The Miser (Manchester Royal Exchange, 26th September 2009)

I found The Miser at the Manchester Royal Exchange theatre very funny.  The audience became very involved throughout and there was a very humerous moment of audience interaction when Dame Claude, the maid servant,  starts to polish the audience members.   Derek Griffith’s played the Miser with wonderful timing and lots of energy.  The plot was straight forward and the production moved on at a fast pace with a short second half.    The ending was an ironic comments of those plots where revelations plays a big part.  Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors comes to mind.  The revelations are so unbelievable they became entertaining, rather than astonishing, and helped bring the play to a closure very quickly.  If felt like nothing was left undone.

In this production there  was a washed out sense about The Miser.   The set looks as if the house was being redecorated with plastic sheets straddled part of the auditorium.  The servants and the Miser  wore cream which made them look like crumbling sandstone statues who had had  a fight with a bag of four.   They also looked like decorators, which was probably the point.  The costumes were loosly based on the costumes from the period that the play was written, but also detracted from the period looking at times like the new romantics of the early eighties.  There was a sense that the events of the play might happen at any time and I am sure the audience were meant to feel that the play had a relevance to our own society.  The line that you can’t trust banks got a big laugh, and may be there was a feeling that converting wealth above other things was not to be admired.  It seems strange that Harpagon gets his money back, because we are used to seeing the baddies getting their comeuppance.  As Harpagon was left with his money at the end, it felt that the money isn’t that important to everyone else.    Love prevails in the end.  There was no sense of tragedy as in Shakespeare’s comedies, Harpagon’s punishment was to get wet as the water collected on the plastic sheet above him leaked over him.  This production was pure comedy and worked very well with this cast and in the setting of the Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester.

Reviews  and Previews

The Guardian on The Miser

Further Information

Manchester Royal Exchange http://www.royalexchangetheatre.org.uk/event.aspx?id=179

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Sizwe Banzi is Dead (Stephen Joseph Theatre, 24th September 2009)

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This was an excellent production.  It is a two hander which is lyrical and wonderfully played by Louis Emerick and Sean Shorte.  There wasn’t an interval and this was a really good decision, because the narrative is brilliantly structured and takes you through the events starting with the life of the photographer Styles and ending up following the events around Sizwe Banzi’s life.  The photographs in the background were used to great effect, telling the individual stories of the people who visit  Styles’ photo studio.  The story is set in apartheid South Africa and highlights the injustice and the effect on individual lives by the Reference Book system.

One of the visitors to the studio is Robert Zwelinzima, and when he comes to Styles’ studio, the story switches from Styles and the studio to Zwelinzima’s story and find out his history and the horror that he has to endure in the apartheid system.  The title may feel that the play might end in tragedy, but even though the subject matter is very difficult and the characters suffer in a brutal system there is hope.  The photographs in the studio are in black and white but at the end of the play they are in colour.   Styles talks about the false smiles of those at the Ford car plant where he once worked, but at the end there is a sense the smiles are real and portray the hope of the people for a better a future. 

The characters were played in such a way that I felt that the audience warmed to them.  The play worked well with an audience response and it was a shame that there weren’t more in the audience to enjoy such a professional and entertaining production which a narrative that really moves you.

Further Information

Stephen Joseph Theatre http://www.sjt.uk.com/details.asp?id=327

Previews and Reviews

 EP Preview of Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, September 9 to 26
Sizwe Banzi Is Dead. Evening Press Review

The Factory's Hamlet and Seagull Project (York Theatre Royal, 23rd, 24th Sept)

The Takeover Festival at York Theatre Royal is a breath a of fresh air.  The programme is really interesting and inviting.  However, I was wondering after seeing The Factory’s experimental Hamlet and Seagull Project that the regular audience at York Theatre Royal had the impression that the festival is not only run by young people but the programme was just for young people as well.  Yes there were some over 25s in the audience, but the majority of the audience when I attended on Wed and Thurs was a young audience.  This is great, because it is brilliant to see young people at the theatre, but I would have thought that The Factory’s work would appeal to a much wider audience.

The Hamlet works very closely with Shakespeare’s text to produce an interactive comedy.  I felt it wasn’t really about bringing new meaning to the play, but was more about interpretation and ways of playing.  This works really well in line with the theme of acting and playing that runs through the play. On the other hand, The Seagull Project’s focus is not on Checkov’s actual text, but on translation and improvisation. 

The audience for Hamlet are asked to bring props which the actors use in the production in inventive ways.  The night I went some people had brought toy ghosts but these were not used as the ghost of old Hamlet, instead a large doll which was very amusing.  The actors have to think very quickly about how they are going to use what they see in the audience.  The use of the props really shift the meaning of Shakespeare’s text.  For example, Ophelia’s remembrances from Hamlet was a darlek, which meant Ophelia could use a darlek sounding voice to answer Hamlet in the Nunnery scene.  There were two Hamlets at one point, but I wouldn’t read anything into this in terms of the text.    I liked the way the actors represented the fact that they were dead on stage giving a feeling of the dead walking amongst the living.

Hamlet was in the Studio space on the Friday night and though I didn’t see the production, I thought that this space would probably work better than the main stage.  The Company did inhabit the main theatre really well and didn’t forget to involve those in the Dress Circle.   The studio space is more intimate and the actors are closer to all the audience.  Hamlet and The Seagull Project are performances that you could go to over and over again and be sure to see something new and different on each occasion.

It’s brilliant to see such a large young cast working so well together.

Further Information

http://www.yorktheatreroyal.co.uk/cgi/events/events.cgi?t=template&a=501

Hamlet DVD Cover

The image of the DVD cover for the production of The RSC’s Hamlet has now been released. I’m sure that this will provoke lots of conversations about what the film will be like.

When I first saw the cover, I must admit I was a little disappointed I had thought that the image would have been stronger.   I think that I had expected something like the image of David Tennant’s Hamlet wearing the player’s crown or with the skull.  The imagery from the theatre production tended to use black backgrounds, which really highlighted the image of the character.  I suppose the use of black was because of the difficulty in photographing the mirrored set. The DVD cover seems a massive shift from that first publicity shot that played with Caspar David Friedrich’s The Wanderer turning the figure to face the viewer and referencing back to some of the publicity shots of Tennant as Doctor Who.  Of course the original poster image did not represent the aesthetic of the theatre production and the image of Hamlet with the player’s crown became the programme image for the Novello London run. The DVD image uses a much lighter background than the publicity images produced alongside the theatre production and suggests to me a movement away from the look of the theatre production and a slightly different approach to the film.

The image that has been released for the DVD cover still has a focus on Tennant, but the broken glass gives a sense of a fragmented world and a vulnerable young shattered by events.   It could be Hamlet reflected in a broken mirror indicating the different facets of his character.  I also felt that the image suggested the prison that Hamlet feels he is in as the shards of glass also look like a wire mesh.  The glance is not at the viewer but as if the character is watching for something.  As Hamlet seems to wear white, I felt that the image might be from the final scene and the fencing match.  I suppose, I’ll find out if this is the case when I get to see the film at Christmas. 

Of course, like the publicity for the theatre production, the publicity image for the DVD focuses on an image of Tennant despite the production having such a strong cast.  The DVD cover feels like it is a picture of Tennant himself with his hair slightly disravelled and unshaven.  It is the title alongside the image which does the job of situating the image as one from Hamlet

To view image go to: http://bit.ly/PfSu1

Futurism (Tate Gallery, 23rd July 2009)

What a contrast the Futurism Exhibition at Tate Modern was to the Richard Long Heaven and Earth Exhibition at Tate Britain?  I’ve already discussed the Richard Long Heaven and Earth Exhibition with its engagement with the natural world and its focus on circles and natural imagery.  I felt that, The Futurism Exhibition was about everything the Richard Long exhibition wasn’t. 
Whereas the Richard Long Exhibition asks the viewer to consider  of solitude, remote vast landscapes, silences and the contours of the natural world, the Futurism Exhibition explores speed, sound, crowds and cityscapes.  Whereas the Richard Long exhibition presents circles and serpentine lines, browns, creams and ochres, the Futurism Exhibition is mainly about straight line in the form of diagonals and a celebration of colour.  The Futurism Exhibition engages with ideas that are clearly set in a specific time and place.  Even though the exhibition is about the future, it is historically constrained in its ideology.

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Tate Modern have set up the Futurism Exhibition in such a way that large canvases are framed in the entrances and exits so as you wander round suddenly a glimpse of a work comes into view.  I must admit, I found I was moving quickly around the exhibits at first, but over the summer I revisited the show several times and each time found something new of interest.  The Futurists’ manifesto is very shocking to us now.  The glorification of war is abhorrent to our thinking now.  These works were produced up to the stat of the first war and explore a society in the bars, streets of busy cities.  There is an experimentation with technique and the exhibition includes cubism to demonstrate the connections between the Futurist and Cubist movements in modern art.

There are many paintings in the exhibition that I found interesting and wanted to discuss.  Carlo Carra’s  I funerali dell’anarchico Galli, (1910-1911), for example struck me with its violence and business and the sense of eruption it conveyed.  Luigi Russolo’s La rivolta, (1911) with its red, yellow blue and stunning diagonals marching out of the left of the canvas.  The size and colour in this image drew me to it as soon as I saw it.  This was the antithesis of the Richard Long aesthetic.  It felt like a large army on the move and heavily populated space.  Another busy painting full of energy was A Gino Severini’s  La Danse du <<pan-pan>> au Monico, (1909-1911/1959-1960).  From a distance the red girl in the centre catches the eye, but much closer up, it becomes apparent that the image is made up of a montage of fragments of people.  It is clear in this painting how Cubism has had an influence on Futurism. 

I personally found the Futurism Exhibition much more interesting than the Richard Long Exhibition.  However, they made extremely interesting contrasts, which reading together made me think differently about each exhibition.

Reviews and Previews

Futurism Tate Gallery in the Times
Futurism The Telegraph
Futurism at Tate
Futurism in The Indpendent
Evening Standard – Futurism Exhibition

 Catalogue

Ottinger, D. (2009) Futurism. London: Tate Publishing