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Posts Tagged ‘Les Brotherston’

This is a long three hours! Unlike his contemporary Shakespeare, Middleton doesn’t have the richness of verse, depth of characterisation or profusion of sub-plots to sustain a long evening. Though there is still a certain resonance today, it’s still surprising that 2nd division Elizabethan fare like this is being revived after almost 400 years.

A bank clerk rather implausibly bags a beautiful rich wife only to find she’s soon ‘requisitioned’ by the Duke. Another beauty is offered in marriage to a fool and abused by her uncle. Her evil aunt colluded with both. Of course, it all ends in tears with an unfeasibly high body count!

The pace of the first 80 minutes really is slow and even though it picks up in the second half, I couldn’t really recover my spirits. 15 minutes before the end it seems like they thought ‘well, we’ve got a lot of plot to cover and lots of people to kill off with little time left, so we’d better get a move on’ because these last 15 minutes are an extraordinary choreographed surreal pageant to jazz accompaniment that seems to come from a different play altogether.

I liked Les Brotherston’s set and costumes, but I’m not sure the jazz ‘soundtrack’ really works and I can’t say any of the performances caught my imagination. We’ve come to expect more from director Marianne Elliott, and I’m afraid I left disappointed.

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Based on his plays that preceded this one, which I first saw 28 years ago, I always thought Tom Stoppard was too glib for his own good – he always seemed to be showing off, clever clever and knowing in a way that frankly irritated me. This was the first of his plays where he seemed to be portraying real people, relationships and indeed love! I don’t know whether it is, but it did seem to be autobiographical, then and now.

Playwright Henry leaves his wife for the wife of her colleague / their friend and later finds this new relationship strained by his new wife’s relationship with a younger colleague. It’s cleverly structured with terrific sharp and witty dialogue and the character development is excellent. You really feel you know Henry very well two hours later.

Anna Mackmin’s staging is slick and fast paced, aided by Les Brotherston’s set which moves between four flats with the rise / fall of panels. It’s very well cast, with Toby Stephens a particularly good Henry (I preferred him to Roger Rees in the original production and Stephen Dillane in the Donmar’s revival some time back).

This is the Stoppard play to see even if you don’t like Stoppard, because it’s the least Stoppardian(!) and you’d be hard pressed to find a better revival.

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The last Shakespeare at the Almeida was a dreadful production I named ‘The Designer Macbeth’ which was devoid of any passion and the only occasion I’ve ever seen the talents of Simon Russell Beale wasted.

Fortunately, this is a fine interpretation of a very difficult ‘morality’ play. The modern setting works really well (it starts with lap dancers!) as the themes, including the abuse of power, are just as relevant today. Les Brotherston’s set allows the action to move swiftly between office, street, prison etc. and Michael Attenborough handles the ambiguity of the ending brilliantly.

Rory Kinnear as Angelo and Anna Maxwell-Martin as Isabella are both hugely impressive; it’s a pity Angelo is offstage for much of middle of the play as he’s enthralling when he’s on. Amongst a very good ensemble, I have to single out an outstanding Lucio from Lloyd Hutchinson. I was less convinced by Ben Miles’ Duke – he seemed distracted, resulting in somewhat idiosyncratic verse speaking! – though he did improve as the play went on.

Great to have such a good Shakespeare production anywhere, but particularly welcome at the Almeida.

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