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Posts Tagged ‘David Tennent’

NEW PLAYS

Chimerica – Lucy Kirkwood’s play takes an historical starting point for a very contemporary debate on an epic scale at the Almeida

Jumpers for Goalposts – Tom Wells’ warm-hearted play had me laughing and crying simultaneously for the first time ever – Paines Plough at Watford Palace and the Bush Theatre

Handbagged – with HMQ and just one PM, Moira Buffini’s 2010 playlet expanded to bring more depth and more laughs than The Audience (Tricycle Theatre)

Gutted – Rikki Beale-Blair’s ambitious, brave, sprawling, epic, passionate family saga at the people’s theatre, Stratford East

Di & Viv & Rose – Amelia Bullimore’s delightful exploration of human friendship at Hampstead Theatre

Honourable mentions to the Young Vic’s Season in the Congo and NTS’ Let the Right One In at the Royal Court

SHAKESPEARE

2013 will go down as the year when some of our finest young actors took to the boards and made Shakespeare exciting, seriously cool and the hottest ticket in town. Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus at the Donmar and James McAvoy’s Macbeth for Jamie Lloyd Productions were both raw, visceral, physical & thrilling interpretations. The dream team of Adrian Lester and Rory Kinnear provided psychological depth in a very contemporary Othello at the NT. Jude Law and David Tennant as King’s Henry V for Michael Grandage Company and the RSC’s Richard II led more elegant, traditional but lucid interpretations. They all enhanced the theatrical year and I feel privileged to have seen them.

OTHER REVIVALS

Mies Julie – Strindberg in South Africa, tense and riveting, brilliantly acted (Riverside)

Edward II – a superb contemporary staging which illuminated this 400-year-old Marlowe play at the NT

Rutherford & Son – Northern Broadsides in an underated 100-year-old northern play visiting Kingston

Amen Corner – The NT director designate’s very musical staging of this 1950’s Black American play

The Pride – speedy revival but justified and timely, and one of many highlights of the Jamie Lloyd season

London Wall & Laburnam Grove – not one, but two early 20th century plays that came alive at the tiny Finborough Theatre

Honorable mentions for To Kill A Mockingbird at the Open Air, Beautiful Thing at the Arts, Fences in the West End, Purple Heart – early Bruce (Clybourne Park) Norris – at the Gate and The EL Train at Hoxton Hall, where the Eugene O’Neill experience included the venue.

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The opening image and sound are simply beautiful. A cathedral created by projections onto shimmering ‘screens’, three sopranos chanting heavenly music, the distraught Duchess of Gloucester crouched over her late husbands coffin. One of the best things about this production is its visual beauty and simplicity, in period costumes with very little else. Well, apart from that hair.

Despite the fact he really wasn’t interested in being king, Richard lasted longer than the ones before or after – 22 years in fact – but Shakespeare decided to concentrate on a short period at the end of his reign, so we get the events unleashed by Gloucester’s murder as his cousin Bolingbroke seeks to go beyond restoring his lands to challenge the monarch, who by now seems somewhat disengaged. It’s a more complex story than the other history plays, focusing more on the psychology of the characters than politics and battles and this production succeeds in that sense.

My problem with it was the pacing of the first three acts. I’ve never known so many pauses or so much silence in a Shakespeare play. During the Duchess of Gloucester’s scene with her brother-in-law, John of Gaunt, they were so long I thought Jane Lapotaire had forgotten her lines. When Richard and the Duke of Amerle were having a tender moment, it lasted beyond the point of being comfortable and I was convinced some stage machinery had failed and we were waiting for the stage manager to come on and say ‘because of a technical fault….’ This all slows it down, the 105 minutes of the first half dragged and my mind started wandering.

Though David Tennant is very good, this is no star vehicle. It’s one of the best RSC ensembles I’ve ever seen, with luxury casting of seasoned Shakespearians like Michael Pennington, Oliver Ford Davies and Jane Lapotaire in relatively small roles. The one who impressed me most, though, was the least experienced Shakespearian, Nigel Lindsay, who brought great complexity to Bolingbroke. I was also impressed by Sean Chapman’s passionate Northumberland and Oliver Rix’s performance as Aumerle, a role I think is very difficult to pull off.

There has been a tendency of late to camp up Richard. Tennant’s isn’t as camp as Kevin Spacey’s, but I really don’t think that voice and hair would have been evident at the time and it brings a touch of implausibility to this reading. Like all Greg Doran’s work, it’s elegant and lucid, but safe. It’s a good production, but it doesn’t match or better the Donmar’s with Eddie Redmayne and Andrew Buchan.

My second ex-Doctor Who in four days, both proving you can command a stage again after a lengthy bit of telly, with the benefit of full houses regardless  – but in these cases, deserved too.

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I’m fond of Shakespeare but not that fond of Hamlet. It always seems overlong and ponderous and I find it hard to believe in or be moved by it. Give me a more cracking yarn like Richard III any time. Yet somehow, its hard to resist re-visiting it – maybe to find what I haven’t yet found or maybe to see how an actor rises to the challenge of that pinnacle for a leading man.

My first one was Roger Rees and my second Kenneth Branagh; both deeply introverted and neither RSC productions really did it for me. Then there was highly strung Daniel Day-Lewis on the same stage (before he had his breakdown, withdrew and was replaced by a dying Ian Charlston) and cool Adrian Lester at the Young Vic. A couple of adventures followed with Ingmar Bergman’s Swedish Hamlet and Ninagawa’s Japanese Hamlet. After a long break, I started again as I couldn’t resist Jude Law or David Tennent, both of whom turned in very good interpretations but neither production was totally satisfying. I regret not giving Simon Russell Beale and Ben Wilshaw a crack.

One of the pleasures of going to the National in recent years has been to see the range and growth of Rory Kinnear, but I thought it might be too soon for him to tackle Hamlet. Well, I was certainly wrong there, as it was the most interesting, intelligent and real Hamlet of them all – I actually cared about what this man was going through for probably the first time.

What helps is a production which creates a believable timeless police state where everyone is watching everyone else. This brings a plausibility to the story and adds an excitement which propels the play along. What also helps is a faultless supporting cast. Patrick Malahide is such a good Claudius that I became tense every time he came on stage. Dame Clare Higgins creates a highly original stilletto-heeled shallow gullible monster, drink almost always in hand. You could really believe in and were touched by Ruth Negga’s journey as Ophelia. The production didn’t seem at all imbalanced by understudy James Pearse standing in for David Calder as Polonius.

I’ve liked Nicholas Hytner’s other Olivier Shakespeares – Henry IV parts 1 & 2 and Henry V – but I liked this most of all. Vicky Mortimer’s design is important in creating this believable world and facilitates the pace, energy and excitement. I also liked the use of sound to create atmosphere.

So, the most satisfying Hamlet so far and one that will no doubt encourage me to continue exploring the play – somehow, I doubt I will be able to resist Michael Sheen at the Young Vic next year!

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