Review: Othello, Sam Wanamaker

“O God, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains”

In light of Roman Tragedies reminding us of the vast potential of what Shakespeare can be rather than the tendency towards the ‘proper’ readings of his work that we tend to get here in the UK (vast generalisations I know, but can you really argue against it…), it’s gratifying to see directors, and venues, taking the opportunity to stretch those traditional notions. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, housed within Shakespeare’s Globe, isn’t the first place you’d think of to find such a production but in Ellen MacDougall’s interpretation of Othello, we have just that.

Text updated to the 21st century (dramaturgy by Joel Horwood), key characters regendered (Joanna Horton’s Cassio is an inspired move), a contemporary soundtrack that interpolates Lana Del Rey, it is enough to make any purist shiver and you kinda feel that’s the point. MacDougall refocuses the play on masculinity in crisis but it is also tempting to think that on a larger scale, there’s a smidgen of Emma Rice’s shaking of the branches of theatrical orthodoxy at play here too. With the post of Artistic Director of the Globe being advertised again, we can only hope such invention remains. Continue reading “Review: Othello, Sam Wanamaker”

Review: The Rover, Swan

“Come, put off this dull humour with your clothes, and assume one as gay and as fantastic as the dress my cousin Valeria and I have provided, and let’s ramble”

I’ve not been heading up to the RSC with that much regularity recently, but I’ll go anywhere for Alexandra Gilbreath and given that The Rover had the added bonus of Joseph Millson, the trip was a no-brainer. It also helped that it was written and directed by women, not that frequent an occurrence in Stratford. And written not just by any woman, Aphra Behn was one of the first professional female playwrights and this play dates from 1677.

And directed by Loveday Ingram, it is a sprightly bit of fun indeed. Set in the heady mist of carnival time, all bets are off as the normal rules of society are suspended. Three sisters disguise themselves to escape the strict futures ahead of them, and a group of Englishmen arrive in port ready and willing to create the lads on tour archetype. Chief among the sisters is Hellena, due to enter a nunnery so more than happy to make the acquaintance of the rakish and randy Willmore. Continue reading “Review: The Rover, Swan”

TV Review: Shakespeare Live, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

“I am a spirit of no common rate”

The culmination of the BBC’s celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death was the 2 and a half hours of Shakespeare Live, a veritable landslide of multidisciplinary performances of and responses to his work. From theatre to opera, jazz to ballet, hip-hop to musicals, the enormous scope of his influence was showcased in a very well put together (royal) variety show (Charles and Camilla were in attendance) at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and hosted by David Tennant and Catherine Tate.

And like anything with variety, a selection box or tub of Quality Street, there are the ones you love, the ones you can tolerate and the ones that you really don’t care for (the Bounty, or the purple hazelnutty one). And I have to say as impressive as they were, the dance, jazz and opera sections really didn’t do it for me whether Berlioz or Duke Ellington. I was predictably much more interested in the theatrical side of things, particularly as such an august cast of performers was in the offing along with the thrilling thought of a Dench and McKellen reunion. Continue reading “TV Review: Shakespeare Live, Royal Shakespeare Theatre”

Review: The Wars of the Roses, Rose Kingston (Nunns-splaining and overview)

“Sight may distinguish of colours, but suddenly to nominate them all, it is impossible”

First things first for this is too important an issue to be brushed under the carpet, too vital a conversation to not too have because a press release has been summarily issued, the “historical verisimilitude” justification for Trevor Nunn’s decision to cast an all-white company for his Wars of the Roses play cycle is just pure bunkum. At one point in Henry VI, a Norwegian man and a British woman appear on a balcony playing French characters but it’s OK because we’re in a theatre, they’re acting, the natural suspension of disbelief kicks in. 

Similarly later on, the four sons of Richard of York appear, three played by adults and one by a boy. Historians might point out that the son played by the boy was the second oldest of York’s surviving issue but again it’s not really that important in the grand scheme of things, theatrical license is granted and it allows for more poignant drama given his ultimate fate. So the historical accuracy argument clearly has little merit, lest we need reminding that Shakespeare is fiction, and the notion that the audience couldn’t connect family trees unless everyone is the same colour is frankly insulting. Continue reading “Review: The Wars of the Roses, Rose Kingston (Nunns-splaining and overview)”

Review: Richard III, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston

“Every tale condemns me for a villain”

Undoubtedly the best known of the constituent plays of The Wars of the Roses, Richard III appears in a slightly shortened version to wrap up nearly nine hours of theatre. And as such it is solid rather than spectacular, not hugely notable in its own right but slotting perfectly into place as the final piece of this epic trilogy. The culmination of over half a century of internecine conflict, several lifetimes of ruthless ambition and no little amount of pitiless bloodletting, the end is brutal but welcomed. 

Robert Sheehan’s Richard dances darkly across the stage, quick as you like in vicious word and bloody deed, and gives forth enough charisma to suggest he could hold many in thrall. Aided by the Mandelson-like spin from Alexander Hanson’s Buckingham and any number of factotums willing to carry out dastardly requests, he is able to effectively play on the sense of a ruined society that has been built over the preceding two plays.  Continue reading “Review: Richard III, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston”

Review: Edward IV, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston

“Work thou the way – and thou shalt execute”

Edward IV was my favourite of the three The Wars of the Roses plays, comprising the latter half of 2 Henry VI and an abridged 3 Henry VI. I might be biased towards it as the middle child of the trilogy but it encapsulates much of what is impressive about the whole enterprise. Its heart lies in two of the crucial grand narratives – the epic sweep of Margaret of Anjou’s rise and fall and the arrival on the scene of Richard of Gloucester as he begins the long con that’ll take him so far – and I actually found there to be an exciting sense of pace about the whole play, right up to its cheeky cliff-hangerish ending. 

With civil war raging across the country and death and destruction and betrayal and battles round every corner, Henry VI decides to retreat into pacifism leaving Margaret to assume the mantle of leader as her vendetta against Richard of York becomes increasingly vicious as supremacy swings between the two houses. Clad in chainmail, Joely Richardson radiates a malevolent determination that is well-matched by Alexander Hanson’s fervently committed duke, their tussling over the Iron Throne (well this one is stone…) complicated by multiple machinations from supporters constantly defecting from one side to the other.  Continue reading “Review: Edward IV, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston”

Review: Henry VI, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston

“Between the red rose and the white 
A thousand souls to death and deadly night”

Of the three plays of The Wars of the Roses, Henry VI was my least favourite. Taking all of I Henry VI and about half of 2 Henry VI, Trevor Nunn’s production takes an awful long time to really get going, largely hamstrung by one of Shakespeare’s weaker plots. Henry V has died, Henry VI isn’t proving to be much cop and so trouble starts brewing in the rival camps that emerges, the Houses of Lancaster and York. But they brew slowly and for a long time as there’s all sorts of business to deal with in France, including Joan of Arc.

And that business just isn’t that entertaining here, despite Imogen Daines’ committed work as the Maid of Orléans. The importance of the loss of French territory is never keenly felt and though the build-up to the collapse of English political order instinctively registers more significantly, it never feels more than a prelude as we know there is so much more to come (about seven hours). For me, Alex Waldmann’s petulant Henry VI was a disappointment, leaving no real mark on the role amidst a bunch of angry bearded white men shouting a lot. Continue reading “Review: Henry VI, The Wars of the Roses at the Rose Kingston”

Album Review: Merry Wives the musical (2006 RSC Cast)

“He stinks of drink and urine
And thinks he’s so alluring”

One might have hoped that a musical version of William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor by the RSC with a cast that includes Dame Judi Dench, Haydn Gwynne, Simon Callow and a Strallen (natch) would be an enjoyable thing to experience to but on listening to it, it’s clear there is abundant reason I was able to pick up the CD of the live recording for the princely sum of £1 in the RSC shop.

Paul Englishby’s score is an unholy mess of a pick’n’mix bag that someone else has chosen for you – its conflicting styles a dizzying confection that sprawls across the narrative rather than supporting it. Not knowing whether the next song is going to be a tango or a madrigal, take its cues from Big Band or Brecht, or recall Andrew Lloyd Webber or an East London music hall is a most bizarre experience and the cumulative effect is extremely wearying – I have to say it was a real struggle to listen to the whole album in one go. Continue reading “Album Review: Merry Wives the musical (2006 RSC Cast)”

Review: The Invisible, Bush Theatre

“When I was growing up the poor were seen as unfortunates. Now they’re seen as manipulative. Grasping. Scroungers. It’s very sad”

Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s new drama The Invisible finds itself caught between two stools really – nominally a play about the effects of the decimating cuts to the Legal Aid system, it tries so hard not to be full of such dry legalese, instead focusing on the lives of the people who would use it – who desperately need it – that it almost goes too far in becoming something else entirely. Sponsored by The Law Society as it is with a supporting leaflet giving facts and figures, it’s thus a surprise that this is how it plays out.

At the heart of it all in Gail, an overworked solicitor working in a London law centre that is being threatened with closure due to Coalition cuts and from her spins the spider-web of stories. Like the Irishman who can’t pay his bills, or the Pakistani housewife being abused by her husband and mother-in-law. Gail tries to find some respite in online dating but even there she’s tracked down by a man looking for free legal advice – Lenkiewicz leaves us in no doubt as to just how many people have relied on this service and now find themselves in dire straits. Continue reading “Review: The Invisible, Bush Theatre”

TV Review: WPC 56, Series 2

 “Haven’t you got better things to do?”

After finally being able to catch up with Series 1 of WPC 56 and loving it, I was looking forward to Series 2. The BBC1 afternoon drama about the experiences of the first WPC in a fictional West Midlands constabulary really captured my attention with its mix of the personal and the policing but almost from the word go, this second series failed to live up to its predecessor.

First up was the saddening decision to have Kieran Bew’s DI Burns leave but not only that, have him appear in the first scene as if nothing had changed, all bearded up most handsomely indeed, and then snatching the rug from under us. His relationship with Jennie Jacques’ WPC Gina Dawson was one of the stronger parts of the show so I was genuinely sad as well as gutted on a more shallow basis.  Continue reading “TV Review: WPC 56, Series 2”