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Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Boxer’

Maybe I’ve seen too many Lear’s (10). Maybe it was because I was tired, having braved the rain, wind & a tube strike. Maybe I was just over-excited about seeing a favourite actor climb this infamous acting mountain. Whatever the reason, I didn’t really engage with this Lear. I found myself in detached observation admiring it rather than being involved or moved by it.

I’ve heard the word ‘epic’ so many times in connection with this Sam Mendes production, but it didn’t seem that epic to me. I’m not sure why Anthony Ward’s design has blue-green abstract painted panels and stage floor, though it is attractive. Screens cut the stage in half for the more intimate scenes and sometimes when they rise the image behind takes your breath away. It works best in the storm scene when clouds and lightning are projected onto the screens as thunder claps, though I don’t know why a strip of stage with Lear & The Fool on it has to rise and move around.

I don’t have a problem with the modern setting, but I’m not sure the military concept works as well for this as it does for plays like Othello where the characters are military. I always have a problem believing he would divide the country, giving a third to the daughter who marries a Frenchman(!), and then cast out this favourite daughter just because she won’t match her sisters sycophancy, but here Lear doesn’t even look like a king. Simon Russell Beale may have concentrated so much on the madness / dementia that he neglects the other facets of this complex man.

There are some great performances, though. Anna Maxwell-Martin and Kate Fleetwood are excellent as Regan & Goneril, the former becoming vicious and the latter a bit of a vamp. Tom Brooke is a superb Edgar, particularly when disguised as Tom. Stephen Boxer invests Gloucester with great passion and Adrian Scarborough is a highly original and rather cool Fool. SRB completely transforms himself – not just shaving his head and growing a bushy beard, but his whole body seems to take on a new shape.

There is much to admire, but it didn’t wow me like I thought and hoped it would. I may have not done it justice, so I’ve booked to go back at the end of the run as I have to know if it’s me or the production!

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This Anglo-Japanese co-production, subtitled The Shogun & the English Samuri, is timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the beginning of the relationship between Britain & Japan. It was all down to a lowly seaman called William Adams who arrived in 1600 on a Dutch ship and went on to become the Shogun’s confidante. James Clavell used this as a starting point for his 1975 novel Shogun (Adams became Blackthorne), the third in his six-part  ‘Asian Saga’, made into a TV series with Richard Chamberlain. Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures is also based on the opening up of Japan at this time, but less specifically about Britain. Anjin, cowritten by Mike Poulton and Shoichiro Kawar, is no doubt more historically accurate.

When Adams arrives, the Jesuits are introducing Catholicism and presenting their one-sided picture of Europe. The country is in turmoil whilst its council of ministers, ruling on behalf of the 7-year old First Lord, vie for control. The Shogun Ieyasu has taken control as Regent, much to the annoyance of the mother of young Taiko. Adams mission is trade and once he has a modest grasp of local culture and politics, he befriends the Regent who welcomes his insight into the rest of the world, having never left Japan himself. Despite being a husband and father back home, Adams ‘goes native’, marries and fathers two children. When a British ship finally arrives some 13 years later, he declines to return and stays to facilitate trade between the countries.

It has an epic Shakespearian sweep, which is somewhat appropriate as Will was back home writing plays at the time. It encompasses battles, political manoeuvering, cultural clashes, religious bigotry and oppression and more personal stories. There is much humour, mostly at the expense of the Spanish and the British sailors, but also deeply moving moments; when Ieyasu has to explain to a child why he must be beheaded, it is heartbreaking. I think it could have been edited a little and there were moments when I felt it was too slow, but overall it’s a fascinating story that’s very well told in Gregory Doran’s production (for it is he!).

The production team are all Japanese and Yuichiro Kanai’s sets and Lily Komine’s costumes are gorgeous, with the video and lighting showing them off beautifully. The headwear of the warriors is particularly spectacular! There are a lot of scenes and screens aid the flow between them. The dialogue is both English and Japanese with surtitles for the other and this brings an authenticity to the story-telling. The cast is two-thirds Japanese, led by Masachika Ichimura as Ieyasu and Stephen Boxer as Adams who are well matched and you really do believe in their ‘special relationship’. Yuki Furukawa is excellent as a Japanese Jesuit convert who becomes Adams’ translator and friend and prevents the Jesuits from pumping the Regent with a mine of misinformation.

A very satisfying evening which made me reflect on the similarity and differences between these nations, which in my experience is as special a relationship as the other one!

 

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