The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #10

“Come, sit on me”

The Taming of the Shrew

Christopher Haydon takes Eve Best and John Light over to the Villa Businello-Morassutti in Padua, to make me sure that the world is in need of a proper production of the Best/Light Shrew as they spar achingly, beautifully, with each other. Toby Frow’s rambunctious 2012 production also comes up a treat with Samantha Spiro and Simon Paisley Day equally impressing. Continue reading “The Complete Walk, from the comfort of your sofa #10”

TV Review: Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands

Despite no lack of ambition (and a reputed £17 million budget), Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands proves a sore disappointment

“I was beginning to think you wouldn’t come”

Looking back at my review of Episode 1 of Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands, there really was a naive hope on my part that this would be something of a success, as ITV lunged for a slice of the epic fantasy TV market. But lawksamercy it hasn’t been good.

Cleaving so closely to the Game of Thrones template (seriously, those opening credits…) does the show no favours at all, as they can’t hope to compete with the meticulousness of the years of George RR Martin’s world-building or the heft of HBO’s cinematic-sized budget. Continue reading “TV Review: Beowulf: Return to the Shieldlands”

Review: Two Gentlemen of Verona, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle

“Foster’d, illumin’d, cherish’d, kept alive”

I’ve become a bit of a dab hand at making work trips coincide with theatrical opportunities and as with last year, the stars aligned to put me in Newcastle at the same time as the RSC, and to see a Shakespeare play I’d never seen before as well (only six more to go and one of those will come this weekend). Two Gentlemen of Verona doesn’t get anywhere near as much exposure as some of the others, a recognition that as an early play – possibly even the first he ever wrote – it bears the marks of a playwright still very much working his way into his craft.

It also plants the seeds of what would grow into several of his hallmark devices – the liberating freedom of the forest to solve the problems of the town or court, a woman dressed as a man, sudden and random declarations of love – but they’re deployed here with a little clumsiness as the quartet of lovers here wind their way through the trials and tribulations of love’s young dream. Where Simon Godwin’s production succeeds though is in embracing these issues and shifting the tone of the play from a comedy to more of a problem play. Continue reading “Review: Two Gentlemen of Verona, RSC at Theatre Royal Newcastle”

Review: The Duchess of Malfi, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

“Are you out of your princely wits?”

Review the seat or review the play? Whilst I’d love to just focus on The Duchess of Malfi, the experience at the newly constructed Sam Wanamaker feels so inextricably entwined with the level of (dis)comfort that comes from the seating and exacerbated by ticket prices that are best described as hefty and take little real account of the relatively restricted view many of them offer. It’s all very well for critics to dismiss such concerns when they’re not having to compromise on sightlines due to cost but it all adds up to a very real part of one’s theatrical experience. 

So safe to say, I was hugely uncomfortable for large parts of the afternoon and bitter about the price I was paying for the privilege. But having been exhorted to go and see the play due to it being a decent piece of drama (and crucially far superior to Jamie Lloyd’s recent version which I loathed) I kept reminding myself that the tip was a good one. And it is impossible to deny that Dominic Dromgoole’s production is a strong one, well suited to the unique charms of this new theatrical space which is lit entirely by candles.  Continue reading “Review: The Duchess of Malfi, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse”

Review: Blue Stockings, Shakespeare’s Globe

“The only thing a woman can own is knowledge”

The experience of a groundling at the Globe can range from the sublime (Eve Best clasping your hand) to the ridiculous (standing for two and a half hour in the pouring rain) yet it is a unique kind of experience that always keeps me coming back for more. At £5 a ticket, it is the bargainous type of risk that is worth taking and with plays like Jessica Swale’s Blue Stockings, the dividends it pays forth make up for the sheer sogginess of the journey home. Swale is perhaps best known as a director, particularly for her inimitable takes on Restoration comedies but also for striking contemporary work of devastating precision but she now returns to Shakespeare’s Globe, where she directed 2010’s Bedlam, as a playwright with this, her first play. 

The play is set in 1896 in Girton College, Cambridge which 20 years prior, became the first college in Britain to admit women. But though they can study, they are denied the right to graduate, their time at university leaving them with little but the stigma of being a “blue stocking”, a woman whose education was deemed unnatural and thus leaving her unmarriageable. Swale explores the year their right to graduate was finally put to the vote, following a group of four students as they are introduced to the novelties of university life, albeit segregated and belittled by the vast majority, where taking exams has to compete with the richer pleasures that a modicum of independence brings.  Continue reading “Review: Blue Stockings, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s Globe

“For she is changed, as she had never been”

Despite featuring Samantha Spiro as Kate, the Globe’s production of The Taming of the Shrew held little attraction for me when it was announced, and even once it had started. Though, not considered a ‘problem play’ as far as Shakespeare’s canon is concerned, problems tend to arise when productions seek to make sense of its knotty gender politics from a contemporary perspective. Southwark Playhouse and the RSC have recently tried different updated versions but neither one really convinced me. After allowing myself to be persuaded to see it before it finished its run, Toby Frow comes the closest I have seen to making the play work, mainly by – against the above quote – simply leaving it alone.

That’s not to say that there isn’t an immense amount of work that has been done, but rather that this production just takes the play for what it is – a piece of sixteenth century fiction presented as such. And instead of the furrowed brow that often comes with trying to work how misogynistic or otherwise the play or the production is being, there’s a sense of joyous fun as high-octane slapstick, capering about and unbelievably destructive capabilities are the order of the day.  Continue reading “Review: The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare’s Globe”

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Digital Theatre

“Can the world buy such a jewel?”

Well you can now buy a copy of Josie Rourke’s Much Ado About Nothing which parlayed the star quality of its leads David Tennant and Catherine Tate into massive box office success but watching it again, I’m not so convinced of its jewel-like propensities. Revisiting this particular show did it no real favours in my mind, exposing its limitations and the lack of subtlety that characterises so much of the production.

Relocated to a Gibraltar naval base in the 1980s, the brashness of that decade was clearly taken onboard as a key note for the whole thing. But whereas from the back row of the Wyndhams, it seemed to work in filling the theatre, in the up close and personal of the camera lens, the broadness doesn’t work quite as well. Tennant comes off slightly better with a more natural reading of the lines as a cocky Benedick but Tate never really gets under the skin of Beatrice, the emphasis too much on artifically contrived comedy which never allows her to just be. She is always made to work harder by Rourke who perhaps should have trusted her actor a bit more as she really comes into her own from ‘kill Claudio…’ where she demonstrates her dramatic gift and indicates what might have been of lines like “there was a star danced…” had she been mugging less right before delivering it. Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Digital Theatre”

Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Wyndham’s Theatre

“Man is a giddy thing and that is my conclusion”

Marking Josie Rourke’s first major piece of work since the announcement of her appointment as the next Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse, this production of Much Ado About Nothing is perhaps more notable, for those less interested in theatrical musical chairs, for reuniting David Tennant and Catherine Tate, one of my all-time favourite pairings from Doctor Who. It is actually the first time I’ve seen the play, though I adored the Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson film when I was younger, and fans of this play are being spoiled as the Globe are also mounting a production which opens in the coming weeks.

The play has been moved to the heady days of the early 1980s and apparently is set in Gibraltar. I say apparently because the first I heard of it was reading the programme on the way home in which there’s an essay about life there which I assume means it serves as the location. I didn’t see any monkeys or a big rock, but I suppose it allows for the military base to be used as a reason for putting all of Don Pedro’s men in spiffing white naval uniforms 😉 (At least I think they’re naval, military of some description anyway.) Continue reading “Review: Much Ado About Nothing, Wyndham’s Theatre”

Review: Men Should Weep, National Theatre

“It’s only rich folk can keep theirselves tae theirselves. Folk like us huv tae depend on their neighbours when they’re needin help”

Men Should Weep is a play by Ena Lamont Stewart, voted as one of the top 100 English language plays of the twentieth century but has been very rarely performed. A programme note suggests that it was O H Mavor’s dismissal of her talent that prevented her from developing further as a playwright and stifling her reputation and it was crushingly sad to find out that the real appreciation of her work as a classic and its placing in said poll came too late for her as her memory had gone by then and she passed away in 2006. So this is an important revival in that sense, spearheaded by Artistic Director of the Bush Theatre Josie Rourke’s directorial debut at the National, but in its look at the everyday life of people in poverty, it rings with an ominous political resonance given the news in yesterday’s Comprehensive Spending Review and the effect it will have on the poorest in our society. This was the third preview, so all the usual caveats apply.

Set in the 1930s, the impoverished years of the Great Depression, in the crowded working-class slums of the Gorbals in the East End of Glasgow, it follows one family’s struggle for survival in a tough world. Working mother of seven Maggie is the lynchpin of this family but has to deal with an unemployed husband who won’t demean himself to do any domestic work, the return of a troublesome son and his wife to an already over-crowded home, one child with TB, another longing to fly to family coop and a gaggle of over-bearing friends and neighbours. Continue reading “Review: Men Should Weep, National Theatre”