Othello – February 2017

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Richard Twyman

Company: Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory and The Tobacco Factory

Venue: The Tobacco Factory

Date: Monday 27th February 2017

Another fantastic production from STF, with the emphasis clearly on the text and the characters. The two young actors playing Othello and Desdemona did good work, but for me it was the brilliance of Mark Lockyer’s Iago supported by Katy Stephen’s perfectly pitched Emilia that made this performance so powerful. There were one or two aspects which didn’t work quite so well, but this is a production I would recommend highly to anyone: it’s a shame the public haven’t responded by making it a sell out for the whole of its run.

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The School For Scandal – April 2015

Experience: 10/10

By Richard Brinsley Sheridan, with additions by Dominic Power

Directed by Andrew Hilton

Company: Shakespeare At The Tobacco Factory

Venue: Tobacco Factory

Date: Wednesday 15th April 2015

Brilliant from beginning to end. Probably the best production of this play we’re likely to see. And we’ve only booked for one viewing – drat! And this was an early performance, so it’s bound to get even better despite such a short run – double drat!

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Romeo And Juliet – February 2015

Experience: 7/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Polina Kalinina

Company: SATTF

Venue: Tobacco Factory

Date: Friday 27th February 2015

For once, I’ll have to take my time describing the set for this production. Unlike their usual bare stage, this version of Will’s play made use of a very unusual piece of stage furniture, and as it went through several changes during the performance, there’s a lot to say about it. While I found its presence a bit of a distraction (because I felt compelled to jot down notes about it instead of focusing on the action) Steve didn’t notice it so much; however neither of us felt that it added much to the production.

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Two Gentlemen Of Verona – April 2013

Experience: 9/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Andrew Hilton

Company: SATTF

Venue: Tobacco Factory

Date: Wednesday 17th April 2013

One of the joys of arriving early to queue for our seats in the Tobacco Factory is the opportunity to see some of the cast chilling out before the show. Tonight we were lucky enough to see a major star relaxing on one of the sofas – Lollio, aka Crab. His long black form lay elegantly on the seat opposite; he was completely unfazed to be among his adoring public. Eventually, after a languorous stretch, he strolled into the auditorium to prepare for an arduous evening’s performance – more on that story later.

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Richard III – March 2013

Experience: 8/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Andrew Hilton

Company: Shakespeare At The Tobacco Factory

Venue: Tobacco Factory

Date: Tuesday 26th March 2013

After a late night yesterday, I confess to nodding off a little in the early stages of this performance, but I got the gist of the staging and by the second half I was all attention. The energy drooped a little in the final scenes, a problem inherent in the play rather than the performances, but otherwise it was a brisk and straightforward telling of the story which managed to come in at just over three hours. We didn’t find it quite as sparkling as previous SATTF productions, but that just means it was very good instead of superb.

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The Cherry Orchard – April 2012

7/10

By Anton Chekov, translated by Stephen Mulrine

Directed by Andrew Hilton

Company: Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory

Venue: Tobacco Factory

Date: Tuesday 3rd April 2012

This was an enjoyable production, if not up to the level of SATTF’s Shakespeare offerings. The stage was decorated with more furniture than usual – rugs, a small bookcase, tables, chairs, sofas, etc. – and the setting was emphasised with strong lighting changes between acts. The story was told at a fairly brisk pace, and there was a good amount of humour throughout the performance as well as an understanding of the various characters’ situations. I’m finding Chekov’s work less interesting at the moment though; don’t know if it’s just a dry spell or whether I’ve got as much as I can from the plays. Either way I reckon this was a very good production, though not the best I’ve seen.

There was still the sense of characters talking at each other without making a connection at times, and I was aware of the oddness of Charlotta’s speech at the start of the second act. Chekov seems to be presenting us with a melange of characters from rural Russia, and they each get their turn to be centre stage regardless of any plot that might be going on. It’s an OK way to do things, but sometimes I feel it disrupts the rhythm of the piece.

Dorothea Myer-Bennett played Varya, the adopted daughter, and brought out her concerns about money very strongly along with her fear of being called a miser. I wasn’t so clear about her love for Lopakhin this time, but it was still a shame that he couldn’t bring himself to propose to her. Simon Armstrong’s Lopakhin was an energetic, bustling man who would always need to be doing something; I’m not sure this Varya would have suited him so well as a wife. Julia Hills was a fine Ranevskaya, with no sense whatsoever but a great deal of charm, and Christopher Bianchi’s Gaev was a decent, kind man who just talked far too much.

The rest of the cast did good work as well. I liked the truculence of Firs, played by Paul Nicholson, and Piers Wehner gave us a Yasha you just wanted to slap (a good thing in a Yasha). I enjoyed this much better than their Uncle Vanya in 2009 – perhaps the different venue didn’t work so well for me – so I wouldn’t rule out seeing any SATTF non-Shakespeare productions in the future.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

King Lear – March 2012

10/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Andrew Hilton

Company: Shakespeare At The Tobacco Factory

Venue: Tobacco Factory

Date: Saturday 24th March 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me