Private Lives – October 2012

10/10

By Noel Coward

Directed by Jonathan Kent

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Wednesday 10th October 2012

Another excellent performance from all the cast, with even more detail and even more laughs. No changes to report on the set or staging, although I forgot to mention last time about the Rites Of Spring dance which Amanda did specifically to annoy Elyot during Act 2. She did the modernistic choreography very well, and we learned in the post-show that Amanda’s flat was in the same street where Diaghilev’s company performed, so the choice of music and dance was both deliberate and effective.

Anna-Louise Plowman was much more kittenish tonight as Sybil, while Anthony Calf gave Victor a wider range of emotions. Toby Stephens was clearer tonight, and delivered some great lines with impeccable timing, and his scenes with Anna Chancellor showed a greater intimacy between the two main characters. The fight was still good fun too. The whole evening was just about as good as you can get with this play.

From the post-show we learned that they had deliberately avoided doing Noel Coward impersonations, which led to the dialogue sounding very modern and fresh. The director had insisted on running acts one and two together, which meant the technical crew had to work very hard to change the set in less than one minute! The cast had all contributed to the creation of each character, and had done a lot of work on the back stories too, including how they would have got to Deauville, how the cars would have been lifted off the ferry, etc. They weren’t expected to know their lines in advance – Jonathan Kent is apparently very good at creating a relaxed rehearsal room – but Anna Chancellor found that when the scene was right, the memorising would happen, not before. There were no understudies for this run – they just had to go on, which led to some stories from other productions where substitute actors had to read a part. Apparently Jonathan Kent had to go on for a missing actor during The Tempest at the Almeida, reading from the script. (You might think that would have taught him to cast understudies in the future, but obviously not.) The cast seemed to be having a good time with this production, and from the numbers staying behind tonight they were clearly doing a good job.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

King Lear – March 2012

10/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Andrew Hilton

Company: Shakespeare At The Tobacco Factory

Venue: Tobacco Factory

Date: Saturday 24th March 2012

Wow! This not only came on, it was significantly better than the earlier experience. I’ve upped the rating to the max, but it can’t really reflect just how good this performance was, with much more detail in all the portrayals, and a tremendous level of energy for the last performance of the run. I’ll cover as many points as I can remember, but I won’t be able to get it all down.

To begin with, I forgot to mention the music which was used so effectively in this production. It was mostly drums and trumpets, with fanfares for the arrival of important people and the like. We were also ‘treated’ to somebody’s musical ringtone for several seconds tonight which was a bit distracting, especially as it occurred during the bit where Regan is trying to persuade Lear to go back and stay with Goneril. They also used sound effects of hunting horns and dogs to convey the sense of Edgar being hunted, and therefore having to take on a disguise.

The opening section was much as before, although Kent and Gloucester were facing each other across the table at the start. Edmund was more clearly uncomfortable with the constant repetition of the story of his birth, not helped by his father mussing his hair, and his desire for advancement shone through in the obsequious way he offered his service to Kent. The entrance of the court was the same, but from our new angle I could see the reactions of the older daughters and their husbands much better tonight, and they were much more affected by Lear’s behaviour than I realised last time. Goneril was much more nervous than Regan, who came across as the more manipulative sister. I thought she might have been the much loved younger daughter at one point, and then along came Cordelia to spoil it all. Lear’s temper was much stronger this time, and his rage sent the other family members scuttling for cover. It made Goneril and Regan’s comments about his changeability quite plausible, and for once I felt they had reasonable grounds for complaint. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Kent was in my eye-line during Cordelia’s ‘nothing’ speech, and I could see how he approved of her comments. She was in fact being very reasonable, and Lear’s attitude was shown up as being completely deluded; Kent even used the word ‘mad’ to describe it, which didn’t please Lear. The Duke of Burgundy still had his cane with him, but didn’t need it this time, and after the court left, Edmund discussed the bastardy issue with us as usual but didn’t crumple the letter. As the servants cleared the soft furnishings, one threw the circlet onto the throne rather dismissively tonight.

The fool’s performance was much clearer than before, and he was very snappy with Lear in his opening scene, due to Lear having sent Cordelia away. I didn’t hear his lines ‘for so your eyes bid though your mouth…’ tonight, although there were other places where I heard lines I wasn’t used to. When he and Lear were sitting, waiting for the horses to be brought, Lear was more reflective this time.

I noticed the servants giggling behind Regan and Edmund when Kent was insulting everyone at Gloucester’s house, and it seemed clearer this time that Regan and Goneril were working out how to handle their father on the wing. Lear refused to weep at their mistreatment of him, but just then the thunder started, as if nature would do the weeping for him.

The fool didn’t give Poor Tom the close scrutiny he had last time; he was much more concerned about Lear. The blinding scene wasn’t any gorier from the other side, although my own vision was partly obscured by a combination of eyelids and hands. Edgar’s closing lines were a fitting ending, suggesting a brighter, if sadder, future. The rest was as before, and we left very happy that we’d seen such a tremendous performance.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

She Stoops To Conquer – February 2012

10/10

By Oliver Goldsmith

Directed by Jamie Lloyd

Venue: Olivier Theatre

Date: Wednesday 8th February 2012

This was a fabulous production which brought out all the humour in this classic comedy brilliantly. The cast did an excellent job, and the set and costumes set it all off perfectly.

The set first. Across the middle of the stage stretched a wall, suitable for the inside of an old manor house which looks like an inn. The fireplace in the centre was about twelve feet tall, and you could have roasted a couple of pigs in it no bother. The room had pictures on the wall, tables with fruit and drink, a sofa, an upholstered bench and a comfortable leather armchair. There was a large rug in the middle of the floor, another chair to the front and right, and a rustic chandelier hung from the non-existent ceiling. A door at either end of the wall allowed the characters on and off. Behind this wall we could see tree trunks but no greenery, and when we arrived there was plenty of birdsong to tell us we were in the country. At the start of each half we also heard some mooing and clucking, just to be sure we got the point.

For the scene in the inn, the revolve showed us the other side of the wall, which was a pretty basic country inn – wood panelling, window, couple of entrances – and there were tables and chairs for the customers. Strangely, there were also two tree trunks, one on either side of the stage, which appeared to be growing through the inn. Puzzling; I reckon it may be one of young Tony Lumpkin’s practical jokes.

The scene later in the garden was a lovely transformation. The revolve took the furniture to the back of the stage while the wall sank down to vanish completely. Assorted tree trunks were lowered into place, and with a squirt of mist and some atmospheric lighting we were in the perfect setting for either a dangerous isolated spot where robbers might pounce at any minute, or the (large) back garden of Mr Hardcastle’s residence.

The scene changes were covered by music from the cast, right from the start. They didn’t sing songs as such, just la-la-la and ba-ba-ba and suchlike, all very lively and enjoyable. I wasn’t sure about it at first, but when it came to the bigger scene changes, especially setting up the garden, I realised it was essential to do something to cover the hiatus. And if you’re going to do it then, you’d better get the audience used to it early on. So all in all I’m fine with that choice.

The costumes were splendid and totally in period from what I could tell – the National is usually reliable in these matters – and there were plenty of servants in this household, not to mention plenty of customers at the inn. The performances of the supporting actors were excellent with lots of good reactions helping the humour, especially in the scene where Mr Hardcastle tried to teach his servants how to behave in front of company. I loved the way they all tried not to laugh when one of them mentioned Mr Hardcastle’s funniest tale (old Grouse in the gun-room) but failed, and ended up roaring with laughter – his servants clearly loved his stories.

The plot has a lot of information to get across, and the clarity of the lines was tremendous. I know the story of old, but I found myself hearing more of the dialogue than before, and the way Sophie Thompson as Mrs Hardcastle emphasised the relevant bits for us was very helpful, and very funny. I suspect no one missed the crucial information that the manor house looked like an inn, wink, wink.

The play opened with singing from the servants, who appeared in a group at each doorway. Mr and Mrs Hardcastle came on for the first scene and got us off to a good start, with some funny descriptions of their neighbours as well as the info about the house (see above). When Tony Lumpkin came on, he was eating a chicken drumstick and used it to prepare himself for his night out, rubbing it on various intimate areas to transfer the scent. What put a lot of the audience off was that he then carried on eating it! His exit was very funny; Mrs Hardcastle was so desperate for him to stay with them that evening that she clung on to him and was dragged off stage, sliding across the floor behind him and out of the door which the servants helpfully held open.

Then we had a scene between Mr Hardcastle and his daughter, Kate, telling us about their arrangement whereby she’ll be wearing ordinary clothes instead of her finery later on that evening. I was struck by a stray thought at the start of this scene; when I heard Mr Hardcastle refer to his daughter as Kate, I immediately thought of The Taming of the Shrew. We’d seen the play recently at Stratford, and it occurred to me that this play was a kind of mirror image of that one. Instead of Kate being a shrew and Mr Marlowe a brawling sort of chap, this Kate is self-assured and very reasonable, while Marlowe is the strange character, bold with the lower class women he meets, but hardly able to say a word to ladies of his own class. The analogy took my fancy, and I found myself looking for further evidence during the performance; it didn’t spoil my enjoyment in any way, and although I have no knowledge of Oliver Goldsmith’s intentions in writing this piece, considering the similarities between the two plays has been an interesting process.

After Mr Hardcastle has told his daughter about the imminent arrival of Mr Marlowe, the son of his old friend, to be her suitor, and she and her step-mother’s niece, Miss Constance Neville, have informed us that Mr Marlowe is a close friend of Mr Hastings, Miss Neville’s intended, the scene changed to the inn, where Tony Lumpkin was enjoying himself with lots of beer. And then lots more beer. And then more beer. He sank a yard of the stuff and threw it up into a bucket. The company was lively, and then the two men we’d been hearing about, Mr Marlowe and Mr Hastings, arrived, looking for directions to Mr Hardcastle’s house. Their clothes and manners made them stand out immediately from the local rustics, and Mr Hardcastle’s comments about foppish London behaviour and excessive frippery were perfectly expressed by these two characters. Their costumes were splendid, and their discomfort at finding themselves amongst such rough company was very funny.

With Tony Lumpkin being unhappy about Mr Hardcastle’s attitude towards him, he decided to play a trick on these two. He told them they were too far out of their way to get Mr Hardcastle’s house that night, and then sent them off to the very place, telling them it was an inn they could stay at. He also provided them with a couple of mugs of ale, scooped from the bucket he’d just thrown up in.  They were given these mugs early on in the scene but didn’t drink any until the very end, when they took a swig each and paused before declaring the contents to be quite good. By that time the audience had got over its squeamishness, and had a good laugh at the well delayed joke.

The next scene was the very funny lesson Mr Hardcastle gave his servants, at the end of which he heard the coach arrive and went off to welcome his guests. Mr Hastings and Mr Marlowe entered, and in Mr Hardcastle’s absence we have plenty of time to learn about these two men. Mr Hastings was interested in seeing Miss Neville and running off with her if possible, while Mr Marlowe’s difficulties with the fair sex were expounded at length. When Mr Hardcastle returned, we started to reap the fruits of the earlier scene’s preparations, as Mr Hardcastle attempted to talk with his ‘guests’, while they talked to each other and ignored ‘the landlord’ as much as possible.

To show how relaxed the two men were at the ‘inn’, Hastings took some fruit from the bowl on the sideboard early on and threw the orange to Marlowe, keeping the apple for himself. Marlowe peeled this orange during their conversation, dropping the bits of peel on the floor, which certainly showed that he had no consideration for the place. Unfortunately, nothing more was done with this peel until the servants cleaned it up a couple of scenes later, so we had to put up with actors nearly treading on it and skirts sweeping bits of it around the stage with no pay off. It didn’t spoil my enjoyment, but it didn’t add anything either, and was a minor distraction.

Marlowe headed off to check his bedroom followed by Hardcastle, leaving Hastings alone on stage, but not for long. Miss Neville entered and Hastings was soon disabused of the notion that he was at an inn. When Marlowe returned, the couple arrange for him to meet Miss Hardcastle who at this point was still dressed as fine lady. Marlowe’s problems were not exaggerated; his difficulty in talking with Miss Hardcastle was extreme, and very funny for us. Hastings and Miss Neville stayed for a bit to egg him on, and then left Marlowe alone with Kate; Marlowe’s reaction to their leaving was another comic masterpiece.

The conversation between Marlowe and Kate was very good fun, with Marlowe never looking at her. She completed his sentences after a reasonable pause, and he left the room as soon as he decently could. Hastings and Miss Neville returned almost immediately, with Tony Lumpkin and Mrs Hardcastle. To keep her jewels in the family, Mrs Hardcastle has been working hard to get her son to marry Miss Neville, while she has been pretending to cooperate in order to get her hands on the jewels for herself. So in this scene, she cuddled up to a hostile Tony, while Hastings charmed Mrs Hardcastle. This was another example of Sophie Thompson’s excellent comedy performance. She managed to put on an almost unintelligible accent; we could tell she was trying to talk posh, and failing completely. Every so often she would lapse into her normal country accent, which was actually easier to follow, and Hastings complimented her on her taste and style as fulsomely as he could. When he was suggesting a new age which was the latest fashion in town, there was a lovely pause while he decided how far to go; his choice of “fifty” was very astute.

With Mrs Hardcastle and Constance out of the way, Hastings persuaded Tony Lumpkin to join in the elopement plan. I think the interval was taken after this scene, and then we restarted with another singing fest from the servants, which ended up with Mr Hardcastle standing in his own drawing room holding a pair of boots which Marlowe has given him to clean. When Kate arrived, now dressed much more simply, they discussed the man and have completely different points of view, naturally. Although they were both keen to reject him as a future husband for Kate, she was at least willing to give him another chance and her father agreed, while at the same time doubting that he’ll change his mind.

Tony had stolen Constance’s jewels from his mother, and gave them to Hastings. Unfortunately, unaware of this development, Constance was still trying to persuade her aunt to let her have the jewels, and when they come into the room, Tony suggested to his mother that she tell Constance the jewels have gone, been lost or whatever, to stop her asking for them. Mrs Hardcastle jumped at the chance to keep hold of the gems, and went along with this story. She did offer to let Constance have her garnets, though, which meant the theft of the other jewels was discovered earlier than anyone wanted. (Anyone that mattered, that is.) While Mrs Hardcastle wailed and shouted about the jewels actually being gone, Tony supported her in the ‘story’, winding her up even more.

As Kate prepared to meet Mr Marlowe on different terms, she had a short discussion with a couple of the servants (only one in the text). Kate was sure she could carry off the deception; the maids weren’t so convinced by her acting skills, but didn’t like to disagree and reassured her she’d be fine. Mind you, it took her some time to get Mr Marlowe to look at her at all. He was very preoccupied by his situation and determined to return to London the next day, and she was posing ever more provocatively to get him to notice her. Once he did, though, she had to move pretty fast to keep his hands off her, but didn’t quite manage it. Just as Marlowe was about to take advantage, Mr Hardcastle came into the room and was naturally astounded by what he saw. Marlowe fled immediately, and Kate had to haggle with her father to get another hour to prove that Mr Marlowe was not as he seemed.

With Marlowe’s father about to arrive any minute – Marlowe himself was still under the impression that he was at an inn – the jewels found their way back to Mrs Hardcastle as Hastings had left them with his friend for safekeeping, and he naturally thought to leave them with the’ landlady’ of the inn. Hardcastle took him to task for ordering his servants to drink as much as they could, and there was a lovely confrontation between them over this. Hardcastle ended up thrusting a lot of the furnishings into Marlowe’s arms, even breaking a painting over his head, and then stormed off in a temper. At long last Marlowe began to realise his mistake, and when he spoke to Kate next she confirmed the truth, that he was indeed in the house of his father’s friend. She didn’t tell him all, though; she stayed in the character of a poor relation of the family, and in short order got the declaration of love she was looking for.

On the jewels front, Tony had assured his mother it was simply a mistake of the servants, and he and Constance pretend to be fond of one another again to keep her happy. This time, they were almost at it on the bench in front of the fire when she came in, and when they broke off it was to act nice and play nasty. He twisted her hand, she slapped his cheek, that sort of thing. Unfortunately, a letter arrived for Tony from Hastings, but as Tony couldn’t read very well he asked his mother to read it out. Constance realised who it was from and took it herself, giving a false reading of the contents. But she made the mistake of inventing a plausible message that actually interested Tony, about fighting cocks and such. When she refused to read all the details, Mrs Hardcastle took on the job herself, and discovered the whole elopement plot. Her temper was very entertaining, especially when she made a very deep curtsey and needed help to get up – one of the funniest moments of the play.

Her decision to take Constance immediately to her aunt Pedigree allowed Tony to play another trick, and he lead the coach up, down and around until both ladies were completely shaken up, jarred to bits and lost. In the garden scene Tony told his mother, whose dress was now dirty from the horse pond, to hide if anyone came along. Mr Hardastle, taking a turn in his garden before bed, found Tony there, and because she was worried about his safety Mrs Hardcastle takes the brave step of coming out of hiding to tell the robbers to leave her son alone. Discovering his trick, she chased him into the house, followed by Hardcastle, and shortly afterwards Constance and Hastings. She was no longer prepared to elope that night, partly because of the journey she’d just had, but mainly because she’d realised that poverty wasn’t the greatest way to start a marriage and she wanted to ask Mr Hardcastle to take pity on them.

Meanwhile Marlowe’s father, Sir Charles Marlowe, had arrived, and yet again there were two competing opinions of young Marlowe’s behaviour, with Marlowe himself claiming he only met Kate once and hardly said anything to her, and Kate asserting that they had met several times, and that Mr Marlowe had, in fact, declared his love for her unequivocally. To find out the truth, Kate arranged for both fathers to overhear her final interview with Marlowe, in which she talked more like herself and he ended up kneeling as if to propose. At this point, Sir Charles leapt out of hiding (they hadn’t been quiet the rest of the time either) and all was revealed. With the remaining characters coming on stage as well, the final discovery regarding Tony Lumpkin solved all problems, and they finished with a rousing dance before taking their bows. Sophie Thompson did another deep curtsey and needed to be helped up – an enjoyable reprise.

Even with the scene changes the cast kept the energy up throughout the performance, and I would really like to see this one again.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Noises Off – February 2012

10/10

By Michael Frayn

Directed by Lindsay Posner

Venue: Old Vic Theatre

Date: Wednesday 1st February 2012

I’m having a bit of difficulty rating this performance. We saw the first production of this play back in 1982 at the Savoy theatre, and it was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen on stage. I was laughing all the way home and into next week – I hurt from laughing. It would be unfair to expect this production to reach those heights especially as it didn’t have the advantage of surprise, but if I give it 9/10 it would be unfair. So I guess I’ll just have to rate the first production as 11/10, and leave it at that.

This cast were just wonderful in recreating these roles, and the script was just as funny as before. I particularly liked Robert Glenister as the director, Lloyd Dallas, who gets some of the funniest lines, but everyone was very good and there were no weak links. The set has to be the same, of course, this being farce. There’s no point going into the details of the story; I will just mention that reading the play text added to my enjoyment, as there are some very funny descriptions of the characters.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Heart Of Robin Hood – January 2012

10/10

By David Farr

Directed by Gisli Örn Gardarsson

Venue: RST

Date: Wednesday 4th January 2012

This was a fantastic Christmas show for kids of all ages! Written by David Farr, the story was based on the Yorkshire version of Robin Hood, back before he became a good-looking defender of the poor in revealing tights. Admittedly this Robin was also good looking, but his leather trousers weren’t as revealing as tights, and at the start of the story he’s not remotely interested in giving anything to the poor at all. It’s only through the intervention of Marion, or Martin of Sherwood as she became, that his heart began to open and he turned into the hero we’ve been led to expect in recent years. There was a post-show chat (naturally) and I’ve included some of the comments from that in my description below.

David Farr brought in a creative team from Iceland to help him realise his ideas on the main Stratford stage. This was an excellent choice. Börkur Jonsson designed an amazing set which really contributed to the physicality and magic of the performance. At the back was a steeply sloping wall of artificial grass, which came down in the region of the old proscenium arch. It had several sections within it which could be lowered to form platforms which represented various bits of the castle, and there were also holes through which several heads appeared for the cathedral scene – more on that story later. Above the stage hung the branches of a mighty oak; mighty scary to sit in, apparently, especially when the artificial snow made the branches wet! But these actors are tougher than they look, except for the excellent actor, also Icelandic, who played Pierre, the clown character. They had planned to set the opening scene actually in the branches, but apart from realising that the actors were hard to see up there, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (Darri) has a greater affinity for solid ground, and as he opens the play, that was that as far as Pierre was concerned.

The rest of the stage, the walkways and even the steps up to the stage in front, were all covered in artificial grass. There was a pond to the right of centre stage, with a few tufts of grass masking it from our view. The water tank wasn’t that deep, we were told later, but although the water was warm at the start, it got very cold by the end, so poor Alice, who spends lots of time in there in the final scene, ended up shivering and wanting the rest of the cast to hurry up and finish. The surface of the stage was all lumpy – god knows how there weren’t more accidents, although they did say there had been a few during the run. (The main problem seemed to be friction burns when they were learning how to slide down the grassy slope in the first few weeks.) Apart from all of this, there were at least a couple of trapdoors, one to the left of the stage, and another in the front right corner – they’re making good use of the excellent resources they have in their new theatre – and lots of ropes everywhere for vertical entrances and exits.

The performance style was really interesting. It’s a darker piece than I expected for a family show, but they kept it light through massive amounts of humour all the way through. Of course the kids loved the yucky bits, such as a tongue being cut out and waved around a lot, and given the nature of children’s stories through the ages, this wasn’t going to give them any nightmares. But there were also bits for us ‘grown-ups’ to enjoy, such as the reference to Jaws – a shark’s fin crossing the pond while the music played – and even a reference to Malvolio in Twelfth Night when Prince John is being taken away at the end and says “I’ll have my revenge on every one of you”. But mostly the humour crossed the age boundaries and gave us all a lot of fun. One of my favourite scenes was the puppetry session, with the recently deceased Guy of Gisborne (Tim Treloar) being manipulated by Little John to have a silent (on his part) conversation with Prince John. It was a masterpiece of movement, with a final rude gesture to the departing Prince causing a lot of laughter.

The play opened with Pierre introducing himself to us, and framing the story as an explanation of how he, a posh servant with fancy clothes and meringue-styled hair, had come to be a country lover with simple tastes. Pierre is the servant of Marion, daughter of the Duke of York who is away in the Holy Land, helping King Richard on crusade. She’s just received a letter from her father which says he’s going to be another year at least, and with her guardian wanting to marry her off, and Prince John due to visit the castle, she decides to head off into the forest and seek out Robin Hood. She may be a sensible sort of tomboy, but she still has romantic notions about the man, thinking he’s a noble outlaw who steals from the rich to give to the poor. We’ve already seen him stealing from a couple of rich folk, the very folk who bring Marion the letter from her father, and Robin showed no sign of helping anyone but himself. When Marion finds him, she realises the mistake she’s made, and leaves the forest temporarily. However, when she nears the castle, her sister finds her and delivers the news that Prince John has arrived and wants to see Marion straightaway. Knowing that he intends to make her his bride, she dons a disguise and returns to the forest as Martin of Sherwood, determined to be the noble outlaw she believed Robin Hood to be, by stealing from the rich to help the poor.

Thwarted in his ambition to meet his future bride, Prince John isn’t too pleased. He’s in the area for more than his wedding, though – his men are out collecting the Holy Contribution, which the Prince says is to help his brother in the Holy Land. Not all the locals are happy with this extra tax burden, and one man, Robert Summers, is actively speaking out against it. To make an example, he and his two children are arrested; after he is hanged, his son is made to proclaim his own father a bad person, and not only support the Holy Contribution, but even express his devotion to Prince John himself. Of course, young Jethro Summers only does it to save his sister, Sarah, but their future is anything but secure.

Meanwhile, back in the forest, and after a few weeks of Martin’s new rob-the-rich-feed-the-poor regime, Robin and his men are finding it hard to rob anyone, as all the carriages passing through the forest have already been picked clean. This is an affront to their territorial rights as outlaws, so they disguise themselves as rich travellers to smoke out their competitor. When Martin (with Pierre, who’s now called Peter) tries to rob them, they reveal themselves, and Martin realises she’s taken on more than she can handle. When Robin and his men insist that Martin and Peter strip naked so they can steal their clothes, Martin is terrified that she’ll be discovered, and makes a rash gamble. She bets her clothes that she can beat one of them in a fight, and loses. Despite this, she’s still determined not to give herself away, so she proposes another bet, with the stake this time being her life. Robin accepts, and after an even harder struggle, she’s beaten again. Before he can execute her, though, a peasant woman arrives, asking for her help to rescue the two Summers children who are being held in the castle.

For the first time, with two children’s lives at risk, even Robin’s men are keen to help somebody other than themselves. Robin just wants to get on with the execution, but the pleas from all and sundry make him rethink, especially when Martin claims to know a way to get into the castle. When Jethro had made his false proclamation to save his sister, the executioner who had been summoned to convey the explicit threat, is ordered away again. Only it isn’t the real executioner, it’s Robin Hood, and his men are with him. After a big fight, they rescue the children and escape back to the forest, leaving Prince John fuming.

There was a short scene which in the text was meant to be the Duke of York, Marion’s father, speaking a message to Marion to tell her that Prince John is planning an uprising, and that he’s on his way to prevent it. He tells her to do all she can to delay things until he gets there. In performance, it was done by her guardian, Makepeace, reading the letter that’s arrived for her, and naturally being disturbed by the news. Rather rashly, he confronts John in a later scene, and this leads to his tongue being cut out by Gisborne, Prince John’s right hand psychopath, and as nasty a piece of work as the Prince himself, if not nastier.

In the forest, however, Martin ends up chatting to Robin about his no women in the forest policy. She discovers that he did meet a woman, once, who was different to all the rest, and it’s clear he means Marion herself. Unfortunately, she’s in no position to reveal herself to him, but she does a short while later, to the dog, Plug. She doesn’t realise that Sarah has been listening until she turns around and sees her standing there. Sarah hasn’t spoken since her father’s death though, so her secret’s pretty safe, for now.

Gisborne, on John’s orders, has inflamed the locals to hunt down and kill the demonically possessed children. At the same time Alice, the Duke of York’s other daughter, is out in the forest looking for her sister when she’s surprised by the outlaw band. Marion, still disguised as Martin, gets into an argument with her and the others let her get on with it, but it soon turns out they’re all in deep trouble. The townsfolk have them surrounded, and are coming for the children. Marion realises her only chance of saving them is to return to the castle as herself and persuade Prince John to spare their lives; she doesn’t actually spell it out, but we can see what she’s planning.

Back at the castle, she discovers that Makepeace has lost his tongue, and he helps her to get changed into a posh frock. Prince John is delighted to see her; although he’s not keen on women having a say in any important matter, he is swayed by her request for the children’s lives to be spared as a gift to his new bride. Despite her revulsion, she goes along with the Prince’s wishes, even though he’s already set their wedding date for Christmas day, only three days away! In the forest, with the children captured, Gisborne comes to the rescue just in time with the order from Prince John. Apparently the demons in the children can be removed by a spot of holy water shaken onto them, which Gisborne does, reciting some Latin as he does so. The “expelliamus” which this line started with was an entertaining reference to Harry Potter. Gisborne’s expression was less than delighted – murdering children isn’t just another job for him, it’s a real vocation – but he lets Robin take the children with him, as he has no orders to prevent it.

With only three days to go till the wedding, there’s a lot to do. Most importantly, Marion has to be shriven so that she can be pure on her wedding day. For this reason, she has to visit the Cathedral and meet with the Bishop. In the forest, Robin and his men are getting very worried about Martin – there’s been no sign of him since he left on his secret mission to stop the children being killed. When Much brings the news of the impending marriage between Prince John and Marion, both Pierre and Robin are appalled, though they try to cover up their concern. To help Marion, Pierre suggests they try to rescue Martin, and Robin actually agrees immediately. Pierre is left behind to take care of the children, and the others head off to the castle.

In the Cathedral, the Bishop’s face is peeking through the central hole in the ramp, with one hand sticking out of each side hole, several feet away! He’s hearing confessions, and the first three who come in are obviously Much, Will and Little John. Robin is next, and his confession is for a sin he’s about to do, i.e. replace the Bishop so he can talk with Marion. Once he’s done this, it’s his face peering through the central hole in the back wall, with two hands appearing at the side holes. His men don wimples and look out through two other holes which appeared higher up and to each side, and when Little John joins in, his hole is below Robin’s. (Do behave.)

Marion’s ‘confession’ was more a chat about Martin, and how Robin could get him out of the castle. They arranged something – didn’t catch all the details – and then Prince John returned to take her away. In the meantime, Gisborne has attempted to capture the children, and although he hasn’t managed that, Pierre has lost them as well, and is in despair. The children are wandering through the forest, and come across the Green Man, who descends on a rope and gives them three wishes. The first was for food, which they’d already eaten. The second was to see their father; their father appeared again and walked over to the front of the stage where a woman was doing some rope work. I realised it was their mother before the Green Man identified her. Jethro’s third wish was for Sarah to speak again – not in the Green Man’s power to grant.

When Robin returned to the forest, he discovered Pierre on his own, and realised that he hadn’t taken enough care of the children. Gisborne also turns up and Robin kills him, which gives him the idea for how to get into the castle. They turn up at the castle gates, with Robin apparently killed and hanging upside down, while Much and Will are off to one side, apparently tied up. This was where Gisborne did his puppet routine, and very funny it was too. Of course, Marion is very upset because she believes what she sees, but when she approaches the ‘corpse’ she learns the truth.

It’s looking good for her escape now, as all she has to do is a quick change into Martin’s clothes and be off with Robin. But unfortunately Alice turns up and spoils the whole thing, calling for the guards. With Robin recaptured, properly this time, Martin goes to fetch Marion, who does her best to save Robin. John isn’t feeling so friendly this time, though, and actually slaps her for suggesting he spare Robin’s life. Nasty.

Fortunately, Pierre has managed a bit of robbery on his own. He steals Lord something-or-other’s identity, and by pretending to be on John’s side, gets the guard in charge of the prisoners to give him his gun and then the keys, enabling him to free Robin and his men. During the wedding, when the bishop asks if anyone knows of any reason, etc., Sarah finally speaks again, and tells everyone that Marion is actually in love with another man. John is busy trying to get back to the wedding ceremnoy, but when he calls in the soldiers to take the girl away, who should they be but Robin, Much and Will! Big fight, a very big fight. Alice ends up in the pond (described as the font in the text), and Robin, Marion and the others defeat the Prince of Evil just before the Duke of York turns up to arrest him. Despite Robin’s complete lack of social status, the Duke bows to the inevitable (he clearly knows his daughter well) and accepts Robin as his future son-in-law. Given their history, the only place for the wedding is in the forest, so they all head off there. At the very end, Alice suddenly sticks her head up out of the pond, clambers out, and realising we’re all looking at her, smoothes back her hair and starts to preen herself on the way out, no easy task as she’s dripping wet and only has one shoe on. A very funny ending.

That’s just the basics of the story, an amazing amount to cram in, but they did it so well and so fast that we took it all in and the time just flew by. There was a lot of humour in the performance, and a lot of music, with many of the cast playing instruments as well as acting, throwing themselves down the ramp, etc, occasionally at the same time! The animals were particularly good, with an actor and a musical instrument combining to represent the various creatures. For example, there was a white duck which was one of the actresses done up in a white tutu affair and playing a clarinet(?) waddling across the stage. She was very flexible – squatting and walking at the same time isn’t easy. This was during a scene with Prince John talking to either Makepeace or Gisborne. The Prince tried to shoot the duck, but it ducked out of sight down one of the trapdoors each time, so he missed. The other character kept handing the Prince another loaded gun, so he had several goes, but we were glad the duck got the better of him and survived. Actually, Steve thought the white bird was a swan (we were in Stratford, after all) while I thought it was a goose. We were able to get the correct identification afterwards.

There was also a boar which attacked the children in the forest; this was an actor with a cello, and after they killed the boar – a brave act by young Jethro – they kept the cello while the actor slipped off stage, and roasted it over a fire. All of this was very evocative, but the best of all was the performance of Plug the dog (Peter Bray). Similar to Crab in The Two Gentlemen Of Verona during the RSC Complete Works Festival, Jethro’s dog was played by an actor, who used a woodwind instrument (possibly an oboe?) to make the dog noises. He was great fun, cocking his leg at the audience, and generally being a regular dog. Of course he snarled at the baddies and bit Gisborne, and we all loved him enormously.

There were too many good bits to record them all, but I’ll just mention a few extra funny moments. There was the wonderful way Pierre said “We!” when Marion was talking about how “we” could go to the forest, etc. It was a lovely performance all the way through by Darri, and I do hope they can cast him in something else in the future – he’d make a great Falstaff. And when Marion first met Robin in the forest, his men were all off stage, but Little John, played by a very short actor, Michael Walter, rose up through the trapdoor on the left as she was saying “you and your merry…”. She paused, looking at him, and then finished the line with “man”. Very funny. When Marion first appears as Martin, she’s spotted by Prince John, who chats to her for a bit. She ends up with a limp, thanks to a contribution from Pierre, and the Prince ends up believing her attitudes towards women are entirely in tune with his own. He’s almost overcome at one point – it’s so rare for him to find anyone who understands his point of view. Apparently David Farr allowed the actors free rein to embellish the characters themselves, and Martin Hutson, as Prince John, certainly brought out the Prince’s inner psychopath very clearly. Alice (Flora Montgomery) was also very funny, being completely obsessed with appearance and social status. She’d have been more than happy to marry Prince John herself, but he did have some standards.

The rest of the cast all did a good job too, and the whole production was really entertaining. It didn’t matter that the fight scenes were a bit confusing, that I couldn’t make out all of the dialogue, nor that there was a lot of chatter from young voices to contend with; it was such good fun, and had so much energy all the way through, that I totally enjoyed myself. And from the enthusiastic questions from the youngsters afterwards at the post-show, so had they.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Steeleye Span – December 2011

Martletss Hall, Burgess Hill   8/10

Sunday 18th December 2011

Lineup: Liam Genocky, Rick Kemp, Peter Knight, Julian Littman, Maddy Prior, Pete Zorn,

Two concerts in two nights! Life is good. Night one, in Burgess Hill, was excellent. It was a bit cold on stage apparently, and it took them a couple of numbers to fully warm up. Maddy wore a patterned print jacket, white blouse, black skirt for the first half, and a swirly blue skirt with shot silk jacket, blue and crimson, for the second half.

First half songs:

Seven Hundred Elves – not a bad start

Drink Down The Moon – fine

Now We Are Six (3 Riddles) – got them all

Thomas the Rhymer – the original is my favourite Steeleye, but this was good fun too. I thought the fiddle and flute weren’t differentiated enough, so those sections were a bit of a muddle, but it’s such a good song that it was great to hear it again.

Mooncoin Jig – excellent. Peter did the intro, and while mentioning the retail opportunity, he told us of a new type of guarantee – if you buy the new Gigspanner CD and don’t like it, send it back to him, and he’ll send you a CD he doesn’t like. Very fair.

Edwin – Rick was in fine singing voice, even if the introduction was up to his usual level of strangeness.

Long A-growing – very good version

Two Magicians – good fun

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star – excellent. Peter’s fiddle playing was clear and bright, and his solo absolutely magical, as always. A lovely updating.

To Know Him Is To Love Him – I never liked the original much; I know it’s just a bit of fun, but Maddy’s voice was just too little-girly for me. This was much better, and I actually enjoyed it. A lot. David Bowie’s stand-in on saxophone was the multi-talented Pete Zorn, of course.

Second half songs:

Today in Bethlehem – from Winter. This was their Christmas selection, all from the same album. I love this one.

Sing We The Virgin Mary – not a favourite, but the fiddle solo was lovely

Bright Morning Star – took a couple of verses to warm up, then a great sound

The Two Constant Lovers – fine

Edward – rocking!

Who Told The Butcher – good

Creeping Jane – also good

Cold, Haily, Windy Night – or ‘Eric’, as Rick likes to call it. (So that his three songs all begin with an ‘E’.) The intro was another lovely ramble through the magic land that is Rick’s mind. As well as trying to flog one of his guitars, he told us about the group getting way off key during the start of this song last night. He claimed that he was only telling us because he felt comfortable sharing with Burgess Hill; he wouldn’t mention it tomorrow night at the Barbican….. We shall see.

Bonny Black Hare – seriously rocking!

Encores: (no surprises here)

All Around My Hat – were we better than Margate? I think we should be told!

Gaudete – lovely

That’s it till tomorrow. Picked up the new CD plus some extra clothes, as usual.

Barbican Hall     10/10

Monday 19th December 2011

Night two – the Barbican. With special guests The Acoustic Strawbs, Martin Carthy and John Spiers. What would change from last night? Well, the sound was much better, and Steeleye were property warmed up from the start. They cut the intros to the bare minimum for the first half. Songs as for the previous night, Maddy’s outfit the same too, for both halves.

700 elves

Drink down the moon

3 Riddles

Thomas the Rhymer – better than last night

Mooncoin Jig – had to visit the loo, but could still hear most of it on the speakers.

Edwin

Long A-growing

Two Magicians

Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star – Maddy dedicated this to Dr Brian Cox, same as last night, and the fiddle solo was just as good, too

To Know Him Is To Love Him – even better, or maybe I’m getting used to it.

After this set, the compère, Kevin Donnelly, rambled on for a bit in a mildly entertaining way while the crew set up the stage for the Acoustic Strawbs. I don’t know the names of some of their songs, so I’ve identified them by any lines I could make out. Their set consisted of:

‘Bless the day’

‘I was blind but now I see’

Ghosts

‘May you rot/ may you rest’

Autumn

Lay Down – we were invited to join in

The King – with Maddy – a world premiere live performance!

The sound setup for them wasn’t great, which may account for my not enjoying their set very much. Dave Cousins did the ‘retail opportunity’ speech after the third or fourth song, and did it very entertainingly. Given the lack of Steeleye intros, he was able to use the ‘special guarantee’ joke – if you don’t like our CD, send it back….etc.

2nd half – Steeleye

Edward – still good

Two Constant Lovers – probably enjoyed it more than last night. Good fiddle solo; he’d been picking the strings during the verses, so when he unleashed the full sound with his bow, it was lovely. Peter repeated his story from last night about the East Sussex version of this song – it’s too short, cause the bloke pushes her over the cliff!

Bright morning star – apart from Gaudete, their only Christmas number

Then they were joined by Martin Carthy and John Spiers (accordion) for:

Padstow – we gave the final ‘wesus’ some welly

Bedlam Boys – good fun

The Lark In The Morning – lovely

Bryan O’Lynn/The Hag With The Money (jigs) – nice and lively

This section was a bit rougher round the edges, but then they wouldn’t have had a lot of rehearsal time. Martin and John then left, and the current lineup completed their set with the final two from last night:

Eric – that’s Cold, Haily, Windy Night to us. Rick did explain the alternative title, but true to his word, he didn’t mention the problems from the night before last!

Bonny Black Hare – still great. They’ve extended the live intro to give Rick a bass solo.

Encores:

All around my hat – with Martin, John and Dave Cousins from the Acoustic Strawbs joining in. We were good, but were we as good as last night? Or Margate?

Gaudete – even stronger with the extra support. Lovely finish.

A great evening, and Steve’s only question was, why didn’t we book for more? Good question.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Othello – October 2011

10/10

By: William Shakespeare

Directed by: Daniel Evans

Venue: Crucible Theatre

Date: Monday 3rd October 2011

This was our maiden voyage as far as the Crucible is concerned. I found myself getting very excited – I love watching the snooker World Championships, and here I was, in the very building! I took a few minutes after we sat down to see where everything went for the snooker, so that I could put that to one side, and concentrate on the play.

The set was interesting, and effective. A large octagonal platform, sloping towards the front, occupied most of the space. There was a large eight-sided star design on it, suggesting the geometric patterns used in Islam, although it didn’t look particularly Islamic to me. The back wall was made of stone, with strategic gaps here and there. Two very tall wooden doors were placed in the middle, and there were mini arches along the top, along with some carving above the door. Some steps went nowhere on the left hand side – these were used as a platform for the herald, announcing the celebrations for Othello’s nuptials on Cyprus, and also supplied a sort of hiding place when required. Lights were lowered occasionally, and also the curtains for the wedding bed in the final act. Furniture was brought on and off as needed, and didn’t get in the way of the action. There were steps up to the platform all around the back of it. We sat to the left of the stage, and had an excellent view throughout – very little blocking, although we also saw a lot of backs through the performance.

The opening scene between Iago and Roderigo took a little while to get going for me. Dominic West had chosen a local accent for his Iago, and the unexpected sound took me by surprise. Silly really, given our location. Anyway I tuned in pretty quickly, and had very little difficulty later on. I still got the gist of the scene, and that was one of the great things about this production. They told the story really well, so that even when I didn’t catch all of the dialogue, I could see the characters’ emotions and thoughts clearly, as well as the connections of cause and effect which underpin this tragedy.

Roderigo was the same snivelling little brat we know and love so well from previous productions. Brabantio was weaker in this production than we’re used to, but he did well enough to keep the story going. I did like the way that Iago paused before the word ‘senator’ when replying to Brabantio’s insult ‘Thou art a villain’. As a general point, the exits and entrances didn’t exactly overlap as they do in some Shakespeare productions, but they were brisk, which helped to keep the running time down.

The next scene is our first sight of Othello, and Clarke Peters did a superb job with this part. In this scene he’s calm, reasoned and authoritative, stopping the fighting before anyone gets hurt. I did find myself wondering why Desdemona doesn’t appear at this point, although I accept her entrance has a better dramatic effect in the following scene, which starts with the Duke and two senators discussing the threat from the Turkish fleet. It’s always a bit absurd to have the various messages come so fast – the fleet must be travelling at a fair old clip to make such progress – but we’ll allow the artistic licence. This production made the political and military situation nice and clear, so the need for Othello’s services and the respect in which he’s held were well established by the end of this section.

When Desdemona enters she’s covered by a white veil. She removes it when asked to speak and gives it to Iago, who threw it aside. Roderigo must have retrieved it, as he’s clutching it later on. Now there’s always a dilemma when casting the young heroine parts in Shakespeare – do you go for a young, inexperienced actress who can easily represent youth, beauty, naivety, etc., or do you opt for a more experienced actress who can deliver the lines better, but whom the audience has to imagine to be a young girl? This dilemma was thrown into sharp relief for us earlier this year, when we heard Jane Lapotaire delivering a speech of Juliet’s at an event at the Birthplace Trust. No longer a young girl, she still had us believing every word of her speech, such was her ability to convey the thoughts and emotions in every line. The choice tonight was youth all the way, which may have engaged the younger audience members, but left us with a slightly weaker Desdemona than I would have liked to begin with. I warmed to her performance though, and she certainly made the age difference apparent.

When everyone else has left, Roderigo comes to centre stage, clutching the veil Desdemona has left behind, inhaling it to catch her scent, the poor fool. Iago has to work hard to talk him out of drowning himself, but of course he succeeds. His own plans are laid, and I felt his motivation was pretty clear tonight – he’s unhappy at his treatment by Othello, and only too ready to use the suspicion that Othello’s had his wife as justification for his wickedness. There were two significant things about this performance which made it stand out; one was Iago’s totally convincing acting when talking to Othello about Desdemona, and the other was his total presence, always listening intently to pick up extra clues that he can use to his own advantage. He noticed Desdemona’s line about Cassio ‘that came awooing with you’, and that triggered one of his questions to Othello later.

Back to the play: we’re now in Cyprus, and there’s a storm raging, which eventually disperses the Turkish fleet without harming any of the Venetian vessels – how fortunate. Yet again, they saw no need to drench everyone in real water to make the storm ‘real’, thank goodness. Desdemona’s banter with Iago seemed longer this time, and I understood more of it.

The action comes thick and fast now. I spotted that the fateful handkerchief is in Othello’s hand when he and Desdemona head off to bed. Later, Emilia comments that it was Othello’s first gift to Desdemona after their marriage, which explains why Cassio didn’t recognise it. The drinking bout soon had Cassio incapable, and almost without his breeches as well, sitting in a trunk. After the quarrel with Roderigo, Cassio injured Montano, whose wound only bled on the napkin and left his shirt untouched – very helpful to the wardrobe department, I’m sure. Iago’s apparent slip in fingering Michael Cassio as the cause of the rumpus was very well done, and again he acted completely like a man who wanted to help his friend, while actually digging a deeper hole for him to fall into. When he fired Cassio, Othello took his sword and cut through the sash of office which he was wearing – Iago wears a similar sash later on.

We were then ‘treated’ to the music, arranged by Cassio, which Othello is keen to stop. It was an odd combination of a stringed instrument and two woodwind; the tune began with the strings, then one of the woodwind instruments joined in, then the other – the tune was inappropriate and very funny, and I could understand Othello’s preference for silence. There are several short conversations, and then Othello and Iago come on stage just as Cassio leaves. This extended scene is crucial to the play; it’s where Iago begins to plant the seeds of suspicion in Othello’s mind, and all Desdemona’s innocent behaviour begins to look deceitful.

A desk and a chair had been brought on towards the back of the stage, on the left side. Othello is dealing with paperwork, signing various documents, and Iago is folding them and tying them up with ribbon. Desdemona’s badgering of Othello is lively and successful, but once Iago gets going, the mood changes. From loving Desdemona completely, Othello becomes disturbed, then angry, and when Desdemona comes back to fetch him in to dinner, he’s seriously troubled. This is where Desdemona drops the handkerchief, not noticing it till too late. Emilia spots it, however, and actually stands over it to speak the first of her lines. She soon picks it up, and when Iago returns, she’s tucked it into her bodice. He gets it from her, after a little chasing round the stage, and then Othello returns, much disturbed by thoughts of jealousy.

This scene between the two men was very well done. I didn’t hear all of the lines, but the emotional charge was very powerful, and the way Iago was manipulating his victim was chillingly clear. He never let up for a moment. Even his plea to Othello to let Desdemona live was reminding Othello of his threat to ‘tear her all to pieces’. When Othello knelt to make his oath, cutting his hand to emphasise his commitment, Iago seized the opportunity to get even closer to the man he was working to destroy. He also knelt, and made an extravagant promise to serve Othello in his quest for revenge, and even though Othello had been constantly going on about how honest Iago was, this took their relationship to the next level. It was a gamble, but a successful one.

They took the interval after this scene, which was probably just as well, as we needed the break ourselves, never mind what the actors felt. The second half opened with some dramatic lighting, as I remember, but the next scene starts with the light-hearted banter among Desdemona, Emilia and the Clown. One of the things I’ve noticed going through the text to write these notes is how continuous the action is, with each scene depending on the preceding one, so there’s no real chance to change the scenes around. This came across very clearly in this production, with the flow of the story being very strong.

This scene continues with Othello’s request to see the handkerchief, and this is the first time that he’s been angry with Desdemona – it’s a shock to her, and to Emilia. I found myself thinking that all marriages go through their difficult phases; unfortunately, this difficult phase has been created by somebody else, which makes it impossible to resolve.

After Othello has left, Iago and Cassio enter, but Iago soon leaves to check on Othello, full of concern of course. When Desdemona and Emilia are just about to head off, I noticed another head peeping round the corner of the door at the back – it’s Bianca. She takes the handkerchief from Cassio and they leave, only for Iago and Othello to return. This is the scene where Othello’s emotions get so worked up that he collapses. I haven’t always bought into that bit, but this time Othello works himself up so much, fuelled by Iago’s promptings, that it seemed completely believable.

When Othello recovers, Iago sets up his biggest deception yet. With Othello ‘hiding’ by the stairs at the back, and then below the level of the platform, Iago easily gets Cassio to talk about Bianca. Othello is hugely affected by Cassio’s behaviour, especially when Bianca reappears and throws the handkerchief back at Cassio. After Iago and Othello have plotted the death of the two ‘lovers’, Lodovico turns up, and again we see Othello display even greater anger towards Desdemona, even hitting her. It’s a ghastly sight, and still the others are doing their best to make allowances for him.

When Othello questions Emilia, I did wonder why she doesn’t tell him about the handkerchief, given that she’s seen how upset Othello was about it, but of course Desdemona’s already lied about it, so she wouldn’t want to betray her. Later, when Iago is with the two women, I could see Emilia start to think when she talks about ‘some most villainous knave, some base notorious knave, some scurvy fellow’; knowing her husband as she does, and that he was deceived by someone about her, she began to look at him with a dawning realisation that the ‘scurvy knave’ may be very close to home. The women leave and Roderigo comes back, complaining yet again that Iago hasn’t delivered on his promises. He even throws Iago to the ground, causing Iago to show some pretend respect for the lad.

When Desdemona is preparing for bed, the eight-fold star outline on the stage is lit up beautifully. A couple of chests are brought on, and Emilia helps Desdemona out of her clothes, packing them away into one of the chests. When they leave, the light fades, and we’re back on the street with Iago and Roderigo, ready to attack Cassio. The scuffle was short and straightforward, leaving Roderigo dead. Then the bed itself is set up for the climactic scene, with the curtains dropping down from above. It became a little crowded by the end, for both Desdemona and Emilia were lying dead on it, side by side, and Othello managed to fit himself on as well, but at least it would have been comfortable enough by that time, for the two swords and a dagger which had been hidden in it had been removed. Quite the armoury, that bed.

The final scene was very moving. Throughout the play, I’d felt great sympathy for Othello. His suffering was plain to see once the jealous thoughts had taken hold, and it was clear that it was only Iago’s manipulation that put them there. His ‘recovery’ from the jealous pangs once Desdemona was dead led to even more suffering, as he realised what he’d done – not much consolation for her, of course, but still deserving of compassion.

We weren’t the only ones who’d enjoyed ourselves; they received a well-earned standing ovation at the end, and I leapt to my feet as well to join in. I noticed a look between Clarke Peters and Dominic West as they left the stage for the second time – what the hell, they might as well enjoy it, so they came back for another round of bows. How we loved it!

The most amazing thing about this production was the energy; I felt drawn in like never before. I’ve often found large chunks of Othello boring – not so tonight. Even though I couldn’t make out all of the dialogue, I was totally absorbed, and felt exhilarated at the end. The two leads worked really well together, and Alexandra Gilbreath was a much stronger Emilia than usual; the only comparable performance I can remember was Amanda Harris at the RSC quite a few years ago now. With such a young Desdemona, the balance between these four characters was different, but still worked really well.  I’m so glad we had such a great experience for our first visit here – we’ll be back.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me