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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Rider’

This was apparently the first play Shakespeare wrote for an indoor theatre, the Blackfriars, to be performed by candlelight. How fitting then that it should be staged at the Globe’s new(ish) indoor playhouse, by candlelight, and the venue really suits the play.

Like other late plays, Cymbeline is an odd concoction. Though anchored in British history, it’s such ancient history (Roman period) that we know little about these times and they feel, and may even be, mythological. Lots of themes from other plays appear and it has an other-worldly, somewhat fairy-tale quality. The central character is not King Cymbeline but his daughter Innogen, who is banished for marrying Posthumous instead of Cloten, the queen’s son by her former marriage.

She returns from Rome disguised as a man, encounters some feral chaps who turn out to be her lost (stolen) brothers who have beheaded Cloten, gets pursued by Iachimo seeking to prove her infidelity, then by Posthumous’ servant Pisanio seeking to punish her for it but unable to bring himself to do so and befriended by invading Romans led by Caius Lucius! Of course it all ends happily (well, not for Cloten, obviously). We even get a visit from goddess Jupiter from above, literally.

With no props, the production has a storytelling quality which didn’t settle until the second half for me; the first half seemed a bit rushed and perfunctory, though in all fairness to director Sam Yates, that’s as much to do with the play’s elongated set-ups. The second half is a cracker, though. There’s great incidental music from Alex Baranowski and excellent costumes by Richard Kent. With some doubling up, the whole thing is delivered by a cast of fourteen, including particularly good performances from Trevor Fox as Pisano, Brendan O’Hea as Belarius and Paul Rider as Caius Lucius.

I’m now very much looking forward to the other late plays in the same theatre.

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I can see why the Globe have revived this at Christmas, not long after its February première. It proves to be perfect seasonal fare – a 400-year-old panto!

Before The London Merchant starts, the theatre is ‘invaded’ by the citizen, his wife and their apprentice (surrogate son) Rafe. They insist on a part for Rafe, a new title and changes to the play and spend the rest of the evening in the audience commenting and interfering with demonstrations of unacceptable and intrusive audience behaviour, occasionally invading the stage themselves to get their way. On stage, a preposterous story unfolds and you find yourself trying to keep up with this and the antics of the intruders.

The play interweaves the story of who Luce marries, her father’s choice Master Humphrey, or hers (his apprentice Jasper), with the heroic exploits of Rafe as the Knight of the title in locations from Waltham Forest to Moldavia, encountering Jasper and his mother, the giant Barbaroso and a Moldovan princess. The pace is pretty relentless, with characters turning up in the audience, from above and below, engaging with audience members. There’s a lot of music and a couple of short pauses for refreshment replenishment as well as the interval, and of course it all ends up happy ever after.

The cast are clearly enjoying themselves, which becomes infectious, and the whole thing is huge fun, if a touch over-long at three hours. Director Adele Thomas makes very effective use of the whole of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, which seemed even more intimate than usual, partly because of encounters of the close-up kind with many of the characters. Seeing Hannah Clark’s period costumes close up fills you with admiration for the skills of their makers.

Phil Daniels and Pauline McLynn preside over and control things as the citizen and his wife and Matthew Needham captures the naive charm of Rafe (played by Noel Coward in 1920 and both father and son Spall 33 and 9 years ago respectively). In a fine cast in the play within there are terrific turns from Paul Rider as a Falstaffian Merrythought, Dickon Tyrrell as camp Humphrey (a vision in pink and earrings), Dean Nolan as giant George and Samuel Hargreaves as the (very musical) boy.

Another reason why the SWP is fast becoming a firm favourite venue.

 

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On the same day I expressed a view that a lot of new plays at The Globe have disappointed, along comes one of the best new plays they’ve ever done, and one of the best WWI centenary commemorations.

Howard Brenton has chosen to stage the story of a pioneering plastic surgeon called Harold Gillies who developed his skin graft treatments in the first world war, rebuilding the faces of soldiers injured at the front. An eccentric character, he had an alter ego called Dr Scroggy who dealt with his patients morale by dressing up as a caricatured Scotsman to deliver alcohol and cheer after hours. This was as much to do with keeping his own spirits up, having to see his patients return to the front once more.

It also tells the story of one of his patients, Jack Twigg, a working class lad who’s got to Oxford but gives it up to volunteer for service. He’s befriended by a young peer through whom he gets both a prestigious posting as an aide de camp and a posh girl, but he gives up both for glory – twice.

Of course, it’s also telling us a lot about the First World War itself, and that is why the play succeeds – weaving these three threads together to provide a very satisfying dramatic experience, and blending the serious with humour to make it entertaining too.

Like Blue Stockings before it, this period (give or take 20 years!) seems to suit The Globe stage well, evoked simply through costumes, a few beds and lampposts. Jonathan Dove’s direction, using an enlarged stage and platform jutting out into the auditorium, is very effective and no time is wasted. There are some lovely performances, not least from James Garnon as Gilles / Scroggy and Will Featherstone as Twigg. Sam Cox and Paul Rider as a pair of Field Marshall’s are excellent, Patrick Driver and Katy Stephens are great as Twigg’s parents and Catherine Bailey provides a fine characterisation as Penelope, and in particular navigating the transition from good-time posh girl to caring and principled woman.

A charming and deeply satisfying evening, sadly closed but surely to resurface sometime?

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