Being Shakespeare – March 2012


By Jonathan Bate (with a bit of help from William Shakespeare)

Directed by Tom Cairns

Venue: Trafalgar Studios 1

Date: Saturday 17th March 2012

The set consisted of a square platform with one step along the front and side, placed at an angle to the front of the stage. Four plain wooden chairs were stacked against the dark right-hand wall. The light-coloured wall on the left had two windows high up, and there was another light-coloured part wall behind the platform. Two trees emerged from the darkness at the back of the stage towards the end of the first half, and were replaced by two more trees during the interval; these encroached further forward. The platform held various props – sword, paper crown, globe, cap, books, small mobile with figures dangling from it, etc. – as well as having two trapdoors, one of which provided flames for the early Mark Antony speech from Julius Caesar – “Friends, Romans” – and another occasion later on. There was a sweep of dark marbly bits to the left of the platform – a slight nuisance, as they kept tracking across whenever Simon Callow walked on them – but otherwise the stage seemed bare from our angle.

The play was very interesting and entertaining. Using Shakespeare’s Seven Ages Of Man speech – spoken by Jacques in As You Like It – Jonathan Bate has devised this ramble through Shakespeare’s work and what we know about the historical context in which it was written, both political and personal. Simon Callow delivered it all very well, although at times the lecturing style of the author shone through; not a bad thing, but less dramatic than some other parts of the afternoon. I recognised many of the readings, of course, but there was a lot of newer information as well, and the overall framework made it more easily digestible. Things went a little wobbly around the ‘soldier’ part, with the lack of evidence about Will’s life making it harder to stick to the speech, but with an actor of Simon Callow’s talent we were in safe hands. His delivery was very good, and my only quibble was that he had so little time to set up the speeches that I wasn’t able to make as strong an emotional connection as I would have liked. Still, the purpose of the piece was to take us on the lifetime journey, and that it did very well.

© 2012 Sheila Evans at

All About My Mother – October 2007


By: Samuel Adamson, based on the film by Pedro Almodóvar

Directed by: Tom Cairns

Venue: Old Vic Theatre

Date: Wednesday 3rd October 2007

This was a very moving experience. I haven’t seen any of Almodóvar’s movies, and so didn’t know what to expect. I found the start a little jerky, but as we got to know the characters I was drawn into their stories, and felt very emotional at the end. I wept buckets, of course, so it was fine.

The main character is a mother (Manuela) who loses her son (Esteban) early on in the story. Esteban also acts as narrator, so we have a lovely sense of ambiguity throughout – is this just a story he’s writing, or is it actually happening? He wants to get a famous actress’s autograph, and as she rushes away from him, he follows her out into the road and is knocked down, dying later in hospital. Manuela then tries to find her husband, the boy’s father, about whom Esteban knew nothing at all, and we find out the father is a transvestite prostitute – dick and boobs – who’s run off, leaving another woman, a nun (Rosa), both pregnant and HIV positive. A cheerful story then.

Actually, there’s a lot of humour, mainly from Agrado (Mark Gatiss), another transvestite hooker, who talks directly to the audience several times. Agrado’s a friend of Manuela and Lola, the father of Esteban (do keep up).

With Lola gone, Manuela visits the actress, Huma (Diana Rigg), and gets involved with her life, including her partner, a junkie lesbian actress who’s also in A Streetcar Named Desire, the play Esteban saw with his mother on the night of his death. Various complications lead us to the point where Rosa’s mother is at last involved with her daughter enough to be present when the baby is born and Rosa herself dies. As Lola was the father of both boys (this second son is also named Esteban), Manuela is closely involved with looking after him. Finally, Lola turns up, and as he’s dying too, it’s a emotional moment when he gets to see at least one of the sons he fathered.

The final scene has five women (I include Agrado) sitting in a semicircle, after Lola’s funeral, with the baby. Rosa’s mother (Eleanor Bron) asks Huma for a speech from Lorca’s Blood Wedding, the next play she’s doing. After refusing, she’s persuaded to do it, and the lines were very moving, and very appropriate.

There’s an amazing sense of life in this play, for all it has so much to do with death. There’s the narration by a dead man, the way the scenery was moved on and off, sometimes dropping down, sometimes sliding on. All of this gave the production a dream-like quality. The scenes were very focused on the essentials, very spare, but still we got to know the characters very well in a short time, and to feel for them. There was a huge sense of acceptance, as most of the characters were on the fringes of society, and although Rosa’s mother was unaccepting at first, even that began to change. (It didn’t help that Manuela (Lesley Manville) was dressed up like a tart when she first meets her.) I felt more affected by the story than I expected, and glad to have seen this. I suspect there will be a lot more thoughts coming up over the next few weeks, as I sense some of this play went deep. I shall enjoy watching the experience unfold even more. A very good play, and, I trust, a good adaptation.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at