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Posts Tagged ‘Jade Anouka’

After the Donmar’s second all-female prison set Shakespeare, Henry IV, I suggested it might not be wise to do a third (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2014/10/09/henry-iv-at-the-donmar-warehouse). Well, here’s the third, this time off-site in a purpose-built pop-up theatre in Kings Cross, in rep with revivals of Henry IV and the first in the trilogy, Julius Caesar (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/12/20/julius-caesar).

Our entrance this time is through an ante room where we are penned as prison officers lay out the rules, which I can testify is an authentic prison entrance as I’ve experienced it for real at Wandsworth Prison a few times (attending a show!). In this specially created space we have an even more authentic caged prison gym with seating on four sides. After an introduction from lifer Hannah, we launch into the prisoner’s production of Shakespeare’s play.

It’s uncanny how the dialogue takes on real meaning for incarcerated women. It’s as inventively staged as the first two, with only items you would find in such a place for props and costumes. The performances are extraordinarily committed and passionate. A grey vest, tracksuit bottom and no make-up must be the most unglamorous stage get-up any theatrical Dame has donned and here Harriet Walter as Hannah playing Prospero is the beating heart of the piece. The great Sophie Stanton as Caliban is as at home as she was as a Dagenham Ford machinist or a Thamesmead mum or a series of Spitalfields barmaids. I very much liked Jade Anouka’s Ariel and Leah Harvey’s Miranda and Karen Dunbar was a terrific Trinculo. The last time I saw Sheila Atim, in Les Blancs, she was mute but hugely charismatic, which she is here, but with dialogue as Ferdinand.

I didn’t think the play’s story and themes suit the setting as much as the power, control and revenge of the previous two plays, but it’s a great pioneering achievement which will go down in theatrical history. Oh, and the blue plastic chairs are a lot more comfortable than the grey plastic ones at the Donmar, though not as plush as the Lazarus seats next door!

 

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Oh, I do suffer for my art. In this case an unbroken 2h10m on the most excruciatingly uncomfortable grey plastic moulded chairs in the new Donmar Covent Garden Women’s Prison. It was worth it though.

There’s a real sense of deja vu as you’re led up the back stairs to a very similar space which you were in a couple of years ago for the same team’s all-female Julius Caesar. The entrance and the programme are new, but otherwise this is very much the second in a series; women prisoners staging a play.

Henry IV is not only reduced from two parts to one, but cut to 40% of their combined length. We’ve lost whole scenes, a lot of verse and a surprising number of characters (almost 30!), yet it hangs together as a cohesive story of the last days of a king, full of rebellion, and his wayward son who eventually reforms to inherit the crown. I always thought these plays had a lot of padding; here’s the proof!

Most of it works extremely well, particularly Hal & Hotspur’s one-to-one as a boxing match and all of Falstaff’s scenes. In a fine cast, Ashley McGuire is a superb Falstaff and Jade Anouka a terrific Hotspur. Clare Dunn is excellent as Prince Hal and there’s a most auspicious professional debut from Sharon Rooney as Lady Percy.

Because the production is so similar to their Julius Caesar, it doesn’t have that ‘first time’  thrill that did, but it’s well worth seeing. I do wonder if it would be wise to do a third in exactly the same way, though.

 

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