Top Lists of 2013


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).


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)

Titus Andronicus (The Swan 16th May to 25th October)

The trailer for this production promises lots of blood, and you go you won’t be disappointed if that’s what you expect.  Of course, if that’s your thing,  one of the highlights has to be sitting in the front row and getting splattered in blood.  However, it is stage blood so it washes out very easily, and it’s part of the fun of live theatre.

One of the great things about blog reviews is that you can see a production develop and grow before reviewing it.  I first saw the production on its first preview, and I knew that this production was going to be good, but there was little stage blood (because they had run out)  and it hadn’t found the pace that it’s now got in the middle of the run.  Now this is not to be missed production with an ensemble that are working extremely well together in the Swan theatre across three shows ( also A Mad World My Masters and Candide).

When the audience enters the stage they are faced with three bodies on stretchers being tended to by nurses.  There is a strange speech coming from the radio.  One of the nurses (Badria Timimi), moves forwards and lights up a cigarette and the play has begun.  This is a strange world,which is  not in the past or present or future, but in a mixture of all three.

It is not just the blood that is a highlight in this production Katy Stephens is absolutely mesmerizing as Tamora.  Jonny Weldon and Perry Millward are outstanding as Chiron and Demetrius.  Kevin Harvey plays Aaron with a lovely musical voice and with such skill.  The way Aaron says ‘Just a line in Horace’ gives it such power.  His love for the baby is very moving.   We see Tamora, Aaron, Chiron and Demetrius supporting each other from the start as they are in chains and are captives of the Roman Army.  This  gives  a clear rationale why these four stick together, and support each other.  I particularly liked the two Goth brothers cycling round the stage before the rape of Lavinia (Rose Reynolds), and the way that Aaron reasons with them that rape is the best course of action leading to the horrific scene.  These are four performances that you just can’t take your eyes off.

What is exceptional about Katy Stephens’ performance is that at the start she is playing the captive emotional mother and the piercing howl she gives when her eldest son is butchered, but throughout the performance she becomes bolder as the Empress and transforms.  She also get to wear the most amazing outfits and shoes.  Tamora is particularly chilling when she sets up the murder of Bassianus, and is unmoved by Lavinia’s pleading, delighting in the fact that her sons are about to rape and mutilate her.  There’s a lovely moment in the final scene where Lavinia stares at Tamora across the dining table, and Tamora, at first puzzled, realises that Lavinia has revealed all.  Why does Tamora take another spoonful of the pie when she knows the truth?  For me, this moment revealed her shock and horror at finding out the truth, but she hesitates to believe it at first.

Stephen Boxer gives a very solid performance as Titus.  Like King John, he makes crucial errors in moving from war to peace. His decision to murder Alarbus (Nicholas Prasad) in front of his family is disastrous, as is his rash slaughter of his son  Mutius (Harry Mcentire), for disobeying him.  It is possible to believe that he oscillates through madness and grief and it becomes hard to believe that he will be taken in by Tamora’s playacting as Revenge, giving an energy and tension to the penultimate scene.

Rose Reynolds performance  as Lavinia is extremely good.  She plays as determined and it is right she fights back when Titus smothers her in the final scene.  As other bloggers have commentated it is not always clear why Marcus (Richard Durden) does not move to hug Lavinia when he finds her mutilated in the woods.

There’s a great performance from John Hopkins as Saturninus.  He brings such a wry humour to the role.  For example when he is to be crowned he turns to the audiences and gives a satisfied smile. At one point he is sat in a bath wearing his crown, which is a very humorous, and this is added to by the fact that he is also naked.

The scenes with Lucius and the Goths are lovely contrasts to the Roman scenes.  The drums bring in a thundering beat at a moment in the play, when the it feels that things can’t get any worse. Titus has been tricked into chopping off his hand, Lucius and has been banished and Lavinia has been horrifically mutilated.  Sarah Ridgeway plays a very convincing Goth queen showing her versatility across several roles this season.  It was a great decision to go into the interval at the moment when Lucius is branded by the Goths and there is a screech in the air.

The finale is great fun. the fact that most of the characters are dead on stage leads to some very serious lines becoming very funny.  We are left with two startling images. The first is the unrepentant Aaron left to die buried in a pit with just his head exposed, and the second is Young Lucius walking across the stage with Aaron’s baby.  Young Lucius spies the pie slice and picks it up as Aaron horrifies looks on. The lights go down and we are left to wonder if the child will slaughter the baby, and the brutality will continue to the next generation.

This is  Michael Fentiman’s debut at the Royal Shakespeare Company as a director, but his experience as an assistant director on shows such as Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet has clearly paid off.  Some of the devices used in this production have been influenced by his pervious work such as the use of the raised platform.

There’s even a magic trick in the production. What happens to the bodies that are on stage when you enter the auditorium?  How do they disappear whilst you watch.

This summer is an outstanding Royal Shakespeare Company season in both theatres , which is reassuring after the disappointing lack-lustre shipwreck season last year.   There is more to come including Richard II and hopefully an announcement of a Summer 2014 season coming soon.


Reviews and Previews

My Titus Andronicus Storify page


Looking forward to Shakespeare in 2013


2013 will be another year for celebrity Shakespeare. James McAvoy will play Macbeth early in the year. The Michael Grandage season continues with David Walliams and Sheridan Smith staring in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Jude Law in Henry V.  In autumn, at the Old Vic,  Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones will be playing Beatrice and Bendick in Much Ado About Nothing.  Yet to go on sale, but not a surprise, Adrian Lester will play Othello at the National Theatre.

In Stratford, there are lots to look forward to, particularly the Alex Waldman and Pippa Nixon reunion in As You Like It and again in Hamlet with Jonathan Slinger in the title role.  Joining As You Like It and Hamlet on the RST main stage will be All’s Well that End’s Well, and in the Swan theatre there is a Titus Andronicus.

At the Globe, I’m looking forward to The Tempest, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The RSC and the Globe are bringing their Shakespeare  to York with The Winter’s Tale and  a Henry VI season.

There has been a taste for concept Shakespeare recently. The Wyndham’s Much Ado About Nothing and Rupert Goold’s The Merchant of Venice split audiences and the critics, but were very interesting interpretations. Will 2013 bring another surprise?  It looks like the Globe will continue with its original practice approach, and there is talk that the RSC Hamlet might return to renaissance dress.

With most of the summer and autumn mapped out, I am waiting with anticipation, and excitement, for the announcement of Greg Doran’s first season as artistic director of the RSC.  What will be the RSC’s winter season be like?  I doubt we’ll see another long ensemble project, but I think we’ll see the return of the ‘celebrity’ actor to the RSC. I’m sure we’ll know soon.



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).

Looking for Richard III (RSC March to Sept 2012 and The Globe, 29th September 2012)

IMG 1855

It’s often the case that there are several productions of the same Shakespeare play around at the same time.  I saw the Globe production of Richard III on 29th September after seeing the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company) production develop over the summer from its first previews in March until the final performance in September.

The RSC production took a minimalist approach to staging and which made use of light bulbs that descended to indicate a character was about to die.  The costumes suggested that the RSC production had a modern setting, but the inclusion of armour and the sword fight at the end added a timeless element.  On the other hand, the Globe production was an original practice performance. It attempted to represent some of the playing conditions on the original Globe with male actors playing female parts and the audience sitting in the boxes above the stage.  The result of this was a visually stunning production with bright dynamic colours and rich textures.

What was striking when seeing the productions around the same time was the very different approaches to Richard that Mark Rylance at the Globe and Jonjo O’Neill at the RSC took.  Where O’Neill bustled on stage, Rylance, in contrast, bumbled as if surprised at finding himself in the middle of a play.  If Antony Sher was the bottled spider and Simon Russell Beale was the bunch backed toad, then Rylance was more like a hedgehog.  O’Neill did not take the approach of basing his physical appearance on bestial imagery and played Richard with a slight limp and unexaggerated hump.  His Richard was like a moody youth, who did what he did because he could.  One example of this was bawling at Buckingham (Brian Ferguson) that he was not in the giving ‘ vein’ (4.3.105) and storming off stage in a sulk when Buckingham requests his rewards for his support.  O’Neill’s showman Richard developed through the run, playing with the audience, acknowledging an audience member’s sneeze with a ‘bless you’ and directing ‘was ever woman in this humour won’ (1.2.236) to someone sitting on the front row. This showman element was exemplified in O’Neill’s British Museum’s Staging Shakespeare exhibit where he had a look of Robbie Williams, and there was much of the ‘Let Me Entertain You’ in O’Neill’s performance.  Rylance addressed the groundlings in the pit throughout, but without the confidence that O’Neill had shown over the summer.  It was as if he was unsure of himself, and that the play demanded him to  follow the path that he does and he is carried along with it all.

In both productions, there were some very strong performances in the female roles. The absence of Margaret in the Globe production felt strange. Paola Dionisotti had delivered such a powerful performance in the RSC production that Margaret’s presence had become a beat underneath the action. Dionisotti’s Margaret stamped her foot on the metal stage as she cursed the court, making her prophesies hard to forget as characters moved closer to there deaths.  Siobhan Redmond’s Elizabeth played the grieving mother with great effect, and Pippa Nixon’s performance as Anne was sharp and nuanced and when she spat in Richard’s face the audience gasped (1.2).  In the Globe production Samuel Barnett’s Elizabeth made a bold move and took control by kissing Richard at the end of 4.4, an approach I’d not seen before.

One of the strengths of the RSC production was in the supporting roles. Alex Waldmann’s Catesby was a particular example of an excellent supporting performance, and he always seemed to be there in the background, and encouraging the citizens to support Richard (4.1). He presented Catesby as a geeky character wearing glasses in the first half, but growing in confidence alongside Richard as Richard moves closer to the throne. There was an incredible performance from Iain Bachelor as Richmond, who felt very much like the nation’s saviour.  His ‘why then ’tis time to arm and give direction’ (5.3) speech not only seemed to motivate the soldiers in his camp, but the audience as well. Joshua Jenkins’ and Neal Barry’s murderers were a very comic double act, and Edmund Kingsley made a walk so effective and moving as Clarence purposely crossed the stage to the bed where he would die.  The bed was placed in the same place as Henry’s coffin had in 1.2, drawing attention to Clarence’s ‘royal’ persona, but also foreshadowing the murder.

In the RSC production, the scenes with the citizens and Lord Mayor were almost slapstick. These showed Richard to be both manipulative, and a comedian at the first time.  As the lights went down on the first half, O’Neill would grin at the audience and sometimes wave. As an audience, we were clearly meant to enjoy this, but we were also complicit with Richard in his machinations.

The sword fight in the RSC production made the most of the small Swan stage and the close proximity of the audience. It was energetic, exciting and unnerving and there were actual sparks generated when the swords clashed.   At the end, the RSC production took a motif from Michael Boyd’s 2011 RSC Macbeth. The ghost of the young Prince ran on stage to distract Richard, and that’s when he is overthrown by Richmond. The Globe went one step further and all the ghosts appeared, but this seemed rather excessive and did not work well.

The lights came up at the end of the RSC production to signal the new regime. The Globe production brought close through the dance. In a play where Richard has two-thirds of the lines, there’s a lot for the actors to work with and O’Neill and Rylance took different perspectives of Richard’s character and presented both villain and comedian in different ways and held the audience’s attention throughout.

Reviews and Previews

Richard III Globe 2012

The Stage / Reviews / Richard III

Mark Rylance in Richard III, Globe Theatre, review – Telegraph

Blog Richard III – Shakespeare’s Globe « Gareth’s Culture and Travel Blog

Blog: There Ought To Be Clowns: Review: Richard III, Shakespeare’s Globe

Richard III, Globe Theatre, London The Doctor’s Dilemma, Lyttelton, National Theatre, London – Reviews – Theatre & Dance – The Independent

Richard III, Shakespeare’s Globe, London –

Richard III; The Doctor’s Dilemma; The Fire Garden – reviews | Stage | The Observer

Richard III – review | Stage | The Guardian

Richard III RSC 2012

Richard III, RSC, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, review – Telegraph

Blog: Battle of Richard III’s part 1: RSC’s Jonjo O’Neill (Rev Stan’s theatre blog)

A northern light on Shakespeare’s ‘broken’ mona…

Richard III, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, UK –

Richard III – review | Stage | The Guardian

The Stage / Reviews / Richard III

Blog: Partially Obstructed View: Theatre review: Richard III (RSC / Swan)

References are to the Macmillan/RSC text