Review: Macbeth, Tobacco Factory

“Full of sound and fury”

For those in the know, Filter’s reinterpretations of Shakespeare’s work can be an anarchic delight but for those coming to them for the first time, as I suspect a deal of this matinée audience for Macbeth might well have been, their approach can prove a little disarming. It does presuppose a solid working knowledge of the play and an affection for the anarchic working practices of the company comes in handy too as the sound desk once again becomes an additional member, working overtime to create the truly unique soundscape of this strangely enchanting world.

I’m going to hold off too much comment about the piece as it would appear to be a bit of a work-in-progress. This is cited as the premiere of the piece here in Bristol with a UK tour coming in the new year and one imagines that changes and development will occur, it does have a rawness to it albeit one that is most appealing. More significantly, it is brimming with huge invention – the witches are brilliantly, the way that dialogue is toyed with brings a new psychological depth to play and it feels utterly contemporary in its different attacks on the main characters. Continue reading “Review: Macbeth, Tobacco Factory”

Review: Holiday/The Eisteddfod, Bussey Building

“Once upon a time…”

Australian theatre hasn’t necessarily been particularly well represented on these shores, certainly in recent years, and so the opportunity to see a double bill of UK premieres at Peckham’s Bussey Building makes for an interesting evening of theatre. Raimondo Cortese’s Holiday revels in its surreal world of dark comedy as Arno and Paul slip into the shoes or should it be thongs, of Vladimir and Estragon with this Antipodean take on Waiting for Godot.

Dressed in just budgie-smugglers and dipping in and out of a paddling pool, these two men while away an hour up any number of conversational avenues, throwing in snatches of obscure love songs and generally chewing the fat. Strangers when they met and strangers, probably, when they finally part, they talk about everything and they talk about nothing. It is tempting to try and read a greater purpose into Cortese’s writing but its real beauty lies in its sheer randomness.  Continue reading “Review: Holiday/The Eisteddfod, Bussey Building”

Review: Dangerous Lady, Theatre Royal Stratford East

“We could get the girls round for a game of kerplunk”

I’m a big fan of crime fiction but somehow Martina Cole has passed me by: none of my book-sharing buddies ever press her work into my hands, the TV adaptations didn’t grab me and the previous two Cole stage adaptations failed to tempt me to Theatre Royal Stratford East. But TRSE are clearly happy with how they went and it seems to be turning into an annual event there, so this year one can take in a version of her first novel, Dangerous Lady.

Cole seems to occupy similar ground, if not subject matter, to the Jilly Coopers and Jackie Collins of the world, the story has an epic sweep over several decades but an intimate focus in the struggles and self-empowerment of a ballsy lady. Here it is Maura Ryan, born into a family of gangsters but determined to do the right thing by avoiding the family business. An ill-advised liaison with a cop ends up in pregnancy but he swiftly departs and the subsequent back alley abortion leaves her broken-hearted, infertile and hardened to the world. She then joins her brothers and together they come to conquer gangland, but at considerable sacrifice. Continue reading “Review: Dangerous Lady, Theatre Royal Stratford East”

Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Shakespeare’s Globe

“I hope, upon familiarity will grow more contempt”

Hoping that the above quote doesn’t ring true, this revival of Christopher Luscombe’s 2008 The Merry Wives of Windsor slips back into Shakespeare’s Globe ahead of a US and UK tour taking in Santa Monica, New York, Milton Keynes, Norwich, Richmond and Bath through to December.

The only of Shakespeare’s plays to take place in his contemporary England, it takes some of the characters familiar from the Henry IV plays, most notably Falstaff and creates a pleasing romp as he chases after the wives of two gentlemen from Windsor but doesn’t reckon on just how cunning the women are. There’s also a young couple straining to be together in the face of parental disapproval, some comedic foreigners, some funny business with a laundry basket and a whole load of farcical fun. It plays here, as nicely explained in the programme, as a bit of a forerunner of the modern tv sitcom and it really does work.

A nice thing about this play is its balanced treatment of women, with 3 strong, funny female characters all of which are played with aplomb. Sue Wallace’s Mistress Quickly is nicely knowing in her manipulation of Falstaff and compassionate in rearranging the love affairs of the youngsters. And Sarah Woodward and Serena Evans as Mistresses Ford and Page respectively are just an absolute delight as the mischievous cohorts with a visibly strong friendship. Andrew Havill’s Basil Fawlty inspired mugging as Ford fits in perfectly with the tone of the piece and as Falstaff, Christopher Benjamin wins our sympathies as well as making us laugh.

The only slight disappointments for me was the sagging of the pace in the first half and Ceri-Lyn Cissone and Gerard McCarthy as the rather bland lovers, typified by their overlong duet. William Belchamber’s fey Slender and Philip Bird’s linguistically-challenged Caius were much funnier and more interesting and there was no hint at all of the former drinking buddy of Prince Hal in McCarthy’s Fenton, meaning he came across as just dull.

As a little aside, I do find it curious programming that this sits alongside the two Henry IV plays this year. With the crossover in characters but not the casting and the fact that this doesn’t really square with the timelines of the history plays, it just sits a little odd in terms of the season as a whole. And with Allam’s Falstaff so fresh in my mind, I couldn’t help but compare, however this is but a minor quibble.

It is clear why this production has been revived though: it is superbly acted throughout the ensemble, it is huge amounts of fun and once it gets started it just romps through its proceedings with a vibrancy and energy that should win over audiences no matter where it plays.

Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes (with interval)
Programme cost: £3.50
Booking until 2nd October

Originally reviewed for The Public Reviews

Review: Three Sisters, Lyric Hammersmith

“One day you’ll be so bored that you’ll read it”

According to the programme, Christopher Hampton’s version of Three Sisters at the Lyric Hammersmith directed by Sean Holmes and the Filter theatre company, is here to raise “the audience’s otherwise sluggard pulses in a revivifying revival”: what more introduction could we possibly need?!

Three Sisters opens with Irina Prozorova’s name-day celebration, in the provincial Russian town where their late military father had been stationed. Irina and her sisters Olga and Masha make half-hearted attempts to put up with life in their adopted home, but cannot stop longing for their birth town Moscow. We then follow the sisters and a group of acquaintances over a 3 year period as the sisters learn the hard lessons of life. Continue reading “Review: Three Sisters, Lyric Hammersmith”