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Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Logan’

This was one of the first plays I saw at the Traverse Theatre, and indeed at the Edinburgh Fringe, 33 years ago, which began a lifelong love of both, leading to ten shows at the new Traverse just last month. It was part of a golden age for Scottish drama, led by the Traverse, which went on to mount three more Jo Clifford plays before moving on to the next generation. It hasn’t been revived there since and I’m not sure it’s ever been seen in London before.

It’s set in the early 17th century, when Spain was an aspirational expansionist power with particular designs on the states which would one day become Italy. The newly married Duke of Osuna, not really enamoured with his new wife and seemingly impotent, avoids the honeymoon by heading to Venice on behalf of King and country to make Spain great again, with his poet Quevedo and servant Pablo, whose partner Maria stays at court in Madrid with the Duchess. On the way they encounter pirates and when they get there, it’s all a bit weird, with little to say and not really going anywhere.

I’m not sure Jess Curtis’ hybrid period / contemporary design helps Paul Miller’s production, but the actors work hard to breathe life into it, notably the four central performances by Tim Delap as the Duke, Christopher Logan as poet Quevedo, Eleanor Fanyinka as Maria and an excellent professional debut from Remus Brooks as Pablo. I can see why they thought the time was right to revive it, and indeed I was very much looking forward to seeing it again, but time hasn’t been kind and I’m afraid it comes over as dull and a bit pointless today.

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I’d already booked for Julius Caesar at the Globe before they announced they were going to put on a performance ‘inside’ in the new candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, so I couldn’t resist seeing both – inside then out, as it happened.

The SWP may have uncomfortable wooden benches without backs for seating, but it’s an exciting new venue. For a capacity of 340 it has an extraordinary intimacy and the quality of candle light is very special indeed. My only other venture here (so far) was for a 16th century opera and it was brilliant, and the good news is that it’s brilliant for Shakespeare too.

Dominic Dromgoole’s is a boisterous JC, which starts before you enter either theatre, as if you’re walking through the city of Rome – musicians, someone reciting the Rape of Lucrece, a temple alter, a publicly caged woman and one offering favours for money. With only nine ‘extras’ the crowd scenes are particularly effective. In both theatres they use the auditorium as well as the stage, but the SWP didn’t need the audience to join in for it to seem like you were in Wembley Stadium! The intimate scenes of conspiracy work better in the smaller space as you feel you’re more of a fly on the wall.

In this production, the murder of Caesar is particularly effective, more so in the bigger space. The battle scenes are harder to pull off without a huge cast, but here, somewhat surprisingly, the smaller space helped. Again, the bigger space benefitted the speeches after his death, made more effective by placing characters on wooden crates in the groundling space. Using the same actor who plays Caesar to play the man who assists Brutus kill himself, after Caesar has appeared to him as a ghost, is an excellent idea. I’m not sure of the context of the three women chanting, but they sounded gorgeous and it was highly atmospheric.

The success of this productions is of course very much due to a fine ensemble. George Irving is an older Caesar with a superiority juxtaposed with his ‘man of the people’ words and a very revealing fist entrance where he gifts money to a man in the crowd in a very kingly gesture. Tom McKay’s Brutus and Anthony Howell’s Cassius are both fine characterisations, making their decisions to kill themselves before being killed all very believable. Luke Thompson is a young Mark Anthony who shines in his passionate speech at Caesars body and his more manipulative one after his funeral. Christopher Logan is a particularly oily Casca, but a more reluctant player in the overthrow & murder game.

Even though they were less than two weeks apart, I thoroughly enjoyed both experiences, each bringing something different to this great political play. There were a few things, involving building and dropping, that they could’t do on the inside and there were things that worked better in each space, but they were both successful in their own way and this proved to be a worthwhile experiment which may mean the SWP will get more Shakespeare, which I don’t think was the intention!

This is a great Julius Caesar – inside and out.

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I’ve always thought this a well-structured, well-plotted comedy; but I’m used to seeing a less radical, less farcical production and I’m not entirely convinced Timothy Sheader’s broad cartoonish take on it serves it well – though in all fairness I did warm to it as the evening progressed.

There’s a giant 3D frontispiece which rises to reveal a group of ‘dandies’ singing the first in a series of narrative songs specially composed by Richard’s Sisson & Stilgoe, then the first of Katrina Lindsay’s pop-up book sets. The Olivier’s drum revolve is well used to deliver the other three settings. It’s technically outstanding and looks great, but…..

Arthur Wing Pinero’s late 19th century play revolves around a lie told by the Magistrate’s wife in order to bag him. She takes five years off her age, which requires her to take 5 years off her son’s age, making him a 14-year old in a 19-year old body. He leads her husband astray (as a 19-year-old might) and she seeks to make other complicit in her deception so it isn’t revealed.

Though the acting style is somewhat OTT, in keeping with the directorial style, there is much to admire in the performances. For me, John Lithgow has to live up to both Nigel Hawthorne and Iain Richardson as the magistrate and he acquits himself very well indeed. Nancy Carroll continues to impress, here the broadest and loudest I’ve ever seen her as the magistrate’s wife. Joshua McGuire pulls of the task of making a 19-year old 14-year old believable to great effect.

There’s luxury casting in the smaller roles from Nicholas Blane as the other magistrate, Jonathan Coy as the Colonel, Roger Sloman as the chief clerk and Alexander Cobb & Beverley Rudd as servants. Don Gallagher & Christopher Logan provide delicious French caricatures as the hotel proprietor and waiter.

It’s an enjoyable evening, and thoroughly suitable seasonal fare, but despite the inventiveness and talent it falls short of greatness by its lack of subtlety.

 

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