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Posts Tagged ‘James Corrigan’

I’ve seen some amazing actors play Lear, seven of them knights of the realm, but this is the first time I’ve seen the same actor play him twice, only ten years apart (though I’ve seen five more Lear’s since the last time, not counting the one from Belarus and the one with sheep!). With Ian McKellen in his eightieth year, he’s the oldest, and the closest to the character’s age. I regret not booking to see this in Chichester. My thinking was that I’d seen McKellen’s Lear. I suspect it would have been better (and cheaper!), but it’s still a must-see in the West End, and I now realise how flawed my thinking had been.

They’ve put a platform through the centre of the stalls, leading to an entrance / exit at the rear, losing a handful of rows and quite a few other seats in the process. They also use the side aisles as entrances / exits. I don’t know the impact of this in the upper tiers, but it made the stalls space more intimate. On stage there’s floor-to-ceiling wood panelling with doors and entrances within it. The floor covering changes with the location, starting as red carpet as the royal family enter for Lear’s announcement that he is to divide the country between his daughters. I thought Paul Wills design was excellent.

Though it’s something like my 14th Lear, there were things about this one that changed my response to the story. I still think there’s more than a touch of implausibility in him falling for the sycophancy of two daughters rather than the sincerity of the third, but here there’s an ageism in Goneril and Regan, in addition to to my normal feelings of spoilt children and inheritance ruins, and Regan in particular becomes completely self-obsessed and self-centred. The Duke of Kent has become the Countess of Kent, and this subtly changes, softens, the character. Edmund seems more machiavellian in contrast to an even more empathetic Edgar. Lear’s madness at first seems eccentricity, before it becomes tragic. I thought Jonathan Munby’s production was very fresh and intelligent.

From the original Chichester cast, Sinead Cusak and Danny Webb are both excellent as Kent and Gloucester respectively, and Kirsty Bushell is simply terrific as Regan. Michael Matus makes much more of the role of Oswald. There are some great performances from new cast members too, not least a superb Edgar from Luke Thompson and an outstanding Edmund in James Corrigan. Lloyd Hutchison is a particularly good Fool. I felt privileged to be seeing Ian McKellen in this role again, a gentler, sadder reading. At the curtain call, memories of more than twenty earlier performances by this fine actor swept over me as I rose to my feet in tribute.

The programme is way better than normal flimsy West End fare and in one of its four essay’s, historian David Starkey suggests that Shakespeare may have been having a dialogue with his patron, King James, even sending him messages about the consequences of dividing a kingdom. Four hundred years later, it’s sending messages still, and I suspect will continue to do so for a long time to come.

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This play teaches us three lessons that still hold true. The first is that people will quickly follow anyone who pushes the right buttons – setting out their belief, engaging emotionally and laying out the supporting facts (or lies, as appears to be the case today) – and switch allegiance just a quickly. Secondly, when power goes to their head, or they derail for other reasons, leaders are dealt with by their own (the Tories dealt with Thatcher before the electorate had a chance, and are circling May as I write – and hopefully the same is happening in Washington!). The third is that you may think you’ve got rid of a tyrant or a tyranny, but another one, even worse, may come along soon – think Arab Spring. Shakespeare is often timeless.

The people willingly follow the charismatic orator Caesar, but the conspirators assassinate him to protect the republic and prevent permanent autocracy. Mark Anthony then woos the people with his rhetoric, joins forces with Octavius, and before you know it you’re back where you were before you despatched the last dictator, only this one seems worse.

It’s a relatively conventional, classical production, devoid of modern references and gimmicks, so its all about the verse and the performances. I didn’t engage with the first half, up to the point of the assassination, as well as I did with the second, the aftermath, political turmoil and battles, but that’s as much to do with the play as the production. This part of the story is much more thrilling, though it’s difficult to do war and death at close quarters with twenty or thirty people. In this production, though, when it comes to the murder of the boy Lucius, the audience were traumatised by its realism.

There are two cracking performances at the centre of this production – Martin Hutson’s Cassius and Alex Waldmann’s Brutus, and their combined passion creates a powerhouse combination. Andrew Woodall’s Caesar, James Corrigan’s Mark Anthony and Jon Tarcy as Octavius also impress. This fine ensemble has been very watchable in all four plays.

I’ve enjoyed the Romans season, particularly seeing them over an eight-week period, albeit in the wrong order. Adding the contemporary Imperium plays in Stratford, covering the same period, turned it into a real theatrical feast. This is what the RSC is for.

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I’m fond of Shakespeare’s Roman plays, so the RSC’s four-play season is very welcome, but it took me a while to warm to this opening production, the first part of which seemed strangely unanimated and perfunctory.

The titular character is a war hero and leader, but he can’t hide his contempt for ordinary people who, stirred up by a couple of politicians, banish him. His revenge is to join his former enemy and invade Rome, until his mother persuades him otherwise, which leads to his new comrades turning against him. There’s something very resonant about it in current times!

The crowd scenes and tribunal scenes of the first, rather dull, part lack passion, but later scenes, like Coriolanus’ offering himself to the enemy, his mother’s pleading and the final scene are particularly well staged. The design has something to do with my early disappointment – I groaned when I walked in to see a forklift truck and fully loaded pallets and I tired of brick walls, metal roller doors and greyness.

Sope Dirisu, who I admired as Casius Clay in One Night in Miami at the Donmar last year, is an excellent Coriolanus and Haydn Gwynne is superb as his mother, Volumnia. I thought the casting of Martina Laird and Jackie Morrison as the tribunes worked well and there’s fine work from Paul Jesson as Menenius, Charles Aitkin as Cominius and James Corrigan as Aufidius.

If only the first part packed more of a punch and the design served the play better.

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