David Tennant returns to the RSC to play Richard II

DT as R11
(c) RSC

At a Press Conference in London today, the Royal Shakespeare Company announced its five-year strategy and its Winter 2013 season.  The headline announcement was that David Tennant will return to the RSC to play Richard II in their 2013 Winter Season. The news, though exciting to hear officially, had been circulating for some time.   Richard II will be a short six-week  run in Stratford from 10th October until 16th November.  The production then transfers to the Barbican from 9th December until 25th January 2014.

Looking at reactions to the news on Twitter and other Social Media, the casting news has been very well received and it signals a change of direction from the Michael Boyd years. There was some relish in the announcement that David Tennant would be returning to the RSC, rather than a sense of playing down his celebrity status and attempting to focus on ensemble as a core value.  Clearly there will be anxieties around managing the booking process, the returns’ queue and managing the back stage experience again with Tennant’s return to Stratford, but that does provide the RSC with media stories that they can feed out during the run to keep themselves in the public eye.  The shift from RST to Barbican will mean a move from the thrust stage to the proscenium arch.  There seems to be no desire to want to replicate your theatre in another building here.  In addition, the return to the Barbican reminds me of previous RSC seasons at the Barbican and that the promise of a London home might be closer.  However, I am not so fixated on the London home because I have to travel a distance to both Stratford and London, though I am aware this will be good news for others.

Another announcement today was that Shakespeare’s plays won’t go on in the Swan for the immediate future.  Instead the Swan will be the home for Shakespeare’s Contemporaries.  This sounds like an exciting plan, and I look forward to future Swan productions, but as King John and Richard III were such a success last year, I was hoping for one or two Shakespeare productions in the Swan.  Indeed, I had hoped that maybe Richard II would have gone into the Swan.  It would work so well in the small intimate space.  Though the Royal Shakespeare Theatre is supposed to be an intimate space, I sometimes feel dwarfed by the height of the stage, and its size, especially when it is over busy as in the Shipwreck season.

Furthermore, Greg Doran also announced that  as part of  his five-year strategy was to do the whole canon in five years. Will I finally get to see Two Noble Kinsmen at the RSC?  It’s the last of my complete works.

Further Information RSC Press release

The Effect (National Theatre, November 2012- January 2013)

Poster Image for The Effect (c) National Theatre

Experiment begins‘.

The audience is entering the auditorium of the Cottesloe Theatre, and they are also entering the waiting room of the Raushen Pharmaceutical Company where drug  trials will take place.  We are given wristbands to add to the effect that we are also patients in the trial.  Sitting on mustard yellow seats, on the red carpet the  next a small coffee table, I felt I my seat was actually on the set.

Lucy Prebble’s play explores whether falling in love is caused by chemicals in the brain, and whether depression can be cured by drugs, or is triggered by events in people’s lives. The debates are carefully conveyed through the dialogue between the four characters – two trialists and two doctors.

The play is such a success because of the dialogue and structure and because there are some fantastic performances from the cast.  There are two doctors, Toby and Lorna, played by Tom Goodman-Hill  and Anastasia Hille  and two trialists Connie played by Billie Piper  and Tristan played by Jonjo O’Neill.  Billie Piper and JonJo O’Neill were excellent in this production and really made me feel that they had really fallen in love.  Connie who tends to analyse, but when she is falling in love there is a sense of irony that she doesn’t really understand what is happening to her. Billie Piper is able to portray the awkwardness of the early moments of the relationship, such as fiddling with her hair, and the rubbing of the back of her shin with the other foot.  Much of the dialogue is very quick and there is a rhythm to it.  Some of the scenes are overlaid to great effect, and this was a device that the director Rupert Goold also used in his RSC Romeo and Juliet production.

The production is very visual.  Data is projected onto Connie and Tristan’s body and across the floor, as if this is how they might be made up. There’s a very poignant moment towards the end of the production, where Lorna mops up blood, and a brain projected onto the stage floor.

The shift from the clinic to the old asylum adds a lovely contrast and undermines the rigour and routine of the trial.  This is the moment that Tristan and Connie become closer. The highlight, which was Jonjo O’Neill’s tap dance. It reminded me of the time he danced to Mr Bojangles as part of the RSC Gala in 2011.  The Saturday Review reviewer said that the tap dance represented the exhilaration of falling in love, and I thought that was a lovely way to describe it.  The lovers/trialists are interrupted by Lorna and as an audience we don’t get our moment of applause, so I felt denied of my moment of acknowledgement and felt that the trialists had as well.  This makes the frustration conveyed as Connie and Tristan are kept apart after the discovery more relevant.

Just before the interval Tristan and Connie manage to escape the restrictions placed on them and meet in Connie’s room.  There’s a very tender scene between when they eventually make love.  In the interval, someone said to me that they didn’t want their heart broken, and there was a sense then that all would not be well at the end of the play.

The doctor scenes at times seemed a distraction from the young lovers, but they offered a contrast and another angle. I felt that the brain in the bucket was a little too slapstick and even though the TED style speech given by Toby does get across his viewpoint well, it did not work  in relation to the rest of the dialogue.  I think that was because I was so interested in Connie and Tristan, I wanted to see more of their narrative. However, as Lorna’s story was revealed, I was surprised, and as she moved towards the tablets at the end, it was if she’d been dissolved into the illusion that she so much wanted to dispute.

What kept me engaged throughout was that I felt I was so close to the performance both physically and emotionally.

Connie and Tristan walk off stage at the end of the play as Ingrid Michaelson’s ‘Keep Breathing’ is playing, it made me feel that there was some hope.

The Effect runs until Feb 23rd at the National Theatre.

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