Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare’s Globe

“How much better is it to weep at joy than to joy at weeping”

Sometimes I have aspirations of being a serious writer and sometimes, I just want to look at something pretty. And so once it had been established that Simon Bubb was lighting up the stage of the Globe in the touring production of Much Ado About Nothing, #SexyBenedick was born and I quickly got myself into a nearly-sold-out matinée performance to inspect the evidence personally. And it was true, he makes for a most handsome leading man indeed and as it turned out, the play wasn’t half bad either.

I can’t even take credit for the best bit of insight about it. @3rdspearcarrier identified its key success as egalitarianism, this being the first version of the play for a long time that hasn’t been a star vehicle for Beatrice and Benedick and with a cast of eight doubling up and more, the energy of Max Webster’s production emphasises how much of an ensemble show it really is. With the rough and tumble aesthetic of James Cotterill’s easily portable design, there’s something deliciously playful about the whole affair which made it an absolute delight to watch in the early May sunshine. Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Henry V, Shakespeare’s Globe

“Must I bite?”

Marking the final entry in the Globe to Globe festival is the UK with this production of Henry V which reunites Jamie Parker with the role of Prince Hal that he played in 2010’s Henry IV Part I and II. The boy has now become king and the play covers his attempt to reconquer the English gains in France, most notably at the battle of Agincourt, and his growth into a leader who can inspire men to follow their duty to their country. Parker clearly has a close affinity to this character and it was a clever move to wait a couple of years before taking on this particular part as he is able to bring even more clear-spoken gravitas, colour and detail to this very human king.

Around him though, is a production by Dominic Dromgoole which errs very strongly towards the broadest crowd-pleasing comedy it can manage. Bríd Brennan’s beautifully versed Chorus and Olivia Ross’ poised Princess Katherine impressed as did the multi-part antics of Chris Starkie and Beruce Khan (additionally stepping in as understudy for an indisposed Matthew Flynn). But too often, the overreliance on the comic tone just fell flat for me. The Pistol, Bardolph et al antics were as bawdy as they have ever been, which ended up undermining their darker side (is the treatment of the French soldier really a subject of comedy?) and the tragedy of their fates (Boy is particularly hard done by). Continue reading “Review: Henry V, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Black Watch, Barbican

“You’ve got to know what we’re fighting for, otherwise there’s no point…”

Returning to the Barbican after a highly acclaimed run in 2008, the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch is in the midst of an international tour of UK and US cities with a brand new cast. Based on interviews conducted by playwright Gregory Burke with former soldiers who served in the recent conflict in Iraq, the show examines what it is to be a soldier in the modern age and what comes after. As we shift between the pool room back in Fife where they’re being interviewed by a journalist and the war zone with its armoured vehicles, makeshift shacks and lookout points, the complex truth of delivering modern warfare is exposed. And though it is set right in the middle of the war on terror, it studiously avoids moralising or coming down on one side or the other, allowing reasoned arguments on both sides.

Creatively, it combines several elements to create a piece of visceral physical theatre that lingers in the memory and is clearly one of the main reasons for its continuing success: Gareth Fry’s ear-splitting sounds never let us forget the constant presence of danger in the field; Davey Anderson’s use of music allows for a reflective melancholy to be interspersed amongst scenes and Steven Hoggett’s stylised movement provides a striking beauty whether to rituals, battles, even the changing of seats in a pub, using the reconfigured space of the Barbican’s main theatre most effectively. Continue reading “Review: Black Watch, Barbican”

Review: Peter Pan, Barbican

“Second star to the right and straight on till morning”

There’s something about revisiting childhood favourites as an adult, a huge pleasure in discovering the deeper levels and meanings that escaped one’s more youthful self: I remember vividly discovering just how dark and vicious Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka gets with the truly revolting children in his factory after years of revelling in all the sweets, the excitement of the golden tickets and the Oompah Loompahs. Similarly here, my memories of Peter Pan were limited to the Disney film and the remake Hook, so in a nutshell, lots of fun as a Lost Boy and Julia Roberts being brought back to life. What I was not prepared for was the discovery of a huge well of aching sadness at the heart of this play.

This partly due to the new version created by David Greig for the National Theatre of Scotland, of J.M. Barrie’s classic, which relocates the action to Victorian Edinburgh and in particular the time of the construction of the Forth Rail Bridge, the instant parallels being drawn between the Lost Boys or Neverland and the gangs of young boys used to pass the molten hot rivets to the ironworkers on the bridge. There’s little fun to be had here, but there’s also less fun to be had in Neverland which is reconceived as a darker, more anarchic and dangerous place, populated by boys in need of motherly love, a hunger which drives this whole play and it is one which affected me greatly, as my companion for the evening will attest, tears rolled down my cheeks solidly for the last 30 minutes! Continue reading “Review: Peter Pan, Barbican”