Short Review: Bingo (Young Vic, 3rd March 2012)

This is a very strange play and at the end of it, I wasn’t clear at all about what it was about. Patrick Stewart plays Shakespeare in his retirement at New Place. There are scenes with his daughter Judith and also the servants. Maybe the play was about the banality of Shakespeare’s later life when he had retired in Stratford and had given up writing, but at times it was a little tedious. Even the historical context around enclosure was lost in a play that didn’t seem to have a structure of narrative arc. The best bit of the play was the scene between Shakespeare and Ben Jonson in the pub. Richard McCabe does drinking very well. His performance reminded me of his recent performance as Sir Toby Belch in Greg Doran’s Royal Shakespeare Company Twelfth Night.

The play followed seasons starting at the end of summer (the last sun) and then through Spring and Autumn finishing in Winter (the last snow). The final scene was in Shakespeare’s bedroom.

There were too many clunky scene changes and fussy stage business that actually distracted from the action. The play was well acted, but didn’t have enough in it to keep my attention.

Previews and Reviews

Bingo, Young Vic, London –

Bingo, Young Vic, London – Reviews – Theatre & Dance – The Independent

Bingo, Young Vic, review – Telegraph

Bingo – review | Stage | The Guardian

Bingo, Young Vic – review – Theatre & Dance – Arts – Evening Standard

In Other Blogs

Blog: Bingo « Gareth’s Culture and Travel Blog

Blog: Review – Bingo, Young Vic « West End Whingers

Short Review: The Changeling (Young Vic, February 18th 2012)

The Changeling is one of my favourite plays. This is a modern version that plays up the surrealism in the play.  One of the highlights was the wedding scene, which was brilliantly played.  Food became sexy, but it also became the blood. The play is about sex and madness and this production drew on these themes.  it was never clear who was really mad, who was pretending to be made and indeed what madness was.

One of my thoughts was that he layout of the theatre was a little strange. I was lucky to have got a good seat on the front row of the circle, but this was hit and miss.  I think several people had blind spots.

The Changeling returns to the Young Vic in Autumn


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.

Hamlet (Young Vic, 13th November 2011)

The year started for me with the National Hamlet, and since then I’ve seen the Northern Broadsides Hamlet, and the Globe’s touring Hamlet.  In contrast to all these productions along comes a very unnerving production with Michael Sheen as Hamlet. The play is set in a psychiatric hospital and the concept works in some places and not as well as others.  The production is unnerving in the way it uses space, interprets the text and in its casting.  However, I found the experiment fascinating.  Having seen a very safe Tempest at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in September, I was really pleased to see a company taking risks and exploring exciting ways of interpreting the text to explore meaning.

At the Young Vic, the audience enters the auditorium through the back of the theatre. We are taken through a labyrinth of corridors and passed back stage rooms which are doctors consulting rooms and other rooms become hospital store rooms.  Finally, we reach an office and this takes onto the stage. There’s something very satisfying about being able to walk across a stage to get to a seat, because nornally the stage is out of bounds.  Presenting as possible, what is normally forbidden in many ways sets the overall tone of the production.

There are some very nice elements.  The large coat covering the coffin becomes the ghost of Hamlet’s father, when Hamlet puts the coat on he becomes the ghost speaking the ghost’s lines. Horatio (Hayley Carmichael)  is played by a woman and it isn’t clear whether he is a boy/man/girl.  Is s/he like Rosencrantz, also played by a woman(Eileen Walsh),who seems to be an ex lover.

In this production, the dead return to life to become different characters.  This is a very effective way of doubling and creates new ways to think about the play.  Polonius (Michael Gould)  becomes the priest emerging from the grave still displaying the wound on his face where Hamlet stabbed him in the closet scene.  There’s an irony that he is overseeing Ophelia’s funeral in this role. Ophelia (Vinette Robinson) untangles herself of her winding-sheet to become Ostric.  This an Osric who does not play  the hat on off game with Hamlet, an Osric who is very sinister in the way s/he takes control.  The most surprising of the transformations is Hamlet who enters from the back of the stage at the end and is now Fortinbras.

There were some excellent performances from the women in this production. Gerturde (Sally Dexter) becomes the abused woman dancing with Hamlet in the play within the play to find herself being pushed around in a macabre nightmare. In her mad scenes, Ophelia is in a wheelchair as if to suggest physical as well as mental illness.

I felt that the enclosed claustrophobic world of the hospital works to some extent, but it is too insular to give the sense of a nation at threat from the actions of a court.  A court in a hospital doesn’t work well as an idea and the sense of the family and its heirachy are lost.  What the concept does is place the spotlight back onto Hamlet, whilst recent productions have focused on the wider politics of the play. The production asks us to think about whether we think Hamlet is mad throughout the play.  Some productions have shown a much more determined man of action after Hamlet has killed Polonius, in this production Hamlet seems to become more frantic and irrational.  With a strong supporting cast, this was very much Hamlet’s play.

Reviews and Previews

Hamlet, Young Vic – review | TheatreMichael Sheen: ‘There have been times when I would have loved to be more of a star’ |Culture | The Guardian

Hamlet, Young Vic, London –

Hamlet, Young Vic, London The Westbridge, Bussey Building, Peckham, London Written on the Heart, Swan, Stratford-Upon-Avon – Reviews – Theatre & Dance – The Independent

The Stage / Reviews / HamletHamlet suffers a little mishap – Telegraph

Kafka's Monkey (Young Vic Theatre, 1st June 2011)

I really enjoyed Kathryn Hunter’s performance as the Fool in the RSC’s King Lear and was intrigued by her performance as Cleopatra, but I thought Hunter’s performance as Red Peter the Ape was amazing.  It’s one of those performances that just stuns because what happens in the performance is so unexpected.

I’d never been to the Young Vic before, but with unreserved seating I was keen to get there early so that I got a good seat. It’s a lovely intimate theatre,  I was lucky to get a seat in the middle on the front row.

The performance was startling and exciting, while at the same time mesmerising, because it made you feel you were staring at Kathryn Hunter performing, rather than just watching.  I was engrossed for the hour that Hunter is on stage.  Hunter manages to use her body to great effect to portray the tragic story of Red Peter the Ape.  Her character has supposedly become human, but the animal behaviours are  slowly exposed. Tragically, many of the behaviours have been learnt from humans. Alcohol is used as a crutch to give Red Peter confidence to speak in public, and he takes small swigs from his hip flask, but it becomes clear through the performance that alcohol is also at the centre of his misery. As the human falls apart, Hunter is able to move her arms into incredible positions to suggest an ape’s body, but as the play moves on, she becomes the ape.  It is a transformation from one state to another, but as Hunter is a woman playing a man, this adds another layer to the performance.  At one point Hunter does the splits, and then stays in that position for some time before curling her leg behind her head. Even though the story is very dark, there was also humour in Hunter’s performance and some very good audience interaction, which at times relies on members of the audience to respond at the right time. I thought what Hunter did so well was to engage with the audience, whist at the same time focusing on the physical aspects of her performance. I must say that this is one of the best pieces of theatre that I have ever seen.

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Further Information


The Stage / Reviews / Kafka’s Monkey

More from Between the Acts

On Kathryn Hunter Leaving the long ensemble

RSC Antony and Cleopatra

RSC King Lear and comment on Hunter’s Fool