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Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’s Globe’

The story of the first global spy network 400 years ago is ripe for dramatisation, and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is the perfect place to stage it.

Sir Francis Walsingham was Elizabeth I’s spymaster. He had an international network of spies and double-agents. He spread false rumours on a wholesale scale. He sanctioned torture and execution. The master of manipulation. We don’t know whether he was doing the (possibly paranoid) Queen’s bidding or whether he was manipulating her, and the play suggests he may in turn have been manipulated himself.

Anders Lustgarten’s play, directed by Mathew Dunster, doesn’t hold back on the profanity or violence, even humour and cheeky modern references, which is where he shoots himself in the foot. Its flippancy hijacks the drama and the Queen’s language, perhaps intended to change our perception of ‘good Queen Bess’, just feels childish and tacky. Though they are funny, the cheap quips about our popularity in Europe and success at tennis, attempts at contemporary resonance, don’t help. It’s such a shame, because there’s a great story screaming to get out.

Designer Jon Bausor has created a brilliant two-story backdrop by putting screens at the front of the gallery that match the lower half, and inserting lots of drawers for Walsingham’s files. Apart from some light from the corridors, it is largely candlelit, though with fewer than usual, so its often very dark, in keeping with the story. I loved Alexander Balanescu’s music, played by a trio behind an the opaque left side of the gallery.

Only three actors play a single role, the other six playing between two and four, and this is sometimes confusing, particularly in the dark! Tara Fitzgerald has great presence but her profane dialogue weakens the characterisation. Walsingham is a big role, and he goes on a big journey, and Aidan McArdle handles it well. It’s a fine supporting cast.

A great idea, the perfect space, but for me misguided in writing and execution.

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The smile didn’t leave my face for the duration of this chamber musical in the lovely Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. It’s got bucket-loads of charm and romance aplenty. Emma Rice’s staging is a delight, from the chocolates distributed before it begins to the badges as you leave, with an interval song in the foyer to keep that smile on your face. I defy anyone not to be charmed by it.

Based on the 2010 French-Belgian film of the same name (Les Emotifs Anonymes in French), it tells the story of desperately shy chocolatier Jean-Rene, who has inherited an ailing business from his father, and Angelique, the equally shy secret ingredient of competing chocolatier Mercier. After her employer dies and she’s out of a job, Angelique attends the shyness support group of the title, where an employee of Jean-Rene meets her and subsequently introduces her to her boss, who gives her a thoroughly unsuitable sales job. Fortunately, she talks herself into a role commensurate with her talents, rescues Jean-Rene’s business and navigates the difficult path to true love.

Emma Rice has adapted Jean-Pierre Ameris & Philippe Blasband’s screenplay of the sort of film only the French seem to be able to do these days (oh for a return of the Ealing comedies). American music & lyrics partners Michael Kooman & Christopher Dimond are new to me, and the UK, and they’ve done a lovely job producing songs that suit the subject matter perfectly. The SWP is a design in itself, but Les Brotherston has added some neon signs (shock, horror!) which signpost locations and become a running joke in themselves. Etta Murfitt’s choreography adds much to Emma Rice’s inventive staging. Dominic Marsh and Carly Bowden are superb in the lead roles and there’s luxury casting in the ensemble, with includes Joanna Riding, Lauren Samuels and Marc Antolin no less, with multiple cameos from Philip Cox and Gareth Snook.

I left the theatre with a warm glow, which hasn’t really gone yet; it’s a delightful evening. It’s Emma Rice doing what she does best, a heart-warming evening, her last production here as AD. You have until early January and you know what you have to do…..

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I didn’t join in the debate about the early departure of Emma Rice from the Globe. It seemed to me the issues should have been thoroughly discussed and resolved (or not) before her appointment. I’m not a purist when it comes to Shakespeare productions and have enjoyed, even raved about, recent radical interpretations like Ivo van Hove’s Kings of War, the Almeida’s Hamlet and the NT’s Twelfth Night. I’ve liked Daniel Kramer’s work before, notably his excellent revival of Angels in America for Headlong.

First and foremost, a production has to serve the play, and that’s why this falls at the first hurdle. It doesn’t, hence the first half of this blog’s title. The other half of the title is because for the first time in maybe 100 visits since the very first production, it didn’t feel like Shakespeare’s Globe. Even though it was programmed before the departure was announced, it felt like they were putting two fingers up to an institution many of us have grown to love over the last twenty years, where there have been many other radical productions that have served their plays.

It’s one of the tackiest stagings I’ve ever seen. From the inexplicable missiles hanging above the stage to the white face make-up & black outfits and incongruous contemporary songs (YMCA during the Capulet’s masque, now fancy dress, party) to the Hindu Friar, it leaps from one gimmick to the next without pausing for breath. There is no sense of feuding families or love at first sight; indeed there isn’t an ounce of romance – in one of the greatest love stories ever told!

Daniel Kramer is the new Artistic Director of the beleaguered ENO. They once billed a Berlioz opera as ‘Terry Gilliam’s The Damnation of Faust’. The director is never king.

 

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This is the fourth and last of my late February Shakespeare binge, in the lovely candlelit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. It turned out to be a bit of a mixed bag.

It started well with full candlelight, period settings, in period dress (though with what seemed like joke ruffs and codpieces). My heart sank when all of the candles were extinguished for the first scene, each character illuminating himself with a single candle lamp. For the rest of the evening the candlepower changed frequently and I have to admit rather effectively. 

Ellen McDougal’s Big Idea (every director has to have one, it seems) is to change Cassio into a woman, Michelle Cassio to be precise. This made for some interesting sexual connotations. Having Othello & Desdemona’s bed on stage throughout was a bit distracting and took something away from the scenes elsewhere. I liked the music until it turned a bit too contemporary lyrically. The post-death ending was gimmicky and crass.

I admired Kurt Egyiawan’s Othello, though he didn’t die too well, and Natalie Klamar’s Desdemona too, but I thought Sam Spruell too flippant and nowhere near malevolent and machiavellian enough for Iago.

There was much to enjoy, but enough to irritate too, and it left me feeling it could have been a lot better.

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Over 150 shows were candidates for my four award-less awards, with Best New Play the difficult category this year, so lets start with that.

BEST NEW PLAY – LOVE – National Theatre

Over a third of the sixty-five candidates were worthy of consideration, which makes 2016 both prolific and high quality in terms of new plays. Hampstead had a particularly good year with Rabbit Hole, Lawrence After Arabia, Labyrinth and the epic iHo all in contention. The Almeida gave us three, with Boy leading the trio that included They Drink It In The Congo and Oil because of its importance and impact. The Globe’s two Kneehigh shows – 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips on the main stage & The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse – both delighted. Two more Florian Zeller plays, The Mother and The Truth, followed The Father and proved he’s a real talent to watch. The visit of Isango again, this time with play with songs A Man of Good Hope was a treat.

The Arcola gave us Kenny Morgan, which showed us the inspiration for Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, the Donmar a fascinating One Night in Miami, the Orange Tree hosted the superbly written The Rolling Stone and Dante or Die’s site-specific Handle With Care had an epic sweep in its self storage unit setting. Two comedies shone above all others – James Graham’s Monster Raving Loony and Mischief Theatre’s The Comedy About A Bank Robbery, the only West End non-subsidised contender! The Royal Court provided the visceral Yen and The Children, my runner-up, another fine play by Lucy Kirkwood whose Chimerica was my 2013 winner. Of the National’s three, The Flick and Sunset at the Villa Thalia came earlier in the year, but it was LOVE at the end which made me sad and angry but blew me away with more emotional power than any other. Important theatre which I desperately hope many more people will see.

BEST REVIVAL / ADAPTATION of a play – The Young Vic’s YERMA & the National’s LES BLANCS

I’ve added ‘adaptation’ as a few steered a long way from their source, and Les Blancs could be considered a new play, but it’s just new to us.

Though I saw forty-four in this category, less than a quarter made the short-list. The best Shakespeare revival was undoubtedly A Winter’s Tale at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. As well as Les Blancs, the National staged excellent revivals of The Deep Blue Sea and Amadeus, the Donmar chipped in with the thoroughly entertaining comedy Welcome Home, Captain Fox and in Kingston The Rose revived Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, probably the best use ever of this difficult space. Beyond that I was struggling, except to choose between the two winners, which I found I couldn’t and shouldn’t do.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – GROUNDHOG DAY – Old Vic Theatre

Has a shortlist ever been so short? Only twenty contenders but only three in contention. The Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse was great fun and the NYMT’s Brass visiting Hackney Empire hugely impressive, but it was achieving the seemingly impossible by turning Groundhog Day into a hugely successful musical than won the day, though it was sad to see it head stateside, presumably in pursuit of greater commercial gain, after such a short run. I know it will be back, but that doesn’t make me feel any better about a British theatrical institution and a whole load of British talent being used as a Broadway try-out. 

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – HALF A SIXPENCE – Chichester Festival Theatre / Novello Theatre

Fifty percent more revivals (twenty-nine) than new musicals is a lower proportion than usual, but a winner has never been clearer. 

The Menier gave us a transatlantic transfer of a great Into the Woods and what may prove to be the definitive She Loves Me, but both the Union and Walthamstow’s Rose & Crown provided twice as many quality revivals, with the latter successfully climbing higher peaks with more challenging shows for a small space – Bernstein’s Wonderful Town, Out of This World, Babes in Arms and Howard Goodall’s The Kissing Dance. The Union’s contributions included The Fix and Children of Eden and a trio of cheeky, fun nights with Bad Girls, Moby Dick and Soho Cinders. The Southerland-Tarento partnership provided a brilliant revival of Ragtime and the welcome European premiere, and superb production of, Rogers & Hammerstein’s Allegro (which was also too old for me to categorise as ‘New’). A little gem came and went ever so quickly when the Finborough revived Alan Price’s lovely Andy Capp in it’s Sun-Tue slot on the set of another play. BRING IT BACK! Despite all this fringe and off west end quality, it was the Chichester transfer of an old warhorse with a new book, new songs, thrilling staging, stunning choreography, gorgeous design and terrific ensemble which propelled itself to the top of this category.

That’s it for another year, then. Homelessness, childlessness, timelessness, colonialism and love amongst the working class. There’s a theme there somewhere…..

 

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This is a masque written by poet John Milton in 1634 to mark the appointment of the Earl of Bridgewater as ‘Lord President’ (something like today’s Lord Lieutenant) of Wales. In Lucy Bailey’s production it’s more of a masque-within-a-masque, with the final rehearsal as a prologue and a bit of a feminist epilogue.

The masque appears to be designed to whitewash the Bridgewater family name after a scandal involving a wicked uncle, so its theme is chastity. The players include the Earl’s three children and members of his staff. In Bailey’s production, it almost doesn’t go ahead as the Earl’s daughter throws a strop during the final rehearsal. 

Comus is an enchanter with a bunch of ‘monstrous followers’. He seeks to bed The Lady, who has lost the two brothers accompanying her. They eventually find her bound to a chair (like something out of a 17th century brothel) under a spell, in immediate danger of losing her virginity. A nymph of the River Severn turns up to break the spell and set her free.

It’s a bit of a romp, good fun, but a touch overcooked I thought. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse has had a bit of a makeover by designer William Dudley with an elevated walkway around the back of the pit and a pit within the pit that extends under the stage to represent the River Severn. The gothic masks and ivy which adorn the theatre create a great setting and the costumes are terrific. Above all, there’s lovely music combining original songs by Henry Lawes with music by his contemporaries like Dowland and Gibbons and modern additions by folk band Blowzabella and composer Paul James. It’s a fine ensemble, with Philip Cumbus giving us a great turn as Henry Lawes.

Perfect for the SWP, fascinating to see a masque that isn’t by Purcell, and jolly good fun.

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I always thought Kneehigh would suit the Globe Theatre space, but it also turns out that Michael Morpurgo and Kneehigh is a match made in heaven. This is wonderful storytelling – funny, moving and captivating. I laughed and cried and had a lovely time.

The backdrop to Morpurgo’s story is a little known event leading up to the D-Day landings in 1944. US forces had arrived on the South Devon coast in order to rehearse on the beaches. In November 1943, local people were evacuated and five months later the preparations led to Exercise Tiger at sea. The lack of a second support vessel and cock-ups in communication led to the death of 946 men. This was hushed up and it was 40 years before the truth became public.

The story is told through the life of twelve-year-old Lily, who’s dad is away in the war. She lives with her cat Tips, mum and granddad on his farm in Slapton. When they are evacuated, London evacuee and Lily’s school friend Barry joins them. Their teacher is herself a Jewish French refugee. They are befriended by young Black American GI’s Adolphus and Harry, who become as fond of Lily as the family is of them. The show is bookended by contemporary scenes where an elderly Lily, now a grandma herself, loses her husband, which frees her to return to her past.

This is such a heart-warming story. The meeting of three cultures provides much comedy, but even more warmth and empathy. There is a lot of music, some original, some well-known songs, with ‘the blues man’ and his band above the stage and the cast joining in with instruments, bottles, spoons and vocals. Lez Brotherston’s design uses sandbags and tin baths to great effect. The telling of the tale of Exercise Tiger is particularly inspired in Emma Rice’s delightful staging (she also co-adapted with Morpurgo).

It’s an excellent ensemble with Kneehigh AD Mike Shepherd as granddad (and contemporary Lily!), Adam Sopp as chirpy cockney evacuee Barry (and contemporary grandson Boowie) and Ncuti Gatwa and Nandi Bhebhe charming as Adolphus and Harry respectively. Ewan Wardrop provides a superbly funny cameo as Barry’s mum. Katy Owen is simply terrific as feisty, cheeky Lily – and an ever so believable 12-year old.

A delightful, enthralling evening that I wouldn’t have missed for the world.

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I’ve always liked the work of artist Marc Chagall, the subject of this play, but that turned into a love affair when I visited the Musee Marc Chagall in Nice eighteen months ago. Daniel Jamieson’s play is a beautiful, captivating biographical homage to him and his first wife Bella.

Chagall was born in Vitebsk, then Russia, now Belarus, to a Lithuanian Jewish family. He fell in love with Bella aged 22, just before he left for his first spell of four years in Paris, and this is where the story begins. He returned just before the outbreak of the First World War and they marry and begin a turbulent ride through the war, when he works in the war office, the Russian revolution and the pogroms, while he is running an art college in his home town, before they escape to France via Lithuania and Germany. They’re on the move again seventeen years later, escaping from occupied France to the US, where Bella dies and our play ends.

Jamieson’s play captures the child-like charm of the couple in a clear narrative (you always get a clearer narrative from a playwright experienced in writing for children!) to which is added feather-like movement by director / co-choreographer Emma Rice and co-choreographer Etta Murfitt and the most delightful original music by Ian Ross. It’s all set on an extraordinary wooden construction designed by Sophia Clist that they climb over and occupy various parts of. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is the most perfect venue, with its candlelight adding more warmth to that already generated by the words, music and performance.  Marc Antolin and Audrey Brisson are each terrific, and wonderful together; their singing is gorgeous. The composer and fellow-musician James Gow accompany and occasionally add vocals.

Emma Rice’s final production as Kneehigh AD, now in her new home, was a delight from beginning to end; another fine night in the SWP.

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Well, Emma Rice certainly knows how to make her mark. Her inaugural production (and only her second Shakespeare) at The Globe is exuberant, anarchic, irreverent, cheeky and packed full of ideas. It’s populist stuff and the audience loved it.

She starts by making her mark on the venue. There are a dozen opaque green tubes hanging over the groundlings (damaging the sight lines in the middle and upper galleries!) and even more giant white balloons providing an (incomplete) roof. The actors are miked and there’s a fair bit if artificial light. Four round tables occupy the front of the groundling space so that the action can spill off the stage. She also takes a lot of liberties with the play, chief amongst them is that Helena has had a sex change and is now a man called Helenus. The rude mechanicals are members of the Globe Team, including the cleaner and the Health & Safety Officer (the only man). Puck has also changed sex and is now an impish punkess with horns. There’s a lot of music and dance routines, notably a short Bollywood Beyoncé, and a lot of changes to the text (together with a snipe at those who would want it as written). It was a few too many liberties for me, I’m afraid, burying Shakespeare’s play in too much funny business and losing its magical quality.

I like the idea of a Bollywood version, but it’s a bit half-hearted in that mission, and the differing styles of the lovers (Hoxton cool), the fairies (punk gothic) and rude mechanicals (theatre staff) didn’t combine into a cohesive whole for me. There are some lovely performances, though. Edmund Derrington, Ncuti Gatwa, Anjana Vasan and Ankur Bahl are a fine quartet of lovers. Amongst another fine set of performances as the rude mechanicals, Ewan Wardrop shines as Bottom, and Katy Owen is a delightfully cheeky Puck. Zubin Varla is the best verse speaker as Theseus / Oberon and it was good to see Meow Meow as his (burlesque) queen. Stu Barker’s music covered too many genres for me; I’d rather have a uniform style, perhaps Indian.

You expect a new Artistic Director to bring their past with them, but this felt like they’d moved Kneehigh in, rather than appointed Emma Rice. Notwithstanding my reservations above, it’s a good first show, but she must move on and embrace diverse approaches and talent. I enjoyed it, but it bothered me coming soon after her negativity about Shakespeare plays in the press.

 

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This is the last in this mini season of Shakespeare’s late plays and the last but one he wrote. It completes a quartet of successful staging’s of plays intended for an indoor playhouse in an indoor playhouse.

I’ve always thought it was an odd concoction. Prospero, the deposed Duke of Milan, and his daughter Miranda are shipwrecked on a remote island with the spirit Ariel and the subhuman witches son Caliban for company. When the courts of Naples and Milan are later also shipwrecked, Prospero can make mischief and right some wrongs. It has an other-worldly, magical quality, which this production didn’t get over as well as it did the royal shenanigans and the comedy. On this occasion I couldn’t help feeling Prospero was Shakespeare signing off.

Trevor Fox and Dominic Rowan virtually steal the show as royal butler Stephano and court jester Trinculo respectively, though I thought the added lines pushed it a bit too far, and Fisayo Akinade is a fine Caliban. Once he was in his stride, I very much liked Tim McMullen’s Prospero, more elder statesman than larger-than-life presence.

Seeing all four late plays has made me realise that there are fewer design and staging choices that can be made in this space. On this occasion the offstage dialogue and sounds were particularly effective, but the spirit characters less so, particularly Pippa Nixon’s Ariel, who seemed way too ordinary for me. There’s good use of music, despite the off-key singing at Miranda and Ferdinand’s wedding.

I’ve very much enjoyed this season and I suspect and hope we’ll see more Shakespeare in this lovely space.

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