2011

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.

Exhibitions

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 Merchant of Venice, RSC 2008 (7th June 2008, 8th October 2008, 25th October 2008)

The Merchant of Venice (Royal Shakespeare Company) Courtyard Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon.)The production of The Merchant of Venice, which we saw in Newcastle, raised many interesting questions about the play. It was a production which asked the audience to make meanings. It raised questions about the character of Shylock, the differences between Belmont and Venice and the rashness of decisions which other productions do not address. It was a slow paced first half, but a very fast paced second half. The first half was very serious and the second half after the tension of the trial scene highlighted some of the comedy in the play. The set was interesting and asked us to use our imagination as the audience. Maybe the designer had the current Rothko exhibition in mind when she was thinking about the set. How did the set make you feel?On its opening at The Courtyard Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon, the critics tended to be very negative about this production. Robert Gore Langdon in The Telegraph [1] described the production as a “cold-fish RSC production, which seems to go out of its way to avoid any sense of passion and racial hatred”. John Peter in The Times was even less impressed saying “Tim Carroll opens the RSC’s new season with the dreariest and most sloppily directed account of this play I’ve ever seen.”[2] The Evening Standard reviewer felt “ANY Shakespearian newcomer watching Tim Carroll’s awesomely bland, emotionally stunted production of The Merchant of Venice would be forgiven for thinking the comedy a mere, romantic fairy tale, in which Portia proves the value of true love and mercy at the expense of a mercenary Jew.”[3] Have you got some thoughts regarding these comments? As a member of the audience do you agree or do you think the critics have not taken the audience’s reaction into account.If a production does not receive critical acclaim, would it be possible to gain any understanding of Shakespeare’s text from watching it? I think we can. I think we can think about the decisions the director and the actors have made and decide whether they work for us or not. If they do not work we can think about the reasons behind the decisions and that very process may lead to us considering aspects and interpretations which are new to us. Tim Carroll’s production was asking the audience to do a lot of work and rather overlaying the production with too many images and meanings, it asked the audience to bring their own interpretations. In many ways it is the antithesis to the other 2008 productions, such as Doran’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet, in its approach.It is important to remember that the critics review productions early in the run and as the production works through the season, actors and directors have opportunities to change things in response to audience reactions and their feelings about how things are going. We did see some changes from the Stratford production and mainly because of the different playing spaces. There was shift from a thrust sage to a proscenium arch theatre which meant much of the direct contact with the audience was lost. In Newcastle we did watch at a distance, but I felt this didn’t spoil our viewing.I think this production did some very interesting things. The dance at the beginning immediately connected the audience with the action. The dance at the end mirrored the one at the start but reflected the fragmented relationships which had resulted by the events of the play. The rhythm which runs through the play in the beat of the language is set in motion by this dance.What is the impact of having a young Bassanio and Antonio in the production? Does it give the actors some freedom to work with the text in a way that older actors can’t? For example, I felt that there was a rashness about some of the decisions because they were made by younger characters. This effect might not have been the same with a mature Antonio and Bassanio.

[1]Sunday Telegraph, The (London, England)-April 20, 2008Author: Robert Gore-Langton
[2] Sunday Times, The (London, England)-April 20, 2008Author: John Peter