Tag: Shakespeare

Review: RSC production of Richard II delivers on every level

Oliver Ford Davis, Nigel Lindsay and David Tennant in Richard II.

Oliver Ford Davis, Nigel Lindsay and David Tennant in the RSC production of Richard II.

Much praise has been heaped on Gregory Doran’s production of Richard II for the RSC at Stratford and it is indeed a gripping exploration of the politics and psychology of power. It contains some of Shakespeare’s most stirring speeches and these were handled superbly by the immensely talented cast members.

It is a performance which is drenched in medieval mythology. From the traditional costume to the pageantry of the three trumpet players and the piety of the trio of sopranos this is a tale which is placed firmly in an era of royal instability and brutal power struggles.

With his flowing blond locks and feminine demeanour, David Tennant brings an almost angelic quality to his Richard II and there are even occasional moments of humanity. As his crown slips from his clutches, Richard, who came to the throne at the age of just 10, gives a speech about the perils of kingship. He tells us that ‘some have been deposed; some slain in war’ while others are ‘haunted by the ghosts they have deposed; some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d’ – and all because death keeps court ‘within the hollow crown’.

But don’t deceived by this apparent frailty; it is his tyranny, apparent from the beginning in his decision to have his uncle the Duke of Gloucester killed, which come to define him as a vain, power-hungry monarch.

Compelling performances came from every actor who walked on stage. Nigel Lindsay played Bolingbroke, who seized the crown and became Henry IV, and although he was thuggish he was also confident and commanded a respect which eluded Richard. Jane Lampotaire, meanwhile, put on a gut-wrenching performance as the grieving widow of the Duke of Gloucester and as the play opens, she can be seen draped across his coffin.

Medieval politics, particularly a belief in the divine right of kings, may seem very alien to a modern audience but the eloquent speeches, created by Shakespeare and brought to life by the actors made for a truly spine-tingling performance.

Richard II was performed at the RSC in Stratford and broadcast live in venues across the UK including Derby’s Quad. It will be showing at Broadway Cinema from 23rd November to 7th December.

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Impressive staging of Richard III at Nottingham Playhouse

Ian Bartholomew

Ian Bartholomew as Richard III

The last time I saw Ian Bartholomew perform he played a very convincing dictator in The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui at Nottingham Playhouse. Brecht’s masterpiece, an allegory which examines Hitler’s rise to power, draws us in to the point where we feel complicit in the terrible acts he committed.

As with his portrayal of Arturo Ui, Bartholomew has a mighty stage presence in Shakespeare’s Richard III which recently opened at the Playhouse. He’s dressed in a Gestapo-like military uniform and jackboots (another nod to Hitler) but he does not immediately appear to be the despot you expect. In fact, he’s somewhat self-deprecating and comical and by addressing the audience directly, he makes us feel part of his wicked scheme.

But the violence of this era nevertheless pervades the performance. A monarch’s reign, often established through battle, cruelty and strategic marriages, was by no means secure and this meant atrocious acts were committed like the imprisonment of the princes in the tower.

And in a perverse twist, Charles Daish, who plays Clarence, staggers onto stage on crutches, his face visibly pained, after suffering a real injury during rehearsals.

All of the actors performed well and the traditional Shakespearean delivery was peppered with an element of playfulness: I particularly liked the depiction of the two murderers as an East-End gangster and a young hooligan dressed in a hoodie, complete with cockney accents.

They also used the entire theatre to great effect and in the climatic moment when Richard is declared king, he stands on the balcony and we sit, surrounded by his supporters, gazing up at him.

On stage, the grey backdrop gives us a sense of foreboding, while the night before the Battle of Bosworth Field, horrifying visions are projected onto the white tent in which Richard fights his demons. The final battle scene was also wonderfully dramatic, with swords clashing and bodies strewn across the ground.

In the Playhouse’s production of 1984 last month the quest for absolute power is explored and this play follows on neatly from that. Although many historians now view Shakespeare’s Richard III as a piece of Tudor propaganda and are less inclined to apply a modern moral framework to his actions, there is no denying that this is a fascinating examination of power, tyranny and oppression. It’s also a must-see if, like me, you have been hooked by the discovery of the remains of the last Plantagenet king in Leicester.

Richard III is on at Nottingham Playhouse until 16th November. For details visit the website. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter with the hashtag #mykingdomforahorse

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Review: No errors but plenty of comedy in New Theatre and Fine Frenzy production

comedy

In Shakespeare’s time, actors normally had 48 to rehearse a play which would no doubt have given it a raw energy and fearlessness that is sometimes lacking in modern productions.

It’s something that many performers may be reluctant to try but in a new interpretation of The Comedy of Errors, members of Nottingham University’s New Theatre and Fine Frenzy Theatre have created a pared down performance which captures the ‘anything could happen’ element that would have been familiar in Shakespeare’s day.

As we enter the theatre, we are greeted by the narrator, Ben Williamson, who is dressed as a baby (in a onesie) in a nursery full of toys – not very Shakesperean I hear you say. He explains that the actors had just 48 hours to put the play together and that a prompt would be helping if anyone couldn’t remember their lines (he wasn’t needed).

The play tells the story of two twins, Antipholus of Syracuse and Antipholus of Ephesus, and their slaves, Dromio of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus, who are separated in a shipwreck. What follows is a glorious tale of mistaken identities full of bawdy characters, such as the courtesan played by Emma McDonald with her brilliant West Country accent.

All the lines were delivered superbly with an immediacy and raucousness; when Dromio of Syracuse (played by Aaron Tej) describes the maid who has fallen in love with him as being so fat that ‘she is spherical. I could find out countries in her’ the audience roared with laughter.

The toys made frequent appearances throughout the play. Ben Williamson, in his other role as the strong arm of the law, donned a police officer’s hat and as tempers fray a fight breaks out involving water pistols and glittter.

This wasn’t a clipped and polished performance and it was all the better for it. The actors weren’t simply reciting their lines –  they were really living them which was really refreshing to see and it created a fantastic carnival-like atmosphere.

This production of The Comedy of Errors will be performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival later this summer.

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High drama in Nottingham for the New Year

After a week (or possibly a month) of festive fuddles, impromptu mid-week drinks and trashy TV, I am looking forward to dragging myself off the sofa and immersing myself in some world-class drama in Nottingham – so here are a just a few of my top picks.

At the Playhouse, the season kicks off with some improvised live theatre when Court in the Act! opens on 1st February for a three-night run. Six actors will create a comic courtroom drama in which you – the audience – take the role of jury.

There is also plenty in store for Shakespeare fans including an exploration of some of his darker characters in Shakespeare’s Villains on 7th February. Here Steven Berkoff draws on Shakespeare’s own words to look at why characters such as Macbeth and Richard III do what they do. In addition, there will be the chance to see a new and passionate interpretation of the tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet from 13th until 24th March.

The life of another great literary talent is examined in Mary Shelley (17th April – 5th May). The daughter of early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and the lover of Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein when she was just 19-years-old – a piece which explored revolutionary ideas about playing ‘God’ and nature versus nurture.

Meanwhile, at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal, there is another chance to see J.B. Priestley’s classic An Inspector Calls (24th – 28th January). Fresh from its fourth season in the West End, this atmospheric thriller – with its impressive stage set – looks at the responsibility of the middle classes to  members of society who are not as privileged as them. This Modernist masterpiece also throws into doubt the values of the old world order.

The world premiere of David Seidler’s The King Speech – the play which inspired last year’s Oscar-winning film – will take place on 13th February and runs until 18th. It is the story of King George VI’s struggle to overcome a stammer as Britain stood on the brink of the Second World War.

Addiction and family strife are at the centre of Eugene O’Neill’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Long Day’s Journey into the Night (5th – 10th March), which stars David Suchet. This is followed by an RSC production of the Taming of the Shrew (13th – 17th March) which sees the flamboyant Petruchio attempt to woo – and tame – the wild Katharina.

And last but not least, Blind Summit will be presenting its unique puppet show The Table at Nottingham University’s Lakeside (31st January – 1st February). The show, which was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last summer, includes a puppet who is stuck to the table, a ballet of disembodied heads and the story being told using pieces of paper emerging from a briefcase.

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