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 I've only seen one previous production of Coriolanus, three years ago,  at the Donmar (review here), so I was interested when I saw the RSC were including it in this season.

I did enjoy this production, but I didn't find the interpretation of the text as interesting, or Coriolanus's character, as compelling as in the last production I saw.

In particular, Coriolanus seemed to have little agency in his own life, and his final choice, to stop the assault on Rome in response to the pleas of his wife, mother and son, lost much of it's force, as he seemed not to realise the implications, seeming almost surprised that the Volscian's didn't accept his terms. I preferred a Coriolanus who recognised and accepted that his choice would have a terrible personal consequence.

However, I think this was a choice by the director rather than a reflection on the actors involved, all of whim I felt did solid work.

I do find it interesting to see different versions of the same play, and to see how the same text can be interpreted, but in this case, despite strong performances from Sope Dirisu (Coriolanus) and Haydn Gwynne (Volumnia) in particular, I found this one  little bit disappointing.

I fairness, though we did a preview, it may be that the production will find itself as the run continues.

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I first became aware of Tanya Moodie when she played 'Hunter' in the BBC TV series Neverwhere, and more recently saw her stunning performances in Intimate Apparel, and Fences, both in Bath, and as Constance in King John, and Gertrude in Hamlet, at the Globe and RSC respectively.

She is an excellent actor, so when I saw that she was coming back to Bath, of course I had to book a ticket!

She is appearing as Wiletta Mayer  in a new production of Trouble in Mind, the 1955 play by Alice Childress.

Wiletta is an African-American actress, who has built a successful career in the theatre, catering to the preconceptions and   prejudices of (white) directors and writers.

She is cast in a production of a "progressive" anti-lynching Broadway play, 'Chaos in Belleville', written by a white writer, directed by a white man who is proud of his progressive and egalitarian attitudes, but is far less open-minded than he likes to believe when Wiletta challenges his attitudes.

Tanya Moodie as Wiletta Mayer

The play deals with issues of racism (both direct, and subconscious) and is depressingly current, given that it is 60 years old, but there is also a lot of (often dark) comedy, and the pleasure which comes with watching excellent actors.
It's a very good production, and Tanya Moodie's singing voice is a gorgeous addition! I don't think I have heard her sing before!
The play is on until 17th December, and I cannot recommend too strong
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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!

RSC Hamlet

Mar. 22nd, 2016 05:37 pm
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The RSC's season this spring includes a new production of Hamlet, and I thought it would be interesting to see it.

The title role is played by Paapa Essiedu,with Hiran Abeysekera as Horatio, Marcus Griffiths as Laertes, Natalie Simpson as Ophelia, and Tanya Moodie and Clarence Smith as Gertrude and Claudius, respectively.

The performance I saw was the very first preview  performance, and we were told, immediately before the play began, that the cast had not had the opportunity to have a full dress rehearsal on the main stage!

Despite one or two small glitches, which will no doubt be sorted as the run continues, it was a good performance and a very good production. I don't think there was a single weak link in the cast.

The production sets the play in a contemporary, (unidentified) African nation, and at the start of play we see his graduation from Wittenberg University - there is a feeling of a clash of culture between Hamlet, with his foreign education and friends, (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are, here, presented as young outsiders - gap year travellers, perhaps, tourists unfamiliar with the customs of the country.)  and the court and customs of Denmark.

And it works really, really, well.

Essiedu's Hamlet is young and passionate, very volatile - his 'madness' a relatively short step from his earlier volatility. The friendship between Hamlet and Horatio appears deep and enduring - Horatio's loyalty to Hamlet, and his despair in the final scenes, as a result, are completely believable.

Cyril Nri's Polonius was far more dignified, and far less a figure of fun, than he usually is, which, coupled with the warmth of the scenes between him and his children, makes Ophelia's descent into madness following his death appear more a reaction to his death, than to Hamlet's repudiation of his love for her.

What else? Ewart James Walters is the most dignified and awe-inspiring Ghost you could imagine, and the final duel between Hamlet and Leartes is fast and thrilling (even though you know how it will end, and the production as a whole brings a freshness to the [lay which is pretty impressive, considering that the play is 400 years old.

If you can get to Stratford and see it, I strongly recommend it. If you can't, try to catch it when it is broadcast to cinemas in June.

I believe that Paapa Essiedu and Hiran Abeysekera are both going to be appearing in the BBC's production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' which is showing later this year, as Demetrius and Puck respectively. I was looking  forward to that already, but after seeing this, I'm looking forward to it even more!

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On Saturday evening, I went to Bristol, to visit the Old Vic Theatre to see their production of 'Jane Eyre', which is now back in Bristol (where it began) after a season in London.

It's a long time since I have been to the Old Vic. I used, with a friend, to go fairly regularly, and saw my first Hamlet (Iain Glen) there in 1991.

It is a lovely little theatre, and has the distinction of being the longest continuously-running theatre in the country, having first opened in 1766 (and thus celebrating it's 250th anniversary this year), and has recently been renovated.

Although the theatre is old, this production of Jane Eyre is new - and very good.

It has a small cast, so everyone, except Madeleine Worrall (Jane) and Melanie Marshall (Bertha Rochester) plays multiple roles - this does lead to one or two distracting moments (Lowood Institute turns out to have several remarkably hirsute and deep-voiced orphan girls, for instance)

I thought it was a really imaginative adaptation. I had some reservations about the number of ladders involved in the set, and would have liked the sub-plot about Jane's inheritance to have been left in,as that does emphasise that Jane has a real choice, between returning to Mr Rochester, marrying St John, or remaining unmarried and financially independent, but of course there is a limit to how much you can squeeze in to a 3 hour play!

I shall be looking out for more work from Sally Cookson, the director,and from the cast.
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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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At the end of November I had a further trip to London, to see the RSC Henry V at the Barbican, and the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company All on her own' / Harliquinade double-bill at the Garrick theatre.

Both were very good.

The Henry V is part of the 'Great Cycle of Kings', directed by Gregory Doran, - Richard II, Henry IV parts I and II, and Henry V.

I saw Richard II (with David Tennant) in Stratford, in November 2013,and then saw Henry IV Pt. I as a live broadcast, and Henry IV Pt. II at Bath, last November, so when I saw that the RSC was reuniting the same cast and performing the pays at the Barbican in London I decided that I would go and fill in the gap, and see the last of the 4.

Alex Hassell as Henry V - Photo (c) RSC

I enjoyed it a lot. It's pretty much uncut, and Hassell was a convincingly tough and aggressive Henry, and while I am not a fan of Shakespeare's 'comic' Scots / Welsh / Irish Captains, their scenes were done well.

I also found it interesting to be back at the Barbican and to see the contrast between the huge and ornate 'Hamlet' set, and the sparse Henry V one!

I then had the pleasure of meeting up with a friend for a meal and catch up, before heading to the Garrick theatre to see the first of the plays in Kenneth Branagh's company's run (I have ticket for a couple of the others, for next year)

It was a Terence Rattigan double bill - 'All on her Own', a monologue, performed by Zoë Wanamaker, as a widow returning home after a party, a  little the worse for wear, and starting a conversation with her late husband. Poignant and superbly performed.

The second half of the double bill was 'Harlquinade', which is utterly hilarious. I never realised what a talent for comedy Branagh had!

The play is set during a dress rehearsal of 'Romeo and Juliet' in 1946, and features Branagh as Arthur Gosport, an ageing actor-manager who, with his wife is touring the provinces as part of a government scheme to bring culture to the masses.

Both he and his wife, (Miranda Raison) are both utterly absorbed in the play, oblivious to their stage manager's attempts to tell them he will to be continuing the tour, and  the implications of the arrival of young Mrs Palmer and her baby... not to mention issues of bigamy, and farcical misunderstandings.

Hadley Fraser has a slight slight as the First Halberdier, and the whole thing is laugh-out-loud funny. There's something highly entertaining about watching very good actors pretending to be not-so-good actors.

It was a lot of fun.

And then on Sunday, before I went home, I got to meet up with a relative I haven't seen for ages which was great.

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In the evening, after the 'Platform' at the National, I headed straight over to the Duke of York's Theatre for Claire Van Kampen's new play, 'Farinelli and the King'. I booked this back in March, so it has been a long wait, but it did not disappoint!

The theatre's interior has been changed for the production  - with seating on stage, steps up to the stage and, most impressively, 6 hanging candelabras, with actual candles.(the first 3 rows were all warned that they would have to leave their seats during the interval, so that the candles could be changed) There are also candles for the footlights, and onstage (although they have used electric spotlights, too!)

The play itself was excellent - Mark Rylance was undoubtedly the star of the show as King Philip, from the opening scenes as he discourses to a goldfish, through  return to active rule, but he was surrounded by a very strong cast - Edward Peel as de la Cuadra (Prime Minister), disapproving strongly of, well, practically everything, Melody Grove as the Queen, Huss Garbiya as the Doctor, and Sam Crane as Farinelli (with singing by Rupert Enticknap)

The size of the theatre, and the way it has been set up, meant that the experience was a very intimate one - as at the Globe, there were lots of entrances and exits through the auditorium (which is fun, if you have a seat on the aisle!), there were also moments when the actors spoke to us directly (we were, temporarily, local residents, farmers and poachers)

And the music was lovely. The plot revolves about the decision of the queen, acting upon her doctor's advice, to bring superstar (Castrati) singer, Farinelli, to Court on the  hope that hopes music will cure the King's 'madness' and melancholia. The idea works, on the whole.

Crane, as Farinelli, is beautifully subtle, reacting and responding, frequently in silence, to the more showy performances of the other actors. Farinelli is billed as the world's greatest singer, and when he sings, Crane is replaced by opera singer Rupert Enticknap, who performs the arias. This takes a little getting used to, but is very effective, distinguishing between Farinelli the performer, and Farinelli the person.

I am so glad that I went, and now I really want to see Mark Rylance in more live stuff. In fact, I'd really like to see this production again. Although I don't think that will be possible, as it is sold out and in any case the run is fairly short and I don't think I'd be able to get to London again in the right time scale.

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On Friday, I had the unusual experience of having to go to a Beer Festival for work. Which was interesting, and quite entertaining. We had sponsored one of the barrels, so naturally we had to go along to say hello, and to make sure that they were treating our beer well.

They were, although (whisper it) I found two other beers which I liked better than the one we sponsored. Clearly I shall have to consider more carefully next year when the time comes to pick one to sponsor (assuming, of course,that we do it again)

And it was nice to relax and unwind a little with a colleague. Especially as he agreed to be the designated driver!

Then on Saturday night,  after a grey and drizzly day, during which I managed to do a little bit of housework, and cut the grass because it really, really needed it, despite being a bit too damp for proper lawn-mowing, and failed to go shopping for curtain rails because I couldn't face the thought of B&Q, I headed into Bath, to the Theatre Royal, to see 'Mrs Henderson Presents', a brand new musical version of the film, based on the true story of the Windmill Theatre.

It was fun - it could have used a larger cast, so they could make the big ensemble numbers bigger, with more chorus girls, and I was, I admit, disappointed to see that, unlike in the film, the gentlemen of the cast were only seen from the rear during the 'everyone gets naked' scene.

There's a strong cast, minimal plot, catchy songs, and lots of naked women.

Tracie Bennett plays Mrs Henderson, and is appropriately tart and posh.

Emma Williams  appeared as Maureen, tea-lady turned performer.

I particularly enjoyed Graham Hoadly's Lord Chancellor, perfectly stuffy, and with more than a nod to Gilbert and Sullivan. (and, of course, the freemasons...)

This show premiered in Bath, but I think is going to be seen in London later this year. Its a lot of fun. A very good evening out. And it was clear thatthe entire audie ce was enjoying itself!

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Back in the New Yer, I heard that Tom Hiddleston, who I was fortunate enough to see live in Coriolanus at the Donmar theatre just over a year ago (as well, of course, as enjoying his performances on screen, including his wonderfully insane Loki in the Avengers film) was going to be appearing for a one-off 'in conversation with' evening at the Nuffield Theatre in Southampton.

The prospect of having to drive the (nearly) 2 hours home after the event was a little daunting, but not daunting enough to put me off booking, so last night, after a fun weekend with my sister and her husband, I arrived at the Nuffield ready to watch, listen and enjoy!

The theatre is a relatively small one (I think it seats around 450) and was almost full. I was fortunate enough to have tickets for Row D, which was the third row back, so had an excellent view.

Tom was interviewed by Sam Hodges, the theatre's director / CEO, who proved to be a good interviewer, willing to let his interviewee talk without interruption, and letting the interview develop as a conversation rather than a rigid set of questions, which was nice.

The event started a little late -it was closer to 7.15 than 7 when Tom came onto the stage, wearing a beautiful 3 piece suit and red tie. He immediately told  us that he would be taking his jacket off, "if we didn't mind" (there was a round of applause which I think could be interpreted to mean that no-one would mind in the slightest)

Tom spoke about his passion for the theatre, and how important to him the connection between the actors and the audience is, and how he first felt how powerful this could be when he attended a performance of Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman starring Paul Schofield, when he was about 14 years old. He described seeing how before the play, all of the audience members were talking and worrying about babysitters and work, and there came a point in the show where the whole audience were united, and forgetting those preconceptions. He also mentioned that on a personal level he doesn't really understand why people chose to drink before attending at the theatre, as why would you not want to be completely alert and focused on what is happening?

He described how he sees acting - quoting a mentor, he said that it is about telling the truth in imaginary situations. Tom was very clear that he feels he has an obligation (he used the word duty) to try to be as truthful as possible in portraying characters and their emotions, and that he would never want to look back on a performance and feel he could have done it better.

This led on to discussions as to favourite performance spaces, and the pleasure of spaces with good acoustics and the ability to feel that connection with the audience. Tom explained that this was particularly true in Coriolanus, when he could hear the gasps from the audience, and see people shrinking back lest they were spattered with his blood!

(He also explained that with a long run, there is always a challenge of trying to keep performances fresh, and that in Coriolanus, he would pick one of three possible entrances each night for his first entrance, so that the 3 actors playing the commons would be genuinely surprised,each night, not knowing where he would come from! )

Tom also talked about the process of acting - explaining that for his role as Loki, he spent days being filmed in ultra violet light by 160 cameras totally surrounding him, to register every different emotion, in order that this could then be used to put those expressions onto Loki's face in scenes (such as the Hulk smash ones) where Loki has to be created by CGI.

He confirmed that while he has great admiration for Daniel Day Lewis he doesn't consider himself to be a Method actor, he finds it more helpful to be able to discuss a character with the director, and to ask for input and make suggestions. (Although he did admit to staying in character to the extent of retaining the same voice/accent, when filming 'I Saw the Light' ). Did I mention that when Tom quotes what other people have said he uses their voices?

When Tom is quoting other people he uses their voices, so we heard Sir Anthony Hopkins (speaking about the way that people love dark and dangerous characters, even though they would run in terror were they to met those characters in real life, with reference to both Loki and Hannibal Lecter), and Rodney Crowell (who mentored Tom for 'I Saw the Light'  . My words cannot do justice to the sight and sound of Tom Hiddleston, in his beautiful waistcoat and lovely natural accent,suddenly coming out with a pitch-perfect Southern accent! You will just have to imagine it (at least until the film comes out)

The interview also covered the issue of education and equality of access - Tom explained that when he attended Cambridge, and then RADA, he paid around £1,100 per year for tuition fees, but now the fees are around £10,000 per year. He did stress that there are various bursaries and scholarships available, and that he believes that actors and other people in the industry are very welcoming and egalitarian (which I guess is good for young actors once they have managed to get one foot in the door!)

The topic of Tom's support for 'He for She' came up, and he dealt with it very simply by explaining that for him, it is inconceivable, anathema, to think that women and men are not equally capable, and should not be equally treated, so there was every reason to lend his support, and no reason not to.

Tom talked about the various roles he has played, and why and how he chooses them. He explained that he feels there is a part of him in in each role, his determination and self-motivation in Coriolanus,for example, and his sense of mischief in Loki, and also the roles follow on from one another - the goodness and decency of Captain Nicholls in War Horse came as a contrast with the dark and 'damaged' character of Loki (and of course there was also the opportunity to lead a cavalry charge, which is not an opportunity which comes up every day!)

The majority of the evening was in the form of the interview / conversation between Tom and Sam, including some questions which had been sent in in advance by audience members.

At the very end there was about 10 minutes for audience questions. Sadly the first was someone trying to circumvent the very clear information about Tom being unable to stay to provide autographs, photos or a meet and greet, and to ask for an autograph but after that there were a couple of interesting questions.

One woman asked whether, following on from various women playing male roles, there were any female roles he would like to play, and mentioned her own wish to play Iago (he told her to go for it!) His response was to say he thought there needed to be more women taking on traditional male roles.

It was a fascinating evening, and gave a lot of insight into Tom's approach to his craft, which he clearly takes very seriously, and works extremely hard at, to be the very best he can be. I would love to know whether there were many drama students or aspiring actors in the audience, as I think that they would have found it illuminating, and helpful.

Oh, and did I mention the part where he offered one of the bottled of water from the stage to someone in the front row who seemed a bit hot and thirsty?  (It was very hot in the theatre). Such a thoughtful chap!

We were not permitted to take photographs during the event, so I didn't, so here is a copy of one of the press pictures for 'Coriolanus' instead,  because, well, why not?

I shall be looking forward to seeing I Saw the Light when it comes out (Apparently, all of the singing and playing is Tom himself) and will keep my fingers crossed that he comes back to live theatre (and that I can get tickets) sooner rather than later.

I got home very late, but very happy!


Jan. 24th, 2015 10:47 pm
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A little before Christmas, I learned that 'Stardust' has been adapted for the stage, (by Russ Tunney (@1piratesmall) for the Forest Forge Theatre Company.  A little after that, I learned that the one performance which was within a reasonable distance of my home was sold out.

And then, more recently, I saw that one of the performances which was not within a reasonable distance was, nevertheless, a matinee, so it became possible to drive there and not end up getting home at midnight...

So today, together with my friend Tamzin, I set off on a magical mystery tour of 3 counties, t see the play.  We'd planned to go early and have time for a pub lunch before the play, but between my over-confidence about knowing the way for the first part of the trip, an unexpected road closure resulting in a rather long detour, and a couple of unfortunate sat-nav blindspots, we ended up with no time for lunch, but fortunately we'd both come prepared, so didn't starve!

And we were  in plenty of time for the play.

The stage was small, and there were no scene changes, the different scenes and moods were shown purely by differences in lighting, and the addition and removal of small boxes used as seats, steps, a coach seat, or whatever else was necessary.

The cast was also small: just 4 actors, who between them play around 20 characters (plus the Unicorn).

I very much enjoyed the play. It was very faithful to the book, albeit with some cuts (no flying ship, alas) and wonderfully light-hearted (there were fewer deaths, and less blood, than the book), lots of hats, and one Perfectly SPLENDID false moustache. And of course, a delightful dormouse.

The performance we saw was a matinee at a school, and there were lots of children in the audience, all of whim seemed to be gripped by the show,(if occasionally confused by the fact that that the actors were performing multiple roles - there were some suggestions from the children sitting behind us that the Lady Una, and/or Victoria Forrester, was Yvaine in disguise, for example, but this did not seem to reduce anyone's enjoyment.)

The production has clearly been created to make Gaiman's fairy tale for grown-ups into one suitable for all. I enjoyed the nods to Neil's Sandman books, in the titles for each scene, and suspect that the Unicorn ws inspired, at least in part, by the wonderful 'War Horse' puppets.

I admit that I was worried, before I saw the production,  that no stage show could do justice to the original, and it it would be particularly difficult with so small a cast and such minimal set. I shouldn't have been. It's clear that the production has been staged on a show string, but it is very professional, and I think that if Neil Gaiman were to see what has been done with his story, he'd be likely to approve. I think there are one or two points where the story might be a little confusing, for those not already familiar with the plot, but over all I was very impressed indeed.

The cast were Michael Cole, Stacey Evans, Zachary Powell, Alana Armstrong. I shall be looking out for their names in future.

The show is still touring, mostly in Hampshire, and if you are within striking distance of any of the performances I encourage you to go.

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On Friday evening (which was a very cold evening!) I went into Bath to the theatre to see a new production of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Daniel Betts and Jemima Bennet
It's a touring production by the Regents Park Open Air Theatre company, and was very good.

The book itself remains a part of the action, with the (adult) actors reading extracts from the book by way of narration, to move the action along.

I was surprised, to start with, as it's an unusual technique for a stage play, but it worked really well, allowing Scout's memories and views to be expressed without having to resort to extra conversations between characters, which can, of course, be a little contrived in adaptations of novels.
Zackary Momoh

The set is minimal - the cast draw a plan of the town with chalk, on the stage, at the outset. Other than a tree, with a tyre swing hanging from it, and various chairs,there is very little in way of set.

Daniel Betts was superb as Atticus Finch, (although he appeared a little too young), and Zarkary Momohas as Tom Robinson was very impressive, managing to convey both his fear and vulnerability, and his  integrity.

The trial scenes were entirely acted, not narrate, and, even knowing the outcome, was utterly gripping.

I thought it was an excellent production. The play is now touring, finishing up at the Barbican this summer, and if it comes near you, I'd recommend it - well worth seeing!

I came out of the theatre to discover it was very cold indeed - I had to scrape ice off my car to drive home.
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This week started well, with a visit from my sister and brother-in-law on Monday (which was a Bank Holiday, and therefore rainy). Since we've all been busy, I've not seen them for a while, and this was the first time they've been to the new house.

So we celebrated with prosecco, and by getting C to help put up some curtains and replace the thing to hold the shower head. (the old one was not up to the job, and I was unable to work out how to get the damn thing off the wall.)

Then on Thursday I had more visitors - E, who I was at University with, and her husband and daughter. E is one of my theatre-going friends, so I last saw her last November, in Stratford upon Avon, but haven't had the chance to send time with her family, so that was fun!

On Saturday, I travelled up to London for the day, to see Richard III at Trafalgar Studios, starring Martin Freeman in the title role.

My original plan involved getting to London with about 2 hours to spare, to allow time to go looking for a few of the Books about Town book benches, but unfortunately my train was delayed, and as they were predicting it would be at least an hour and a half before it moved on, I ended up getting off and taking a 45 minute bus ride, and another 40 minutes on the tube, to get to Charing Cross just in time, so other than taking a quick look at the giant blue cock in Trafalgar Square I had no time for anything other than the show itself.

Richard III is not my favourite play -  but decided to see this production as I was interested to see Martin Freeman in the role, and as I  have been to other productions at Trafalgar Studios,and directed by Jamie Lloyd, which I've enjoyed. And I did enjoy it.

The play is set in the 1979 'Winter of Discontent', with the the implication of a Royalist/Military coup having taken place just before the play opens - the stage is set up like a civil service office, with desks, phones, reel-to-reel tape recorders and sickly house plants. I have to admit, I didn't feel that this worked awfully well. It's too complex, and it doesn't really sit well with the severed heads .

Richard's initial speech was given partly as a 'public' address, given to the rest of the nobility, via mike, and partly as a soliloquy, with the mike off, and the others all frozen - it worked quite well, but the same convention wasn't followed for other asides and soliloquies, which seemed odd.

Freeman is good as Richard - there have been mixed reviews, but I felt he has created a truly scary Richard - as the play progresses, he comes across as an increasingly unpredictable and paranoid dictator, with his black humour leaving other characters unsure as to whether he is joking or not - Freeman is quite subtle - I liked it (one of my dislikes about the Kevin Spacey production was that everything was rather melodramatic and over the top)

I was a little worried about the welfare of the poor goldfish, in whose tank the Duke of Clarence was drowned (and into whose tank his throat was cut, too) I am not sure how goldfish feel about fake blood in their water, but having a person thrashing about in your tank can't be good.

All in all, I enjoyed the production, but having seen 2 versions of Richard III with modern settings, I would rather like to see a production set in its own period.

And for the record, I didn't experience any inappropriate applause (there have been a couple of reviews suggestion that 'Sherlock' fans unused to live theatre were attending and cheering / clapping at inappropriate points)

Me? I'd like to see Freeman in other live productions, and I think he benefited from a really strong supporting cast.
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I've mostly been working over the last week or so, which is not terribly interesting for blogging purposes.

However, there have been some entertaining bits and pieces I haven't had time to write about.

I went over to Wells to the cinema to see the live broadcast of the Monty Python show, from the O2 Arena, which was lots of fun - predictable, of course, as any 'greatest hits' show was bound to be, but generally most entertaining. (I did get rather a lot of amusement from watching the family sitting in front of me - I don't think the parents were expecting the Penis Song or the giant candy-striped penis shaped confetti cannons!) And I loved the appearances of Professors Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking, and the sight of the Pythons, now all old, rich men themselves, performing the 'Four Yorkshiremen' sketch.

Then last week, Sandi Toksvig was in Bath promoting her recent book, 'Peas and Queues', and was speaking at an event organised by Topping & Co. - the evening was a lovely mix of personal anecdotes, and comments about manners, and finished up with a short Q and A session. As it was  a very warm night, and I was tired, and there were a lot of people, I didn't stay to get a book signed (or just to say hello - I loved that she specifically said that people were welcome to come just to say hi, and that no one had to buy the book, as it is available in libraries too!)

Then on Friday I headed back into Bath to go to the Theatre Royal's Ustinov Studio to see Joshua Harmon's 'Bad Jews'. I booked it as I noticed that one of the actors involved was Ilan Goodman, who played 'Mr Marks', the shy Jewish haberdasher in the production of 'Intimate Apparel' I saw in June.

This play is very different - a darkly comic tale about who should have a family heirloom, and why.. Special mention goes to Joe Coen, as Jonah, who has I think, the fewest lines, and whose character is b far the least dramatic, but whose anxious (and vain) attempts to avoid conflict are essential to the play.

It's playing until 30th August, and is well worth seeing if you are, or can be, in Bath.

marjorie73: (Default)

Last night I went to the Ustinov Studio in Bath (which is a small, studio theatre attached to the Theatre Royal) to see a production of Lynne Nottage's Intimate Apparel.

Tanya Moodie as Esther

I visit the Theatre Royal pretty regularly, but this was the first time I've been to the Ustinov, which is a much smaller (and newer) theatre.  I really enjoyed the evening.

I have to admit that I'm not familiar with Lynne Nottage's work, but based on this performance, I have been missing out, and would like to see more of her work.

The play is set in New York in 1905, and is an imagined history of the author's own great-grandparents. Esther (Tanya Moodie) is a 35 year old seamstress, who has lived in the same  boarding house for 18 years, since walking to New York to seek work, and who sees other girls coming and going, moving on to marriage and motherhood.  She longs for love, and dreams of opening her own beauty parlour where poor, black women such as herself could go to be pampered and treated well.

Esther then receives a letter from George Armstrong (Chu Omambala), a labourer on the Panama Canal. Being illiterate, Esther relies on two of her clients, wealthy, unhappily married Mrs Van Buren (Sara Topman) and singer / prostitute Mayme (Rochelle Neil) to read the letters to her, and to compose replies.

Esther also has a friendship with Mr Marks, (Ilan Goodman) a Jewish haberdasher with whom she bonds over a shared love of fine fabrics.

Tanya Moodie's performance is perfect, creating a deeply moving, poignant character, longing to be loved.

George is a less obviously sympathetic character, particularly in the second half of the play, and I was slightly distracted by his accent, which seemed to slip from the Caribbean, to Bristol, to Ireland.

Over all, however, this is a fantastic performance, of a great play. And it's on in Bath until 28th June, so if you live locally, there is still time to see it. (and it is in London after that)


War Horse

Mar. 1st, 2014 12:07 pm
marjorie73: (Default)
I've been hearing about the play, War Horse, for years (I think it has been on stage for 6 or 7 years, now), but have never got around to seeing it.

I still haven't seen it on stage, but on Thursday evening, I was able to see it at my local cinema as part of the 'NT Live' programme.

I love the NT Live broadcasts.

I love going to the theatre, and I'm lucky that I manage to see a fair few shows, both locally and in London, but the broadcasts make it possible to see shows I wouldn't otherwise see, (or to see shows I enjoyed, again ) and of course it gives so many people the chance to see things they wouldn't otherwise be able to (and generally for much less than the cost of theatre tickets, particularly once you factor in travel!)

I enjoyed the show. The initial scenes are set in Devon, and I did find it slightly distracting that the actors accents ranged from actual Devon, to 'generic yokel', with a smattering of Irish, but fortunately it didn't throw me completely out of the story.

The puppets, which are made by the Handspring Puppet Company of Cape Town, are astonishing - the puppeteers are always visible, and the horses (and other puppets) are very obviously puppets, but at the same time they are completely convincing as horses - even while you can see the puppeteer moving the cogs and rods to make their ears move, or their flanks heave.

The plot isn't a complex one, but it manages to be gripping, and I admit that I may have been a little teary when Albert and Joey are finally reunited!

Well worth seeing if you have the opportunity!
marjorie73: (Default)
I couldn't resist booking to see Coriolanus at the cinema,  (part of the NTLive programme) even though I had the good fortune to see it live. So Thursday night found me sitting in the Little Theatre in Bath, waiting to see Messrs Hiddleston and Gatiss, and Co. again.

I really enjoyed seeing the play again - I enjoyed the chance to see it from (mostly) the front rather than the side, which allowed me to see the faces of the actors for some of the parts where they were facing away from me during the live performance, for instance.  (I got to see Aufidius's kiss, which I didn't, the first time round)

The camera angles also meant the painted lines on the stage were more effective. On the other hand, I thought the shots of Martius's bloodied torso after the battle scenes did it a disservice - it was too clearly make up, less convincing than when seen on stage.

There were a couple of issues with the sound - I'm not sure whether that was just at our cinema, or whether it was at the Donmar end. Fortunately it was only for a couple of seconds at a time.

Having had the luxury of seeing the play already, I found that I was able to focus more closely on the dialogue, and on some of the subtler nuances of the play and the actors.

I did find that, in common with other NT Live broadcasts I've seen (and broadcasts of other stage productions, such as ballets) the film crew did insist on a certain amount of cutting and swapping between viewpoints, and zooming in and out. I am not a big fan of this approach - I would rather, on the whole, that they picked a 'seat' for the camera and stayed there, as I feel that that would give a more authentic theatre-going experience. After all, the production has been designed to be seen on stage, not as a film, and I think it loses something when you go to close, or move around too much.

I also disliked the interview with the director, Josie Rourke, being shown during the interval - I felt it was quite jarring. I was interested in what she had to say, but would rather have heard from her either as part of the 'talking heads' shown before the show started, or at the end, rather than in the middle of the play.

However, all of these are minor irritations. Over all, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the play again, (and would be more than happy to see it a third time, if I can find an encore screening that I can get to) and can only repeat what I said the fist time - Tom Hiddleston is a superb actor, and one who is well supported by an excellent cast in this production.

My evening was slightly marred by the fact that I temporarily mislaid the car in the car-park when I came to go home, as I haven't really learned what it looks like yet, so I had to wander around clicking the key until a car flashed its lights at me, but other than that it was a practically perfect evening!
marjorie73: (Default)
Way back in June, tickets went on sale for a production of 'Coriolanus' at the Donmar Warehouse in London, with Tom Hiddleston in the title role.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And did I mention? that Hiddleston is a damn fine actor.
marjorie73: (Default)

The plays are a bit of a mixed bag, and, I would say, *not* Shakespeare's best, but still worth seeing.

The first play covers battles with the French, and Joan of Arc (who was portrayed with a strong Yorkshire accent, presumably to try to emphasis her rural/working class antecedents, although it made a odd contrast with the French accents of the other 'French' characters. Henry VI (who is of course a child during this period) doesn't speak for most of the early part of the play, but in this production is present on stage, reacting with fear, surprise and so on, to the action. There weren't any severed heads in this production, although a number of characters, including Joan or Arc, wind up dead.

The second to plays flow much more readily into each other - , 'The Houses of York and Lancaster', starts with Henry's politically embarrassing marriage, to Margaret of Anjou, the strong-minded but dowerless daughter of the King of Naples, and goes downhill from there, with internal strife at court (leading to the first of the severed heads.. the Duke of Suffolk - and as the same actor played Jack Cade, he later got to admire his *own* severed head, which must be interesting!

The play also saw Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) - who was played as having practically no redeeming features whatsoever (admittedly, difficult to avoid given the text) but also with an exaggerated limp, crookback and unusable arm - which is no doubt authentic in terms of the Shakespearian production, but did strike me as being a bit over the top - quite apart from anything else, it made it difficult to believe in his military exploits!

The body count rises throughout the plays. Which I suppose is fair enough for a civil war.

Over all, I enjoyed the plays but I can see why the aren't among the more frequently performed of the plays, even the history plays.

The tour included several battlefield performances, in the open air at various civil war locations, which I imagine must have been interesting!

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Today is the last day of my stay-at-home holiday, and I have just got back from another trip to the Big Smoke, to see 'Limbo' at London Wonderground.

I booked it ages ago, (and have to say the lovely people at the Southbank centre were very helpful, when I needed to change the date of my ticket)

The BunkerAs I expected to have the afternoon to spare in London, before seeing the show, I also booked a ticket to see 'The Bunker: Morgana and Agamemnon', at the Southwark Playhouse (I didn't realise until afterwards that it was the last but one performance) - I was very favourably impressed.

The plays are set in a WW1 trench, and inspired by legends - 'Morgana' by Arthurian legends, and 'Agamemnon' by the story of Clytemnestra and her lover's murder of Agamemnon.

The performance takes place in a very small space, in which the audience sits on wooden benches around the edges of the performance space, so it's both intimate and somewhat claustrophobic.

'Morgana' features 3 young soldiers - the only survivors of 13 school friends, who as boys at their Tintagel school adopted the names of King Arthur and his knights. Those remaining, Arthur,(Dan Wood) Lancelot (Sam Donnelly) and Gawain (James Marlowe) while away the time in the trenches with songs, jokes and reminiscence, and the enigmatic Morgana / Gwen (Serena Manteghi). There was a particularly strong performance from James Marlowe as the innocent Gawain, and despite the tragedy of the setting, and the multiple betrayals which unfolded, there was also a lot of bleak humour. (and some audience participation with the singing!)

I felt that the second play, Agamemnon, was weaker, although still gripping. It was left deliberately unclear how much of the action involving 'Clytemnestra' and 'Aegisthus' was flashback, how much was 'Agamemnon's' imagination, brought on by his wounds, shell shock and guilt.

Very well worth seeing.


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