Tag Archives: Matthew Needham

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

Candide – Optimism is Cruelty

Matthew Needham as Candide

Matthew Needham as Candide

“Candide“ (A play inspired by Voltaire’s satirical novel from 1759) RSC production at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Leaps in time, clips of scenes, zapping through the human realm of experience – this Candide is, with a deep bow to Voltaire, a brand new play by Mark Ravenhill, fitting the 21st century.
Starting in a somewhat classicistic ambiente:

Dwane Walcott as Candide

Dwane Walcott as Candide

Candide the stranded hero, after his odysseys from one world failing to meet the ideal, to the next, he is giving up, however, incited through the presentation of his voltairian experiences, he takes up his search for the beloved Cunegonde again.

Before the audience can utter a sigh, the script zaps on and displays painful pictures of a monstruous birthday party that ends in an ecologically correct killing spree.

– New picture, even more macabre than the one before:

Sarah Ridgeway as Sophie

Sarah Ridgeway as Sophie

Mother trying to go creatively through the psychological process of coping with the extermination of her family. – A gentler picture following, Eldorado. The hero is on the road again, apparently in paradise, but again in the wrong movie.

Richard Goulding as Screenwriter and Rose Reynolds as The Girl

Richard Goulding as Screenwriter and Rose Reynolds as The Girl

He ends up in the laboratory of Panglosss Institue, a Biotech firm that has isolated the happiness genome and wants to create sustainable happiness for mankind. Candide was deep-frozen until his freedom was paid for by Sarah, his female alter ego. And – at last he meets Cunegonde again. Be careful what you wish for, Candide.

Susan Engel as Cunegonde

Susan Engel as Cunegonde

Ravenhill doesn’t provoke thought, he whips his audience on this way and barrs everybody’s Not-Me exit with their own laughter.

The ensemble play. Pleasurably, masochistically, and perhaps even oblivious to the world, they fathom the facettes of the unlucky search for happiness. You feel a bit like a voyeur and still can’t look away.

Lyndsey Turner’s direction is fabulous, and she is working with a fantastic team.

Magnificent: Matthew Needham and Dwane Walcott as Candide – Voltaire would have wept with joy.
Rose Reynolds as young Cunegonde is ravishing, and together with Ian Redford as Pangloss, they hold comedy at fever pitch.
Absolutely great: Katy Stephens as Sarah, she gets under your skin, every single moment.
Cunegonde the mature, gorgeous, Susan Engel, she has the longest monologue of the play, and she delivers it breathtakingly. A treat.
And the according text: Print out and hang up, please.

Voltaire was a harsh critic of Shakespeare, thought him to be lacking ‚bon gout‘. Ravenhill, on the other hand, in his new take, comes over with exquisite allusions to some of the Master’s quotations that stick so firmly on everybody’s consciousness.

One of these to close: All the world is an XBox. The men and women – players. We have our avatars and our levels, and our points to score.

Katy Stephens as Sarah and Matthew Needham as Candide

Katy Stephens as Sarah and Matthew Needham
as Candide

Photos by Manuel Harlan (©RSC)

This post was first published in German on 09/07/2013 here