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Posts Tagged ‘Kate Duchene’

At the end of this play I was convinced Partick Marber’s ‘version’ was substantially different to Ibsen’s original. Then I read the synopsis and discovered it wasn’t. It’s contemporary not just in setting and dress, but also in dialogue and behaviour. The only thing that jarred with the contemporary was the guns, but even that wouldn’t have in the US. The combination of Marber, director Ivo van Hove and the mesmerising Ruth Wilson proves irresistible.

The newly married Tesmans return from honeymoon to their new home, which does indeed look as if they’re in the process of moving in. It doesn’t take long before we realise it’s a loveless marriage (well, at least on Hedda’s part) and the contrast between the coldness of George & Hedda’s relationship and the warmth of the relationship between George and his aunt Juliana, who brought him up, is striking. Lovborg, George’s former colleague, now competitor, was once in love with Hedda and is now in a relationship with her school friend Thea. Brack, a judge, is in lust with Hedda. Despite the fact Lovborg has cleared the way for Tesman’s professorship, Hedda still spikes his career in loyalty to her husband, and his relationship with Thea, perhaps through jealousy. The knowledge that Brack has a hold on her propels the play to its tragic conclusion.

It feels slow at first but when it gets going it becomes broodingly intense and eventually feels like a contemporary Scandinavian thriller. The vast one-room set adds to this atmosphere and there is some striking imagery, not least the way the light changes from dawn to sunrise through the French windows and the physicality of Hedda stapling flowers to the walls and virtually attacking the blinds. There were things I didn’t really get, most notably the continual presence of maid Berte, even illogically acknowledging her presence; she wasn’t an actor sitting on the side-lines but she wasn’t a character all of the time. It’s hard to take your eyes off Ruth Wilson, even when action and interactions are elsewhere; she is such a spellbinding presence. That said, it’s a fantastic cast with Kyle Soller’s earnest but naïve George and a very maternal Juliana from Kate Duchene. Brack’s sexual chemistry with Hedda was brilliantly conveyed by Rafe Spall and Chukwudi Iwuji was passionate and intense as Lovborg.

Patrick Marber gets more than his fair share of the National stages, but it’s great to see them welcoming world class directors like van Hove and Yael Farber. If I had seen it in 2016, this would have been one of my candidates for Best Revival of a Play, a completely fresh look at a playwright who is often produced like a museum piece.

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Rufus Norris’ first production as Artistic Director of the National Theatre somehow seems wholly appropriate. Carol Anne Duffy’s excellent adaptation of this 15th Century English morality play (which may be based on Flemish or Latin originals) is something no-one else could or would do on this scale. It also brings Chiwetel Ejiofor back to the NT after 15 years.

In this contemporary Everyman, he is celebrating his 40th birthday in a somewhat hedonistic way. He’s a successful businessman and his friends (each representing one of the senses or wits) spring a surprise party at the top of a London building. There’s drink, dancing and a brilliantly choreographed communal cocaine snort by Javier De Frutos. We next see him awaken, hung over, to meet Kate Duchene’s cleaning lady God and Dermot Crowley’s droll Death, who set him off on a journey to account for himself, starting with his family who he has all but deserted and continuing through his life, career and relationships.

Duffy’s modern verse sparkles and I think it’s the chief reason the play works so well today. It’s performed on a bare stage in front of a giant video wall with a pit at the rear for most entrances and exits. A few tables, some mannequins and a lot of rubbish are the only props, but with great lighting, music and a giant wind machine it all seems epic. In addition to a brilliant but exhausting performance from a sweat-drained Ejiofor, and the terrific turns from Duchene and Crowley, the 20 strong supporting cast includes the wonderful Sharon D Clarke as his mother (who gets to sing Stormy Weather) and Nick Holder as Strength.

We haven’t seen Everyman in modern times as much as we have it’s contemporary The Mysteries and its great to see it staged at last, particularly in such a fine production on the Olivier stage led by one of the greatest actors of his generation.

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This isn’t a particularly good Shakespeare play. It was his last, may have been written with John Fletcher and it’s really just a slice of history with some pageantry and a prophetic / sycophantic ending. It’s rarely performed and the Globe is a great place to see it.

The play covers the period from the last years of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon through to the birth of Elizabeth I soon after his next marriage to Anne Boleyn. No executions (you have to go to the National for those) but you do get a coronation and a christening! You also get a historically accurate game of real tennis (squash), the demise of a corrupt and manipulative cardinal (you don’t get that in 2010!) and a rather drawn out death scene during which one is sorely tempted to shout ‘get on with it’. Apart from the royals themselves, there are other’s we know from our history – Cardinal Wolseley, Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer. It ends by telling you how good the newly christened Elizabeth is going be as queen – from the point in history when the play ends, it’s prophetic but from the point when it was written (she had already reigned) sycophantic.

Mark Rosenblatt’s production is very good, bringing out the best of the play. It plays the humour and pagentry well and there are terrific costumes (acres of silk, satin and taffeta and lots of ermine!) by designer Angela Davies, great music (Nigel Hess) and some fine performances. Henry is presented as a bit of a good guy (for a man whose main claim to fame is despatching wives in significant numbers) and Dominic Rowan plays him well, far from the fat king stereotype. Kate Duchene plays Katherine as a histrionic Spaniard complete with accented English. Miranda Raison (the lovely Jo from Spooks, almost unrecognisable as a long-haired brunette) is a very good Anne, though occasionally upstaged by Amanda Lawrence’s terrific lady-in-waiting (doubling up as an equally terrific fool). Ian McNeice is perfect as the baddie Wolsey. It  took a while to forget all of his turns as the Stratford East panto baddie before one could appreciate Michael Bertenshaw’s deliciously funny Lovell and Porter (and rather more serious Cardinal Campeius).

It might be a long way from being the best of Shakespeare, but it’s one of my most enjoyable visits to the Globe.

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