Posts Tagged ‘ian rickson’

It’s taken me a couple of days to write about this because it’s taken me a couple of days to reflect and decide what I think about it!

What I am absolutely clear about is that The Young Vic Theatre and the play’s director Ian Rickson win all the prizes for bravery, ambition and sheer balls. Messing with the bard’s most famous play? Quelle horreur! Rickson’s ‘big idea’ is that it’s all in Hamlet’s head…..or our heads? We enter a mental institution, on a pretty long and impressive  ‘journey’, where the whole play takes place. It’s Hamlet -The Story-The Characters-The Words, but not Hamlet as we know it.

The first half is rather ponderous and slow with lots of Pinteresque silences Shakespeare didn’t write, but it picks up pace significantly in the second half. When it’s running at full steam, it’s a thrilling psychological ride with a couple of clever and brilliant coup d’theatre. Hamlet has never been as confused, damaged, tortured, lost, persecuted…..

Michael Sheen lives up to expectations as the Danish prince – an intelligent and often thrilling performance. There’s an excellent supporting cast, with Sally Dexter capturing Gertrude’s love for both her son and her new man and Vinette Robinson providing a fascinating emotional rollercoaster as Ophelia. Jeremy Herbert creates an all too believable institution with a significant contribution from Adam Silverman’s lighting (and lack of!).

This is the Hamlet that seems to be dividing people, and in my case dividing me….but I have nothing but admiration for the theatre and the creative team – it would have been so easy to churn out another traditional Hamlet-as-star-vehicle like the RSC and Donmar. Challenging stuff indeed.

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Another day, another 30’s American drama……and even though it also suffered from a slow first half (is it me? am I getting impatient?) it was a lot better than yesterday’s.

Lillian Hellman’s play concerns two female teachers whose lives are ruined after accusations, based on hearsay and lies, that they are lesbian lovers…but it’s really much more than that. Like Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, it is many-layered in its exploration of the wider moral issues. It struck me how nothing has changed in  75 years – we’re still awash with false accusations which by the time they are proved wrong, it’s just too late and we’re still very quick to judge. It also struck me that this was 20 years before Miller’s play, so it must surely have been an influence.

Apart from the slowness of the first half (the play rather than the production, I think) Ian Rickson’s direction is masterly and it gripped me more than Howard Davies’ NT’s staging c.17 years ago. The pivotal scene soon after the interval when the teachers visit their accuser is simply terrific. Mark Thompson has designed an elegant space which easily transforms from working school to home to mothballed school and has an intimacy and intensity despite the height he seems so fond of (c/f La Bete at the same theatre last year).

I was impressed by the whole ensemble. The six leads – Keira Knightly, Elizabeth Moss, Ellen Burstyn, Carol Kane, Tobias Menzies and Bryony Hannah – were well cast and well matched and it was great to see the West End debut of no less than seven young actresses, of whom Amy Dawson and Lisa Backwell impressed greatly. It was particularly wonderful to see Ellen Burstyn on stage – such presence and such authority; a terrific performance

This is no star casting money grab. Though it has and will clearly do well financially, it’s a quality play and production that holds its own up against the other current must-sees – Flare Path, Clybourne Park and Cause Celebre.

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I now have to disagree with myself…..the review below from the Royal Court run six months ago suggests the play is great though not a classic – well, I’m wrong; it is!

It has so much depth that it needs a second view. It still has an epic sweep and it’s still very funny, but now the contradictions become more real. Your sympathies are with rebel Rooster Byron but you know you’d hate it if he was your neighbour. You laugh at the ‘war stories’ of drug-fuelled parties the morning after, but you can’t approve of him dealing to minors. Your heart is with his in an England of old but your brain knows things have to change. Even his young followers both celebrate and exploit him.

There is more poignancy and his loneliness really gets under your skin. It’s a real state-of-the-(rural)-nation play with lots to say about lots of things, but without rights and wrongs, taking sides or preaching. At times last night, I felt I was in the woods with this lord of misrule and his pilgrims.

The cast is virtually intact from the Royal Court run and seem to have grown into their roles, and Mark Rylance’s masterful performance still towers over most I’ve seen in a lifetime of theatre-going. There’s an Airstream caravan in the woods with a soundscape that helps take you there. It doesn’t look like it was directed, which is a great compliment to Ian Rickson’s direction!

It is a classic and it will be revived in the future, but go and see it now because it’s a play for now with a production and performances which are probably already definitive.


Until this year, only two Jez Butterworth plays have been produced since his debut with Mojo 14 years ago. Then along come two in quick succession! This is without question his best – I’m not sure it’s a classic, but it is a theatrical feast.

There are many themes being explored here – changes in rural life, tolerance of diferent lifestyles, urban invasion –  in an intelligent but very funny way and you’re thinking about them for a long time after you’ve left the theatre……but it’s the pace, rhythm and energy that sweeps you away and sustains a runing time of over 3 hours without flagging for a moment. Both the design and direction are masterly.

There are a lot of young inexperienced actors in this superb ensemble who will no doubt never forget the experience of a nightly masterclass in acting from Mark Rylance, who positively inhabits this wonderfully meaty role of Shakespearean proportions. You don’t see many performances like this in a lifetime, yet he takes his bows in the least starry way alongside his colleagues.


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