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)

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.

Reviews and Previews

Being there when…Was I at the opening of the RST this time?

When anyone says that they were at that last night of Wigan Casino, I always wanted to know what it was like, because being there on such a momentous occasion seemed really special. For example, I was fascinated to know how did it feel when the three before eight played for the last time?  I found out that the famous Northern Soul venue ended up having three last nights, and so being at the last night didn’t seem as awe inspiring as I first thought.  It is starting to feel a bit like this with the opening of the RST, and that even though I think I was at the opening night of the RST, and I would be able to talk about this for years to come, I was probably at one of many opening nights. There was an opening last November (which I wasn’t at), and then there was the RSC coming home on 23rd February 2011, when the Company performed King Lear. Last Friday (4th March), I managed to get returns to see Katy Stephens (taking over from Kathryn Hunter) play Cleopatra in the newly opened Swan and found myself at another opening of the RST. This time the Queen was visiting and apparently she unveiled a plaque, saw Sam Troughton and Mariah Gale perform the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet, and had lunch in the Rooftop Restaurant.

I had expected to see one Queen in performance and found myself catching a glimpse of another dressed in cerise as she undertook a brief walkabout outside the new RST.  Not far behind her, I spotted Artistic Director, Michael Boyd and Associate Greg Doran dressed very smartly in suits.  I think the last time I saw the Queen was in 1977, the year of Sex Pistols ‘God Save the Queen’ and the Silver Jubilee.

IMG 0359

In coming home to the Swan, Antony and Cleopatra has had to be adapted for a new space and the creative team had opted for a minimalist stage set.  Gone was Cleopatra’s accent, her many costume changes and Mardian’s wig. The rustic metallic tower had also disappeared and the staging utilised the rawness of the theatre itself as the backdrop worked very well. In the Swan you can still hear actors creeping behind the audience to make their entrances and exits, one of the features that made the Courtyard a little special.

Not everyone has swapped round as they did when Katy Stephens played the role in Newcastle, but Greg Hicks is  still understuding Thidias and still giving a fantastic performance. I know that when a company has to use understudies, there is more doubling than usual, but some of the doubling in this production doesn’t work for me. Maybe it is because I  have followed this long ensemble for its two years and can now easily recognise actors, and start to question why is Mardian in Rome? Why is the Soothsayer taking notes? Why is Octavia fighting for the Romans (and at one point why is she in Egypt)? Why does Scarus change sides so often?

Katy Stephens made a really good job of playing Cleopatra and presented her own Cleopatra, which wasn’t an impression of Kathryn Hunter’s physical performance. This was a much more confident performance than the one that Katy Stephens gave in Newcastle, when she had to go on at short notice. She played up Cleopatra’s sexuality and emotional vulnerability very well. Katy Stephens is very good at producing wet eyes and she managed to present this here as well. I think that there was a chemistry between her and Darrell D’Silva’s Antony. Their eventual  deaths were very powerful and this was the first time I saw this production and felt sad at the end.

“Remember if e’er thou look’dst on Majesty”.

Best of 2010

Theatre: Shakespeare

1. Romeo and Juliet (RSC).

2. King Lear (RSC).

3. As You Like It (West Yorkshire Playhouse).

4. Measure for Measure (Almeida).

5. The Winter’s Tale (RSC/Roundhouse).

6. Henry IV part 2 (Globe).

7. Macbeth (Globe).

8. Antony and Cleopatra (RSC).

9. Antony and Cleopatra (Liverpool Playhouse).

10. Hamlet (The Crucible, Sheffield).

11. King Lear (Donmar).

12. Henry VIII (The Globe).

13. The Tempest (Old Vic).

14. As You Like It (Old Vic)

15. Macbeth (Belt Up/York Theatre Royal).

Theatre: Not Shakespeare

1. Jerusalem (Apollo).

2. After the Dance (National).

3. An Enemy of the People (Sheffield Crucible).

4. Women Beware Women (National).

5. London Assurance (National).

6. Enron (Theatre Royal, Newcastle)

7. The Habit of Art (National Theatre).

8. Corrie! (Lowry, Salford)

9. The Real Thing (Old Vic).

10. Canterbury Tales (West Yorkshire Playhouse/Northern Broadsides).

11. La Bete (Comedy Theatre).

12. Death of a Salesman (West Yorkshire Playhouse).

13. Three Sisters (Lyric, Hammersmith).

14. The Misanthrope (Comedy Theatre)

15. Beating Berlusconi. (York Theatre Royal).



1. Gauguin (Tate Modern).

2. Van Gogh (Royal Academy).

3. Renaissance drawings (The British Museum).

4. The Book of the Dead (British Museum).

5. Venice. Canaletto and his rivals. (The National Gallery).

6. Sargent and the Sea (Royal Academy).

7. Rude Britannia (Tate Britain).

8. Summer Show (Royal Academy).

9. Beatles to Bowie (National Portrait Gallery).

10. Chris Ofili (Tate Britain).



1. Andrea Levy The Long Song.

2. Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall.

3. AS Byatt – The Children’s Book.

4. Rose Tremain – Trespass.

5. Colm Toibin Brooklyn.

6. Ian McEwan  Solar.

7. Paul Magrs Diary of a Doctor Who Addict.

8. Tony Blair The Journey.

9. Kate Atkinson Started Early, Took My Dog.

10. Alexander McCall Smith The Double Comfort Safari Club.


1. Coronation Street –  especially for Jack’s Death and the Live episode (ITV).

3. Ashes to Ashes (BBC1).

4. Doctor Who – The End of Time part 2 (BBC1).

5. Doctor Who – especially for the eleventh hour (BBC1).

6. Downton Abbey (ITV1)

7. I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here (ITV1).

8. Macbeth (BBC 4).

9. Luther (BBC1).

10. Silent Witness (BBC 1).

and my guilty pleasure of the year

Peter Kay at the Studio, Lowry (and again at the Manchester Evening News Arena).