Tag Archives: RSC

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

Advertisements

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 ©

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 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/

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 themselves.christmas-truce_2014

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: http://artyviews.wordpress.com/2014/08/17/the-christmas-truce-der-weihnachtsfrieden/