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Posts Tagged ‘Susannah Fielding’

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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This radical resetting of Shakespeare’s play started out in Stratford 3.5 years ago and has now travelled 100 miles south east to get a second showing in its director Rupert Goold’s new home in Islington. It’s a much smaller venue, which makes it less grand and more intimate, but designer Tom Scutt has redesigned it to fit the new space well and I feel very much the same as I did first time round (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/the-merchant-of-venice-rsc-stratford).

The Almeida’s former joint AD, Ian McDiarmid, gives a more assertively defiant, more Jewish and ultimately more tragic Shylock than Patrick Stewart in a great role take-over. I was more positive this time round about Scott Handy’s introspective Antonio, because the intimacy of the space brought out the subtlety of his performance. The new Bassanio (Tom Weston-Jones) and Gratiano (Anthony Welsh) both give equally fine interpretations as their predecessors. Staging the battle for Portia’s hand as reality show Destiny brings the comedy that in turn heightens the tension and Susannah Fielding and Emily Plumtree now both steal the show as Portia and Nerissa, with a simply terrific turn again from Jamie Beamish’s Elvis impersonating Lancelot Gobbo.

I overheard an American audience member saying he thought it was sending up American culture. There’s some truth in that, but more important that the Las Vegas setting provides a modern context and cohesion that gives the play an ongoing relevance and accessibility, particularly good for introducing and enthusing young audiences I’d say. Good to see it again.

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During the interval I was recollecting overhearing someone in the early 80’s in The City being asked why he drank champagne when he clearly didn’t like it and his answer was ‘because I can’. That’s what I hated about the 80’s. Greed. Consumerism. Superficiality. Materialism. Self-interest. Yuppies. Thatcherism. Most of all I hated the music – electronic mush. So, a black comedy musical thriller which satirises this decade? Yes please!

Patrick Bateman is a great creation, almost everything you hate in one body. Wall Street job. Designer everything. Self-obsessed. Power-crazed. Misogynist. His envy of someone with access to a table he can’t get at the latest restaurant sends him into a rage. Being mistaken for someone else by Mr. Cool is unforgivable. Embarking on a series of gruesome murders is a bit implausible though, but hey this is allegory isn’t it? All of the other characters are brilliant period creations too, yet quite a few are recognisable stereotypes 30 or so years on, a few in the audience as it happens!

No-one could create this world as well as Rupert Goold, with imagination, chutzpah and just the right amount of excess; his staging is masterly. Es Devlin has designed a brilliant white box which allows for smooth scene changes, with twin revolves and a couple of traps and onto which images and designs are projected. Katrina Lindsay’s authentic period costumes are wonderful and even Lynne Page’s witty choreography manages to capture the period. It’s a very clever idea to include a handful of actual 80’s songs in Duncan Sheik’s score, itself a parody of the period and lyrically strong.

Matt Smith doesn’t have a great voice, bit it’s good enough for a psychopath! His acting is great though; manic enough but restrained enough too. In an excellent supporting cast, Susannah Fielding is superb as Bateman’s fiancée, as is Cassandra Compton as his PA. As an ensemble, they are very slick and well-drilled – as is the production as a whole, in fact.

If you haven’t already booked, you’ll probably have to wait for the inevitable West End transfer. The only question is – will this be before or after Broadway?!

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Michael Grandage’s big idea is the have the forest as a new age encampment and the faeries as hippy eco-warriors, with snatches of The Mamas & Papas and Simon & Garfunkel playing in the background. It also comes in at 2h 10m inc. interval; quite possibly the shortest mainstream Shakespeare production ever!

It’s a patchy affair, though. I liked Christopher Oram’s design – burnished bronze panels, rising to reveal a landscape backed by a giant full moon, with side panels a nod to Arthur Rackham. The verse speaking is often weak. The forest scenes work well, with the lovers firing brilliantly off one another, but the rude mechanicals are badly let down by David Walliams’ misguided and predictably camp Bottom (Walliams does Walliams) mercilessly trying to steal the show but just being bloody irritating.

Padraig Delaney is OK as Oberon but has little presence as Theseus. Sheridan Smith is OK as both Titania and Hippolyta but she’s done much better work than this. Chief acting honours belong to the four lovers – Sam Swainsbury, Susannah Fielding, Stefano Braschi & Katherine Kingsley – who are well matched, suitable sparky and by far the best verse speakers.

It’s a bit pedestrian really. It doesn’t illuminate or add anything and is seriously undermined by the miscasting of Walliams, who’s a diva rather than a company man. You won’t miss much if you miss it, as you’ve probably seen a better one and if not a better one will come along soon!

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Modern re-setting of Shakespeare is a bit hit-and-miss, though director Rupert Gould has a better hit rate than most; his Stalinist Macbeth is probably the best production of that play I’ve ever seen. So it’s good to report another hit with what is probably his most risky re-setting, in a very contemporary Las Vegas!

Apart from modern dress, he hasn’t really tampered with Antonio and Shylock. Portia and her friend Nerissa, however, are straight out of Legally Blonde, Launcelot Gobbo is an Elvis impersonator (and a good one too!), the Prince of Morocco a big black boxer, the Duke of Venice becomes a mafia godfather, the Prince of Aragon a Spanish stereotype and Gratiano a small time gangster! We’re in a casino, there are a couple of showgirls with feather headdresses and those who claim Portia and her fortune do so in full TV game show tradition. We get what seems to be Elvis’ entire back catalogue, with an unseen big band at the back of the stage.

Of course, it heightens the comedy but the surprise is that it increases the impact of the drama too. The scene where Shylock’s claim is played out has never been more tense and even though you know exactly what’s going to happen, you wince as the knife touches the flesh. The anti-semiticism also seemed heightened, with the audience audibly shocked when Gratiano spits on Shylock as he leaves dejected. This really was staging that served the play.

Patrick Stewart is a great Shylock, but its Susannah Fielding who steals the show as Portia, both in blonde wig and high heels and posing as the male lawyer. I liked Richard Riddell’s Bassanio, but felt Scott Handy as Antonio was a bit too subdued and introspective. There are great supporting performances from Jamie Beamish as Launcelot, Howard Charles as Gratiano and Emily Plumtree as Nerissa.

This was my first visit to the new RST, which is really a large Swan; almost as much closeness as next door and a lot more than before. If this staging was anything to go by, it is a space where you can stage spectacular scenes and intimate conversations. I loved both the show and the space.

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