All’s Well That Ends Well – July 2013

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Nancy Meckler

Venue: RST

Date: Tuesday 23rd July 2013

Another impressive preview from the RSC. Directed by Nancy Meckler, this production of All’s Well uses modern settings and costumes to good effect, with performances to match. There’s still some scope for improvement – the opening scenes were a little slow – but like Lafeu, my eyes smelled onions by the end. We had central seats in the stalls so we had a good view of all the action, and apart from one mobile phone going off the audience was pretty well behaved.

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The Heresy Of Love – March 2012

8/10

By Helen Edmundson

Directed by Nancy Meckler

Company: RSC

Venue: Swan Theatre

Date: Thursday 8th March 2012

This is a great new play; I really don’t think I’ll be able to fully express how moving and entertaining it was, but I’ll do my best. As an experience it felt very complete, and the actors in the post-show commented on how little the dialogue was changed during the rehearsal process. There were great performances all round and plenty of humour, although as the play drew to its conclusion that naturally lessened as death and destruction rained down on Mexico. It was full of ideas and arguments, but underpinning it all was that understanding of the direct approach of the heart, which knows no boundaries and heeds no rules made by man. And it was men making the rules in this society, and then using those rules to supress one half of the population – shame on them. They had their reasons, and I loved the way every character not only had a chance to express their point of view, but were given a valid perspective which I could respect, even if I completely disagreed with it; the piece was the stronger for it.

The play was based on the life of Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, a Mexican nun who defied the rules to read widely and to write – plays, poetry and other material on a wide range of subjects. Her success was due to the influence of the Mexican court, especially the friendship and support of the Vice Regent’s wife, while her downfall was due to the unease felt by many men within the Catholic hierarchy at such a graphic and popular demonstration of mental ability by a woman. It was clear from the play that women’s roles in Spanish society at that time were very limited – wife and mother, nun, or fallen woman were all that seemed to be on offer – and so Sor Juana’s choice to take the veil had a degree of ambiguity to it; did she cloister herself from her love of Jesus or from her love of learning? And are the two things actually incompatible, or was that just the official (male) view at the time?

The play opened with a scene demonstrating the change of policy that came with the new archbishop, Aguiar Y Seijas (Stephen Boxer). The laxity of the Mexican Catholic community had troubled the central command of the Spanish church, so the new archbishop had been chosen to restore order, which included a crackdown on the freedoms enjoyed by, amongst others, the nuns of various orders. Two other clergymen had been summoned to meet him privately; one, Bishop Santa Cruz (Raymond Coulthard) was known for his work with women, especially nuns given to ecstatic visions, while the other, Father Antonio (Geoffrey Beevers) was Sor Juana’s confessor and in that role had persuaded her to take the veil. He was a vacillator: when chastened by the new archbishop about Sor Juana’s literary activity, not normally allowed to a nun in any order, he confessed that he had probably been weak in his work with her, but he had hoped to convince her of the error of her ways. Sor Juana’s view was that he had supported her in her activities, and she was quite shocked to discover his change of heart. Bishop Santa Cruz saw Sor Juana as a splendid example of what women could achieve, but given the way he was passed over for promotion and the incompatibility of his views with the new regime, he became interested in Sor Juana mainly as a political pawn, someone he could use to torment the archbishop while in public seeming to be on his side. His political manoeuvring supplied a lot of the comedy moments in the play, and was an interesting counterpoint to the machinations of the Duke in Measure for Measure, the other role played by Raymond Coulthard in this mini-season.

The scenes in the convent were usually in either the locutory or Sor Juana’s cell, if cell it could be called – bit bigger than the usual allocation. The locutory was set up by a circular wall of railings which was moved round onto the stage. It had a small door to the right, and stools were often set up outside it, as with the first visit of the Vice Regent and his wife. Sor Juana’s cell had a small table and chair against the back wall – this was covered by a large picture of the head of Christ on the cross – and not much else, although the characters talked of and pretended to look at lots of books which she’d collected. For the final scenes, the convent started to crumble, and so a large piece of the wall fell forward and stayed that way till the end of the play. For the scenes in the archbishop’s palace, there was a chandelier, a throne and not much else as I recall. The set supported the production beautifully, with costumes to match.

In the convent there was a lot of affection for Sor Juana which seemed to be based mainly on her popularity at court, with many gifts being brought for her (and what happened to the vow of poverty?) and many visits from the vice-regal couple. There was also jealousy, of course, manifesting in the bitterness of Sister Sebastiana (Teresa Banham) who was the convent’s gatekeeper. Her desire for revenge was so strong that she connived in the seduction and ravishing of Sor Juana’s niece, young Angelica, who was not yet old enough to take holy orders. The seducer was Don Hernando (Simon Thorp), one of the Vice Regent’s supporters, who had no compunction in ruining Angelica’s life and prospects of marriage. Sister Sebastiana also used Bishop Santa Cruz’s known interest in visions to lure him away from his support for Sor Juana; I reckoned at the time she was making it all up, although as she was clearly highly strung it’s possible that she believed in these experiences.

Sor Juana remained oblivious to all of these machinations which were whirled around her until a trick by Bishop Santa Cruz exposed her private thoughts on a sermon by the archbishop. With the threat of interrogation by the Inquisition looming over her, she had a final confrontation with the archbishop himself, during which both put forward their arguments passionately and clearly. It was only the mention of her niece’s fate that put Sor Juana off her stride; up to this point she was unaware of what had happened, and her realisation that she failed to keep her niece safe from the dangers of the world, as she was supposed to do, finally weakened her confidence enough to cause her to renounce her work and confess her ‘sins’. The play ended with the Vice-Regent and his family retuning to Spain, along with Don Hernando, as plague and torrential rain swept through Mexico City. Sor Juana, having confessed her sins and renounced her writing, spent her final days tending the sick in the convent, and also died of the plague. The last scene showed Bishop Santa Cruz turning up at the locutory only to hear the news of her death, and his final musings about putting up a statue to this unusual nun were a fitting end to the story of a woman whose talent and determination got her into so much trouble.

The play has so many levels to it that I find it hard to explain its effect on me. Helen Edmundson intended to use many of the themes of the Spanish Golden Age dramas to tell this story, and she’s done an excellent job. There were contrivances, disguises (Angelica pretending to be her much taller aunt was a funny one), servants who help and hinder, and even touches of Measure For Measure in the way the Bishop suddenly found himself sexually attracted to Sor Juana, his intellectual equal; the less well educated women he’d been helping out for many years had never interested him, despite gossip to the contrary. In fact, I reckoned it was this sudden change of awareness and accompanying sense of guilt that made the Bishop so ready to believe Sister Sebastiana’s cunning lie about Sor Juana. She reluctantly ‘confessed’ that she’d heard Sor Juana telling the other nuns about how he touched her during a previous visit, and that was why she was uncertain about spending time with him to describe her visions. This apparent slander on his good name, semi-deserved as it was, offended the Bishop greatly, and Sor Juana would no longer receive his protection. This sort of complexity was rampant throughout the play, and made for a very rich experience.

As Sor Juana, Catherine McCormack gave a splendid central performance. She had no problem conveying the woman’s intelligence, determination and lack of political awareness. I did find myself thinking at times that she was in the wrong to insist on doing something that was against the rules she’d taken a vow to obey, but at the same time she was championing the rights to free thought and free expression which are so important to all of us. It was a sad ending, though not a downbeat one, and I hope to see this play again sometime. It’s been an amazing mini-season in the Swan this winter, with intelligent plays that demand a lot of the audience – long may this continue.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – September 2011

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Nancy Meckler

Venue: RST

Date: Tuesday 13th September 2011

We enjoyed this performance much more tonight, partly because we were better able to see past the stifling effects of the concept, partly because the original Hermia was back, but mainly because the whole cast seemed to have relaxed into their parts, making the conceptual aspects less at odds with the play. I often feel with this type of production that the longer it goes on, the less influence the director has, and the better the performances get as a result. So it was tonight, and the only down side was that they had a trial evacuation at the end of the performance, so we couldn’t applaud as much as we would have liked.

Other than Hermia and the overall improvements performance-wise, I didn’t notice any specific changes, but I do remember a lot more detail, so here goes. The performance (as opposed to the pre-show stuff) began with a bang – the boiler or whatever blowing up under the trapdoor. This led to the mechanicals’ entrance, and after some banging sounds from below, the lights came up again. I noticed Demetrius arrive this time; he was carrying a metal briefcase, and looked like a bag man who’d been out collecting protection money for his gang boss. When Theseus arrived, he put on his jacket and was handed Hippolyta’s passport by Philostrate. From the feedback next morning, not everyone spotted this, which is a weakness of this production – lots going on, but not necessarily being seen by the audience. At least Theseus’s delivery was stronger tonight, which helped a lot. I’d forgotten it last time, but he offers Hippolyta a flashy diamond necklace as well as the flower – it was hidden in the bouquet – and she rejects them both.

I was surprised when I saw Hermia this time. With her short hairstyle and black 60s frock, she looked about thirty, which is much too old for Hermia. I did adjust to this look after a short while – the understudy had seemed very young – but Matti Houghton’s performance was definitely stronger, and the humour of the lovers’ arguments was clearer as a result.

After the mechanicals have had their first meeting, the fairies enter, and this time there seemed to more of them everywhere. There were also two characters at the back, in black suits and wearing strange masks – apparently these were elves! Anyway, the fairies did the vampire hiss a lot, but without the fangs, and were suitably menacing. Puck was much more animated tonight, which worked well, and I noticed his costume was draped with ties, suggestive of the dream state perhaps, but from the feedback session the next day it was another confusing aspect of the production.

Despite my previous notes, Lysander and Hermia went to sleep on the ground, no chairs, and I’d forgotten that Hermia wiggled her way into a sleeping bag to go to sleep. Tonight she also brushed her teeth, using water from a flask – obviously a girl guide, always prepared. When Lysander wakes up and falls for Helena, he almost sings her name, and as it’s a black actor playing Lysander, he can get away with semi-rap now and later when extolling Helena’s virtues etc.

I paid more attention to the mechanicals’ rehearsal tonight, and it was very good fun. When Bottom was explaining how they can get away with having a lion on stage, he stands behind Snug and uses his arms to demonstrate the speech. Snug was in the process of eating something at the time, and there’s a lot of humour in the way he keeps trying to get the food in his mouth as his arm flies past his face, and misses. He does sneak the odd bite – it’s a long section this – and the final bit goes in at the end, getting another laugh.

After Bottom has exited, Flute takes centre stage, wearing a long red wig under his hat, which looked ridiculous and was very funny. He used his normal voice for the lines to begin with, and Quince keeps trying to get him to speak in a higher pitch, but Flute misunderstands. Each time Quince says ’ooh’ (imagine the high pitch, if you will), Flute repeats it, looking puzzled, then carries on with his normal voice for the dialogue. After several attempts, with the ‘ooh’ getting more and more extended, and accompanied by increasingly funny mimes, Quince realises he needs to change tack. He gets some padding – couldn’t see what it was exactly – stuffs it into Flute’s boiler suit to create breasts, and finally Flute gets the message. Unfortunately, he then goes so high and so fast that I couldn’t make out a word – I had the same problem last time – so the actual humour of the lines was lost. But the business was funny all the same.

When Titania reappears with her fairies, they have a small glowing bundle with them to represent the little baby, and they put it in a pram which wasn’t used last time – I suspect this was because they were one fairy short. Titania’s insistence that Bottom must stay in the forest reminded me tonight of Theseus forcing Hippolyta to stay in Athens, another dream connection. Moth was the missing fairy, not Peaseblossom – sorry – but this time the three fairies were worked separately, which helped. The lights didn’t seem to be working so well, though, which lessened the effect.

The interval over, there were lots of fairies on stage for the restart. Puck’s story of the mechanicals and Titania waking up was livelier tonight, and then we’re into the lovers having their bad night in the forest. The fairies threw lots of pillows on the stage, which came in very handy. Demetrius slid a long way on a couple of them during the fighting, and they were thrown around, used for fighting, etc.

After the couples have fallen asleep, woken up, and gone off to be married, only Bottom is left on stage. When he woke up, he was still in the armchair which had been pushed to the back of the stage, facing away from the audience. He fell backwards, tipping the chair over, which started his scene with a laugh.

The start of final scene has the three vice girls doing the Philomel song in harmony, standing at the microphone at the back. When Philostrate takes the microphone forward later on, he puts his hand over it when he’s trying to persuade Theseus that Pyramus and Thisbe isn’t the right entertainment for him. When Theseus insists, he bangs his head gently against the mike in frustration. I was disappointed that they cut a lot of his lines; he just talked about the few words and the tediousness, but didn’t cover the tragedy which made him cry tears of mirth part.

The set for Pyramus and Thisbe was on a fork lift which carried it onto the stage with plenty of health-and-safety beeping. As it came forward, Bottom and Flute, I think, were trying to fix the poles for the curtain in place, but couldn’t manage it until the platform had been set down.

There was a lot more humour in tonight’s Pyramus and Thisbe. All the performances had more detail, and there was even a bit of audience participation. After Demetrius had done some heckling, the player was looking at him (possibly Moonshine?) and he, coward that he is, was pointing at a member of the audience – not me this time, although Demetrius and Helena were on the walkway just beside us. In revenge, the audience member stole his champagne glass and had a sip – Demetrius was quick to move the bottle out of reach! Alex Hassell’s keen on the unexpected, so he was probably well pleased with this interaction.

Moonshine was having a difficult time all round. His dog, made of some piece of extending equipment, had become tangled up in its lead and then fell over. We were all laughing at him, poor chap. He got out of it OK, though, and then had the usual strop at the on stage audience.

Snug as the lion was very funny again. His footsteps were given sound effects by Snout, and he obviously wasn’t prepared for this – he leapt like a startled fawn the first time it happened. When he realised what was happening, he had some fun with it, prancing around the stage and then tapping a foot to one side, just to make the sound. He forgot a few of his lines and needed to be prompted, including forgetting his own name, and I noticed this time that his mane was made of large paintbrushes.

Wall had to work very hard to keep Pyramus and Thisbe apart tonight. They kissed during the wall scene, which surprised everyone, and then had a really good snog behind the curtain, which caused another stir in the court. Pyramus’s death scene was very funny. He was wearing dustbin lids for armour, and once he was dead, his body rolled this way and that – towards one set of lovers, then back, then towards the other set and back again, then towards the royal couple and back. All the while the dustbin lids are clattering away – we could hardly hear ourselves laugh! For Thisbe’s speech, there was a hint of the more serious possibilities, but then Flute delivered the line ‘his eyes were green as leeks’ so well it got a huge laugh. Pyramus’s dead body had to move back into position for Thisbe’s final speech, and when she fell forward, dead, she landed face first in Pyramus’s crotch – more sensation! And very good fun.

The final mechanicals’ song was setting up to be all folksy, but then the heavy metal started up and everyone except Quince joined in. He stood there, holding a large recorder, looking stunned. It was their rock music that blew the fuse again, which ended the revels. They were sent down into the basement to fix it – sounds of banging, then lights came up again, gently – and that led into the ending of the play with the blessings.

As already mentioned, there was a practice evacuation tonight, so after one round of bows the actors were ushered off, and the audience was given instructions to leave in stages. Whether it would be this civilised if there were an actual fire, I have no idea, but we were orderly and well-behaved tonight, if a little disappointed that we couldn’t show our appreciation more.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – August 2011

Experience: 6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Nancy Meckler

Venue: RST

Date: Thursday 25th August 2011

We knew the ‘theme’ for this production would be East End gangster – Mark Wootton is wonderfully indiscrete – and I was prepared to give it a chance. I’ve also liked everything I’ve seen of Nancy Meckler’s work, including the Complete Works Romeo and Juliet which seemed remarkably unpopular with so many people. But I’m sorry to say that I found this concept-driven version of Midsummer Night’s Dream too heavy rather than too dark. The comedy was doing its best to break free from the constraints of the staging, and when the concept took a back seat (a white leather armchair, in fact) the performance managed to  give us short bursts of laughter that were sadly not sustained throughout.

The set was massive. The back of the stage was all brick wall, with a metal staircase descending on the right hand side. There was a pillar back left, and various exits and doors. A large white leather sofa with matching armchair were placed mid stage, and there was a small table with three chairs towards the front and left. The overall effect was of an industrial building which was being used as gang headquarters by some fairly seedy criminal types. Three men in suits prowled around, playing cards and also playing with the two prostitutes who were on hand for whatever was needed – serving drinks, etc. There should have been three women in skimpies, but the third was playing Hermia tonight, as the original had suffered an injury during the vigorous fight sequence in the forest – more on that story later.

Hippolyta was also there, looking bored and unhappy as she sat elegantly on the sofa in her glamorous togs, including a fur coat. It looked as if her passport was being kept from her, which suggested an enforced stay in ‘Athens’. This state of ennui went on for some time before the play proper started with the arrival of ‘Duke’ Theseus, played by Jo Stone-Fewings. With slicked back hair and an incongruous (in terms of the Athenian setting) East End accent, his lines rather jarred, and although it was certainly clear that Hippolyta wasn’t happy with their impending nuptials, her lines didn’t quite fit either.

Not only were Egeus, Demetrius and Lysander already present from the start of this scene, Helena was also in the room, but up on the stairs at the back. I gather that people with seats at the back of the side stalls couldn’t see this bit, which is a shame, as at least it allowed us to be introduced to all of the young characters, and it gave us more of Lucy Briggs-Owen’s performance, easily the best of the night, and one of the best Helenas I’ve ever seen.

With the gangster setting, the prospect of Hermia being actually bumped off seemed more likely, which skewed the comedy for me. I can accept a criminal underworld boss being the law in his domain – The Syndicate in the Minerva showed us a similar situation in Italy – but why would this ‘Duke’ be unable to overturn a ‘law’ which was solely based on his own authority? An established country, ruled by a proper Duke, might have this problem, but the gangland scenario just didn’t support the text at this point, and many other times throughout the play.

Anyway, the lovers did a good enough job, and there were the usual laughs when Lysander suggests that Demetrius should marry Egeus. Nothing special about this scene, except for the way the dream theme is set up. Instead of leaving at the end of her bit, Hippolyta curls up in the armchair, which is pushed to the back of the stage, and goes to sleep, suggesting that the rest of the play is her dream. The set design supports this, with Titania’s bower being another white leather armchair all done up with flowers, the special flower with the drug being the same as the one Theseus offers Hippolyta and which she rejects, and a whole lot of chairs dangling at odd angles to represent this out-of-shape dream world.

The problem with this concept is knowing where the dream ends. Does it end with Hippolyta and Theseus ‘coming to’ as themselves after Titania’s ‘dreamed’ awakening? If so, how come everyone else has experienced this same dream too? Does the dream last to the end of the play? In which case, what happens when Hippolyta finally does wake up? I suspect the creative team would like us to forget all these points and just go with the flow, but then why have such a thought-provoking setting if you don’t want people to think about what’s going on? I like ambiguities and multiple possibilities, but this is a case of too many questions and not enough answers.

The mechanicals are next up, but this time they’ve already made their first entrance earlier. During the pre-show episode, the lights blew for some reason I don’t remember, possibly the sound system overloading? After a minute or two, a group of workmen turn up, flashing their torches everywhere, and they’re shown into the basement via a trapdoor towards the front of the stage which has smoke or steam coming out of it. That got a few laughs at the time, and now that everyone else (apart from the sleeping Hippolyta) has left, they re-emerge onto an empty stage, and Peter Quince decides it’s an ideal opportunity for their first planning meeting.

The majority of the mechanicals’ bits were fairly standard, and that helped to get the humour across. Francis Flute was dismayed to be playing a woman, but I didn’t see the others laughing at him much. They did laugh at Starveling playing Thisbe’s mother, though, probably because of his beard.  Bottom was as keen as ever to play all the parts himself, and Mark Wootton did a good job of getting his character across. It’s just as well he was only doing Pyramus, mind you – the scripts for the other actors were a few pages each, while Bottom’s part was several inches thick!

This helped the mechanicals to get off stage with plenty of laughter, and then Puck and a couple of fairies turn up to start the third aspect of this play. Puck is doubled with Philostrate in this production, along with the usual Titania/Hippolyta/Oberon/Theseus pairings. I like Arsher Ali as an actor, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with having a Puck who’s noticeably taller than his Oberon, but there was so little life or animation in this Puck that a great deal of the humour and fun just disappeared. I always hold the director rather than the actor responsible for these strange interpretations that don’t work for me, but I’m at a loss to know why this Puck was so underpowered. Not enough rehearsal time? Whatever the cause, it’s a serious weakness in this play to have the main mischief maker act like a wet blanket.

Other than that, the fairies were pretty good, all sexy underwear and freaky hairstyles – quite menacing in fact. Hippolyta is redressed by the fairies so she can appear on stage as Titania, and Pippa Dixon managed to carry off the change pretty well, and even if the long, frequently boring weather report speech did drag a little, she did better than most with this section of the play. One of her fairies acted out the vot’ress’s pregnancy, and the resulting ‘baby’ – a piece of cloth bundled up – allowed for a game of pig-in-the-middle as Oberon’s crew try to snatch it from Titania and her girls. This was all quite vigorous, and then we’re left with Oberon telling Puck to fetch the magic flower. There was humour in Puck’s unenthusiastic response, but not enough to make up for his overall lethargy.

While Oberon waits for Puck’s return, Demetrius and Helena arrive. Lucy Briggs-Owen and Alex Hassell have worked together a lot this season, and it shows in their well-honed performances. Helena, in her neat cream outfit, is every inch the Home Counties young lady, destined for a husband, two children, a twin-set and pearls, making it even funnier (or perhaps harder?) to see her crawling on her hands and knees to fetch the shoe that Demetrius has thrown for her. Well, she did ask to be used as his spaniel, and he really didn’t think she would do it, but that’s infatuation for you.

After Puck’s return and his and Oberon’s exit, Titania reappears and goes to sleep in her comfy armchair. Oberon doses her eyes, and in this production they use a small light which disappears as they cast it onto the sleeper’s eyes. Titania and her chair are then lifted up while the skew-whiff chairs are lowered down for Lysander and Hermia’s entrance. He’s all over her in this bit – it sets up a good contrast for his temporary rejection of her later on – but she repels him firmly and so they settle down to sleep draped over different chairs. [13/9/11 Not so, they slept on the ground] Puck anoints his eyes – took him a while to spot the Athenian youth lying practically in front of him – and then Demetrius leaves Helena in the same spot to lament her ugliness. The way Lucy Briggs-Owen did this speech was excellent, going much further in childish tears than anyone I’ve seen before. She really did look pretty ugly on the line ‘I am as ugly as a bear’, but in a nice way, and it got a strong laugh. Lysander waking up and falling for her was all much as usual, followed by Hermia’s awakening and departure, at which point the chairs are removed to allow space for the mechanicals’ first (and only!) rehearsal.

This scene didn’t really sparkle for me to begin with. A lot of the dialogue fell flat, while Thisbe’s dialogue was too unclear for the mistakes to be heard, cutting the humour out altogether. Things improved with the transformation. Bottom’s long, blond curly wig made a good pair of ass’s ears, while his nether regions were adorned with a large salami and his hands were covered with tin cans. These were items that the mechanicals had as part of their rehearsal picnic – well, an actor’s got to eat. His lines after the other have fled were also well delivered, most of them ending with a braying sound. Naturally, Titania was smitten at once, and her fairies were soon introducing themselves to her new love. One of the named fairies had already been dropped as there were only three ‘big’ fairies to play the parts, so with one of these seconded to play Hermia, we saw Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed (I think Peaseblossom was the one they dropped) as little red lights, held by the two remaining big fairies. [13/9/11 Correction: it was Moth they dropped] This worked quite well, I thought – not as cluttered as some productions, and they didn’t dwell too long on the obscure humour either.

I think they took the interval here, and restarted with Oberon wondering what’s happened to Titania. Puck arrives immediately to give him the news, and this story was delivered better, with more life to it. Then Demetrius and Hermia arrive, and kick off the long section of the lovers’ quarrels and fights. Oberon and Puck spend most of this time on the back stairs, and again were invisible not only to the lovers but also to some of the audience. The lovers’ verbal sparring was matched by their vigorous physical wrestling as well – hence the original Hermia’s injury – and some of it was very funny, but for the most part it didn’t quite come together. I know the understudy has had a few performances already, and was doing a good job, but I didn’t feel she was fully up to the level of the others – hopefully more performances will bring her on even more.

This whole section has a lot going on, so I’ll just note the things I remember. Demetrius was lying on the couch when Oberon anointed his eyes. The chairs were brought down for Lysander and Demetrius’s attempted fight, and the lovers ended up asleep, draped over chairs at the front of the stage. When Puck removed the spell from Lysander, the chairs were gradually removed as well, so that the lovers tumbled gently into two groupings, nicely snuggled together.

After Titania has had another scene with Bottom, and Oberon has freed her from her infatuation, Bottom’s chair is pushed to the back of the stage, the chairs descend again, and with lots of music and a whirling dance, Oberon and Titania dress each other in their Athenian clothes and become Theseus and Hippolyta again. As the chairs disappear upwards, the couple ‘wake up’ in the middle of the stage, and since the hunting dialogue wouldn’t work here, we’re straight into the discovery of the two pairs of lovers. Their conversation and departure is followed by Bottoms’ awakening and exit and then the mechanicals’ regretting their situation – all pretty straightforward. In the final act, Philostrate uses a microphone to announce the possible entertainment options, and then Oberon and Hippolyta move to sit on the stairs at the front of the stage, while the other couples occupy the walkways on either side, lying down to let us all see what’s going on.

The Pyramus and Thisbe performance was good fun. Not all of the dialogue came across, but there was enough funny business to make it enjoyable anyway. Bottom and Flute were revealed snogging behind the curtain at one point, while Thisbe’s speech became somewhat moving as Flute appeared to suddenly realise the situation his character is in, faced with a dead lover. His delivery of the lines conveyed the emotion, despite their silliness, and although it wasn’t as full on as some productions, I was still moved. Moonshine’s dog was another home-made prop – couldn’t see what it was made of this time – Thisbe’s scarf went AWOL as usual, while Wall simply looked scruffier than usual and used his fingers to create the chinks. The song at the end was loud and modern, and there was no hint of recognition between Bottom and Hippolyta that I could see – a perfectly reasonable choice. The fairy blessing and Puck’s epilogue were pretty standard – nothing sticks on my memory – and then they took some brisk bows, to much applause, and headed off.

There was a post-show discussion tonight, which lots of people stayed for, and we had some good questions for the cast who turned up and Drew Mulligan, the assistant director. The chairs came in for some comment – not everyone got what they were for, but lots of people liked them – and there was a lot of praise for Imogen Doel, the understudy who has been playing Hermia for a short while now. I don’t remember the rest of the questions now, but it was a good session, ably chaired by Nicky Cox.

One idea came to me a few days later. Someone had pointed out the way that Dukes in Shakespeare’s plays have a habit of claiming they can’t change the law of wherever, and then doing that very thing by the end of the play. Theseus is the main culprit quoted in this context. It occurred to me that his line “Egeus, I will overbear your will” could mean that he was going to prevent Egeus from demanding that the law be applied to his daughter, rather than actually ignoring the law this one time. Or, in the vernacular of this concept, he was going to make Egeus an offer he couldn’t refuse.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Caucasian Chalk Circle – October 2009

3/10

By Bertolt Brecht, translated by Alistair Beaton

Directed by Nancy Meckler

Company: Shared Experience

Venue: Richmond Theatre

Date: Wednesday 21st October 2009

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. This wasn’t advertised as a schools matinee but that’s effectively what it was. The vast majority of the audience, at least in the stalls, were teenagers. This made the audience unbalanced and at times I felt completely out of touch with most of the people around me, which didn’t help me to feel involved with the production. For example, there’s a short scene where a senior soldier tells off a junior soldier because although he restrained and beat up the husband while the senior man raped the wife, he clearly didn’t enjoy it as a good soldier should. The kids screamed with laughter at every use of the word ‘dickhead’, they gasped and squirmed when the soldier very coarsely mentioned raping the wife, but the humour about the standards of the common soldier, which we found funny, evidently passed them by. They continued to laugh at every sexual innuendo, verbal or physical, and while I found some of it very funny myself I also felt at times that I was at a pantomime with a lot of little kids.

With all these distractions it took till nearly the end of the first half before I fully engaged with the story. The first section, the prologue, was very good, with an official type talking to villagers returning to their war-ravaged land, and trying to persuade them that the land should be given to those who could make the best use of it. Only in this case, he’s referring to consolidation of the small subsistence plots into big enough farms for the agri-businesses to move in and make a killing. The villagers aren’t sure what choice to make, so they decide to put on a play which deals with all of the issues being debated, and which will help them come to a conclusion. It’s called The Chalk Circle, and since they’re in the Caucasus, it becomes The Caucasian Chalk Circle.

The story then unfolds of a rich and important man, who has a wife and a baby son. He lives in a country which is at war, and seems to have been at war for a very long time, but he’s doing very nicely for himself all the same. One Easter Sunday, some rebels rebel, he’s captured and killed, and his widow runs for her life, leaving their baby son Michael behind. Actually, the widow had to be carried away kicking and screaming because she couldn’t bring along five large suitcases full of fancy clothes. She spent so much time trying to get her servants to pack properly, she nearly got caught herself. It’s clear where her priorities lie, and it’s not with the baby.

Realising that the rebels will want to kill the baby as well, all the other servants run off, leaving Grisha to look after him. They’ve told her to go as well, and abandon the baby, but she can’t. Eventually, when the soldiers arrive, and it’s clear the baby will be killed if it’s found, she runs off, taking little Michael with her. The rest of the first half is the story of how she evades capture, including the brutal bashing in of the rapist soldier’s head (she’s vicious when she’s protecting the baby), and an arranged marriage with a man from the next valley along from her brother. This poor chap is on his death bed when the extremely drunk Welsh priest ties the knot, and the wedding party is busily turning into funeral wake when news comes that the war is over, and that they won’t be taking away any more of the young men to be soldiers. You’ve never seen a dead man recover so fast. Oops. Now Grisha’s married to one man, in love with another (a soldier wooed and won her before the trouble broke out), and bringing up a baby that’s neither hers nor either of theirs.

So ended the first half. I started to enjoy myself from the wedding scene onward – the Welsh priest was such joy to watch – even though I’d spent most of the first half wondering if I should just cut my losses and go for a coffee while Steve finished the play for both of us. Talking it over with him afterwards, we decided it was mainly the audience that gave us the difficulties, and given that things improved in the second half that may well be true. The youngsters certainly seemed to have calmed down a lot, though we noticed a lot of gaps in the stalls where older audience members had been sitting. The story picked up again, too, though in a strange way. We followed Grisha and Michael a bit further, with Michael being played by a lovely little dark-skinned puppet – an example of colour-blind casting even in the puppetry department. We saw how unpleasant Grisha’s husband was (squeals from the youngsters as a man, naked but for a pair of underpants took to the stage), then she met her soldier again across the river, and just as she’s trying to reassure him that the baby isn’t hers, she has to claim it is to stop the soldiers taking it. But they do, nevertheless.

Now the play switches back to that Easter Sunday two years ago when the rebels struck and Grisha had to take Michael away. Only this time, we’re going to hear how one man became their judge. He’s a local scoundrel, an intellectual who can’t be bothered doing a proper job so he poaches rabbits and suchlike instead. He helps the Grand Duke to escape, mainly because he didn’t like the policeman he could have handed him over to. When he’s brought in for poaching, he makes an impassioned speech to the soldiers, assuming this is a popular uprising on behalf of the working man. Turns out it was actually a coup by the fat prince (yes, that’s what it says in the program) to take power, and now he wants to get his son or nephew voted in as the new judge. The soldiers, for all he paid them to kill the revolting peasants, reckon he’s only giving them a vote because he’s not yet securely in power. So they decide to take advantage of the situation and hold auditions for the post of judge. The scoundrel plays the part of the Grand Duke for the purposes of a mock trial, and his impersonation is so good it gets all the soldiers laughing (and us). He then speaks in the Grand Duke’s defence, making all the political points Brecht wanted – the aristocracy don’t take any of the risks themselves, they send other people’s sons off to fight while making fat profits from their military contracts, they don’t even supply a lot of the equipment they’re being paid for, etc., etc., all too depressingly familiar from current events. The soldiers boot out the fat prince’s relative, and elect the scoundrel instead; at least when he takes bribes from the rich he helps the poor with the money and his judicial decisions.

But two years go by, and now the war is over the Grand Duke and Michael’s mother are both returning to claim what’s theirs. There’s a long wrangle over who should have the baby, with two lawyers arguing on the biological mother’s side. One of them lays on the sentiment with a trowel, only to be completely undercut by the other one pointing out that she needs Michael as his father’s son and heir to allow her to gain control of her dead husband’s money and land. Finally the judge opts for the chalk circle test. A chalk circle is drawn on the ground, the puppet is put in the middle with each ‘mother’ holding a hand, and the winner is the one who can pull the baby out of the circle. They have two goes at it, as Grisha complains that she didn’t have a proper grip the first time, but both times she lets the child go so as not to hurt him. I sobbed. (The audience laughed.) Naturally the judge awarded Grisha custody of Michael, and for good measure, ‘mistakenly’ authorises her divorce from her husband, so that she can marry her soldier (instead of allowing an old couple to divorce, who been out of love with each other since they met). I would have sobbed some more, but I’d run out of tissue and the young folk were groaning and ‘eugh’ing at the loving reunion between Grisha and her true love.

So, with a final moral from the judge, who’d returned to being the singing narrator again, about how everything should be given to those who can look after it best, including the land, we were done. Thankfully.

© 2009 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Aristo – September 2008

6/10

By Martin Sherman

Directed by Nancy Meckler

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Monday 29th September 2008

I enjoyed this play very much. More so than the several people who left during the first half, or didn’t return after the interval. There was some swearing, and some sexual language which might not be considered appropriate before the watershed, but this is theatre, and we’re all supposed to be grown-ups, so I had no problem with it. In fact, given Aristotle Onassis’s reputation for coarseness, we were probably getting the polite version.

It did take me a short time to get into this play at first. The mildly pornographic story of Aristo’s encounter with a Turkish lieutenant certainly livened things up, and I warmed to the characters from then on. After the opening scene, with Onassis and Jackie on board his yacht, the curtain at the back of the stage slid aside, and a platform came forward with seven people on it, two of them musicians. I realised fairly quickly that this was the chorus, and that we were being given a Greek dramatic structure as well as subject matter. The music was Greek, too, and very good.

The first to speak was Costa, played by Julius D’Silva, who had stepped up to this role replacing another indisposed actor. His prior role, as Theo, was played by Hywel Morgan, another super sub, as he’d stepped in to play the captain and many other parts in Our Man In Havana (August 2007). Anyway, Costa goes into a long spiel about Aristo’s past, the women he’s slept with, the other men they’ve slept with, the marriages, the divorces, the plotting, the business deals, the loves, the hates, etc., etc. It was pretty complicated, but I just about kept tabs on it all, and Costa’s delivery brought out a lot of the humour. Then the technical wizardry started up.

To explain. At the start of the play, the set looked very simple. There was white planking everywhere, and a long rectangular pool, with actual water, along the front of the stage (well guarded during the interval). A flat white wall at the back had a long rectangular window, with a white curtain drawn across it. The sound of Greek music could be heard coming from behind this curtain. There were a couple of chairs, and that’s about it, apart from a door far left, almost completely hidden in the gloom over that way. Once the curtain was drawn back, and the platform came forward, the rest of the white wall was used as a projection screen, allowing for extra settings without much effort. In particular, it was used to create the idyllic island that Aristo used as a retreat, and also to show diagrams of the complicated connections between the many people involved in Aristo’s story, like now, when Costa has been explaining it all to us. The names appeared on the wall, with Onassis in the centre, and with lots and lots of lines drawn everywhere between the people. The chorus all turned and pointed to it, which was very funny. Costa then had even more names to give us, and got a deserved round of applause when he’d finished his stint, as it was mind-boggling how he remembered it all.

Yanni then took over. Played by John Hodgkinson (Absurdia, August 2007), he was instructed to be brief by Costa, which was a bit cheeky considering how long he’d wittered on for. But it soon became clear that brevity was not in Yanni’s repertoire. He kept prefacing the actual information by phrases like “if you’ll permit me to say this”, and “if I can put it this way”, which slowed things up tremendously, but also gave us some good laughs. Yanni was the financial chap, while Costa was the right hand man. Theo didn’t come into it until later, when Aristo asked him how his son, Aristo’s that is, was doing running a plane company. Aristo is furious when Theo describes his son as “nice”, and claims he’s liked by everyone. Not what Onassis expects from his son, obviously.

We also get to meet Maria Callas. She storms on, refusing to be left out of the litany of lovers, and we even get to hear a few snippets of her marvellous singing earlier in her career. It’s a lovely performance by Diana Quick, culminating in the second half in a marvellous cursing sequence followed by an “I wish them all the luck” for Onassis and Jackie’s marriage, which got one of the best laughs of the evening.

Apart from that, we get a brisk review of the tensions between Aristo and the Kennedy clan, his wooing of Jacqueline Kennedy before the death of her husband, and their subsequent marriage, and we’re taken into the speculative area of his involvement in the death of Bobby Kennedy. With this foray into assassination, the tide turns, and Aristo himself becomes one of the hunted. His son is killed in a helicopter crash, and now the man is convinced “they” are out to get him. It’s a study of a particular type of larger-than-life hero, a man who takes on the world and wins, doing what he feels he needs to do for business success. I was very aware during the scenes with his son, Alexander, that it would be impossible for his son to be anything like his father, because Aristo had such hard challenges as young man, while Alexander had been relatively pampered. Hard-won wealth creates its own generation gap.

Robert Lindsay as Aristotle Socrates Onassis was in fine form, showing us his character’s ruthlessness and cunning, along with his charm and passion for life (or should that be sex?). There was plenty of opportunity to sing and dance, including one Greek dance that all the men joined in, hopping over the pool one after another. There were a number of occasions when I felt I was watching the man himself, but occasionally the accent slipped a bit, and brought me back to reality. The changes of mood were very well done, as Aristo was a roller coaster of emotions. Living with him would have tested a saint, and he didn’t seem keen to surround himself with those.

Elizabeth McGovern played Jacqueline, and gave her a kind of dreamy quality. She never seemed to be fully there, even when sober, and certainly not when drunk. I could see the marriage would fail, as she was simply a trophy for Onassis, a way of getting one up on the Kennedy clan, as well as all other men on the planet, and there wouldn’t be anything in it for her other than the money, once Onassis no longer had to woo her into marriage. She came across as someone who wasn’t intellectually gifted, but had spent so much time around those in power that she understood how things worked, and wasn’t particularly bothered by morals. I quite liked this representation of her.

Alexander, Aristo’s son (Joe Marsh), was going through those difficult teenage years, made all the more difficult by his father’s wealth and power. How do you rebel against the man who has everything? And who can seduce you with a helicopter, or expensive car, without worrying where the next mortgage payment’s coming from? Life’s tough just below the top. The chorus, especially his nanny, made it clear he was for the chop, but he did show us another side to Aristo’s character when he was around.

His nanny (June Watson) and another maid in the Onassis household (Denise Black) completed the chorus. Denise did a lot of the singing, and has a very fine voice. I liked the way the chorus talked among themselves, giving us different points of view about the various events, as well as giving us the necessary information about the people. Their prayers to the gods were clear reminders of the cultural background of the main character, and I felt that that culture had a very strong presence in both his life and this play. No plates were broken, but that’s about all that was missing. It was a really good evening, with only a few spells that flagged a bit, and I was very glad to have seen it.

Post-show discussion 1st October 2008

We couldn’t get to this night’s performance, so we came over just for the post-show discussion anyway. Almost all the cast came out, eventually, and we had the writer and director there too, so it was an interesting chat. We learned that the understudies we saw on Monday had only had about a week to learn all those lines, so the achievement was all the more remarkable. The subject of audience involvement came up as usual, and tonight’s audience had apparently been quieter than most, which some reckoned was because there was so much information to take in. Robert Lindsay was asked about what had got him into Onassis’s character, and replied “sex drive”, which made us laugh, though it was evidently true. I forget most of the other points now, sadly, but I remember we laughed a lot, and the cast seemed to be a good unit, though somewhat tired after their exertions.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Orestes – September 2006

Experience: 6/10

By Helen Edmunson, from the play by Euripedes

Directed by Nancy Meckler

Company: Shared Experience

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date Friday 15th September 2006

This is an adaptation of the Orestes by Euripides, done by Helen Edmundson. Set in a lavish bedroom, with gold sheets on the bed and pairs of gold shoes hanging on the door, I found it was an interesting production which raised some good questions about the reasons people have for killing each other, without trying to come to any specific resolution to answer them all. I like this type of theatre.

The performances were excellent. Electra (Mairead McKinley) was the powerhouse of the piece. She was the one who had seen their father killed in his bath, but was unable to take revenge until Orestes’ return. She is an odd combination of sanity and obsession, not helped by Helen’s cruel remarks about her (relative) ugliness and lack of children. She conveys all the suffering which can lead to a lust for revenge, together with the intelligence and cunning that comes from waiting a long time to get that revenge. She it is who hits on the idea of killing Helen, to pay back Menelaus for daring to take the throne from her and her brother, the rightful heirs (or matricides, as the mob outside the palace prefer to call them). She has more loose screws than B&Q, yet she’s still saner than her brother, whose final descent into total insanity horrifies even her, although that’s partly because he’s just buggered up their one chance to escape the mob. She is also able to argue convincingly against Tyndareos, their grandfather (yes, it’s another Greek dysfunctional family, folks), who is practically baying for their blood, though in slightly more civil terms than the mob outside. His focus is the law – they have killed their mother (his daughter), so they must die. He’s not so hot on why the law didn’t crack down on Clytemnestra and her lover when they killed Pops, but that’s politicians for you. A lovely performance from Jeffrey Kissoon.

Menelaus (Tim Chipping) is wonderfully portrayed as a weak, indecisive type, who’s nevertheless prepared to take advantage of his niece and nephew’s plight to gain political clout for himself. After depleting the forces of wherever he ruled before the Trojan War, he’s now looking for a new country to rule, and here’s a place that’s just lost its rulers, and about to execute their heirs/killers, and hey, he just happens to be family, so why not offer to step into the breach? Do not allow this man to make you a cup of tea; if you’ve got anything he wants, it’ll be laced with something deadly. Despite this, Menelaus comes across as one of the nicer people to begin with – bit softer, more caring and understanding, willing to help the besieged couple. Not that he’s prepared to carry through with it, and in the end, he loses more than he’d bargained for.

Orestes seems to be under his sister’s thumb in many ways, and yet she looks to him for leadership, strength and love. It’s that odd kind of relationship where it can be difficult at times to tell who’s leading and who’s following. He’s plainly more affected by their killing spree than she is – she’s wanted the revenge all along, but he’s suffering the guilt, and it’s after killing Helen that the guilt drives him to lose it completely. Alex Robertson judged his performance in this role very nicely. There’s an intriguing moment as they are heading down the suicide route, where they kiss and look like they’re tempted to make love. I don’t think this implied any pre-existing sexual relationship between them, although as this is based on Greek drama, I could be completely wrong. I just saw it as a last despairing expression of love between them, especially as Electra had been so hurt by Helen’s complete refutation of her womanhood. Still a virgin, this could be her only chance.

Helen arrives in the palace ahead of Menelaus. She’s brought their baby, who is tended to by a slave woman. Helen, though beautiful, comes across as a real bitch. Admittedly, she’s talking to the pair who killed her sister, so you have to make some allowances, but she’s so full of herself, being part-God as she claims (and there’s a cock-and-swan story, if ever I heard one!), that she’s bound to cause trouble wherever she goes. Still, she reminds us of the massive impact of the Trojan war on this world, equivalent to the First World War in more recent times, where so many died for so little reason. And those deaths are the trigger for all that happens afterwards. There are red figures lurking at the back of the stage – dummies – and for me they mainly represented the many dead on all sides because of one beautiful woman and her fatal choice. It’s a powerful confrontation, Helen and Electra, and Claire Onyemere as Helen more than holds her own. The slave woman, played by Claire Prempeh, has little to do but nurse the baby and shrink into the background, and I would have liked to have heard more from her. She does have a short conversation with Electra later, which demonstrates that, for all her reasons to suffer, she’s much more at peace than any other character in the play.

Both brother and sister rely heavily on an alleged oracular injunction to justify their actions, and it’s here that the play’s main interest lies. Is it OK to kill people because ‘God’ tells you to, or not? This, despite ‘God’ having spent centuries passing on the message that killing is not a good idea. In many languages! Through many wise people! I am firmly in the ‘killing is not a good idea’ camp, and I regard with deep suspicion anyone claiming that ‘God’ has given them a licence to kill. However, it does happen, and we need to come to terms with this particular insanity, which never seems insane to those who find it a handy excuse. It’s noticeable that these young siblings ask for their gods’ help after they’ve decided to kill Helen, not before. I got the impression that Electra was getting a taste for murder by then.

The couple try kidnapping Menelaus’ baby as a way of negotiating an escape, but it all goes horribly wrong when Orestes tries to fly off a cliff. Oops. Not having a handy cliff on stage, the shoe-laden door had to double as a dangerous precipice (from comments at the post-show, this didn’t involve any acting on the door’s part). I found this ending a bit confusing, because there was so much going on. On the cliff, we have Electra, in front of her brother but supposedly looking forward at him. He’s behind her physically, so he can use a rope to brace himself and appear to be flying or falling (take your pick). Menelaus is down below, screaming at everyone because he’s petrified his baby is going to be killed, and Helen’s dead body has somehow rolled itself onto the stage. God knows what Tyndareos and the slave woman are doing – I couldn’t keep track of it all. Orestes has also sprouted some feathers at his shoulders, which were intriguing, but didn’t help with the clarity at this point. Also, the rear semicircle of the stage burst into flames as all this is happening, so we had a few hazards to keep our minds off the action. Normally I like Shared Experience’s multi-layering, but this was a bit too much. I basically focused on Electra and Orestes, and left the rest to their own devices.

There wasn’t much else to report on the staging; the set worked well to convey the place and situation – an opulent prison – and the main focus was simply the performances, all of which were first rate. I would happily see this again.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Romeo and Juliet – September 2006

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Nancy Meckler

Venue: RST

Date: Thursday 14th September 2006

I’ve enjoyed Shared Experience’s work in the past in smaller venues, so I was looking forward to seeing what Nancy Meckler had done in the main house at Stratford. I wasn’t disappointed.

We had been warned that there was a framing device, a play outside the play, where a community was re-enacting the tragic deaths of Romeo and Juliet. The set emphasised this. At the back was a huge picture frame. A couple of trees at the sides gave the impression of an open-air venue, and there was a square platform for the action. This moved back during the vault scene to allow access to Juliet’s body. Overhead, a lighting rig ran diagonally across this smaller stage. Seats were provided at the sides for the ‘actors’ to rest on between scenes. There was even a little girl running around – obviously a family affair.

And given the Italian setting, it was a ‘family’ affair in more ways than one. Before the start, the ‘actors’ were getting ready, setting up the stage, getting into costumes, etc. The men were trying out the taps on their shoes, and some quarrel broke out. There was a bit of a scuffle, then the older and wiser men broke it up, but you could see there was still a lot of tension. Incidentally, the main agitator turned out to be the man playing Tybalt – so cast to type, then. I liked the way this suggested that the conflict the re-enactment was supposed to ease still lingered. People obviously hadn’t learned their lesson.

As tempers rose, the oldsters decided it was time for the men to hand in their weapons – a lovely piece of staging. It started off with knives being handed over (placed in a large blanket), then hand guns, then rifles. I was hoping they’d got the RSC to spring for a few Kalashnikovs, but apparently not. Anyway, once the armoury was put to one side, the ‘play’ could begin. (Later on, the ‘actor’ playing Tybalt was still angry enough to try and retrieve his weapon, but was stopped.)

One of the things I loved most about this production was the use of tap dancing to represent fighting. The men each had a staff they could bang on the ground, which with the sound of the taps got the action across beautifully. And the framing device allowed for it perfectly too – these people are not meant to be doing it for real. The choreography of the fights changed depending on who was fighting. Great stuff.

All the performances were good. I particularly liked Romeo, Juliet and the Friar. Romeo came across as a bit wimpish, still immature at times, yelping and squealing and whimpering like a child. But at other times he showed what a man he might have made. Juliet was still a child at the start, but with quick wits, and a temper! The relationship with the nurse was cosy and domestic at the start, but she actually hits her when she doesn’t get the news she wants quick enough. She matures even quicker than Romeo, and has to learn to handle her own emotions entirely from her own resources, as even the nurse can no longer help her. I found this a very moving performance. The Friar was a good counterpoint to last night’s Duke in Measure for Measure – this monk lays his plans, and then they all go horribly wrong – no rabbits get pulled out of his hat! When he’s telling his story at the end, he was more nervous than I’ve ever seen before in this part – and rightly so, considering what he’s been up to without the Duke’s knowledge.

I liked the use of a pillar of ladders for the balcony scene. It allowed for more movement in what can sometimes be a fairly static scene, and the lighting effects, with lights shining up from below, were lovely. It also meant an easier time for Romeo, as he didn’t have any precarious climbing to do. The apothecary appears from below (trapdoor), which worked well. There was a Shared Experience moment at the end, when all the stories are being told. The acting audience listens, and moves as one, slowly and steadily to observe each part of the tale. A nice touch, especially as we, the real audience, already know what’s happened, and can otherwise get a bit bored.

One thing that didn’t work for me was the use of the characters’ jackets to remind us of who’d been killed. When Mercutio and Tybalt die, their jackets are taken off and hung from the lighting rig. This was OK, but then when Paris is killed in the vault, the removal of his jacket was a bit clumsy and obvious, and there was no time to get it hung up. If I had to opt for one way or the other, I’d leave it out.

At the end, all the ‘actors’ shake hands and hug, indicating that perhaps the re-enactment has done its job and helped to bring the community together. But I couldn’t help noticing that Tybalt and some other of the younger men weren’t there – perhaps not a complete success, then. Unlike this production, which was.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me