The RSC comes home

23rd February 2011. The RSC are coming home.

There is no fanfare or long speeches, but there is an energetic buzz moving across the audience for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s first night in the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre.  This was what they called a soft opening.

Nearly 7:15 pm Edgar (Charles Aitken) is already on stage. I can just glimpse Katy Stephens waiting to make her entrance …. the machinery creaking and clanging in the background cranks up, the three sisters start their slow entrances onto the stage and King Lear begins all over again.

Though we were seeing a preview and this was obviously an opportunity to make sure the lighting and the sound is right for the new space, the production itself was so well rehearsed that there was a sense that all should go well. This production started its journey in Stratford a year ago and has travelled back via  Newcastle and the Roundhouse in London.  The performances are all polished and sharp now. Samantha Young’s is a steady Cordelia, Katy Stephens and Kelly Hunter make the other two sisters so very different from each other. Greg Hicks plays Lear as a man who mocks old age, teasing and being teased by his daughters as the play begins, and his own playful  entrance through the audience as effective as it always was.  Geoffrey Freshwater is very solid as the trusting naive Gloucester, shocked that his own son, Cornwall and Regan turn on him. There are also some very strong performances from other members of the long ensemble. I always enjoy watching Philip Edgerley as the servant grabbing a quick smoke outside. Gloucester’s home. Darrell d’Silva is an energetic Kent, and James Tucker is great as the haughty and condescending  Oswald who ultimately makes the wrong choice about who to follow.

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Gabriel Orozco (12th February 2011, Tate Modern)

I really liked this exhibition and the way it was curated. I liked the fact that you could go back into rooms you’d already visited without feeling you were going the wrong way round it. I didn’t know what to expect so it was really helpful to go back to things and take them in rather trying to remember what I’d seen. I think it was this element of surprise and being able to move back and forth through the rooms, that made the exhibition fun to visit. At times, I found myself smiling at the exhibits such as the chequered skull (Black Kites), which is a fascinating piece and has been used on the publicity materials. I really enjoyed most about this exhibition was that its interest with the everyday object and the variety of work on show. I particularly liked the water photographs, such as the roofs and the slashed football which presented the objects in ways that the textures became as important as the objects themselves. I liked the bicycle sculpture and the car (La DS), because they made me take another look and see different thing each time. The exhibition was promoted as an exploration of urban life, but as it was an urban life which was slighty alien to me, and indeed the strangeness of some of  what is normally familiar added to my enjoyment of the exhibition as a whole.

The Exhibition catalogue is very informative and detailed, with some useful essays.

Temkin, Ann (2010) Gabriel Orozco. Tate Publishing.

The exhibition runs until the 25th April and hopefully I’ll get another chance to see it before it closes.

Further Information

Twelfth Night (National Theatre, 12th February 2011)

The National Theatre’s production felt like it was a GOOD polished clean production, without some of the roughness that makes a production not just a good, but an exciting and thought-provoking one.  It was the kind of production that didn’t leave me disappointed, on the other hand it didn’t leave me thinking about the text in ways that I hadn’t thought about before. Watching it, I thought that there was and overall aesthetic and the colours were clear and the lines were sharp throughout as if nothing was going to merge into anything else to create images that can be messy and surprising at the same time. Here was another woman playing a woman playing a man who wears her  hair long, and made me think of  Katy Stephens in the RSC’s As You Like It, where as an audience we see the character is a woman. I found the historical context and the costume very coherent as an overall theme, and it is a very different approach from the RSC mixing different period costume in productions. This was another production of Twelfth Night which focused on browns, reds and rusts, which seems to be a popular colour scheme for recent Twelfth Nights, with 2009 RSC and York Theatre Royal productions using similar shades.  The minimal design was very effective and didn’t detract from the focus which was the speaking..

The verse speaking was clear and well spoken. Maybe because I was listening for them, I really noticed the pauses at the end of each line when characters speak verse. I know that this is Peter Hall’s thing, and at times it did stress words and make sense, but at other times, it felt a little odd.  I know I could hear every word, but much of the play felt as if it was all pitched at the same level, but did highlight some of the intentional contrived speeches such as Orsino’s opening speech.

There were some nice moments.  I felt that the birdcage image in relation to Malvolio’s imprisonment was shocking and worked well, but I felt that there was nothing else in the production that related to this.  York Theatre Royal production had used this image for Olivia in their production and it was an ongoing theme which they worked with throughout.  I thought that Simon Callow and Charles Edwards did good jobs and Flinty Williams was a great Maria. You can’t help finding the drinking scenes funny and the tricking of Malvolio humorous, but the production didn’t seem to bring out the comedy in other places.

Now and again, seeing a production like this one, is Ok, but I wouldn’t want this to be my experience every week. I think the variety and diversity in which Shakespeare is performed at the moment adds to the joy of going to the theatre. I suppose I would say this is what I might expect, but some of the other productions I’ve seen recently – such as the National Theatre Hamlet, and Propeller’s Comedy of Errors – surprise me with something that I’m not expecting.

On Kathryn Hunter leaving the RSC ensemble

I was really sorry to hear that Kathryn Hunter had resigned from the RSC midway through the Roundhouse run. I realise that she had not had some good reviews with some reviews being really cutting, but I had thought that her work with the current RSC ensemble had been really thought provoking. Her two performances as the Fool and as Cleopatra stayed with me and made me think much more about the text in ways I hadn’t before seeing the productions. After seeing the production of Antony and Cleopatra for the first time, I wasn’t sure how to respond to the production, but I think that was what I really liked about it in the end was that sense of not being able to draw conclusions and continuing to think about what I’d seen.  What was really great about Hunter’s portrayal of Cleopatra was that she played against type and this worked really well for me. What came across in Hunter’s portrayal was the way she brought out Cleopatra’s manipulative streak, her power as a female ruler and  played on the way she constantly changed her mind. As Lear’s Fool, she brought out the childlike side of the character to great effect. It felt like I was watching the child staying a Lear’s side as long as possible, and in despair seeing the person s/he loved breaking down.

When I saw King Lear at the Roundhouse a week ago, I thought that Sophie Russell did a decent job as the Fool, but just doesn’t have that ability to suddenly appear and take over the stage in the way that Hunter did.  I am looking forward to seeing Katy Stephens as Cleopatra again, after seeing her in Newcastle having to go on stage at very short notice, and it will be interesting to see how she makes the part her own after having the chance to rehearse.

My Review of  RSC King Lear

My review of RSC Antony and Cleopatra

Jonjo O'Neill 'The Half' before As You Like It

I thought that this was really amazing. Here is Jonjo O’Neill singing in the foyer of the Roundhouse only about 15 minutes before a performance of the RSC’s As You Like It.  He is due on stage in 15 minutes.  It made me think about Simon Annand’s book The Half: Photographs of Actors Preparing for the Stage and the way actors prepare in the half hour before a performance starts. Jonjo said he found singing relaxing. I’m not sure how many people coming into the theatre realised that they were being entertained by Orlando.

This was the final performance of As You Like It on British soil.