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Posts Tagged ‘mark rylance’

For Mark Rylance’s return to Shakespeare’s Globe, as Iago, he’s paired with American actor Andre Holland as Othello, in a pared-down production by his wife, and the Globe’s former Director of Music, Claire van Kampen, and it’s good to report its success.

With just twelve actors, running at a little over 2.5 hours, there are cuts in both lines and roles, some doubling up and two actresses play male roles, but none of these changes seem to damage Shakespeare’s tragedy. If anything, by concentrating on the six main characters the story has more focus. Holland is a fine Othello, with his accent further emphasising the character’s difference. Rylance shows us a multi-faceted Iago, with touches of flippancy and humour, often speaking and moving around quickly, with makes him seem even more villainous. Emilia, too, gains in significance. It has more pace, without damaging the intimate scenes. Jonathan Fensom’s design concentrates on the costumes, which are excellent, so the performances can breathe in a largely unadorned space.

Holland and Rylance make a fine pairing, but there are other great performances too. Sheila Atim’s superb Emilia is particularly good in the final scene where she realises the role her husband has played in her mistresses demise, and she closes the show singing beautifully. Jessica Warbeck as Desdemona handles her emotional roller-coaster well, and has great chemistry with her husband. Aaron Pierre is a passionate Cassio, a professional stage debut no less. The characterisation of Roderigo is unusual, highly strung and effete, but it made him more interesting, and Steffan Donnelly played him very well.

After the audience ruined my evening at The Two Noble Kinsmen recently, I said that this might be my last visit to Shakespeare’s Globe. The theatre gods must have been listening, as last night’s audience was respectful and rapt, with moments where you couldn’t hear a pin drop, erupting in appreciation at the end. This was indeed a fine night at the Globe.

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My two encounters with Shakespeare in this Globe mini-festival to celebrate his birthday earlier in the week were in Westminster Abbey and on the streets of The City and Southwark.

In the Abbey, we were invited to wander amongst the tombs of many of his historical characters, with actors popping up all over the place, individually, in pairs and small groups, speaking lines from his plays to individual visitors or small groups. Within minutes of entering, my first encounter was Mark Rylance close up in the transept giving Hamlet’s To Be Or Not To Be soliloquy; many more followed. We ended up in a circle in the nave around the actors with lanterns, singing before they left the abbey in procession through the front door. A really unique, uplifting and emotional experience.

Forty hours later I arrived at St Leonards Church in Shoreditch, famously connected with James Burbage, who built London’s first theatre down the road, and his son Richard, the first Hamlet and the first Richard III. Collecting a map and a red rose, we set off in small unguided groups on the Sonnet Walk East, which took in the site of this first theatre, appropriately called The Theatre, the recently discovered Curtain Theatre, where Romeo & Juliet was first performed, and the site of the first and second Globe, ending at the third present day Globe where we wove our red roses with the white ones already in the theatre gates.

At ten points en route actors popped up to read sonnets or speeches, one a song. My first encounter, as it had been in the Abbey, was Mark Rylance, but you could only identify him by his voice as he read Richard III’s battle speech from inside a tent on the site of The Theatre (probably wise as he’s now been in three Spielberg films!). We were fooled several times when the people we encountered seemed to be someone else (well, they are actors) until they began speaking verse. This included the site foreman in hard hat at the building site on top of the ruins of the Curtain, who described the find and its preservation, then spoke his lines just as we were about to leave, a lady asking for a photo and a Globe volunteer. Sometimes we imagined passers by were actors, mostly wrongly but occasionally right.

Like the Abbey, this was a lovely experience and together bookended a great weekend. Mark Rylance devised both, so hats off to him.

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Contemporary Music

I was looking for something to take a visiting friend to. I looked at the Globe website and saw someone called Becca Stevens was playing. I’d never heard of her but I looked at some clips on u-tube and booked. Little did I realise that I was going to become a big fan. Her concert by candle-light in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse was a lovely combination of folk pop and jazz. She has a beautiful voice and a terrific band and her love of her work and this venue was infectious. A real treat!

Sadly the following night’s Gospel Prom wasn’t a treat. It showcased lots of different British gospel styles but, with one exception, they were all pop-rock-gospel, way too loud and lacking in any subtlety or even genuine feeling. It was hosted by former Destiny Child Michelle Williams, which seemed very appropriate given the content.

I’ve seen guitarist Antonio Forcione many times, mostly in Edinburgh, but his Kings Place concert was the first solo one for a long time. His style is percussive and his talent virtuosic and he never disappoints, though I did miss some of the colour percussion and other instruments can and have added. Support Will McNicol was technically accomplished, but perhaps lacking in the flair and personality of Forcione. A nice evening.

KlangHaus: On Air was part rock concert, part art installation, a promenade performance in the roof space / plant rooms of the Royal Festival Hall, exiting onto the roof. It was put together by band The Neutrinos. The music ranged from neo-punk to gentle ballads. It was unique and extraordinary.

Part of the problem with the Bowie Prom was that most of the audience just didn’t know what to expect. They wanted a celebration, but they got an avant-garde neo-classical evening with a sometimes off-the-wall selection of songs and quirky arrangements. It was interesting but it disappointed nonetheless.

Opera

I haven’t seen that many productions of Il Travatore and haven’t seen it for some time. This Royal Opera production is unquestionably the best musically, with a fine quartet of leads, three new to Covent Garden, and the wonderful RO Orchestra and Chorus. As for the ‘concept’, I’ll just say tank, gypsy caravan and an army taking a selfie with their captured prisoner and you’ll no doubt get my view.

Classical Music

My first proper Prom was a lovely programme of rare Faure, Shylock, Stravinsky’s Pulcinella and Poulenc’s Sabat mater. I like all three composers but the works were new to me. Beautifully played / sung by the BBC SO and BBC Singers, this is just what the Proms are for.

My second proper Prom was an unusual combination of two choral pieces (one a world premiere, with composer Anthony Payne in attendance), a violin concerto (with an auspicious Proms debut by Taiwanese-Australian Ray Chen, playing the same violin the world premiere was played on in 1868!) and a symphonic poem based on Shakespeare’s Tempest – but it all worked brilliantly well under the great Andrew Davies.

My third proper Prom was Mahler’s 3rd Symphony, not one of my favourite symphonies, or even one of my favourite Mahler symphonies, but a fascinatingly structured, monumental work which the LSO did full justice to. The rapturous welcome and standing ovation given to 87-year-old conductor Bernard Haitink was very moving; the Proms audience is the best!

Dance

Natalia Osipova appears to be ‘doing a Sylvie Guillem’ with her first venture into contemporary dance at Sadler’s Wells in a collaboration with three top flight choreographers. The first piece, with two male dancers, was mesmerising, but the second and third, with her (life) partner Sergei Polunin, disappointed – the second was more movement than dance and the third more physical theatre. Overall, it didn’t really show off her talents and I felt she was showing off and being a bit of a diva. Failing to pick up two of the four bouquets thrown on stage at the end was a bit revealing!

Film

I enjoyed Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie, but it was another one that didn’t really live up to the hype, and the huge number of cameos seemed a bit desperate. Probably worth waiting for the inevitable TV screening (it is BBC Films) rather than the trip to the cinema.

Romantic comedies are one of my guilty pleasures and Maggie’s Plan is a nice quirky one with some outstanding performances which feels like a homage to Woody Allen rather than a plagiarism of him.

Watching Star Trek Beyond in 3D, I realised how much technology is now swamping storytelling and characterisation. I found myself being wowed but not excited enough and not moved at all. Maybe 3D compounds this – at some points it was moving so fast I lost track of who was who and where each place was in relation to others.

The BFG was the most charming film I’ve seen since Paddington. Mark Rylance was perfect casting, the young girl playing Sophie was delightful and Penelope Wilton as The Queen. What more could you ask for? Rafe Spall as HMQ’s footman, of course!

Art

David Hockney’s Portraits (82 of them, plus 1 Still Life!) at the Royal Academy of Art works well as an installation, scanning the three rooms to get the effect, but as individual works you get bored very quickly, because each one has either blue background and green floor or vice versa, the subjects are all seated in the same chair and some subjects have been painted more than once! Downstairs, favourite sculptor Richard Wilson has done a great job on this year’s Summer Exhibition, which had a very different feel and was very playful.

Shakespeare in Ten Acts at the British Library is a superb celebration of the 400th anniversary of his death. It includes a mass of fascinating written material plus video interviews and performance extracts. It was worth going just to see footage of Peter Brook’s now legendary A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Improbable’s The Enchanted Isle for the Met.

Imran Qureshi’s modern miniatures in the Barbican Curve Gallery were a delightful surprise. With paint on the walls and floors and low lighting, it’s a fascinating and rather beautiful installation.

I liked both the portraits and landscapes in Adam Katz Serpentine Gallery exhibition, but there were only 20 of them. Fortunately the brilliant Summer Pavilion (and four Summer Houses inspired by the eighteenth century Queen Caroline Pavilion near them, a new innovation this year) made the visit very worthwhile.

I’ve always liked William Eggleston’s urban landscape photos, but had never seen the portraits in the NPG William Eggleston Portraits exhibition. They were original and striking and I liked them.

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You wouldn’t want to be a young boy growing up in 18th Century Italy with a talent for singing. The odds of castration to conserve your voice would be high, and the subsequent odds of a successful career very low. Farinelli (real name Carlo Broschi) was unlucky in that he got the knife (pork butchers, apparently!) but lucky in that he got the singing career. He travelled throughout Italy, then to Munich and Vienna and on to London aged 29, though he wasn’t a favourite of Handel, adopted Londoner and probably the most famous composer of the time.

Three years into his London career, he get’s the call from Spain’s Queen Isabella to come sing for King Philippe V to cure his depression. He pops in on Louis XV in Paris en route (as one does) and on to Madrid. Philippe’s mental health condition was what we now call bi-polar. He was close to being deposed when Farinelli arrived as a singing cure, and he did indeed lift his spirits. In the play, the king is fond of talking to goldfish and plants and at one point moves their home to the middle of the forest where he grows things and his wife cooks things, and Farinelli sings, often in the middle of the night to accommodate Philippe’s nocturnal habits. He stayed, singing exclusively for the royals for more than twenty years; it’s a bit of a puzzle as to why he gave up his career for this.

Claire van Kampen’s play has a lightness of touch and if often very funny. Philippe is at the lovable eccentric end of the madness scale and we are laughing with him more than at him. I can think of no-one more suited to the role than Mark Rylance, an eccentric himself, who seems as if he’s making it up as he goes along, such is the naturalism of his magnetic performance. Farinelli is acted by Sam Crane with counter-tenor Iestyn Davies never far behind in matching costumes with heavenly singing. It’s an unusual evening, but it captured my imagination and wrapped me in its warmth.

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is the perfect venue. Jonathan Fensom’s design and costumes are sumptuous. Robert Howarth’s period quartet played beautifully from the gallery and onstage. The candlelight is perfect. A lovely evening.

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Director Tim Carroll has been responsible for some of the best things The Globe has done, notably Twelfth Night (about to be revived), Richard II and Romeo & Juliet. This too is a  ‘traditional practices’ all-male production and it has Mark Rylance, a great Shakespearian actor, in the lead. Sad to report then that in my view it’s a bit of a misfire.

On this occasion, Jenny Tiramani’s costumes are part of the problem. They are loud and cartoonish and make it difficult to take any male character seriously. The second problem is that Roger Lloyd-Pack is badly miscast as Buckingham; he has no presence and doesn’t project. On this occasion, engaging the Globe audience gets in the way of the drama, rather than drawing you in. The fatal flaw, though, is the decision to play Richard as some sort of cartoon baddie rather than a tyrant. You just couldn’t believe he could dispatch so many in his desperation for power.

There are some things to enjoy! Claire van Kampen’s music is lovely (thought the musicians participate in costumegate). Performance-wise, Samuel Barnett makes a great queen and Johnny Flynn and James Garnon are very good as Lady Anne and the Duchess of York respectively. The young actors playing the princes, despite their bright pink satin costumes, spoke the verse beautifully and clearly. In fact, Lloyd-Pack notwithstanding, the standard of verse speaking was excellent, though placing too much at centre stage went against audience engagement and resulted in even poorer sight lines than we’re used to at The Globe (those two bloody pillars!).

The show is still in preview, so there is hope they might make a partial recovery, but it’s probably too late to make enough changes to rescue this misguided outing of a great play.

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Producer Sonia Friedman must still be pinching herself to check she’s not dreaming putting together a show with a national treasure (Joanna Lumley), a major US TV star (Frasier’s Niles – David Hyde Pierce) and the hottest stage actor of the moment (Mark Rylance). Add in a young director who can (almost) do no wrong, Matthew Warchus,  and a great designer like Mark Thompson and you’re guaranteed to sell out 10 weeks in London followed by the same in New York, whatever the reviews.

Not very prolific playwright David Hirson must think he’s in the middle of a lifetime of Christmases with a guaranteed commercial success for his mediocre verse play which won awards but made no money 18 years ago.

Such is the world of theatre.

This is not a great play, it’s an OK play which is often funny but very uneven and often too glib for its own good. When it sparkles, it SPARKLES but there are many moments when it doesn’t. The unevenness comes from one role which overpowers all others and dialogue which goes from hysterical to dull and back many times during the uninterrupted 100 minutes.

So you’re thinking  ‘he hated it then’  – well, no, I enjoyed myself! Anthony Ward’s extraordinary library has three walls of books that go much higher than most of the audience can see – trust me, I was in the front row and I saw how high it goes (I also saw where the wigs met the foreheads and Mark Rylance’s very knobbly knees!). Rylance is again astonishing, squeezing many many more laughs out of the dialogue than you’d get if you read it. He eats, drinks, farts, dances, falls…..it’s another very physical creation that you know no-one else could pull off. Playing ‘straight man’ to this must be really tough, but David Hyde Pierce pulls that off too, as does the other ‘straight man’ Stephen Ouimette. Joanna Lumley’s role is important but small, but her verse speaking is impeccable, she looks regal and hey, it’s just great to see her on stage again. You have to feel sorry for the remaining six actors who will have to watch this masterclass eight times a week for 20 weeks, spending most of the time in the wings with their knitting and suduko, but they shared the cheers in the very unstarry curtain call.

It won’t change your life, and the world won’t end if you don’t go, but there’s much to enjoy and its 100 minutes of fun with wigs and books.

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FEBRUARY 2010

I now have to disagree with myself…..the review below from the Royal Court run six months ago suggests the play is great though not a classic – well, I’m wrong; it is!

It has so much depth that it needs a second view. It still has an epic sweep and it’s still very funny, but now the contradictions become more real. Your sympathies are with rebel Rooster Byron but you know you’d hate it if he was your neighbour. You laugh at the ‘war stories’ of drug-fuelled parties the morning after, but you can’t approve of him dealing to minors. Your heart is with his in an England of old but your brain knows things have to change. Even his young followers both celebrate and exploit him.

There is more poignancy and his loneliness really gets under your skin. It’s a real state-of-the-(rural)-nation play with lots to say about lots of things, but without rights and wrongs, taking sides or preaching. At times last night, I felt I was in the woods with this lord of misrule and his pilgrims.

The cast is virtually intact from the Royal Court run and seem to have grown into their roles, and Mark Rylance’s masterful performance still towers over most I’ve seen in a lifetime of theatre-going. There’s an Airstream caravan in the woods with a soundscape that helps take you there. It doesn’t look like it was directed, which is a great compliment to Ian Rickson’s direction!

It is a classic and it will be revived in the future, but go and see it now because it’s a play for now with a production and performances which are probably already definitive.

AUGUST 2009

Until this year, only two Jez Butterworth plays have been produced since his debut with Mojo 14 years ago. Then along come two in quick succession! This is without question his best – I’m not sure it’s a classic, but it is a theatrical feast.

There are many themes being explored here – changes in rural life, tolerance of diferent lifestyles, urban invasion –  in an intelligent but very funny way and you’re thinking about them for a long time after you’ve left the theatre……but it’s the pace, rhythm and energy that sweeps you away and sustains a runing time of over 3 hours without flagging for a moment. Both the design and direction are masterly.

There are a lot of young inexperienced actors in this superb ensemble who will no doubt never forget the experience of a nightly masterclass in acting from Mark Rylance, who positively inhabits this wonderfully meaty role of Shakespearean proportions. You don’t see many performances like this in a lifetime, yet he takes his bows in the least starry way alongside his colleagues.

Wonderful.

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