Hamlet – March 2013


Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by David Farr

Venue: RST

Date: Monday 25th March 2013

For such a well-known play, it was refreshing to see a distinctly different take on many aspects of the story, coupled with a version of the text which dropped many familiar lines. Of all David Farr’s productions at the RSC that we’ve seen, this one is definitely the strongest, and as this was only the eleventh performance (press night tomorrow) there is plenty of scope for the actors to develop their roles within the overall structure. Mind you, they’re starting from a high baseline, with much to enjoy already in this lively, if a tad over-long, production.

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King Lear – August 2010


By William Shakespeare

Directed by David Farr

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Friday 20th August 2010

What a difference from the first performance we saw in February. The set wasn’t so intrusive, perhaps because we were used to it, although there may have been some changes. But the main change was in the performances, which were much more detailed and authoritative throughout. The opening scene, particularly, worked brilliantly this time for me, with Lear clearly trying to wheedle a ‘loving’ response from Cordelia so as not to ruin his planned praise-fest. Greg Hicks had told us at the Summer School this morning that he had now learned to speak more directly to the audience, for regular dialogue as well as soliloquies, and the change was amazing. I also agreed with Greg Hicks that Lear already has the seeds of madness in him at the start of the play; here we get to see those seeds sprouting very quickly.

For the very start, Edgar was on stage, hunkered down at the back. He stood up and walked to the centre of the stage, looking at the flickering light. Cordelia and the other characters for the first scene also came on, looking the same way. Suddenly, Edgar broke off, and ran off stage at the back. The rest of the cast formed up, and the play began. I reckon this was the way it started back in February, I just forgot that detail when I was writing my notes (and I probably didn’t realise it was Edgar we were seeing, either).

Several of the lines came across more clearly, and with much greater meaning tonight. Both Cordelia and Edmund have improved their delivery enormously – their accents made their dialogue seem very flat before, but they’ve got more flexibility into their voices.

Greg mentioned the possibility of incest this morning, and while it wasn’t emphasised, there was much too much physical contact between him and Regan when he’s talking with her at Gloucester’s place. I was also aware of how unreasonable his behaviour was, and what sort of strain that could put his daughters under, which would explain a lot about their attitudes to him.

No changes to the staging that we noticed, so the improvement is entirely down to the acting. I’m looking forward to seeing this again, probably when they open the new theatre, and hopefully I’ll be in better health so I can enjoy the performance even more.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

King Lear – February 2010


By William Shakespeare

Directed by David Farr

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Monday 22nd February 2010

This was only the fourth performance. I felt there was some good stuff, and some things that didn’t work so well. The biggest problem was blocking – Darrell d’Silva as Kent kept blocking our view through several scenes, and didn’t budge for up to five minutes! Also, I didn’t care for the flickering lights – if the acting can’t create the tension required, those lights ain’t gonna do it. And when there was a good atmosphere of suspense created, I found the lights distracted me.

The set design was a warehouse, much dilapidated and crumbling – very industrial grunge. A square plinth was raised or lowered in the middle of the stage as required. Assorted lights hung over the stage, from a chandelier to modern strip lights. There was also a bell in the far right corner with a rope that hung down to the stage. Furniture and other props were brought on as needed, and the setup and removal was pretty brisk.

They used Edwardian/first world war costumes and uniforms for the daughters’ side, with Lear and Cordelia in romantic medieval dress, and using swords. Contrasting the disillusionment of the ‘modern’ age with the romantic ideals of earlier times, perhaps? This production also used the technique of bringing the characters for the next scene on stage, having them speak the first few lines of that scene, then holding their position while the stage is cleared or reset. I only remember it being done a few times – will this change? Also, this production blended three scenes so that all three sisters are on stage at the same time – Goneril reading her letter from Edmund, Cordelia praying for her father, and Regan trying to tempt Goneril’s letter to Edmund out of Oswald’s keeping. Nice touch.

In terms of the staging itself, they had enough actors in the cast to provide Lear with a number of followers at the start, but I felt there wasn’t enough of a reaction from them when Goneril was telling her father off. The advantage of having large numbers to show how Lear’s followers leave him was negated by the deadening effect if we don’t see any reactions.

The storm scene used ‘real’ rain, falling on the raised plinth, with only Lear getting wet. Not much thunder, so the lines were easier to hear, but there was much less tension. The interval was taken after this, when Gloucester led Lear away to shelter.

When Lear has been brought to shelter, and has the trial of his daughters, Edmund had previously been left at the back, sitting in a chair at a desk, having just betrayed his father. As the next scene is set up, Goneril appears from behind the curtain and straddles Edmund. Didn’t see what else happened – too caught up in the scene in the foreground. After the trial, the Fool chooses not to go with Kent and Lear to Dover, and isn’t seen again, hanged or otherwise.

The battle sequence, with Gloucester still lying in a corner of the stage, was done by each side striding across a lit diagonal, followed by the sound effects of gunfire, etc. Then several bags deposited small piles of sand across the stage, although one bag kept going with a small dribble of sand through the rest of the scene – intentional or accident? Certainly distracting. [From understudies run, it was an accident – didn’t happen for that performance.]

Edmund has a pistol during the duel, but with a big two-handed sword to deal with, he doesn’t get a chance to draw it until later, when a watchful soldier disarms him. The duel was over quickly, a good choice, I think.

The performances: Kathryn Hunter was good as the fool. I don’t know if I’m just getting familiar with the lines or they were better delivered tonight, but I got more than usual from this part – probably a bit of both. Greg Hicks’ performance is good overall, but still a little patchy. Once or twice he reminded me of Lily Savage – not an image I usually associate with Lear. I think it was the large fur collar on his jacket that gave that impression. He was believable in the mad scenes, although he didn’t display as much emotion as some I’ve seen. Not sure what Lear was like before the play begins, how did he ever hold a kingdom together? This production may have suffered a bit from the discrepancy between the set and the costumes, especially in the first half – the performance didn’t seem to fit in that space. I felt it worked better in the second half, as the military uniforms blended in more.

Katy Stephens was good as Regan, and well matched by Kelly Hunter as Goneril. Both were predatory, and I got the feeling that their treatment of Lear wasn’t premeditated from the start, but when they confronted Lear together at Gloucester’s place they took the opportunity to tighten the noose. I’m not sure about the other performances yet, although James Tucker was good as Oswald, those lines that he was left with anyway.

The cuts we noticed – if it be lawful, I take up what’s cast down (one of my favourite bits!), Oswald’s lines asking Edmund to take the letter to Edgar, Lear’s lines at the end about Cordelia reviving.

Overall, I hope this improves, but I’m not banking on it.

© 2010 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Winter’s Tale – August 2009 (1)


By William Shakespeare

Directed by David Farr

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Thursday 13th August 2009

This performance was so much better than the one we saw back in June. The dialogue was clearer, the individual performances had more detail, our view was better, and we suspect there was less paper on the floor in the second half. I hadn’t been looking forward to seeing this one again, but now I’m glad I did.

Of course, we’ve also attended various talks, including a chat from Kelly Hunter which was both interesting and revealing about the production and her own choices. She mentioned that she uses the time off stage between her ‘death’ and her arrival as a statue to get her body prepared for staying still, including lowering her heart rate. It certainly pays off, as I was watching her closely tonight and I couldn’t detect any movement at all, which is remarkable. I’ve only seen one other person do so well on stage, and he was a professional street performer who stands still for a living (Don Juan In Soho).

So to any specific differences or extra things we spotted. I watched Leontes closely tonight, and saw how the interaction between Hermione and Polixenes sparked the idea of jealousy in him, and how their subsequent, innocent behaviour added fuel to the fire. Hermione was indeed getting physically close to Polixenes, but it was at her husband’s request, and as Kelly mentioned earlier, her large bump made her sexually unavailable so flirting would have seemed more permissible. I was also conscious that Polixenes himself announces that he’s been there for nine months and it seemed to me that that detail contributed to Leontes’ delusional obsession. The whole scene came across more clearly, and while I enjoyed some of the early humour, I found I was out of sync with most of the audience at times as I wanted to savour the darkness of Leontes’ behaviour rather than laugh at it.

I had no such problems when Paulina takes the baby to the king and gives him a good telling off in the process – plenty to laugh at there. The trial scene was also stronger, and I was starting to get the sniffles at the sad news, first of Mamillius’s death, then Hermione’s (even though I know how the play ends). The bear seemed to work better this time, and Steve remembered the mittens hanging down from the sleeves of the young shepherd – a nice touch, showing us directly that he’s not the sharpest tool in the box.

The second half rattled through much as before but I enjoyed it better. Autolycus seemed to have come on, or perhaps I was just used to this portrayal. His stint as a courtier, manipulating the two shepherds for his own ends, was definitely funnier. The final scenes, with the Bohemia crew arriving en masse in Sicilia, followed by the revelation of the statue and Hermione’s return to life, were all very good, and I noticed a reference to Mamillius which was quickly quashed by Leontes, which answers a point raised during some of the talks, that Hermione and Leontes don’t mention the boy at all during the reunion scene. The play finished as before, with Autolycus left out in the cold. The audience showed its appreciation, and I left the theatre happier than I’d expected to be.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me