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Posts Tagged ‘Greg Doran’

Cicero gets nine lines in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar; here he gets a play in two parts, each of three acts, with a playing time of six hours. The RSC have given us a number of two-part epics in recent years. from Nicholas Nickleby through Canterbury Tales to Wolf Hall. Mike Poulton was responsible for the adaptation of the last two of these, as he is for this adaptation of Robert Harris’ Cicero Trilogy, a big slice of fascinating Roman history littered with contemporary parallels, and it’s brilliant.

Cicero may be the most significant Roman you don’t know much about. That’s because he was an orator and lawyer rather than an Emperor or military figure, but was considered the father of the republic and the go-to man for legal advice and rhetorical coaching, becoming a philosopher in later life. His life was extraordinarily well documented by his slave-turned-confidente & biographer Tiro. Though his papers were lost, they were known to Plutarch, who was the source for Shakespeare’s play, so Harris’ books and these plays have a solid foundation in fact, based on Plutarch.

When it starts, Rome is a republic, with democracy of a sort, two consuls elected annually by a senate made up of the great and the good of Rome, most rich patricians, but some self-made plebeians like Cicero. Cicero is a Consul and protector of the republic, but Julius Caesar is due back in triumph intent on turning Cicero’s precious republic into a dictatorship. Cicero is sent into exile, but is allowed to return before Caesar’s assassination, in which he doesn’t really play a part, though he does approve of the return of the republic, or so he thinks.

Next up is Mark Anthony, whose wife Fulvia is ‘the power behind the throne’ and he seems permanently pissed. Cicero is their biggest critic but he fails to take the Senate with him in his plan to deal with Mark Anthony, and ends up in exile once more, while Mark Anthony & Fulvia continue their life of excess and corruption. Cicero is approached by Julius Caesar’s chosen heir Octavian, who he takes a shine to and decides to help, but he too is more than meets the eye. and when he forms an alliance with Mark Anthony, Cicero is violently dispatched. Octavian will go on to become Augustus, the next dictator.

Like his other adaptations, this is rich in story and narrative and is a real theatrical feast. It’s a slow burn at first, but by the third act of the first part you’re in its grip, until its subject’s head is on a pole! In Anthony Ward’s design, the Swan has stairs behind, a pit below and a giant globe above, which provide a brilliantly flexible but evocative setting. Paul Engishby’s music, heavy on brass, is particularly good at accompanying the triumphant entries into Rome. This is the sort of production director Greg Doran does so well – lucid, well paced and often thrilling.

Cicero is a huge part and Richard McCabe is magnificent, a career high I’d say. I loved Joseph Kloska as diffident but loyal Tiro, whose journey takes him from slave to assistant to confidente to advisor and biographer. Peter de Jersey has great presence as Julius Caesar and Joe Dixon shines as both Catiline and Mark Anthony, two power hungry chancers, as does Oliver Johnstone as Cicero’s protege Rufus and Octavian and Eloise Secker as Clodia and Fulvia. A terrific ensemble of seventeen actors play all of the remaining roles.

It was a difficult trip to Stratford, where I almost got stranded in the snow, but it was a real theatrical banquet and I don’t regret the travails one bit. This is the sort of theatre you remember for years.

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Much has been made of the use of cutting edge technology in this production – ‘The ROYAL SHAKESPEARE COMPANY in collaboration with INTEL, in association with THE IMAGINARIUM STUDIOS’ – that I was concerned it would swamp Shakespeare’s play, but nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the contrast between spectacle and quiet reflection brought something very fresh and unique.

It’s set inside the wreck of a giant ship’s hull, designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis. Prospero, Miranda and the shipwrecked royals and their staff are normal humans. Caliban is a Shrek-like monster, brilliantly realised by Joe Dixon. Ariel is both an onstage character and multiple digital projections using performance capture (think Gollum in Lord of the Rings and Planet of the Apes), also brilliantly realised by Mark Quartley, as are the seven spirits that he sometimes conjures up. The characterisation of Stephano and Trinculo by James Hayes and especially Simon Trinder are also superb, and their scenes with Caliban are amongst the best I’ve ever seen.

With giant projections on the back wall and the ship’s hull, it does create truly spectacular scenes, but only when they’re needed. Much of the time we spend with Prospero feels even more introspective, thoughtful and restrained than usual, and the verse shines through. At first I thought Simon Russell Beale’s characterisation was too gentle, but then you realise you’re hanging on to every word in a theatre where you couldn’t hear a pin drop (despite the presence of many school parties!).  In addition to the technological partners, the projections of Finn Ross, Simon Spencer’s superb lighting and Paul Englishby’s evocative music add much to the magical cocktail.

Who’d have thought a 400-year-old play and state-of-the-art technology could feel as if they belong together.

 

 

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It’s more than two years since I last saw King Lear (unless you count https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/08/17/king-lear-with-sheep), so though I didn’t strictly speaking need another Lear yet, it was impossible to resist Anthony Sher in the title role, my 13th Lear (not. counting the sheep!), my 7th theatrical Knight playing the role, and jolly good he is too.

Greg Doran’s production has an elegant, monochrome and gold visual aesthetic and the verse is very well spoken. It looks and sounds great. The opening scene gets us off to a good start (though I was puzzled by the glass box sedan chair) as Lear divides his kingdom amongst his daughters, except Cordelia, who refuses to be sycophantic like her sisters and ends up disinherited and married off to the French king. The scenes where Lear is to-ing and fro-ing between Goneril’s and Reagan’s homes are fairly standard, but the production comes into its own during the storm (unfortunately halted for 15 minutes due to a technical fault on the night I went), then madness and multiple deaths.

Sher is a great Lear, bags of regal presence and totally believably mad, but it’s the strength of the whole cast that swept me away. Great to see David Troughton again (taking time out from The Archers!); an excellent Gloucester. Antony Byrne is a great Kent and Graham Turner a great Fool (with a lovely visual ad lib at the halt). I’m kicking myself for missing Paapa Essiedu’s Hamlet because he’s a terrific machiavellian Edmund, brilliantly matched by Oliver Johnstone as Edgar, as fine as Old Tom as I’ve ever seen it played. The RSC is certainly doing its bit for diversity, with 40% of the cast from ethnic minorities.

There’s nothing ground-breaking about it, but it oozes quality from every pore. A fine production.

 

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When I first saw this play I was about the same age as Willy Loman’s youngest son Happy. Now I’m the same age as Willy Loman. Oh dear. In between I reckon there have only been two major London revivals, which given that it’s one of the ‘big five’ by one of the 20th century’s greatest playwrights, and given the number of Becket, Pinter and Chekov revivals of inferior plays in the same period, seems bizarre. So it’s a big welcome to the transfer of the RSC’s production in Miller’s centenary year.

This play has so much to say about father – son relationships, the compulsion to succeed (and the lengths people go to for success) and of course the American dream. Willy’s success as a salesman isn’t anywhere near as real as he believes, but he bigs himself up for his sons and in turn bigs them up to everyone else. When elder son Biff fails, it breaks his heart, but he’s oblivious to any role he might have played in this. When Biff returns years later, he’s at it again trying to make him what he isn’t. This time it coincides with his own downfall and it all comes home to roost. Wife & mom Linda and younger son Happy are caught up in all of this.

I have to confess I was disappointed at the interval. It hadn’t really got into its stride. An early mobile ringing had visibly unsettled Anthony Sher and from there things seemed somewhat perfunctory. His performance felt like a one-note grumpy old man. I also didn’t feel Greg Doran’s production was delineating the current and flashback scenes well enough (there were a lot of puzzled faces around me). It was all a bit flat. Things looked up significantly in the second half, with the restaurant scene and the following scene back in the Loman home brilliantly staged and performed, but I still felt I was watching acting, I hadn’t lost myself in the play and the characters, and it didn’t engage me emotionally in the way it should.

There was more chemistry between Sher’s Loman and Biff and Happy than there was between Sher and Harriet Walter’s Linda, who seemed too restrained to me; I thought Alex Hassell and Sam Marks were outstanding as the sons. It’s a high quality supporting cast and its good to have live music, in this case a fine jazz quintet playing Paul Englishby’s original score. I wasn’t convinced by Stephen Brimson Lewis’ huge set though – it seemed to rob the play of much intimacy when it needed it.

Maybe my expectations were too high or maybe it was just an off night, but I’m afraid it wasn’t the evening I was expecting or hoping for. A good rather than great Salesman.

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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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This is a modern staging that works well, and somehow the present day African setting serves the machinations of the story and the verse sounds more naturalistic.

The set is a crumbling set of stone steps with a giant statue with its back to us behind them. Though these are used occasionally, the action is mostly stage front, bringing an intensity as events unfold. It is a play which takes time to get into its stride, as it does here, and in this production you also have to attune to the heavily accented dialects with which Shakespeare’s verse is spoken. When it gets going, though, boy is it rolling.

Greg Doran has assembled a brilliant all-black cast led by Jeffery Kissoon as Julius, capturing all the complexity of the character, and Ray Feardon as a hugely charismatic Anthony. There’s a brilliant passionately manic Brutus from Paterson Joseph and Cyril Nri gives us a Cassius who’s completely wwrapped up in all the intrigue. They are supported by a terrific ensemble and a handful of musicians.

Richard Dowden’s programme notes quote an African saying that if Shakespeare were alive he would relate more with today’s Africa than with his home country and I suppose the same applies in reverse – Africans are living through the things Will writes about.

This is one of the best stagings of Julius Caesar’s I’ve seen and some of the finest acting on stage just now. Don’t miss it.

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