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Sunday, 3 September 2023

REVIEW: The RSC's Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Wils Wilsons’ most recent adaptation of Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre was refreshing in its tradition.

Though a far cry from a pit and candles true to Shakespeare experience, compared to some of the brash attempts at refreshing the classics that the RSC and others have presented in the last few years, this production was purposeful and effective.

The scene is set with conviction as Alasdair Macrae’s brass score echoes around the auditorium and the witches (Amber Sylvia Edwards, Eilidh Loan, and Dylan Read) twist and contort their way around the stage. This was to be a sombre tragedy indeed.

Tuesday, 4 July 2023

REVIEW: The RSC's As You Like It at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

The Royal Shakespeare Company has a duty to stage the plays of the Bard and bring them to new audiences, over 400 years since the works were written and this desire to attract new audiences and freshen the appeal of well-known titles does encourage Directors to seek new ways of staging the works. The latest production of the 1599 comedy As You Like It at the Stratford upon Avon is a clear demonstration that when you get the right director and a collection of experienced performers who speak with such beautiful clarity, the words delight and can be given a fresh zingy zesty feel. Even the late substitution due to the indisposition of the actor playing Jacques does not dampen the appeal fitting perfectly into the set-up.

The prologue by Michael Bertenshaw (Oliver in the play) explains the clever conceit that we are watching the reunion of the 1978 cast of the play, 45 years on, to restage from memory their version in a rehearsal room without costumes or props. He explains that six of the original actors could not return and their roles would be played by four younger actors ( sometimes with script in hand) and an old coat represents Adam (who would have been over 110 if he was still with them!). The set-up gives them plenty of scope to have fun with every aspect of the staging reminding us constantly that we are watching a theatrical rehearsal with direction being given and cast members interacting constantly with the audience in the shared jokes. It is this approach that breathes new life into the lines and adds freshness and energy to the cast that belies their ages. 

Saturday, 15 April 2023

REVIEW: The RSC's Hamnet at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

The story of Hamnet, Shakespeare's only son is a powerful one of grief and separation guilt although Maggie Farrell who wrote the book on which the play is based had very little documentary evidence to guide the story, so she had to effectively join the dots and imagined the scenes between Shakespeare’s known marriage to Agnes (pronounced here ann-nez) Hathaway and his subsequent success over a decade later as a playwright in London. Both stories take their time in setting up the large number of characters connected to their stories which makes the first Acts rather linear and narrative based but both explode when the tragedies strike and the human impact is laid before us in a way that it is impossible not to be moved by.

At the heart of the play is the relationship between Agnes, played so beautifully by Madeline Mantock and Will, played by Tom Varey. She wonderfully portrays her seduction & love for Will, then the challenges of 16th-century childbirth (with the recollection of her own mother’s death in childbirth), the loving care for a seriously ill child and the horror, grief and guilt over her child’s death. It is an intensely powerful and simply staged scene in which Hamnet dies and is buried which creates an image that stays with you long after you live the Theatre. The three children are very well acted creating distinctive stage presences, Harmony Rose-Bremner is the older sister Susanna, a serious irritated child in contrast with the younger sister Judith, played by Alex Jarrett and her twin brother Hamnet, Ajani Cabey who are playful and caring eleven-year-olds. If anything, we deserved and wanted to see more of Hamnet and his relationship with his family and his appearances, like his life were too short.

Sunday, 2 April 2023

REVIEW: The RSC's Julius Caesar at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre


There is great pleasure in travelling to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see Shakespeare performed at the theatre and by a company that bears his name. It is a delightful setting and even on a cold spring afternoon, a stroll along the Avon reflecting on its historical heritage and supper in the Theatre’s excellent Rooftop Restaurant makes the trip a special event. The memories of seeing Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Dame Judi Dench, or Sir Anthony Sher perform the great roles of the canon build the anticipation of seeing a play even if we have seen the title performed before. The RSC has a huge responsibility to showcase the works, to broaden their appeal and enhance and build on its four-hundred-year legacy. The balance between innovation in the staging to “freshen” its appeal and staying true to the historical story is the Director’s responsibility and the choices he makes will determine the success of striking this balance.

Director Atri Banerjee states in the programme he was working “towards a more complex understanding of the world” and that the “Company member's own identities have fed into the show”. Such an approach must also help us, as an audience, understand what we are seeing and what it is saying to us and not distract us from the narrative or leave us confused over the intention. The play is a debate about regime change and the impact on the conspirators and the response from the wider public. To engage with the characters, we need to understand their status in society and feel the gravitas that enables them to carry a crowd but sadly in this production we see people casually dressed apparently of equal status speaking the lines in hysterical rages. He adds a so-called Community Chorus in black gowns who appear as observers with a curious opening to each Act when they blow over the Soothsayer and Cinna before a bizarre stomping dance that feels out of place with the historical narrative. When the assassination takes place black goo is used to symbolise blood and the conspirators remain smeared with it for the rest of the show for no obvious reason. They look like messy painters or printers rather than bloodied murderers.

Monday, 6 February 2023

REVIEW: The RSC's 2023 Production of The Tempest at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Comical, engaging and full of vibrancy – The RSC have produced a delight of humour, physical theatre and haunting melodies in this season’s production of The Tempest.

This Shakespearean piece tells the story of the magical Duke, Prospero, who had been usurped from Milan and left stranded on an island with their daughter. Traditionally played by male actors, Alex Kingston takes on the role of the sorcerous character who with the help of slave Caliban and servant Ariel, navigates a storm of opportunity to win back her dukedom. 

Thursday, 10 November 2022

REVIEW: The RSC's A Christmas Carol at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

A time-honoured Dickens novel adapted once more into another classic Christmas show... Is it possible to keep a story fresh and invigorating when it has been done repeatedly in the last century? The answer, of course, is a resounding yes! The Royal Shakespeare Company have once more showcased a masterclass of traditional theatre - displaying the perfect balance of heart-tugging sentiment and pure family comedy.

Based on Charles Dickens’ 1843 sell out Novella, A Christmas Carol tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a mean miser and ruthless loan-shark who loans money to poverty-stricken families he knows cannot pay back – a cruel routine to harvest debts at an ample rate. The tale pans out over Christmas Eve right through to Boxing Day. Scrooge is visited by the spirit of his former business partner Jacob Marley, in an attempt to warn him of the heartless existence he is living and that three spirits will be visiting him throughout the night, in an attempt to relieve him of his desolate future. The ghosts of past, present and future force him to relive key events in his life that have made him this way, show him how he is perceived by his peers and what his inevitable fate will be if he continues living his life in selfishness and greed.

Thursday, 25 August 2022

REVIEW: All’s Well That Ends Well at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

In forty years of theatre going, I had never seen William Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well so it was a delight to travel up to Stratford upon Avon to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s latest production on a summer evening. The beautiful setting by the river where we sat for an hour before dining a three-course meal in the excellent the Rooftop Restaurant of the theatre was a perfect prequel to the play. Yet this production of what is often described as a “problem play” fell far short of these expectations in part due to the restricted view from the stalls seat alongside the Stage left walkway from the thrust stage to the back of the auditorium. No doubt other audience members had a different experience to ours but the director Blanche Mcintyre’s decision to frequently place cast members where the walkway joins the stage quickly caused the Scene 1 irritation to change to frustration and became a massive distraction so that the performances could not be enjoyed.

In well over a third of the scenes, a character (often it seemed the lead Bertram) stood upright facing upstage with their back to the walkway addressing another character in perfect alignment so we could see neither’s face. Clearly, a thrust stage encounters this problem frequently and directors ought to be aware of the effect and have sightlines and blocking checked. Characters can move and turn to draw the audience in, and the upstage characters' position can be varied moving more centrally onto the thrust rather than standing upstage. If you can’t see the performer's face and emotional expressions it's very hard to engage with Shakespeare’s language unless it is delivered with a perfect rhythm and tone and too often this cast failed to do so.

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

REVIEW: DREAM, inspired by A Midsummer Night's Dream, by the Royal Shakespeare Company

On the 1-year anniversary of Theatres being closed due to Covid, the RSC invites you to explore the virtual world of the forest in which Titania’s fairy train are running wild in a thirty-minute immersive experience. It promises to be magical, interactive and an exciting glimpse into the future of live theatre. However, it is also caveated that it is Research and Development, a digital experiment to see what is possible. There are two ways of engaging with the experience, a free observer or a £10 Audience Plus player who can drop fireflies into the Forest for the live actors to interact with. Although I tried to interact with the action the whole experience felt like watching a fuzzy cartoon film that promised more than it delivered.

To create the virtual world the RSC has worked with a gaming technology platform to create software that translates the movement of live actors in a Portsmouth Guildhall based studio (a 7 metres cube called the Volume) into animated characters in a sketchily drawn forest. In fact, the sequences where we see both the actors in their special suits playing out their movements in the studio as well as the animated video are the most interesting and I would have preferred seeing them throughout. Without seeing them you might just as well be watching a pre-recorded version of the experience. The whole essence of a live experience is feeling and seeing that it is live and without that sense, the experience is dulled and less engaging.

Monday, 30 December 2019

10 Plays we can't wait for in 2020

The Watsons at the Harold Pinter Theatre

Following sold-out runs at both Chichester Festival Theatre and the Menier Chocolate Factory, Laura Wade’s The Watsons transfers to the West End in 2020. Directed by Samuel West, The Watsons played to critical acclaim at Chichester Festival Theatre in 2018 and at the Menier in 2019. 

Coming Clean at the Trafalgar Studios 

Following a critically-acclaimed, sell-out run, the smash-hit play by Kevin Elyot, writer of the landmark drama My Night With Reg, returns to Trafalgar Studios 2 in January for a strictly limited four week season. Tony and Greg seem to have love all figured out. They’re in a committed relationship but with room for a little more on the side whenever it takes their fancy. The only rule? Never sleep with the same man twice. 

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

REVIEW: Twelfth Night at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-Upon-Avon

There can't be a better place to see Shakespeare's plays than Stratford upon Avon. As you walk across the park through the trees along the river towards the RSC's home you can't help reflect that this beautiful town was his birthplace and a perfect historical home for his plays. The Royal Shakespeare theatre reopened in 2010 with a complete remodelling of the interior into a thrust stage creating a more intimate space and it provides an excellent setting for this production of Twelfth Night.

The sumptuous set is designed by Simon Higlett and draws inspiration from the Arts and Craft movement, the art of Audrey Beardsley and William Morris and creates a strong Victorian period feel. This is intermingled with period influences from Oscar Wilde, Queen Victoria's servant Abdul and Gilbert and Sullivan. In this context the transposition of the play from Illyria to a country house in Victorian England works with Feste, Viola and Sebastian becoming Indian servants, Orsino an artist and Malvolio, at times a character from comic opera. The whole setting is enhanced by Tim Mitchell's subtle atmospheric lighting and Nigel Hess's music.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Full summer 2015 season announced for the Royal Shakespeare Company

The summer 2015 season opens with Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller’s 1949 Pulitzer prize-winning play about failed dreams and thwarted ambition.  Artistic Director, Gregory Doran, directs Antony Sher in the role of Willy Loman, the downtrodden salesman of the title. Alex Hassell, who plays Prince Hal alongside Antony Sher’s Falstaff in the RSC’s current productions of Henry IV Parts I & II, will play Willy’s eldest son, Biff.   The production will be designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis with lighting by Tim Mitchell.

The repertoire continues with two plays set in Venice: Shakespeare’s uncompromising tragedies The Merchant of Venice and Othello

The Merchant of Venice will be directed by Polly Findlay, in her first Shakespeare production for the RSC.  Polly’s production of Arden of Faversham currently plays in the Swan Theatre as part of ‘The Roaring Girls’ season. She has directed Protest Song at The Shed at the National Theatre and will direct Treasure Island at the National Theatre at the end of 2014.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies extend until 4 October 2014

Due to overwhelming success, Playful Productions and the Royal Shakespeare Company are thrilled to announce that Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies will extend by four weeks. The productions will now play at the Aldwych Theatre until 4 October 2014. Tickets for the extension go on public sale today.

Hilary Mantel’s enormously popular books have been adapted for the stage in two parts by Mike Poulton. The adaptations were commissioned by Playful Productions and brought to the stage by the RSC, working in collaboration with Playful. Directed by Jeremy Herrin, the productions have met with universal acclaim since premiering at the Swan Theatre in Stratford–upon-Avon and transferring into the West End.


Monday, 19 May 2014

FIRST LOOK: Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies at the Aldwych Theatre

On Saturday 17thMay, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies celebrated their opening night at the Aldwych Theatre, London WC2. After the performance, creative team, cast and guests headed to The Royal Horseguards in Whitehall for a party.

Following a sell-out run at the RSC’s Swan Theatre, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies open at the Aldwych Theatre. This is the first time Hilary Mantel’s enormously popular books have been adapted for the stage. Adapted by Mike Poulton and directed by Jeremy Herrin, the two plays tell the compelling story of the political rise to power of Thomas Cromwell from blacksmith’s boy to Henry VIII’s right hand man.

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