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 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).

The Cherry Orchard (Old Vic, 8th August 2009)


Old Vic 

I think that the Bridge Project has been extremely interesting.  I saw The Winter’s Tale at the start of the summer and The Cherry Orchard at the end.  The two productions kind of top and tailed my London season.  I had thought that the RSC might have made more connections between their productions of The Winter’s Tale and As You Like it, but as I wrote earlier in this blog, the company split the ensemble into two companies and the productions became two discrete productions.  It felt, when watching The Winter’s Tale and The Cherry Orchard, that Sam Mendes had considered how the two plays might work together.  On entering the auditorium The Cherry Orchard, the above quote from Richard II greets the audience.  There are similarities between the sets used for the both the Bridge Project plays and ideas of loss and regret are played out in both plays.  In The Cherry Orchard, I felt that the company worked really well together with some really good performances from Rebecca Hall, Simon Russell Beale, Ethan Hawke and Sinead Cusack.

Reviews and Previews

The Cherry Orchard/The Winter’s Tale
WOS Review of The Cherry Orchard and The Winter’s Tale
The Stage review of The Cherry Orchard at the Old Vic
The Time review of The Winter’s Tale and Cherry Orchard
Cherry Orchard/The Winter’s Tale
Article on The Winter’s Tale/The Cherry Orchard (The Times)
Official London – The Winter’s Tale
Guardian review of Cherry Orchard and The Winter’s Tale
Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey: The Bridge Project…
Sam Mendes Interview
Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey: The Bridge Project…
The Stage review of The Winter’s Tale at the Old Vic
Alexis Soloski: Beware of the bear – the dilemm…
The New Straits Times Online…….
Theatre preview: The Bridge Project, London | S…
Simon Russell Beale on his love of books – Time…
Official London – The Cherry Orchard
Telegraph- The Winter’s Tale and The Cherry orchard
Sam Mendes on the Bridge Project (BBC Interview)

The Winter's Tale (Old Vic, 6th June 2009)

‘O call back yesterday, bid time return’
The line is above the stage as you take your seats. It’s a line from Richard II and not The Winter’s Tale as you might expect when you’ve come to see The Winter’s Tale. The scene in front of the audience is a very domestic scene. The family meal is set out, in contrast to the formal banquet that was set out in David Farr’s RSC production. The production doesn’t start with the two courtiers, but with Mamillius (Morven Christie) and his sad tale for winter. This makes us feel that we are now witnessing the imaginings of the small child rather than we are eavesdropping on the private business of the court through the conversation of the courtiers. The table returns for the sheep shearing feast later in the play.
There have been really mixed reviews of this production, and I can’t really see why some of the critics had some issues with it. I felt that the production made some really brave creative decisions and Simon Russell Beale, as Leontes, was just stunning. He can convey so much through his expression and gesture (like Brenda Blethyn in my review of Haunted). It was clear from the start that Leontes has suspicions and that his jealousy was not sudden. This was conveyed by his expression as Russell stood between Hermione (Rebecca Hall) and Polixenes (Josh Hamilton) when he asks Hermione to entreat Polixenes to stay. The result of this was that he did not hesitate around going into his ‘Too hot, Too hot’ speech stressing the consonant’s with confidence that he is being proved right.
In this production, there are moments when Rusell Beale’s Leontes waivers in his jealousy as if this is not an illness with no way out at the time as Antony Sher played the role in 1999. In this production it feels like Leontes is responsible for his behaviour and can change at any moment. It is often questioned why Paulina give Leontes the baby. She is a woman after all and why would she betray her queen by putting the child at risk. In this production Sinead Cusack’s Paulina give Leontes the baby and he cradles the child looks at it and for a brief period it feels like Paulina has done exactly the right thing until Leontes places the child on the chair and then snaps back into his rage. Paulina is really believable in the production and the fact she is seen entering with cases makes her entrance so far into the events so plausible. She’s been away and has come back to find the Court in disarray.
Leontes shows real affection for his son as well, which makes the death of Mamillius so painful and shocks him into realising that he has got things so wrong. I think that Mendes may have taken something from the 1999 Doran production in placing Mamillius in the chair and doubling the Perdita and Mamillius roles.
Simon Russell Beale delivers his soliloquies at the front of the stage, the lights go down and there is music in the background to indicate the sinister aspects of the speeches. The soliloquies are not heard by anyone else on stage, so he can go back to speak to his son and the speeches, as in some productions, do not disturb the son. In the trial scene, Hermione starts to read her speech from a script that has been prepared for her, but as she finds her own words and speaks passionately in her self defence. The oracle as a quill pen writing on its own didn’t work at all, this is an unintentional comic moments in the ‘tragic’ part of the play.
It’s clearly a pantomine bear that enters to eat poor Antigonous (Dakin Matthews) and it is at this moment the tone of the production changes in tone. Richard Easton’s old shepherd become Time and move us on sixteen years, because when we returned from the interval we were clearly in a different world. In a recent interview for radio 4’s Front Row, Simon Russell Beale said that the firs part of the play was set in Britain and the second in America to deal with the company’s different accents. This worked extremely well and we were transported to a hoedown. Ethan Hawke hammed it up so much as Autolcycus. He was extremely funny. At one point he resembles Johnny Depp as put on his disguise in order to attend the sheep shearing feast. When Perdita comes back as a sixteen year old to the Sicilian court, both Leontes and Paulina look at her face as if they recognise her. in this court looking like your parents has been important so this has to be the most obvious sign that there will be a happy ending.
Reviews and Previews
The Stage review of The Cherry Orchard at the Old Vic
Sam Mendes Interview
The Stage review of The Winter’s Tale at the Old Vic
Theatre preview: The Bridge Project, London S…
The New Straits Times Online…….
Telegraph- The Winter’s Tale and The Cherry orchard
Sam Mendes on the Bridge Project (BBC Interview)
The Cherry Orchard/The Winter’s Tale
Alexis Soloski: Beware of the bear – the dilemm…
WOS Review of The Cherry Orchard and The Winter’s Tale
Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey: The Bridge Project…
Cherry Orchard/The Winter’s Tale
Guardian review of Cherry Orchard and The Winter’s Tale
The Time review of The Winter’s Tale and Cherry Orchard
Article on The Winter’s Tale/The Cherry Orchard (The Times)
Official London – The Cherry Orchard
Official London – The Winter’s Tale
Simon Russell Beale on his love of books – Time…
Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey: The Bridge Project…