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

The new RSC Hamlet is out of joint? (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 14th and 15th March 2013)

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Jonathan Slinger as Hamlet and Luke Norris as Laertes in Hamlet. Photo by Keith Pattison © Royal Shakespeare Company

I saw the latest Royal Shakespeare Company Hamlet in previews and I am sure that by the Opening/Press night, the production will have changed considerably since I first saw it. What struck me was on the two nights that I was in the audience was that  there were standing ovations on both nights which suggests that audiences are really enjoying the production.  However, the critical reception has been mixed and there have been some  negative reviews.  I am interested in getting a sense of why some of the reviewers do not specifically like a production that seems to engage its audience.

It seems that it is the set design and the director’s creative choices that irked some critics the most. Charles Spencer makes the point in his The Daily Telegraph review that “[David] Farr is the kind of director who has 20 bright ideas before breakfast and bungs them all on stage to prove how clever he is”.  Furthermore, Clare Brennan in The Observer reflects this with the comment that a “set should not be so distracting”, and concludes that “Jon Bausor’s design, like so much of this production is an infuriating mix-up of self-regarding concepts and sharp ideas”.

David Farr works with the designer Jon Bausor to create busy and elaborate sets. Last year’s RSC shipwreck season presented a stage that became the docks in The Comedy of Errors, a hotel for Twelfth Night and Prospero’s Island.  Indeed, there is something about a David Farr production that makes you think that the stage-play world is just not quite right. Time periods jar against each other and things seem out of place on the stage. For example, in his recent RSC King Lear there was a mixture of modern and old English dress suggested that the Gloucester family existed in another time dimension from the Lear family, and the stage was a eerie industrial scene that didn’t seem to fit in with an ancient Britain setting.  So knowing that David Farr was the director, I was not surprised to be confronted with a cluttered stage and a hall that resembled a fencing school or gym in a public school rather than a palace or castle that is normally expected as the setting for Hamlet. Under the floor of the hall, earth and skulls are clearly visible and a reminder that death underpins this play. In the second half, parts of the stage are removed to represent the piece of land that Hamlet crosses on his way to England and to reveal the earth for the gravedigger’s scene, and the body of Ophelia is left visible on the stage after she has been placed in her grave.

A fencing trope is woven through this production and has an unnerving effect which adds to the feeling that the world of this Hamlet is out of joint. The ghost is first scene in a fencing mask. In 1.2, characters enter in fencing masks to hear Claudius’s speech on the death of old Hamlet and reflect the image of the ghost that we’ve just seen. The fencing suit that Hamlet wears to play his anti disposition can also be seen as a straitjacket. Throughout the production there is a sense of Hamlet fencing and playing with other characters. All these fencing images of course culminate in the final scene with the death of Hamlet.

Michael Billington in The Guardian comments:

Although the emphasis is on Hamlet’s fractured sensibility, the other characters come strongly into focus. Pippa Nixon’s Ophelia is outstanding: a passionate schoolgirl fatally besotted by Hamlet. Greg Hicks, doubling as Claudius and the Ghost, wittily suggests that the former is the practised politician who can never allow the mask to slip, and there’s strong work from Charlotte Cornwell as a conscience-haunted Gertrude and Robin Soans as a sinisterly officious Polonius (Michael Billington in The Guardian).

There are some very strong supporting performances. Pippa Nixon’s Ophelia is very determined.  She snatches moments of passion with Hamlet in secret, but also shows her annoyance and anger after she has treated her so badly in the nunnery scene. In her mad scenes, this determination is evident as she enters in a wedding dress looking as if she truly believes she is about to marry Hamlet and shows her annoyance and impatience when she realises that he isn’t going to turn up.  Not only is Nixon great at playing Ophelia in sanity and in madness, she has to take on the very difficult task of being motionless on stage for such a long period of time as she lays in the grave.

Like Patrick Stewart in the previous RSC Hamlet, Greg Hicks plays both the ghost and Claudius, and there is a suggestion that the brothers might be twins, which adds a complexity to the way that Hamlet responds to his uncle. In this out of joint world Hamlet can embrace the ghost of his father.

The age difference between Alex Waldmann’s Horatio and Jonathan Slinger’s Hamlet is utilised well and it is clear that the younger man is besotted with his older University colleague. Waldmann’s Horatio is there beside Hamlet throughout.  In his performance there are reminders of Waldmann’s Catesby standing beside Richard III in last year’s Swan production in the way Horatio clearly decides where is loyalties are in a world where it would be dangerous to be seen to be plotting against Claudius.

Though there are generally positive reviews of some of the supporting roles including, Hicks, Nixon and Waldmann, the reviews of Slinger’s performance are mixed.  Simon Tavener in his whatsonstge.com review feels that Slinger, ” employs so many ‘actorly’ tricks, both verbally and physically, that it is hard to see through to the emotional truth of what the character is experiencing”. Michael Billington in The Guardian also commenting on Jonathan Slinger’s performance declares that it “is compelling to watch: he mines every phrase, utters heartwrenching cries of desolate grief and, more than any Hamlet I recall, is obsessed by Ophelia, whose corpse remains visible to the last”.

I felt that as well as some very strong performances from the company, it is Slinger’s performance that dominates this production.  He puts himself out at the front from the very start of the production, sitting on the edge of the front of the thrust stage and mumbling the first line of the play as he starts to take notes in his notebook.  Maybe we are supposed to think that the rest of the play is a dream or in his mind’s eye.  That we don’t know is important because that’s the point. Many of the creative decisions are left unexplained and maybe that leads to some of the frustration expressed in the reviews.

I feel that Singer’s performance is mesmerising. His Hamlet is grief-grief-striken passionate, physical, emotional and intelligent.  He’s also thoughtful, manic and funny. However, I felt little empathy with this Hamlet, because he is also extremely violent. He is covered in blood when he has killed Polonius reminding the audience of the brutality of the act he has just committed and he is particularly violent to Ophelia in the Nunnery scene stripping her down to her underclothes and covering her face with mud. In taking the play away from its Renaissance context, the thirst for revenge feels out and place and unwarranted. As Claudius drinks the poison at the end of the play, he is not like Patrick Stewart’s Claudius who realised that the game is up and that the drinking of the poison was his own last moment of having the upper hand, but because he is the victim of a revenger. In a strange moment of triumph in the final scene, Slinger’s Hamlet puts on the crown and we realise that for a short time he is king.

When I saw this production, Hamlet returns from England wearing a grey suit having ditched his dark crumpled mourning suit.  Not only was his dress a contrast to the rest of the court because they were now in mourning, but there was a suggestion that Hamlet returns as the bridegroom with an expectation of marrying Ophelia. This made his despair at finding himself at Ophelia’s funeral more poignant. I have heard that this has been changed during previews, but I felt that this worked well.

There are lots that has been said about the RSC’s approach to ensemble, and in this company there are several reunions of actors working recently with the RSC. Joining Nixon and Waldmann, are John Stahl, David Fielder, Mark Holgate and Natalie Klamer from last year’s Nations of War Swan season and long ensemble members, Greg Hicks and Oliver Ryan, are making a return to the RSC.  I think seeing how these actors interact in new and established combinations, and in different productions, adds to some of the interest in this summer season.

The last RSC Hamlet (directed by Greg Doran) experimented with mirrors and the audience could see themselves reflected in the set throughout the performance. In this production there is an opaqueness in the earthy set and the appearance of fencing masks, that makes this a very different aesthetic for the audience to engage with.  Maybe there are mixed reviews because Slinger takes risks in the role. He is older and it does seem strange that an actor who has just played Prospero and Malvolio returns to the RSC to play Hamlet.  Yes there are lots of ideas and the production is a little fussy and cluttered at time, but that meant that I felt that I was being constantly surprised.  I felt that there is enough in this production to make it well worth seeing.  I will be interested in seeing how it develops and grows during its run.

Further Information

Visit my storify page

The Royal Shakespeare Company Website

Jonathan Slinger’s Website

Reviews and Previews

The Independent Interview with Jonathan Slinger

The Guardian Interview with Jonathan Slinger

The Observer Review

Coventry Telegraph

The Stratford Observer

The Daily Telegraph

The Guardian

What’s On Stage

The Daily Mail

The Stage

Other Blogs

Partially Obstructed View

Moss Cottage – Dr Peter Buckroyd

Bum on a Seat

2011

In 2011, the sublime was a popular topic of discussion. At the National Theatre there was Frankenstein and  in the John Martin exhibition at the Tate, the sublime was on show in a spectacular way. The John Martin exhibition was my favourite exhibition of the year. The epic was presented on grand canvases, but what I loved was getting really close to the paintings to see the detail. Earthly worlds melted into fantastical worlds and where one started and the other finished it was really hard to see.  I missed out on seeing Jonny Lee Miller as the creature, but glad I got to see Benedict Cumberbatch in the role in April.

Though I was delighted by the great John Martin exhibition on a trip to Manchester, I was also impressed by the Ford Maddox Brown exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery. It was good to see other works alongside Work.

The Royal Shakespeare Company came home to perform in the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre in February.  Some of the productions that I liked  in 2011 were at the end of the long ensemble’s run, but I also looked forward to what the new company arriving.  In Stratford, there seemed to be so many ‘opening’  nights that every time I went to Stratford was some kind of event – the first night, the press night, and the queen opening the new theatre.  I was lucky to get tickets to see Katy Stephen play Cleopatra in a much more stripped down emotional version of the long ensemble’s Antony and Cleopatra  in the Swan theatre.  When the opening nights were over, the last night of the long ensemble seemed to happen so quickly.  The last day  that the long ensemble performed in Stratford was a great occasion because I saw three plays in a day and the last time I would see Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet.  The long ensembles’ last work in Britain was three new plays at Hampstead Theatre.

Kathryn Hunter’s Cleopatra got mixed reviews. It was a performance I had grown to like, and I was so pleased I got to see her in Kafka’s Monkey in July. This was a polished and extraordinary piece of physical theatre.

The new company arrived at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre with a Macbeth and a thought-provoking Merchant of Venice. The critics seemed to prefer A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but out of the three main house Shakespeare productions, I thought this was the least inventive and exciting.  This was a production with Bottom wearing his packed lunch in inventive ways as he sleeps with the fairy queen and which the real world transformed into the woods in such a way, we were meant to feel that elements of the court world were seeping into the dream world.  Michael Boyd’s Macbeth played with time and the souls of the dead haunting the stage.  Rupert Goold’s Merchant of Venice gave Portia a central role in a production set in Las Vegas.   However, the joy for me was the Homecoming at the Swan.  This was a beautifully nuanced piece of work and for me beautifully captured the tone and mood of play.

Beauty was on show in the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the National Galley and in Eddie Redmayne’s Richard II at the Donmar Warehouse. Unlike the John Martin exhibition it was so hard to get up clue to anything in the popular National Gallery show. It was so nice to be directed through the gallery past the other Renaissance pairings to the exhibition around the Last Supper.  I really enjoyed Redmayne’s performance as Richard falling apart in from to me.

In other Shakespearean productions, Kevin Spacey’s Richard III which was fantastic and brutal and The Tempest at the Haymarket was a little plodding with a nice performance from Nicholas Lyndhust.

I found the Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World (British Museum) fascinating, and  I felt that I should have enjoyed the Grayson Perry at the British Museum more than I did.  I was drawn to the Glamour of the Gods at the National Portrait Gallery, which is always a great place to visit before a matinée.

I saw five different production of Hamlet in 2011, starting the year with the wonderful production at the National Theatre, and finishing with Michael Sheen’s performance in the Young Vic’s production  which was set in a mental hospital.   The other Hamlets were the Northern Broadsides, the RSC Young Person’s wonderful production and the Globe’s touring production.

I saw three different Comedy of Errors.  The year with the magnificent all male Propeller  Company production in Sheffield and finished the year with the National’s lively production. Lenny Henry was spot on with the verse and the set really worked on the large Olivier stage. Though both these productions were superb, I also really liked the RSC Young Person’s version which I saw for the first time when it was last performed  in April.

Not all the cultural events have been memorable. In thinking about the past year, I’d totally forgotten about seeing Twelfth Night at the National Theatre until I heard someone on the radio saying that Charles Edwards was their choice for actor of the year. They reminded me that not only had he been a superb Benedick, but he’d also been a decent Sir Andrew in a dull production at the National Theatre.

Much Ado About Nothing scaffolded the year for me personally . It had been a long time since I’d seen a production, nd then two excellent, but very different productions came along. I loved the Globe’s detailed production and Eve Best’s wonderful performance as Beatrice. I was so surprised when she played the ‘Kill Claudio’ line for laughs. Over the river at the Wyndham’s Theatre was the commercial 1980’s concept production which I saw many times starting with the first night. It was great fun and the performances from David Tennant and  Catherine Tate were great and totally in context in this production. There was some comment that the audience only laughed because they saw David Tennant on stage, but when Alex Beckett took over from David Tennant for two nights the laughs came in the same places and it seemed the audience enjoyed the production and still gave it a standing ovation.

…..and my highlight of 2011 was Adam James’ Don Pedro in the Wyndham’s Much Ado About Nothing. It was a wonderful performance that seemed to catch the character so well.  James made everything look so easy, but actually it was his supporting performance that made it possible for Tate and Tennant to give great comic performances.

Macbeth (RST, May/June/August 2011)

Looking back on the 2011 RSC Macbeth..

Susannah Clapp writing in The Observer noted that there was a little bit of the Turn of the Screw about the RSC production of Macbeth and this was one of my thoughts when I first saw it for the first time back in May.  Indeed, when I first saw it, I  left thinking about the film The Others as well.  As characters die on stage, Seyton/Porter (Jamie Beamish) opens the door to the back of the stage for the ghosts to exit, but it is as if they are compelled to return back to the action.  It felt as if the dead did not know that they were dead and continued to inhabit the play world after their parts had ended.

The action seemed to be manipulated by Ross (Scott Handy), and in this production he was such an enigma.  It was as if he wasn’t in this world of the action and was in it at the same time.  At the opening, he stood at the front of the Circle and looked down at the characters on the thrust stage.  He was like a narrator starting the play off as he prompted Malcolm (Howard Charles) to start speaking “As two spent swimmers’.  In usurping the witches’ opening scene, Ross also became a witness to the gruesome horror, the all-knowing spectator.  He was sick when he saw the murdered body of Duncan, but as the play progressed, it felt that he became more complicit in the action. At one  point he used alcohol as a crutch to cope with what he’d seen, but at another he stood by and watched as the Macduff children are murdered.  At first, Ross seemed to be a balance to Seyton (or Satan as I felt he was in this production), but as the play moved towards its conclusion Ross seemed to become more like him and in the end it felt that he was on the same side as Satan, and acting as agent for the supernatural.  At the end and the start of the play Ross is like an audience who know the play and can chant the words along with the actors, but sit  there as observers because they have no agency to interfere in the play world?

The production  replaced the witches with children whose first appearance was to descend from the flies  dangling from meat hooks as if they were no more than macabre puppets, but then they suddenly shuddered and came alive.  Their song was chilling and haunting.  If they are Lady Macduff’s children, time becomes disjointed, adding another lair of intrigue in this production. As an audience we are never sure.

I thought that Jonathan Slinger’s Macbeth became more frantic as the play moves forward.  He wrapped himself in his robes to hide himself, as if he made real the drunk hope that he had dressed himself.  The banquet scene, which straggles the interval, was played twice – first the scene from Macbeth’s point of view and then again from the guests’ point of view.  What we had seen was an insight into Macbeth’s head. He is a man who starts off as one of the lads and becomes alone and isolated as he becomes more sure of himself.  The irony is that he was also doubtful and insecure.

The murder of Lady MacDuff’s children was chilling, especially as the little girl was taken away by one of the murderers but still killed.  She ran to exit through Seyton’s door before he closed it and Macduff  (Aidan Kelly) ran after to have the door slammed in his face.  I really liked the way that the ghosts of Lady Macduff and her children followed Macduff around. The last scene was carefully choreographed so that Macbeth’s death is caused by those he murders.

Jamie Beamish’s performance as  Seyton/Porter was a joy.  He could be sinister and humorous at the same time. The business with fireworks was really funny, but fitted so well into the overall aesthetic of the production.

I saw this five times across the run, and during that time I also observed Jonathan Slinger’s hair change colour from blond back to its natural colour (for his portrayal of Lenny in The Homecoming).  The new theatre space is certainly intimate.  At times I was so close to the action that I could almost touch the actors.  I could smell the sweat, and the leather of Banquo’s coat and the dying moments of the Porter’s fireworks. There were times Macbeth was inches away from me, and I could feel his tension. I think this adds to the experience of watching.

I know that the production had mixed reviews, and there were some silly bits like all the Banquo dolls appearing out of the flies and Macbeth descending on a throne – because you can in the new theatre – but I really liked the way the production unnerved me and didn’t present me with answers.

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