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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.

Saturday, 30 October 2021

REVIEW: The Magician’s Elephant at the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-Upon-Avon

The RSC return to their indoor home at Stratford upon Avon with another Children’s show (6+) for the Christmas period hoping to catch the family market as an alternative to Pantomime and produce the next Matilda. You can see the money lavished on this world premiere of a new musical turning Kate Di Camillo’s book into a full-blown production but at two and half hours running time it needs to be good to hold our attention and in reality, would benefit from a heavy pruning of music and business to come in under two hours.

The story seems to borrow from other Children’s stories to create a tale of an orphaned boy and orphaned girl brought together by an Elephant. Peter, we meet above a staircase with his guardian, Vilna (with echoes of Harry Potter under the stairs with the Dursley’s) until he is inspired to search for the truth about himself. Adele, we meet in an orphanage with the Sister until she too sets out in search of dreams (shades of Annie and Miss Hannigan). Their efforts are thwarted by the Countess Quintet (with heavy Cruella De Ville overtones with hatred of children replacing dalmatians) who want to control access to the Elephant that has mysteriously arrived in Baltese (you can’t help but compare that to Joey in War Horse). To cover up the thin elongated plot plenty of comic business is introduced with a Keystone Cop Chief (overplaying the part like Ernie Wise in a play what he wrote) and a playfully downtrodden Count “who does not count”.

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.
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