The Cherry Orchard (Old Vic, 8th August 2009)


Old Vic 

I think that the Bridge Project has been extremely interesting.  I saw The Winter’s Tale at the start of the summer and The Cherry Orchard at the end.  The two productions kind of top and tailed my London season.  I had thought that the RSC might have made more connections between their productions of The Winter’s Tale and As You Like it, but as I wrote earlier in this blog, the company split the ensemble into two companies and the productions became two discrete productions.  It felt, when watching The Winter’s Tale and The Cherry Orchard, that Sam Mendes had considered how the two plays might work together.  On entering the auditorium The Cherry Orchard, the above quote from Richard II greets the audience.  There are similarities between the sets used for the both the Bridge Project plays and ideas of loss and regret are played out in both plays.  In The Cherry Orchard, I felt that the company worked really well together with some really good performances from Rebecca Hall, Simon Russell Beale, Ethan Hawke and Sinead Cusack.

Reviews and Previews

The Cherry Orchard/The Winter’s Tale
WOS Review of The Cherry Orchard and The Winter’s Tale
The Stage review of The Cherry Orchard at the Old Vic
The Time review of The Winter’s Tale and Cherry Orchard
Cherry Orchard/The Winter’s Tale
Article on The Winter’s Tale/The Cherry Orchard (The Times)
Official London – The Winter’s Tale
Guardian review of Cherry Orchard and The Winter’s Tale
Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey: The Bridge Project…
Sam Mendes Interview
Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey: The Bridge Project…
The Stage review of The Winter’s Tale at the Old Vic
Alexis Soloski: Beware of the bear – the dilemm…
The New Straits Times Online…….
Theatre preview: The Bridge Project, London | S…
Simon Russell Beale on his love of books – Time…
Official London – The Cherry Orchard
Telegraph- The Winter’s Tale and The Cherry orchard
Sam Mendes on the Bridge Project (BBC Interview)

A Midsummer Night's Dream (Newby Hall, 19th August 2009)

Earlier this summer, I saw the Globe’s touring production of The Comedy of Errors and Sprite’s The Tempest  Watching the Globe’s touring production at Newby Hall near Ripon in North Yorkshire was very enjoyable.  We were lucky to get there about three quarters of an hour before it started to set up camp.  I think if we’d got there any later we would hav stuggled to get a decent spot. 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is always good for a few laughs whatever the production and this production was extremely funny.  Like the Globe’s The Comedy of Errors, the doubling up was really interesting and actually changing characters and dress on stage worked really well.  Since Adrian Noble’s production, umbrellas in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is no longer a surprise, but fortunately the evenign we went they were only needed in the performance because it stayed fine all evening.


Globe on Tour (Charles Spencer in the Telegraph)

Further Information

Information and booking details on the Shakespeare’s Globe web site

Julius Caesar (The Courtyard Theatre, 11th August 2009)

Courtyard Theatre

When the audience enters the auditorium at the Courtyard Theatre,  they are faced with Romulus and Remus savagely attacking  and fighting with each other.   The young men, who were brought up by wolves, are wearing loin clothes covered in mud and blood, snarl, hiss and growl at each other clamouring across the whole of the trust stage space.   There is a statue of Romulus and Remus projected onto the back of the stage, so we are clear who they are.   This is also the programme image.  It’s a very animal scene and a brutal way to welcome the audience into the theatre, but it is a dramatic way of introducing them to the whole tone of the production.  Rome in this production is a viciousness visceral world that is founded on blood and conflict.   Drops of blood are represented by the red paper petals that flutter from above to the stage.  This is a city built on death and blood, and it  is masculine and brutal.  I think the production was trying to convey an alternative to the more cerebral version of Rome that we sometimes see.  This aspect is discussed in more detail in the programme notes.

Greg Hicks is a stunning Caesar and has a real command of the stage.   He’s not meant to be, but he ends up being a star actor.  Even though other actors around him are good, it felt watching the production that he outshines the rest of the ensemble.  However, in some ways this does bring an interesting dimension to the play, because Greg Hicks is often monopolising the stage when he is on it, it makes his death a spectacular affair.  It’s Hicks’ physicality, and his presence on the stage, as well as his command of language which makes the murder of Caesar so shocking.  It is a harsh reminder that to murder is not an easy act.  In this production, the murder is bodged, and Caesar fights back.   He doesn’t just fall to the ground but tumbles down marble steps and he does not die easily.  Before the audience his  twitches and shudders  in the last throws of life.  He is covered in gashes and blood and as his body is brought back on stage and laid before the audience, I felt that the audience is made to feel that the death cannot be justified on any grounds.  It’s murder, whatever the reasons and justification presented, particularly by Brutus (Sam Troughton).  I think Caesar is not an easy part for an actor to play, particularly in that you’re dead for most of the play and you have to play a corpse and a ghost after you’ve died.  I think Hicks playing both the living and dead Caesar was stunning.

The night before Caesar dies the natural order is in turmoil.  The conspirators plot and the graveyards are giving up their dead. This turmoil does not end with the death of Caesar.  Mark Antony (Darell D’Silva) gives his amazing funeral speech, starting to speak hestently he starts to move the crowd and bring them to his side, and becomes more impassioned as he emphasises and repeats ‘Brutus was an honourable man’.  Some people around me felt that Antony was the wrong age and build, but I actually though this worked.  For me, he was clearly one of the lads that liked a good night out, a good scrap and hadn’t actually taken on much responsibiolity even at his age.   All of a sudden he was confronted with leadership and we see the consequences in Antony and Cleopatra.

Portia (Hannah Young) and Calphurnia (Noma Dumezweni) are the lone female voices in the play.  Calphurnia manages to persuade Caesar that it isn’t a good idea to go to the senate, but the conversation with Decius (Brian Doherty) turns when   arrives and she is mocked.  For Portia to have a voice she also turns to blood cutting her thigh to demonstrate  stoicism, which could be seen as a masculine act and that she has to communicate in the way men do to be heard.

The second half is shocking with blood curdling screams as the conspirators are tortured and put to death and the most horrific act of them all is when the mob tear the poet apart on stage.

I know that it is useful to experiment with multi media and in theatre and to explore new ideas.  In this production there was a crowd scene projected onto the back of the stage.  For me this just didn’t work.  It found it enormously distracting and a bit like watching Sky Sports News with so many things flashing across the screen.  The production is so physical, to have the reflected image was too far away from what I saw the production trying to do.  I know that it was meant to give the sense of a crowd, but all I saw was the same people being projected over and over again, like a bad cartoon.  Nevertheless, despite my own personal problem with the multi media background I felt that the Lucy Bailey and Bill Dudley partnership delivered a very good production, that made us think and consider a particular view of the play.  I am looking forward to seeing this production in Newcastle, maybe without the multimedia.


Reviews and Previews

Julius Caesar: Lend me your ears – or speak lou…
Birmingham Post – Life & Leisure – Birmingham C…
Independent Review of Julius Caesar
Theatre preview: Julius Caesar, Stratford-upon-…
Julius Caesar: RSC at the Courtyard Theatre, St…
Theatre review: Julius Caesar / Courtyard, Stra…
Julius Caesar has blood but no guts| Theatre | … / UK – Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar: The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford…
The Stage / Reviews / Julius Caesar
Julius Caesar (RSC) – Julius Caesar – Review – …
Julius Caesar at Courtyard, Stratford-upon-Avon…

Further Information

Production Photographs (on RSC Facebook web site)
Details of the production on the Royal Shkespeare Company web site

Katy Stephens' hair: As You Like It (The Courtyard Theatre, 12th August 2009)

What is it like seeing a production as it has started to bed down and well into its run.  I’ve seen the RSC’s As You Like It five times now.  Once very early in its run in May and then in July when Mariah Gale was playing Rosalind. I think the production has matured, just as I think The Winter’s Tale has really improved as the actors settle into the roles.  In the RSC’s As You Like It, the world of Arden is cold, bitter and harsh.  This is a contrast to the Arden in the current Shakespeare’s Globe production.  The Globe production is probably more joyous then the RSC production and Arden is a much nicer place.  Certainly in the RSC production there is more of a sense of the ‘churlish chiding of the winter wind (II.i.6).  I like these contrasts as I like to see different interpretations of Shakespeare’s text and sometimes, an experiment might not work, which I think as an audience you can sometimes accept. 

Another difference between the Globe  and the RSC productions is how Rosalind wears her hair, which I know has been a talking point for some people.   One experiment in the current RSC production was for Rosalind to let her hair down rather than cut it short or hide it under a hat when she becomes Ganymede.  As Rosalind becomes more established and more confident in the forest, her hair becomes messier and unrestrained.  It was a bold decision to play Rosalind this way, and I think on this occasion it worked.  I thought that the whole idea behind this production was to show a contrast between the formal court which was full of ritual, straight lines and dress that confines people, to a forest where dress can become timeless and unbuttoned.  In the court, members of the court danced in unison, in the forest they danced in circles, clothes changes style and became relevant to no place than a particular time in history, and hair was not styled.   The closer Rosalind got to Orlando particularly in the Ganymede/Orlando wooing scenes, Rosalind’s hair strayed across her face.  Katy Stephens is a Rosalind who is at times uncomfortable dressing as a boy.  She is impatient to unmask herself and be female again, and there is one point where she triess to take off her trousers and disgard the male clothes.  Mariah Gale’s Celia attempts to maintain the disguise and not let Rosalind reveal her gender until it feels safe in the forest to do so.

At the end of the RSC production, Katy Stephens’ Rosalind appears for her wedding scene and her hair has been dressed for it.  She’s not back in the formal Elizabethan/Jacobean dress, but in a white dress, trimmed with flowers as if to signal, even though she is now back as a woman , she will not be returning yet to the stiff formality of the court.  Yes she’s the heir to the dukedom with the hair to express this.

 Further Information

Further Information on the RSC Web Site

Production Photographs on the RSC Facebook site

Phedre (National Theatre, 1st August 2009)

I said that I would write about the live experience of seeing Phedre at the National Theatre in contrast to seeing it at the cinema.  I did enjoy the cinema experience, but I enjoyed seeing the live production much more.  I felt that it was much more physical live and the story was more powerful.  I also found it great not to be directed to look in certain places by the camera, but to be able to   look at reactions to speeches from other actors.  Again, I liked the idea of not having an interval, as the play worked well being performed in one go and seemed to fall nicely into two segments.  The first being before Theseus returns and the second after. 

I felt that the set was as stunning in the theatre as in the cinema and the blue was amazing.  Yes both the cinema and theatre experiences were great, but I did prefer the Theatre experience in the end.

Reviews and Previews