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Posts Tagged ‘Luke Thompson’

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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It’s clearly going to be my Year of the Greeks. We’re not even half-way through and this is my 5th, and it’s the first of 3 in the Almeida Greeks season. I’ve seen lots of Greek tragedies, but this trilogy has passed me by (apart from an adaptation of one segment recently). I never saw the iconic Peter Hall production at the NT as I’d only just moved to London, was unemployed and hadn’t really got into theatre-going anyway. Director Robert Icke’s new version is contemporary and radical, with a 3 hour playing time, and I thought it worked brilliantly.

This paragraph may be considered a spoiler (of a 2500 year old tale based on Greek mythology!) – Orestia tells the story of Agamemnon, his wife Clytemnestra and children Elektra, Orestes and Iphigenia. Agamemnon sacrifices his youngest daughter Iphigenia to the gods before leading the Greek army in the Trojan War. Whilst he’s away, his wife moves his cousin / her lover Aegisthus in and when he returns she kills him in revenge for the sacrifice of Iphigenia. Orestes, encouraged by his sister Elektra, returns from self-imposed exile to avenge the death of his father by killing his mother and her lover.

Icke appears to have added the pre-war events to Aeschylus, so we see a happy family before Iphigenia’s death, the torment Agamemnon goes through, the sacrifice itself and his departure to war. This gives the plays better context and the normality and happiness of family mealtimes heightens the subsequent tragedy. The ghosts of deceased characters occasionally return and Orestes appears throughout, even when in exile, being ‘interviewed’ about events now passed by what at first appears to be a counsellor or therapist, with a hint of false memory syndrome. This makes sense in the final ‘courtroom’ scene when everything unravels like a detective story. In this final scene, the references to the position of men and women in society feel ever so modern.

The production’s default style is cold, clinical and somewhat austere and there are many long pauses, which makes the outbursts of emotion much more dramatic, moving and occasionally terrifying. They even integrate the need for good timekeeping (it’s 3.5 hours with precisely 28 minutes of breaks!) with the breaks announced, clocks audibly ticking down and ushers issuing reminders. The use of music is terrific, with God Only Knows heard more than once and Nick Lowe’s The Beast in Me a real surprise (to a Lowe fan like me).

Angus Wright and Lia Williams are terrific as Agamemnon and Clytemnestra (Wright also plays his ghost and his cousin Aegisthus, which may be why I thought this character’s part had been reduced). Luke Thompson was hugely impressive as a very passionate Orestes. I could hardly believe it was Jessica Brown-Findlay’s stage debut as Elektra, such was her command of the role.  Young actors Eve Benioff Salama as Iphigenia and Ilan Galkoff as the young Orestes were marvellous.

When I booked this for the evening after Everyman I hadn’t thought that I was pairing two morality plays written 2000 years apart. Both have taken ancient material and made them completely relevant for a 21st century audience. Thrilling stuff.

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I’d already booked for Julius Caesar at the Globe before they announced they were going to put on a performance ‘inside’ in the new candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, so I couldn’t resist seeing both – inside then out, as it happened.

The SWP may have uncomfortable wooden benches without backs for seating, but it’s an exciting new venue. For a capacity of 340 it has an extraordinary intimacy and the quality of candle light is very special indeed. My only other venture here (so far) was for a 16th century opera and it was brilliant, and the good news is that it’s brilliant for Shakespeare too.

Dominic Dromgoole’s is a boisterous JC, which starts before you enter either theatre, as if you’re walking through the city of Rome – musicians, someone reciting the Rape of Lucrece, a temple alter, a publicly caged woman and one offering favours for money. With only nine ‘extras’ the crowd scenes are particularly effective. In both theatres they use the auditorium as well as the stage, but the SWP didn’t need the audience to join in for it to seem like you were in Wembley Stadium! The intimate scenes of conspiracy work better in the smaller space as you feel you’re more of a fly on the wall.

In this production, the murder of Caesar is particularly effective, more so in the bigger space. The battle scenes are harder to pull off without a huge cast, but here, somewhat surprisingly, the smaller space helped. Again, the bigger space benefitted the speeches after his death, made more effective by placing characters on wooden crates in the groundling space. Using the same actor who plays Caesar to play the man who assists Brutus kill himself, after Caesar has appeared to him as a ghost, is an excellent idea. I’m not sure of the context of the three women chanting, but they sounded gorgeous and it was highly atmospheric.

The success of this productions is of course very much due to a fine ensemble. George Irving is an older Caesar with a superiority juxtaposed with his ‘man of the people’ words and a very revealing fist entrance where he gifts money to a man in the crowd in a very kingly gesture. Tom McKay’s Brutus and Anthony Howell’s Cassius are both fine characterisations, making their decisions to kill themselves before being killed all very believable. Luke Thompson is a young Mark Anthony who shines in his passionate speech at Caesars body and his more manipulative one after his funeral. Christopher Logan is a particularly oily Casca, but a more reluctant player in the overthrow & murder game.

Even though they were less than two weeks apart, I thoroughly enjoyed both experiences, each bringing something different to this great political play. There were a few things, involving building and dropping, that they could’t do on the inside and there were things that worked better in each space, but they were both successful in their own way and this proved to be a worthwhile experiment which may mean the SWP will get more Shakespeare, which I don’t think was the intention!

This is a great Julius Caesar – inside and out.

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