King John (Temple Church, 10th and 17th April)

Mad world! mad kings! mad composition!

After seeing the Globe’s production of King John, two images came to mind. The first image is the Globe’s promotional video for its exhibition which shows an inquisitive Anjana Vasan entering the Globe and as she enters the place explodes with characters from the plays. In the video, if feels as if the figures have appeared from the walls of the theatre. The second image is from the current Savage Beauty exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum showing the model Kate Moss in an Alexander McQueen wedding dress appearing like a spectre from the darkness. The image of Moss is both beautiful and grotesque at the same time.

When watching the Globe’s production of King John, the light in the enormously beautiful Temple Church shone across the walls turning the stone to gold, and in the shadows characters emerged from the corners of the church. Indeed, as characters entered from the West, they could be heard speaking and then they started to appear out of the darkness. The acoustics gave the speech an eerie echoing sound. In the second half, as it was dark outside, this effect became even more prominent and at times it looked like characters floated across the stage.

As the light is faded outside the church, the production started in a murky light, but as it progressed and it became darker outside, the light inside became extremely bright. The light picked up the threads in the costumes, jewels and on crowns. The effect was to give a real feel for the transience of the power portrayed, and that we were watching the ephemeral characters passing through. The throne placed in front of the audience is lit by candles looking seductive in the light. Indeed, several characters sit on it as if drawn to it by a supernatural force. The photograph below of Alex Waldmann as the Bastard shows the effect of the candles on the throne.

The stage was a traverse stage that runs along the church and across both transepts in the shape of a cross. There’s something very uncomfortable about seeing attempted murder in a church; when Hubert tries to murder Arthur and again when Arthur slips to his death in the second half was particularly horrifying. There’s also something uncomfortable watching a war being enacted on a cross in a church. When as an audience member you’re so close to the action, it can be exciting to see swords flashing and the sounds of metal on metal as the battles rage around you.

This was site specific performance at its best. On the two occasions I went to see the production, there was a long queue outside before the doors opened. As we entered the space we passed monks who were singing and stood amongst the candlelit tombs. The pews were unreserved, and so it was about guessing which would be a good spot. On the second occasion that I went, I sat right at the end of the church near the throne and musicians and I found that a really good place to sit, with some great views of the action. The stage is very high, but the effect is that the characters move above you. It’s an interesting use of the space, so wherever you were sat you were presented with a very different experience.

For me it was the second half that was the most satisfying. As everything starts to fall apart for John, the music becomes haunting and there are screeches as John moves to excess undertaking another two coronations. The prophesy that John will die on ascension day keeps being repeated, and the whole atmosphere prepares us for John’s death. The combination of light and space creates the atmosphere of excess in seeing `John becoming more and more isolated as he crowns himself another two times. In the air there is a madness created through lift sound, the actors’ movement and the textures in the church itself.

There were some excellent moments in this production. For example, Tanya Moodie as Constance and Barbara Marten as Eleanor dressed as Monks, announce the deaths of their own characters. As the Pope’s envoy (Pandulph Joseph Marcell) persuades the two Kings to obey Rome, they hold, and we are waiting for the moment they disagree and drop hands. Alex Waldmann’s Bastard chides Giles Terera’s Austria knowing that he has killed his father, Richard the Lionheart and indeed gets his revenge by decapitating him and running in with the severed head in his hand like a trophy.

There was some outstanding performances from a very strong ensemble. Jo Stone-Fewings plays John with confidence. Barbara Marten, Aruhan Galieva and Tanya Moodie are fantastic as the women in a play where women are not afraid to speak. Alex Waldmann also gives a strong performance as the Bastard. The Bastard is a narrator, and connects the audience to the play, and Waldmann is able to engage the audience as he communicates with the different sides of the church.

I think the point was in this production that I was seeing representations of beings from the past that appeared before me and then disappeared. Well done James Dacre for directing a very even piece of work.

I did wonder if on a matinée with the summer sunshine whether the effects would be so good. I also wondered what it would be like in the Globe mainly playing to the front. We’ll see.

© Bronwen Sharp Alex Waldmann as the Bastard

Further Information


Laurence Belcher Arthur, Simon Coates King Philip, Aruhan Galieva Blanche of Castile, Joseph Marcell Cardinal Pandulph, Barbara Marten Eleanor of Aquitaine, Mark Meadows Hubert, Tanya Moodie Constance, Ciaran Owens Louis the Dauphin, Daniel Rabin Salisbury, Jo Stone-Fewings King John, Giles Terera’s Austria, Alex Waldmann The Bastard, King Philip Aruhan Galieva Blanche of Castile, Joseph Marcell Cardinal Pandulph, Barbara Marten Eleanor of Aquitaine, Mark Meadows Hubert, Tanya Moodie Constance, Ciaran Owens Louis the Dauphin, Daniel Rabin Salisbury, Jo Stone-Fewings King John, Giles Terera Austria, Alex Waldmann The Bastard.



2012 was the year that I kept thinking, I will blog about that and then never got round to it.  I always wanted to write some longer pieces on some of the productions, but I put it off, because I am working on a larger project that is taking up my time at the moment.  I will have to do better in 2013.  It was a year that we were warned to stay away from London, to avoid  transport chaos during the Olympics.  I don’t think tube delays happened, but I spent most of the summer in Stratford instead of London this year.

The highlight of the year for me was the RSC’s King John and Alex Waldmann’s death scene as he dances to a slightly speeded up Frankie Valli’s ‘Beggin”.  I really enjoyed the wedding scene and the night I sang ‘Say a Little Prayer’ with King John was something I will remember for a long time to come.  I have decided that the RSC’s Much Ado About Nothing ends up as my second highlight of 2012 .  I toyed with a joint second with the RSC’s Richard III, but in the end I think Much Ado just nudged ahead because it ended up summing up my summer for me.  I saw it one last time in London, and  the music, colours and ensemble performances had stuck in my mind.

Though the RSC’s Richard III was my third highlight, of course, this was also Jonjo O’Neill’s year.  Firstly, in Richard III and then in The Effect with Billie Piper.  The Effect gets my top spot in the theatre (other than Shakespeare) section. It was a lovely structured play and the two central performances were just great.  The best moment  in The Effect was Jonjo’s tap dance.  I saw Richard III so many times and got to know it well.  I also saw it grow and develop over the year.  it was a funny and clear production, and Jonjo was the master showman, a perfect Richard.

The RSC wasn’t all good.  The shipwreck season was very much a disappointment and Troilus and Cressida – well what can say further about it other than what I blogged in August?

As the summer was ending, I caught the original practice productions at  Richard III and Twelfth Night at The Globe.  I had really enjoyed the Globe’s Taming of the Shrew, mainly because Jamie Beamish was in it.

There are several Royal Court productions in my top theatre section including In Basildon which was very close to the top of my theatre list.

I saw a few exhibitions and paid many visits to the Shakespeare exhibition at the British Museum.  I really enjoyed the Pre-Raphaelite exhibition at Tate Britain, and will visit at least one more time before it closes.

Here’s my top lists for 2012:


1.King John (RSC, The Swan)

2. Much Ado About Nothing RSC, Noel Coward and The Courtyard).

3. Richard III  (RSC, The Swan)

4. Taming of the Shrew (RSC, RST).

5. Julius Caesar (RSC, Theatre Royal Newcastle)

6. Richard III (The Globe)

7.The Winter’s Tale (Propeller, Lyceum, Sheffield)

8. Twelfth Night (The Globe)

9. Timon of Athens (National Theatre)

10. Taming of the Shrew (The Globe)

11. Macbeth (Sheffield Crucible)

12. Henry V (Propeller, Lowry Salford)

13. Henry V (The Globe)

14. Antony and Cleopatra (Oyun Atölyesi company, The Globe)

15. Measure for Measure (RSC, RST)

16. Love Labour’s Lost (Northern Broadsides, The Dukes & York Theatre Royal)

17. Twelfth Night (RSC, RST)

18. The Tempest (RSC, RST)

19. Troilus and Cressida (RSC/Wooster Group, The Swan)

20. The Comedy of Errors (RSC, RST)


1. The Effect (National Theatre)

2. In Basildon (Royal Court)

3. Posh (Royal Court in the West End, Duke of York)

4. She Stoops to Conquer (National Theatre)

5. The Recruiting Officer (Donmar)

6. The Duchess of Malfi (Old Vic)

7. Jumpy (Royal Court in the West End, Duke of York)

8.  A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It) (Dmitry Krymov’s company RSC)

9.  Hero (The Royal Court)

10. Hedda Gabler (The Old Vic)

11. Miss Julie (Manchester, Royal Exchange)

12. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (West Yorkshire Playhouse)

13. The Judas Kiss (Hampshire)

14. The Physicists (Donmar)

15. Three Sisters (The Young Vic)

16. The Changeling (The Young Vic)

17.  People (National Theatre)

18. Steptoe and Son (Kneehigh, West Yorkshire Playhouse)

19. Blackta (Young Vic)

20. Privates on Parade (Michael Grandage Company, The Noel Coward Theatre)


1. PreRaphaelites (Tate Britain)

2. Shakespeare: staging the world (British Museum)

3. Johann Zoffany RA: Society Observed (Royal Academy)

4. David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture (Royal Academy)

5. Lucien Freud (Portraits)

6.  Munch: The promise of modernity

7. Damien Hirst (Tate Modern)

8. Bronze (Royal Academy)

9. Someday all the Adults will die (Haywood Gallery)

10. Edward Munch (The Modern Eye) (Tate Modern)

11. Turner Prize 2012

12. The Lost Prince (National Portrait Gallery)

13. Picasso and Modern British Art (Tate Britain)

14. Hajj: Journey into the Heart of Islam (British Museum)

15. Yavoi Kusama (Tate Modern)

16. Royal Academy Summer Show

17. A Bigger Splash. Painting after Performance. (Tate Modern)

18. The Queen (National Portrait Gallery)

19. John Martin (at the Tate Britain for the few days that it was still open in Jan 2012, but this was my highlight of 2011).

20. William Klein + Daido Moriyama (Tate Modern).