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Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Munby’

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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Though I’ve seen both Julius Caesar and Anthony & Cleopatra a number of times before, I’ve never seen them within months let alone days of one another. So call me a dummy, but it only dawned on me when I saw this the day after JC that they effectively constitute sequential Roman history and share three characters – the Roman triumvirate of Octavius Caesar, Lepidus and Mark Anthony that replaced Julius Caesar when he was murdered. Why don’t theatres pair them like they do the (British) history plays? In this case, The Globe opened A&C before JC and they have different casts (otherwise you’d be wondering how Mark Anthony managed to age so much and pile on the pounds overnight!)

A brilliant opening of Egyptian music and dancing sets the scene for a production which moves seamlessly from Rome to Egypt and back in an excellent design, with superb costumes, by Colin Richmond (I think I might have to steal Cleopatra’s gold winged throne); you really feel you are experiencing two different cultures. Jonathan Munby injects great pace and physicality into the play but still allows more intimate scenes their space, though it does make you feel all the fun is to be had in Egypt and Rome is rather dull in comparison (though the drinking scene in Pompey’s camp is a glorious exception).

Eve Best’s Cleopatra is a combination of feisty, playful and sexy, with more costume changes than a Kylie Minogue concert (not that I’d know, of course) enabling her to look like a pirate queen, a seductress and the most regal of royals amongst others. She even flirts with the audience and one groundling got very good value for his £5 with a full on kiss on the lips! Her closeness with her attendants Charmian (an excellent Sirine Saba) and Iras (Rosie Hilal, who doubles up as Octavia almost unrecognisably) is very much in the fore. Clive Wood’s Anthony emphasises his infatuation with the much younger Cleopatra but also the psychological and emotional pull back to Rome; a typical mid-life crisis.

This is as good an Anthony & Cleopatra as Julius Caesar is as good a production of that play and I really enjoyed seeing them in the right order so close together, even if it wasn’t intentional!

The Globe was buzzing this weekend, proving itself indispensable yet again.

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This was my first (long overdue) visit to Hampstead Theatre’s Downstairs space. As it happens the play didn’t actually start there, but in a ‘pop up’ university lecture room in the foyer where Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela recalls her visits to prison to interview Eugene de Kock after his appearances at the South African Truth & Reconciliation hearings. As she begins to describe her arrival in prison for the first time, we walk into it and take our places peering into the cell where they meet.

de Kock was known as ‘Prime Evil’ and Gobodo-Madikizela, a psychologist and member of the commission, is fascinated by him. During the hearings he asked to meet his victims families privately so that he could apologise. This initiative, and the expressions of forgiveness by the families, struck many and led to more meetings between perpetrators of crimes and victim’s families. It also led to Gobodo-Madikizela’s desire to understand de Kock and those like him. For the rest of the play we are with them, on two occasions six years apart, with just the occasional presence of a prison guard.

I’ve always been in awe of the concept and execution of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, convinced that I personally could never find the capacity to understand or forgive, but understanding both its power and importance. The play isn’t really about that though; it’s a peep into the mind of ‘Prime Evil’ in an attempt to understand the motivation and events behind horrific crimes.

It does prove to be a voyeuristic experience, thanks to the cell bars of Paul Wills’ design and intensity created by lights and sound, but it’s the intensity of the performances that allow you to examine and attempt to understand at an objective psychological level. Matthew Marsh (is he the most hard-working stage actor we have?) conveys a cold intelligence, seemingly devoid of any feeling or emotion with a spot-on Afrikaan accent that makes your flesh crawl recalling hearing accents like it in the past. Nomer Dumerzweni brilliantly conveys Gobodo-Madikizela’s forensic approach and suppressed horror.

Nicholas Wright has adapted Gobodo-Madikizela’s book and Jonathan Munby has staged it well to give us a very thought-provoking and insightful 80 minutes and a somehow appropriate companion piece to The Arrest of Ai WeiWei upstairs.

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