Review: Frankenstein, Royal Exchange

Frankenstein gets taken around the block one more time at the Royal Exchange in Manchester – Sun readers need not apply

“What can stop the determined heart and resolved will of man?”

It may have been 200 years since the publication of Mary Shelley’s magnum opus but let’s face it, no-one has ever needed an excuse to stage it before. A programme note for April De Angelis’ new version of Frankenstein for the Royal Exchange suggests there have been well over 50 adaptations and so there’s a job to make yours be the one to stand out.

Directed skillfully by Matthew Xia, De Angelis’ main superficial difference is to play up the storytelling device that frames the novel, using Captain Walton’s discovery of a bedraggled Victor Frankenstein on his expedition to the North Pole to be the mechanism through which scarcely believable events are described. And it’s a format that offers much potential – in emphasising the parallels (or differences) between the two, in exploring the role of an unreliable narrator, in making this version stand out. Continue reading “Review: Frankenstein, Royal Exchange”

Barely-a-Review: Richard III, Radio 3

“So wise, so young, they say, do never live long”

I picked on this radio adaptation of Richard III to be my companion on a particularly long journey over the weekend since it came in at nearly three hours of running time, but hadn’t anticipated that it would be as dull and unengaging as it was and consequently I struggled to get to the end of it. Quite why this should be I’m not entirely sure, it is competently spoken throughout – Douglas Henshall taking on the title role – but it never gripped me, it never seemed to transcend the medium to come alive and sound real rather than an academic exercise and so it left me most disappointed indeed.  

Review: Twelfth Night, Shakespeare on 3

“Oh had I but followed the arts”

Joining in the veritable orgy of Bard love that is currently going on, the BBC’s Shakespeare Unlocked season has a wide-ranging programme of features, not least three radio productions of his plays by the Drama on 3 team, two of which are cross-cast from the same company which was full of names I like and was keen to hear. First up was Sally Avens’ Twelfth Night, probably most notable for casting David Tennant as Malvolio.

I haven’t ever just listened to a Shakespeare play before, and though I wasn’t doubting the poetry of Shakespeare’s words, I did wonder what effect removing the visual, and Twelfth Night is a very visual play, would have on the whole. Knowing the play fairly well was both a blessing and a curse in some ways – little was ever likely to surprise me and I had no sense of what this would be like for a first-time-listener, but that knowledge also meant I could relax a little rom trying to work out what was going on. And fortunately, a cast of great experience and talent meant that the thrusting of the language front and centre was a largely successful exercise. Continue reading “Review: Twelfth Night, Shakespeare on 3”

Review: The Tempest, Shakespeare on 3

“If you now beheld them, your affections would become tender”

And so to The Tempest, the third and final radio adaptation (by Jeremy Mortimer here) in the Shakespeare on 3 season, though oddly not cross-cast with the other two so its place in the programme felt a little incongruous. And whether I’d had my fill of Shakespeare on radio or whether its my fatigue with this particular play or whether it just generally wasn’t that distinctive, I found this a bit of a slog.

It wasn’t bad per se, just never particularly engaging for me, and consequently I’ve haven’t much to say about it (for once). The incidental music that plays throughout the show was specially written (and also performed by) The Devil’s Violin Company and adds an interesting additional texture, but when the most interesting thing I can think to say about a Shakespeare production is about the music, then something is wrong.

Review: The Recruiting Officer, Radio 3

“He that bids the fairest, has me”

So following on from the production of Our Country’s Good on Radio 4, Radio 3 then had the version of The Recruiting Officer as ‘performed’ by the cast of convicts. I love reading about plays I’ve never heard of – The Recruiting Officer is Josie Rourke’s opening salvo at the Donmar Warehouse so I’ll get to see it fairly soon – and reading about it, I was duly informed that it was the most popular play in the entire 18th Century (even more so than Hamlet…) and its other claim to fame is that it was the first play to be performed in Australia (though I suppose that assumes that there’s no theatre in the Aborigine culture). As I now know, this latter point is the crux of Our Country’s Good, which I rather enjoyed, so I was quite content to spend the second half of my journey finishing this double bill.

Sadly though, it wasn’t half as entertaining for me (and not just because of the devil’s spawn that got on my carriage at Crewe). The antics of this Restoration comedy – where army officers descend on Shrewsbury to seduce new recruits into bolstering the army and to seduce women into marriage and/or their beds – didn’t quite come across as well as I would have hoped. Having lost the physical side of the humour, I just didn’t really get into the right mindset for it at any point, it rarely made me laugh and not knowing the play, I was also quite a bit confused about who everyone was – I definitely needed the visual clues! Continue reading “Review: The Recruiting Officer, Radio 3”

Review: Richard III, Riverside Studios

“Oh thou well skilled in curses, stay awhile
And teach me how to curse mine enemies”

So after a nice break away from London, and seven whole days without a play, 2010’s theatregoing resumed with a trip to Richard III at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. Part of a season of plays entitled Desire and Destruction presented by the Love and Madness company, an ensemble of 10 actors are covering 3 plays around these ever-resonant themes, of which Richard III is the second to start (Fool For Love opened last week).

One of Shakespeare’s most celebrated works, Richard III is the story of the physically deformed Duke of Gloucester, a fiercely ambitious prince of the House of York whose hunger for the throne leads him down a Machiavellian path of endless murder, betrayals and general naughtiness as nothing will stop him from gaining what he so desires, even though it lays so far from him. Shakespeare played fast and loose with history in writing this play and so it lends itself to interpretation quite nicely (this production is presented in modern dress), being much more a study in uncontrolled ambition and the power of ‘spin’ in order to manipulate situations both publicly and privately to one’s own good. Continue reading “Review: Richard III, Riverside Studios”