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Posts Tagged ‘Steffan Donnelly’

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse’s reopening offering is minimalist storytelling based on the 2000-year-old tales of Roman poet Ovid. Though I enjoyed it, particularly its playfulness, it wasn’t necessarily a good use of this extraordinary space. It would have worked just as well in any ‘black box’ studio theatre.

They pack a lot of tales into 80 minutes (well, there are over 250 to choose from), some well known, some more obscure, some very short, some more fully formed. All four actors – Steffan Donnelly, Fiona Hampton, Charlie Josephine and Irfan Jamji – do well interpreting the characters with a timelessness which makes many of the stories resonate well, notably those where the attitude to women can be shown up as antediluvian.

They exploit the intimacy of the venue with excellent audience engagement from the start, continuing with characters created from amongst us and even a singalong or two. This is its greatest strength, a disarming and infectious charm and tongue-in-cheek style which is impossible not to be captivated by.

I’m not sure the design – a sort of hardware shop where a few items are plucked from the ‘shelves’ and used – adds much, and the candlelight seemed to be used because they could. Though I enjoyed the evening (well, apart from the unmasked man behind breathing on my neck), it didn’t have that special quality so many others at the SWP have had, but in fairness the rest of the audience seemed to be having a fine old time.

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For Mark Rylance’s return to Shakespeare’s Globe, as Iago, he’s paired with American actor Andre Holland as Othello, in a pared-down production by his wife, and the Globe’s former Director of Music, Claire van Kampen, and it’s good to report its success.

With just twelve actors, running at a little over 2.5 hours, there are cuts in both lines and roles, some doubling up and two actresses play male roles, but none of these changes seem to damage Shakespeare’s tragedy. If anything, by concentrating on the six main characters the story has more focus. Holland is a fine Othello, with his accent further emphasising the character’s difference. Rylance shows us a multi-faceted Iago, with touches of flippancy and humour, often speaking and moving around quickly, with makes him seem even more villainous. Emilia, too, gains in significance. It has more pace, without damaging the intimate scenes. Jonathan Fensom’s design concentrates on the costumes, which are excellent, so the performances can breathe in a largely unadorned space.

Holland and Rylance make a fine pairing, but there are other great performances too. Sheila Atim’s superb Emilia is particularly good in the final scene where she realises the role her husband has played in her mistresses demise, and she closes the show singing beautifully. Jessica Warbeck as Desdemona handles her emotional roller-coaster well, and has great chemistry with her husband. Aaron Pierre is a passionate Cassio, a professional stage debut no less. The characterisation of Roderigo is unusual, highly strung and effete, but it made him more interesting, and Steffan Donnelly played him very well.

After the audience ruined my evening at The Two Noble Kinsmen recently, I said that this might be my last visit to Shakespeare’s Globe. The theatre gods must have been listening, as last night’s audience was respectful and rapt, with moments where you couldn’t hear a pin drop, erupting in appreciation at the end. This was indeed a fine night at the Globe.

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