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Posts Tagged ‘John Dove’

It’s an odd experience seeing a historical drama referencing places we’re now used to seeing regularly on the news. It’s a century since the Arab Revolt for which T E Lawrence (of Arabia) is famous and we appear to be witnessing the very real consequences of the West’s actions at its conclusion.

Howard Brenton’s play is set upon Lawrence’s return. He enlisted in the RAF under a false name in search of anonymity and when he was found out he did the same back in the army where he was once a Colonel. During this time he visited his friends G B and Charlotte Shaw who, with GB’s secretary, was editing his major tome on the Revolt. This is where most of the play is set, with three flashbacks to the Middle East at the inception of the Revolt and at its conclusion. 

He was being pursued by Lowell Thomas, the American journalist and photographer who had accompanied him for much of his time in the Middle East and was now cashing in with a lecture tour, and his former boss Field Marshall Allenby who wanted him back, but he was disillusioned with the politicians’ duplicitous actions (he’d turned down a knighthood, telling the King face to face), failing to deliver on his promise of Arab freedom to Prince Feisal.

It’s a quiet and surprisingly light staging by John Dove. Designer Michael Taylor’s drawing room slides gently and effectively into the wings for the other scenes. I was impressed by Jack Laskey’s enthusiasm and passion as Lawrence. It’s lovely to see Geraldine James again in the pivotal role of Charlotte. There are excellent performances in supporting roles from William Chubb as Allenby, Khalid Laith as Prince Feisal and Rosalind March as GB’s secretary Blanch. 

He was clearly a complex and enigmatic person, loved and admired by many, particularly by Charlotte it seems. I found it a fascinating insight into something and someone I knew little about (my O and A level History syllabus ended in 1914!). I am so enjoying Brenton’s late flowering – historical dramas on apostle Paul, Anne Boleyn, Charles I, the 1st World War, the partition of India, Macmillan and (more topical than historical) Ai WeiWei. Long may it continue.

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Just like the timeliness of The Pride (given events in Russia), this is timely too, with Middle Eastern & Central Asian attitudes to women’s education still a hot issue. Lest we become complacent, though, it’s only 65 years since women were allowed to graduate from Cambridge University, the subject of this play, set another fifty years before that. Jessica Swale, in her playwriting debut, has managed to produced a serious, well researched piece that has a light enough touch to be thoroughly entertaining too.

When you hear the attitudes of educated men to the new, late 19th century, initiatives of Girton College, you gasp. Phrases like ‘women belong in the kitchen’ are bandied around by a bunch of dinosaurs intent on keeping them in their place – a bit like the Taliban, really. The play is set at a time when the university senate is to vote on changing things so that women can graduate, as the opposition grows and moves outside the university establishment itself.

Though it handles a serious (and little known) subject well, it also has a very human side, much humour and music & movement which sits comfortably within its structure. It’s well paced in John Dove’s sprightly production and somehow suits the Globe very well, both in terms of period and setting. I think it’s one of the best new pays staged here.

Shakespeare’s Globe really is stretching itself this year, with six of the Bard’s plays, four international visitors and three new works, of which this is one, and it’s proving its versatility and popularity with a full house of predominantly young theatre-goers last night. Catch it if you can.

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I really regretted not seeing this at The Globe last year. I’d booked for Henry VIII, but by the time I decided I also wanted to see this, I couldn’t make any of the remaining performances. So I was delighted when they brought it back – and that Miranda Raison was to return as AB.

Of course, four hundred years on there is a degree of speculation. Playwright Howard Brenton’s is that Anne was hugely influential in Britain’s return to Protestantism and lays the foundation for her grandson James I’s bible. In fact, the play starts with James, before flashing back to Anne, and returns to his time again later. Though it covers a fairly brief period, it was a very eventful one, packed with manipulation and intrigue by big hitters like Thomas Cromwell, Cardinal Wolsey and William Tyndale as well as the royals. We begin with the seeds of the romance between Anne and Henry VIII and end with her execution (well, actually start with that, but that’s the magic of theatre!).

Mirana Raison is excellent, but there are also fine performances from James Garnon as a punkish James I riddled with nervous twitches, Julius D’Silva as a manipulative Cromwell, Colin Hurley as an arrogant Wolsey, Anthony Howell as a besotted Henry VIII and a whole host of good supporting performances. John Dove’s staging is excellent, with entrances from front and sides as well as the back and a walkway thrust into the groundlings’ space providing an extra intimacy. Michael Taylor’s period costumes are authentic and elegant and William Lyons music highly effective.

I found the play fascinating and compelling, not in the slightest bit dry and earnest. It was captivating throughout, playful and funny and one of the best new plays they’ve ever done here at The Globe.

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