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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:

The Christmas Truce RSC 29/11/2014 – 31/01/2015

Imagine, it’s war – and nobody wants to kill anymore.

1914, first wartime Christmas: Gradually, soldiers at the front are beginning to understand that their situation has nothing to do with the lofty phrases that had inspired them in the summer. They discover that those squatting in the opposite trench are basically only human beings like

British, German and French soldiers have a little respite and begin to feel the spirit of Christmas. They sing carols, for each other and together, they share cake and plum pudding, they smoke together and they play football together, in No Man’s land between the trenches.

On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day 1914, there was a truce at the operative level of war. Sadly, it was not to last, commanding officers of all sides thoroughly disagreed with their own potential loss of purpose. This ceasefire, however, has not lost its symbolic power up to the modern day.

Someone who was there, the cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather, spent part of his career as an electrical engineer at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre, a predecessor of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s home. Already during the war, he began creating the cartoon series “Fragments From France” (1914) and the autobiographical “Bullets & Billets” (1916). His character of “Old Bill” became the basis of his fame.

In Great Britain, having lost almost an entire generation of young men in World War I, 2014 has always been predestined to be a particularly poignant year for the commemoration of this immense disaster of humanity.

100 years after the Christmas truce in 1914, the Royal Shakespeare Company puts this victory of being simply human on the stage.

Phil Porter, an author with distinguished previous in theatre and television, wrote on behalf of and in cooperation with Erica Whyman, director and deputy artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, a new play about the extraordinary events of wartime Christmas in 1914.

At the front section of Ploegsteert, Bruce Bairnsfather and Old Bill experience Christmas in No Man’s land together with the “guys from the other side”.

From 29 November 2014 to 31 January 2015, The Christmas Truce will be played at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. Director: Erica Whyman, design: Tom Piper (he with the poppies at the Tower), lighting design: Charles Balfour, music: Sam Kenyon.

In the UK and France, even more than in Germany, literature, films and songs were influenced by the fascination of this peace amidst all the senseless deaths. In 2005, the movie “Merry Christmas” / “Joyeux Noël“ was shown in cinemas in Germany, the UK, and in France, directed by Christian Carion and featuring Gary Lewis, Benno Führmann and Daniel Brühl. In 2006, for both the Oscars and Golden Globe awards, the film was nominated as “Best Foreign Language Film”.

The French town of Frelinghien, in 2008 unveiled a memorial to the Christmas truce and soldiers of the same regiments that had faced each other at this place in 2014, arranged a new “Friendly International”.

Below, some interesting links:

the  RSC programme,

an interview with both director and author:

a poem on the Truce by Poet Laureat Carol Ann Duffy

And did you know this one had the same topic?

and – well worth reading: Malcom Brown and Shirley Seaton, Christmas Truce: The Western Front December 1914

German version  of this blog post:

To Lulworth Cove

P1050583The place was paradise,
the cove, the beach,
the clear blue sea
A dreamy path atop the cliffs
through shrubs, past pastures and
a view to die for
All set just by a village
from a picture book,
a stream, some pubs, more walks,
the people’s gentle voices
-Would we stay?

In glistering sunlight up the path,
a photograph or two,
already trying to block out
the sounds that shouldn’t be…
Gunfire, was it tanks, machine guns?
not a minute’s rest
blocked, barred the lovely route,
a part of paradise made hell

They shouldn’t, can’t,
how was it possible?
What waste of beauty,
what a fall from highest spirits

No they can’t,
not here nor anywhere
no war … and please
stop practicing for it

We left

Antony & Cleopatra – Indulgence is enemy to career

An RSC cooperation with The Public Theatre, New York, and Gable Theatre, Miami
Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon – directed by Tarell Alvin McCraney

L-R – Sarah Niles (Charmian/Menas), Joaquina Kalukango (Cleopatra), Jonathan Cake (Mark Antony), Chivas Michael (Mardian/Soothsayer/Eros), Charise Castro Smith (Octavia/Iras)

L-R – Sarah Niles (Charmian/Menas), Joaquina Kalukango (Cleopatra), Jonathan Cake (Mark Antony), Chivas Michael (Mardian/Soothsayer/Eros), Charise Castro Smith (Octavia/Iras)

Mark Antony, the commander in chief who forgets his martial agenda over the sweet erotic springes of the tawny-skinned Queen Cleopatra, and in the process loses his part of the empire, his career and his life – this historical topic sounds like a reversal of the legends in which people succumb to the realm of fairies; here it is harsh reality prevailing.
Octavius, later to become God Emperor Augustus (btw, the month of August obtained its name just because of it being the month of the conquest of Egypt), then a not very promising 20-year-old heir to Julius Cesar, proves to be a statesman after all and wins the day and the Empire.

Tarell Alvin McCraney edited Shakespeare’s play about the fall of the Egyptian Empire and relocated it to a colonial, Caribbean setting, with the Romans taking the part of Napoleonic occupying forces on the island of Saint Domingue, today’s Haiti.
Cleopatra, played in an intoxicatingly sensual and impulsive manner by Joaquina Kalukango, is caught in a mutual spell with Jonathan Cake as Mark Antony, utterly convincing, quite dishy, and the archetype of a warrior/business man going astray. “She makes hungry where most she satisfies” (A&C, 2.2) – no doubt about that. But she, too, neglects her political day job.

L-R – Sarah Niles (Charmian/Menas), Chukwudi Iwuji (Enobarbus), Charise Castro Smith (Octavia/Iras) Centre – Joaquina Kalukango (Cleopatra)

L-R – Sarah Niles (Charmian/Menas), Chukwudi Iwuji (Enobarbus), Charise Castro Smith (Octavia/Iras)
Centre – Joaquina Kalukango (Cleopatra)

Amongst the characters at Cleopatra’s court Chivas Michael deserves to be highlighted. As a spooky soothsayer he forecasts doom and as a eunuch, he contributes a series of wonderful funny moments, moreover, with his hypnotizing counter-tenor voice, he adds to the play’s intriguing atmosphere.
Sarah Niles as Charmian, lady-in-waiting to Cleopatra, also acts as warrior Menas and her colleague Iras, Charise Castro Smith, is also Octavia, Antony’s down-to-earth second wife. The profound difference in parts is easily mastered by both.

Charise Castro Smith (Octavia/Iras), Samuel Collings (Octavius Caesar)

Charise Castro Smith (Octavia/Iras), Samuel Collings (Octavius Caesar)

Samuel Collings portraying the underestimated Octavius/Napoleon displays a fantastically low key characterization in which the sizzling wrath of a geek is just about perceivable, right from the beginning.

Chukwudi Iwuji (Enobarbus)

Chukwudi Iwuji (Enobarbus)




Absolutely great: Chukwudi Iwuji, playing the part of Antony’s follower Enobarbus, he also offers semi-detached comments on the events, and, similar to the chorus in antique tragedies, he pronounces the audience’s germinating doubts and takes their eyes away from the all to obvious.

The music by Michael Thurber, with Andy Waterson on the guitar, Mat Heighwey on the bass and Akintayo Akinbode, as Music Director and on percussion, creates an ongoing spell of sensuality and tragedy.

L-R – Sarah Niles (Charmian/Menas), Chukwudi Iwuji (Enobarbus), Jonathan Cake (Mark Antony), Samuel Collings (Octavius Caesar)

L-R – Sarah Niles (Charmian/Menas), Chukwudi Iwuji (Enobarbus), Jonathan Cake (Mark Antony), Samuel Collings (Octavius Caesar)

Last but not least, an extra dose of praise to Gelan Lambert, responsible for movement, who with the Circle of Thirds, a drunk dance of the triumvirate Antony, Octavius and Pompey, created one of the most poignant (choreo-)graphic demonstrations of this moment in Roman history I have ever come across.

In the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon until 30 November 2013, in Spring 2014 in New York and Miami.

Photos by Hugo Glendinning

This blog post has also been published in German under

Richard II – The King with the bored look on his face

Production in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avonrichard2
directed by Gregory Doran

Stratford has had a massive buzz of excitement for a somewhat shorter run: David Tennant back at the RSC, playing the lead role in Richard II – the king who felt too safe in his divine right to the throne, and consequently lost it all. Richard is also one of the kings with ongoing rumours about his sexual inclination.

Tennant’s interpretation, after the early previews with just a hint of campness, has been a highly credible display of a basically insecure young man who is only sure of one thing: that he is always right and that God gave him the entitlement to do just as he pleases. Floating on stage, angelic in dress and hairstyle,  ‘luvvy’ at times, a loose canon immediately afterwards, dangerously unpredictable: a weak, profoundly bored king who takes the world and its inhabitants as his toys.

David Tennant rolls out his full potential, and it has left audiences breathless night after night. Especially in the second half, when King Richard is faced with the loss of everything he believed in, he is masterly. What is it about toes? Seeing a character’s emotions displayed through actors’ toes always cracks it for me… Amazing! Incredibly well done!

Nigel Lindsay (Bolingbroke), David Tennant (Richard II) Background: L-R- Simon Thorp (Surrey), OliverRix (Aumerle), Jim Hooper (Bishop of Carlisle), Keith Osborn (Abbot), Sean Chapman (Northumberland), Youssef Kerkour (Fitzwater), Edmund Wiseman (Harry Percy)

Nigel Lindsay (Bolingbroke), David Tennant (Richard II)
Background: L-R- Simon Thorp (Surrey), OliverRix (Aumerle), Jim Hooper (Bishop of Carlisle), Keith Osborn (Abbot), Sean Chapman (Northumberland), Youssef Kerkour (Fitzwater), Edmund Wiseman (Harry Percy)

Richard’s counterpart is Bollingbroke, later to be King Henry IV, here portrayed by Nigel Lindsay. A bit of a rough character, one is led to think, he oozes noble intentions, looks martial throughout and intimidates Richard and those loyal to him enough to make him King instead.

Absolute gems in this production, that’s the group of well-seasoned actors:
Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt, who delivers the famous “Sceptered isle” speech in a refreshing, questioning attitude, rather than the so often used fervent patriotic approach, brings a lot of honesty to this medieval tycoon. His rendition allows one of Shakespeare’s favourite backhanders, the “What’s changed?” question, to shine through to the 21st century.

John of Gaunt’s brother, the Duke of York, is played by Oliver Ford Davies, a warm-hearted masterpiece of acting.

A very special treat is their brother Woodstock’s widow, breathtakingly acted by Jane Lapotaire, who absolutely nails it in this, her first appearance on stage after ten years.

Also very touching, Oliver Rix as York’s son Aumerle.

The music by Paul Englishby is enthralling throughout, but especially as performed by the three sopranos Charlotte Ashley, Anna Bolton and Helena Raeburn.

All of this is performed to the background of an amazing set. Stephen Brimson Lewis, the set designer, uses a lowered stage with inbuilt dungeon and a background of silvery-golden chains. Visual projection on these chains creates depth of scale and turns the view into cathedral, castle, curtain in a stunning 3-D display.

Richard II is being performed at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon from 10 October 2013 – 16 November 2013, and from 9 December 2013 to 25 January 2014 at the Barbican Theatre, London.

Photo by Kwame Lestrade
Richard II has been broadcast live in cinemas around the world on 13 November 2013 and it is going to be shown in lots more over the next few months.

Help with the Henrys

and the Edwards, and the Richards…9781849432412_1

White Hart and Red Lion, the extent of history conveyed by pub signs, a campervan stacked with survival rations of Pork Pie and Pinot Grigio, that is how this most entertaining ‘support book’ takes on its mission.

– So Edward IV, he was Prince Edward, before he became King?
– No, that’s not the same person, his father was Richard Plantagenet.
– Who? The Lionheart?
– Hahaha, no, the Duke of York.
– Hmpf, if you say so, but Henry IV, he’s a Bolingbroke, not a Plantagenet, isn’t he?
– You mean Prince Hal’s father, he is both, and the son of John of Gaunt.

At this point, our own conversations usually ended, over much confused head-shaking. The nobility’s habit of sporting multiple names, including the option to change them, and job titles, repeatedly and for dubious reasons, made the genealogy part of Shakespeare’s history plays near impenetrable – probably not just for me.

Nick Asbury’s book “White Hart Red Lion, The England of Shakespeare’s Histories” appeared, as a stroke of genius, at exactly the right time, just before the circle started with David Tennant on stage in Stratford-upon-Avon as Richard II and well ahead of next year’s Henry IV Part I&II.

As opposed to the many historical summaries I have consulted for a way out of my royalty confusion, Nick Asbury sets his untangling of history’s players into some kind of road movie scenario, from the perspective of a Histories player. As an actor, who has been under the skin of many a highborn participant in Shakespeare’s history plays, Nick follows the development from Richard II, via famous and less famous events and characters, through to Richard III’s undoing at Bosworth, along the English (and occasionally, French) roads and rivers that set the backdrop for 100 years of feuds, wars and bloodshed.

We are taken to developments in society that still leave their marks on current-day Britain, we learn a thing or two about Ale and language and propaganda…

Nick Asbury’s vivid description, always connected to a sense of place and some helpful trivia, the combination of these three elements makes it a lot easier to understand the connections and changeovers of the multi-named lot. An occasional glance at the map and the family tree right at the front helps solving residuary puzzles.

For those of us who were never quite sure what Aumerle had to do with the hapless Richard II – this is the way to find out. A very enjoyable read, and a problem solver!

A criticism? Just the one: Jeanne d’Arc should have deserved the mention of her birthplace, Domrémy, some 221 miles away from Orléans. But otherwise: great!

White Hart, Red Lion: The England of Shakespeare’s Histories
by Nick Asbury

Paperback: 198 pages, also available as a Kindle edition
Publisher: Oberon Books Ltd. (1 July 2013)
ISBN-10: 1849432414

All’s Well That Ends Well – Really?

“All’s Well That Ends Well”, an RSC production at the Theatre Royal in Newcastle begin November

What on earth was Shakespeare thinking, when he took the story about a tricked marriage from Boccaccio’s Decamerone and put it into his incomparable verse?
You might wonder whether he himself had doubts if people were going to buy the plot, when listening to Helena, the female lead, explaining her hidden feelings.

Joanna Horton (Helena)

Joanna Horton (Helena)

There is no envying Joanna Horton for this scene. Helena seems to rather want to be hiding behind the Countess’s (Charlotte Cornwell), her foster mother’s, potted plants, and yet she has to argue her case before the world, why she wants this particular man who is such a bad match for her. You’d like to tell her there are other mothers with interesting sons.
Helena loves her ward’s son, Bertram, who isn’t interested in her.

Alex Waldmann (Bertram), Charlotte Cornwell (Countess of Rossillion)

Alex Waldmann (Bertram), Charlotte Cornwell (Countess of Rossillion)

Alex Waldmann as Bertram, manages to look not a day older than 16, when, as a happy puppy, he is frolicking around with his mates, doesn’t know how to react to his father’s death, and casually moves to the King’s court.

Now Helena takes an initiative that seems a big leap for her character; upon hearing about the King’s (Greg Hicks) illness, she understands that she will be in a position to claim a favour, if she cures him.

Greg Hicks (King of France)

Greg Hicks (King of France)

Greg Hicks’ part is intriguing and has its strongest moments in the King’s illness. When recovered, well, he’s kingly. Greg Hicks is good at that.

When Helena’s plan works out, due to a miraculous medicine, and she is married to the puppy, the young and, understandably, rather frustrated husband, escapes to the wars, the bigger boys’ playground.
Impressively staged: Bertram’s changing into the uniform and the magnificently reduced fight scenes.

Alex Waldmann (Bertram) - raised up, Jonathan Slinger (Parolles) – in background, Daniel Easton, Michael Grady-Hall, Chris Jared, Samuel Taylor (Soldiers)

Alex Waldmann (Bertram) – raised up, Jonathan Slinger (Parolles) – in background, Daniel Easton, Michael Grady-Hall, Chris Jared, Samuel Taylor (Soldiers)

Helena, now deeply frustrated herself, follows Bertram to the city of his garrison, disguised as a pilgrim. Young Diana (fabulous: Natalie Klamar), to whom Bertram has been making advances, plots with Helena, invites him to her bedroom, where Helena, in darkness and without speaking, succeeds in getting pregnant by him.

This second ambush finally has Bertram defeated, he promises eternal love.
A likely result … Shakespeare himself seems happy to sow some doubt regarding lasting success. The King closes his part with the words:
“All yet seems well; and if it end so meet,
The bitter past, more welcome is the sweet.” 5.3.43

In an era when marriages for romantic reasons were far from being standard, these doubts must have worked in an even more conniving way than they do today. It was a difficult source material for a difficult comedy. Comedy? Truly Shakespeare.

This is a play that isn’t staged very often, and, even in this great production by Nancy Meckler, the plot feels strangely awkward.
Kudos to Joanna Horton, Alex Waldmann, Jonathan Slinger, Charlotte Cornwall, Natalie Klamar, Karen Archer, David Fielder and all the others who made this production well worth seeing and food for thought.

Alex Waldmann (Bertram)

Alex Waldmann (Bertram)

Jonathan Slinger (Parolles)

Jonathan Slinger (Parolles)

All’s Well will be on stage  at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle from 5 – 9 November.

photos by: Ellie Kurttz

First published in German on 19/09/2013 by artyviews