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Posts Tagged ‘Dominic Dromgoole’

I’ve always thought this was Oscar Wilde’s best play, largely because it has more bite than his other social satires and because the themes of corruption, honour and morals are with us forever. Peter Hall’s 1992 production proved its enduring appeal on tour in the UK, on Broadway and in and out of the West End several times. It’s the third of the four plays in Dominic Dromgoole’s Classic Spring season, and it brings the season alive.

Mrs Cheveley, recently returned from Vienna, attempts to blackmail politician Sir Robert Chiltern, threatening to make public a letter proving he leaked information to enable someone to gain by the timely acquisition of shares, unless he speaks favourably in parliament about a project she and her friends have a vested interest in. She embroils his wife, a former school friend who takes a moral stance, and his friend Viscount Goring, a bit of a playboy with designs on Chiltern’s sister and ward, who tries to wrong-foot her. It’s very well plotted and littered with clever, witty lines from the second most quotable playwright, after Shakespeare.

I loved Frances Barber as the manipulative Mrs Cheveley, relishing her Machiavellian scheming, and I was very impressed by Freddie Fox as Viscount Goring, a role that fits him perfectly. Having his real dad Edward Fox play his stage dad gave the father and son sniping an added frisson. I haven’t seen Sally Bretton on stage and I wouldn’t have expected this to be her sort of role, but she plays Lady Chiltern really well. It’s a big supporting cast, most of whom we only see in the first act, within which it was lovely to see Susan Hampshire as Lady Markby. As with the previous two plays, there’s music between scenes, this time with Samuel Martin, Viscount Goring’s footman, playing Jason Carr’s music superbly on violin.

Simon Higlett’s versatile gold set is beautiful and his costumes gorgeous. Jonathan Church’s staging gave the play more edge and pungency than I remember. The whole production oozes quality and propels the season to another level altogether.

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This is the first of four Oscar Wilde plays in Dominic Dromgoole’s Classic Spring Theatre Company’s year-long residency at the Vaudeville. It’s a lesser performed Wilde play and it’s good to see it, and to be reminded if how sparkling Wilde’s dialogue is, and there’s the bonus of a superb cast.

Though it’s mostly set in Lady Hunstanton’s home and garden, it revolves around her friend and neighbour Mrs Arbuthnot & her son Gerald. Widow Lady Hunstanton is entertaining various members of society, including an MP, a vicar, two Lord’s, two Lady’s and a Knight! Lord Illingworth announces that he has employed Gerald as his Secretary, but when his mother turns up after dinner they realise they have history and baggage that gets in the way. What starts as a social satire gets deeper and more moralistic. A visiting American Puritan girl, Miss Worsley, gives a lecture, which doesn’t go down well with everyone, but she proves crucial to how events turn out.

It’s an old-fashioned play that gets a suitably old-fashioned production, but the dialogue does sparkle and Wilde’s plotting is very good. I liked the musical numbers between scene changes where Anne Reid showed off another talent, accompanied by four of the supporting cast on guitar, violin & clarinet. Reid is excellent as Lady Hunstanton, as is Eve Best as the more serious Mrs Arbuthnot. Eleanor Bron almost steals the show as Lady Caroline, one of the greatest nags ever written. Dominic Rowan continues to impress as baddie Lord Illingworth and Emma Fielding is terrific as feisty Mrs Allonby.

It’s a good, if conservative, production of a play worthy of revival. Hopefully, the season will up its game as it goes along.

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Here we are again, for the 30-something year. This time we started with food & wine at Scotland’s Restaurant of the Year, http://www.timberyard.co, where the food was lovely, the wine list too much of a tome and the staff doing cool a touch too much aloof. Still, it’s the food that matters most and here it excelled. On to the first cultural highlight with the Philhamonia and the wonderful Edinburgh Festival Chorus under Peter Pan conductor Andrew Davies for a rare outing of Elgar’s oratorio King Olaf. Unfathomable narrative, but musically exhilarating, with three good soloists to boot. The Usher Hall crowd were a bit too restrained; they should think themselves very lucky indeed.

Our fringe started with a little gem called Jess & Joe at TraverseTwo, a growing up story with a difference, told by the characters acting out what has already happened to them. Lovely writing, beautiful performances and unpredictable. I left welled up, with a warm glow. The first art was Beyond Caravaggio at the Scottish National Gallery which I missed, intentionally because of their dreadful gallery space, at the NG in London. Here in a proper gallery, the handful of Caravaggios are wonderful, but served to show up the rest, those he influenced. On to the Book Fest for a Q&A with Dominic Dromgoole, responsible for two of the most inspirational theatrical events of my lifetime, both in the last five years – Globe to Globe, every Shakespeare play in a different language, and the Hamlet World Tour to every country in the world. Insightful, with some great anecdotes and excellent audience engagement. I queued up to get my book signed and he was just as friendly and engaging one-to-one. More art with True to Life, realistic art from the twenties and thirties, including usual suspects like Stanley Spencer and Winifred Knights, but lots new to me. Worth the schlep out to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, a place Lothian Transport seems determined to wipe off the map. Then our first comedy, Ed Byrne at Assembly George Square Theatre, who I’ve been drawn to since his recent TV travel programmes with Dara O’Briain but have never seen. Very funny, very engaging, a bit of a lag in the middle, but a treat nonetheless. Late night supper at the delightfully named http://www.angelswithbagpipes.co.uk. where excellent food combined with friendly service to great effect. A lovely first full day.

Sunday started early with something more appropriate for a late night slot, Wild Bore at TraverseOne, which the critics seem to have taken against, unsurprisingly given that they loom large. It’s three women talking out of their, well, arses, mostly quoting vitriolic reviews of their shows and others, but it evolves and changes rather a lot, and I loved the combination of subversiveness, surprise, anarchy and humour. The next show over at Stand Six couldn’t be more of a contrast – that’s the fringe for you – with poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy reading her work, and multi-brass-and woodwind-instrumentalist John Sampson chipping in. A sombre start with First World War poems, the tone lightened and it became funny and cheeky; a rarger charming hour. I rested before the day’s main event, back at the Usher Hall. Edward Gardner brought his new band, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, along with a cast of soloists to die for led by Stuart Skelton, and they took us all hostage with an extraordinary interpretation of Britten’s operatic masterpiece Peter Grimes. The usually reserved Usher Hall crowd justifiably erupted. I doubt I’ll ever hear it that good again; a highlight in a lifetime of concert-going. Emotionally drained, I needed a drink before I joined the others at http://www.mumbaimansionedinburgh.co.uk where the food was a delicious new spin on Indian cuisine, but the staff rushed and harassed us too much.

With such an extraordinary start, things had to take a bit of a dip and so it was in (full) Day Three. It started well at that Edinburgh institution, the International Photographic Exhibition, though there were a few too many contrived, overly posed shots for my taste. The day’s first theatre saw the normally reliable Paines Plough deliver a mediocre and rather pointless piece called Black Mountain in their mobile Roundabout theatre at Summerhall, about a couple seeking to rescue their relationship when his ex turns up, or does she? A mildly thrilling atmospheric thriller with cardboard performances. As my companion said, it would have been better on the radio. From here, stand-up Dominic Holland at the Voodoo Rooms lifted things significantly with the brilliantly observational, autobiographical humour of a 50–year-old who’s career has been eclipsed by his 21-year-old son. Then back to Summerhall for Graeae’s Cosmic Scallies, a somewhat slight piece about renewing an old friendship, and Skelmersdale!, which never rose to the giddy heights of their Solid Life of Sugar Water in 2015. We ended on a high with another terrific meal at http://www.lovagerestaurant.co.uk Food & wine eclipsed culture on Day Three, but there are three more full days to go……..

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It seems that the current view is that this late Shakespeare play was in fact a collaboration with George Wilkins, with Will writing the last three acts. It’s another odd concoction, but fascinating nonetheless, and like the other two in this Sam Wanamaker Playhouse winter season, it benefits greatly from the suitability of the venue. Somehow, these plays seems less implausible and less preposterous in this setting!

Pericles, Prince of Tyre, is ‘on the run’ from the King of Antioch and his henchmen, having discovered the widowed king’s incest with his daughter when he was solving the riddle for her hand in marriage. His journey takes him from Antioch back to Tyre and on to Tarsus, to Pentapolis (after a shipwreck) where he wins the king’s daughter’s hand in marriage in a tournament, back to Tyre (through a storm, during which his new bride dies giving birth to their child) but diverted to Tarsus again where he leaves his new daughter in the care of the governor and his wife. Fourteen years later his daughter is abducted and sold to a brothel in Mytilene, whose governor rescues her, which leads to her reunion with her father and not so dead mother. Phew!

Dominic Dromgoole’s staging is simple and nifty and it races along, challenging you to keep up and keep breathing.  It’s helped by a narrator who introduces the play and each act (a terrific Sheila Reid). It switches mood often and the incest and rather graphic brothel scene make it more than a bit shocking. Yet, it feels completely at home in the candlelit SWP. There’s lovely music from Claire van Kampen, played by an onstage quartet and a fine 14-piece ensemble with a lot of doubling-up.

Three shows in and I’m thoroughly enjoying this late play season. Bring on The Tempest!

 

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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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You have to admire the ambition of Shakespeare’s Globe. A year after they produce all of the Bard’s plays, each in a different language, they announce a 2-year Hamlet tour to every country in the world – all 205 of them! This show is also ambitious, albeit on a smaller scale than the other two projects, and though they don’t quite pull it off, I still admire the way it stretches the Globe yet again.

I’m not sure why the play is called Gabriel. It isn’t in fact a play, it’s an ‘entertainment’ that includes a number of playets written by Samuel Adamson and a lot of music. The tales involve characters from the late 17th century, including Purcell whose music they use, and appear to be based on true stories. They also include Queen Mary and her nephew the young Duke of Gloucester, trumpeter Matthew Shore and his sons and theatre producers Rich and Betterton. The trumpet is the key as it apparently came about when trumpeter Alison Balsom (who appears / plays) expressed a wish to appear at The Globe and here is the crux of the problem – it appears to be a bit of a vanity project, and you can see the artifice.

There is a much to enjoy. The music is gorgeous and the period trumpet seems entirely at home on this stage. Some of the tales are very funny; I particularly liked the first scene involving the watermen, brilliantly characterised as the black cab drivers of their day, and a satire on opera audiences (nothing changes, it seems). It’s often racy – I can’t even begin to tell you how Kate is rewarded for giving an acting lesson – and an infectious bawdiness lingers over the proceedings. It even contains the most original use of the trumpet – using its bell to cover a man’s private parts! It has clearly been well rehearsed and the idea of staging the sort of semi-opera of the period is an excellent one. Sadly, it doesn’t produce a cohesive evening. The tone changes too dramatically at times, it comes over as a bit of a rag bag and at 2 hours 45 minutes, it’s about 30 mins too long.

The musicians play well whilst moving around and there are some fine performances, in particular from sometime Nancy Jessie Buckley who sings Purcell’s songs beautifully and acts well (including when she’s getting her reward for an acting lesson!). Jonathan Fensom’s period costumes and design are excellent and the space is well used, with a platform jutting out at the upper level, linked to the stage by a staircase. The stage itself has grown three oval wings, which opens up the action (albeit at the expense of the grounding’s space).

This was only the third performance and Dominic Dromgoole’s staging was a bit ragged at the edges, particularly with the dance and movement, but it will have to sharpen and shorten significantly to be a real success. They also need to look at the audibility issues, as some dialogue is lost when there is music in the background. That said, I don’t regret going and admired its ambition and originality, the music and the humour.

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