he might.


He is ably supported by Aislin McGuckin as Queen Elizabeth, and Finbar Lynch as Buckingham. Vanessa Redgrave appears as Queen Margaret, quiet and inexorable, rather than the more aggressive, virago like way the character is often portrayed.


As the play progresses, skulls start to appear on the back wall behind the stage, one for each of Richard's (named) victims - (and his brother Edward) - Clarence, Rivers, Hastings, Anne, Young Edward and Richard and Buckingham, a silent testimony to the violence of his rise to the throne.
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I had a very Shakespeare-heavy start to the week.


On Monday night I went to see a local, amateur production of 'Return to the Forbidden Planet'. For. those who have not seen it, this is Shakespeare's lost Rock and Roll masterpiece - very loosely based upon 'The Tempest', with words stolen from all of Shakespeare's other pays, and (live) music from Rock'n'Roll's heyday, and Dan Dare / Thunderbirds style.


it is tremendously entertaining! I saw a professional production (set and costume designs by Gerry Anderson of Thunderbirds fame) years ago, and loved it, and have wanted to see it again, ever since.


I enjoyed this production, although it would have benefited from  larger stage, and the performances were a little patchy, but all in all, it was good fun. (And I still want to see another professional performance!)



Then on Tuesday, I went to Bristol Old Vic to see SpyMonkey's 'The Complete Deaths'.


They have decided (as one does) to combine, in a single performance, all 75* of the on-stage deaths in Shakespeare's plays.


(*If you include the black, ill-favoured fly from Titus Andronicus. 76 if you include Ophelia despite the fact she really dies off-stage)

(C) Chris Riddell / SpyMonkey

I heard of the show via Chris Riddell,who illustrated a number of the Deaths, for the programme, and who has also illustrated the complete deaths card gayme, and as one of places that the show is touring to was Bristol (as part of 'MayFest,) I decided to go.


It was a lot of fun - the deaths were presented in a huge range of ways. I am not certain whether it is Cleopatra's burlesque striptease, or all the Macbeth deaths presented via the medium of interpretive dance (by performers wearing flesh-coloured latex kilts) which will stay with me the longest .

The Shakespearean deaths are interspersed with interactions between the cast - Toby Park as the earnest intellectual, determined to confront the complacent audience with their own ultimate deaths, Aitor Basauri, longing to be a serious, Shakespearean actor (and having conversations with Shakespeare's disembodied head from time to time) Stephan Kreiss, nursing an unrequited (and at times very vocal) love for his colleague Petra, and  Petra Massey herself, determined to include the death of Ophelia.


I am not sure how much fun this would be if you don't have at least a passing familiarity with Shakespeare's plays, but if you do, it's highly entertaining, witty and extremely enjoyable.


Oh, and I bought the cards. And can now play a beautifully illustrated game of death top trumps.

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So, 4 years after the BBC's first 'Hollow Crown' series, comprising Richard II, Henry IV Pts 1 and 2, and Henry V, they have finally completed, and are showing, the second series, which will, over three 2 hour films, cover Henry VI parts 1-3, and Richard III.


I've been looking forward to this, as the first set were so good, and of course there are lots of good actors involved (Judi Dench, for example, Sophie Okenedo, and of course Benedict Cumberbatch as the dastardly Richard III, but Ben and Judi haven't shown up yet...)

Tom Sturridge  and Sophie Okonedo

(c) Robert Viglasky/BBC/Carnival Film & Television Ltd

I have seen the plays before - the Globe Theatre did all 3 parts of Henry VI in 2013, and I saw them on tour (ad blogged about it here), and they are not, in my view, Shakespeare's best work, but so far I am enjoying what  Dominic Cooke is doing with them. The three plays are compressed into 2, 2 hour episodes, so a good deal is cut,and there are some changes -  but what is left works well.


In this first episode, we have already had the rise and fall of Joan of Arc (Laura Frances-Morgan), the nobilty of England picking roses to declare which side of the coming they will be on, and Richard of York (not that one. his father) putting himself forward as the rightful King (which of course, arguably he was, what with that Bolingbroke having usurped the crown rather than waiting for his older cousin to do so. . .)

Sophie Okonedo is superb as Queen Margaret, I'm looking forward to seeing more of her, and Tom Sturridge, is wonderfully ineffectual as King Henry VI.

I can't wait for the next  episode! This is why I love the BBC!



There's also some particular local interest for me - some of the filming took place in Wells, and spotting parts of Wells Catherdral, standing in for Henry's palace, adds to the fun!
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Yesterday, 23rd April 2016, was the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare's death, and the Royal Shakespeare Company and the BBC collaborated on a celebration, which was broadcast live on BBC2 and to cinemas.

Naturally, I watched. It was fantastic.

It was introduced by Catherine Tate and David Tennant (who of course, as well as their performances together on Doctor Who, appeared as Benedict and Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing in 2011)




The evening featured wonderful snippets of Shakespeare's plays, but also other art inspired by him, such as Ballet -  Tyrone Singleton, of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, who danced Othello, was particularly impressive  (I enjoyed that more than the Romeo and Juliet pas-de-deux)


There was also opera (The English National Opera, giving parts of Berlioz's 'Beatrice et Benedict' and Verdi's 'Falstaff') and more music and dance - Akala, Rufus Wainwright, Gregory Porter, Rufus Hound and Henry Goodman performing 'Brush up your Shakespeare', and Joseph Fiennes wandering around Stratford upon Avon with his hands in his pockets, giving a potted biography of the man himself.

Al Murray as Bottom (C) BBC

There were, of course, some wonderful performances - Judi Dench and Al Murray, as Titania and Bottom, Harriet Walter as Cleopatra, Meera Syall as Beatrice.

And, one of the biggest highlights of the evening, Paapa Essiedu (currently appearing as Hamlet at the RSC, and doing so exceptionally well) came in in order to give the 'To be, or not to be' soliloquy, and was, alas, rudely interrupted...



(If the video won't play for you, Paapa is interrupted by Tim Minchin wishing to give advice about the speech, followed in turn by Benedict Cumberbatch (mistaken by all for Eddie Redmayne) Harriet Walter, David Tennant, Rory Kinnear, Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench ("It is I, Hamlet the Dame") and finally, Prince Charles...

I would have loved it if they had managed to get Maxine Peake, too

Sadly, the video stops at that point, and doesn't show Paapa going on to give the full speech, which cannot have been easy, following directly on from the sketch!

Sir Ian McKellen

And directly afterwards, Sir Ian McKellen gave 'The Migrant's Speech' from Sir Thomas More:



Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding tooth ports and costs for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you. You had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.

It was beautifully done.

I would have loved to have been in the audience at Stratford,but as I couldn't be, I'm glad they broadcast it.I believe the full thing is available on BBC iPlayer for the next month.
Happy Birthday, Master Shakespeare!

( I may also have spent some time watching Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons in 'The Hollow Crown', and am looking forward to the next ones, the first of which is going to be shown early next month)
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After my morning of exhibitions, I headed over to the Globe Theatre, or rather to it's neighbour, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

It's the first time I have been. The playhouse was built in 2014 and is a reproduction of a Jacobean indoor theatre, built of wood (within in brick shell) and lit by candles. It was built based on 17th Century plans - and is likely to be similar to the Blackfriars Theatre which was built in 1596 and used by Shakespeare's 'Lord Chamberlain's Men' from 1608, so his later plays would have performed somewhere like this.


It's not very big - it seats 340 (snugly) and it's an interesting experience. As I booked months ago, I had a seat in the front row of the pit (the front row consisting of two teeny wooden benches, one each side of the aisle, each seating 3 people. It is, I have to say, extremely uncomfortable. But close to the action. Like the Globe, the actors have lots of entrances and exits via the aisle.

(photo from the Globe's website)

As well as being my first visit to the Playhouse, it was also the first time I have seen 'Cymbeline'.

It's an interesting play - Othello-esque jealousy, plus cross-dressing, a wicked step-mother, mistaken identity, battles, Romans and a happy ending (except, of course, for the wicked step-mother. Oh, and the guy who got decapitated). But mostly a happy ending.


It was good fun. Although I have to say, I thing Innogen was remarkably forgiving of her husband's whole 'order my faithful servant to murder my wife because I believed my Italian  acquaintance when he claimed he slept with her, without pausing to consider that he stood to lose 3,000 ducats and a lot of street cred if he admitted she turned him down'

I particularly enjoyed the performances of Trevor Fox, as Posthumus's servant, Pisanio, Emily Barber as Innogen, and Eugene O'Hare as the underhand and scheming Iachimo (sporting a somewhat anachronistic plastic cast on one leg, but not letting it slow him down in any way)

Very glad I went.


And then, after meeting up with A, and getting food (and conversation) we headed to the Duke of York's Theatre to see Dr. Faustus.

It's a very . .. interesting .. production. It combined Christopher Marlowe's original text (and Elizabethan language) for the first and last scenes, with middle scenes rewritten (in modern language)  by Colin Teevan, and features Faustus (Harington) achieving fame and fortune as a superstar stage magician.


There are topical references, to President Obama, Tony Blair, Cameron's tax affairs. It is not for the squeamish or easily offended. There are demons in grubby underwear (and at times in nothing at all), murders, suicide, rape, smoking. It was not quite what I as expecting, but very well done.

Jenna Russell is superb as Mephistopheles - She, I think, is the real star of this show. Which is not to say that Harington isn't good; he is, but she is outstanding - I particularly enjoyed her comments to latecomers, returning to the stalls after the interval, as she sang, and her word-weary dealings with Faustus.

(for those wondering, the full frontal nudity in the play is not that of Mr Harington, although he  does strip down to his underwear)

I'm a little tempted now to book to see the RSC's production of the play, just for the contrast..


Oh, and kids, the takeaway message here is Just Say No to Pacts with Satan, especially when sealed with your own blood. It doesn't end well.

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After Alice Roberts and Neil Jordan, my day of Bath Lit. Fest. on Saturday continued with their 'Shakespeare Gala', which I saw with my friend T.


The brochure wasn't very detailed, so I was not sure what to expect.


The first half of the evening was series of short scenes presented by The Salon Collective , who explained that the scenes were prepared for in the way that actors in Shakespeare's own day would have received them: each actor being given only their own lines, and the 'cue word' -the last word of the preceding speaker's line, so they do not necessarily know what the scene is about or who else is involved.


The scenes they performed were all Shakespearean, mainly linking scenes, so we had Emilia helping Desdemona prepare for bed, rather than a big confrontation between Othello and Desdemona.


It was interesting, although not as much fun as I had hoped.


There was then an extremely long interval, and I think a lot of people left  during the interval,as there seemed to be a lot of empty seats for the second half. Which is a shame, as the second event was a lot of fun!


It was a largely improvised performance, based on suggestions as to style and content from the audience, and performed in extempore Shakespearean verse. Our show was a late comedy, entitled 'The Wives of Bath' and involving  mistaken identity, lechery, treachery, and just a soupcon of history, all interspersed with occasional pauses for the artists to explain the rhyme schemes they were using.

It was very, very clever, and enormous fun.

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Last week was the first full week back to work after the Christmas Break. The downside of New Year's Eve being on Friday is of course that you then have a full week as the first week back - no gentle easing into back into work!


The week went reasonably well, and then I had a busy and fun weekend.


On Saturday (9th) I  had another day trip to London for another matinee, at the Barbican, to see David Tennant as Richard II. This is showing as part of the RSC's 'Great Cycle of Kings', comprising Richard II, Henry IV Parts I and II, and Henry V. They were originally produces by the RSC in Stratford in 2013 (which was when I originally saw Richard II (blogged about it here), then in late 2014 I saw Henry IV Part I when it was broadcast live to cinemas, and Part II when it came to Bath on tour (blogged here). The RSC have now repeated the productions, with many of the same key cast members.


I booked myself a ticket on impulse, as I rather liked the idea of seeing the play, and Mr Tennant, again. And needing just a single ticket was able to get one in the stalls, so was hopeful that  I would have a better view than the first time round!


It's a good production - David Tennant is, as expected, excellent. Unlikeable, during much of the play, of course:  Richard, at least as as painted by Shakespeare, is not a terribly attractive or likeable character, and  this production emphasises his basic unsuitability to be a medieval king. Despite that, he evokes a good deal of sympathy as he is, quite clearly, his own worst enemy (despite the stiff competition).


There were some changes to the cast from last time I saw the production - Bolingbroke, John of Gaunt and Aumerle have all changed, as has the Queen, which made it all the more interesting.


I particularly enjoyed Jasper Britton's Bolingbroke. I think he is my new favourite usurper. (Even if he did break the Barbican stage a little bit)


I was a little underwhelmed by John of Gaunt (Julian Glover) in the 'Scepter'd Isle' speech: it came across as querulous,  which for me meant it lost much of its power, although Gaunt's other scenes were very strong.

And the set and lighting are excellent -the backdrops are projected onto metal curtains which is very effective (and there's a small section, in the foyer, so you can see how it works, and, if you are a small child, run through the curtains creating ghosts on the wall behind!)

There are trumpeters, and a small chorus singing Latin anthems where appropriate (And dressed in blue, a la Wilton Diptych, for the abdication scene, which I don't recall from the Stratford production, although it may simply be that they were not visible from our seats)


Oh, and Mr Britton's damage to the Barbican? During Bolingbroke's conversation with his father, following his banishment, (wherein John of Gaunt encourages him to think of it as a 6-year holiday, and to make lemonade out of the lemons life has given him, and Bolingbroke points out that that's all very well, but that he doesn't like Abroad, as it's full of foreigners and you can't get a decent cup of tea anywhere  (I'm paraphrasing slightly)

Bolingbroke is, understandably, feeling a little miffed, and stompy, and in stomping upon the stage dislodged a long strip of edging which fell off entirely. Those on stage impressively refrained from laughing.. it was serendipitous that Bolingbroke's next line was ;"Where'er I wander, boast of this I can..." which Britton made the most of! (and Tennant, behind him on stage, as he exited slipped in a quick 'I'm watching you' mime...)


So, the final verdict ? An excellent production. Well worth seeing.

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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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Last Thursday, the Barbican Hamlet was broadcast live to cinemas, and I went to see it.



As you know, I saw it live back in August (see here) and I was really interested to see it again, and to see what had changed, and how different the play appeared on film. There are a few of the other NT Broadcasts which I've both on stage an screen, and it's never the same.  (Not necessarily worse or better, just different)



I think that this production, being so big, and with such a cinematic set, worked well as a broadcast.




Some of the things which I have found annoying about some of the other broadcasts, such as the habit of zooming in on primary characters and missing much of the subtle background action, were still present here, but I found it less irritating in this production than in others, as it cut out some of the things I found irritating about the live show, such as the excessive use of over-elaborate props. It did however also mean that there were some subtleties lost - the gradual disintegration of Elsinore was far less obvious, for instance.



I did think that the production has improved as the actors have settled into it - the friendship between Horatio and Hamlet seemed closer and more plausible (although I am still not a fan of nerdy backpacker Horatio) and I thought Ophelia's scenes, particularly after Polonius's death, were stronger, although as a character (though not the actor) is not, in my view, one of Shakespeare's better creations!

I enjoyed seeing it again.

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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!

Laertes
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.
Ophelia
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!)
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I spent this weekend visiting relations in London.We had tickets to see the Globe Theatre's production of Shakespeare's 'King John', and also took the opportunity to visit the British Museum and see their 'Indigenous Australia' exhibition.


The exhibition is not big, but it is very interesting, and has some beautiful artifacts and art, and it appeared to me that the curators had tried very hard to ensure that the exhibition was presented in a way which was respectful of the indigenous Australian's culture and history, including details of how they were treated by the British Colonists and Australian Government, although there were a few odd phrases... for instance, referring to the lack if recognition of Indigenous People's rights to / occupation of Australia as a 'mistake' and a 'misunderstanding' seemed a little odd - not least because it implies that the country would not have been Colonized had Cook and his successors understood more, which, baring in mind British Colonial Expansion in the 18th and 19th Centuries seems a bit unlikely!


But over all I enjoyed the exhibition, learned things I didn't know before, and would encourage anyone likely to be in London to see it.

After visiting the exhibition, we browsed a little elsewhere in the museum, including taking a look at the Waddesdon Bequest, which includes some lovely medieval jewels, plate and other artifacts.(The museum has just rehoused it in a newly refurbished gallery)


I am not a big fan of the elaborate gold / gilt tableware, although the workmanship is amazing, but the various jewels are beautiful, and fun - I rather liked this little ram. I should be happy to give it a home, if the Museum should suddenly decide to start rehoming its art!


After that, we had a very pleasant Chinese meal before heading over to the Globe to see King John.


I have never seen the play before, and deliberately decided not to read it before seeing it, although of course I am broadly familiar with the history. It isn't performed very often(this is, I think, the first time the Globe has done it) and I did wonder whether there was good reason for that, and that it perhaps isn't one of William's best.

I need not have worried. It was excellent, with a very strong cast. I enjoyed it immensely, and there were a surprising number of funny moments, among the battles and deaths and betrayals.


King John was played by Jo Stone-Fewings, (who played Buckingham in the production of Richard III I saw at Trafalgar Studios last year). His John was initially gleeful (the play started with his coronation, during which there was a plainsong setting of 'Zadok the Priest')


Alex Waldmann, as 'the Bastard' had, in some respects, the biggest role, and seemed to have a good deal of fun with it, and left the distinct impression that had the play continued much longer, John might have discovered he had a usurper on his hands...


The rest of the cast was equally strong. Tanya Moodie's Constance seemed, at first, to be pushing her son (Prince Arthur)'s claims for political reasons, arguing her (his) case, but as the play progressed and Arthur was captured by King John, she was the bereft and mourning mother, a picture of grief.


I don't think there was a single weak link in the cast,


Although I had not realised it in advance (perhaps because it wasn't me that booked the tickets, the performance we saw was the last in the run, so after the play ended there was a brief speech from Artistic Director Domenic Dromgoole, followed by the cast throwing roses ito the crowd. (with a special cheer for (I think) Giles Terera who managed, at the third attempt, to get a rose up into the gallery!


It was a great evening, and I'm really glad that I got to see the play. Seeing it at the Globe was an extra bonus, and even a minor train issue on the way back didn't dampen our enjoyment!

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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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