A Midsummer Night’s Dream – December 2011

6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Sean Holmes

Company: Filter

Venue: Minerva Theatre

Date: Tuesday 6th December 2011

We nearly didn’t make this one! Some problem on the lower road meant it was closed, so everyone was using the A27 causing massive congestion…well I’ll spare us all the gory details. Let’s just say we took an hour and a half to get to the theatre, dinner was a very rushed main course (god bless those folks in the restaurant), but we made it to our seats just in time, thank goodness. Mind you, the cast kept us waiting for several minutes, and one didn’t turn up at all! More traffic problems, apparently. Ah well.

The Minerva looked like it was set up for a concert instead of a play. There were keyboards, mixing decks, microphones, etc. spread round the stage in a kind of semi-circle, with a few extra seats at the back. Nothing else for a set that I could see, although a few props and furniture came on when needed. This was our first experience of Filter’s work, and we were expecting the unexpected. They duly obliged.

To being with, a chap came on, speaking in an Irish accent (not his ‘normal’ accent, but he’s bi-accented at the very least) and basically did a fifteen minute stand-up routine, introducing us to the play, getting us to introduce ourselves as well, and also giving a long explanation about the guest actor who would be playing Bottom tonight. Apparently they couldn’t get their regular Bottoms for this pre-Christmas tour, so they’ve ended up having guest Bottoms, a different one each night. Tonight’s guest would be well known to many us, having performed at Chichester many times before, and the younger members of the audience would probably know him better for Star Trek: The Next Generation and The X-Men. He built him up big before announcing that tonight Bottom would be played by Sir Patrick Stewart, only to be left hanging as the great man failed to appear. Instead, the stage manager for the company came on at the back of the stage, and beckoned him over. We couldn’t hear their conversation, but we got the gist; Sir Patrick wouldn’t be making it tonight.

Of course, we knew this was all part of the act, but it was so well delivered that we enjoyed it very much. Now how would they manage to keep going without someone to play Bottom? Well, it just so happened there was a willing volunteer in the audience, not an actor as such, but he was in a band (there was a slight problem about insurance until he mentioned he was in the Musicians Union) and how hard could it be? Steve, his name was, and we were so relieved that the play had been rescued at the last minute! He was given a script, told to read the bits after ‘Bottom’, and then stop when he came to someone else’s name.

This all took about fifteen minutes, and since the whole show was only due to run for about one hour forty, it was clear there was going be some heavy duty cutting. And how! Theseus and Hippolyta only got a few lines about their impending marriage before starting a little dance – very romantic – and then Egeus brought on three of the troublesome teenagers for a brisk trot through the highlights of that scene. One actress was sitting at the back all this while, and I realised she must be Helena – she was. Exits and entrances were kept simple, just the actors walking off the main central acting space, and then they mainly went and sat down somewhere till their next stint. One point – when Theseus explained the Athenian law to Hermia, Steve, waiting to play Bottom, commented ‘that’s harsh’, which was funny. It also meant no one else had to comment on it, although Hippolyta did stomp off early. Theseus’s line ‘What cheer, my love’ became rather distorted, into ‘What? Cheer! My love.’ – I can’t represent it accurately here, but it got a good laugh.

The mechanicals were next up, and while they used some of Will’s dialogue, especially Bottom, they soon shifted into contemporary mode. This meant that Quince was effectively dealing with an awkward sod of an amateur actor – sound familiar? – and this got the sense of the scene across very well. Oh, and Steve was now wearing a Bottom suit which had been made for Patrick Stewart – fortunately it fitted Steve perfectly – which gave him a big belly and what looked like furry brown dungarees. The cast were down to Bottom, Quince, Flute and Snug, but they managed very well, considering.

For the general fairies, they used electronically altered voices, which made the dialogue harder to hear, but was a good effect. Oberon was in a blue Lycra bodysuit with gold lame cape, acting the superhero. He even flew off stage by using a wheelie stool which he lay on – hence the arm in a sling for the rest of the performance. Jonathan Broadbent had played Puck three times before, so for fun they decided to ‘miscast’ him and Ferdy Roberts this time round. Jonathan played Oberon and Ferdy played Puck, making him a stagehand cum handyman complete with utility belt.

For the lovers’ trip to the woods, Hermia had prepared better than any other Hermia I’ve seen. Coolbox, two folding chairs and a tent-in-a-bag. Lysander only had a small rucksack and a map, which wasn’t doing him any good as they were lost. (Hasn’t been watching James May’s Man Lab, obviously.) Hermia set up the tent in the middle of the stage, and soon climbed into it. I forget how it happened, but I think this was where some of the other cast members put a microphone right by the tent so we could eavesdrop on what went on. Nothing much of course, despite some suggestive tent-wiggles, and soon Lysander was back outside again, settling down in one of the chairs for the night. This was where Puck anoints his eyes – two squirts of Fairy Liquid – and then Demetrius and Helena stumbled on the scene. No risk of Lysander falling for anyone else as far as I could see.

The mechanicals’ rehearsal started off in the traditional manner, but Quince was soon off on a mini-rant about being expected to write a prologue for their play! Like he didn’t have enough things to do already! Moonshine and Wall hardly got a mention, and to keep things simple, Bottom’s head remained unadorned after his ‘transformation’, and they left it all to acting and our imaginations. Given that Puck had been sitting in one of the aisles, eating a pasty, while Bottom was off stage, I wondered at the time how he was going to effect the change, but I never thought they’d simply leave it out altogether. Mind, you, it worked really well, and better than some of the elaborate donkey heads we’ve seen.

Being a musician, Steve isn’t content with a plain, ordinary rendering of Bottom’s song. Oh no, he reckoned it would make a good doo-wop number, so with backing vocals from the lovers, he took to the microphone and gave us a very pleasant version of this number. Titania had been lying on a cushion near the front of the stage; now she woke up, and with only a few lines from the other fairies, they’re off.

The lovers’ arguments were OK, edited of course, but not so much as earlier. Demetrius did some funky dance moves and sang quite a lot when he was converted back to loving Helena, which was funny. When Oberon turned up wanting to know how the practical joke on Titania had worked out, he used a walkie-talkie to call Puck, inserting ‘over’ at the end of his lines. The response was a bit crackly, but as the fairy himself turned up during the conversation, we didn’t have any problems understanding it all. When Puck’s error was discovered, Oberon became really nasty, using a taser effect to punish him – this wasn’t fun to watch. Still, Puck had a good point about the Athenian garments, and soon the two fairies settled down on the folding chairs to enjoy the entertainment. They also enjoyed some drinks from the coolbox – Fosters for Puck and an orange drink for Oberon – and a couple of rolls, though those were mainly used for the bread fight later on when the lovers got really stroppy with each other. The fairies joined in.

Earlier on, when Oberon first saw Helena and Demetrius, he did the ‘I am invisible’ line and paused, like he was waiting for a special effect. He was holding his hand up and tried another spot on the stage – still nothing. Eventually Puck helped him out by putting him in the right place, and there was a fairy-like sound to indicate fairy-power at work. Good fun. During the argument session amongst the lovers, Hermia stormed off in a sulk, saying ‘I’m invisible’, which got a good laugh.

When Puck brought the lovers back together to sleep, he tucked them all up in the tent, and I could see them arranging themselves so they could all fit in. Then he yanked Lysander’s head out of the tent to squirt his eyes again to remove the spell, shoving him back in with little care. Titania, who had been snuggled down with Bottom on the cushion, was woken up by Oberon, and they had a little dance before heading off. The lovers woke up, and with only a few of their lines, they headed off stage – no hunting, no Theseus and Hippolyta. Then Bottom woke up, and again was off stage pretty quickly, followed swiftly by the scene with the mechanicals and Bottom arriving back. Incidentally, Steve made it quite clear that Bottom was very well hung when in his ass disguise.

One of the biggest cuts was in this last act, where we skipped straight to the mechanicals’ performance of Pyramus and Thisbe. Actually, Quince came out and chatted to a man in the audience along from us, pretending he was the Duke, and arranging for the play to be performed. Then they performed it. Thisbe was in a fancy frock, and the whole dress came off instead of just a scarf. Snug the Joiner was a cute lion, and Puck was doing the sound effects for his steps with coconut halves – similar to the recent RSC production. Snug had some fun, prancing around the stage to this accompaniment, and then we basically just get the death scenes, and that’s it. No interaction with an on-stage audience at all in this version.

Well, we do get the epilogue as well, of course. Puck had been doing some clearing up during these final stages, removing the tent, the folding chairs, the coolbox, etc. I half expected him to come on with the broom and start sweeping up some of the debris from the bread fight, but he did it straight as far as I can recall. We duly applauded as usual, and then waited for the post-show discussion.

Almost all the cast came back out after a short while, during which the real stage crew had cleaned up the worst of the mess. From the introductions, we reckon the cast list was something like:

Jonathan Broadbent                  Oberon/Theseus

James Fortune                          Francis Flute

Ed Gaughan                               Peter Quince

Tom Haines                               Snug

Simon Manyonda                        Demetrius

Victoria Moseley                       Hermia

Fergus O’Donnell                       Steve/Bottom

Ferdy Roberts                          Puck/Egeus

Rhys Rusbatch                          Lysander

Gemma Saunders                       Titania/Hippolyta

Rebecca Scroggs                      Helena

(They didn’t actually have a cast list in their one-piece-of-A4 program.) They talked about their creative process, the short rehearsals, everyone chipping in, bringing the new people up to speed, the importance of speaking the lines very clearly when you’re messing around with the play so much, and the music. That’s all I can remember for now.

I liked a lot of things about this production. The few remaining Shakespearean lines were delivered very clearly, and although the pace was swift we got the main points of the lovers’ story well enough. The updating of the mechanicals bits were good fun, and gave a very clear idea of what was going on. The fairy frolics were also good fun, with lots of anarchic comedy and silliness, and the music was excellent, using modern styles instead of Shakespearean ones. The main problem I found was that the scenes were more like brief sketches and they tended to peter out, leaving a hiatus before the next scene. This lost a lot of the energy for me, and gave the production an unfocused feeling, which meant it never quite reached any great heights as an experience. Enjoyable enough, but not great. Still, I’d be willing to see more of Filter’s work, so I do hope Chichester will be able to fit them in again.

© 2011 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The English Game – May 2008

8/10

By Richard Bean

Directed by Sean Holmes

Company: Headlong

Venue: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Date: Monday 12th May 2008

This was the sixth public performance of this new play, if our calculations are right, and also the press night. There were probably a large number of friends and family in as well, as the early laughter from some parts of the audience, some of whom were right behind us, seemed over the top for the action on stage or the dialogue. I always find this off-putting, as it distracts me from my own enjoyment, but fortunately this play was good enough to have me warmed up by the end of the first act, so it wasn’t too much of a problem.

We did manage to get ourselves into the wrong seats at the start, though. We hadn’t realised that the entire first row had been taken over by the cricket pitch, so instead of being five rows from the front, we were only four. Still, it’s only the second time that’s happened in all our years of going to the theatre, so that’s not bad.

The whole stage (including the first row) was covered in grass, with a few bits of concrete off to our left to represent a burnt down pavilion, a few trees behind that, a litter bin far right, and a big juicy dog turd in the midst of the grass. Simple, but effective. The action took a while to get going. First Will arrives, with his father Len, who’s well past his prime and needs a lot of help to get about. Len’s put down in a folding chair to our right, and shows us his character from the off. After demanding a cup for his water, he waits till the filled cup is in his hand, and when Will’s back is turned, tips it onto the grass.

Gradually the other players arrive for the match, and with one replacement player – Gary’s neighbour, Reg – we get to know who everyone is through the introductions and greetings. The banter is good fun; Thiz (the aging rock band member) tells some entertaining jokes, and all the elements of an amateur Sunday team were present. The first act takes us up to the start of play, the second covers the lunch interval, while the third skips nimbly through the team’s innings and the packing up afterwards.

All the performances were excellent. The various relationships were pretty clear from the start, though there were some interesting developments as the game progressed. In particular, a number of people found loud mouth Reg easier to get on with once he’d scored some good runs for them. There’s a long debate on the LBW rule, but mostly the conversation is about their friendships, wives, children, jobs, etc. Towards the end of the match, it’s discovered that Len has finally gone to the pavilion in the sky, and some of the players help Will to get the body off the pitch and back into the van. At the end of the play, the set is as empty as it was at the start, and minus one dog turd.

I enjoyed this play very much. It reminded me of Steaming, the Nell Dunn play which looks at the relationships between a group of women using the setting of an old-fashioned steam bath. This was the male equivalent, all the more so because women were banned from the team, so the men had to provide their own sandwiches and tea. Never having been part of an all-male group, I don’t know for certain how realistic this was, but it seemed pretty accurate to me. Along with the laughs, there were some moving bits, but it never got too heavy, and left me feeling I’d spent an entertaining evening in the company of people I might never have met otherwise.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Man Who Had All The Luck – March 2008

6/10

By Arthur Miller

Directed by Sean Holmes

Venue: Donmar Theatre

Date: Saturday 29th March 2008

As is typical with Steve and me, we hadn’t a clue about this play as we headed for London. Who wrote it, who was in it, what it was about, etc. All gone. That’s what happens when we book tickets months ahead and then get on with our lives. So it’s often a great pleasure when we do turn up to see the production and find it’s by one of our favourite playwrights, and the cast is dripping with talent, as it was today. I like my life.

This is an early Miller play, almost the first thing he wrote, and the first performed on Broadway, although for a mere four performances (program notes are wonderful things). The plot concerns a father and two brothers – typical Miller. The elder brother David seems to be blessed with unbelievable luck. He doesn’t just land on his feet, he lands smack bang in the middle of a red carpet, and finds riches and everything he could ever want thrust upon him apparently without the slightest effort on his part. His brother Amos has been indoctrinated by their father to become a top class baseball pitcher, and as he doesn’t seem to have much else going for him, that skill looks to be his ticket to a good life. Sadly, though, things don’t work out, because the father’s fixation has actually contributed to weaknesses in the son’s game that prevent him making the big time.

Meantime David has gone from good to better. His girlfriend’s father, implacably opposed to David having anything to do with his daughter, has been killed in a freak accident, leaving David and Hester free to marry. A friend brings along a relative to get his car fixed at the garage David works at – he’s got a reputation for being a genius at fixing cars – and when David hasn’t a clue what’s wrong with the thing, never having had any training, along comes an immigrant mechanic who can tell just by listening to the engine noise what the problem is. He not only identifies the problem, he even does the whole repair (replacing the crankshaft), to allow David to get some much-needed sleep. This mechanic starts up his own repair business just along from where David works, but despite the better location, ends up running out of money and working for David, who by now has a farm, courtesy of Hester’s late father, also the garage, a petrol station (which just happens to be on a new main road that’s being built) and probably some other assets that I couldn’t quite keep track of.

David is so convinced that he’s living in a Greek tragedy, that’s he’s expecting some major problems to happen to balance all the good things in his life. As time goes on, and the successes accumulate, the pressure builds, and he starts to go a bit crazy. He’s convinced that he and Hester won’t be able to have children – that that’s the way “fate” will nobble his happiness. He’s a real miseryguts when he puts his mind to it. Anyway, Hester does get pregnant, but that doesn’t help, as David can’t believe it’ll be born OK. Hester had a fall during the pregnancy, which might have damaged the baby, and there’s a lot of tension during the birth, as all the men wait downstairs to hear the news. A scatty aunt is fetching and carrying to help the doctor and midwife, and would no doubt have passed on some news to them all if she’d had anything to tell. The doctor, wise man, refuses to tell her anything, so her lack of information just makes things worse. Eventually, there’s a great cry, presumably the birth pains, and the men assume the worst. The aunt appears, crying, and very emotional, and it looks like David’s luck has finally run out. Of course not! It’s a boy, and a healthy one at that. David is in despair – he thought losing the baby would prevent his mink from dying off (it’s complicated, but he’s also become a mink farmer).

Finally, with David avoiding his own son, the wife strategically fails to pass on a message about some dodgy feed, in the hope that the mink will all die off, and David will somehow become the happy-go-lucky fellow she married (and she thinks David is crazy). Also, the mechanic is leaving, as he can’t take being around a man who’s so sure that he hasn’t earned or deserved all the good things that have come to him. The saving of the mink finally hammers home this point to us, if not entirely to him. He had been told to check the feed before giving it to the animals, so he did. He saw some little black specks on some of the fish, so he threw those away and only used the clean ones. His own carefulness and willingness to be thorough was what saved him. At last, he’s able to let go of his millstone and accept his son, along with his other many blessings. Ah.

It’s a strange story in many ways, more stylised than many of Miller’s plays, but still very interesting. The performances were all excellent, although the accents wandered a bit from the straight and narrow at times. I felt very moved by Amos’s anguish as he acknowledged the judgement of the baseball scout, that he’d never make the grade as a professional because he couldn’t play the bases. His whole life had been built on one thing, and now that was taken away from him. In the penultimate scene, with the father taking his leave, Amos turns up to give David the takings from the petrol station that he’s now working at, and completely ignores his father.

There was also quite a lot of humour, and I did like the old style car that was dropped down on wires for the repairing scenes. Not Miller’s best, but still an enjoyable afternoon.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

The Entertainer – May 2007

5/10

By: John Osborne

Directed by: Sean Holmes

Venue: Old Vic Theatre

Date: Wednesday 23rd May 2007

I would have loved to have given this production a higher rating, but unfortunately this performance was marred by the one thing which I never thought would affect a performance adversely – an appreciative audience. Listen and learn.

I was in a better position to appreciate this play this time, as I’m more aware of the Suez crisis, and other events around that time. I could see how the play was reflecting some aspects of British society at that time, though it still feels very distant to me. As we were much further back than usual, I had more difficulty hearing the lines – I think I’ll check out the induction loop facilities for the future. The afternoon was also warm, and the auditorium very stuffy, with the beginnings of crowded room aroma starting to percolate, so I did find myself nodding off a little before the first interval.

However, I also found the performances very good, especially those of Pam Ferris and Robert Lindsay, in the title role. The structure of the play is interesting, with domestic scenes interspersed with Archie’s increasingly ragged performances on stage. The final scene, with all the backdrops lifted, and the bare, empty stage echoing to Archie’s departure, can be very moving, with a variety of emotions surfacing. Here, however, we had the problem that the audience, instead of stony silence as he disintegrates in front of them, roared with laughter at his final “joke”, and applauded loudly as he walked back to Phoebe to put on his coat and head out the stage door. Not the usual send-off for a failed entertainer. In fact, if this audience had been around in 1956, Archie would probably have had his own TV show!

It’s a tough balance to strike, putting across that this guy isn’t very good, and is deteriorating fast, while casting top-class actors in the part, as it needs a lot of skill to pull it off. Robert Lindsay did a very good job, though as I know how good he is at song and dance, my own “baggage” saw him as a better performer than he was meant to be. The audience just couldn’t get enough of him, and I don’t know what he would have to do to put them off. I’ve looked at the possibility that this is a perfectly acceptable way to stage it, but I keep coming up against the text – music hall was on its last, tottery, leg and no audience would have reacted that way to this guy. Ah well, at least the Old Vic is doing good business out of it.

Pam Ferris gave us an excellent portrait of an alcoholic air-head who will just not stop talking. I often find with Osborne’s characters that his observation is pretty sharp, but there isn’t the compassion to go with it. Someone like Alan Bennett, for example, can have me howling with laughter at a character, while also recognising their humanity and feeling warmth, respect and a greater understanding for their plight. These characters were unpleasant, and the case for the defence never really got going, in my view, so I left the theatre feeling a little “underdone” – cheated by the audience and to a certain extent by the play.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me

Julius Caesar – September 2006

Experience: 6/10

By William Shakespeare

Directed by Sean Holmes

Venue: RST

Date: Friday 29th September 2006

As Steve put it afterwards, this was effectively a radio play on stage. Not as a criticism, more as an appropriate way of describing the production. The set was non-existent, apart from microphones dangling from above (at first I thought they might be light bulbs). We could just see the musicians at the back of the stage, to left and right. Props were brought on as necessary, but were few and far between. A tailor’s dummy served as Caesar’s statue, and for the storm scene we had actual rain and a thunder board at the back. Otherwise, all was created by lights and acting. When Cassius and Brutus withdraw to Brutus’ tent, a square of light delineates it for us – a lovely touch, very simple and effective. I gather some people have been very unhappy with this set up, but it worked fine for me – text, text, and more text.

This also meant there was no time wasted in scene changes – the action flowed very quickly, and you had to keep your wits about you. The costumes were also simple. The opening revellers had vibrant coloured robes, the soldiers wore red tops and leggings, Roman senators had togas, and the women had simple shift dresses. For the assassination, all white robes were used, with the togas being made of some wipe-clean, non-absorbent stuff. Very practical, even if the slight sheen of the surface did look a little strange. Lots of gore was used, naturally enough, and there was even a small patch left at the front of the stage for the second half – normally these things are scrupulously cleaned up at the interval, but not this time.

The play opens with the revellers enjoying themselves with some Asian-sounding music and dance. It looked for all the world as though they’d been so impressed by the DASH Dream, that they thought they’d try a bit of Asian culture in this production as well. It struck me as out of keeping, especially when I’d seen the rest of the production, but then there’s many aspects of Roman culture I don’t know about. Anyway, the rabble is cleared by two Roman senators, and although I could hear the lines perfectly well, I didn’t feel there was much going on with the characters on stage. The rabble just did as they were told, and there was no sense of them reacting to the senators’ telling off, either to grumble or to be ashamed. This lack of reaction permeated the play, so that it was more like a rehearsed reading at times. However, the lines were delivered clearly, and so I got a great deal out of this production, despite the unusual style of performance.

For the next scenes, Caesar’s arrival, and Cassius’ wooing of Brutus, etc., the staging was interesting. Cassius and Brutus were left at the front of stage, with Caesar and the rest heading to the back. Those actors stayed there, in plain sight, and the cheering offstage was made more apparent by this group being lit at those points. It was very clear who was who and what was going on, including Cassius’ duplicity in seducing Brutus to his cause. The soothsayer was a bit disappointing. He crept up the ramp leading to the stage, reminding me of Hamlet’s ghost from a couple of years back, somewhat melodramatic in such a sparse production.

Brutus’ soliloquy was probably very good, but sadly I was seized with a coughing fit, out of the blue, and not only missed a lot of it, but probably spoiled things for some of the audience. Sorry. I felt terrible about it, not least because I wanted to get out of there to spare everyone, but the ramp to the stage was on the near side, blocking that exit, and I didn’t know if I could make it all the way along the row to the other aisle without causing even more of a disturbance. While I debated this, not an easy thing to do when I was trying not to choke, the fit started to ease, so I held on, but not before I’d had to let out several racking coughs. Not an experience I want to repeat anytime soon.

The plotting rattled on in the meantime, and again there was little background reaction to Brutus taking over the conspiracy and leading it down the path of virtuous failure. Cassius really should be doing more here, I feel, but at least the dialogue was crisp and intelligible. Off they go to encourage Caesar to go to the Senate, and the idea that he might lose out on the crown really got across, both to Caesar, and to the audience. Of course, he didn’t want to look like a total wimp either, but he might have put up with it if there hadn’t been anything at stake. The wipe-clean togas were a bit of a giveaway, but all went to script (and to history, for once), and soon Caesar lay dead, pumping blood like a vampire drive-through. The interval came soon after, following Mark Antony’s brief soliloquy over the corpse. So far, so good, though nothing spectacular.

One point to mention, though. During Antony’s speech, at the line “And Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,” Caesar’s body did indeed rise up and stood there, joining in the speech, mouthing along to “Cry havoc, and let slip the dogs of war”. The ghost then wandered off gradually, reappearing as required, leaving the bloody and torn toga to represent the corpse being shown to the masses. Interesting staging. We’ve seen before that there are limited ways to get a dead body off stage – they can either be carried off or walk off. Otherwise they just litter the place up (as in Venice Preserv’d, I seem to recall, at the Citizens, many years ago. And that was a small stage, gradually getting smaller as the bodies mounted up). This was as good a way of handling it as any other, and certainly got across the point that this was Caesar’s ghost we’re seeing, handy later on for those who don’t know the play.

The second half was where this production came to life. Antony’s manipulation of the populace was masterly, as usual, so much so that he had to rein back the riot he’d provoked to add the finishing touch – the details of Caesar’s will  which showed how much he’d loved the people of Rome. All balderdash, but when can you ever trust a politician? This was much more lively than anything that had gone before, and the whole production gained energy from it. Brutus’ magnanimity, fine in itself, is once again the conspirator’s Achilles’ heel, and civil war ensues.

I’ve mentioned the effective use of light to create Brutus’ tent. The scene between him and Cassius was well played, still not in as much detail as I’ve seen before, but with much more emotion evident. I especially noticed the mention of Portia’s death, and how it affected Cassius, genuinely, I think. It seemed odd to have Brutus then deny all knowledge of the event when the other generals gather to discuss strategy, but it looked like he was either unwilling to discuss the matter, or checking to see if the information was good. Most likely the former. Again, Brutus overrules Cassius in matters of strategy, and they head to their doom.

Caesar’s appearance to Brutus was simply done, with Caesar’s ghost standing at the back of the stage, and spotlit during his lines. The microphones that I mentioned at the start were used to good effect here, as they had been throughout the play, giving a bit of echo and amplification to the ghost’s voice.

The short scene with Antony, Octavius and Lepidus came over much better than I’ve heard before. It’s clear what’s going on, and also that Antony is as guilty of treachery in advance as the conspirators. Octavius seems to be playing his cards close to his chest, though from his comment ”some that smile have in their hearts, I fear, Millions of mischiefs”, it’s clear he views Antony much as Antony views Lepidus. All predators on the prowl.

The setting up of the battle scenes was excellent. A rush of soldiers across the stage, leaving battle debris behind them – in an instant we’re there. As soldiers die, they lie there, and when they’re needed as another character, they simply get up and join in again. Simple, effective, and with the earlier rise of Caesar, easy to accept. In some cases, soldiers have cloaks thrown about them, which they can throw off to become another character – Brutus, Cassius, etc. This speeds things up enormously, but despite the potential confusion of so many short scenes, the final act comes across very well, and was quite moving. The final tableau, of Octavius and Antony standing over the defeated Brutus’ body, echoes their earlier meeting, as Antony realises he’s got into bed with as ruthless an operator as himself, and starts to shake.

Although this production was lacking in some areas, I found it interesting and stimulating. It’s nice to see a completely different approach and get a new perspective, though I wouldn’t want to see so little passion in every production.

© 2006 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me