Tag Archives: Charles Balfour

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

The Christmas Truce on stage

Royal Shakespeare Theatre 29 November 2014 to 31 January 2015

Summer 1914, a cheerful village fete in Warwickshire is all of a sudden overshadowed by the outbreak of the First World War.
Young men sign up for the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, young women join the QA Nurses. We see them in their basic training and accompany them to Ploegsteert Forest, in Belgium.

Bairnsfather (Joseph Kloska) & Kohler (Nick Haverson)

Bairnsfather (Joseph Kloska) & Kohler (Nick Haverson)

It is there that the inconceivable takes its course.
After days of fierce and internecine fighting, on Christmas Eve, German soldiers of the Royal Saxon Infantry Regiment 134 and the Royal Warwickshires met in No-Man’s Land and agree on a truce over Christmas.
Together, they bury their dead comrades, they exchange gifts, they sing together and they play football.

Harris (Peter McGovern) & Clover (Peter Basham)

Harris (Peter McGovern) & Clover (Peter Basham)

Phil Porter gathered these historically documented events in a new play. With tender and harsh strokes, always achieving a lasting impression, he purveys the experience of war’s pawns and makes the audience feel where ruthless gaming of politicians hits home.
The set, designed by the legendary Tom Piper (the London Tower Poppies) in its fascinating simplicity, is an integral art work in itself.
Sam Kenyon deserves the credit for composition and adaptation of the music. In addition to extra fine arrangements, here in particular the breathtakingly beautiful new version of the Ave Maria must be pointed out. Musical Director Bruce O’Neil and his musicians are time and again woven into the action on stage. Together with a stunning lighting design, they lead the audience on their journey. Charles Balfour’s lighting is a masterpiece, its magic creates effortless transitions through emotions and scenes.

Director Erica Whyman selected a fabulous team for this play, the RSC’s 2014 family show.

Joseph Kloska plays Captain Bruce Bairnsfather who already during the war became famous for his cartoons from the trenches. He is relaxed, sceptical and caring, and an absolute star in the frontline theatre.
Old Bill is his most famous character, and here he is, part of his platoon, played by Gerald Horan, a warm-hearted walrus of a Tommy.
Sam Alexander as Captain Riley and Jamie Newall as Colonel Faulkner represent the classical upper-class officers.The Christmas Truce production photos 2014_ press photocall_Photo by Lucy Barriball _c_ RSC_Truce-62a
Touching, hilarious and tragic: Oliver Lynes as clumsy Liggins, and a very special gem: the ever grumpy Private Smith, played by Harry Waller.
On the German side, we encounter Jamie Newall as the contact making Erich, the soldiers Jürgen: Chris McCalphy, Schmidt: Oliver Lynes and Franz: Tunji Kasim.
And there is Leutnant Kohler, disillusioned by war: Nick Haverson, in a portrayal full of warmth and heartfelt depth that makes you want to go and get to know Saxony.
In a blog written by a German native speaker, one thing has to be highlighted and cheered: the (nearly entirely) accent free pronunciation of the German lines by these actors. Well done!
One of my favourite scenes is the moment shared between soldiers Smith and Schmidt.
Brilliant!

Matron (Leah Whitaker) & Mrs Godfrey (Flora Spencer-Longhurst)

Matron (Leah Whitaker) & Mrs Godfrey (Flora Spencer-Longhurst)

Woven in between the soldiering scenes, we find the nurses in the British field hospital.
The QA Nurses Phoebe (gorgeously insubordinate: Frances McNamee), Mrs Godfrey (sweetly posh: Flora Spencer-Longhurst), Maud (Sophie Khan-Levy, who also beautifully plays a singing Belgian country girl) and Staff Nurse Peaches (the delightful bubbly Emma Manton), jointly are struggling with the fallout of war. Whilst they are trying to preserve some cheerfulness, Matron (Leah Whitaker) sees a strict observance of regulations as the best support in hard times, and thus, Christmas Eve is bound to produce friction.

A piece of theatre that engages the audience throughout and confronts us with the only relevant Christmas related question – about the meaning of it all.

Photos: Topher McGrillis © RSC

This blogpost has also been published in German under https://artyviews.wordpress.com/2014/12/22/the-christmas-truce-der-weihnachtswaffenstillstand/