Race for Life (York Racecourse, 28th June 2009)

There are lots of reasons for taking part in the Race for Life events. They are great fun, and and preparing and taking part keep us all fit. There is something exciting and encouraging about 5,000 people getting together in one place to take part in a sporting event. At one time, I thought that sport was for those who were fit and the best. With events like the Race for Life, I realise that sport is about taking part and doing something at your own pace. In taking part I know that I don’t have to be the best, but there is a sense of achievement in getting round the course.

Hamlet (Donmar at the Wyndhams, 27th June 2009)

The reason, I wanted to blog was because I wanted to respond in writing to things I’d seen or read or experienced. The intention was never to write reviews like those found in newspapers, but to comment on what I had thought about while watching, reading or viewing. When I walked out of the Jude Law Hamlet, I thought the only way I can respond in Miching Malicho is to compare to David Tennant’s portrayal of Hamlet, because all I kept thinking was that’s the way the RSC did it and they made more out of that line etc. Then I thought that I needed to consider this production on its own merits, because it wasn’t Greg Doran’s production, and it was trying to do something different. I had to remember I’d seen the Doran production five times, so was familiar with much of the blocking etc. Indeed, I enjoy seeing several versions of the same play in a short period of time, and I find this very rewarding, but at times, watching this Hamlet, it felt like the creative team had seen other versions and thought we can’t do that, we’ll have to stay safe.

Most of the characters wore black, so if felt that they were still in mourning, it didn’t make Hamlet’s dress and behaviours seem odd. Indeed, it felt like many of the characters wanted to be Hamlet. For example, when Laertes (Alex Waldmann) returns from France he isn’t full of anger, but rather shocked at the death of his father. It, therefore, doesn’t take much for Claudius to disarm him. Ophelia (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) tended to be static in her mad scenes. There might have been a reason for this, but it wasn’t that obvious to me. There was a lot of just passing by and noticing someone on stage. For example, this happens when Gertrude enters to convey the news that Ophelia has drowned. Instead of having motivated himself to kill Claudio in his ‘witching time of night’ speech, it felt like Hamlet was just about to get himself a cup of cocoa and stumbles on Claudius praying rather than seeking him out.

I felt that some of the other aspects of the production could have been thought through more. Gertrude (Penelope Wilton) drinks the poison as if she just thinks it is a drink. The players dress in white, but why are they still hanging round court when Claudius (Kevin R McNally) has shouted for lights with such force. I’m not sure they would still be hanging round Hamlet when things have gone so wrong for them. The King’s wassails are a little simper, and I didn’t get a sense of the ‘bloated king’ having a good time. Another interesting aspect, but rather curious was the staging of the bedchamber scene. The audience’s viewpoint was from Polinius’s (Ron Hill) point of view and we are not clear what is going on as our view is blurred. We see Polonius killed from our side of a white sheet which ends up shrouding Polonius. It was a nice idea, but I couldn’t really work out why do this. There was no sense that as an audience we were watching the rest of the events through Polonius’ eyes or meant to feel sympathy for Polonius.

There’s so nice touches such as ‘To be or not to be’ in the snow. Generally, Jude Law spoke his soliloquies to the audience with such force and anger. He is sensitive to Ophelia cupping her face in his hands in the nunnery scene, and there is one humorous moment when he moves Claudius and Gertrude’s thrones apart before ‘The Mousetrap’. I felt this was Law’s production. He was a very good Hamlet, and rather dominated with his angry young man. Though lacking in the humour of Tennant’s performance, it was a good performance overall.

Reviews and Previews

Guardian Review of Jude Law’s Hamlet
Ind o S- review of Jude Law Hamlet
Independent article on Hamlet
BBC NEWS Programmes Newsnight Newsnight R…
Observer Hamlet review
Spectator Review of Hamlet
Independent Review of Jude Law’s Hamlet
FT Jude Law Hamlet
The Stage / News / Wilton and Eyre to join Gran…
Candian review of Hamlet
Talking to Penelope Wilton (Gertrude) – Times O…
Theatre preview: Hamlet, London Stage The G…
London Theatre’s Review of the Jude Law Hamlet
Jude Law on Hamlet Evening Standard
Playbill News: Jude Law Is Hamlet, Beginning Ma…
Times Review of Jude Law Hamlet
Evening Standard review of Hamlet
Photos of Jude Law Hamlet
The Guardian review of the reviews of Jude Law Hamlet
Jude Law and Michael Grandage discuss Hamlet at…
Sunday Time review of Jude Law Hamlet
Theatre preview: Hamlet, London Stage The G…
Hamlet, at Wyndham’s Theatre – review
Hamlet Donamar – Interview with Ophelia
Official London, Jude Law Hamlet
What’s On Stage – Review of Hamlet
The Mail compares critics
Hamlet – Law/Tennant (Times)
Kevin Mcnally as Claudius
Stage Review of Hamlet

Phedre (City Screen/National Theatre, 25th June 2009)

Film and Theatre are very different, and this is why it felt so strange in a cinema watching actors with bold gestures projecting their voices so the back of the stalls can hear them. The experiment, I think was a success, but only because I was always mindful that this was a live stream from a theatre, and not a cinematic version of the National Theatre production. I think a production made specifically for the cinema/DVD would be very different from a stage production and we’ll see whether this is the case with the RSC Hamlet. I found it strange that in the cinema there was no sense of the audience in the National Theatre. I felt the picture was crisp, and the set worked so well on the cinema screen. I saw the set when I went to the Antony Sher platform and in the Lyttleton it feels like a claustrophobic space, which isn’t so evident in the cinema. The blue backdrop was perfect in representing the exterior scenes. In this play, there are no comic moments, so it is a very tense two hours sat in such a hot cinema, and I felt that not having the interval worked well.

The next production to be streamed live will be All’s Well That End’s Well and that will have an interval. It will be interesting to see if all the audience can get back from the bar in time, without House managers to monitor progress of return of the audience as in the Theatre.

Do you clap at the end when you’re sat in the cinema? The actors can’t respond to you to acknowledge the applause if you do. Only a few people clapped in the cinema where I watched the film, and I must admit I was torn whether to appleaud or not.

I’m going to see Phedre live at the National soon. I think I would have preferred to have done this the other way round, but I am looking forward to seeing it really live. I shall blog about it again then.

Reviews and Previews

Mark Lawson on Phedre in the cinema
Preview – Phedre in the cinema
Michael Billington on the filming of Phedre
Phedre screening (Independent)
New Statesman on Phedre screening
Phedre in the Telegraph

Antony Sher Exhibition (National Theatre, 20th June 2009)

On encountering Antony Sher’s large work The Audience in the foyer of the Lyttleton Theatre at the National Theatre, I realise that the subject matter also touches on my own life as at points I’ve encountered the portrayals characters in the painting. Richard III was the first play, I saw at the RSC, and twenty years later, I was to see The Tempest (see blog posts Tempest at RSC Courtyard and Sheffield Lyceum).

The Audience is a large painting showing figures who had had an influence on Antony Sher’s life, whether they are friends, family, artists or notorious public figures. The montage is interesting because there are empty seats, whether these are the gaps for those Sher would have wanted to be part of his life or for those who he has chosen not to represent. As Sher said, in his National Theatre Platform appearance, there are empty seats at most performances and he wanted to show these. The Audience brings together many of Sher’s works shown in the rest of the exhibition such as the ‘bottled spider’, his Richard III sketch carried out preparing for the part in 1984 and the portraits of actors and partners past and present – Greg Doran, Mark Rylance, Jim Hooper. Sher’s characters, such as Richard, Shylock, Macbeth, Stanley Spencer, Primo Levi sit alongside real people. In one section Sher portrays artists who have influenced him including Michelangelo and Dali. As well as actors who he has worked with, or he is friends with, there are the actors who have influenced Sher. There is Sher’s representation 0f Laurence Olivier, as Richard III, whose image hovers over Sher in The Year of the King and a portrait of Judi Dench. Then there are those people that are disturbing. No one wants to sit next to Hitler except his younger self and Idi Armin looks threaten from the back row.

I felt that the painting is autobiographical and is also autobiography. The painting is not only portraiture, it presents moods and images that capture Sher’s emotions and feelings about his life, and becomes a visual narrative about ‘his journey’ through his career and personal life clearly both intertwined. For example, the beautiful image of a young Greg Doran clearly conveys the painter’s delight in this person and the marriage portrait conveys feelings of joy. In contrast the image of Sher snorting cocaine and the fragment from the intriguing Three Generations of the male Sher line (painted in cocaine and Sher’s father’s ashes). Sher’s pride in creating characters on stage is conveyed in the image, as well as the tensions in working on character such as on Macbeth.

I have always felt reading Sher’s autobiographical works that he has always tried to label himself, and has been very open about being ‘the other’. Is he an actor, or writer or artist? He talks about being in so many closets – being gay, Jewish, white South African – and his autobiographical work also discusses coming out of those closets. It feels very much with the exhibition in the National Theatre, and the reissue of his autobiography Beside Myself , that Sher is now comfortable being an artist, writer and actor all at the same time and doesn’t have to be one while the rest become subsidiary.



Previews and Review

Antony Sher Exhibition review in the Financial Times
Review of Antony Sher paintings


Branagh, Kenneth. (1989). Beginning. London: Chatto and Windus

Sher, Antony. (1985) Year of the King. London: Methuen

Sher Antony (1987) Characters. London: Nick Hern Books

Sher Antony. (1997) Woza Shakespeare. London: Methuen

Sher, Antony. (2001) Beside Myself. London: Hutchinson (reissued in paperback by Nick Hern Books 2008 includes new forward, and image of The Audience)

Sher, Antony. (2005) Primo Time. London: Nick Hern Books

Sher, Antony (2006) in The Way We Are Now, ed. Ben Summerskill. London: Continuum

A Doll's House (Donmar, 20th June 2009)

In the intimate space of the Donmar, A Doll’s House felt so much like a proscenium arch play. What I mean by this is that, as the audience, we are not invited into the world of the play. It is a play about secrets that happen behind closed doors, and I felt that I was peeping behind those closed doors, hidden from those performing. In A Doll’s House, ‘reputation’ is so important, that having a public face turns the husband, in this case, Thomas (Toby Stephens), into such a monster. Thomas’s fury, at the news that Nora (Gillian Anderson) has committed fraud, is terrifying, as well as so menacing and is so in keeping with the personality we’ve seen bubbling up through the production. Even more shocking is the hypocrisy Thomas displays as he suddenly changes moods and tries to treat his wife like a small fragile child- the doll in the doll’s house.

In this version of A Doll’s House the family are moving in so there are packing cases and empty shelves. The marriage is empty, the emotions and connections still hidden away like the objects in those packing cases. Even before Kelman (Christopher Eccleston) explodes into the household, things are not well before this. Kelman is only the catalyst that moves the inevitable closer. I didn’t feel that Kelman is disrupting domestic bliss, but a world that is cold and communication between a married couple just doesn’t exist. Nora says one thing and Thomas just doesn’t understand, even when it is so simple as putting a Christmas decoration on a tree. Gillian Anderson’s Nora was so controlled, her emotions work on different levels, but she is so adept at expressing that she is trying to conceal these and showing all. There are no confessions or soliloquies to draw an audience, we watch what she feels in her face, her trembling body and I felt the audiences feels her fear of rejection.

Even without audience interaction, the play reminded me so much of The Winter’s Tale, especially the Old Vic production. The friend, Christina (Tara Fitzgerald) thinking she will do the right thing, in this case letting Thomas find the letter, could be compared to Paulina’s act of giving Leontes the baby, believing absolutely that Leontes seeing the baby will bring him to his senses. Both women just don’t account for the deep routed pride that makes these men reject their wives and puts their honour above any rational thinking.

It is at the moment, Nora understands the truth about her husband and how he responds no longer frightens her and she can leave the one room stage set. I felt once witnessing that rejection, she no longer feared it.

When Nora walks off the stage at the end of the Donmar production, in just her day dress and coat, I was waiting…….. anticipating the door slamming shut. There is silence in the auditorium as the audience waits and there it is… probably the second most famous stage direction in drama… ‘The heavy sound of a door being slammed is heard from below’.*

* Oxford UP translation

Reviews and Previews

A Doll’s House, Donmar, London
The Observer,…

A Doll’s House The Official London Theatre Guide
FT.com / UK – A timely take on political hypocrisy
A Doll’s House, at the Donmar Warehouse – revie…
A Doll’s House at the Donmar Warehouse, WC2 – T…
A Doll’s House – A Doll’s House – Review – What…
The Stage / Reviews / A Doll’s House
A Doll’s House, Donmar Warehouse, London – Revi…
The Stage / News / Stephens and Eccleston join …
A Doll’s House: Another house, another scandal …
Theatre review: A Doll’s House / Donmar Warehou…
Full cast joins Anderson in Doll’s House The …