Hamlet (City Screen – Manchester Royal Exchange, 27th March 2015)

I saw Maxine Peake as Hamlet back in September 2014. Seeing the production live was an amazing electrifying experience.  Of course, I was curious to see if Peake would play Hamlet as a man, or as a woman. Actually, she played the part as neither.  The male pronoun was retained and the rest of the characters referred to Hamlet as a man. However, Peake’s Hamlet was really gender neutral.  This production was about the person and not the gender. There were other gender swaps, Polonius became Polonia (Gillian Bevan) and Rosencrantz was played by the incredible Jodie Mcnee. McNee had just played Viola at the Liverpool Playhouse so will have been getting used to gender swap, but here her portrayal of Rosencrantz was very effective and at times gave a hint of a crush on Hamlet.

Seeing the production again in a cinema was a strange one. Manchester Royal Exchange is a theatre in the round, it challenges you to look around you, to be alert to the different entrances and exits.  It’s a dynamic space that puts you close up to the action.

The screening also puts you close to the action, but the camera chooses how you see things.  It directs your eye to look right into faces, and follows characters around the stage for you.  Most of the time you follow Hamlet, when he sits down for the wedding feast, and as she crumples in grief in her to ‘to solid flesh’ speech.  That’s to be expected, but I’m also interested in how the other characters respond, and in a cinema screening those moments can be cut.  There are also shots you just wouldn’t get in the theatre, such as looking down directly at all the clothes that become Ophelia’s grave, and we also got a birds eye view of the laying out the dress to show this was Ophelia’s burial.

I think I am happy watching screened versions of Theatre productions as a follow up to seeing the production myself in the theatre. For me, the screening is not a substitute for being in the theatre and close to the action.

Reviews of the stage production

Cast

Horatio – Thomas Arnold

Player King / Marcella – Claire Benedict

Polonia – Gillian Bevan

First Gravedigger – Michelle Butterly

Lucianus – Dean Gregory

Reynaldo/ Priest/ Francisco – Tachia Newall

Gertrude – Barbara Marten

Rosencrantz/ Second Gravedigger – Jodie McNee

Hamlet – Maxine Peake

Claudius/ Ghost – John Shrapnel

Guildenstern – Peter Singh

Osric/ Second Player/ Barnardo – Ben Stott

Ophelia – Katie West

Laertes – Ashley Zhangazha

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Antigone (Barbican, 22nd March 2015, and Pilot Theatre production)

(c) Peter Linburgh
(c) Peter Linburgh

I saw Pilot Theatre’s Antigone at York Theatre Royal in the Summer.  This was Roy William’ss modern dress version, and Williams updated  by setting the play in an urban cityscape and exploring gang culture. Williams’ version worked really well.  In presenting the play in a modern setting, it explored some of the issues relevant for young people today. Issues around peer pressure and how alternative rule of law can be set up in society.

The production at the Barbican starred Juliet Bonoche in the title role, and was directed by Ivo van Hove. There was many things I liked about this production also presenting the action in a modern setting.  Firstly, I liked the way the Barbican stage was used.  The action was mainly played at the front of the stage using the whole width. I also liked the way that characters moved in and out of themselves to play the chorus.

In Ivo van Hove’s fabulous A View from the Bridge (at the Young Vic, and now in the west End), the sense of the ordinary American family living in an epic Greek drama really comes across.  In his Antigone, there was the sense of an epic Greek drama being transferred into a domestic tragedy.

It felt like the production stripped the emotion out.  Firstly, the company had microphones, which made the sound seem strange and hollow.  It reminded me a little bit of the Wooster Group’s Trojans in their RSC/Wooster Group 2012 Troilus and Cressida. There was also a stillness about Binoche’s performance that stripped away the emotion that had been so prevalent in the Pilot Theatre version.

There were some excellent performances including Kirsty Bushell as Ismende and it was great to see Toby Gordon as the Boy.

Further Details

http://www.barbican.org.uk/theatre/event-detail.asp?ID=16573

Cast
Antigone Juliette Binoche
Guard Obi Abili
Ismende/Chorus Kirsty Bushell
Haimon/Chorus Samuel Edward-Cook
Teiresias/Chorus Finbar Lynch
Kreon Patrick O’Kane
Eurydike/Chorus Kathryn Pogson
Body of Polyneikes/Boy Toby Gordon

Stevie (Hampstead Theatre, Saturday 21st March 2015)

For this season, the Hampstead upstairs has rearranged the space so the audience are sat round the stage.  The obvious effect of this is that the performances are close and intimate.

The set is the sitting room of the house that Stevie Smith lived in with her aunt in Palmer’s Green.  It’s the kind of set that I love. I find myself intrigued with because I become fascinated with the objects, wondering what they are, recognising some from relative’s houses, and wanting to open all the books.

This is a three hander between Zoe Wanamaker playing Stevie, Lynda Baron playing her ‘lion’ aunt and Chris Larkin, playing the man.

The play starts with Stevie Smith returning home to the house she shares with her aunt in Suburbia from her job in London.  It becomes clear that during her administrative job, Stevie Smith writes her novels and poetry. The play gives an insight into Smith’s life and the times in which she wrote.  Through the dialogue and excerpts from Smith’s poetry her life is revealed to us.

As much as I enjoyed this production, I felt that the play was a little too long, and could have benefitted from some cuts such as the repetition around Smith’s finance. However, I learnt a lot about Stevie Smith, and Zoe Wanamaker’s performance was excellent.

Further Information

http://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2015/stevie/

Closer (Donmar, Saturday 21st March)

When I visit the Donmar, I usually get a little grumpy. I’m reminded though I got through on-line in priority booking, and  I’m stuck out at the back, and down the side. Today, I was in C37 which is stage right.

When the audience enters the space, they are confronted with a black box set and at the centre is a white bed which is lit by a bright white light. The actors immediately come on stage, cross the stage, and rearrange the set.  This becomes a metaphor for the complicated relationships between two couples that shift and change during the play.

I was thinking at the interval that this was what Deposit might have been. Yes, at times the dialogue bashed me over the head, and some of the portrayals of the female characters was uncomfortable, but what Closer did that Deposit didn’t was to spend some time on building character and context.

As relationships unfold and tangle, scenes overlap. At times, time frames were overlaid such as the moment when Anna (Nancy Carroll) slept with Larry (Rufus Sewall) to get him to sign the divorce papers.

The use of graphics as the on-line dating, the photograph exhibition and aquarium are superb, and totally effective in setting the scene, but not overpowering.

The acting is excellent. Nancy Carroll, as Anna,  really makes you believe in her character by subtly playing the emotion.  Rufus Sewell is extremely good looking, and yet through drink and dialogue his character, Larry, becomes grotesquely ugly.

The play explores  invented and borrowed lives. Lives are invented on-line and in books. Characters borrow each other’s lives and forget such as seeing the mouth of the Fleet from Blackfriars Bridge. Like the river the memories are hidden and reemerge. Is Alice really Alice or Jane?

C37 turned out to be a good seat. This was down to the solid blocking and staging, and my view was great throughout.

Further Information

http://www.donmarwarehouse.com/whats-on/donmar-warehouse

Deposit (Hampstead Downstairs, Friday March 20th 2015)

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The Hampstead downstairs works well as the setting for a small one-bed flat.  There’s also that nice reveal at the Hampstead downstairs where your taken into the theatre space.  The stage floor was made of pennies, and some were becoming detached, falling to the floor. This set the scene for a play about saving every penny and the effect this has on two professional couples.
The play is basically about two couples who move into flat as a way of saving money, so after a year they can put a deposit down on a flat of their own.  Mel and Rachel have been friends since university, and they talk their partners into the scheme. The sharing starts as fun, but as time passes things become tense.
Conversations can be overheard. People can’t use the bathroom when they need to get to work.  Toilet habits become frustrating.  Sex becomes problematic in such a small space. Things become cluttered. Boundaries are crossed.
One thing I enjoyed about the production was that the time passing and the tension that arises is represented through dance and movement.
The problem with the piece was even though the issue of house prices in London is clearly a real one for many young people, it didn’t warrant some of the responses the play presented.
The play portrays a generation, that can’t get s foot on the property ladder. The cost of living in London is so bad that the couples cannot enjoy London.
Having to commute or relocate for some people is a reality as well.  The fact the marketing professional is paid more than a teacher is something that does lead to the question that if teachers’ salaries remain this low who will teach the children in London. However, ‘I can’t believe those words came out of you mouth approach’ was rather over the top, or some the rant about Stevenage doesn’t give support to the issue of high London property prices.  They are not dreadful alternatives.
Much if the dialogue is stilted, and often preachy, to the point I didn’t care about the couples and what happened to them.
Further Information http://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2015/deposit/