Love From A Stranger – March 2018

Experience: 8/10

By Frank Vosper, adapted from a short story by Agatha Christie

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Co-produced by Fiery Angel and Royal & Derngate Northampton

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Thursday 29th March 2018

Several surprises tonight. Firstly, this was an Agatha Christie story which I didn’t remember, so I was much more caught up in the suspense that I expected. Secondly, Lucy Bailey’s production had more tension and was more gripping than I’d anticipated. We’d seen her version of Dial M For Murder some years ago, and really enjoyed the way she used the movement of the stage and a much looser set design to create a greater sense of suspense than usual, but although the set here was less balletic, with front and back sections simply sliding from side to side as needed, it didn’t get in the way of the performances, and allowed the tension to build. And finally, and even more surprising, was to find in our records that we saw a production of Love From A Stranger thirty years ago, at the Theatre Royal Brighton: safe to say, I have absolutely no recollection of that production at all.

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Titus Andronicus – July 2014

Experience: 6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Venue: Shakespeare’s Globe

Date: Wednesday 2nd July 2014

This rating was Steve’s – I chose to spend the second half in the Globe café so as not to be completely bored out of my mind. Even so, I would have given the first half a 5/10 rating as there were some good bits, but so much was happening on the far side of a pillar today that I wasn’t able to engage with or enjoy the performance at all.

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King Lear – August 2013

Experience: 7/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Company: Theatre Royal Bath Productions

Venue: Theatre Royal Bath

Date: Thursday 8th August 2013

We weren’t sure what to expect from this Lucy Bailey production as we’d had such mixed experiences with her work in the past. Tonight the technical side of things was a bit hit-and-miss, and while the setting worked OK overall, there were areas where the text jarred with the actions, the accents and the characters. Having said that, there were some very good performances to enjoy and some nice touches in the staging, so all in all it was worth the trip. It was also our first time in Bath’s Theatre Royal and it was a weird experience, looking at all the pictures of past productions and realising we’d seen about half of them, despite never having been here before. The theatre itself was comfortable and, despite the minimal toilet facilities for women, a pleasant experience.

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The Winter’s Tale – February 2013

Experience: 9/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Venue: RST

Date: Thursday 21st February 2013

While it was lovely to see this production a second time, the surprise factor was missing, so although the individual performances had all improved, I couldn’t rate the experience any higher than before. This time we sat over by the left walkway, and the change of angle brought out some interesting aspects we hadn’t seen before without blocking our view too much for the rest.

The colourful robes the court were wearing looked like costumes which they had put on to play at being ‘Eastern’; Camillo’s outfit seemed drab by comparison. Archidamus’ lines were much clearer tonight, and I was reminded of TheTaming of the Shrew when Leontes set his wife on Polixenes. Her verbal sparring brought laughter from the court, especially at her mocking use of the word ‘verily’. When the change came, Leontes dropped his fancy robe, so his jealous fit was all enacted in the more sombre colours he would wear for the rest of the first half. Hermione and Polixenes were dancing during the reference to “still virginalling upon his palm”, and there was a second dose of slow motion when Leontes sent his wife and best friend off into the garden.

Leontes circled his hands to represent Hermione’s full belly at ‘no barricade for a belly’, and I thought Camillo was a bit tactless when he harped on about Polixenes not staying at Leontes’ request. There was a lovely pause before Leontes said ‘slippery’, with a strong sibilant ‘s’ at the start. Camillo was amazed at what he heard, but kept his wits about him enough to realise he couldn’t argue with a madman. Leontes showed much suffering as well as his anger and jealousy, and it was hard not to feel some compassion for his madness. Camillo’s conversation with Polixenes was very good, with the details of their dialogue coming across clearly.

During the argument between Leontes and Hermione, he punched her in the stomach which was pretty shocking; last time he just slapped her, which was bad enough. I thought the punch may have been the reason why she delivered Perdita “before her time”. There was a pause after Leontes asked if he’d done well sending to the oracle at Delphi; only one lord responded – “well done, my lord” – and it rang pretty hollow, though the attempt at ‘fairness’ did make Leontes seem a little less deranged.

The messenger who brought the news of Mamillius’ death was one of the nursemaids, and from the way she avoided looking at Leontes as he declared Mamillius’s suffering to be caused by learning of his mother’s dishonour, I felt it was clear that she didn’t agree with the king’s interpretation; it was more likely the effect of discovering his father had gone completely barmy and had put his mother in prison. When Paulina put his little daughter on the cushions, the other men had to hold Leontes off as he went to stamp on the baby or hurt it in some way. Paulina was very strong, standing up to the king when he challenged her over the description of his queen as ‘good’, although it was clear that leaving the baby with this king wasn’t her best idea.

We couldn’t see Leontes so well tonight when he sat on the front steps of the stage during the trial scene, as the tortured chaps and their guard were blocking our view, but I caught glimpses. For “Sir, you speak a language that I understand not”, Hermione used arm and hand movements to illustrate what she was saying as if speaking to a child. Leontes threw this back at her with the line “Your actions are my ‘dreams’”.

When Leontes said “Thy brat has been cast out”, I realised it was the first Hermione has heard of the fate of her baby, and Paulina too for that matter. I saw Paulina’s reaction clearly, as she was on the far diagonal from me at the back of the stage. Hermione went over to her, and they were having some interaction, though I couldn’t make out the detail. Paulina was clearly distressed that her actions had led to the potential death of the baby girl, and from the post-show we learned that Tara Fitzgerald has a range of responses at this moment, from feeling extreme anger with Paulina and wanting to strangle her, to breaking down in tears. Paulina continued to suffer as the scene continued, and the shock of that news led nicely (if I can use that word here) into Hermione’s speech about desiring death. Paulina had a real go at Leontes for ‘killing’ his wife, and in the post-show we learned that Rakie Ayola, who played Paulina, believes that at this point Paulina thinks Hermione is actually dead, but later finds out she isn’t.

We couldn’t see that the boat disappeared from the screen this time as the tower was in our way. However the two shepherds were very good tonight. They seemed to have relaxed into their roles, and took their time a bit more with the lines, getting the points across clearly and getting more laughs as well. David Shaw-Parker played the old shepherd, and was very entertaining as he complained about those silly young folk. I suspect I enjoy these parts more as I get older. Nick Holder as the young shepherd did particularly well with his description of the ship and bear scenarios, punctuating his own interruptions by holding his hands up to stop himself.

The images on the screen during the interval were as before, and for the restart I noticed that Polixenes and Camillo kept to the front of the stage so that the rest of it could stay in darkness, prior to turning into the Bohemian ‘countryside’. Camillo was even more unhappy with the idea of disguises.

Autolycus was much as before but with small variations. He took the ice cream from the man in the right-hand deck chair first, then the bottle of beer from left-hand deck chair, then tried to get the blanket out from under the women front right but she wouldn’t budge until he farted in her face. When she woke up, he then sold her the blanket he’d just taken from her – “My traffic is sheets”. His tent was placed just in front of the tower, and he hid behind it when the young shepherd stirred and started counting fleeces. He and his women had already rolled over and ended up in more sexually active positions, with one of his hands on a breast and the other in a crotch. Perhaps that’s what caused him to wake up?

As the young shepherd was recalling his shopping list, Autolycus stole the sunglasses off the man in the right-hand deck chair, and also broke his fishing rod in half so he could use part of it as a stick. He also smeared some of the raspberry sauce from the ice cream cone onto the side of his face and then, pretending to be blind, he took the shepherd’s purse and watch. In response to the question “a horseman, or a footman?” he pointed out “I’m blind”, and there was humour in the way he slipped up occasionally and made the shepherd suspicious about him. Despite trying to make him blink with sudden hand movements, Autolycus managed to stare into the distance and finally convinced the shepherd he was indeed blind. His final gesture, putting out his hand to shake the shepherd’s and then taking it away at the last minute to thumb his nose, almost gave the game away, but the shepherd just left, shaking his head at this strange behaviour from a blind man. Pearce Quigley also added several slips during Autolycus’s description of himself, starting to say “I” or “me” and then changing it to “he” or “him”. After the shepherd had gone, Autolycus finished his speech, picked up his tent and left, pursued by the accordion player, who rarely left his side. Autolycus paused his song to look at him, then decided it was OK to have him along and started up the song again; they departed together.

When it came to the clog dance, the young shepherd wore a green leafy outfit – the Green Man? – and peed on the audience. Funnily enough, we were in the target area both this time and last. He also dragged Florizel into the middle to do a little solo, and Autolycus did the photography joke again, which was just as funny. For the final stage of the dance, Polixenes and Camillo were brought into the middle of the group and encouraged to sit down with their backs to each other and their legs spread wide. The dancers then did a lot of stamping between their legs, which they were very uncomfortable about, understandably. They got up as soon as they could, and as the dancers dispersed, Polixenes spoke to Florizel “How now, fair shepherd…”. Autolycus seemed to have fewer purses tonight to stash in his turban, and his description of the fate awaiting the shepherd’s son was very funny, not least because of Nick Holder’s reactions.

With the tower turned back round, Cleomenes and Dion were standing at the bottom with Paulina when she reminded them of the oracle’s prophecy; I was aware of the relevance of this, as they were the ones who had brought it from Delphi. She made “Stars, stars” each into a long cry, followed by a haunting “and all eyes else, dead coals!”

The next scene had the lords and Autolycus discussing the amazing events. The lords were smoking cigarettes (cigars last time?) and were very happy – not sure if there was champagne or not. Autolycus asked for information, and the others shared the narration of events. Cleomenes and Dion were the next arrivals with more information, and again they completed each other’s sentences. Antigonus’s fate was simply announced as “He was torn to pieces by a bear” which sobered everyone up for a moment, but then the lords burst out laughing (everyone laughed last time) and Cleomenes skipped over the loss of the ship and straight to Paulina’s reactions. Another lord arrived (the oracle-reader) with the news that the royal party was off to see the statue of Hermione, and they left. When Autolycus tried to go after them, one lord turned round and stopped him with a “No”, so he was left on stage to complain about his own honesty. When the shepherds arrived, the young shepherd was now wearing a wig – very entertaining – and it was this that Autolycus stole from him when they hugged.

The rest of the performance was as before, and it was again greeted with rapturous applause. We stayed on for the post-show – nothing more to add from what I’ve included in the notes – and were glad we had squeezed this one in again.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at

The Winter’s Tale – January 2013

Experience: 9/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Venue: RST

Date: Tuesday 29th January 2013

So far, the productions we’ve seen this year have been almost universally excellent, and tonight this continued with a stunning interpretation of The Winter’s Tale. We weren’t at all keen on Lucy Bailey’s Julius Caesar a few years back, her Taming last year had some good points and some less good aspects, but this production is sheer brilliance throughout. Bearing in mind this was the fifth preview (press night is tomorrow) and the actors always improve with practice, this looks set to be one of the RSC’s hit shows – good job we’ve already booked a second helping.

Our seats tonight were on the middle aisle of the centre front stalls, close enough to piss on from the stage (which one of the dancers did during the traditional sheep-shearing clog dance – I hope it was just water). There were a few aspects of the staging which may not have been visible to everyone, but on the whole the production seemed to be pretty egalitarian – I’d be interested to hear other people’s experiences on that one.

I’ll go through the set changes first before  describing the action, as I’ve found it a bit complicated to merge the two. The time period was early Victorian, and the opening set looked more like Illyria than Sicilia. The deep blue Mediterranean sparkled brightly in the distance on the back wall (or screen). Rocky outcrops jutted out (up) from the shore, and from the suggestion of a balcony terrace in the left-hand corner, the stage was clearly an open-air space, with a circular raised dais five steps up from the rest of the stage. A bench with a carved back curved round the rear of the dais. Brightly coloured rugs covered the front of the stage, and piles of cushions, a crown, a book, a bowl of fruit, etc. were placed strategically around. A hookah was brought on for the opening scene, when the Sicilian court lay around the stage in a state of stupor during Camillo and Archidamus’s initial exchange.

After the opening scenes, the rugs, cushions and other paraphernalia were carried off and the whole atmosphere changed. The stage was relatively bare, while the video image at the back showed a close-up of some waves rippling at the water’s edge, in sombre colours. Leontes and his men wore black and white, and although the queen and her women were still in bright colours initially, the mood had darkened. The trial scene was (deliberately) reminiscent of Anne Boleyn’s trial and execution, and by now the colour had completely gone. Only Mamillius’s knight’s tabard gave a soft glow of heraldic red and blue to point up Leontes’ loss even more, when the nursemaid brought it on with the news of his son’s death.

After Leontes’ resolution to mourn his lost wife and children, he prostrated himself on the dais, which gradually rose up and became the top of a tower. He was still in a spotlight – I didn’t notice when it went out but it had done so by the interval – while the picture behind the tower changed to a storm-tossed sea with a sailing ship visible on the right hand side. The bear was CGI’d into the storm scene, which looked most peculiar as it was standing in the middle of the waves, and rushed across the screen to chase the old man off the stage. The young shepherd came on along the right hand walkway and stood watching all of this, then after he left the screen changed to show the sailors drowning in the ocean. When the two shepherds met up to discuss their day, the stormy sea was back on the screen, but noticeably without the ship.

For the interval a sheet was lowered in front of the tower – we’d seen it earlier during the director’s talk – and to continue Lucy’s liking for bedsheets this one looked like part of a mattress cover, with holes where the stitching would have been. It showed an image of the tower with the tide rising and falling and a full moon arcing one way while the constellations rotated in the other direction. This evidently took the place of Time, so the second half opened with Polixenes and Camillo talking at the front of the stage. The rest of Bohemia wasn’t clearly visible at this point, but we had seen a deckchair or two being placed on the stage in front of the sheet during the interval. Sure enough, when the lights came up for the first full-on Bohemian country scene, the sheet rose and we could see the whole layout. This Bohemia looked like an industrial Northern coastal town with a pier (bottom left on the screen), some ocean and a lot of dark sky, a tower with a circular sewage pipe running round it and some hungover locals who were sleeping in the deckchairs or on the ground – a mirror image of the Sicilian scene at the start. It was slightly bizarre to have a sheep-shearing festival in this context, but I was enjoying myself so much that I’m prepared to allow artistic licence on this one.

Another interesting point – Leontes was still visible on top of the tower, now in an orangey robe and looking pretty rough. It was a reminder that while Bohemia was all fun and jollity (for the most part) the suffering was still going on in Sicilia. For the final scenes back in Leontes’ court, the tower turned round and showed the inner spiral staircase with a platform part way down. The picture at the back was of calmer waves, rippling gently across the screen. The rotating tower was also used to reveal the statue, initially hidden behind a white curtain which was shaped like a tent. I didn’t notice if the screen had changed for the final dance – crying too much, apart from anything else – so I’ll have to watch out next time.

The costumes were as described above for the Sicilian court, while the nursemaids wore grey uniforms. The Bohemian court was more casual in tone, with both Polixenes and Camillo wearing suits. The ‘country’ folk generally wore rougher clothes; the shepherds had oilskins for their first appearance and smarter suits for the later scenes. The clog dancers had red velvet shorts and white shirts – very natty – and Autolycus wore a variety of clothes which I’ll describe as I go.

Now for the performance itself. When the play started, the three main characters were sprawled together in the middle of the stage, although I didn’t spot this immediately. I found the opening exchange between Archidamus and Camillo a little hard to follow tonight; the lines weren’t as clear as I would have liked. As they discussed the young prince, Mamillius obligingly ran on stage and hid under Leontes’ dressing gown to escape the pursuing nursemaids; they left once Camillo had pointed out where Mamillius was hiding, presumably satisfied that the young prince was in safe hands.

The three royal folk on the central cushions woke up just before Polixenes’ first line, and Leontes and Hermione had a long kiss while Polixenes was talking. All was going well until Leontes’ sudden onset of jealousy. On the line “too hot”, the lighting changed and the court almost froze while Leontes spoke of his feelings to us. Hermione and Polixenes were slightly to the left of the stage, and continued to move in slow motion, with Leontes free to move around in front of them. The stage was awash with red light, and the screen at the back changed to reflect this, with the colours becoming garish and unnatural. I felt this was very effective, and emphasised both the abruptness of Leontes’ madness and how dangerous this delusion might be.

After Leontes’ talk with Camillo, and Camillo’s conversation with Polixenes, all of which were very clear, Hermione came back on with Mamillius, the two nursemaids and some of her staff. The nursemaids teased Mamillius as they prepared him for bed, and Hermione went to the steps to pour a couple of drinks before taking Mamillius over to some cushions at the front of the stage to hear his story. As they sat there, the lights came up on the back of the stage where Leontes and his remaining lords were discussing Polixenes and Camillo’s escape. Leontes strode forward at the appropriate moment and snatched Mamillius away from Hermione. During their argument he slapped Hermione in the face, which was pretty shocking, even though it was apt.

As the lords exited they removed all of the rugs and cushions apart from one lot to the right of the stage. I think Leontes stayed on the platform at the back, lying down so as not to get in the way of the following scene at the prison. Paulina was very insistent about seeing Hermione or one of her women, and although Amelia indicated that the queen had also thought of sending the new baby to the king, this time I was aware it was a very risky option.

This scene was brisk and soon over, and then we saw a video of Leontes falling into the water prior to the real king waking up from a bad dream and complaining about his lot. Paulina arrived wearing a long black coat inside which she held the baby so that it wasn’t visible to begin with. The men were very wary of her, especially her husband, and we enjoyed that part. When she did reveal the baby, she then laid it down on the few cushions which had been left on stage. They all clustered round the little girl as Paulina described her likeness to Leontes, and started grinning those soppy grins people have when they see a cute little bundle of babyhood. Leontes had to climb over the back of the bench to get away from Paulina as she pursued him round the stage with her arguments, which was funny, but I accepted Leontes’ comment that if he had been a tyrant she wouldn’t have dared to speak out as she did. I noticed that one of the courtiers, probably Antigonus, actually sat on the bench while the king was standing; surely a breach of etiquette, but perhaps they just wanted to underline how easy-going Leontes had been up to this point.

Once Paulina was gone, Leontes rounded on Antigonus, and only the support of the other lords saved him from having to throw the baby on a fire. Leontes’ line “I am a feather for every wind that blows” was quite accurate I felt, although the strongest wind was the one blowing through his brain and forcing all sense out of it.

Once the court had left, Cleomenes and Dion came on, dressed like Victorian explorers in tweeds and plus fours, carrying knapsacks and the like. They talked of the wonders they had seen, planning how to report them, and completed each other’s sentences as they did so. They were both uplifted by their journey and hopeful of a positive outcome for Hermione, and it was nice to see these minor characters given such strong characterisations for once.

The trial scene began with four young men being dragged on to the stage, bound and gagged, while an executioner with a huge sword took up his position on the platform. This was meant to represent Anne Boleyn’s trail, though if you didn’t know that it might have seemed a bit strange. The idea was that these men had been tortured to obtain confessions that the queen had been sleeping around – bit pointless in this play as Hermione has only been accused of one adulteress affair, and the man in question is now far away, but this director likes symbolic imagery even if it gets in the way of the performance at times. Not that we were affected by it either way, but the scene works perfectly well without this extra window dressing. (Now if these good-looking young men hadn’t been wearing their shirts, I might have had a different response.)

For the early part of this scene, and the section with the oracle, Leontes sat on the steps at the front of the stage. Hermione came on and initially stood on the first step of the platform. She was wearing a sombre black dress, similar in style to Paulina’s. Everyone looked on edge from the start of this scene, and it didn’t get any easier as it played out.

Hermione’s delivery at the start was a bit jerky, but I took this to represent her fatigue and emotional distress. She became smoother during her argument with Leontes, and like Paulina she followed him around the stage to make her points. At “Therefore proceed”, she sat down on the steps and moved her hair out of the way of her neck to make life easier for the executioner, who raised his sword to deliver the fatal blow. She then interrupted her own execution to deliver the rest of her speech, calling on the oracle to clear her name before she died. The courtier charged with handling this was very eager to get the job done, and brought a sword forward (not the executioner’s) so that Cleomenes and Dion could swear their oath, kiss the sword, and the oracle could be read. I don’t remember hearing Hermione’s lines about her father.

There was great relief all round at first when the oracle was read out, especially by the lord doing the reading. I thought there may have been a little puzzlement when it came to the last bit, but maybe I imagined it.  Only Leontes remained unmoved, sitting on the front steps and considering his options. His choice made, it was only seconds later that one of the nursemaids ran on stage to tell him of his son’s death, holding out the red and blue tabard which Mamillius had worn in the opening scene. Leontes was so overcome that he collapsed and rolled down the steps of the platform, lying unconscious for a bit before continuing the scene. His reformation was instantaneous, and he readily accepted Paulina’s chiding.

At the end of the scene, Leontes stood on the platform and it started to rise up, as previously described. As he stripped off his clothes, the tower finished its upwards journey and Antigonus and the seaman came on stage and sheltered at its base. After the seaman left, Antigonus placed the wicker crib he was carrying down towards the front of the stage, and told us of his dream. He put the necessary items in the basket with the baby and as he went back to the ship, the bear came out of the water and made towards him. Any killing took place out of our sight, and then the video of the seamen drowning came on screen, followed by the storm.

The old shepherd arrived pushing his bike, and left it lying on the right side of the stage before launching into his speech. He walked back and forth across the stage and cast several curious glances at the wicker basket before checking it out and finding the baby. The young shepherd’s description of the ship and bear scenarios seemed a little unnecessary tonight as we’d just seen it all on the screens. As they left, the young shepherd took the bike with him, while his father carried off the basket and the box with the gold.

I’ve already described the interval setup with the sheet and the images, and the second half started with Polixenes talking to Camillo at the front of the stage. The dialogue was clear, and Camillo was, as usual, unhappy with the idea of a disguise.

Before the lights came up, the actors bestowed themselves about the place, echoing the first scene. The young shepherd and his two women were the threesome in the middle of the stage, wrapped around each other in an intimate way. As Autolycus crept on stage, singing his song, he was accompanied by the only other person who was awake – the accordion player who stood or sat by the tower steps. Leontes was still up on top of the tower, in his orange robes.

Autolycus was dressed in a long black coat with a scruffy shirt and trousers. He carried a large umbrella-like structure; after he planted it in the centre of the stage, he opened it up to form a small tent with side openings and a small window. While he told us of his naughty ways, he took a bottle of beer and an ice cream from some of the sleepers in the deck chairs, along with some other items. When the young shepherd woke up, Autolycus hid in his tent, and when he realised there would be rich pickings from the young man, he snuck out and took sunglasses and half a fishing rod (he broke it in two) from the sleeper on the left. Telling the shepherd he was blind, he easily filched his purse from a back pocket before insisting he was fine.

Florizel and Perdita entered, with most of the sleepers still on the stage. Her accent was a bit strong at first so I missed some of her dialogue, but their love for each other shone through. When the guests for the feast arrived, the music started up as well and all the sleepers woke up. Polixenes and Camillo, in disguise, were part of the throng, and Perdita’s welcome to them was lively and funnier than usual, with her references to middle age coming across as quite cheeky. There was a dance (not the clog dance yet) and Mopsa and Dorcas began fighting over the young shepherd. This fight was turning into the main event, with some of the guests sitting down to watch and others trying to hold the women down, when the news of the pedlar came and a truce broke out.

Autolycus was also in disguise, with a grey beard and wearing eastern attire in the form of baggy leggings. He came out of the tent playing an accordion, but it was actually the accordionist inside the tent we were hearing. When Autolycus stopped, the musician carried on, and Autolycus had to tell him to be quiet. He then returned to the tent and started to speak through the window, but the accordionist kept playing which annoyed him, so he broke off to tell the man to stop.

The song was good fun, with Mopsa and Dorcas singing with Autolycus and really getting into their parts (and even some of his!). The young shepherd got jealous then, and dragged them away to buy goods from Autolycus, who followed them off stage.

Instead of a satyr dance they had a clog dance. Florizel took part, though he joined in late as he was still putting his clogs on, with Perdita’s help. He was dragged into the middle of the group to do a little solo, and did it well enough, obviously his way of earning respect in that culture. Autolycus came on with a camera on a tripod, and the dancers tried to freeze in a dancing pose for a picture. He took the cover off the lens and they stood, and they stood, and we laughed, and they stood, until they couldn’t stand any longer and collapsed on the stage, at which point Autolycus removed the camera.

Florizel’s love for Perdita led him to promise marriage to her in public, and when Polixenes became more forceful in challenging Florizel to tell his father, the other dancers grabbed him and took him round to the back of the tower. With a quick change of clothes, he soon came out of the pipe at the front looking extremely messy, but once he revealed himself as the king, no one felt inclined to comment. The rest of the dancers scarpered double quick, leaving Florizel, Perdita and the old shepherd to face Polixenes’ wrath, with Camillo as a bystander. To even things up with Leontes, Polixenes also hit his son several times before rounding on Perdita and her supposed father.

Camillo’s guidance to the young couple was fine, and then Autolycus returned with his tent and his ill-gotten gains. His description of his purse-picking was very well done, and as he talked he removed his turban, placed it on the ground, gradually drew out the purses he had taken and poured the coins into the turban. He was very wary of Camillo’s approach, but soon realised what was going on. He, Florizel and Perdita all ended up in the tent, changing clothes. When they emerged, Florizel still had his red velvet shorts on, but had Autolycus’s black coat over it, Perdita had the baggy leggings on under her dress, and Autolycus was down to his long johns. Camillo’s line “Nay, you shall have no hat” covered Autolycus’s reluctance to part with the (extremely valuable) turban, and Florizel and Perdita then left.

When the shepherds arrived, Autolycus moved his tent over to the back left corner of the stage, and hid in there to listen to their conversation. Polixenes’ white coat had been discarded on the steps earlier, and Autolycus snuck out of the tent to grab it and put it on, tucking his false beard into one of the pockets. With the coat on, he lounged against the tower and made his first enquiries of the shepherds, “How now, rustics, whither are you bound?” He adopted a posher accent, and with some exaggerated mannerisms gave us a number of laughs as he conned the shepherds (to their own good as it turned out).

Next the tower turned back round and we could see its innards, with the spiral staircase and landing over half way up. Leontes was still on the top, and Paulina with Cleomenes and Dion were below. When Florizel and Perdita arrived, it struck me as a little unlikely that they hadn’t changed clothes, although they had tidied themselves up a bit. As Perdita walked beside Florizel to the centre of the stage before turning and bowing to Leontes, I was aware that she was doing her best to mimic Florizel’s manners and appear like a princess. Leontes had come down to the landing to welcome them, keen to see the son of the man whom he’d wronged so many years ago.

The next scene had the lords and Autolycus recounting the details of Polixenes’ arrival and the discovery of Perdita’s true identity. The lords were smoking cigars and were clearly celebrating – I think there was at least one bottle of champagne on view. When the shepherds arrived, I had thought they might have had fresh outfits to reflect their higher status, but no change in that department apart from gold chains around their necks.

For the reunion scene, the tower turned round again (it had rotated back after the previous scene, so that the statue could be set up) and another tent, a white gauzy one this time, was suspended from the landing; we could dimly see a shape inside it. A nun was also present and drew back the curtain to reveal the ‘statue’, while the other characters spaced themselves round the stage. Paulina stayed by the steps, and had to move fast to stop Perdita and then Leontes from touching the statue.

The awakening scene was very moving – I couldn’t quite see it clearly for some reason (sniff) – and I noticed that Polixenes and Hermione wouldn’t look at each other; Leontes had to take their hands to bring them together. The impending nuptials of Camillo and Paulina were just as bizarre as ever – just when did Leontes have time to ”partly know his mind” – and they ended with another dance, occasionally doing some slow motion moves, and with the rest of the cast joining in. There was clapping and slapping of thighs, to echo the clog dance, and hand to hand moves to echo the court dances at the start. The final image was of Florizel and Perdita spotlit together in the middle of the stage, surrounded by the others; I noticed that Hermione had to kneel down so as not to block the audience’s view of the young couple. It was a fitting ending, putting the emphasis on the next generation, and we applauded mightily.

I’ve left my notes on the director’s pre-show talk till after the performance notes this time. Lucy Bailey had worked as an assistant director on a previous RSC production, and had taken against the play as a result. Apparently Michael Boyd is very good at ear-tickling, because she found herself agreeing to direct this production anyway, and then went through the usual process of discovering how wrong she’d been when she actually read the text.

She wanted to bring out the happiness of the original Sicilian scenes, before it all goes horribly wrong, while for the Bohemian scenes she wanted to emphasise the working-class nature of the characters. Hence the way the Bohemian ‘rural’ scenes looked industrial and the Sicilian scenes looked verdant and lush. Threesomes were another important aspect of the play for her, and she wanted to show Polixenes’ jealousy as well as Leontes’, hence the violence towards Florizel.

She was happy to give Pearce Quigley some licence to play around with Autolycus’ part, as she felt that was what the clowns in Shakespeare’s day would have done, plus they updated some of the language to reflect Victorian sheep-shearing practices. There was more which I don’t recall now, but overall the talk accurately reflected the performance we saw, and didn’t hinder our enjoyment in any way.

© 2013 Sheila Evans at

The Taming Of The Shrew – February 2012

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Venue: RST

Date: Thursday 16th February 2012

Our seats tonight were centre front, on the aisle – great view. From here the bed design was much more obvious compared to the seats round the side. We saw a lot more, and the performance had definitely come on. Although some things were clearer with the better view, the cast also seemed to be more comfortable with the set and the production. Hopefully there are fewer trips to A&E now, too.

There was so much detail in the performances that I won’t be able to get more than a few things noted up. I noticed a lot of reactions within each scene from the characters on stage, and I think there was more comic business in some places, but perhaps I just didn’t see it all before. There were also one or two corrections to my previous notes, so I’ll go through the scenes in order.

The opening induction scene was easier to see from the front. There were shadows against the curtains along with the noises and the shouting, and when Sly was chased out of the pub, I think he rolled down the ramp. I noticed the lines about William the Conqueror this time, and after Sly passed out, the arrival of the huntsmen also came across much better from this angle. No real changes to the rest of the induction stuff, although Bartholomew seemed much more coquettish when he first turned up as the lady; he soon changed his tune when Sly sent the others out, even trying to clamber out of the window. I could see a lot more of Bartholomew’s horrified reactions when he was lying with Sly in the bed this time, watching the play, including when Sly rolled over on him and then fell asleep. He woke Sly up by slapping the top of his head.

The opening to the Taming bit was just as good as before, but again it was much clearer from this angle. Lucentio addressed the explanation of his background to Sly, to explain who he was, and shook his hand; this worked quite well I thought, and brought Sly even more into the performance as a whole. He also reacted a lot to the action of the play, particularly applauding Kate. I think the lord also came on for this scene, to watch and enjoy, but I found that a bit distracting.

The doors at the back had been opened up for this bit, showing steps curving round with a door in the middle. Several people were lounging around on the steps, and this area also served for the front of the church later on. On the whole though, I didn’t feel this area was fully integrated into the rest of the set, and knowing that it was almost completely invisible from the side seats made it seem even more redundant.

The arrival of Kate in the scold’s fiddle wasn’t so much of a shock this time, and she really lashed out at everyone in the vicinity once she’d been freed. Bianca mainly stood on the ramp for this scene, and I noticed that Lucentio tried to clamber up on it to reach her and was being held back by Tranio. After Hortensio explained his plan to find a husband for Kate to free up Bianca, Gremio spat on his hand to seal the deal with a firm handshake, despite a little squeal of ‘no’ from Hortensio. So his hanky was deployed even earlier than I’d spotted last time.

After the rummaging under the bedspread by Sly and Bartholomew, the lord left a hip flask on Sly’s stomach when he was lying (asleep?) in the corner. When Kate came on for the next scene she was swigging from one as well, and I noticed a flask in Petruchio’s hand too – definitely a theme. This was the scene where Kate interrogates Bianca about her suitors. Kate appeared at the back, smoking and drinking, and after she strolled down the ramp, Bianca appeared at the doorway, trussed up like a chicken. Her hands and feet were tied together, she had an apple (I think) in her mouth, and her face was brightly coloured. As she came closer I could see she had very red cheeks and big black eyebrows with a moustache. Crude but cheerful, and clearly Kate’s handiwork.

As Bianca teetered at the top of the ramp, she realised the only way she could get down was to roll down, so she blew out her gag, toppled over, and rolled down to the bottom. She managed to get up, and hopped around the stage a bit so she could interact with Kate, including their fights. She finished up on the floor at the front with Kate trying to smother her with a pillow. That’s sisters for you.

When Petruchio arrived and was being ‘wooed’ by Hortensio, there wasn’t a pause tonight after “Her only fault”, but the line got an even bigger laugh anyway. The audience also spotted the hanky going down on the ramp to protect Hortensio’s bum, and that got a laugh as well. When the suitors turned up at Baptista’s house, there was a strong reaction from all present when Tranio introduced himself as Lucentio, son of Vincentio of Pisa. His ‘father’ was clearly known to be a very wealthy man – Gremio blanched, while Baptista looked astounded and then very happy to have such a wealthy suitor for his daughter. Petruchio had already indicated that he was well pleased with the dowry on offer for Kate, and there was a similar reaction when he saw her for the first time – “Wow”!

During Kate and Petruchio’s first scene together, she took a long time to answer him at first. He’d gone through his options beforehand, about how he’ll contradict everything she does, and with this long delay he came back onto the centre of the stage – he’d been waiting for her response at the foot of the ramp – and redid the “say she be mute” bit, which got a good laugh. Then she started to have a go at him. This was typical of this production, and unusual in that most Kates fire off their remarks very quickly, while this Kate took her time to come up with her witticisms. They had quite a physical level to their ‘wooing’; the pissing on the floor was still in, but seemed to work better this time, and I was aware that she was doing her best to put him off. She had already felt the attraction when they’d been lying together on the floor, and I reckoned she was too scared to risk falling in love, with Petruchio or anyone else. It was after she felt the attraction that she got up and tried to leave, but Petruchio brought her back with his response.

After the mad ones have had their turn, the regular suitors were left to arrange matters with Baptista for Bianca’s hand. I noticed the knob references during Tranio’s claims on behalf of Lucentio – he mimed a huge erection and gargantuan balls. These references went on all through the performance, but I hadn’t seen them so much before. This bit was just the most obvious.

The scene with the tutors attempting to woo Bianca was as before, and still very funny, with Cambio taking off his glasses to show he was, in fact, Lucentio. He did the same thing later on when his father had arrived, and he and Bianca did a little ta-da thing when revealing that ‘Cambio is changed into Lucentio’.

The wedding was as before, but there was more visible through the doors from this angle; we could see the people coming from the church this time. Grumio had ‘Petruchio’ written on his chest this time, and Kate didn’t have any difficulty getting the word “entreat” out this time, but otherwise it was much the same.

After the interval, Petruchio’s servants were draped over the chairs as I described before, and this time I saw that Sly came on without his underpants, ran across the stage, grabbed the pan which one of the servants was holding in his hand, and made off with it as cover. He was also among the servants during the next scene, and I got the impression that he was gradually being drawn back into his own life, even though he kept popping up during various scenes shouting ‘I’m a lord, I’m a lord’.

When Kate arrived, she crawled through one servant’s legs and collapsed on the floor. The food was brought, and she was about to eat when Petruchio suggested they give thanks. She put the food down, reluctantly, and held her hands in silent prayer along with him. She finished too soon though; after her hasty ‘amen’ Petruchio said ‘no’ and continued the prayer. I noticed he was watching her during this. After the servants had all left, and Petruchio was on the floor with Kate telling her it would be better for them to fast, she tried to undo his trousers but he stopped her. I got the impression he knew their relationship wouldn’t work until Kate accepted him properly, and she was just trying to find some way to connect to him – she just didn’t understand what he wanted.

The next scene, where Tranio and Hortensio swore to leave Bianca forever, was definitely clearer from these seats. Sly popped in a couple of times when the panels were opened, but otherwise it was all Lucentio and Bianca, still going at it hammer and tongs, and drooping, exhausted, out of a window at the end. When they did emerge, I noticed Cambio was holding his satchel over his nether regions at the end of that scene – why? Hadn’t he already got his end away? Mind you, at that age it doesn’t take long…. Hortensio revealed himself by ripping off his moustache – very painful, and as funny as Cambio taking off his glasses to reveal Lucentio.

Grumio brought a chair on for Kate for the food scene. After he left, Kate used a spare bit of rope, which just happened to have a noose at the end, to pretend to have hung herself. She lay on the floor with the noose round her neck and one foot resting on the overturned chair. Hortensio was alarmed when he saw her, and I reckon Petruchio was concerned for a moment, but he checked it out and knew she was fooling straightaway. After this, she tried to throttle him with the rope and he played along, making choking sounds. When she realised he was joking rather than choking, she let him go. It was when she was telling him that she would speak her mind that she got the chair to stand on, so she could make her point face to face.

The model wore a white fur trimmed coat which she took off to reveal the red dress underneath. Was there more being ripped off tonight? Maybe not, but she grabbed the fur coat to cover her embarrassment as she ran off. When they were arguing over what time it was, Kate took a peek at Petruchio’s watch to confirm the time before carrying on their little disagreement.

On the trip to visit Baptista Minola, Grumio dropped a tennis racquet as they came on and a member of the audience had to help retrieve it. Kate had a slightly impatient look on her face at this point. I still couldn’t see any particular reason for her change of approach, but it was still fun to watch. She was carrying a triple candlestick, and brandished this to illustrate the “rush candle” line.

I still couldn’t see what Kate and Petruchio were up to during the party scene. Bianca was a bit drunk in the final scene, and Tranio had a bandage on his nose. Everyone was listening to Kate for once, and she had to think about what to say. She meant it all, although she was talking about Petruchio rather than men in general (this was from the post-show). This time when she threw a chair, nobody minded – that was how she cleared the space to kneel for her final offer. Petruchio knelt down and put his hands on Kate’s feet after she’d knelt down to him, and it was clear he was very much in love with her by this time. At the end, as Kate and Petruchio snuggled under the covers at the back, she held up two fingers to the rest of them – so not a complete transformation then.

I thought the ending might have changed, with some of the rougher characters beating up Sly before the Lord came on with Bartholomew and left the money on his chest. Bartholomew didn’t leave the scarf this time. The performance still ended with Marion Hackett standing on the stage looking at Sly, who had passed out on the stage with the money on his chest, and I still have no clue what it was meant to convey, but as we’d enjoyed ourselves I didn’t waste too much time thinking about it.

The Sly framework was done well enough, but I still felt it held the play back. I was able to see the Lord and Bartholomew at the back a couple of times, but they just disappeared and there was still a gap between the induction story and the main play. The crudity was even more apparent from this angle, with Kate mooning several times, and I noticed tonight how smart Tranio is; he used a classical reference at least once, and his mind was certainly sharper than Lucentio’s (not difficult). Janet Fullerlove, the actress brought in to replace the one with the broken ankle, was up to speed and played both Marion Hackett and the widow tonight and did both very well; we’d seen the understudy for the widow last time.

The combination of our better position and the natural ‘bedding down’ of the performance made for a more enjoyable evening than last time, and this is definitely one of the better productions we’ve seen of this play.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at

The Taming Of The Shrew – January 2012


By William Shakespeare

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Venue: RST

Date: Thursday 26th January 2012

For an early performance, this wasn’t bad. We were right round the side in Row D, so although we inevitably missed some things, we did get a reasonable idea of the whole production, and as we’re seeing it again soon we can hopefully catch up on what we missed. And given that it’s early in the run and they’ve had to adjust to an accident which has meant recasting one of the actresses, they may well come on quite a bit for an extra couple of weeks.

We went to the director’s talk on Tuesday, so we were aware that the overall production concept was the marital bed. From a talk earlier today by Michael Dobson and Nicola Watson we learned that a previous experience of watching Henry V had been incorporated into this production by means of a brown cloth area. So it was that we were confronted by a massive hump of mattress and brown cover, raising the level of the RST stage enough so that we couldn’t see the faces of the people across from us. What this was like for the people in Row A I’ve no idea; I do know that one woman asked to move further back because she couldn’t see, and she had started in row B! (They found her another seat, bless ‘em.)

The back of the stage was covered by a curtain in some nondescript brownish colour. From this, a lumpy ramp (pillows) led down to the stage floor. The cast had some difficulty travelling down this ramp at times; although it wasn’t nearly as steep as the Heart of Robin Hood ramp, it was still difficult enough to suggest why a broken ankle had happened so early in the run. When the curtains were drawn back, we could see wooden panels behind them, which turned out to be multi-faceted doors – they could open wide top to bottom or smaller panels within them could be opened as needed. There was also a space behind these in which several of the cast waited to appear for various scenes. I noticed the servant types early on, but I’ve no idea if we could see them because of our acute angle or if they were visible from the front. Time will tell.

The time period for this production was post WWII in Italy, a setting which allowed for the sort of attitudes towards women which would fit with the play, and yet be contemporary enough for an audience to relate to. We had also learned from the director’s talk that the induction would feature prominently in this production, and it did. There was music and a rumpus behind the curtain, and then Christopher Sly was thrown out of the pub, rolling down the slope to land on the stage. I didn’t follow much of the dialogue for this bit, and I was a bit worried that I might not hear enough of the lines to enjoy myself, but it turned out to be only a short spell at the start, thank goodness. Sly ended up near the front of the stage, asleep or comatose, and then the bar staff and customers turned into dogs and started having a go at Sly’s body. Fortunately the huntsmen turned up in time and called them off, and the Lord also arrived, fresh from some hunting. I recall some discussion of the relative merits of a couple of hounds, and then the Lord spotted the sleeping Sly. As he came up with his plan to give Sly a fantasy makeover, I found myself thinking that this play has a strong theme of people learning their place, both in terms of gender and class. I also reckoned that Will might have been saying to those that would listen that the only things differentiating a lord from the common people were his clothes and the way people treated him.

There were plenty of servants in this production, but even so they could hardly move Sly, who was stoutly built. They did manage to get his outer clothes off, and despite his existing smell, and the additional burden of a loud fart, they had him snug in bed in no time in a corner of the stage. We had a few laughs during this part, especially when one servant waved his smoking censer in the vicinity of the bed after the fart.

The plans for the masquerade were pretty long-winded, but we got the gist. Bartholomew, the servant who was to play Sly’s ‘Lady’ had been sent off with the players, and was back again sorting out the curtains when he was taken away to become a woman. Meantime everyone else was fawning over Sly, and doing their best to convince him he was indeed a lord. When he asked if he had ever spoken in the fifteen years he had been out of his wits, only one man answered, and everyone looked at him; he was really on the spot. He got out of it well, though, and after this Sly seemed to be convinced that they were telling the truth. Then his ‘Lady’ arrived, and she looked very fetching indeed. She wasn’t too happy when the rest left him alone with Sly on his command, and despite several attempts to get out of the room, she eventually had to reason her way out of it.

There was plenty of crudity in this production, and here it took the form of Sly masturbating when he found he couldn’t have sex with his ‘wife’; I don’t mind it as such, but I’m not sure if it’s necessary to make the point. Anyway, Sly and his wife settled down in one of the front corners to watch the players, pulling the bedspread over them. I did wonder how good the view would be for anyone over that way; it might be us next time.

With the play proper starting, the doors at the back opened up and for the first time we saw sunshine. Lucentio was a bookish sort, definitely wet behind the ears, while Tranio was OK but not as well defined as some I’ve seen. When they stood to one side it was because of the music; a brass band heralded the arrival of Baptista Minola and his daughters, while I had already noticed Gremio lurking around the doors at the back.

The music and procession went on for some time, and when we finally saw Kate I realised that she had been taken round the streets in a scold’s fiddle – a fiddle-shaped form of the stocks which went round a person’s neck and held the wrists in two other holes to one side; a nasty implement for publicly humiliating someone who didn’t conform to society’s norms. This was quite a shocking image to deal with early on, and I felt the comic tone of the rest of the scene jarred slightly with this entrance. Once out of the ‘fiddle’ though, Kate soon took her revenge, and there were few characters left on stage who didn’t feel the force of her anger. The reason for the ‘fiddle’ was also evident; one poor chap had been walking behind her with his face bandaged up, clearly one of her previous victims. And also a current one, as she got in a good swipe at him again.

Bianca was slightly taller than Kate, and looked all demure and innocent, but we women know how these things work and Kate’s comment about sticking a finger in your eye was clearly based on knowledge – Bianca milked the sympathy vote for all it could give. I don’t know if they dropped Lucentio and Tranio’s asides, or if I just didn’t hear them as they were on the other side of a very busy stage. We did get to hear their lines after everyone else had left, and Lucentio was wonderfully silly, skipping around like a new-born lamb with delight at the thought of his love. Tranio was more practical, as ever, and fortunately they were a similar size, so swapping clothes wasn’t a problem. Sadly, they left it at the jackets and hats tonight – no trousers were removed.

After a comment or two from Sly the play continued with Petruchio’s arrival. At the talk this morning, Michael Dobson had passed on a comment from one of his daughters that if David Caves took his shirt off, he’d do fine as Petruchio. He did take his shirt off later as it happened, but I think it only fair to point out that even before that action sealed his performance, he was already doing pretty well fully dressed. The doors at the back had been closed, and during the fight with Grumio, Petruchio battered at it with Grumio’s head (Simon Gregor used his forearm to thump the door – one of the advantages of the side view). The Ulster accents of both men worked very well; they not only indicated they were relative outsiders to this community, but a sense of wildness and unpredictability came with it which suited the characters down to the ground. Petruchio certainly seemed wild, and definitely only interested in money at this stage, but would that change?

A nice touch with Hortensio was to have him a bit phobic about bodily fluids. When Petruchio spat on his hand before they shook on their deal, Hortensio took it willingly enough but wiped his hand immediately afterwards, and also put his handkerchief on the ground before he sat beside Petruchio on the ramp. He also put in a lovely pause after “Her only fault” when describing Kate; we filled in the gap and obligingly laughed. The gathering of the suitors was good fun too, and soon they were off a-wooing.

For the next scene, Kate came through the doors first, smoking. No sign of Bianca. She did turn up, though, bound hand and foot, and with something in her mouth. She had to hop through the door, and roll down the ramp before spitting out the gag and getting into the fight with her sister. They went at it pretty hard, and Baptista had to break things up before Kate smothered Bianca with a pillow. Of course Bianca did her victim number again – bitch – but she showed her true nature with lots of rude gestures at Kate behind their father’s back.

With the girls off stage the suitors turned up, and this was another entertaining run through the various characters, many of whom were in disguise. I always love the way Baptista responds to Petruchio’s first question – “Pray, have you not a daughter call’d Katherina, fair and virtuous?” with “I have a daughter, sir, call’d Katherina”. This was as good as usual, and as Steve pointed out, it’s just the sort of thing comedy writers are doing nowadays.

The tutors were presented, and Baptista gave the books to the musician and the lyre to the academic. They exchanged the gifts when they left the stage to go to Baptista’s daughters, and soon we heard the sound of a lute, played not very well, coming from behind the doors. We also heard the sound of the lute being broken over Hortensio’s head, and he re-emerged shortly afterwards to show us the damage. This whetted Petruchio’s appetite, and he was really keen to meet this woman who might actually be worth his while. I wasn’t sure about Baptista’s reactions to some of this part as he had his back to us for most of it, so I’m hoping to get a better view of that next time.

Kate came through the doors and kept herself aloof beside them, smoking again and with a hip flask. I got the impression that Petruchio was taken with her on first sight, whether by her looks or her attitude I couldn’t tell. They were soon sparring verbally, although Kate took a long pause before one of her early responses, and there were plenty of sexual references in the physical actions accompanying their joust. Petruchio mirrored Kate’s actions whenever she threw a tantrum, like banging on the doors, and this made her stop what she was doing; it was clearly the first time she’d met someone who wasn’t frightened or put off by her behaviour. Although he threatened to hit her if she struck him again, he didn’t beat her up, just had a fun time wrestling with her. She seemed to realise pretty quickly that she couldn’t get the better of him physically – he was a good deal taller than her – so she stuck to words, and even there he kept going past her ability to respond. She did seem to find his body attractive as well, so I was aware that they were potentially well matched, which made the dialogue easier to accept.

There was another unpleasant moment during this confrontation, when Kate, on the left walkway, lifted up her skirt and apparently peed on the floor. Of course it was faked, and there was a bit of a delay as the contraption didn’t work at first; it’s another thing I don’t mind but which didn’t actually help the production. Those nearby who were splashed weren’t so happy, though.

The financial fisticuffs between Gremio and Tranio-as-Lucentio was amusing, though I found myself remembering the wonderful Generation Game conveyor belt scene from our first Taming many years ago. (Just taken a quick break to review the cast at’TAM198304’&dsqCmd=Show.tcl – great fun!) The competition between the tutors was also entertaining, and although she wasn’t entirely convinced, Bianca was clearly favouring Cambio over Licio. There were two chairs on stage at this point, and each tutor kept pulling one of them away so the other chap fell down, which was more amusing than it sounds. Cambio in particular got himself into all sorts of contorted positions while he was ‘construing’ with Bianca, while Licio sang each line of his ‘gamut’ after Bianca read it out – very funny.

The wedding itself was pretty lively. We were given the full text, as far as I could tell, so Biondello had his chance to romp through the almost unintelligible speech about Petruchio and his nag – he did this very well, using postures to illustrate the descriptions. Petruchio and Grumio looked like they’d come straight from a particularly bawdy stag do – Petruchio had ‘Petruchio and Kate’ written on his chest in big black letters, while Grumio had ‘Grumio’ on his. They were scantily clad in what might loosely be called trousers, with greenery attached at strategic points and a large salami down Grumio’s trousers; this became his ‘weapon’ later. Kate was wearing a simple white tailored dress, while Bianca was in a pink ensemble. It took some effort for Kate to actually utter the word ’entreat’, but she managed it, and still she ended up being wrapped in Petruchio’s coat (or cloak) and carried off. There was a good laugh when she said ‘Father, be quiet’, given that he was behind her at that point.

They took the interval here, which meant that Sly had to get off stage as well. They’d kept him on throughout this first half, and between the early scenes they’d done a bit of under the covers rummaging. At first it was Bartholomew escaping his lord’s clutches, then Marion Hackett appeared for some unknown reason and stole Sly’s underpants. By the time of the interval, he was the only one of the induction scene characters left, and when he realised everyone else had left the stage, he held his vest over his willy and eventually made his way off. I found this stuff mildly amusing, but as they didn’t do much with it in the second half it was rather wasted for me, especially as it disrupted the rhythm of the play. They moved the bedspread around so much during those bits that some cast or crew had to come on and straighten everything out again before the action could continue.

Sly also came on at the start of the second half, on his own, holding a small saucepan over his nether regions. He went off stage at the back beside the pillows, as I recall, but he was hanging around during the next scene for a while, watching the action among the players. There was hardly any Curtis at all with this production – lost in rehearsal, poor chap – and they prepared for the scene by having lots of actors come on and pose themselves on the stage, asleep. The chairs which had been left there were put on their sides with somebody draped over the one nearest us. There were actors lying on the pillows, on the stage and hanging out of the back area, all fast asleep. Grumio woke them up and Petruchio came in soon after, with Kate crawling in after him. Her dress was a bit mucky, and I think she was shoeless, but otherwise she seemed fine. They skipped through this scene pretty quickly and after a short report from Curtis about the non-event in the bedchamber, Petruchio returned to give us a situation report. He waited quite a long time to see if anyone in the audience could suggest another way to achieve the desired result – no response.

The next scene is where Tranio craftily gets Hortensio to swear off Bianca, and although I couldn’t see all the action behind the doors, I got a clear idea of what was going on. Basically, Lucentio and Bianca were pre-empting the marriage vows and going at it, hammer and tongs. They started by kissing, but were soon into rampant sexual intercourse in all sorts of positions, culminating in pleasurable exhaustion when they finally joined Tranio. The activity was revealed by opening various panels in the doors, showing different parts of the lovers as they got it on. Early on, both Tranio and Hortensio were right by the doors, but fortunately the lovers were oblivious; later on it was just Tranio winding Hortensio up by opening yet another panel.

At the end of this scene, Tranio persuaded the travelling pedant to pose as his father, and then we were back in Petruchio’s house, with Kate trying to get hold of some food from Grumio. When Petruchio and Hortensio came on with the dish of meat, Hortensio ended up straddling Kate, who was face down on the stage, and as there was too much to eat he stuffed some items in his pockets to clear the plate.

The argument over the dress was good fun. The dress and hat themselves were very attractive, and the dressmaker arrived with a live model to show off his work. She was rather upset at having her sleeve ripped off, and Kate took the sleeve back off Petruchio and put it back on the model, only for it to be ripped off again, along with the other one and the cape. I think this was the scene where Kate paused the argument, got one of the chairs, put it in front of Petruchio, and stood on it so she could argue with him face to face – excellent fun.

The scene where Baptista met the fake Vincentio and then Biondello explained to Lucentio the basics of elopement, was pretty standard and then we saw Petruchio, Kate and Grumio returning to Padua for a family reunion. Kate finally decided to stop arguing, couldn’t tell why, and then the real Vincentio turned up. Dressed in a very natty suit, and wearing sunglasses, he was also accompanied by a bodyguard who wasn’t keen on letting these strangers anywhere near his boss, especially when they talked so weirdly. Vincentio wasn’t bothered though, and waved him away. After Kate and Petruchio had their fun, and Petruchio spoke to the new arrival to find out who he was, Vincentio joined in the game by addressing Kate as ‘Fair sir’ and Petruchio with ‘and you my merry mistress’. So at least he has a sense of humour; he’ll need it later after Tranio abuses him.

The party was going full swing when they arrived at Padua, and the melee in front of the house was mildly entertaining. Petruchio and Kate stood over at the far side of the stage, so I couldn’t see what they were up to, but I got the impression that they were chatting to each other instead of watching the action.

For the final scene, the rest of the cast entered through the doors, and Kate and Petruchio were a bit behind them. Kate was clearly embarrassed that they were still wearing their soiled clothes, and the other two wives were clearly sneering at her. She went back to the doors and stood along from Petruchio there, having nicked his hat and put it on her head. There was dancing, and Bianca was enjoying herself with Gremio as they did the tango.

The bickering was entertaining enough, with Kate really having a go at the widow over her ‘mean’ comment. Bianca was very lively, and then the women left the stage. The men were more laddish once they’d gone, and the money for the bet was soon on the floor in the middle of the stage. A chair was placed beside the money, and each husband waited on it, expectantly. Biondello gave the bad news to two of them, then Grumio went off for the final message, with Petruchio hoping for a good result. Even he was surprised by Kate’s arrival, and I always reckon this is where he goes a bit over the top because he’s worried she’s no longer got any spirit to her.

When he challenged her to tell the other two wives about their duty, she had to think about it for a while, and everyone else assumed she wasn’t going to do it. She sat on one of the chairs and lit up a cigarette, but just as the rest had given up on her, she started on the speech. I couldn’t decide on her motivation; it wasn’t clear to me why she’d decided to speak up, although the lines themselves were very clear. Her final offer to put her hand beneath Petruchio’s foot was OK, and he seemed to have realised that she was still the Kate he fell in love with. He took her in his arms, and then they were kissing, and rushing to the back of the stage to get their kit off and snuggle under the bedclothes.

The rest of the play was a bit of a blur. I don’t remember how the rest of the cast left the stage, but soon it was bare and in relative darkness. Sly staggered back on and collapsed on the far side of the stage, and from the noise behind the doors he was outside the inn we’d started from. Two characters came on and went over to him; Steve reckoned they were the Lord and Bartholomew, while I wasn’t sure it was the Lord himself. Either way, he left some money on Sly’s chest, while Bartholomew ran back to leave his scarf with Sly. The performance ended with Marion Hackett standing on top of the ramp and looking at Sly, while he held up some of the money and then collapsed back again on the stage.

I wasn’t taken with this ending; it wasn’t clear to me what was going on, and I only realised it was money on Sly’s chest when he held some of it up at the end. Since Lucy Bailey had described the play as the journey to get the two leads into bed, why carry on after that’s been done? And with the Sly subplot petering out during the second half, why go back to it? Maybe we’ll understand it better next time we see it as our angle will be better, although the way this bed set blocks the view, I’m not so sure.

This was a lively retelling of the story with lots of physical humour, some of which worked for me, some of which didn’t. The relationship between Kate and Petruchio was believable, and the rest of the performance was at least watchable with some nice touches. Steve wondered if Kate was actually challenging Petruchio at the end by offering her hand, testing him to see how he would take it. That’s possible, and we’ll both be watching closely next time to see if it becomes clearer.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at

Julius Caesar – August 2009


By William Shakespeare

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Venue: Courtyard Theatre

Date: Tuesday 11th August 2009

This was a bit disappointing. There were enough interesting moments for me to give it 6/10, but overall the staging had a number of weaknesses which I felt detracted from the performance.

From the program notes, the director had been influenced by, amongst other things, the TV series Rome, and this influence could be seen throughout the production. At the back of the stage there was a series of screens which could be rotated to face either way. They could be folded right back to make a screen, set on an angle, set edge on to the stage, and the angled settings could face either way, so there were a lot of possibilities there. Behind and above these screens was another larger screen, and both of these levels were used to show various images throughout the performance, with the musicians on the level above. At the start, the image at the back was of the statue of the she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus, while prior to the performance two scantily clad, dirty men carried out an exhausted fight, both needing long pauses between farcically poor attacks on each other, eventually resulting in the death of one of them. I assume this was the aforementioned twins having their fight to the death to determine who ruled Rome, which may have set the scene for some folk, but didn’t do anything for me. Scabrous, gritty realism was the order of the day, however, as the manic festivities of the Lupercal took to the stage, helpfully assimilating the dead body in the process.

This was where I had the first problem with the multi-media approach. As Flavius and Murullus remonstrated with the common folk, the background screens were still showing the mass of the festival carrying on regardless, implying that these tribunes were having little effect in stopping the celebrations. That may have been the intention, but if so it completely undercuts the impact of the scene. The noise also continued making it harder to hear what was being said, and with my fondness for hearing the lines this was not a helpful aspect of the production for me. The drunken cobbler (Autolycus from The Winter’s Tale) did get some good laughs, mind you, and in general there was more humour on show than your average JC production.

I enjoyed Greg Hicks’ performance as Julius Caesar. Livelier than many I’ve seen, it reminded me of his comments earlier in the day about Peter Hall’s advice to listen to jazz music if you want to play classical roles. This was definitely the ‘jazz Julius’, which again helped the humour. Following his comments about Caesar’s reputation for being absolutely ruthless about killing or punishing people, even those he liked, I felt that came across in his performance, especially in the senate house, along with Caesar’s arrogance and passion for power. There was also a nice touch in this casting, with Caesar’s warning to Mark Antony to beware of men who have “a lean and hungry look” applying equally as well to Caesar himself.

During the discussion between Brutus and Cassius, which came across reasonably clearly, the image at the back was of the top of the stadium with the backs of people visible above the wall. This did at least allow the cheering to be more obvious, and was probably the best use of these techniques during the evening. Casca’s explanation of Caesar’s distemper was certainly acerbic enough, and got the usual laugh at “it was Greek to me”, but the delivery was strangely jerky for an RSC production and I found this another distraction which took away from my enjoyment. In fact I felt that about half the actors seemed to have been affected by this same problem, with some lines becoming unintelligible or losing their effect because of it. Fortunately, the main parts were understandable enough, although there was a strange propensity for characters to shout their way through the dialogue, acceptable when Brutus and Cassius are squaring up to each other later perhaps, but unnecessary in most of the other instances.

The storm scene was prefaced by the image of a statue of Caesar breaking up into little pieces and being blown away – a bizarre impressionistic image which might have been more effective if only the other pictures used hadn’t seemed intent on giving the production a more realistic look and feel. I lost a lot of the lines here and I was worried that the production might just be beyond recovery, but the following scenes became stronger, and although the interval came later than I would have liked I was much more engaged with the performance by that time.

Brutus (Sam Troughton) was perfectly pitched as a noble but politically naive Roman aristocrat. His reputation with the Roman people and his skill at oratory were both a blessing and a curse; they helped the conspirators ‘get away with it’ temporarily, but then they blocked Cassius from persuading the group to act wisely in killing Mark Antony. During their ‘debate’, I was very aware that Brutus was a sort of celebrity figurehead who takes over the revolution and screws it up big time. His powers of persuasion prevail again during the strategy meeting in the second half, to everyone’s cost. I saw Cassius as being better at influencing other men on an individual basis, working anonymously behind the scenes to control the outcome of events, but he just wasn’t able to go up against someone like Brutus successfully in front of the group. At the same time I realised that, whatever their motivations, each of these men believes he’s doing the right thing. There’s no calculated choice to be a villain, as we get with Richard III. The mentions of Pompey’s defeat, and references to factions also brought out the idea that some of the men had been on Pompey’s side, and now they want either revenge or to regain their political power. Or both.

There was a moment in the run up to the assassination when Caesar takes the scroll from Artemidorus and hangs on to it for quite a while, when it might have been possible to ratchet up the tension a bit more. I was looking at Caesar during this, so I didn’t notice if the conspirators were reacting; if they did, it didn’t come across to me. If we see this production again I’ll try to remember to watch the conspirators more closely.

The senate scene was fine, but I felt the assassination itself was overdone and too stagey. Again, this was in line with the desire to rub the audience’s noses in the grime and muck of ancient Rome, but it lost impact and momentum for me. (The soothsayer’s first appearance was similarly over the top.) The remainder of that scene was fine, although I wasn’t sure if Mark Antony would be another victim of the ‘heightened’ staging. I needn’t have worried; his speech to the Romans, following Brutus’s remarkably effective oration, was all that could have been wished, with Antony having to keep his intentions well hidden at first from the openly hostile crowd.

Here was another place where the multi-media did its best to ruin a perfectly good scene. First off, there were lots of unruly crowd images projected onto the lower screens, with the cast adding an extra layer to the effect. So far, so good. However, these images never responded fully to the main action, so again Brutus and Antony were competing with a constant background rumble, undercutting the effect of their speeches. These men are meant to hold the crowd in the palm of their hand (hands?) one after another; ideally, there should be little or no noise other than what they inspire. Adding to the noise element, it seemed the city had already been set alight and was blazing fiercely, something Mark Antony was supposed to incite, but the citizens were way ahead of him. So apart from the crowd’s inattention to the speeches, the way their responses seemed muffled when they did produce them, and their total unconcern that they were about to be trapped by a massive conflagration which they presumably started, it went well. But not for Cinna the poet, poor chap, bumped off just before the interval.

The second half started with the triumvirate agreeing the list of traitors to be executed – again, too much unnecessary shouting. Antony appears to be in a superior position with this much younger Octavius, but it doesn’t last. The background image is of a row of burning torches or beacons set on a hill(?). The next scene concerns the relationship between Brutus and Cassius, their argument and reconciliation. The staging didn’t work so well for me, although I felt the performances were very good. During the second half, when soldiers arrived on the scene, they came through the angled screens (different direction indicated different army) with choreographed movements, and backed up with more film of lots of men doing the same sort of movement. Frankly, along with the music, I thought they were about to burst into a song and dance routine. I like humour, but this kind of silliness doesn’t help matters. During the confrontation between the two leaders, I kept catching glimpses of the guards on the other side of the translucent screens moving around, yet another distraction – is this production going for a record?

With the decision to fight at Philippi, and Brutus’s vision of Caesar’s ghost, strangely helped on by a woman in black, there’s nothing left but the fighting and multiple suicides. There was an additional ghost in this sequence. When Brutus is listening to his servant’s music, sitting facing him and looking diagonally to our right, his wife’s ghost came on behind him, and after waving her arms around a bit, turned and left, as if she’d been trying to get his attention and failed. I have no idea what that was meant to add to the piece.

Brutus’s ‘suicide’ – running onto a sword held by his servant – was very nicely done. Caesar’s ghost entered carrying a sword, and passed between the two living men just at the moment when Brutus runs forward, so it looked like Caesar killing Brutus. This was a lovely and unusual piece of staging – well done to whoever thought that up. The rest of it all went off OK, though again the fighting seemed a bit overdone, and the play ended with Brutus’s body being carried off by Octavius’s soldiers while the remaining soldiers gradually dropped down onto the stage, presumably dead. I took this to be a reference to the many more deaths to come, particularly when Octavius and Antony have their dust-up, but without any great conviction on my part, nor any great pleasure in seeing it.

One aspect of the production we both liked was the costumes. Instead of everyone struggling with togas, the costumes suggested Roman-ness without actually being authentic, so the actors could move around freely. The scene where Caesar was persuaded to go to the senate on the ides of March was funnier than usual, and that odd scene where Portia tells her servant to run to the Capitol without giving him instructions was done well enough, but I still have no idea what it’s for. Apart from the gloomy and sometimes inexplicable lighting changes, that’s about it for this performance. Not one I’d recommend without major changes – is it possible to lose the projectors on the way to Newcastle?

© 2009 Sheila Evans at

Tonight At 8:30 (pt2) – August 2006

Experience: 3/10

By Noel Coward

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Thursday 31st August 2006

This was much better than part one. Josefina had done something with her voice, and now I could hear every word. In fact, I lost very few lines at all this time around.

Hands Across the Sea started the evening. Aristocratic couple, plus friends dropping in for a chat and a drink, entertain a middle class couple who looked after the wife briefly during a world tour. Sadly, it’s not the couple they think they’re entertaining, and they have to find out who the guests actually are. Sounds funnier than it is. There were a few good laughs, especially the wife’s reaction when she realises her mistake, but overall the piece was very dated. Most of the laughs were based on posh folk not even noticing when they’re getting other people caught up in the trailing telephone cable, and the (relatively) lower classes being too terrified to move out of the way or disentangle themselves. All pretty far fetched today.

         Fumed Oak was easily the best piece of both parts. The opening scene didn’t promise much – a wife, daughter and grandmother having breakfast and bickering amongst themselves. Father arrives and is scarcely noticed, sitting quietly at the end of the table. Grandma and mother are constantly sniping over every possible bone of contention – noisy plumbing, bringing up the daughter, money, etc. No wonder the poor husband gets out of the house without finishing his breakfast.

Scene two was wonderful. The worm turns. Father comes home to find a cold supper laid out for him, while the three women are about to go off to the cinema. He puts a stop to that by locking the door and removing the key – they’re going to hear what he has to say, and he doesn’t hold back. His wife tricked him into marriage years ago when she was worried she’d be left on the shelf, by pretending she was pregnant – the baby finally arrived three years later! Despite this, he’s shelved his own plans and worked to support the family – a wife who’s cold-hearted and mean-spirited and a daughter he frankly can’t stand. Gran has plenty of money of her own, apparently, while he’s saved up £572 from his wages, and plans to go off and live a bit while he still has the chance. Plates are thrown, Gran gets slapped (though she recovers enough to be crawling around the floor picking up the £50 he’s leaving for his wife and child), and the whole rumpus was very satisfactory.

Shadow Play finished the evening. An interesting piece, it set up the premise of a fashionable couple, tired of each other, where the husband asks for divorce, or does he? She’s taken some sedative or sleeping pills, and starts feeling strange while they’re talking. Suddenly she’s seeing how things used to be, and they reprise their relationship, cutting back and forth from the present to the past – very dreamlike. It also allows for some lovely cameos by the rest of the cast, as waiters, suitors, gondoliers, etc. Much of this is musical, with songs and dances, broken by patches of dialogue. Finally, we come back to the present, where she’s being fed black coffee by her husband, with the maid and a concerned friend in support. As she settles back to sleep, she tells her husband they can talk about divorce tomorrow, but he’s certain he never asked her for one. Intriguing, and nicely ambiguous.

That was it, and we were glad we lowered our expectations to rock bottom – we ended up enjoying it even more, and this was definitely our preferred selection (though we wouldn’t go out of way to see these again).

© 2006 Sheila Evans at

Tonight At 8:30 (part 1) – July 2006

Experience: 1/10

By Noel Coward

Directed by Lucy Bailey

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Thursday 27th July 2006

What a disappointment. I had hoped for better from Noel Coward, but sadly, this show proves that he could also write stinkers. These one act plays may have been popular in their day, although I suspect the popularity was Noel and Gertie’s rather than the writing, but they creak like rotting hulks now, with very few good points to commend them. The actors did their best, but they couldn’t resurrect the long-dead. Such is life.

Red Peppers was the opener. If I haven’t seen this actual playlet, I’ve certainly seen at least one like it – the faded ‘stars’ of music hall doing their inherited act round the country’s theatres, bitching about everyone else, falling out between themselves, then uniting against a common enemy – the musical director. Nothing new, very little humour worth mentioning, and peculiarly staged. The play’s stage was at the back, and we saw the performance from behind, which was fine. But at the end, when they’re back on stage again, they have to compete not only with a musical director going like the clappers, but also with Susan Wooldridge’s character struggling to get out of the hamper she’s fallen into in the dressing room, followed by the stage hand who lands in there after getting her out – he ends up playing the ukulele. What were we supposed to be watching? It completely undercut the final scene, and the whole thing fizzled out in a very disappointing way.

On top of this, the leading lady, Josefina Gabrielle, had some difficulties with her accent and her delivery. She seems to have spent a lot of her career doing musicals, presumably miked up. This may explain why her delivery lacked the clarity of the other actors’. While I expect to lose a few lines in a multi-directional auditorium, I found her very difficult to hear at all, throughout the plays.

The Astonished Heart filled a long hour before the second interval. Had I known it would be so long I would have ‘refreshed’ myself during the first! This was pretty basic stuff – a husband being unfaithful to his wife, can’t handle rejection by his lover, throws himself out of a window (and as a doctor you would have thought he’d have other methods available which would have spared us so much suffering), and dies after an offstage meeting with the ex-lover. Not the stuff of legend.

The accents were so terribly, terribly cut-glass that it was almost a parody. Mostly of the play consisted of long flashbacks in which the wife was terribly noble, the husband was terribly passionate, and the lover kept threatening to leave him and then hung around so he could grab her for the umpteenth time and cry “Don’t leave me”. I can only assume Noel and Gertie did something amazing with this piece – this cast, bless ‘em, just couldn’t make it enjoyable.

Finally, Family Album at least gave us a few laughs. After their father’s funeral, the family gather to drink sherry and reminisce. Unfortunately, this piece included various songs, which meant having an incongruous piano player on stage at all times, completely ignored by the rest of the cast. Fortunately, we finally got to see less of Josefina and much more of Susan Wooldridge, who is an excellent actress, especially at comedy. Her revelations of their father’s last  will leaving everything to his numerous lovers, a will which was ash before his body was cold, was a lovely scene. It was matched by the inability of the extremely old and deaf butler to hear any enquiries about his witnessing of said will. Beautifully done.

The gathering of the supposedly disinterested family members round the trunk that contains goodness knows what was also well done, but overall this piece, and the whole evening, would have benefited from serious pruning, and in one case from a much better performance. I have very low expectations for part two, which may mean I enjoy it a lot more. Wait and see.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at