Women Beware Women (National Theatre, 5th June 2010)

Marianne Elliott is a really thoughtful director who considers very carefully the aesthetic of a production.  I felt that she has done a really good job with  Middleton’s macabre  Women Beware Women, and her choice of twentieth-century Italian costumes works very well.   Central to the play is the game of chess between Leantio’s mother and Livia.  The game becomes a metaphor for the way characters play each other.  This production brings home the different sexual manipulations in the play  For example, the virgin bride married below her status, the rape by the Duke, the incest between niece and uncle, and the older woman’s lust for a younger man.  Lez Brotherson’s set brings out the contrast between the aristocracy  and working classes, and at the end as it starts to revolve all the elements of the plot are brought together in a stunning finale.  This worked particularly well on the large Olivier stage.

What I found really interesting about this play is that women are the revengers and I thought Harriet Walter is stylish and sinister as Livia.  Lauren O’Neil as Bianco and Vanessa Kirby as Isabella were also very strong.

Reviews and Previews

Women Beware Women in The Observer
Women Beware Women in the Evening Standard
IOS on Women Beware Women
Interview with Marianne Elliott in The Telegraph
Independent on Women Beware Women
Women Beware Women in The Telegraph
The Stage on Women Beware Women
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Romeo and Juliet (The Courtyard Theatre, w/c 17th May 2010)

In the final episode of  the television series ‘Life on Mars/Ashes to Ashes’, we learnt that everyone was dead after all.  Sam Tyler and Alex Drake had been catapulted back in time into a kind of purgatory which resembled an old-fashioned cop drama.  Gene Hunt had been shot dead as a young policeman on the beat on coronation day.  He couldn’t accept his death, so he set up a fictional world for other dead police officers who had issues that needed to be resolved before they entered The Railway Arms, which was a kind of gateway to heaven.  I felt that there was something of this Ashes to Ashes style lingering in the world of the dead in the current Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) production of Romeo and Juliet.  Romeo is a tourist that finds himself caught up in his own story, and it is a story that plays out over and over again, always ending with Romeo’s suicide.   
 

When I was in Stratford not so long ago, I was lucky to see two versions of this production.  One with the understudy, Dyfan Dwyfor, playing Romeo and then again with Sam Troughton playing Romeo.  In the first version, I saw a cautious Romeo, who was a little self conscious of himself as he found himself caught up in the violent renaissance world.  In the second version, I saw a very different Romeo that easily slotted into this world.

As the auditorium is opened up to the audience to enter, in the foyer we can hear monks chanting.  When the play is about to start, the audience are sat in a gloomy auditorium.  The set is black  with a rose window reflected onto the stage.  It feels like we are in a cathedral and the inner stage is a chapel lit by candles.  These black and amber contrasts work throughout the production and are stunning.  They are achieved through flowers, masks, and flames that flicker on the back of the stage at particular moments in the production.  The play begins with the entrance of a Museum Guide (Noma Dumezweni), who whilst looking rather stern-faced asks us to switch off our mobile phones. This framing device presents the theatre as a museum space and suggests that what we will see might be an exhibit in a museum. As the guide leaves the stage, Romeo enters with his camera and audio guide.  As he works through the difference language options,  he finally selects the English language facility and the prologue is played over the speakers.  As this is happening, the Capulets and Montagues emerge from the back of the stage  in slow motion and doused in smoke.  This filmic device is very effective and suddenly the play explodes onto the stage.  

 

The two central characters are really well played.  Juliet (Mariah Gale) is rebellious, and  when we meet her she is a bit of a moody teenager,  swinging her glow stick with vigour as if this action is an act of defiance against her elders.  In the first half of the play, I felt that Romeo plays at being in love.  Troughton brings out this aspect so well, particularly in the balcony scene where is crouches in the centre vomitorium saying his lines as if acting as if he was still outside this play.  On the night that I went, Troughton moved from the vomitorium to sit on the vacant seat next to me to speak his lines, and for me that emphasised the feeling that he was also an observer of the play, as well as a character in it.   

Jonjo O’Neill’s Mercutio is a showman and the acting is totally over the top, which makes it a fantastic performance and for me one of the delights of the production.  The dyed blonde hair is a nice touch.  The audience really loved this performance and gasped when they realised that Mercutio was hurt and was about to die.    Mercutio sometimes straddles the contemporary space that Romeo has come from enters Romeo’s dream/death world riding  Romeo’s bicycle onto the stage.

It feels like death really does walk into this play. The ghost of Tybalt  walks up to Juliet’s tomb.  Lady Capulet (Christine Entwisle)  is distraught by Tybalt’s death, but can pull herself together for the wedding.   At the end Juliet screams when she is stabs herself. 

There are very strong performances from Noma  Dumezweni as the nurse and Forbes Masson as the priest as the adults who should protect the young people but let them down badly. Richard Katz is excellent as Juliet’s violent father.  His performance is a lovely contrast to his great comic portrayal of Touchstone in As You Like It.

I felt that the  current RSC production is exciting, energetic, and gripping.  I think that this is probably the best production coming out of the current RSC ensemble, and that was a surprise for me, because I normally find the play a little tedious and though companies work hard at bringing out the tragedy it doesn’t always work for me.  I felt that this was the ensemble working well together and is a real success.

  
Further Information

http://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/romeo-and-juliet/

 
Reviews and Previews
RSC Romeo and Juliet in The Guardian
RSC Romeo and Juliet in The Telegraph
The Evening Standard on the RSC Romeo and Juliet
The Stage on the RSC Romeo and Juliet
RSC Romeo and Juliet in The Independent
WOS RSC Romeo and Juliet

Macbeth (Shakespeare's Globe, 8th May 2010)

 

On entering the Globe auditorium there are notices which state: 

‘Please note that this is a gruesome production of a brutal play.’   

The notices set the tone for the production, which is comic and gruesome at the same time.  Hovering above the stage is a metal circle.  Could this symbolise the crown (the golden round) that Macbeth coverts and is to be at the heart of his downfall?

Lucy Bailey has the ability to surprise in her approach to using the Globe space.  I really liked the way the ravens descended from the netting in her production of Timon of Athens a couple of years ago.  In that production the focus was on greed.  For her production of Macbeth,  Bailey has created a kind of hell, and the emphasis  is on the ground and the under stage areas.  The groundlings are covered with a black sheet with slits for their heads to poke through.  The effect is of decapitated heads floating above the sheet.  Those under the sheet squeal and howl as the actors move through them.  This business can be alluring, as well as distracting, as the audience  find themselves watching groundlings rather than the performance.

Smoke appears and pipes playing signal the start of the production.  The witches taunt the audience, and  bloodied heads appear and one of these is revealed to be  the captain. 

Like Lucy Bailey’s RSC Julius Caesar   this production attempts to show death in its most brutal form such as the crack we hear when Cawdor is put to death and his neck broken.  Dead bodies are swallowed by the earth as they are dumped down traps.  There’s lots of blood, as we would expect from Lucy Bailey who makes us focus on the visceral, as well as the intellectual ideas.  For example, Macbeth’s hands are covered in blood after the murder of Duncan and this is echoed in the black sheets which are shrouding the Globe pillars  are tinged in red as if stained with the blood of the king.  The corpse of Duncan is brought on stage like a child, but it is also like a piece of meat.  The theme of the body as meat continues throughout the play as Banquo’s ghost appears out of the raw meat banquet in the banquet scene.  Macbeth has blood on his hands from handling the bloodied meat, but we also see this as Banquo’s blood.  It feels like the physical images are reflective of Macbeth’s psychological trauma.

This production oscillates between comedy and the macabre.  This is partly achieved through the witches being on stage for most of the play, and their costumes echo that of the Globe ushers, as if they are directing the players through the play.  The witches are  on stage during Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy, and  hand the dagger to Macbeth during his ‘Is this a dagger’ soliloquy.  The grotesque porter haunts the production and, like the witches, is ever-present.  In the closing scenes, Macbeth is alone with this man, and at the end of the play the porter is pushed to the floor which seemed to signal the end of Macbeth’s power.  The witches grasp Macbeth and he is finally theirs.

Reviews and Previews

Macbeth at the Globe in The Guardian
Macbeth in The Independent
The Globe’s Macbeth in The Evening Standard
WOS Globe Macbeth
Macbeth in Official London Theatre Guide
WOS Macbeth at the Globe
Globe’s Macbeth in The Telegraph