Top Lists of 2013

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Top Shakespeare

1.  All’s Well That Ends Well, (RSC RST and Theatre Royal Newcastle).
2.  As You Like It (RSC, RST and Theatre Royal Newcastle).
3.  Titus Andronicus (RSC, Swan Theatre).
4.  Julius Caesar (Donmar Warehouse).
5.  The Taming of the Shrew (Propeller, Newcastle Theatre Royal)
6.  Macbeth (Trafalgar Studios).
7.  Richard II (RSC, RST and Barbican).
8.  Othello (National Theatre).
9.  Hamlet (RSC, RST and Theatre Royal Newcastle).
10.  Twelfth Night (Propeller, Newcastle Theatre Royal).
11.  Coriolanus (Donmar Warehouse).
12. As You Like it (Globe).
13,  Macbeth (Globe).
14. Henry V (Noel Coward Theatre).
15.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Globe).
16. The Merry Wives of Windsor (RST).
17.  The Winter’s Tale, (RST and York Grand Opera House).
18.  Richard III (York Theatre Royal).
19. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Noel Coward Theatre).
20. The Tempest (Globe).

Top Theatre (Not Shakespeare)

1.  The Effect – Lucy Prebble  (National Theatre).
2.  This House – James Graham (National Theatre).
3.  Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon and Simon Stephens (National Theatre at the Apollo).
4.  Edward II – Christopher Marlowe (National Theatre).
5.  Talk Show  – Alistair McDowall (Royal Court).
6.  A Boy and His Soul  – Colman Domingo (Tricycle).
7.  A Mad World My Masters – Thomas Middleton (Swan).
8.  Jumpers for Goalposts –  Tom Wells (Bush Theatre).
9.  Blink – Phil Porter (Soho Theatre).
10. Chalk Farm  – Kieran Hurley and A.J. Taudevin (Underbelly, Edinburgh Fringe Festival).
11.  There Has Possibly Been an Incident – Chris Thorpe (Northern Stage at St Stephen’s, Edinburgh Fringe Festival).
12.  Same Deep Water as Me – Nick Payne  (Donmar).
13.  Feast -Yunior Garcia Aguilera, Rotimi Babatunde, Marcos Barbosa, Tanya Barfield, Gbolahan Obisesan (Young Vic/Royal Court).
14.  The Victorian in the Wall – Will Aamsdale (Royal Court).
15.  Let the Right One In – John Ajvide Lindqvist and Jack Thorne (Royal Court)
16.  The Weir – Conor McPherson (Donmar)
17.  Wot? No Fish! – Danny Braverman (Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe Festival)
18.  Home – David Storey (Arcola).
19.  Candide – Mark Ravenhill (Swan).
20.  Choose Your One Documentary – Nathan Pennington (Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh Fringe Festival).

Exhibitions

1. David Bowie (Victoria and Albert)
2. Pre-Raphaelites (Tate Britain)
3.  Life and Death in Pompeii (British Museum)
4.  Lowry (Tate Britain)
5.  Elizabeth I and Her People (National Portrait Gallery)
6.  Paul Klee (Tate Modern)
7.  Manet. Portraying Life. Royal Academy
8.  Summer Show (Royal Academy)
9.   Peer Doig (National Gallery of Scotland)
10. Glam The Performance of Style (Tate, Liverpool)

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All's Well That End's Well (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 25th July 2013)

All’s Well That Ends Well isn’t performed very often, so it is always really a refreshing change from the normal schedule when a production comes along. After seeing Marianne Elliot’s stunning fairy tale version at the national a few years ago, it is hard to envisage how the play might be staged without the fairy tale setting. Nancy Meckler’s current production for the RSC does bring in some fairytale elements, but the key backdrop to this production is a brutal war which Alex Waldmann’s Bertram is determined to join.

When the audience enter the auditorium, they are faced with a rather sparse stage. There’s what looks like a railway arch in the background with the words, ‘All’s Well That End’s Well’ projected on it. Maybe, it is meant to be a club, because the production starts with a scene from a night out with Bertram clearly having fun, getting very drunk, and at one point taking his shirt off. We are shown the end of the night, as he has received the news that his father had died, and he has to be helped home by Helena, because he is roaring drunk and unable to stand on his own. It was clear from this opening that Helena is in love with Bertram and that he doesn’t really notice her. Bertram is interested in being in the company of men, having a lads night out, and training for the war. When he is forced to marry Helena, which her reward for curing the King of France, this is an excuse for him to run away and to join the wars in Italy.

For a moment, the opening gives a promise of Grease.  Helena, like Sandy, falls in with a glamorous playboy, who at first rejects her but she gets her man in the end. However, this production takes a different trajectory from Grease, and observes the sadness and patience of Helena and the slow realisation of what responsiblity is for a young man growing up. Helena does not have to glam up to get her man, but uses her wits and intellect to carefully respond to his challenge .

In the current RSC season, Maria Aberg’s production of As You Like It explores the performance of gender. In contrast, this production presents gender as innate rather than socially constructed. It explores a dichotomy between masculinity and femininity as aggression versus nurturing. In the Director’s Talk last night (24th July) a member of the audience made the comment that the different textures seen in the back of the set could represent male and female qualities. Nancy Meckler adds a scene where the soldiers in Italy become extremely sexually aggressive and the action becomes very shocking. It is only the intervention of Diana’s mother (Karen Archer) that protects the women from sexual violence. The scene brings into realisation that Bertram’s treatment of Helena (and Diana) is also extremely shocking as psychological and physical abuse.

Alex Waldmann gives both a solid and stunning performance and is able to depict Bertram with a clear narrative arc that explores how the character starts off as a young adolescent and finishes the play as a wounded and broken man. Alex Waldmann said that an influence was Prince Harry in an interview with the Oxford Times. Nancy Meckler reiterated Prince Harry’s influence on the character influence in the Director’s Talk. There is a little bit of his King John in Waldmann’s approach to Bertram with that kind of arrogant dismissiveness, and an unwillingness to take responsibility. Though Bertram has matured by the end of the play, Waldmann’s realisation of the character presents him as having suffered both physical and mental pain on the way to this maturity. The scar that appears on the side of Bertram’s face is a stark reminder that war is about physical combat. When Bertram makes love to Helena in the bed trick scene, he is damaged, grieving and feeling the pain of loss. This moment actually becomes a poignant moment, and a pivotal moment in the production. At the end of the production, I really felt that Bertram was sorry and that the experience of fighting in a war had shaken him. He continues to lie because he is confused and battered. In the final scene, his whole physic seems shrunken and broken. For this production, Waldmann has shaven off his beard making seem extremely young and vulnerable.

Jonathan Slinger is very entertaining as Parolles, and as he did with his portrayal of Malvolio in last season’s Twelfth Night, he can also make an audience feel the discomfort when the comedy moves into darker moments and his character is humiliated. In the scene where Paroles, blindfolded and terrified for his life, betrays his company, and the moment becomes both humorous and sad. This is also a moment, where Bertram is faced with the betrayal of his friend, and it startlingly mirrors his own betrayal of Helena.

Joanna Horton plays Helena in such a way that the unrequited love seems ingrained in her whole being. The scene when she admits she loves Bertram to the Countess (Charlotte Cornwall) is played with particular tenderness by both actresses. Horton’s is a polished quiet performance which works so well in contrast to Waldmann’s performance as Bertram. There are some lovely moments where both of them use facial expressions to reveal their emotion. For example, when Helena chooses a husband, she is delighted, and he is ambivalent.

Greg Hicks, playing the King of France, looked as if he had retrieved his King Lear wig from a black bin bag liner. There are also echoes of his Lear as he the King of France is pushed around in the wheelchair about to be reconciled with Cordelia in the 2010-11 production of King Lear (dir David Farr). However, Helena’s miracle cure gives Hicks the opportunity to demonstrate his impressive capoeira skills, and the recovery seems more miraculous and magical. At this point, I was feeling sorry for Greg Hicks’ understudy who might have to give this part of the performance a different aspect.

There are echoes of the current production of As You Like It, as Helena is revealed in a white dress at the back of the stage. The ending has changed in the previews. At the first preview, there was some hesitation and echoes of the ending of recent productions of Measure for Measure. Would Helena take Bertram’s hand? The production settles on a happy ending, but an ending that left me feeling that this young couple would have to work hard to make their marriage work.

Apart from a perspex box which comes from the back of the stage every now and again, the set tends to be uncluttered. The multimedia is very effective, but it is best seen from the front of the stage rather than the side of the stage. The set is beautifully lit by Tim Lutin. The narrative is well told and I thought very clear.

The language of ensemble seems to have left the RSC vocabulary since Michael Boyd’s departure. However, it is great to see the current main house company growing with each piece of work that opens and becoming much stronger as they continue to work together, which was part of Boyd’s vision for the RSC. It as Greg Doran said in an interview that he gave on taking on the role of Artistic Director that you can’t cast an ensemble, and that a company becomes an ensemble as they grow confident working together. Some of this company worked together in last year’s Swan season and have already opened in Hamlet and As You Like It. In current RSC productions, the Company are making the minor roles as interesting as the lead roles. For example, it is really great to see Mark Holgate being given a little more to do as First Lord Dumaine and Natalie Klamar as Diana being able to demonstrate her range of talents. David Fielder gives an excellent solid and sure performance as Lafew who is able to forgive and exhibit humanity.

I am hoping to see some of the Company back in Stratford next year. I especially would like to see Alex Waldmnann return because, after following him through his performances as King John and Catesby through to Horatio, Orlando and Bertram, I am interested in seeing how he approaches other roles. He is clearly an actor that is becoming extremely polished in all his performances. In each production that I have seen him in, he brings both a sense of thoughtful creativity and vigour to his performance, making sure that each gesture and speech is nuanced which feels so fresh and natural. Waldmann is able to play very young, but with a maturity that he has now gained from playing several major roles with the RSC.

Further Information

http://www.rsc.org.uk/whats-on/alls-well-that-ends-well/

My Storify Page (I will add reviews as they come out).

Greg Doran interview at the Shakespeare Institute. (Jan 24th 2013)

Previews and Reviews

http://www.stratfordobserver.co.uk/2013/07/26/entertainment-All’s-Well-That-Ends-Well—RSC-Stratford-on-Avon-79206.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/10207205/Alls-Well-That-Ends-WellRomeo-and-Juliet-review.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2013/jul/26/alls-well-that-ends-well-review

http://exeuntmagazine.com/reviews/alls-well-that-ends-well-2/

http://www.whatsonstage.com/stratford-upon-avon-theatre/reviews/07-2013/alls-well-that-ends-well-rsc_31422.html?cid=homepage_news

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/reviews/theatre-review-alls-well-that-ends-well-royal-shakespeare-theatre-stratforduponavon-8733210.html

http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/38786/alls-well-that-ends-well

http://www.express.co.uk/entertainment/theatre/417548/Theatre-Review-All-s-Well-That-Ends-Well

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/f7a963fc-f830-11e2-92f0-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2aXHyk8e8

http://exeuntmagazine.com/features/alex-waldmann/

http://www.whatsonstage.com/west-end-theatre/news/04-2013/20-questions-with-rising-rsc-star-alex-waldmann_519.html

http://www.rsc.org.uk/explore/blogs/pathways-to-shakespeare/alex-waldmann/

http://www.oxfordtimes.co.uk/news/features/10483679.Profile__Alex_Waldmann___from_Cherwell_to_the_RSC/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpP6xqYd4FU

http://www.stratfordobserver.co.uk/2013/07/19/entertainment-Rarely-staged-All-Well-That-Ends-Well-at-RSc-in–76440.html

http://www.whatsonstage.com/newcastle-upon-tyne-theatre/news/07-2013/20-questions-with-rscs-charlotte-cornwell_31412.html?cid=homepage_news

Looking forward to Shakespeare in 2013

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2013 will be another year for celebrity Shakespeare. James McAvoy will play Macbeth early in the year. The Michael Grandage season continues with David Walliams and Sheridan Smith staring in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Jude Law in Henry V.  In autumn, at the Old Vic,  Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones will be playing Beatrice and Bendick in Much Ado About Nothing.  Yet to go on sale, but not a surprise, Adrian Lester will play Othello at the National Theatre.

In Stratford, there are lots to look forward to, particularly the Alex Waldman and Pippa Nixon reunion in As You Like It and again in Hamlet with Jonathan Slinger in the title role.  Joining As You Like It and Hamlet on the RST main stage will be All’s Well that End’s Well, and in the Swan theatre there is a Titus Andronicus.

At the Globe, I’m looking forward to The Tempest, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The RSC and the Globe are bringing their Shakespeare  to York with The Winter’s Tale and  a Henry VI season.

There has been a taste for concept Shakespeare recently. The Wyndham’s Much Ado About Nothing and Rupert Goold’s The Merchant of Venice split audiences and the critics, but were very interesting interpretations. Will 2013 bring another surprise?  It looks like the Globe will continue with its original practice approach, and there is talk that the RSC Hamlet might return to renaissance dress.

With most of the summer and autumn mapped out, I am waiting with anticipation, and excitement, for the announcement of Greg Doran’s first season as artistic director of the RSC.  What will be the RSC’s winter season be like?  I doubt we’ll see another long ensemble project, but I think we’ll see the return of the ‘celebrity’ actor to the RSC. I’m sure we’ll know soon.

Best of 2011

Here is my best of.. lists. The following post discusses what I thought about the year.

Shakespeare in the Theatre

1. Romeo and Juliet (RSC at the RST)

2. Much Ado About Nothing (Globe)

3. Hamlet (The National Theatre)

4. Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndham’s)

5.The Comedy of Errors (Propeller at Sheffield)

6. Antony and Cleopatra with Katy Stephens and Darrell D’Silva (RSC at the RST)

7. Macbeth (RSC)

8. The Merchant of Venice (RSC)

9. King Lear (RSC at the RST and Roundhouse)

10. Hamlet (Young Vic)

11. Othello (The Crucible, Sheffield)

12. As You Like It (RSC at Roundhouse)

13. Macbeth (Liverpool Everyman)

14. All Well That End’s Well (The Globe)

15. The Comedy of Errors (Young Person’s at RSC)

16. Hamlet (Northern Broadsides at West Yorkshire Playhouse)

17. Hamlet (Globe touring)

18. The Comedy of Errors (National Theatre)

19. Richard III (Old Vic)

20. Richard II (Donmar)

21. Hamlet (Young Person’s at RSC)

22.  King Lear (West Yorkshire Playhouse)

23.  The Tempest (Theatre Royal, Haymarket)

24.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream (RSC, RST)

25. Twelfth Night (National Theatre)

Other Theatre

1. Jerusalem (Apollo)

2. The Homecoming (RSC at the Swan)

3. Frankenstein (The National)

4. One Man, Two Guvnors (The Lowry)

5. Anna Christie (Donmar)

6. The City Madam (RSC, The Swan)

7. Dr Faustus (The Globe)

8. Betrayal (Harold Pinter/Comedy)

9. Inadmissible Evidence (Donmar)

10. Cardenio (RSC, The Swan)

11. Rosencrantz and Guldenstern are Dead (Haymarket)

12. Grief (The National)

13. 13 (The National)

14. Silence (RSC at Hampstead)

15. Little Eagles (RSC at Hampstead)

16. Season’s Greetings (National Theatre)

17. Juno and the Paycock (National)

18. Cause Célèbre (Old Vic)

19. Deep Blue Sea (West Yorkshire Playhouse)

20. Moonlight (Donmar)

21. The Crucible (York Theatre Royal)

22. The Heretic (Royal Court)

23. Forty Years On (York Theatre Royal)

24. American Trade (RSC at Hampstead)

25. Beggar’s Opera (Belt Up at York Theatre Royal)

Note: Forty Years On is here for proud Mum reasons.

Exhibitions

1. John Martin (Tate Britain)

2. Ford Maddox Brown (Manchester City Art Gallery)

3. Degas (Royal Academy)

4. Leonardo da Vinci (National Gallery)

5. Juma Plensa (Yorkshire Sculpture Park)

6. Glamour of the Gods (National Portrait Gallery)

7. Gerhard Ritcher (Tate Modern)

8. First Actresses (National Portrait Gallery)

9. Miro (Tate Modern)

10. Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World (British Museum)

11. Gabriel Orozco (Tate Modern)

12. Watteau (Royal Academy)

13. Hokusai’s Great wave (British Museum)

14. Treasures of Heaven (British Museum)

15. Devotion by Design (National Gallery)

16. Royal Academy Summer Show 2012

17. Building the Revolution (Royal Academy )

18. Barry Flanagan (Tate Britain)

19. Grayson Perry (British Museum)

20. Tacita Dean (Tate Modern)

My great cultural moments of 2011

Meeting Sir Alan and Lady Ayckbourn

First night of Wyndham’s Much Ado About Nothing

Last night of Long Ensemble (2009-11) at Royal Shakespeare Theatre – Romeo and Juliet

First night of Long Ensemble (2009-11) at the opening of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre – King Lear

The performance of the year – Adam James as Don Pedro in Wyndham’s Much Ado About Nothing – just wonderful.

Edinburgh Festival

The RSC Ensemble Revealed at the Swan Theatre.

Best actor and actress

Best Actor – Adam James in Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndham’s)

Best Actress – Eve Best in Much Ado About Nothing (The Globe)

All's Well That Ends Well (NT Live – City Screen, York, 1st October 2009)

I saw the National production of All’s Well That Ends Well in July and thought it was a fantastic production with its focus on the fairytale elements of the play.  I felt at that time it will be interesting to see how the cinema experience captures the wonderful set.  For the most the screening, as part of the ntlive season, worked really well.  I just  felt at some times the overall feel of the set didn’t always come across.  This is because the cameras have to work with a combination of close-ups and long shots which means that our gaze is more directed than it would be in the theatre.  It is not always possible to see other characters’ reactions to speeches when the camera is focused on the face of one actor, or to move our eyes to the surroundings and back to the actor and observe all the effects in the background.  The Olivier is a much bigger stage than the Lyttleton and I would have thought that it is much harder to cover as much as might be needed to give a sense of a busy atmosphere full of effects, such as the puppets and a wonderful contrasts between the light and dark moving through it. It is interesting to note that there is a technical rehearsal so what we see isn’t raw and unplanned.  I felt that it had been useful to have seen the live production first because I was able to bring that experience to my viewing in the cinema and it gave me a feel for the atmosphere and the feel of the set.     However, I do enjoy the cinema experience.  I suppose the next thing to do would be to attend the theatre on the evening of filming  to experience what the filming of the live production might feel like as a member of the audience.

Unlike the screening of Phedre, this time there was an interval, and I had been wondering how this might work in the cinema.  We were presented with a countdown on screen to make sure we were in our seats before the performance started and to ensure we weren’t getting up and down  as the performance began we were shown a live interview between  Alex Jennings and the designer, Rae Smith.  This was interesting, but Smith was trying really hard to talk about her set without giving away what would happen in the second half of the play. 

Again the experiment worked really well.  I noticed that the National Theatre’s Artistic Director, Nicholas Hytner, still refered to this being a pilot in his discussion at the start of the screening.  It is a strange experience watching theatre in a cinema.  It’s not always clear if laughter is from the audience at the theatre or in the cinema for example.  I’m still not sure if I should applaud or not.  I feel that I want to and some people did at the City screen in York where I watched the performance.  The producers are grappling with what to do before curtain up and decided to braodcast pre screening interviews including Elliot Levey (playing 1st Lord Dumaine) interviewing the director, Marianne Elliott.  This gave us a sense of  being able to peek backstage and presenting us with a view of the prompter’s corner, which I don’t think we got when watching Phedre.  Nevertheless, though still a pilot the screening of a theatre production is now here to stay and people like me will stop blogging about them as if watching live theatre at the cinema is a strange novelty. 

For me this experiment works because I have seen both the live and cinema versions.  I wouldn’t want to replace my theatre experiences with one of watching productions through a camera lens, but I do see it as an enhancement to theatre going.  I see this as another chance to see a production already experienced in the theatre.  However, the ntlive project is making the National Theatre more accessible to a larger audience and that can only be a good thing.  I don’t think it will happen, but it might have been one way I could have seen the whole of  Mother Courage, because living so far from London, it is not possible for me to book to see the whole production again at the theatre.

Further information

National Theatre Website