Romeo and Juliet, Greenwich Theatre

https://theatreweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/JSS_8484.jpg

A self-described modern rep company, Merely Theatre is addressing Shakespeare’s  gender problem with 50/50 casting. Five male/female pairs each learn a set of characters in two plays, then on the night it’s decided who will perform. The result is a focus on clear storytelling rather than unimportant details such as the appearance or gender if individual characters. It’s a great device, and partnered with simple staging and a pace that doesn’t hang about, artistic director Scott Ellis has created a distinctive style of performance honouring the historical aesthetics of travelling players, though there’s a lack of nuance dissatisfying to modern audiences.

Continue reading

Feature | No, Dominic Cavendish – You Are the Thought Police

harriet-walter-as-king-henry

by Dr. Jami Rogers, University of Warwick

Dominic Cavendish can rest assured: he will not lose the opportunity to see his favourite (white) male actors in leading Shakespearean roles. After all, what producer would refuse Kenneth Branagh the chance to play Leontes in The Winter’s Tale or stop inviting Ralph Fiennes to work his way through the classical canon? The star system remains overwhelmingly skewed towards the (white) male and, as such, any (white) male classical actor who fancies it will most likely be first in line for a West End Shakespearean lead. Antony Sher has just played King Lear and Simon Russell Beale showed us his Prospero, to name two more male classical actors who are not exactly short of Shakespearean work. Cavendish’s opinion piece is misguided in its assertion that men are an endangered species on the classical stage – and somewhat light on facts.

Continue reading

Richard III, Rosemary Branch Theatre

https://theblogoftheatrethings.files.wordpress.com/2017/01/elena-clements-buckingham-sam-coulson-richard-c2a9-caroline-galea.jpg?w=600&h=400

Bill Clinton once told Kevin Spacey that 99% of political thriller ‘House of Cards’ is real – a terrifying thought. Whether true or not, Spacey’s character Frank Underwood has clear parallels with Shakespeare’s Richard III what with the former’s ruthless climb to the US presidency. New company Godot’s Watch picked up on the similarity between the two rulers, taking inspiration from the tv series for their small-scale update to Shakespeare’s popular history play. Though the production has some canny choices, the concept comes across as a generic modern-dress adaptation with some pronounced weaknesses.

Continue reading

Interview: Mark Brailsford on Staging Shakespeare’s Stories

https://i2.wp.com/www.brightonandhovenews.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/DSC01425.jpeg

When Brighton Shakespeare Company’s press release for their Macbeth tour of historical churches in Brighton and Sussex landed in my inbox, I was sorry I couldn’t make it. Shakespeare productions in churches and cathedrals wonderfully hark back to the grandeur of private performances for noblemen and royalty in the 16th century. Shakespeare’s epic stories sit well in the sweeping architecture of these ancient buildings, and on a practical level it’s a great way for companies to save money on sets and reach audiences in rural locations.

Used to the plethora of venues that showcase small-scale, fringe and progressive approaches to Shakespeare in London, I was curious about BSC’s unusually traditional approach. I spoke to artistic director and founder of this new regional company, Mark Brailsford, about the company’s work.

Tell me a bit about Brighton Shakespeare Company and its mission.

The BSC’s ethos takes a character-led approach inspired by Ron Moody and Stephen Berkoff. The company’s aims are to bring individual, characterful actors to the classics in the style of the time the plays were written.

How do you approach Shakespeare? What concepts to you employ?

We are apparently called radical because we set our productions in the period, something not many companies seem to do these days and we’re happy with this label. Many companies, but not all, like to have directors impose their directorial vision onto the plays whereas my approach is to be true to the story and genius of the Bard himself. [I aim] to bring them to life by allowing the story to stand on its own terms. After all, it seems to have worked for 400 years.

Why stage Shakespeare for audiences today?

[The] story. The themes and narratives are as relevant today as they have ever been. Love and loss, pain and laughter, war and peace and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. These exist in day-to-day lives all over the world.

What are some of the obstacles you and the company face?

Lack of money! We’re unfunded and back our shows via crowdfunding and box office.

Shakespeare is known for not supporting diversity. What steps are you taking to redress the balance?

This is a myth as there was more diversity in Shakespeare than commonly thought, especially for his time. His women are very strong characters, Othello was black and one of the best take-downs of antisemitism was Shylock’s speech in Merchant of Venice. He also gave prominent parts to working class characters, not a theme of Elizabethan life at the time.*

What do you hope audiences take away from your productions?

Joy, a tingling spine and a thrilling comprehension of the play.

*These views are not representative of those held by The Play’s the Thing UK or its writers.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

Undead Bard, Theatre N16

robert-crighton-in-metal-harvest

Professor Ashborn is on a mission to disprove Shakespeare’s existence, but the academics with leather patches on their elbows are trying to stop him. Following Ashborn’s lecture and an interval, Undead Bard creator Robert Crighton summons Shakespeare to talk to him about his life, work and death in an unrelated second half. This two-part show on Shakespeare in the modern world, bardolatry and the authorship debate certainly has some very funny moments of satire, but others are utterly bizarre and the poor execution of an idea. A significantly stronger first act sets up a reasonably enjoyable event, but the second is self-indulgent and anti-climactic in this overly long solo performance.

The paranoid Professor Ashborn’s lecture rips the piss out of Shakespeare academics, those that believe Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare’s works, those that believe someone else did under Shakespeare’s name and anyone with a love for Shakespeare’s plays. Crighton as Ashborn talks the audience through his various ridiculous authorship theories with energy and eccentric humour, evoking plenty of laughs. The script follows a natural rhythm of discovery, disappointment and eventual confession; it’s a story carefully crafted with intuition and skill.

Considering the second act, the first would be better served as a stand-alone piece. After what is quite a good piece of character storytelling, this random, rambling seance on the mundanity of Shakespeare’s life and afterlife is, well, mundane. The inclusion of toilet humour and sexual innuendo do not improve the piece. Shakespeare’s confusion at his legacy is cute, but it absolutely doesn’t warrant nearly an hour of discourse and disconnected pop culture references.

Crighton clearly has an aptitude for crafting a story, as evidenced in the first part of the show. Unfortunately, the rest of it is a muddled letdown that needs to be sent back to the drawing board or discarded completely.

Undead Bard runs through 13 October.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged), Edinburgh Festival Fringe

https://i2.wp.com/bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/southbendtribune.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/0/fe/0fe0f435-1c5f-5858-af5e-9114b0616351/55c5004c8b770.image.jpg

When I was a teenager, I discovered the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged). My love for Shakespeare had already started to grow, and I thought the script was brilliantly funny and clever. I never saw a professional production of it, or any of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s subsequent plays, until their newest, William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (Abridged).

I found it hugely disappointing. The humour I found so witty and topical in the mid-90s, though updated, is bound in hackneyed and punny dialogue. The lack of fourth wall is great, but the panto-esque delivery feels cheesy, dated and over long. The script is fine in concept, but its execution is muddy. My tastes have clearly changed over the last twenty years and the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s work is no longer has the impact it once did.

However, the packed house laugh plenty so their style and concept are clearly still popular. Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor’s play is a mashup of most, if not all, of Shakespeare’s plays in one. Found in a Leicester carpark with a pile of bones, this is the never before seen script where Shakespeare tries to fit all his ideas in one in a totally nonsensical story.

Martin, Tichenor and Teddy Spencer are the three performers who play all roles. Their quick changes and timing are most impressive, though they rely on stale stereotypes and basic jokes to generate characters. Ariel from The Tempest becomes the mermaid, a handful of characters are inexplicably gay, and there’s even a joke about Viagra. (Are Viagra jokes even funny anymore?)

The show and the company are still popular after all these years, in spite of shallow, unsophisticated humour. Though the format clearly has staying power and wide appeal, it’s distinctive style in one for those with a penchant for comedy.

William Shakespeare’s Long Lost First Play (abridged) runs through 29th August, then tours.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

Queen Lear, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

https://www.thestage.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Queen-Lear-700x455.jpg

What happened to King Lear’s wife? The woman who birthed the three daughters that he loves so dearly is never mentioned in his title play. Back in the ’80s, the Women’s Theatre Group and Elaine Feinstein created Lear’s Daughters, a flawed, feminist play attempting to reason why Goneril and Regan do what they do by depicting the girls’ upbringing. Their mother is present, but ill and rarely thought upon until her death at the hands of a sex-crazed maniac. Lear and his obsession with having a son cost her her life.

Ronnie Dorsey, perhaps inspired by this version that focused on the daughters rather than their mother, puts the young queen centre stage in Queen Lear. Also a feminist perspective, this script is reflective and revealing, but slow to develop and incorporates a disconnected subplot that results in an unlikely end.

Alice Allemano is the young queen, heavily pregnant with her second child. Goneril and Regan are the daughters of his first wife, a good device that explains the sisters’ disconnect in Shakespeare’s play. Lear’s need for a son translates to her conviction that the child is a boy, but the pregnancy has not gone well. She is overdue, in constant pain, and begs her nurse and the Father overseeing her care to cut the baby from her body. Through her medicated delirium, she reveals her transition from blushing, wide-eyed bride at 16 to an abused incubator. Jane Goddard plays the nurse and Mary McCusker the priest; the trio of women have a warm, maternal chemistry and all are excellent performers.

Dorsey’s script, whilst an interesting premise, has some issues. The dialogue is overwritten and obstructions any natural tension that would arise from the situation. It also slows down narrative progression and often feels clumsy. The secondary plotline, though it has potential to develop into its own story, feels out of place and not fully integrated. The big reveal is barely acknowledged by the other characters, briefly discussed, then forgotten about in light of the queen’s health.

A thorough trimming would do the text a world of good and free up space for more action. The performances are strong and the examination of this forgotten character compelling, but one that could be executed more smoothly.

Queen Lear runs through 29th August.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.