Absurd Person Singular – August 2012

7/10

Written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn

A Stephen Joseph Theatre/CFT co-production

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Thursday 30th August 2012

Surprisingly, given that this production was directed by Ayckbourn himself, we didn’t find it quite as funny as a previous outing (Oct 2008). It was still good though, and great fun to see the cast of Surprises playing completely different characters.

Part of the difference tonight lay in the casting. While everyone was perfectly cast for the other play, and most were similarly good in this, I felt that Ayesha Antoine wasn’t convincing as the suicidal Eva in the second act. This was a great pity as that part is central to the comedy of the whole scene; she may not say a word until she starts singing at the end of the scene but her presence is crucial, and tonight it wasn’t strong enough for me. And for once the in-the-round space actually worked against the humour, as the focus was harder to maintain with bits of furniture and the building getting in the way.

Even so, we enjoyed the second act, and the darker aspects of the characters certainly came out strongly tonight. There was less business with the gin bottle in the third act, but that act is always less funny than the others as the characters mostly continue their downward spiral.

The sets were beautifully evocative of the three couples. The first was replete with aspirational Formica and linoleum, the second full of painted wood and raffia seats with wooden floorboards, while the final act had a stone flagged floor, an Aga and mpre upmarket wooden furniture. The costumes matched the sets, with the aspirational couple’s clothes improving in each scene. Not a bad production then, though not the best we’ve seen.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Last Of The Haussmans – August 2012

6/10

By Stephen Beresford

Directed  by Howard Davies

Venue: Lyttelton Theatre

Date: Wednesday 29th August 2012

Yet another DFCD (dysfunctional family confrontation drama), the twist this time being a reassessment of the 1960s Flower Power generation in today’s world. It had a marvellously detailed set, was a good first play by this writer, had excellent performances, and for those who like this sort of thing it was a great production. There were delicious sparkles of humour through most of the play, but the relatively turgid family ‘discussions’ left me cold.

The start was very promising. We were quickly introduced to Nicky and Libby, a brother and sister with assorted problems, including a drug habit, a rich and varied homosexual past (and present) and a stroppy teenage daughter. Libby’s daughter, Summer, was a representative of the daughter-as-bitch camp, slagging off her Mum at every opportunity and generally behaving badly most of the time. Judy, Summer’s gran and Nicky and Libby’s mother, was recovering from cancer surgery, and this seemed to be the trigger which had brought Nicky back to visit after many years’ absence. The story unfolded in fits and starts, with some lovely humour, mainly from Nicky; the energy dropped when his character was absent for a while. The play ended with a funeral for the last of the Haussmans, and a rather confused new start for Nicky and Libby after the family home had been sold.

The set used the large revolve to move the building round. It was a large Art Deco period house which had been sadly neglected, and with Judy’s hippy past there were plenty of Eastern trimmings to brighten the place up. I spotted, amongst the jumble, wind chimes, a dream catcher and a Tibetan cloth (judging by the shape); the only thing missing was the pungent aroma of incense (probably just as well). Around the front was the garden area, and there were two strange curved wooden pergola affairs on each side of the stage. They were used for exits and entrances to the garden, and were lavishly draped with colourful bunting, but apart from that I have no idea what they were meant to be. They may also have been responsible for our occasional problems hearing the dialogue; with nothing to bounce back from, some of the lines were probably crystal clear backstage but sounded muffled to us. The scenes were mainly set outside, though one was in the music room and another in the kitchen.

The two other characters we saw included a doctor, whose services to Judy included reminiscing about the 60s long into the night, drinking and singing songs. He was also having an affair with Libby which lasted until his wife found out. The other was Daniel, a young man whose talent as a swimmer was being nurtured with regular practice in Judy’s swimming pool. This seemed a bit unbelievable; if she couldn’t keep the house tidy, the swimming pool was likely to be a major health hazard. Anyway, he was a fit young athlete and the eye candy for many of us in the audience, as well as for Nicky.

Rory Kinnear was excellent as Nicky, and well matched by Helen McCrory as Libby, although hers were the lines I had most difficulty hearing. Julie Walters was clearly having a great time playing the aging rebel Judy, and Matthew Marsh was perfect as the randy doctor. The young actors were also very good. Isabella Laughland as Summer conveyed her character’s hostility and occasional vulnerability very well, while Taron Egerton showed us a Daniel who matured a lot during the period of the play, partly due to his experiences at the house and with the family.

The only reason for my lack of enthusiasm about this play is that we’ve seen so many of these family confrontations before and it takes something special in the writing or performances to engage my interest nowadays. I’m also beginning to wonder if the elaborate set didn’t dwarf the play too much; perhaps a studio setting, emphasising the relationships and allowing the location to fade into the background, would have helped the production more. It’s certainly the set that I remember most from this performance, which is not a healthy sign.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Surprises – August 2012 (2)

8/10

Written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn

Stephen Joseph Theatre and CFT co-production

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Tuesday 28th August 2012

No surprises tonight, though the performances had all tightened up as the cast have become familiar with the Minerva space. The opening act was funnier – we laughed more – and although there were a few gaps again after the first interval, the rest of us clearly enjoyed ourselves, including the chap who sang along to the songs and completed the actors’ lines for them!

Some things I forgot to mention last time: each act began and ended with a song. The first one was Keep Young And Beautiful, a scratchy version suggesting an old recording. The others weren’t scratchy, but were old-style crooner ballads, don’t know which ones. I think they ended each act with the same song, but I’m not sure. The caption on the statue’s plinth was “Venus No 2”.

I wasn’t entirely sure last time if Sylvia’s crush was on Jan or Lorraine; I assumed from later developments that it had been Jan, but this time round it wasn’t so obvious.  The final scenes with the virtual reality and real characters both on stage at the same time were clearer tonight. Perhaps they’d changed their timing slightly, or perhaps it was the different angle, but I was aware of the real people saying their lines first, and the avatars following them. Later, when the couple were telling each other who they really were, the avatar or the real character would stay silent, miming the line at the same time as their counterpart spoke the line. This allowed their growing relationship to be highlighted without distracting us with too much repetition; after all, they were each moving past the need for a false persona to represent them in a fantasy world. Their final meeting, huddled together against the rain, was quite moving, and I had to wipe away the moisture from my eyes before I applauded. Lovely.

From the post-show, I gathered that in the Stephen Joseph Theatre the front row are practically sitting on the stage, so the cast enjoyed having a little more room in the Minerva. A lot of the discussion got bogged down in what the play was about, which I didn’t find so interesting, but the cast seem to be having a good time down here, which is nice. As often happens, I thought of my ‘burning’ questions afterwards – too late!

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Comedy Of Errors – August 2012

8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Amir Nizar Zuabi

Venue: RST

Date: Thursday 23rd August 2012

This was great fun tonight. We thought this production had potential when we saw it in preview, and they’ve proved us right. There were a few changes and some things which I saw for the first time from our new angle, while the dialogue was much clearer than before.

There were no changes to the set as far as I could see. [Having checked my earlier notes again, I think the two bollards at the top of the raised ramp at the back had disappeared by this time. Either that or I just couldn’t see them from my position.] The opening scene was likewise the same, and although some people laughed at the violence, I found it unenjoyable. It did get the story of the twins across quite well though, which is important. When the crates arrived at the dock, I spotted Dromio of Ephesus passing through the scene this time, and being chased off by the dock workers.

When he returned to summon his master, as he thought, to dinner, his hand gestures were even more persistent than before. He kept moving them from pointing in Antipholus’s direction round to the far exit, encouraging him to go. It was very funny, although I did wonder if it was getting in the way of the scene a bit, as I wasn’t listening to Antipholus so much. Still, I love the two Dromios in this, so I’m loath to criticise their comic business.

The same three illegal immigrants came out of the other crate, though this time the woman offered Antipholus the track suits and then the bags – no sale. Again this business interrupted the dialogue a lot, and risked losing the energy as well, but they kept it going just fine.

Adriana and Luciana were good, with their dialogue being much clearer, apart from the time when Adriana stuck her napkin in Luciana’s mouth to stop her wittering on about marriage when she’s still a spinster. Dromio leapt up on to the struts of the ceiling to avoid Adriana’s wrath, and I forgot to mention last time that she took a cupcake off the stand on the table after Dromio had gone and smashed it into her face when she was talking about losing her beauty.

When Antipholus of Syracuse met his own Dromio in the next scene, he took his jacket off to be able to beat him the better, and handed it to Dromio to hold. It was dropped on the ground at some point, and later Dromio picked it up to put it back on his master, only to start with the wrong sleeve. When he did get the sleeve right, he failed to get it on Antipholus’s arm, so the whole jacket slid over his shoulders. Antipholus took it off Dromio and put it on himself, just before Adriana and Luciana arrived. (They cut the lines after “purchase me another dry basting”.) I noticed that Adriana threw her lovely coat with a fur collar down on the stage after she arrived, but almost immediately picked it up and gave it to Luciana to hold; care of one’s clothes seems to be a theme of this production.

We’d heard from Kirsty Bushell that she did some business to suggest that Adriana noticed some changes in her husband – the Antipholi are very different in height – and we spotted these tonight. She’s also playing Olivia in Twelfth Night, and one of the directors had told her that when her characters see the other twin, they are in such a needy place that they overlook what’s obvious to the rest of us. It’s a fair point, though not quite enough to cover the discrepancies in these productions, but we managed to overlook the problem so as to enjoy ourselves more.

The look of puzzlement between Antipholus and Dromio got the laugh that normally comes on “plead you to me, fair dame?”, which is fair enough, and Dromio almost fell in the water trying to get away when Antipholus was angry with him over Adriana’s confirmation of his earlier encounter with Dromio of Ephesus – “for even her very words thou didst deliver to me on the mart”. When Antipholus and Adriana kissed, Luciana looked away, embarrassed, while Dromio seemed more concerned about being beaten again. The door was hoisted onto the stage, and although I didn’t find the opening scene funny, I did laugh at the slapstick when Dromio was hit by the door, twice.

With the Syracusan pair safely installed in the Ephesian house, Adriana’s real husband turned up with his mates for dinner. The scene was as before, though we had a better view of some aspects from the side. The two Dromios looked through the letterbox at one point and both backed off rapidly from the door, scared by what they saw. I didn’t see much of Nell this time until she chased Dromio of Syracuse off the stage with a large squash. After Antipholus of Ephesus left, his Dromio chased after him carrying the “iron crow” he’d asked for. I foresee another beating when he catches up with his master; he interpreted that instruction by bringing a weather vane with a crow on top of it.

The scene between Antipholus of Syracuse and Luciana was OK, and certainly made it clear that Luciana fancied this Antipholus a lot. The following section, with Dromio relating Nell’s attributes, was very entertaining, and then we just had the delivery of the chain by Angelo and the capture and shooting of the other illegal immigrant before the interval. This time the captain offered his gun to Antipholus to shoot the man, but he ran off in a panic, naturally enough. The lights went out before the shot, as before, and although the audience took a little while to realise it was time for applause, we dished out plenty when the penny dropped.

It was a brisk first half, and the second opened with the disposing of the dead body – no improvement there.  Then followed the scene with Angelo in danger of being arrested over the money he owed to a merchant. When Antipholus of Ephesus arrived, they argued over who had the chain, and at one point the goldsmith was so stressed he had to use his inhaler. When Dromio of Syracuse arrived, he was carrying a lifejacket and had a bright orange life preserver round his neck – very funny.

The next scene had Adriana dunking Luciana in another goldfish tank; I assume no fish were harmed in this production, even though Steve spotted Luciana spitting one out when she lifted her head out of the water. This time the water torture was funny, especially when Adriana dunked her own head in there at the end. The platform was still suspended for this scene, but apart from a few spins and Dromio of Syracuse being nervous about stepping off it, it didn’t add much.

When the platform was being winched on and off again, they covered the scene change with some business, usually having the band troop across the stage. For this change they also laid out some barrels and rolled Antipholus of Syracuse across them. When the others left, Antipholus was balancing on one remaining barrel, holding a bag (as provided by the woman from the crate) and for some unknown reason a scrap of green cloth. He delivered the lines well enough, but he could have done it just as well standing on the ground.

When he did get down, we noticed he placed the bag under the barrel to stop it rolling down the stage. The courtesan was much the same, but one thing I forgot to mention before was that after the Syracusans left, and when she was planning to visit Adriana, she took the padding out of her bra – four separate pieces – and threw them behind her. This got a good laugh. When Dromio of Ephesus passed across the stage, he was carrying a big bundle of rope – we know what he’s going to do with that – and when she threw her shoe at him tonight she almost hit him. This is a dangerous production for the male actors with the women being so violent; even the Madonna has hit someone in passing.

Speaking of which, Adriana dealt with the officer by twisting his arm behind his back, and after the abbess had dealt with Adriana’s attack by crushing her fist in her hand, both the officer and another chap leapt out of her way when she went back into the abbey, all very funny. In general, the scenes through to the final confrontations in front of the abbey were good fun with no significant changes to report. There was a strong response to the merchant, the one to whom Angelo owed money, taking out a machete to fight Antipholus of Syracuse. When Dromio of Ephesus confirmed that his master had not dined at home, he revealed to Adriana that they had dined with the courtesan. Her story had been that Antipholus had rushed into her house and stolen her ring, but now Adriana knew the truth she was not a happy bunny – that was what led to her slamming the courtesan’s head against the oil drum. She also pulled down the hem of the courtesan’s skirt earlier as it had been riding much too high, entirely intentional on the courtesan’s part. The rest was as before. I sniffled, I laughed, and the ending was just as good as the last time.

There were a few new bits of business that I find hard to place. Nell came running across the stage after Dromio of Syracuse who had just left, crying “Dromio, Dromio, wherefore are thou Dromio?” which was very funny. But then Dromio of Ephesus came on stage, spotted her leaving and rushed after her saying “shakalaka” or some such vocalisation of desire. During another of the scene changes, the woman from the crate wheeled her shopping trolley onto the stage and was selling to the citizens. Dromio of Ephesus and his Nell wandered on and were looking at the goods – presumably he was going to buy her a present – but the police came along and the woman, along with everyone else, was off like a shot. When Angelo was talking about the chain to Antipholus of Ephesus, he tried to mollify Antipholus’s anger by repeating some of the  tune they’d been singing earlier, to no effect.

This production has really come together. There’s still too much unnecessary violence and tricksy staging for my liking, but the cast have overcome all of that to tell the story really well and provide us with a lot of humour along the way. The two Dromios are still the best thing in it, but the others have caught up a lot, and they deserve to play to packed houses. Good luck to them.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

King John – August 2012

8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Maria Aberg

Venue: Swan Theatre, Stratford

Date: Wednesday 22nd August 2012

Our experience tonight was much better than last time, and there were several reasons for this. Firstly, the performances had come on a lot since May which was to be expected, although the seven week layoff (barring one performance) could have been a problem. Secondly we heard an excellent talk this afternoon by Robert Maslan about the play, and although he based it on the regular text rather than this production, we learned more details which helped in our understanding. Our position was different too, which helped, and of course we knew this time that we weren’t seeing the usual version of the text, so we could relax and enjoy this interpretation without getting hung up on the casting or the set.

The opening was the same, but as we’d also had a session with Pippa Nixon this morning I’m afraid we Summer Scholars got a bit carried away with Land Of Hope And Glory and nearly ruined the entrance of the court. The Bastard’s ukulele playing hasn’t improved much, I’m sad to say. John did the same little tease with the crown as before, and again ignored the French ambassador for a while before listening to him. When the bastard Falconbridge and her brother came on, Pippa started to use her feminine charms to win the argument, unzipping her top and displaying her cleavage to good advantage (as she had done last time), but although John noticed her looks, the sexual attraction between them was kept in check most of the time which allowed the other aspects of their relationship to be explored much more, and overall I felt that helped the performance.

In front of Angiers, the wrangling between the two sides was clearer this time. The citizens stood round the balcony and spoke in unison, first to declare their allegiance to the King of England, then to point out that they didn’t know who that was, and then to put forward the suggestion that Blanche and the Dauphin marry to create peace between France and England. I didn’t spot when Constance and Arthur left this scene; probably during the general exit before the townsfolk made their marriage proposal. From our position tonight I could see Blanche and Louis sitting on the steps while this talk was going on, and I had a much clearer view of their incompetent wooing. Louis was totally self-regarding, seeing himself when he looked in her eyes, while her lines were delivered so jerkily that it was impossible to tell whether she liked the Dauphin or not, as was intended.

Again Elinor had to prompt John with a cough to add Anjou to the list of provinces in Blanche’s dowry, and again she held her hand to her head in reaction to him giving away thirty thousand marks as well. The bargain was sealed with a chest bump between the two kings, and then they partied. The court posed on the steps as before, and following today’s talk the “commodity” speech came over much better. When John brought out the microphone he started speaking the line “the moment I wake up”, then began singing with the next line “before I put on my makeup”. The King of France carried on, and then everyone joined in. Soon Blanche and Louis were holding the microphones and stood facing each other on a couple of the benches. Their song wasThe Time Of My Life, and really got the crowd rocking, especially with their Dirty Dancing routine.

Eventually the party moved off stage and Constance, accompanied by Arthur, Salisbury and Pembroke, came on (Pembroke is an addition to my text). Her grief was more like anger, which helped to keep the energy levels up. I’ve often found her whining rather dreary in past productions, by Susie Trayling was very good in this role, and kept me watching and listening for once.

The party returned, coming on from both sides at the top of the stairs. Not seeing Constance at first, Philip was very happy and announced a new French public holiday. Then he and John, arms on each other’s shoulders, turned and walked down the steps, to be confronted by a very angry woman. Oops. I did like the extra party hats, especially the clown’s hat worn by Austria which rather undercut his macho attempts to stop the Bastard insulting him, and we both appreciated the devil’s horns which Elinor had chosen to wear on her head.

Fortunately the Pope’s legate, Pandulph, arrived to speak to John about releasing the Archbishop of Canterbury. Unfortunately, John decided not to cooperate with the Holy Father’s request, and was excommunicated. Philip struggled to find a way out of his predicament; he didn’t want to lose the new-found peace by going to war against England, but the threat of being excommunicated himself was too much to resist. Blanche’s situation was no better; she was now connected to both sides, and would lose either way. I wasn’t particularly moved by any of the performances tonight, but the one that came closest was this, when Blanche expressed her divided loyalties and the suffering this was causing her. She went with Louis, but was never happy again.

After introducing us to Austria’s head, the Bastard took on Hubert’s role, meaning that Essex had to take on the Bastard’s job of raising money in England. When suborning the Bastard to kill young Arthur, John first gave him his own silver dog tags to wear, which the Bastard was proud to receive. The sexual attraction got in the way of this scene first time round; it was better tonight without such distractions.

The next scene with the French included Blanche as well, though being without dialogue she sat on the steps and said nothing. Constance was excellent in this scene, with all her arguments coming across clearly. After she left, followed by King Philip, Pandulph began to manipulate Louis into attacking England in order to claim the throne by right of his marriage to Blanche. This caused Blanche’s only reaction in this scene – she stood up when Pandulph first made this suggestion, not happy at the prospect of war between France and England.

The attempt at blinding Arthur was OK; I heard quite a lot of the lines, and I’d been aware since this morning’s talk how often eyes and sight were mentioned in this play, but the main point of the scene in this version was to show the change in the Bastard’s attitude to King John. When the Bastard led Arthur off they took the interval, and again there were fewer seats occupied in the second half, though it wasn’t as obvious as with Troilus And Cressida last week.

The second half started with another song from the Bastard, and during it John appeared at the top of the stairs. (I haven’t been able to track down the lyrics – something about keeping baby teeth in a drawer with jewellery.) Again he placed his crown on his own head and stood there while she sang. When the song was finished, the balloons were released, along with lots of confetti which landed on the audience as well. The Bastard dragged the microphone stand off after looking at John on the steps; I wondered if this was meant to reflect her change of attitude.

John’s discussion with Salisbury and Pembroke was interrupted by the Bastard, and from the lords’ comments it was clear that they had heard of the King’s intent to kill Arthur and that the Bastard had been chosen to carry out the murder. The announcement of Arthur’s death was no surprise to these men, and after they left John received the news of the Dauphin’s army, his mother’s death and Constance’s death, while from the Bastard, resuming her non-Hubert shape, he heard of the unrest in the country. John was not a happy bunny. He ranted at the Bastard for misinterpreting his commands, but then she showed him the very order which he had signed. He next complained that she hadn’t prevented this mistake on his part, and frankly I wanted to shout ‘man up’ at the little wimp. After a bit of rough-housing, he had the Bastard on her back and was viciously grabbing at her crotch, but she managed to get away and finally admitted, Hubert-like, that she hadn’t done the deed. Relief all round, and John sent the Bastard running off to tell the peers.

Meanwhile, at the castle Arthur was making his escape. The walls were high and slippery, and with the lights lowered he had difficulty making his way to safety. They staged this differently according to my earlier notes. Arthur came down the steps some way, saying his lines, then another Arthur edged out along the top. They reflected each other’s positions, facing in opposite directions, then fell down, one behind the steps and the other onto the ground. With the balloons hiding the body, it was quite plausible that the lords could come on, discussing their meeting with the French, and not see the corpse until well into the scene. Of course with the Bastard and Hubert being one and the same, the lines were rearranged considerably, and the long dialogue between the two characters was severely cut. When Salisbury drew his ‘sword’, the Bastard drew her gun, which was funny, and being a woman she couldn’t actually pick up the dead boy; she cradled him in her arms, and his corpse walked off stage later when the next scene was under way.

The rapprochement between John and Pandulph was next. John came to the front of the stage and took off his shirt, then knelt down with his coronet over his praying hands, facing Pandulph who had come down the steps. She asserted her authority over him by staying well back, so he had to shuffle towards her on his knees, then bowed right down before her. When she lifted up his hands to remove the crown, he held on to it briefly, as if loath to let it go, but released it eventually. As soon as he’d been crowned (again) he became all business-like, telling the legate to hurry and stop the French army, while Pandulph was confident that what she had started she could stop. The Bastard reported the latest information to the king, including Arthur’s actual death, and was incensed to hear of yet another compromise, on this occasion with the Church. This time, I was aware of John giving the Bastard authority to run things. I also spotted that the ‘For God and England’ neon sign at the back was flickering and losing some of its letters, another indication that the country was going to rack and ruin.

When Louis met with the English lords, Blanche was present again, but only just. I don’t know what she’d been taking, alcohol or drugs or both, but she looked terrible. Her marriage wasn’t turning out well for her, and I wondered if, like Lady Anne in Richard III, she wouldn’t be long for this world. When Pandulph turned up, she learned that it wasn’t so easy to stop a war as to start one, and with the Bastard making defiant declarations it looked like there might be a battle after all.

King John was with his son, Prince Henry, when he felt ill and had to go to Swinstead Abbey. The next three scenes were trimmed to the essentials only, and played out in a repeating fashion from the balconies. John was down below, watching these events, as if he was being given the news while his fevered mind tried to make sense of it. The Bastard said the lines “Show me the very wound of this ill news: I am no woman. I’ll not swoon at it” (unfortunate, given that she was a woman), the French reported their lost supplies and the changing allegiance of the English, the French count Melun warned the English lords that the Dauphin meant to kill them after the victory was won, and these sections were repeated several times. This phase was brought to a conclusion by the reply to the Bastard, informing us that the king had been poisoned. Then things got even more surreal.

The king sat on one of the benches, clearly unwell. This went on for a bit, then he got up, the music started and he began to do a dance routine, looking like he was fine. He went through the routine a couple of times so we could see what it was meant to look like, then he began to suffer, as did the dancing, and finally he staggered to the steps and collapsed there, reaching towards the bottles of champagne – partying to the end. The Bastard arrived as did Prince Henry, and with a few speeches from the final scene, the king finally died. The Bastard hugged him, wept, and looked more distressed than the young prince, who took up the crown and held it till the end. The Bastard closed the play with the familiar speech, and I found myself pondering that England had indeed been conquered, by William, and not that long before. Still, it was a good ending, and we were much happier at the end of this performance than last time.

Once again, having consulted the text, I’m aware that this was only a version of the play, and a much adulterated version to boot. The production hung together well enough in its own terms, but I wasn’t moved by any of the characters, and while the female Bastard/Hubert seemed to work better this time around, I’m not convinced it’s a helpful interpretation overall. Pippa Nixon’s excellent performance made a difference, and she and Alex Waldmann came on to take some bows together tonight, which seemed appropriate. His performance as John was very good, and I hope the RSC will find more work for him to do in the future (we already know that Pippa is coming back to give us Rosalind and Ophelia). Credit to the rest of the cast as well; they worked well together and that’s vital for a good performance.

We’re not usually concerned to see ‘traditional’ Shakespeare – as if there was such a thing – but I’d certainly prefer see a production of this play which sticks more to the text than they did tonight. The similarities with modern times were reasonably appropriate, and the energy and humour were good fun, but we still felt there was something lacking, that the production wasn’t as meaty as it could have been. I do hope other actresses can find this level of anger and passion in the Constance role though; it really helps the performance to have that character played so strongly. But now that we’ve had the Complete Works and World Shakespeare Festivals, perhaps they’ll return to doing this play less frequently; we’ll see.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Richard III – August 2012

7/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Roxana Silbert

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Tuesday 21st August 2012

This was another strange performance, the first after a three week break while Troilus And Cressida had its run. They had a line run in the afternoon, which would account for their dialogue being crystal clear for the most part (Stanley was the notable exception – his lines were less understandable than before!) but the energy petered out after a good start, leading to a relatively lacklustre performance. There were some distractions tonight; Steve had to leave during Clarence’s dream speech as his cough wouldn’t behave itself and some teenagers on the left side of the stage were very fidgety during the second half, leafing through programs and the like, which didn’t help. But mostly the pace was just a fraction too slow, and I suspect they needed this performance to get back fully into their stride.

Jonjo was accessing more of the dark aspects of the play this time, though not as much as I would have liked. I heard the conversation between Clarence and Richard in full tonight, and understood the political implications much better. I could also see Clarence’s reactions as Richard commented on Mistress Shore; he smiled and almost laughed a few times at Richard’s bitchiness.

On to Act 3 scene 1, and some points I forgot from the previous performance. Buckingham tilted the Cardinal’s hat after accusing him of being “too senseless-obstinate”, and flicked back the corners of his cape. When Buckingham was briefing Catesby for his errand to Hastings, he wheeled forward the throne for Catesby to sit on, which he did, savouring the experience.

The scrivener was also hard to understand this time, while Catesby sat amongst the audience after his initial contributions to the wooing of Richard so that he could respond as part of the crowd. Richard’s parting kiss to the ex-queen Elizabeth was really unpleasant, and she was holding herself very stiffly so as to avoid the contact as much as possible. Richard said “relenting fool” before she’d walked away from him, but kept the rest of that speech till she’d gone.

Anne spat at Richard again during the ghost sequence, and the young Edward briefly stood between Richard and Richmond when they were fighting. I forgot to mention before that when Richmond was strangling Richard at the end, echoing the way Richard tried to strangle the young Duke of York earlier, Richard took off his coronet and hit Richmond with it a few times before finally dying. It was a funny gesture, and appropriate given the way they staged the ghost sequence.

Apart from the greater clarity, that was about it for tonight. It still feels like a good production, and the cast certainly look like they’re all working well together now.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Much Ado About Nothing – August 2012

9/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Iqbal Khan

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Monday 20th August 2012

There’s been a huge improvement in this production since we saw it last. The timing of the scene changes is quicker, and the whole cast is working very well together. I don’t know if the accents had been modified or whether we were more used to them, but the dialogue was clearer, and although I only noticed a few specific cuts, the running time was down to three hours (from three and a half!). Our angle tonight was different too, so I saw some things I hadn’t noticed before, while losing one or two other things. There’s a truly magic feel to the performance, and with a packed audience responding warmly to the action it was a tremendous evening.

No real changes to report for the pre-show business or the early scenes, although I spotted that Hero deliberately managed to bump into Claudio before she left with the rest of the household. Don John was also present when Don Pedro returned to Benedick and Claudio. He stayed skulking by the front steps; after Benedick left, he received a pointed look from his brother and reluctantly went through the doors at the back, closing them with sarcastic precision. Dogberry and Borachio came on stage to remove the fan which had been working throughout the opening scene, and took it to the back of the stage before finally removing it altogether. Dogberry didn’t have long to tell Antonio what he’d heard before Antonio reported it to Leonato, dismissing Dogberry at the same time.

After Don John’s scene, Beatrice, Hero, Ursula and Margaret came through the audience and onto the stage at the front, singing and wearing the soldier’s jackets. Leonato and Antonio came through the doors to meet them, and after some chat they were dressed up in the scarves, ready for the party. The conversations at the party were easier to see from this angle, although the continuing music made them harder to hear. The prince and Hero appeared on the balcony during the dance, celebrating, while Claudio came across more clearly as immature tonight; his petulance at what he thought the prince had done – wooing Hero for himself instead of Claudio – was a childish reaction, and there was every possibility that he would grow out of such tantrums in time.

We had learned from the director that kissing in front of one’s elders is still frowned upon in India, so when Beatrice told Hero to stop Claudio’s “mouth with a kiss”, Leonato intervened and Hero and Claudio stayed apart. Again Don John’s scene had no changes to report, and then Benedick arrived on stage for the first gulling scene. His delivery of the speech “I do much wonder that one man….” was a bit better than before, but still lacked the detail of previous productions, and only got a laugh at the very end. Balthazar sang as before, and the servant who was bringing Benedick his book was persuaded to join in the dancing. She was much too vigorous, and Claudio backed off when she started hitting him with her scarf. Benedick was up on the roof again tonight, but he was visible (just) and the maid’s antics helped the scene along, as Benedick doesn’t actually have any lines for a fair chunk of it. At the end of the scene, when Benedick was assessing the ‘revelations’ he’d just heard, he kept bending down to put one shoe on, then leaving it to speak another line. He managed to get them both on before Beatrice came to call him in to dinner.

The gulling of Beatrice was done as before, with Hero’s lines still a bit muffled by the speaker on the mobile. Verges spotted Beatrice, who had slid round to sit beside her, after the line “Yet tell her of it: hear what she will say”, and so her “O! do not do your cousin such a wrong” was said with Beatrice right beside her. Beatrice put her finger to her lips to tell Verges to be quiet at “His excellence did earn it, ere he had it”, which explained Verges’ sudden change of subject.

Benedick was brought on to the stage for the next scene by Dogberry, who seemed to be the very barber talked of a short while later. The prince made much of not recognising Benedick, and his appearance was very different. The interval was taken after Don John’s assertion of Hero’s disloyalty, which meant the wedding platform could be set up during the interval, saving a good deal of time.

The second half still started with Beatrice singing “Sigh no more” on the balcony, with Dogberry on guard down below. This was followed by the first part of the watch scene, up to Dogberry’s final exit. Then came the first part of the wedding preparations, up to the conclusion of Margaret’s jest about “the heavier for a husband”. Then Borachio and Conrad had their conversation and were arrested by the watch, after which Beatrice turned up and completed the scene with Hero and Margaret. Dogberry and Verges showed the two pairs of trousers to Leonato as before, and then we had the wedding scene.

I wasn’t aware of any changes to this, but our view of the action was much better. The guests were brought up from the audience as before, and Beatrice and Benedick were startled to find themselves giving garlands to each other. We clapped along to the music as everyone arrived and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The microphone was still being used, and the way it was being passed around, or rather grabbed by various people, was very funny. The Panditji moved over to the corner of the stage at “Stand thee by,” with one of the servants bringing over the stool that proved so awkward last time. I’m not sure if Benedick sat down on it tonight, so the people sitting over that way may have suffered less than we did.

The rest of the scene was as before, just clearer, and the scene between Beatrice and Benedick was just as strong. The examination of Borachio and Conrade was followed by the clearing of the wedding platform and the cloth streamers, which worked better tonight although it was still slow. Leonato and Antonio managed their lines without the servants’ activities being so distracting, and I’m sure they got the stage cleared a line or two earlier this time.

Antonio took off one of his shoes and used it to attack Claudio, in lieu of a proper challenge. Claudio threw the shoe on the ground, and when Antonio bent to pick it up he reacted to a twinge in his back – we older folk knew just how he felt, but we all laughed. Benedick was very stern with both the prince and Claudio, and refused to be drawn into their banter, while Borachio’s confession shocked the pair of them deeply. They cut Claudio’s lines “Rightly reasoned, and in his own division….”, and I noticed this time that Antonio nodded his head slightly when Leonato mentioned his ‘niece’. They also cut Margaret and Benedick’s lines “who I think has legs.” “And therefore will come” which I remember hearing last time. No wonder half an hour has vanished.

To set up the temple scene, the two side blocks of the building slid back and were pushed off to either side; hence the disappearance of the musicians. They stayed in the same place, but the place itself moved back stage. I spotted Hero on the stairs this time, and when it came to finding Beatrice, Benedick was absolutely frantic, running here and there, finally asking which she was. Beatrice then tried to run off, but was prevented by a crowd of people and returned to face it out. The line “Peace! I will stop your mouths” was given back to Leonato, from whom a succession of editors had stolen it, and the shock of this forced kiss startled the pair at first. Then, with most of the others off stage, they decided to have another go, and spent quite some time in a passionate snog. After the messenger had brought the news of Don John’s capture, and Benedick had promised to sort him out tomorrow, the play ended with the servant girl finally handing Benedick the book he’d asked for several acts ago. It was funny, and a good way to end the drama part of the evening, but of course there was the dance to enjoy before we left. And enjoy it we did.

Some final points: I saw that Hero embraced her father before heading off for her marriage, so all was well there too, and in one of the later scenes Claudio referred to Benedick as “Bendy-dick” – Steve reckoned he heard this variation earlier as well. I did have a few sniffles this evening – emotions rather than a cold – but there was definitely more laughter than tears which is as it should be.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me