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Posts Tagged ‘Vicki Mortimer’

This is no ordinary A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s a collaboration between that master of invention Tom Morris (now in charge at Bristol Old Vic) and South Africa’s Handspring, the puppet people also behind that mega global hit War Horse.

Vicki Mortimer’s design is a rough wooden stage with a structure a bit like a boat hull on one side and a large hanging cloth on the other. Planks figure a lot – held by the ensemble, they effectively create the forest and the rude mechanicals use them well. The lovers carry their puppet miniature selves at the start, but they don’t keep this up (which I found puzzling). Puck is created live by three actors, a blow-torch, a saw, a trowel, a mallet & a basket (I loved this). The actors playing Oberon & Titania carry statue heads (and an arm, in Oberon’s case) and become full figures at the end (I loved this too). We don’t see much of the fairies, and then only four, but they are each different puppet constructions or, in Moth’s case, a man with a pair of fly swatters and a hat (I loved this as well). Oh, and bottom is!

It’s highly inventive but not entirely coherent and consistent. It takes a while to settle and doesn’t really take off until 10 minutes before the interval. The second half is a lot better than the first. When it works, it’s great, such as when Lysander & Demetrius tussle for Helena and then search the forest for her, bottom’s bottom stuff and the rude mechanicals’ play. It’s an excellent ensemble of twelve talented young actors, many new to me.

Go for the originality and inventiveness (and to see the superb restoration of the BOV auditorium). I certainly don’t regret it, though I’ve seen better interpretations of Shakespeare’s play.

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It’s not often you leave a new play feeling deeply satisfied. Of late, the Royal Court has had the monopoly of those occasions and there are echoes of two of them – Jerusalem and Love Love Love – here. This is good enough to be the pinnacle of a playwrights career, but it’s  playwright Stephen Beresford’s first! At last, we have a fine new play at the National.

We’re on the Devon coast in the home of Judy, an ageing hippie and rebel, with her daughter Libby, son Nick and grand-daughter Summer, exploring the legacy of the 60’s generation and the relationships of the three generations on the stage. Neighbour and GP Peter is a frequent visitor and seemingly benevolent presence, as is shy young Daniel who grows up before your very eyes. Judy’s still rebelling (now against her nimby neighbours), Libby and Nick are rebelling against their mother and each other and young Summer is a teenager (nuff said). Neither Peter nor Daniel are what they at first seem. The characterisations are very deep and the sweep of the play is somehow both epic and personal. The writing is outstanding and often very funny.

This may well be Helen McCrory’s finest moment; from her first unrecognisable appearance, she completely inhabits the role of daughter Libby. Rory Kinnear too is spectacularly good as her drug fueled brother Nick, with the most realistic drunk / stoned acting I’ve seen since Peter O’Toole (and I’m still not convinced he wasn’t – O’Toole, that is).

You can see why Julie Walters wanted to play Judy. It’s one of those larger-than-life characters she excels in, though she is now so familiar we do see Julie underneath Judy at times. There’s also a brilliant performance from Isabella Laughland as Summer and another from Taron Egerton as neighbour Daniel (a professional debut, no less).

Vicki Mortimer has created an art deco  home as wild as its inhabitants which looks just like the famous hotel at Bigbury-on-Sea just down the road, which opens up to reveal three downstairs rooms as well as the garden. The music seems to be from the soundtrack of my life! As always, Howard Davies gets the best out the material and his actors.

This was such a treat that I really didn’t want it to end; I was so enjoying these characters company and their stories – but maybe that’s because I’m a 60’s child too? It will be intersting to see the thoughts of younger theatre-goers. For me, though, not to be missed at any cost.

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I’m fond of Shakespeare but not that fond of Hamlet. It always seems overlong and ponderous and I find it hard to believe in or be moved by it. Give me a more cracking yarn like Richard III any time. Yet somehow, its hard to resist re-visiting it – maybe to find what I haven’t yet found or maybe to see how an actor rises to the challenge of that pinnacle for a leading man.

My first one was Roger Rees and my second Kenneth Branagh; both deeply introverted and neither RSC productions really did it for me. Then there was highly strung Daniel Day-Lewis on the same stage (before he had his breakdown, withdrew and was replaced by a dying Ian Charlston) and cool Adrian Lester at the Young Vic. A couple of adventures followed with Ingmar Bergman’s Swedish Hamlet and Ninagawa’s Japanese Hamlet. After a long break, I started again as I couldn’t resist Jude Law or David Tennent, both of whom turned in very good interpretations but neither production was totally satisfying. I regret not giving Simon Russell Beale and Ben Wilshaw a crack.

One of the pleasures of going to the National in recent years has been to see the range and growth of Rory Kinnear, but I thought it might be too soon for him to tackle Hamlet. Well, I was certainly wrong there, as it was the most interesting, intelligent and real Hamlet of them all – I actually cared about what this man was going through for probably the first time.

What helps is a production which creates a believable timeless police state where everyone is watching everyone else. This brings a plausibility to the story and adds an excitement which propels the play along. What also helps is a faultless supporting cast. Patrick Malahide is such a good Claudius that I became tense every time he came on stage. Dame Clare Higgins creates a highly original stilletto-heeled shallow gullible monster, drink almost always in hand. You could really believe in and were touched by Ruth Negga’s journey as Ophelia. The production didn’t seem at all imbalanced by understudy James Pearse standing in for David Calder as Polonius.

I’ve liked Nicholas Hytner’s other Olivier Shakespeares – Henry IV parts 1 & 2 and Henry V – but I liked this most of all. Vicky Mortimer’s design is important in creating this believable world and facilitates the pace, energy and excitement. I also liked the use of sound to create atmosphere.

So, the most satisfying Hamlet so far and one that will no doubt encourage me to continue exploring the play – somehow, I doubt I will be able to resist Michael Sheen at the Young Vic next year!

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