Comedy of Errors (National Theatre, 31st December 2011)

The Olivier stage is a large space and this production uses the space extremely well. The large towering buildings move around to represent different parts of the city, and even become the shipwreck where the twins were separated.  There is a sense of the commercial business taking place in the city as well as the darker aspects of life there, such as the prostitutes and the hustlers.  Though on the surface things seem fine, underneath there is a more sinister side as the potential execution of a man hovers over the events.

I thought that Lenny Henry (Antipholus of Syracuse) was spot on with the verse speaking.  He used a Nigerian accent and this worked well and also added to the comedy because his twin did not have the same accent.  A points we got some of Henry’s stock voices (and faces), but I didn’t feel they intruded. Playing alongside Henry, Chris Jarman is extremely good as Antipholus of Ephesus.   It was great to see him in something else after playing the Prince of Morocco in the recent RSC Merchant of Venice. There are also two great performances from Claudie Blakey as Adriana and Michelle Terry as her sister, who manage to negotiate extremely high heels as they try to make sense of the strange behaviour of the men around them.

The production left me wondering why anyone doesn’t catch on to the fact that the twins from Syracuse have arrived in town, especially as the father explained the circumstances at the start of the play.  The play is about confusion and mistaken identity and this leads to the slapstick humour, which is wonderfully highlighted when the twins from Syracuse arrive and cause mayhem in the town square, ending in a traditional pie in the face.  The band link scenes extremely well as they sing pop songs in a foreign language .

I thought this production was extremely entertaining and I am looking forward to seeing how it looks on NT Live.

Reviews and Previews

The Comedy of Errors, National Theatre (Olivier), London –

The Comedy of Errors, National Theatre – review | Theatre


There Ought to be Clowns

Rev Stan


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.

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.


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)

The Hounding of David Oluwale (WYP, 18th February 2009), Othello (RSC 21st February 2009), Othello (Northern Broadsides, 25th February 2009)

For one week in February, when you walked up to the West Yorkshire Playhouse you would have been confronted by two large poster images of David Oluwale and Othello (Lenny Henry). I’m not sure whether it was a deliberate decision for the West Yorkshire Playhouse to put on The Hounding of David Oluwale and Othello back to back, but in doing so and juxtaposing the two images, you can’t help but make comparisons. Renaissance Venice and the late twentieth century Leeds contain uncomfortable racist elements and a story that is 400 years old is still, sadly, relevant today. An article on the West Yorkshire Playhouse web site, discusses how the face of David is made up of a montage of pictures of scenes of Leeds ( accessed 23rd February 2009). Even more striking is the fact that the image looks across at Millgate Police Station, the station where the police officers who were accused of hounding David were stationed.

The Hounding of David Oluwale is a play about the stories of two men, David and the investigator, Perkins. Perkins acts as a narrator trying to piece David’s real story, the one beyond the police file and hospital records. It’s also a story about Leeds as the city attempts to rebuild the city and present a sense of civic pride. A pride that we also see in Venice as the army goes to war against the Turks. In building a pride in the city, Leeds’ issues are hidden, so rather than solve the homeless problem, the homeless are constantly moved from the door ways then sleep in and given little opportunity to sleep. One of these people is David who is constantly moved on by the police and in the end is brutal at the hands of those who are supposed to protect us. The play makes us aware of what the crux of the narrative from its opening as the body of David Oluwale is recovered from the River Aire and Perkins starts his search for the truth and to get justice for David’s death.

The story is narrated through conversations between David Oluwale and Perkins which are flash backs and also interviews with other people involved in the story. Interspersed with the story of David in Leeds are memories of Nigeria and David’s youth. There are scenes with his mother who clearly did not want her son to come to England. The cast move between roles so you get a real sense of the city and the range of people involved in this story. When playing the homeless the characters wear masks over their faces to illustrate that they are playing people with no identity outside the homeless community.

This is a heartbreaking story and it really moved me, as well as making me uncomfortable at Yorkshire’s past. David’s story starts with so much promise as he comes to England with the hope of becoming an an engineer. He meets a girl, Jenny, and the scenes between them are so tender. The things go wrong, and David is accused of not paying for a cup of tea and is assaulted for the first time by the police. He spends time in Armley jail and then in hospital where he is subjected to EST. David’s arrival in England was full of so much hope and it is shattering to see the man who danced limping and broken.

The RSC’s production of Othello, directed by Kathryn Hunter, has a clear theme running through it. This world is a racist and sexist world, where the entertainment consists of characters blacking up and an effigy of Desdemona being crudely smeared with black shore polish. The Northern Broadsides production does not use this kind of stage business to convey the racism in the play, but is more subtle in its approach, but does not detract from how awful the racist elements of the society are. At the moments that characters refer to Othello’s race and make derogatory remarks, Henry just rolls his neck to indicate his discomfort and that he is clearly tired of hearing this stuff all the time. Henry’s action is just so powerful.

Henry is a big man and his Othello has a clear stage presence which is very forceful and at the start of the plays really makes you feel that he is in charge. It is all the more shocking then when Henry ends up on the floor in a fit brought down so quickly by Conrad Nelson’s excellent Iago. All this happens in a day, which makes you wonder what kind of ‘chaos’ Othello encountered before he met and married Desdemona. Henry’s Othello is a transition similar to David Oluwale which is represented between both the physical and mental deterioration.

The area that I felt that Northern Broadsides did not make the most of was 5.2 as if the company didn’t really get round to blocking the scene. Henry did not make clear which lights he was referring to and there was little contact between Othello and Desdemona until her murders him. Henry enters the bedchamber and stands at the side of the bed to speak as if he was clear what the actions might be. I suppose this scene has been produced in so many different ways from Maggie Smith’s passive Desdemina in Olivier’s version to Imogen Stubb’s struggling and fighting back in Trevor Nunn’s version, and something less played was a challenge at this point in the play.

This was very much an ensemble production. As a regular at Nothern Broadsides performances, I recognised actors from previous roles. Conrad Nelson’s Iago was stunning. He made so much of those pauses and twists and changes. Maeve Larkin was a wonderful Emilia and the moment she realises that Iago has manipulated everything was an exciting piece of theatre.

Henry was a really credible Othello and the audience clearly loved him. He looked drained at the end of the performance, I saw having brought a really interesting interpretation to the role and moved to dispel this view that Shakespeare is just for posh people. Henry showed that Shakespeare can touch us all. Just as Othello is sadly relevant today, The Hounding of David Oluwale is also a powerful story and more so because it is a true story.

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Othello (RSC)

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