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Posts Tagged ‘Patrick Stewart’

When I saw Patrick Stewart in Anthony & Cleopatra some time ago he had a throat infection but went on like a real pro. He was clearly suffering at Thursday’s performance of this play too, but he continued gallantly. It was inspirational to see two theatrical knights with a combined age of 153 still at the top of their game, and in Stewart’s case, determined not to disappoint his fans with an understudy.

I’m slowly reappraising Pinter, one of my problem playwrights, aided by recent revelatory productions by Jamie Lloyd and Matthew Warchus, and Sean Mathias now does for No Man’s Land what Lloyd did for The Hothouse and The Homecoming and Warchus did for The Caretaker. I don’t profess to understand it, but I do find it captivating, fascinating and funny.

Successful writer Hirst brings the less successful and somewhat scruffy Spooner home from the pub and they drink and chat (well, Spooner rather hogs the conversation). Hirst’s staff, Foster and Briggs, archetypal menacing Pinter characters, are introduced. In the second half, the following morning, Hirst does more of the talking as Spooner tries to get himself hired as his secretary. Foster and Briggs continue their intimidation and ambiguity.

It’s back in Wyndhams, the same theatre it transferred to (from the NT at the Old Vic) 41 years ago. Lancastrian McKellen plays Spooner, named after a Lancastrian cricketer, the role originally played by John Gielgud. Yorkshireman Stewart plays Hirst, named after a Yorkshire cricketer, first played by Ralph Richardson. They are both superb. Owen Teale and Damien Molony provide fine support as Briggs and Foster, also named after cricketers.

I thought the personal, first person programme bio’s were a nice touch and gave two of the actors the opportunity to make a point about access to training today by comparing their experience with the more difficult climate today.

It was a privilege to watch such a masterclass in acting, as I continue to warm to Pinter.

 

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This radical resetting of Shakespeare’s play started out in Stratford 3.5 years ago and has now travelled 100 miles south east to get a second showing in its director Rupert Goold’s new home in Islington. It’s a much smaller venue, which makes it less grand and more intimate, but designer Tom Scutt has redesigned it to fit the new space well and I feel very much the same as I did first time round (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/the-merchant-of-venice-rsc-stratford).

The Almeida’s former joint AD, Ian McDiarmid, gives a more assertively defiant, more Jewish and ultimately more tragic Shylock than Patrick Stewart in a great role take-over. I was more positive this time round about Scott Handy’s introspective Antonio, because the intimacy of the space brought out the subtlety of his performance. The new Bassanio (Tom Weston-Jones) and Gratiano (Anthony Welsh) both give equally fine interpretations as their predecessors. Staging the battle for Portia’s hand as reality show Destiny brings the comedy that in turn heightens the tension and Susannah Fielding and Emily Plumtree now both steal the show as Portia and Nerissa, with a simply terrific turn again from Jamie Beamish’s Elvis impersonating Lancelot Gobbo.

I overheard an American audience member saying he thought it was sending up American culture. There’s some truth in that, but more important that the Las Vegas setting provides a modern context and cohesion that gives the play an ongoing relevance and accessibility, particularly good for introducing and enthusing young audiences I’d say. Good to see it again.

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If you have a vote in the forthcoming Scottish referendum, you’d better stay away from this most Scottish of Macbeth’s; it’s set in a dystopian near future after we finally screwed everything up and the Scots have gone completely feral. The rest of you had better snap any tickets that are left now because it’s bloody brilliant (often literally)!

Trafalgar Studio One has had a makeover, with a new set of onstage seating with the actor’s main entrance cut through the middle. The space has much more intimacy, intensity and immediacy which certainly suits this in-your-face grubby Macbeth. The setting is like a disused building, the props look like they were picked up from a tip and the ‘costumes’ are filthy – they’ll save a fortune on the dry-cleaning bill. Adam Silverman’s lighting of Soutra Gilmour’s set is outstanding and contributes much to the evening’s success.

It’s not the most coherent Macbeth and verse pedants may not like it. The Scottish accents, traverse staging and occasional masks (witches and assassins only) mean you lose some clarity, but in my view its more than made up for by the staging. It’s an energetic fast-paced thriller which holds nothing back. At times it feels like you’re watching a horror film or the latest Tarantino. I squirmed and gasped and occasionally turned, such was the realism of this most violent of plays. I fear for the health and safety of the cast, James McAvoy in particular, who throw themselves around the stage with abandon and fight like they mean it. At one stage, McAvoy ingests water from a bucket so quickly that he has to catch several breaths before his next line and this ratchets up the tension.

I was riveted from start to finish and you could almost feel the intense concentration of the younger than average audience, which was refreshingly quiet. McAvoy acts with great physicality and utter conviction, at times dangerous. This is a career defining performance, but it’s within a superb ensemble and it’s never starry, not even at the curtain calls. Clare Foy is a very young Lady Macbeth, but it’s a restrained interpretation which I thought was very intelligent. Forbes Masson’s Banquo and Jamie Ballard’s Macduff are intensely passionate; when the latter hears of the fate of his family, it’s truly heartbreaking.

These are hugely impressive Shakespearean debuts from McAvoy & Foy and director Jamie Lloyd. I haven’t seen the play done so well since Rupert Goold’s Stalinesque take with Patrick Stewart and McAvoy is at least a match for Stewart, Sher, Sapani & Pryce, the most memorable of my previous Macbeth’s.

With Jamie Lloyd Productions joining the Michael Grandage Company in the West End, these are exciting times indeed.

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Well no-one can say I didn’t give Edward Bond a fair chance. Eight plays in 18 months. In truth, I’d have probably given up at 7 if it wasn’t for Patrick Stewart leading this one. I feel perfectly entitled to put him in my ‘problem playwrights’ box with Pinter and Chekov, turn the key and move on.

This is a play about Shakespeare (or is it?). I have no idea if it’s historically accurate (how could you know?). Will has returned to Stratford and given up writing – ‘I have nothing left to say’. He hates his daughter and his wife and he’s just waiting to die. It’s the early 17th century, the time of the Enclosures Act, so a land grab by the rich is in full progress and Shakespeare is seemingly complicit as a landowner who turns a blind eye. He’s also watching as a young girl on the run is on the receiving end of rough justice, first beaten, then killed and displayed in public. He’s wrestling with his conscience.

It’s as obtuse as all the other Bond plays. I’m happy to be challenged in the theatre, but I can’t help feeling that this is just covering up the fact that he doesn’t really have anything profound or coherent to say. The first half is extraordinarily dull. If you return for the second (and a lot didn’t) it briefly comes alive in a London tavern scene where contemporary playwright Ben Johnson (an excellent Richard McCabe) gets Shakespeare drunk and rants about anything and everything.

There are some good performances, but Stewart is wasted in this. He’s played it before and quite why he wanted to return to it is beyond me. There’s nothing wrong with the production, it’s just not a good play. I’m prepared to accept that it’s a matter of taste, but it is without a conscience that I give up on a playwright who just doesn’t really do anything for me. To see any more Bond would be just masochistic, I’m afraid.

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Modern re-setting of Shakespeare is a bit hit-and-miss, though director Rupert Gould has a better hit rate than most; his Stalinist Macbeth is probably the best production of that play I’ve ever seen. So it’s good to report another hit with what is probably his most risky re-setting, in a very contemporary Las Vegas!

Apart from modern dress, he hasn’t really tampered with Antonio and Shylock. Portia and her friend Nerissa, however, are straight out of Legally Blonde, Launcelot Gobbo is an Elvis impersonator (and a good one too!), the Prince of Morocco a big black boxer, the Duke of Venice becomes a mafia godfather, the Prince of Aragon a Spanish stereotype and Gratiano a small time gangster! We’re in a casino, there are a couple of showgirls with feather headdresses and those who claim Portia and her fortune do so in full TV game show tradition. We get what seems to be Elvis’ entire back catalogue, with an unseen big band at the back of the stage.

Of course, it heightens the comedy but the surprise is that it increases the impact of the drama too. The scene where Shylock’s claim is played out has never been more tense and even though you know exactly what’s going to happen, you wince as the knife touches the flesh. The anti-semiticism also seemed heightened, with the audience audibly shocked when Gratiano spits on Shylock as he leaves dejected. This really was staging that served the play.

Patrick Stewart is a great Shylock, but its Susannah Fielding who steals the show as Portia, both in blonde wig and high heels and posing as the male lawyer. I liked Richard Riddell’s Bassanio, but felt Scott Handy as Antonio was a bit too subdued and introspective. There are great supporting performances from Jamie Beamish as Launcelot, Howard Charles as Gratiano and Emily Plumtree as Nerissa.

This was my first visit to the new RST, which is really a large Swan; almost as much closeness as next door and a lot more than before. If this staging was anything to go by, it is a space where you can stage spectacular scenes and intimate conversations. I loved both the show and the space.

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