A return to live theatre is well marked by these vibrant open-air productions of Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Roman Theatre of Verulamium in St Albans
“Try and stay one box away from each other at all times”
As we try and search for a new normal in these uncertain times, it is reassuring to know that we can always rely on the unfailing unreliability of the British weather. After a scorcher of a week, the Maltings Open Air Theatre Festival finds itself opening into thunderstorms aplenty in the atmospheric surroundings of the Roman Theatre of Verulamium in St Albans. Plus ça change…
What has changed though is the basic reality of putting on a play. Social distancing rules supreme and it is fascinating to see how directors Matthew Parker and Adam Nichols are dealing with it in their respective productions of Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Continue reading “Review: Henry V / The Merry Wives of Windsor, Roman Theatre of Verulamium St Albans”
“I am determined to prove a villain”
It’s nice to see The Faction switching things up a little. Their rep seasons at the New Diorama have considerably brightened up the last few Januaries with Shakespeare, Schiller and more but this year sees them drop the three play model for a single show in Richard III and expand their ensemble to 19 bodies, impressively increasing its diversity in age, colour and gender. The Faction’s playing style is stripped-back and largely prop-free, allowing a focus on physical expression to reinterpret the text.
It’s an approach that is suited to the black box of the New Diorama with its blood-red floor mat, Mark Leipacher’s production making varied and visceral use of bodies to form everything from the tower walls that imprison the young princes to the horse Richard rides into battle. And it’s clear that nothing is accidental here, every choice intelligently considered as seen in the bodies that make up the throne to which Gloucester finally accedes, being those of the four men he has most recently had killed. Continue reading “Review: Richard III, New Diorama”
2016 is nearly upon and for once, I’ve hardly anything booked for the coming year and what I do have tickets for, I’m hardly that inspired by (the Garrick season has been ruined by the awfulness of the rear stalls seats, and I only got Harry Potter and the Cursed Child tickets due to FOMO). Not for the first time, I’m intending to see less theatre next year but I do have my eyes on a good few productions in the West End, fringe and beyond. Continue reading “20 shows to look forward to in 2016”
“I can highly recommend the apricots”
And so to complete the set of triple bills at the New Diorama, Programme B of The Faction’s Reptember saw my third trip in quick succession to this most friendly of theatres, tucked away near Warren Street station and possessing some of the loveliest people working there. My mood was further enhanced by this proving to be my favourite of the three shows, demonstrating the greatest variety of style and mood in the solo performances that have made up this rep season. Programme A was also strong and if Programme C wasn’t quite my cup of tea, any issues I felt it had were more than compensated for here.
First up is Lachlan McCall in The Man With The Flower In His Mouth written by Pirandello and adapted and directed here by Faction AD Mark Leipacher. McCall is the perfect choice from the ensemble for this ruminative piece, his ruffled everyman demeanour suits the gentle rhythm of this late night interaction between his character and a man who’s missed the last train. The role of the other guy is taken by a video camera into which McCall speaks, the image being projected onto the back wall thereby co-opting us all into the reveal of the depths of his melancholy soul. It’s subtle but becomes most moving. Continue reading “Review: Reptember – Triple Bill B, New Diorama”
“Macbeth does murder sleep”
Immersive schimmersive. In the creation of ever-more inventive ways of approaching familiar stories, theatre companies are consistently pushing the boundaries of what makes a theatrical experience and the set-up for RIFT’s 12-hour Macbeth complete with sleepover is certainly eye-catching. The reality though is quite something else – if sharing a dorm with strangers doesn’t appeal, you can pretty much leave at 1am without missing too much, and the practicalities of dividing the audience into three small groups each with their own Macbeth and Lady M stultifies the pace rather than invigorating the show.
There’s cleverness to be sure, moments where the intimacy really sparks something thrilling whether in the subterranean meeting with the witches, guns being brandished in our faces, being an actual part of the feast that Banquo interrupts so spookily. But equally there’s a hella lot of waiting around, film work that falls flat, too much visible logistics work that saps the theatricality of the experience and snaps us out of the mindset that is needed to make such an endurance test fly. I’d say this production was a good idea but largely an unfeasible one, keeping you up for the wrong reasons.
Running time: 12 hours (or 5 hours if you’re not up for the sleepover)
Booking until 16th August
“He’s the apple of your eye but if that apple do offend, then pluck it out”
The final piece of The Faction’s 2014 Rep Season 2014 is a revival of their 2011 successful take on Schiller’s The Robbers, which slots in along Hamlet and Thebes in playing through February at the New Diorama. As Schiller’s first play, it has something of a rawness about it in the way that brings together a surprisingly mature (for the 1780s) debate about state versus revolution, intervention versus anarchy, with the kind of histrionic family drama that at times recalls Shakespeare at his most bafflingly obtuse.
The play bounces between antagonistic siblings, Franz and Karl von Moor. The devilish Franz has hoodwinked their father into disinheriting the older Franz and so is allowed to grasp for power and money in court, whereas Karl flees to the forest where he becomes the head of a vicious band of robbers who are determined to start the revolution. Interestingly, the two never meet but their actions impact strongly on those around them as class, religion and society are indicted in melodramatic style. Continue reading “Review: The Robbers, New Diorama”
“Let this blood here be the wash of Thebes’ redemption”
The ancient Greek stories of Thebes have proved some of the most enduring, inspiring theatremakers across the years to relate the tales of power-crazed, war-torn tragedy in their own ways and to their own experiences. Here, Gareth Jandrell ramps up the epic quotient by splicing together works by Aeschylus and Sophocles to create his own new play Thebes which spans the entire misbegotten dynasty, and forms the second play in The Faction’s 2014 rep season at the New Diorama.
So we see Oedipus’ crazed descent as the terrible truths uttered by the Oracle unknowingly shape his destiny as a most tragic king and we then move swiftly into the aftermath of his death, the power vacuum that emerges that his two sons and Creon battle to fill. Which in turn unleashes its own trail of chaos in the form of Oedipus’ vengeful daughter Antigone who will stop at nothing to do what she feels is right. All the while, the city of Thebes pulses in the background – bearing witness, making comment, passing judgement. Continue reading “Review: Thebes, New Diorama”
“What a piece of work is a man”
The Faction’s annual rep seasons at the New Diorama have gone from strength to strength, winning increasing critical and commercial acclaim, and so in the relatively dry spell of early January openings, they are a welcome highlight. Their 2014 season opens with a fresh take on Shakespeare’s perennial classic Hamlet, directed by Mark Leipacher in an adaptation that takes its time to find its feet and its oeuvre but once it does, it exemplifies much of the best of the Faction’s work, anchored by an excellent lead performance from Jonny McPherson.
Early on, the most arresting feature of this production is the ingenious use of a digital Simon Russell Beale to play the ghost. Leipacher comes up with a novel method of displaying Martin Dewar’s projection work, the ensemble making it somehow float in the air but for all its resourcefulness, it never feels truly integrated into the show, a distance is forced between reality and artifice which undermines the emotional current that ought to pull so strongly. And generally, the first half feels slow to start, competently played to be sure but not quite essential. Continue reading “Review: Hamlet, New Diorama”
“They washed their hands of blood”
The world of Lorca is naturally imbued with the essence of his native Andalusia, the aching sense of duende that characterises much of his work and at first sight, The Faction’s version of Blood Wedding inhabits a similar realm. Martin Dewar’s lighting casts a warmly Mediterranean haze, guitar strings are plucked from afar and the design is stripped back to a border of sand around the edge of the New Diorama’s stage which has been reconfigured into the round. And in the earthen tones of the costumes, the Cassandra-like Mother foretells a tale of woe between two long-feuding families which are soon to be joined in matrimony in an attempt to force a happy ending.
But the heady scent of sexual desire lingers between the wrong people, vengeance lies heavy in the air and there’s a price that must be paid as fate winds its unwieldy way across all concerned. And in their ensemble-led physicality, The Faction – directed here by Rachel Valentine Smith – cultivate the sense of hermetically-sealed community in all its inescapable oppressiveness, ever-present observers from the sidelines and participants in the rituals of marriage. And in the midst of the hustle and bustle, lead performances come shining through. Continue reading “Review: Blood Wedding, New Diorama”
“Happiness comes from desire, not fulfilment”
Though it was not particularly to my taste, Benedict Andrew’s radical take on Three Sisters for the Young Vic was a big success last year and so it is a brave company that takes Chekhov’s play on again so soon, not least in opening with a directorial choice which references it so strongly. It is the second play to open in The Faction’s 2013 rep season at the New Diorama after Schiller’s Fiesco, but where that play made imaginative use of the ensemble and sparkled with interesting direction, there’s not quite the same level of creativity at work here in Three Sisters, as this is altogether a straighter reading of a text.
Ranjit Bolt has adapted the text quite considerably and whilst some may baulk at the contemporised truncations, I rather liked the colloquial ease with which it flowed through the trials and tribulations of the siblings trapped in their Russian backwater, determined but seemingly unable to prevent life from passing them by. Director Mark Leipacher keeps things relatively simple, utilising a set of kitchen chairs in a multitude of ways to suggest the rooms of the house that variously keeps them prisoner, offers a blanket that maintains their declining privilege and yet also forms a kind of refuge from the realities of the word. Continue reading “Review: Three Sisters, New Diorama”