Hamlet (City Screen – Manchester Royal Exchange, 27th March 2015)

I saw Maxine Peake as Hamlet back in September 2014. Seeing the production live was an amazing electrifying experience.  Of course, I was curious to see if Peake would play Hamlet as a man, or as a woman. Actually, she played the part as neither.  The male pronoun was retained and the rest of the characters referred to Hamlet as a man. However, Peake’s Hamlet was really gender neutral.  This production was about the person and not the gender. There were other gender swaps, Polonius became Polonia (Gillian Bevan) and Rosencrantz was played by the incredible Jodie Mcnee. McNee had just played Viola at the Liverpool Playhouse so will have been getting used to gender swap, but here her portrayal of Rosencrantz was very effective and at times gave a hint of a crush on Hamlet.

Seeing the production again in a cinema was a strange one. Manchester Royal Exchange is a theatre in the round, it challenges you to look around you, to be alert to the different entrances and exits.  It’s a dynamic space that puts you close up to the action.

The screening also puts you close to the action, but the camera chooses how you see things.  It directs your eye to look right into faces, and follows characters around the stage for you.  Most of the time you follow Hamlet, when he sits down for the wedding feast, and as she crumples in grief in her to ‘to solid flesh’ speech.  That’s to be expected, but I’m also interested in how the other characters respond, and in a cinema screening those moments can be cut.  There are also shots you just wouldn’t get in the theatre, such as looking down directly at all the clothes that become Ophelia’s grave, and we also got a birds eye view of the laying out the dress to show this was Ophelia’s burial.

I think I am happy watching screened versions of Theatre productions as a follow up to seeing the production myself in the theatre. For me, the screening is not a substitute for being in the theatre and close to the action.

Reviews of the stage production

Cast

Horatio – Thomas Arnold

Player King / Marcella – Claire Benedict

Polonia – Gillian Bevan

First Gravedigger – Michelle Butterly

Lucianus – Dean Gregory

Reynaldo/ Priest/ Francisco – Tachia Newall

Gertrude – Barbara Marten

Rosencrantz/ Second Gravedigger – Jodie McNee

Hamlet – Maxine Peake

Claudius/ Ghost – John Shrapnel

Guildenstern – Peter Singh

Osric/ Second Player/ Barnardo – Ben Stott

Ophelia – Katie West

Laertes – Ashley Zhangazha

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Measure for Measure (The Swan Theatre)

There was a strangeness about this production, and it reminded me of  the television programme Tales of the Unexpected.  There was a conjuring Duke  (Raymond Coulthard) who did slight of hand tricks, but the biggest trick of them all would be the bed trick.  The Duke attempted to connect with the audience, but there was also a darkness in this production which was emphasised in the colours and mood conveyed by the set.

The production explored sex in different contexts. We saw examples of S and M, love (Claudio and Juliet), and desire.

Where this production was let down was that there was no spark or chemistry between Angelo (Jamie Beamish) and Isabella (Jodie McNee). I just couldn’t see how this tightly dressed man could  be attracted to Isabella. Where Isabella should have passion in her pleading for her brother’s life there wasn’t any. However, there were some really good performances from Bruce Alexander as the Provost and Geoffrey Beevers as Escalus.  Joseph Kloska was great as Pompey.  His ad libbing was very appropriate and he did extremely well to involve the audience in the production.  At one point he noted me and pointed out my red hair to everyone in the audience.

I felt that the production didn’t use the thrust stage as well as it could, at times it felt like it could have been in a proscenium  arch theatre, as often the action felt as if it was framed.

At times the production felt a little slow, but it was enormously intriguing and that was what kept my attention.

Reviews

Measure for Measure, RSC Swan, Stratford Upon Avon – review | Theatre

Measure for Measure, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon – Reviews – Theatre & Dance – The Independent

Measure for Measure – review | Stage | The Guardian

Measure for Measure, RSC, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, review – Telegraph

The Stage / Reviews / Measure for Measure

Blogs

Margate Sands

Written on the Heart (The Swan Theatre)

Written on the Heart is a fantastic glimpse at an interesting period of history. There are some really engaging performances particularly from Oliver Ford Davies as Lancelot Andrews and Stephen Boxer as William Tyndale. The play explores the creation of the King James Bible and focuses on a group set up to compile it. Alongside wrangles over wording, the politics of the project are dramatised. Some of the most interesting parts are the references back to previous translations. There are some really engaging moments when characters debate over words and phrasing. At one point there’s a debate about whether ‘Thy faith has saved me rather than they faith has healed thee,’ is correct.

Written on the Heart presents a clear sense of moving forward. There’s a wider society at view, but at the same time, the play presents Andrews’ story and there is a focus how he tries to confront his past. The use of flashbacks work really well and there is a sense of a structure in the play that takes you through the events. My one criticism was that I found the play a little too long, but I learnt a lot, and enjoyed the exploration of detail which the play drew attention to. It felt very satisfying to have to listen carefully and that language was a major feature of the production.