Much Ado Al Fresco

Cometh June, cometh free theatre at the Dell, Stratford-upon-Avon’s outdoor stage at the upper end of Waterside, by the river.

The opening show, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, was presented by a clever mix of RSC staff amateur actors, Shakespeare Institute students and current RSC actors, and directed by James Corrigan – with just one daring week of rehearsals.

Lucy Phelps as Beatrice

A cheerful, large audience came together, picnic blankets, matching hampers, raincoats, brollies, kids, dogs and all.

The play was everywhere, in the midst of the audience, under and on trees, vibrating all around. What joy, dynamic, what a sparkling display of fun ideas. Brilliant work by amateurs and pros alike.

Rhys Bevan as Benedick

Particularly thrilling: Lucy Phelps as Beatrice and Rhys Bevan as Benedick, perfect chemistry and glorious banter.
A female Leonato, Samantha Powell, harvested extra cheers when well-known male lines tipped into hilariousness: “I think this is your daughter?”  “Her father hath many times told me so.”
Also utterly believable in a female version: Don John, the evil brother, played by Grace Martin.

The watch, by Naomi Jacobs, Andrea Moon, Leon Peckson, George Sothcott and Annie Wilson delivered their play-within-the-play as a serious laugh muscle exercise.

With prescience set up under a well leafy roof, a live band accompanied the show, inciting little jigs here and there.

Under the usual conditions of an English summer, two short showers couldn’t be danced away entirely, but the well-prepared audience was not for turning away from this delightful production.

 

 

Well done, everybody.

 

 

 

The Dell season:
https://www.rsc.org.uk/events/the-dell

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Julius Caesar in times of political freak waves

Andrew Woodall as Julius Caesar

A production in the context of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s “Roman Season”, Stratford-upon-Avon, 3 March to 9 September 217 in Stratford, in London, Barbican Theatre from 24 November 2017 to 20 January 2018, directed by Angus Jackson.

The plot creeps up, subtly at first, suddenly disturbing, urging, electrifying, surging, subsiding and self-destructive like the conspiracy itself. Near impossible not to feel how closely the emotions and demagogy of classical times match our own world of experience, even if the 21st century’s rhetoric is hardly on the same quality level.

Alex Waldmann as Brutus, Kristin Atherton as Calphurnia, Andrew Woodall as Julius Caesar

On the backdrop of Robert Innes Hopkins’s puristic set, reflecting the Roman Republic’s brutal imperialistic arrogance, including the disturbing sculpture of a lion devouring a horse, the well-known drama unfolds in 2.5 gripping hours.
Brutus, in a highly sensitive interpretation by Alex Waldmann, is, in spite of his distinguished social status, an insecure person, torn between his friendship with Caesar and his sense of duty towards Rome. In his attempts to pacify his conscience, he paves the way towards his so literal end. Waldmann gives him traits of a reluctant hero who cannot forgive himself that there was no clean way out, and he depicts him with a tenderness, as if it were his best friend.
Cassius, the actual instigator of the conspiracy, is, impersonated by Martin Hutson, in wonderfully overstrung hands. A character, utterly unimpeded by scruples of any kind, jumping into action out of personal vexation and political conviction, this Cassius is a conveyor of uneasy feelings.

James Corrigan as Mark Anthony, Alex Waldmann als Brutus

Mark Antony, played by James Corrigan, is the seemingly noble picker-upper of shards, ultimately proven right by fate, at least in the context of these events. Corrigan operates his ice-cold calculation, his targeted manipulation with a gentle air of good-boy innocence. In the unequalled funeral speech, he plays people’s minds like an orchestra’s string section and thus unleashes the civil war.Martin Hutson as Cassius
Julius Caesar, as portrayed by Andrew Woodall, is like a fish out of water in non-military life, used to giving orders, an egomaniac who tries to make up for his health deficiency and lack of diplomatic skills with vanity and obsession with power.
Also impressive: Tom McCall as Casca, the cynic who sees Caesar’s interaction with ordinary people as nothing but theatrical gimmicks, which leaves him with sheer contempt for the populace’s darling.
Portia, wife of Brutus, has little time to express her feelings in this male-dominated play, but Hannah Morris is absolutely amazing in filling this part with life.

Photos by Helen Maybanks (c) RSC
Joseph Adelakun – cobbler / Artemidorus / Dardanus
Ben Allen – Cinna the Conspirator / Titanius
Kristin Atherton – Calphurnia
David Burnett – Marullus, a tribune / Trebonius / Pindarus
James Corrigan – Mark Anthony
Paul Dodds – Metellus Cimber / Clitus
Patrick Drury – Cinna The Poet / Publius
Waleed Elgadi – Soothsayer / Claudius
Martin Hutson – Cassius
Tom Lorcan – Publius
Luke MacGregor – Carpenter / Voluminous / Popilus Lena / Strato
Tom McCall – Casca / Lucilius
Hannah Morish – Portia
Anthony Ofoegbu – Cicero / Ligurius
Dharmesh Patel – Decius Brutus / Messala
Lucy Phelps – Waiting Woman
Jon Tarcy – Octavius
Alex Waldmann – Brutus
Marcello Walton – Lepidus / Flavius
Andrew Woodall – Julius Caesar

16 Citizens of Rome

directed by Angus Jackson

music:
Andrew Stone Fewings- trumpet
Angela Whelan – trumpet
Mark Smith – horn
Kevin Pitt – trombone, euphonium
Ian Foster – tuba, euphonium
Gareth Ellis – keyboard

Snow in Midsummer, and more uncanny shifts in place and time

Based on a traditional Chinese drama from the 13th century, Snow in Midsummer draws an eerie, piercing picture of a community where a sense of being displaced seems to be looming under everybody’s surface.

Katie Leung as Dou Yi

Katie Leung as Dou Yi

Displaced in culture, where westernised consumerism clashes with ancient superstitions, in climate, where the earth has become inhabitable by curse as much as by industrialisation, in love, where there’s precious little to hold on to, even in life, where the border between ghosts and the living is oh so fluid.

A breath stopping production, serious, heart-breaking, with thrown in quips of humour, just before realisation hurts too much.

Katie Leung as Dou Yi

Katie Leung as Dou Yi

 

 

 

Katie Leung is Dou Yi, a young widow who is executed for a murder she didn’t commit. She plays her part with incredible strength, control and tenderness, encompassing a range of genres including horror and operatic pathos.
Displaced in time and life, she puts her quest for justice in the hands of Tianyun, a businesswoman, and her young daughter Fei-Fei.

Wendy Kweh as Tianyun, Emily Dao as Fei-Fei

Wendy Kweh as Tianyun, Emily Dao as Fei-Fei

Wendy Kweh delicately owns Tianyun’s hard-won balance between leadership attitude and vulnerability from suppressed emotions.

7-year-old Fei-Fei is alternatingly played by 3 extremely talented young girls. Certainly Emily Dao, whose turn it was on press night, excels in professional brilliance.

Colin Ryan as Handsome Zhang, Andrew Leung as Rocket Wu + workers

Colin Ryan as Handsome Zhang, Andrew Leung as Rocket Wu + workers

The character of Handsome Zhang, son of Master Zhang, a local industrialist, is brought into remarkable light by Colin Ryan. Handsome’s struggle against his father’s expectations, his desperate fight for his love … this fine young actor owns the stage with his persona and he makes this difficult character immensely human.

In the parts of Master Zhang and Doctor Lu, Daniel York shows great versatility.

Amongst the female support acts, Jacqueline Chan leaves a deep impression as blind Mother Cai. Sarah Lam, as Handsome’s former wet nurse, builds up a clouded presence.

Snow in Midsummer is the result of the RSC’s Chinese Translations Project to support cultural exchange, astutely re-imagined by playwright Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig.
Director Justin Audibert, yet again, succeeds in bringing together age old tradition and a supposedly “other” culture with universal and modern human experience. Masterly.

Much kudos, too, to Ruth Chan for incredible music and Anna Watson’s ingenious lighting.

Snow in Midsummer is performed at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Swan Theatre from 23/02/2017 to 25/02/2017

Katie Leung              – Dou Yi
Jacqueline Chan       – Mother Cai
Andrew Koji              – Worker Fang
Wendy Kweh            – Tianyun
Sarah Lam                 – Madam Wong
Andrew Leung          – Rocket Wu
Jonathan Raggett     – Worker Zou
Richard Rees             – Worker Huang
Colin Ryan                 – Handsome Zhang
Lucy Sheen                – Worker Chen
Kevin Shen                 – Officer
Daniel York                – Master Zhang
–  Doctor Lu
Emily Dao
Zoe Lim
Sophie Wong            – Fei-Fei

Justin Audibert                     – Director
Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig    – Writer
Ruth Chan                              – Composer
Anna Watson                        – Lighting

Photos by Ikin Yum (c) RSC

The Seven Acts of Mercy in merciless times

From Naples 1606 to Bootle near Liverpool 2016 – from food banks and bedroom tax to a painter’s genius and demons spans the bridge that is brought together in an emotionally exhausting, gripping play.the-seven-acts-of-mercy-production-photos_-november-2016_2016_photo-by-ellie-kurttz-_c_-rsc_207955

Caravaggio has just fled from Rome where he is wanted for murder. A church in Naples and a commission to paint the Seven Acts of Mercy become his sanctuary.
In present day Bootle, a young boy and his dying grandfather are only just getting by, until the disastrous consequences of austerity are being handed down to them.the-seven-acts-of-mercy-production-photos_-november-2016_2016_photo-by-ellie-kurttz-_c_-rsc_207927

It is a stroke of genius by playwright Anders Lustgarten to subtly and unpretentiously draw on the 7 Acts of Mercy (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, comfort the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead), including the related sensitivities – in the light of the current political and social climate – as a lifeline for crumbling communities.

The edge-of-the-seat feeling remains strong throughout the play. Fun moments and thrown in edification in art history can only momentarily divert from the sensation of sitting on a dangerously vibrating tectonic fault.

Violent but defenceless, raw as if flayed is Patrick O’Kane’s breathtaking rendition as Caravaggio, a character that won’t let you go.
the-seven-acts-of-mercy-production-photos_-november-2016_2016_photo-by-ellie-kurttz-_c_-rsc_208023His model and kind of friend, prostitute Lavinia, a tough job superbly performed by Allison McKenzie, fences on a very tight rope, vulnerable, proud and scorching.
Further in Naples: Edmund Kingsley as the Marchese, in a delicate portrayal of one of the very few balanced characters in the play. Or is he?
And then James Corrigan as Vincenzo … to be found out.

In Bootle, Tom Georgeson as Grandpa Leon is a deeply touching character trying to pass on hope in hopeless times and he poignantly depicts pride and loss of a worker’s life.
Incredibly talented, young TJ Jones as Mickey carries most of the current day action, and he does it with an ease that would make an old hand proud.
the-seven-acts-of-mercy-production-photos_-november-2016_2016_photo-by-ellie-kurttz-_c_-rsc_208009As scary henchmen, Leon Lopez and Patrick Knowles: sardonic and weirdly funny, in true Pulp Fiction tradition.
Further in Bootle: Gyuri Sarossy as Mickey’s father Lee: an achingly torn figure; Paul McEwan as Damian, recently arrived on the losing end; Paislie Reid and Nicky Priest as Siblings Jennifer and Danny; Lena Kaur as Karen, officiating for the battered Council; Sally Bankes as Sandra at the food bank; Eloise Seeker as Emily, the Labour representative.

A spirited and passionate ensemble play, directed by Deputy Artistic Director Erica Whyman.
The set design is yet another subtle thought amplifier by Tom Piper.
Music by Isobel Waller-Bridge.

From 24th November 2016 to 10th February 2017 at the RSC Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon

Photos by Ellie Kurttz © RSC

More information:  https://www.rsc.org.uk/the-seven-acts-of-mercy

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

This blog has also been published in German, under https://artyviews.wordpress.com/2015/12/22/queen-anne-die-ueberraschende-koenigin/

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