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Posts Tagged ‘Julius Caesar’

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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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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My review of 2012 takes the form of nine awards. There are none for performances as I find it impossible to choose and invidious to select from so much amazing talent. Here goes:

THEATRICAL EVENT OF THE YEAR – The Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, showing the world Britain at its theatrical best, and Globe to Globe, inviting the world to perform its greatest playwright on his ‘home stage’ – both once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Honourable mention to the The Bomb at the Tricycle, the latest in their deeply rewarding reviews of history, world events and global issues.

MOST EXCITING EVENING OF THE YEAR (or possibly my life!) – You Me Bum Bum Train, the most extraordinary adrenalin rush as you perform in 13 scenes from conducting an orchestra to operating a digger, travelling between them through pipes, holes & chutes.

SOLO SHOW – Mark Thomas’ autobiographical Bravo Figaro, funny and moving in equal measure.

BEST OUTSIDE LONDON – National Theatre of Wales’ CoriolanUs in an aircraft hanger at RAF St. Athan; the other highlight of the World Shakespeare Festival, part of the Cultural Olympiad. Wonderful Town is worthy of mention as the touring musical that really should have come to the West End.

NEW PLAYThis House at the Cottesloe, a play about British politics from 1974 to 1979 that was more enlightening than living through it (by a man who is too young to have lived through it), yet entertaining and funny. Honorable mentions to Red Velvet at the Tricycle, In Basildon at the Royal Court and Last of the Haussmanns & The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime – both also at the National, which at last found its new writing form.

PLAY REVIVAL – Desire Under the Elms at the Lyric Hammersmith, a stunning revival of an OK play in a year of many gems, amongst which I would single out A Doll’s House at the Young Vic, She Stoops to Conquer at the NT, Philadelphia, Here I Come at the Donmar, Cornelius at the Finborough,Vieux Carre at the King’s Head, A Long Day’s Journey into Night in the West End and both of the radical Julius Caesar’s – the African one for the RSC and the all-female one at the Donmar.

NEW MUSICALA Winter’s Tale at the Landor. The easiest category to call in a very lean year, with Soho Cinders, Daddy Long Legs and Loserville the only other contenders – but that takes nothing away from the gem that Howard Goodall’s show was.

MUSICAL REVIVAL – Sweeney Todd, though this is the toughest category with no less than 10 other contenders – Patience, The Fix and Call Me Madam at the Union, Gay’s the Word & Merrie England at the Finborough, Guys & Dolls Upstairs at the Gatehouse, Curtains at the Landor, Boy Meets Boy at Jermyn Street, Merrily We Roll Along at the Menier, Opera North’s Carousel at the Barbican and another Chichester transfer, Singing in the Rain, in the West End.

TURKEY OF THE YEAR – The NT’s Damned for Despair, though this year there were also a trio of visiting turkeys, all at the Barbican – Big & Small, Nosferatu and Forests – and a pair of site specific turkeys – Babel & The Architects.

2012 will be hard to beat!

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Well, I managed a full house this week – six plays (though I have to confess I didn’t make it through to the end with two of them – but only one for reasons of an enjoyment nature). The weather was a bit better, but only a bit; less rain, but still oh so cold.

We got off to a cracking start with the Korean A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With wonderful make-up and costumes, this very athletic show dumped the rude mechanicals and focused entirely on the main story. Puck was twins and Bottom turned into a pig rather than a donkey. It may not have pleased the purists, but it was completely in the spirit of Will’s play and a joy from start to finish. The actors of Yohangza company came into the foyers for photos and meet &  greet so we were able to thank them for coming.

I had high hopes of Julius Caesar ‘coming home’ to an Italian company. Sadly, in the hands of a seemingly avant-garde director, we got a static, slow, dull and irritating interpretation. There was a lot of stuff with mobile doors and other directorial conceits and even if you told me they were offering free Chianti in the second half, I still couldn’t have been persuaded to return.

The world’s newest country, South Sudan, with the help of the British Council, were very brave to tackle Cymbeline. It wasn’t as refined as much of what had gone before or will no doubt will follow, but it was quite possibly the true spirit of this festival and thoroughly enjoyable. The actors had real presence, projected brilliantly, with superb audience contact and their excitement at being part of it all was infectious. The play ends in peace and one can only hope these people find peace, despite this week’s news stories. Lovely.

When Titus Andronicus started, we were confronted with the actors from Hong Kong company Tang Shu-Wing sitting on chairs in an arc, dressed in white, grey or black depending on their ‘allegiance’. The first two acts were presented as a summary, lasting less than 30  minutes, as they spoke and struck poses with no interaction. Just as I was thinking  ‘it’ll be over in an hour’, they revert to more normal staging for the ‘meat’ of the play (sorry!). The acting was absolutely brilliant and I was captivated for the rest of this most bloodthirsty of plays. Despite the body count, there was no blood (or onstage baking!) but the tale of revenge was brilliantly told.

Richard II was presented by Palestine company Ashtar Theatre. It was a tense, angry and passionate production, with Richard as a charismatic manic rather than an introvert. The English names interspersed with the Arabic dialogue (blah blah blah Mowbray blah blah Ireland blah blah blah) brought a smile to my face. The uprising of five, entering through the audience waving flags, faces covered with scarves, was surprisingly effective and the staging of the negotiations was light-hearted but very clever. I was enjoying it very much, but sadly by now too exhausted to see it through to the end.

The week ended with Othello: The Remix, a Hip Hop story (rather than Shakespeare’s play as such) from Chicago’s Q Brothers. The theatre was packed and the average age had reduced by decades. The four actors rapped virtually the whole thing in 75 minutes, with the help of a DJ of course, dumping all but the eight main characters. It was largely played for laughs, yet the story was intact, and you couldn’t hear a pin drop when Desdemona was dying. Othello was the king of Hip Hop and Desdemona was a singer (represented here just by her recorded voice) and it all happens when they’re on tour. I would have liked to have got more of the clever verse – the amplification, background sounds and street style vocal buried a lot of it – but it was a quartet of four virtuoso performances and a real buzz in the house. Somehow, I think Will (and Sam) would have been thrilled.

Now it’s time for the Europeans, so far eclipsed by the Asian Antipodean African & American visitors, to raise their game. Come on Poland; give us a Macbeth to be proud of !

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