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Posts Tagged ‘Simon Godwin’

Simon Woods is a very lucky man to get his debut play on an NT main stage with two of our finest actors to bring his characters alive, but I have to say his play deserves it.

It’s set in the Cotswold home of the Hesketh’s in late May 1988. Robin is a Tory MP, just home from Westminster on his birthday to find Diana his wife still in her dressing gown. She clearly doesn’t share his politics and is particularly scornful of the Thatcher government’s latest slice of right wing homophobic divisiveness, Clause 28, designed to prevent local authorities ‘promoting’ homosexuality or gay lifestyles.

They bicker and snipe, sometimes gentle banter, but sometimes viscously, on topics including politics and Westminster personalities or more personal matters. Diana is suspicious of Robin’s fidelity and he is disapproving of her drinking. The dialogue sparkles and there are some terrifically funny lines, which Lindsay Duncan and Alex Jennings deliver to perfection. When the subject turns to a tragedy from the past, the tone changes completely and it becomes deeply moving.

Duncan captures the essence of the melancholic, unfulfilled Diana beautifully, whilst Jennings combines the old Etonian boyishness with the pomposity of a man who feels he’s born to lead. The performances are delicate and nuanced, as is Simon Godwin’s staging. Everything about the production serves the play. The Lyttelton seems to shrink as two people captivate an audience of 900 people.

It felt very timely, and not just because of the Eton jokes! It says a lot about the disconnect between those who govern and those being governed, but it’s also a very absorbing and entertaining story of the lives of these two people.

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This play was made for a stage like the Olivier and Simon Godwin’s excellent production, superbly designed by Hildegard Bechtler, makes great use of the space. Add in a set of great performances and you have a fine A&C.

It’s modern dress but feels timeless. They make great use of the revolve and drum to create some strikingly different settings from Rome to Alexandria and at sea. It starts tentatively, but when it gets into its stride it’s captivating, with the political & military and the relationships given equal attention and sitting comfortable together. Intimate scenes between Anthony and Cleopatra and battle scenes at sea and on land both work superbly, and Michael Bruce’s music adds much to the atmosphere.

Sophie Okonedo’s Cleopatra is very much in control, feisty and determined, but palpably in love with her man. She shows us many facets of Cleopatra in a passionate performance which swept me away. Ralph Fiennes has great presence as Anthony and also shows us a multi-faceted character who’s clearly torn between his loyalty to Rome and his love of Cleopatra, and when he’s with her he behaves like he’s the luckiest man in the world. There are so many fine performances around them that it’s impossible to mention them all; an excellent ensemble indeed.

When you have a bit of a Shakespeare habit, as I do, it’s rare to see something as fresh as this. Terrific.

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If you take out the two operas, the three foreign language productions, the deconstruction and the filleted three-hander, I think this is my 12th Hamlet. Simon Godwin’s bold and brilliant staging, with a mesmerising performance by Paapa Essiedu, may well be the best of them. I regretted not going to Stratford to see it, but now I don’t, because it’s particularly thrilling to see it at the Hackney Empire amongst an enraptured young and diverse audience.

It’s an African Denmark, colourful and throbbing with music and life, which works brilliantly. It serves the play well, adding some magic, but no gimmicks. So many scenes are superbly staged it’s hard to know where to begin. It gets off to a great start at Hamlet’s graduation ceremony, emphasising his youth and the likely effect of this on his grief at losing his dad and anger at his mother’s swift re-marriage. His confrontations with a cool Claudius are particularly spikey and the resentment of his mother palpable. As the play progresses, we get a superb play-within-the-play, Polonius’ death deftly handled, Ophelia’s grief heartbreaking, a wonderful grave digging scene and a thrilling fight between Hamlet and Laertes using double sticks. Godwin hardly puts a foot wrong and I felt I was hearing the verse afresh with new emphasis and intonation.

Paapa Essiedu really is extraordinary. His verse speaking is enthralling, he totally engages with the audience and every one of those many soliloquies, where he’s alone on that vast stage, are captivating. The rest of the cast is excellent too. I thought Clarence Smith was a particularly fine Claudius and Buom Tihngang made Laertes his own. Mimi Ndiweni is very moving as Ophelia and Lorna Brown navigates Gertrude’s emotional journey very well. Joseph Mydell is luxury casting indeed as Polonius. Paul Wills set, in red-rust colours, and colourful costumes evoke an African kingdom, with Sola Akingbola’s music adding that final touch.

It’s somewhat ironic that within 48 hours our two big national companies have given me one of the worst and one of the best Shakespeare productions I’ve ever seen. I can’t emphasise enough how much seeing it in Hackney Empire, surrounded by young people spellbound by the Bard, added to my experience.

DON’T MISS THIS

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It’s a long way from my first introduction to Twelfth Night, for something that used to be called ‘O’ levels, to this – 50 years and 130 miles to be precise. This is the freshest production of this play I’ve seen since; it positively sparkles.

When Tamsin Greig was cast as Malvolio, I assumed it was just gender blind casting, but in fact she’s playing Malvolia; the character has had a sex change. This gives the attraction to Olivia another dimension altogether. In fact, one of the striking things about this production is the believable sexual frissons – between various combinations of Orsino, Olivia, Cesario (Viola) & Sebastian as well as Malvolia and Olivia. Another is the success of both the high comedy and the pathos in a production with an extraordinary attention to detail – visual, gestural, postural and linguistic. There are so may lovely touches.

The outstanding cast is high on established comic performers. Oliver Chris brings a humour to Orsino I’ve rarely seen. Tim McMullan and Daniel Rigby are as fine a double-act as Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek as you’ll find anywhere. Doon Mackichan’s take on Feste is delightful. Tamsin Greig creates a frumpy Malvolia dressed in black, with a bob hairstyle, that brings the house down and makes her humiliation all the more tragic. Tamara Lawrence and Daniel Ezra are both excellent as the shipwrecked twins and Phoebe Fox brings a cheekiness to Olivia. Somehow, Maria seems to play a much bigger role in the humiliation of Malvolia and is brilliantly played by Niky Wardley. The whole ensemble gels perfectly.

Soutra Gilmour’s design has a central feature which moves us between locations as it moves itself. There are cars, scooters and bikes and her costumes are witty and colourful. Though there are songs in the play, director Simon Godwin appears to put more emphasis on the music (as he did in The Beaux Stratagem) and Shelley Maxwell’s movement contributes a lot to heightening the humour of the piece. It all sits very comfortably on the Olivier stage.

It’s a while since I saw this play, so perhaps that added to my enjoyment of what is indeed a fine revival.

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Another occasion where the critical reception lowered my expectations so that the experience exceeded them. Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play is a lot better than I was led to believe.

It’s set on the Greek island of Skiathos in 1967, just as the coup which installed the Colonels is about to happen. We’re on holiday with budding British playwright Theo and his actress wife Charlotte. They’ve befriended / been befriended by an American couple in a local bar and they invite them over to their rented house. It’s an unlikely friendship, with an even more unlikely sexual tension between Harvey and Charlotte. Harvey is on leave from his US government posting in Athens with his wife June, who is a bit of a dumb blonde caricature, overly fond of the booze. Harvey is a highly persuasive control freak and by the end of the evening, he’s persuaded Theo & Charlotte to buy the villa for a song from it’s owners, who are about to emigrate to Australia.

In the second act, we move forward nine years. Greece has recently returned to democracy. Harvey is a successful playwright and he and Charlotte now have two children. The Americans have been posted to Chile, but are briefly back in Athens en route to Zaire (spot the pattern here?). They visit for a few days and we learn more of the bidding Harvey does for his government to keep communism at bay, and the guilt he carries, but the Brits have reason to be guilty too, albeit on a smaller scale. Their relationships disintegrate. Underneath the personal stories, we explore the ethics of power – big countries clandestinely dominating small ones and little people exploited by bigger people. Nothing changes, of course, and Greece today suffers the same, albeit economically.

Hildegard Bechtler has built a brilliant two-story whitewashed house on a rocky promontory; it’s very imposing in the Dorfman space. I was very impressed by Ben Miles as Harvey, particularly his American accent (well, to this British ear), forceful and larger than life. Elizabeth McGovern’s June was a bit too much of a stereotype for me, though very funny. Pippa Nixon is excellent as Charlotte, initially submissive but eventually defiant, and Sam Crane is very good at navigating Theo’s more complex journey. Characters seemed to have their backs to a significant chunk of the audience much of the time, but otherwise Simon Godwin’s direction was good.

An underrated play with a particularly good set of performances and a fine production.

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Restoration comedy can be a fusty and dull affair for a modern audience, but there’s so much flair and so many fine performances in Simon Godwin’s production that it scrubs up fresh, cheeky and joyous. When you hear Mrs Sullen’s feminist speech at the opening of the second half, its hard to believe it’s over 300 years old.

Two groups are on the make – Aimwell & Archer, gentlemen down on their luck, and highwayman Gibbet and his companions, in cahoots with the landlord of the inn – and the target of both is the riches of Lady Bountiful and her family. Lady Bountiful’s daughter Dorinda is in the market for a man to marry and her daughter-in-law wants rid of her drunken husband. No-one gets what they expected, but Aimwell and Archer do both get a wife. The presence of French soldiers provides another opportunity for humour, not all at their expense.

Lizzie Clachan’s three-story building transforms from inn to house and back again slickly and elegantly. The costumes are gorgeous and there’s a tea set to die for! Michael Bruce’s brilliant live music, superbly integrated within the play, contributes much to its success, and the song cues themselves make for a very funny running joke. Samuel Barnett and Geoffrey Streatfieild are a fantastic comedy double-act as Aimwell & Archer, very sprightly with great chemistry between them, as are Suzannah Fielding and Pippa Bennett-Warner as the sister and sister-in-law who are the closet of friends. There are so many other lovely performances, including Pearce Quigley as ever so droll servant Scrub and Jaimie Beamish as Folgard, a French priest who’s really Irish – his hybrid accent is a hoot.

This is the sort of thing the National do so well and it really compliments the rest if the current repertoire. Thoroughly recommended.

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I wonder when they’re staging the second half? If you didn’t know the length of this play or if they hadn’t closed the auditorium doors when you thought it was the interval, that’s exactly what you’d be asking. The ending feels just like the end of a first half.

Anders Lustgarten’s play is what we used to call ‘agit prop’ in the 70’s – Time Out even had an ‘Agit Prop’ section summarising the week’s radical political activities! Here, many of society’s evils are put on the Royal Court stage – attitudes in the financial sector, hospital queues, racism…..He uses the creation of Unity Bonds, where investors’ return is linked to reduction in anti-social behaviour targets, as a way of illustrating and linking these (though the link with racism, staged with a realism and ferocity I found hard to stomach, is a bit dubious).

A series of well written short scenes start as a retired nurse has a debt meter fitted (she has to feed it until her debt is cleared) and move from here to business meetings to a casualty department to prison and finally to a type of ‘Occupy’ encampment. They are often biting and sometimes darkly comic. They are well staged by Simon Godwin and well performed by a fine cast including Lucian Msmati, Meera Syal and Being Human’s Damien Molony. I don’t even have a problem with it being ‘without decor’. It just isn’t finished.

I’m puzzled as to why such work-in-progress is occupying precious Royal Court main stage space. I wonder when they’re staging the second half?

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