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Posts Tagged ‘Patrick O’Kane’

Reading his biography in the programme, it appears this is the National Theatre’s Director Rufus Norris’ first Shakespeare production. Perhaps he should have asked one of his predecessors for some coaching. He’s fallen into the trap of swamping it with concept and directorial conceit, losing the essence of Shakespeare’s play in the process.

His two big ideas seem to be to set it in some sort of dystopian present / future and to ramp up the magic; the latter works better than the former. In the process he’s lost the psychological depth of the story, the subtlety of the characterisations and much of the verse is chewed and spat out rather than spoken, sometimes competing with the soundscape. It’s dark, bleak and relentless and actors of the calibre of Rory Kinnear, Anne-Marie Duff and Patrick O’Kane struggle to shine.

Rae Smith’s design has an arc platform on the revolve which is used to great effect; otherwise it’s all hanging black plastic, concrete rooms, tacky furniture and grubby clothes. There are a lot of severed heads in clear plastic bags. The soundscape has eerie wind instruments. The lighting is striking, but ever so dark, so that you are sometimes straining your eyes trying to work out who’s speaking.

It’s not all bad – some scenes work well, like Macduff learning of the fate of his children, Macbeth finding his dead wife and the weird sisters during the final battle, but much of it was un-engaging. When it ended some 20-25 minutes before the published time, the shortest Macbeth I’ve ever seen, I wondered if they’d lost confidence in it themselves.

A big disappointment.

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So David beat Goliath in the battle of the Antigone’s. Pilot Theatre’s UK touring version, currently at Stratford East (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2015/02/28/antigone-theatre-royal-stratford), proves to have more energy, passion, creativity and contemporary relevance than Ivo van Hove’s big international touring show with the star actress, hot on the heels of the West End transfer of his much more emotionally engaging A View From the Bridge.

There’s nothing bad about it, but there’s nothing particularly illuminating or innovative about it either. I thought it was rather conservative, unnecessarily slow and it didn’t engage me emotionally at all; the acid test for Greek tragedy. Set in front of a giant screen on which projections sometimes appear, the setting is contemporary, all black leather sofas and dark clothing. The actors are miked, which adds a feeling of detachment. It tells the story of Antigone’s defiance of King Creon over the burial of her brother perfectly well, but in a rather pedestrian way that failed to truly engage me.

van Hove has surrounded Juliet Binoche with a fine British & Irish cast including Patrick O’Kane as Antigone’s nemesis King Creon, Kirsty Bushell as Antigone’s more compliant sister Ismene and Finbar Lynch as the blind prophet Teiresias. Though the performances are often passionate, somehow they didn’t seem real enough to move you – you could see the acting! There’s another of van Hove’s atmospheric soundscapes, but even that didn’t heighten the tension as it did with A View.

I’m a bit puzzled why this one didn’t work. I saw van Hove’s Medea in Amsterdam last month and that engaged and moved me a lot more (in Dutch!), but in the Antigone stakes, Pilot Theatre win hands down.

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When I heard that the Open Air Theatre were going to break with tradition and stage this intense drama, I thought they were very misguided. How wrong was I?!

Arthur Miller’s timeless piece about the late 17th century Salem witch trials with parallels to the 1952 McCarthy witch hunt is a cracking drama, particularly in the second half when the trials are taking place. It’s simply staged on an elevated platform which represents the wall of a house on its side, characters entering upwards through it’s doors & windows. Surrounded by trees which last night were moving eerily in the chill June wind and much of the time by a silent ‘chorus’ of girls who become the hysterical force which convicts many innocents.

They’ve assembled a very impressive cast for this short run. You want to give Christopher Fulford’s Reverend Parris a slap across the face for being so foolish. Oliver Ford Davies has real authority and gravitas as the Deputy-Governor. Emily Taffe is a very creepy Abigail with revealing changes of expression you think only you can see. Susan Engel’s Rebecca starts as a respected matriarch and ends dignified despite her erroneous conviction. You want to cheer Patrick Godfrey’s defiant Giles as he beats the system, even in death. Philip Cumbus’ Hale makes a very believable transition from honest broker to angry champion of justice. Emma Cuniffe and Patrick O’Kane both have shaky starts but come into their own in the second half’s tragedy.

As the sun sets and the air becomes more chilly, the drama becomes much more intense and by the end you’re not sure if you’re shivering because of the weather or the drama or both. This is a triumph for Timothy Sheader and the Open Air Theatre, best known for comedy and musicals, and opens up all sorts of possibilities for the future. I’m thinking Greek Tragedy. Medea please!

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