Doctor Faustus or the enemy within

Stratford-upon-Avon, RSC, Swan Theatre, 4th February – 4th August 2016

Faustus and man’s eternal temptation to sell his soul. Marlowe and Goethe take their title character from the same source, but Marlowe’s Faustus is, like Marlowe himself, an enfant terrible, a hectic, restless, indomitable and intellectually insatiable genius.

Oliver Ryan and Sandy Grierson

Oliver Ryan and Sandy Grierson

In this production, directed by Maria Aberg, one aspect is clear from the very beginning: Mephistopheles and Faustus are one, evil does not lurk outside or in other people. It is the result of human free choice and ponderation of interests – be it for the sake of knowledge or be it to satisfy the traditional addictive habits that Marlowe presents in their categorisation as seven deadly sins, a term used since the times of early Christianity: pride, covetousness, envy, wrath, lechery, gluttony and sloth.

Doctor FaustusOliver Ryan and Sandy Grierson appear on stage, dressed alike, and they each light a match. He, whose flame goes out first, plays Faustus.
His past life is standing around him as books in boxes, unsettled, and he is cursing the limitations of available knowledge. Magic, and therefore in the logic the late 16th century, hell, is supposed to satisfy his need for insight and repute.
The end is predetermined.

Director Maria Aberg draws Faustus’s inner odyssey like a Dance of Death, a downward spiral, with breathtaking dynamics of expression and movement.Doctor Faustus
The inner and outer world of the lost character, wandering about on the edge, appear in a series of grotesque and fascinating figures that seem to have sprung from intoxicated nightmares: Satan, the Seven Deadly Sins, Faustus’s ghost army that sometimes takes zombie-like features, the faceless Imperial Guard and others create, in conjunction with Orlando Gough’s space setting music, stirring eddies of pictures.

An incredible climax is reached at Faustus’s encounter with the woman of his dreams, Helen of Troy, “the face that launched a thousand ships”.
“Give me my soul again,” he pleads with her and their dance, their unlived lives, Helen’s (Jade Croot) and Faustus’s (Sandy Grierson or Oliver Ryan) attempt to connect, is one of those theatre moments with a heartbeat of their own, in which the world comes to a standstill.
A production that is disquieting. And that’s a good thing.

A deep bow to this ensemble, the director, the music and especially Ayse Tashkiran’s choreography and movement.

Design: Naomi Dawson
Lighting: Lee Curran
Sound: Tom Gibbons

Photos: Helen Maybanks ©

Queen Anne, the remarkable elusive monarch

Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 19 November 2015 to 23 January 2016
Caught in yet another dramatic phase of Britain’s religiously warring royal history, harassed by a fate of 17 continuous miscarriages, Anne ascended to the throne as a rather unlikely contender. Her right to succession and her suitedness were contestable, but she turned out to be England’s lucky card.Queen Anne production photos_ 2015_2015_Photo by Manuel Harlan _c_ RSC_180042
Helen Edmundson’s new play about the last ruler of the House of Stuart before the Hanoverians took over, sheds an intimate light on a lesser known wedge of political drama.
Central to the play is the relationship between Anne and her longtime favourite Sarah Churchill.Queen Anne production photos_ 2015_2015_Photo by Manuel Harlan _c_ RSC_179872
Sarah, ice-cold and cunning, uses the Queen’s affection for her own and her husband’s, the famous commander John Churchill’s ambition.
Natascha McElhone’s Sarah is a controlling, dangerous powerhouse and seems to strew icicles in her path – only when with her husband (Robert Cavanah) and son (Elliott Ross), she switches on a measure of human warmth.
Diametrically opposed to her, we find Emma Cunniffe’s Queen Anne. Her portrayal of the journey from being one unhappy dysfunctional incubator not fulfilling her only job of producing protestant heirs, to a still suffering but resolute and caring mother of her subjects is drawn with such tenderness and empathy that one cannot not be magnetised into her emotional struggle.
In a smaller role, but just as heart-warming, Hywel Morgan’s Prince George of Denmark, Anne’s husband. His boyish charm, underscored by a lovely Danish accent come over as the consolation poor Anne deserved. Their chemistry is amazing.
Queen Anne production photos_ 2015_2015_Photo by Manuel Harlan _c_ RSC_179960In parliament, these are the times of the first massive party machinations between Whigs and Tories. The Churchills, together with Sydney Godolphin, the Lord Chancellor (Richard Hope, showing him as dignified and amiable) stand for the Whig faction, whilst Robert Harley, Leader of the Commons, keeps trying to maintain a balance.
This latter part is filled with much latent irony by Jonathan Broadbent. His catchphrase “Yes, no, maybe …” ends up being expected impatiently and each time harvests a round of laughs.
In another likeable role, Beth Parks plays Abigail Hill who starts off as a humble chamber maid and in time earns the Queen’s trust – a neat and lovely performance.Queen Anne production photos_ 2015_2015_Photo by Manuel Harlan _c_ RSC_179818
Political satire had a first heyday in this era, three of its protagonists, Jonathan Swift (Tom Turner), Daniel Defoe (Carl Prekopp) and Arthur Maynwaring (Jonathan Christie) complement the production with a hint of carnival and daring lightness voiced in raucous insolent songs.
Directed by Natalie Abrahami, Queen Anne is a glorious way to end an RSC year – but also to start a new one, as it runs through to 23 January.

Daisy Ashford (Lady Clarendon); Jonathan Broadbent (Robert Harley); Robert Cavanah (John Churchill); Jonathan Christie (Arthur Maynwaring); Emma Cunniffe (Queen Anne); Daniel Easton (Colonel Masham); Michael Fenton Stevens (Dr John Radcliffe); Richard Hope (Sidney Godolphin) ; Natascha McElhone (Sarah Churchill); Hywel Morgan (Prince George of Denmark); Beth Park (Abigail Hill); Carl Prekopp (Defoe/William III); Jenny Rainsford (Jezebel/Lady-in-Waiting); Elliott Ross (Jack Churchill); Anna Tierney (Lady Somerset); Tom Turner (Jonathan Swift); Ragevan Vasan (Groom).
Director Natalie Abrahami design Hannah Clark; lighting Charles Balfour; music & sound Ben and Max Ringham; movement Ann Yee; video Will Duke

Photos by Manuel Harlan (c) RSC

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Hecuba and the other side of a heroic epic

RSC Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 17 September to 17 October 2015
Troy was defeated after a 10-year siege, it is remembered as a subject of legends, and the names of this war’s heroes, Agamemnon, Odysseus, Achilles, have become immortal. The heroes’ wives and their difficulties have had quite a few mentions in literature and film. But what became of the losing side, the women, the children? 700 years after the destruction of Troy, the Greek playwright Euripides wrote two tragedies about the Trojan women, with Queen Hecuba as a central figure, but still from a Greek and male perspective.
The new version by Marina Carr, Hecuba in the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, sees the events through the eyes of these female characters. Hecuba production photos_ 2015_Photo by Topher McGrillis _c_ RSC_HEC-RST-0126Based on and deviating from Homer’s Iliad and Euripides’ Hecuba, the emphasis is with those whose world breaks apart. However, Carr also finds words for the traces that this war left behind in the winners’ souls. A very specific narrative style, in which the characters also take over the function of narrators and commentators, casts a dense spell, right from the outset.
A drama that literally takes your breath away, an emotional tour de force ride and a deeply captivating experience.
Dearbhle Crotty in the role of Hecuba lets the audience feel her fathomless fall, the loss of her children, her husband, her role in life – an incredibly sensitive and heartbreaking portrayal.
Opposite her, Ray Fearon as Agamemnon, the victorious commander, whose superiority seems to be hanging by a thread. Fearon masterly shows the hero’s emotional set-up, damaged by his own actions as much as by what he experienced, and despite all that not enabling him to prevent further atrocities.Hecuba production photos_ 2015_Photo by Topher McGrillis _c_ RSC_HEC-RST-0077
Nadia Albina is Hecubas daughter Cassandra, the seer. Annoying and unloved due to her prophecies, she becomes the cynical outsider. Hecuba production photos_ 2015_Photo by Topher McGrillis _c_ RSC_HEC-RST-0047Breathtakingly raw, irreverent and troubling.
Her sister Polyxena, played by Amy McAllister, is her exact antithesis – gentle, almost childlike, very delicately depicted. A fabulous performance by the young actress in her RSC debut.
Lara Stubbs convinces as Hecuba’s woman Xenia, but especially when she takes on the singer’s part, who with short elements of laments turns the struggle of human beings against their intolerable fate into darting flames of sound that seem to exist outside of time and space. Powerful stuff!Hecuba production photos_ 2015_Photo by Topher McGrillis _c_ RSC_HEC-RST-0012
Edmund Kingsley is a disturbed Polymestor, commissioned as protector of Hecuba’s youngest son and like him and his children a pawn of war.
Chu Omambala represents Odysseus as a cynical war technocrat and David Ajao is the fatherless and yet compassionate Nepotolemus, Achilles’ son.
Polydorus, Hecuba’s last surviving son is played by alternating young actors – absolutely impressive, Nilay Sah, Luca-Saraceni-Gunner and also Marcus Acquari.
Massive applause to Erica Whyman’s direction and the music composed by Isobel Waller-Bridge, played under the direction of Candida Caldicot.

Photos by Topher McGrillis © RSC

David Ajao – Nepotolemus
Nadia Albina – Cassandra
Derbhle Crotty – Hecuba
Ray Fearon – Agamemnon
Edmund Kingsley – Polymestor
Amy McAllister – Polyxena
Chu Omambala – Odysseus
Lara Stubbs – Xenia/Singer

Director – Erica Whyman
Designer – Soutra Gilmour
Lighting – Charles Balfour
Music – Isobel Waller-Bridge
Sound – Andrew Franks
Movement – Ayse Tashkiran

Othello, where everyday horror prevails

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 4 June – 27 August, 2015, live in cinemas on 26/08/2015

Othello, as per dug out information remembered from school days would look like this: Sneaky Iago drives an easily led black general, Othello, into raging jealousy ending in the murder of his angelic and innocent wife Desdemona. “The green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” Cleverly described, but probably a little racist in the choice of participants.

Othello production images_ 2015_Photo by Keith Pattison _c_ RSC_Othello.2493In this version directed by Iqbal Khan, the picture is significantly more complex. Iago (Lucian Msamati) is by no means fairer skinned than Othello, and already in the first scene, in a gondola together with Roderigo (James Corrigan), the racist reference to Othello as “thick lips” vexes him personally. His main incitement, however, is the blow to his pride caused by Cassio’s promotion in which he was passed over.
Whilst Desdemona’s father (Brian Protheroe) is protesting to the Duke (Nadia Albina) against the kidnapping of his daughter (Joanna Vanderham), Othello is entrusted with the task of rescuing the state.
Hugh Quarshie, appearing here as an authority figure as well as a sensual and attractive specimen of eye candy in the prime of his life, leaves no doubt as to what attracted Desdemona to him. According to Shakespeare’s words, it was pity, hmmm.

After a successful battle, the victory celebrations take place in Cyprus. Joanna Vanderham’s Desdemona, with her dance, does not fail to impress Cassio (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd), the cause of Iago’s wounded pride. Here already, Othello gives us a clue that jealousy is not entirely beyond him.
The atmosphere reaches its climax when, after a folksong from Zimbabwe – sung by Iago-Lucian Msamati, Cassio and Montano (David Ajoa) engage in a rap battle.

Controlled by Iago, the situation becomes messy and turns into a fight. Suddenly, all the lightness is lost.Othello production images_ 2015_Photo by Keith Pattison _c_ RSC_Othello.3234
The next scene painfully reminds the audience of the fact that the world of the military is not throughout unblemished and heroic: From the “almost venial” fight through to the torture of a prisoner, a backdrop of the ever-present open or subliminal violence is drawn.
From now on, Iago is working relentlessly on the kindling of Othello’s jealousy. When Iago’s wife Emilia (Ayesha Dharker) delivers the requested handkerchief that Desdemona dropped, the fuse is set alight.Othello production images_ 2015_Photo by Keith Pattison _c_ RSC_Othello.2866
The web of deceit, wounded honour and self-righteous violence becomes a death-trap for Desdemona, and not just her.

Electrifying, funny, tragic and absolutely convincing, Lucian Msamati dominates the stage as Iago.
Hugh Quarshie’s representation of Othello in his transformation from being amiable, charming and a little boyish to becoming an obsessed “honour” killer is an achievement of nail-biting authenticity.
Joanna Vanderham dances and sparkles her enchanting Desdemona until she becomes anxious and quiet.
Ayesha Dharker fills the part of Emilia with heart and wit, and in her big scene towards the end, she sets off a firework display of emotions.
A massive kudos to the fantastic music under the direction of Akintayo Akinbode.

Photos by Keith Pattison © RSC

Nadia Albina – Duke of Venice
David Ajao – Montano
Scarlett Brookes – Bianca
James Corrigan – Roderigo
Ayesha Dharker – Emilia
Eva Feiler – Citizen of Venice
Owen Findlay – Gentleman of Cyprus
Jacob Fortune-Lloyd – Cassio
Guy Hughes – Soldier
Rina Mahoney – Citizen of Venice
Lucian Msamati – Iago
Ken Nwosu – Gentleman of Cyprus
Brian Protheroe – Brabantio
Hugh Quarshie – Othello
Jay Saighal – Gentleman of Cyprus
Tim Samuels – Lodovico
Joanna Vanderham – Desdemona

Director – Iqbal Khan
Set Designer – Ciaran Bagnall
Costume designer – Fotini Dimou
Lighting – Ciaran Bagnall
Music – Akintayo Akinbode
Sound – Andrew Franks
Movement – Diane Alison-Mitchell
Fight Director – Kev McCurdy

Loves’s Sacrifice, the power of unrequited love

RSC Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 11th April – 24th June, 2015

As with many other renaissance plays, at first sight, the plot of this rarely performed play by John Ford looks a bit far-fetched.
A recently married Duke whose best friend is in love with the Duke’s young wife, the Duke’s widowed sister who fancies the best friend who…
A courtier who fancies the widow who fancies… A womanizer who gets two ladies in waiting and one other lady pregnant and an ageing beau who also shows an interest in the Duke’s sister. Sigh, one is disposed to fear the worst.

However, the surprise couldn’t be more pleasant and entertaining and 1633 meets the 21st century seemingly effortless. Matthew Dunster’s production vibrates with intensity and humour and it plays upon so many emotional experiences of timeless human nature that lastly, it is only the splendorous costumes supervised by Sabine Lemaître that position the story in the 17th century. Anna Fleischle designed a fascinating set, accentuating the plot by intriguingly backlit arches and space creating video projections.

Love's Sacrifice

Matthew Needham as Duke of Pavy

Amazing in his part as the Duke of Pavy, Matthew Needham initially behaves youthfully impulsive, though comprehensible, but bit by bit he lets transpire that his fits of enthusiasm are a weak cover for his rather unhinged personality.
In the character of his sister Fiormonda, Beth Cordingly represents his female equivalent. Her portrayal makes it crystal clear that through her permanently vexed ego, Fiormonda has no chance to make positive decisions.

Love's Sacrifice

Matthew Needham and Catrin Stewart as Duke and Duchess of Pavy

Jonathan McGuiness displays D’Avolos, the Duke’s secretary, as a particularly interesting personality. One wonders whether he has a personal weak spot for Fiormonda or just a lot of empathy with her situation. He is a spin doctor who is convinced that he is pulling all strings for the greater good and at the end is honestly surprised that he is held responsible for the tragic turn of events.

The young Duchess Bianca, that’s Catrin Stewart showing her as someone who is honestly confused. There is even a slight reminiscence of Sissy, the poor Austrian Empress, about her.

Jamie Thomas King as Fernando

Jamie Thomas King as Fernando

Her admirer Fernando (Jamie Thomas King), the Duke’s friend, is torn between reason and emotion and ends up squashed between these fronts.

Matthew Kelly and Colin Ryan as Mauruccio and Giacopo

Matthew Kelly and Colin Ryan as Mauruccio and Giacopo

A highly touchingly comical part is Mauruccio, the ageing society junkie, played by Matthew Kelly. As his servant Giacapo, Colin Ryan amazes with a massive show stealing capacity.

Not least through the breathtaking musical scenery written by Alexander Balanescu and a fabulous movement display by Charlotte Broom, this production is one to remember fondly.

Photos by Helen Maybanks ©RSC


Andy Apollo – Ferentes
Sheila Atim – Julia
Guy Burgess – Nibrassa
Beth Cordingly – Fiormonda
Geoffrey Freshwater – Abbot
Marcus Griffiths – Roseilli
Rhiannon Handy – Colona
Simon Hedger  – Guard
Julian Hoult – Attendant
Matthew Kelly – Mauruccio
Jamie Thomas King – Fernando
Jonathan McGuinness – D’Avolos
Annette McLaughlin – Morona
Matthew Needham  – Duke of Pavy
Richard Rees  – Petruchio
Colin Ryan – Giacapo
Nav Sidhu – Attendant
Catrin Stewart – Bianca
Gabby Wong – Attendant
Director – Matthew Dunster
Designer – Anna Fleischle
Lighting – Lee Curran
Music – Alexander Balanescu
Sound – Ian Dickinson
Movement – Charlotte Broom
Video – Dick Straker

The Jew of Malta – a microcosmos of human misbehaviour

Eerily topical, Christopher Marlowe’s bold stab at the dirty sides of all three Abrahamic religions found a thrilling interpretation by Justin Audibert and his ingenious ensemble on the RSC’s Swan stage.The Jew of Malta production photos_ 2015_Photo by Ellie Kurttz (c) RSC_JEW 0149

Barabas, the Jew, has built up considerable wealth, when Malta has to pay tribute to the Turks, and the Christian Governor requisitions Jewish property to cover these costs. Not willing to give up half of his possessions, Barabas protests, whereupon he is beaten, spat at and robbed of everything. The Jew of Malta production photos_ 2015_Photo by Ellie Kurttz (c) RSC_JEW 0280
In his revenge, he uses his daughter’s charms against the Governor’s son and Don Mathias, her other suitor, who kill each other. The Jew of Malta production photos_ 2015_Photo by Ellie Kurttz (c) RSC_JEW 0335He then employs his slave Ithamore in a poisoning plot against the nuns who converted his house into a convent, and his daughter, who sought refuge with them. Next, they murder one of the two greedy, lecherous friars and frame the other for it.The Jew of Malta production photos_ 2015_Photo by Ellie Kurttz (c) RSC_JEW 0168

Barabas opens the city gates to the Turks for invasion and even, for a short while, becomes Governor of Malta. Betrayed by his slave, just before he, too, dies from Barabas’s poisoning, the Jew of Malta is arrested and executed.

It has often been tried to label this play as anti-Semitic. That can hardly be true. There is no sympathy for Christian or Muslim behaviour, either. The Machiavelli character, who in the prologue says: “I count religion but a childish toy.” remains the only honest person.

An unforgiving, yet again and again hilarious storyline, wrapped in mesmerizing music by Jonathan Girling for which a special mention is owed to Adam Cross’s striking Klezmer clarinet and Anna Bolton’s beautiful singing.

The Jew of Malta production photos_ 2015_Photo by Ellie Kurttz (c) RSC_Malta_3Jasper Britton has the Jew where Marlowe must have wanted him: vulnerable, detached, cheeky. He is complemented by Catrin Stewart playing Abigail, the Jew’s kind, yet fatefully naïve daughter. Lanre Malaolu gives Ithamore, the slave, a level of such tragic neglect that he becomes the saddest character of the play.

Ferneze, Governor of Malta, that is Steven Pacey, who does a brilliant job with his portrayal of this blinkered Christian power player.
Sheer joy comes with the two “religious caterpillars”, Friar Barnadine (Geoffrey Freshwater) and Friar Jacomo (Matthew Kelly), who in their avaricious lecherousness form a very special clownesque pair.

A breathtaking, enthralling and throughout de-blinkering production which, in the 21st century, just couldn’t be more up-to-date.

18 March to 8 September 2015, Swan Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon

Photos: Ellie Kurttz © RSC


Andy Apollo – Don Lodowick
Sheila Atim – Attendant
Jasper Britton (pictured) – Barabas
Guy Burgess – First Knight
Beth Cordingly – Bellamira
Geoffrey Freshwater – Friar Barnadine
Marcus Griffiths – Calymath
Rhiannon Handy – Attendant
Simon Hedger – Merchant
Julian Hoult – Merchant
Matthew Kelly – Friar Jacomo
Annette McLaughlin – Katherine
Lanre Malaolu – Ithamore
Matthew Needham – Pilia-Borza
Steven Pacey – Ferneze
Richard Rees – Martin del Bosco
Colin Ryan – Don Mathias
Nav Sidhu – Callapine
Catrin Stewart – Abigail
Gabby Wong – Abbess

Director – Justin Audibert
Designer – Lily Arnold
Lighting – Oliver Fenwick
Music – Jonathan Girling
Sound – Claire Windsor
Movement – Lucy Cullingford
Fights – Kev McCurdy

Oppenheimer – how a loaded gun was dropped in the playground

Stratford-upon-Avon, RSC Swan Theatre 15 January until 7 March 2015,  London, Vaudeville Theatre,  27 March to 23 May 2015 A brilliant inquisitive mind, a thinker, knowledgeable in Eastern and Western philosophies, a womanizer, Oppenheimer was many things, but most of all, he revelled in the beauty of nature’s set-up.Oppenheimer production photos_ 2015_ press photocall_Photo by Keith Pattison _c_ RSC_RsC.Oppie.4814 Tom Morton Smith’s new play allows the audience manifold angles from which to form their opinion, only to scramble it again, minutes later. Not a mad scientist, not a ruthless mass murderer, but then, there are moments… John Heffernan is Oppenheimer, lives and breathes Oppie, has him soft and vulnerable and utterly detached within the wink of an eye. Oppie’s team, his women, his brother, the army environment, every turning away refocuses the view on the spell that Heffernan has his character bind his world with. Jean Tatlock, Oppenheimer’s on-and-off lover, is played by Catherine Steadman and she leaves no doubt about why these two were drawn to each other, but couldn’t coexist.Oppenheimer production photos_ 2015_Photo by Keith Pattison _c_ RSC_RsC.Oppie.2198 Kitty Puening Harrison (Thomasin Rand), his wife who follows him to Los Alamos, but who can’t hold him either – a very touching portrayal of just another lost soul. Oppenheimer production photos_ 2015_Photo by Keith Pattison _c_ RSC_RsC.Oppie.3809But so are his co-researchers and students: Edward Teller (Ben Allen), the Hungarian super brain who was then already hatching the hydrogen bomb, Hans Bethe (Tom McCall), German refugee with a cause and the means to fulfil it, Giovanni Rossi Lomanitz (Oliver Johnstone), Bob Serber (Jamie Wilkes) and Joe Weinberg (Daniel Boyd), they all appear to be like lost electrons, buzzing about in the same space as Oppie, who is as much one of them as the attracting proton and also the splitting particle. Only Oppenheimer’s younger brother Frank (Mike Grady-Hall), his wife Jackie (Hedydd Dylan) and psychologist Ruth Tolman (Laura Cubbit) have an air of self-contained life about them. It is this meticulous depiction of human relationships in all their imperfection, that is the ensemble’s and the production’s foremost strength. Scary and stunning!Oppenheimer production photos_ 2015_Photo by Keith Pattison _c_ RSC_RsC.Oppie.4034 The remarkable plainness of the realisation that Hiroshima and Nagasaki were just about making a statement and Oppenheimer’s laconic line “I feel like I’ve dropped a loaded gun in a playground”, that is perhaps all that is needed to be said about the bomb itself, though the way in which the atomic test in the desert of New Mexico is enacted and the factual description of the indescribable actual consequences of Little Boy and Fat Man are staggering moments that are bound to leave a lasting impression. A well-deserved sell-out right from the start. Director: Angus Jackson, music by Grant Olding and a striking design by James Hopkins. Photos: Keith Pattison © RSC