Not-a-review: Troilus and Cressida, RSC and Wooster Group at Riverside Studios

“The common curse of mankind, – folly and ignorance”

For those unclear, the ‘not-a-review’ title usually pops up on the rare occasions that I don’t make it to the end of a play. I usually try and stick it out as it is difficult to have so firm an opinion on something as to blog about it if one hasn’t taken in the whole shebang, but occasionally, just occasionally, a play makes its bafflingly misguided intentions so apparent from its opening moments that I knew within the first minute that I wouldn’t be staying beyond the interval. It was the running on the spot with a sideways leg motion, as comedic a thing you might see yet executed with deadly serious intent that got me (I didn’t quite laugh out loud unlike some people further along my row though), quickly making me realise I wasn’t going to enter the correct headspace for this production of Troilus and Cressida.

Ostensibly a co-production between the RSC and the US-based Wooster Group of this noted problem play of Shakespeare’s, the approach to this production was to redefine the nature of collaboration in a way to complement the play itself. Directed by Elizabeth LeCompte, the Americans, playing the Trojans (although re-imagined as Native Americans), rehearsed separately from the British company, directed by Mark Ravenhill after Rupert Goold withdrew, who took on the Greeks, and the two were only brought together late in the game to capture something of the clash of civilisations that lies at the heart of the Trojan War-set drama. Continue reading “Not-a-review: Troilus and Cressida, RSC and Wooster Group at Riverside Studios”

DVD Review: Macbeth

This filmed version of Macbeth follows on from the well-received Hamlet, starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart, that was also captured for posterity but given the filmic treatment rather than just recorded on stage. The entire adult cast, including Stewart and Kate Fleetwood as the murderous couple, from the original Chichester production reunited to film this in high definition in the gloomy tunnels and bunker-like rooms at Walbeck Abbey.

Director Rupert Goold relocates the action to the Cold War Era thus making war-torn Scotland something closer to Stalinist Russia:, the hallmarks of fascism are ever-present with giant posters of the ruler dominating rooms, a police state mentality prevailing with torture used to maintain fear and control over the people as the Macbeths seek to sate their bloodlust and desire for the crown through any means necessary.

I’m not too sure how I feel about Stewart as an actor, something about him just turns me off, but he is undoubtedly impressive here, demonstrating a clinical control over the verse and playing the dictator-like ambition turning to paranoid desperation with conviction. Fleetwood’s Lady Macbeth was chillingly effective as the driving force behind this blood-thirsty ambition, portraying a real malevolence that curdles inside her as the loveless marriage begins to crack.

Goold’s assignment of the weird sisters as surgical-masked nurses who are frequently seen around the edges of scenes puts a stronger emphasis on the supernatural side of things, suggesting the ominous inevitability of his fate and perhaps even manipulating it themselves. Polly Frame, Sophie Hunter and Niamh McGrady are all excellent though and the visual and sound effects employed on their performances adds an extra layer of disturbing menace.

As ever, Macduff and Malcolm’s killer scene dragged interminably, but there were nice performances from Tim Treloar as a bookish Ross, Suzanne Burden as the butchered Lady Macduff. But what shines as the biggest benefit to the whole thing is the use of close-ups to really capture the nuances of performances that could well have escaped people on the front row, never mind up in the gods. There’s a level of detail that one is allowed to observe here, that really elevates this from a mere recording of a staged production and demonstrating where this format has a clear value and shouldn’t just be dismissed as ‘no substitute for the real thing’.

Yes, this is not the same thing as going to the theatre but nor is it pretending to be and instead offers an opportunity that couldn’t really be equalled whilst sat in the stalls and made this an interesting and significant thing to watch.

Review: Love the Sinner, National Theatre

“It’s a bit niche isn’t it Michael…”

Love the Sinner is a world premiere of a play by Drew Pautz, slotting into the Cottesloe at the National Theatre. The play looks at a number of the key moral challenges facing the Christian church, starting off at a conference of international bishops somewhere in Africa trying to reach consensus on how Christianity has to come to deal with homosexuality in the modern world. We then see one of the volunteers at the meeting, Michael, after a brief sexual encounter with one of the African porters and follow him as he returns to his closeted lifestyle back in the UK and battles his own personal demons and the challenges that his faith poses in an evermore secular world.

Whilst Love the Sinner may look at some of these moral challenges, it doesn’t attempt to address any of them to any depth to quite frustrating effect. The opening scene concerns a sequestered group of bishops from different countries trying to come to agreement over the Church’s position on homosexuality and how to deal with same-sex relationships. The issues are bounded about for a bit with the African side defending their homophobic intolerance in the face of the pleas of the more liberal Western clerics, but then once the scene ends, the topic is dropped without resolution. Continue reading “Review: Love the Sinner, National Theatre”