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Review of Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona @RWCMD

December 3, 2016

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Royal Welsh Colege of Music and Drama, Cardiff

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Director: Caroline Byrne

Review by @LucyMenon

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is considered to be one of Shakespeare’s first works and as such is often held up as an example of the immature playwright experimenting with ideas that will later return in his more established comedies.  To an extent this is true as we are presented with a love triangle, a disguised boy-heroine and an escape to the green world of the forest where all the knots can be untangled and the correct pairs can be united in marriage.  These are plot devices that will be used in later comedies such as As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  This play however, also causes consternation in its seeming disregard for women and the value it places on homosocial bonds between men and the importance of friendship over and above that of male-female relationships.

A reflection from Johann Gregory:

Shakespeare’s play speaks to our own time in a very unsettling way. Near the opening of the play, for example, the heroine Julia is represented wishing she hadn’t returned an unread letter via her servant:

And yet I would I had o’erlooked the letter.
It were a shame to call her back again
And pray her to a fault for which I chid her.
What fool is she, that knows I am a maid
And would not force the letter to my view,
Since maids in modesty say ‘No’ to that
Which they would have the profferer construe ‘Ay’.
(1.2.50-56)

Julia says that she wishes that she had read the letter and hadn’t rejected it. The servant is a fool, she says, not to force the letter on her when the servant knows that she must for modesty’s sake say no to something, even if she really wants it. Of course, this moment of ‘forcing’ something on a maid could be easily read differently without too much of a stretch of the imagination. ‘What do you mean?’ is Justin Bieber’s highly popular song, controversial for arguably promoting a rape culture. Sofia Lyons wrote in a blog for The Huffington Post that

the lyrics perpetuate the idea that unwanted advances or sexual misperceptions are at the fault of the woman because she wasn’t clear about her intentions or a man thought she wanted it because she couldn’t ‘make up her mind’.

How ‘What do you man?’ Promotes Rape Culture

So in a year that saw such a high profile case at Cardiff Crown Court concerning a charge of rape that rested on the issue of consent, the language and actions presented in Shakespeare’s play are uncomfortable to say the least. Of course, it remains an open question how disturbing this ‘comedy’ would have actually been in its own time to those who viewed it – apparently many, now, will listen comfortably to Bieber’s song.

***

Two friends, Proteus and Valentine each have their own love, but when Proteus meets Valentine’s paramour, Silvia, he seems to forget his own beloved, Julia.  He reveals Valentine’s plot to elope with Silvia to her father and this results in his friend’s exile.  In the meantime, Julia, who has been at home, decides to risk her reputation and follow Proteus to Italy, disguised as a page boy.  The play culminates in the attempted rape of Silvia by Proteus.  After firstly chastising Proteus for his behaviour and vowing to sever friendship, Valentine is quickly swayed when Proteus begs forgiveness and within a few lines, the men have reinstated their friendship and, most disconcertingly, Valentine has promised that ‘All that was mine in Silvia I give thee’ (5.4, line 81).  Frequently, this line is cut from productions as it is at odds with Valentine’s earlier behaviour and also emphasises the uncomfortable ease with which men can consider women as possessions and commodities.  The resultant marriages, or implied marriages at any rate, are therefore troublesome as we are left wondering whether or not the commitment to the women will be true and if the love the women bear the men is indeed, well placed.

With such a depth of characterisation to explore and treacherous issues to negotiate, I was interested to see how the cast at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama would interpret this play.  Using an interesting mix of the ancient world, through the use of stone-effect and pillars in the set and contrasting it with a more contemporary feel through the use of costume and music, the production quickly established the idea of incongruity that runs through the play itself.  The start of the play opens with Proteus (Joe Wiltshire Smith) bidding farewell to Valentine (Aly Cruickshank); this was played for laughs and in a sarcastic tone that reflected well the notion of the masculine bravado of youth which was strengthened further with the secret handshake the two had which was a nice touch.  This gesture was repeated throughout and served to show the close bond between the two friends which later makes Proteus’s betrayal even more shocking.  Julia’s tumult over receiving a letter from Proteus was extremely well delivered by Lola Petticrew and bringing the letter to members of the audience to show it off was a source of amusement.  The fact that Proteus also did this was a nice mirroring move.  Having the lovers exchange rings with an echo-like voiceover for their lines added a dreamlike quality to proceedings and made Proteus’s departure seem part of a fairytale which obviously is later undercut by his infidelity.

As with all good comedies, we have the scenes with the servants, and in this particular play, we have Launce (Charlotte O’Leary), complete with his dog, Crab.  Here, Luke Rhodri, completely excelled himself by having the tricky task of playing Crab, but executing it well.  The use of music was good, with a tense background sound of something like a police siren and radios to create a jarring atmosphere while Proteus debates love and friendship and what he is meant to do with his feelings.  When he screws up a letter and throws it to the floor, coupled with the line of Julia being dead, the action is heavy indeed.  I feel a special mention should go to Tom Murton who played Silvia’s father, the Duke of Milan.  Throughout, he delivered his lines well and commanded a very believable relationship with each character he encountered whether that was his daughter, his friends or Valentine.

Unfortunately, there was quite a lot of confusion as to whether or not there was an interval in this production.  The house lights went down and several people got up, but the actors were back on stage very quickly and the lights then dimmed.  Valentine and Speed (Elysia Welch) were shown in slow motion fleeing to the forest in exile and in the foreground, Julia was changing her costume to become a boy.  Whilst it is very probable that this was a time-filler, as there was no need for either of these processes to be staged for so long, I found it uncomfortable that the audience was leaving and entering and actually missing a silent showing of the despair and the lengths to which lovers will go for each other.

In the second half, we were treated to an entertaining spectacle of a band and song sung by Thurio (Louis Carrington) and Proteus to try and woo Siliva (Hannah Barker) who was sat in the balcony with the audience.  There were many instances where the characters came into the audience and I felt that this worked really well as it made the audience feel more involved and complicit with the action.  In order to be with Valentine, Silvia enlists the help of Sir Eglamour (Luke Rhodri) who is supposed to be a man of great virtue and chastity who still mourns the death of his love.  Silvia asks him to help her and, in this production, also kisses him deeply.  I felt that this was an incongruous interpretation as the very point was that there was somebody truly chivalrous left to rely upon and that he does aid Silvia out of genuine care rather than seeking any kind of gratification.  Silvia is also constantly confessing her love for Valentine, especially when rejecting Proteus’s advances, so it seems unrealistic and at odds with what should have been intended here.  It would also be incredibly tragic if Silvia was meant to feel obliged to offer herself in this way to ensure Eglamour’s help.

However, as the play moved towards its disturbing denouement of Proteus attempting to take Silvia’s love by force, the four central characters held their roles incredibly well.  It’s difficult to maintain the tension in this scene when the emotions alter so drastically in the space of a few lines.  Both male leads convincingly delivered their lines, even though we are left feeling that it is an inappropriate reaction to events: is it really so simple to excuse your friend for nearly raping your partner just because he says “Forgive me”?  Valentine’s line of offering Silvia to Proteus was kept in and served to cause distress and both women were shocked by the way the friends seem to value each other over them.  Even though each couple was united in the end, the women did an excellent job of showing little enthusiasm for getting married.  Silvia wraps her robe around Julia and continues the show of female solidarity that has been displayed throughout and Julia walks sombrely towards Proteus and in the final moments looks out into the audience, away from him, though he is gazing at her.  Even Silvia and Valentine are at different ends of the stage and exit off different sides: promised to each other yet distanced by events.

A troubling play, dealt with in varying degrees of success in this production. But, ultimately, this was a thought-provoking staging that didn’t gloss over the unsettling aspects of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, instead opting to leave the audience with a complex set of emotions and unanswered questions.

This production runs until December 10th. Find out more and book tickets.

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The Two Gentlemen of Verona @RWCMD

November 17, 2016

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Thursday 1 – Saturday 10 December 7.30pm
Matinee Tuesday 6 December 2.30pm
No performances on Sunday or Monday

by William Shakespeare

Trouble is on the cards in Milan when best friends Valentine and Proteus both fall in love with the Duke’s daughter, Silvia. Join us this Christmas season for a tale of love, friendship, betrayal, mistaken identity – all the hallmarks of a great work by our most famous playwright.

Venue: Richard Burton Theatre

Tickets: £13, £11 concessions (Under 25s £6)

Warning: Contains adult themes.

Visit the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama website to book tickets.

***

The Two Gentlemen of Verona, created in about 1592-1593, was first printed in the first folio of 1623. If you are part of a school, FE college or a university, you can also access the BBC Shakespeare Archive to find out more about this play:

http://shakespeare.ch.bbc.co.uk/

Find out more about the first folio here:

http://firstfolio.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/

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The Merchant of Venice Opera @theCentre : A Review

October 11, 2016

30th September 2016

Opera Companies:

Wales National Opera

Co-production of the Bregenzer Festspiele, Austria, the Adam Mickiewicz Institute as part of the Polska Music programme & Teatr Wielki, Warsaw.

Supported by the Getty Family as part of British Firsts.

Wales Millennium Centre

Review by Lucy Menon @LucyMenon

Over the years I have attended many an intriguing adaptation of Shakespeare, but never as an opera.  As part of the celebrations of the four hundred years since Shakespeare’s death, The Merchant of Venice forms the final part of a series of operas (also including Macbeth and Kiss Me Kate) which pay homage to the bard.  With a musical score by André Tchaikowsky (1935-1982) and libretto by John O’Brien, it is hard to believe that this opera was only first performed in 2013 at the Bregenz Festival and had a UK debut at the Wales Millennium Centre this September courtesy of the Welsh National Opera.

Shakespeare’s controversial play, often held up for being anti-Semitic, becomes even more intriguing when Tchaikowsky’s own background is considered.  A Jew and a homosexual, Tchaikowsky embodied attributes of both the main characters of Shylock and Antonio.  Having had a traumatic childhood in the Warsaw Ghetto during WWII, he was smuggled out to be raised by his grandmother and became a musical protégé. It is pertinent that the opening and closing scene has the figure of Antonio laid on a couch in the stereotypical psychoanalyst pose almost embodying the composer’s own need for therapy.  This works well and sets up the exploration of why the character of Antonio is indeed “so sad”.  The trial scene also becomes all the more significant in light of Tchaikowsky’s life, as it could be seen to represent the conflict the composer must have experienced himself.  The homosexual content of the play is sometimes played down by productions, but the opera brings it to the foreground, allowing the exploration for the bonds of love to be demonstrated as well as the monetary bonds which bind the characters to each other.

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(Antonio on the couch) Photo: Johann Persson

Split into three acts, the opera managed to address a different aspect and theme in each section which served to renew an energy and driving pace for the production.  Act 1 dealt with the mercantile aspects of the play; Act 2 transported the audience to the romantic green space of Belmont and Act 3 culminated in the tension of the trial scene.  An epilogue also followed to focus on the multiple pairs of lovers and the resolution of the confusions that had occurred.

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(Trial Scene) Photo: Johan Persson

Antonio, on the night of this review, was played by Feargal Mostyn-Williams (Martin Wölfel had laryngitis). Mosty- Williams did a superb job of conveying a tortured soul and looking particularly pale and petrified whilst facing the potential extraction of a pound of his flesh His interaction with Bassanio (Mark Le Brocq) was entirely believable and heartfelt.  The gesture of the men touching each others’ faces was repeated at several points and created an intimacy that was sometimes accepted and sometimes rejected which served to increase the intensity of emotion.  The night, however, belonged to Lester Lynch who brought out the extremes of feeling in Shylock.  At points contrite, at others vengeful, by the end one cannot help but experience at least the stirrings of sympathy for the Jewish moneylender when he is completely humiliated in court.  Lynch manages to convey a great depth of emotion in the varying cadences of his voice and this is particularly evident in the famous “If you prick us do we not bleed” speech.

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(Lester Lynch as Shylock) Photo Johan Persson

Elements of comedy are fused with the more sombre aspects of this play which allow for light relief in what could otherwise be considered quite a macabre detailing of exacting vengeance.  Act 2 sees the representation of Belmont and an almost film-set quality to proceedings as Portia (Sarah Castle) enters attended by an entourage.  A hedge maze is on stage and also projected onto a screen at the back and serves to put a humorous slant on the task of the suitors in choosing a cask in order to win Portia’s hand in marriage.  The suitors are also outlandish in their behaviour and physical comedy ensues from leaping about to preening in mirrors which creates a more rounded production by linking visual aspects with the vocal talents of the participants.

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE by Tchaikowsky,       , Music - Andre Tchaikowsky, Libretto - John O'Brien, Director - Keith Warner, Designer - Ashley Martin-Davis, Lighting - Davy Cunningham, Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Centre, 2016, Credit: Johan Pers

(Portia and on of her suitors) Photo: Johan Persson

Whilst sometimes it seemed that the music and singing were slightly discordant, the vocal talents of the individuals is not in doubt and there were indeed wonderful orchestral moments: rolling timpani coming to a crescendo with cymbals to emphasise the point at which Shylock was about to collect his pound of flesh from Antonio; deep brass over the moment that Shylock’s body lies centre stage and a more light hearted string accompaniment for the epilogue when the lovers parade under a vast projection of the moon.  What was also impressive were the facial expressions and body language exhibited by each member of the cast which helped to emphasise the emotion of the piece and to reinforce the narrative.

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE by Tchaikowsky,       , Music - Andre Tchaikowsky, Libretto - John O'Brien, Director - Keith Warner, Designer - Ashley Martin-Davis, Lighting - Davy Cunningham, Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Centre, 2016, Credit: Johan Pers

(Lovers under the moon during the Epilogue) Photo: Johan Persson

It is such a shame that Tchaikowsky never got to see his work performed, as the English National Opera initially rejected the piece and he died only three months later.  However, his spirit lingers on as he bequeathed his skull to the RSC so he has now become Yorick, ensuring that for him, in some way, the show would always go on.

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Romeo and Juliet @New_Theatre 9 & 10 September @nyaw_ccic

August 31, 2016

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To celebrate its 40th anniversary year, National Youth Theatre of Wales 2016 presents Shakespeare’s most famous love story about star-crossed lovers destined to end in tragedy. This is a dynamic, modern version of Shakespeare’s classic with movement from renowned physical theatre company, Frantic Assembly, plus live music and vibrant storytelling.
Showing:

Friday 9 September, 19.30pm
Saturday 10 September, 14.00pm and 19.30pm

 

Find out more.

 

 

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Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive launched by @CardiffUni PhD Student

August 26, 2016

Michael John Goodman

This week Michael John Goodman launched the Victorian Illustrated Shakespeare Archive. This is a valuable resource featuring over 3000 illustrations from the four major illustrated editions of Shakespeare’s Complete Works in the Victorian period. Michael Goodman, a PhD candidate at Cardiff University, has painstakingly scanned, tagged and prepared these images and made them available under a creative commons license for others to play around with. This archive is already making me think differently about Shakespeare. For example, I’ve discovered an illustration of Ariel from The Tempest dressed up in a way similar to the representations of Lady Fortune. This begs the question, might Ariel represent a figure of fortune somehow?

Check out the archive here:

https://shakespeareillustration.org/

Congratulations on a spectacular achievement Mikey!

[Johann Gregory]

 

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BBC Shakespeare Archive Launched Online

August 8, 2016

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This year the BBC has launched a super Shakespeare Archive, available for those in schools, FE colleges or universities. It includes all kinds of Shakespeare-related media, including television adaptations, radio plays, images, info and animated tales.

It’s something that I will be sharing with my students this autumn, and I look forward to seeing what they make of it. Several students requested better access to the BBC television adaptations in module feedback last semester, so this is going to make a big difference I think.

Link to resource.

Find out more about this resource here and here.

[Johann Gregory]

 

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‘Little eyases’: A REVIEW OF EVERYMAN YOUTH THEATRE’S RICHARD II: 24 JULY 2016 AT SOPHIA GARDENS

July 25, 2016

 

DARREN FREEBURY-JONES

 

During Shakespeare’s time, children’s playing companies were very popular. St Paul’s Boys performed John Lyly’s plays, while the Children of the Queen’s Revels featured plays written by the likes of John Marston, Thomas Middleton, Thomas Dekker, John Webster, and Ben Jonson, to name just a few. The latter company certainly gave Shakespeare’s a run for its money, and Shakespeare alluded to such troupes in Hamlet, when Rosencrantz speaks of ‘an aery of children, little eyases, that cry out on the top of question, and are most tyrannically clapped for’t: these are now the fashion’. But children’s companies rather ran out of fashion as time passed by, and the vast majority of early modern performances we can purchase tickets for today are by adult companies.

I was thus looking forward to Everyman Youth Theatre’s production of Richard II, having seen and reviewed an adult performance of Romeo and Juliet just a couple of days previously. I was curious to see how the ‘little eyases’, as Shakespeare might term them, compared. Indeed, the young actors did a great job. Richard II is one of Shakespeare’s most lyrical plays, written entirely in verse. Once or twice the children stumbled over Shakespeare’s knotted verse, but, unlike many adult performances I’ve seen, they exemplified respect for Shakespeare’s rhyming couplets, and it was quite a marvel to see some of the youngest children delivering Shakespeare’s lines with such alacrity and panache.

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The play began with dubstep music and staccato movements, which reminded me somewhat of the beginning of the Romeo and Juliet performance I’d seen. I had thus expected a modernised version of the first part of the Henriad, but the costumes were very much old-school: gowns for the monarchs, and rags for the commoners. This paradox did not unsettle me; rather, it was a joy to see these youths clad in such attire, which contributed to the maturity of their performances as a whole.

Ellis Hopkins made for a commendable King Richard, evincing comic elements that I did not know the role possessed. He nailed the King’s capriciousness, and his performance conveyed all the pomp and pomposity required for the part. He did a splendid job portraying the indecisive monarch, and excelled in the infamous deposition scene, when he reluctantly handed the ‘hollow crown’ to the Machiavellian Bolingbroke (played by Joe Munn).

Perhaps the most mature performance in this production came from Aled Gomer as John of Gaunt. He has the potential to become a fine adult actor, I think, and his delivery of Gaunt’s beloved speech, beginning ‘Methinks I am a prophet new inspired’, was notable not only for its excellent pacing and diction, but also Gomer’s lyrical Welsh accent. Other remarkably mature performances include Cait Thomas as Queen Isabel, particularly in the garden scene, which displays Shakespeare at his metaphorical best, and Charlotte Brokenbrow as the Duchess of York, interceding on behalf of her son. I was particularly impressed by Manon Clarke, who played Surrey and Green; she had great stage presence and was remarkably confident in her delivery. The cast as a whole did an excellent job, and it was a real joy to see them tackle Shakespeare’s text so dexterously.

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The play was well trimmed, and certainly did not make for an ‘unweeded garden’ in terms of pacing. Sarah Bawler ensured that all of the key themes of Shakespeare’s play were brought out, and all the key moments, in terms of narrative, were conveyed successfully to the audience. There was even time for a jig at the end of the play, in one of the best choreographed bow sequences I’ve seen on stage.

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Before the play, I had been beleaguering a colleague’s ears about the state of Shakespeare studies, particularly the fragile attributions forthcoming (either giving Shakespeare what he doesn’t own, or taking away chunks of works he wrote), such as the ascription of large parts of the Henry VI trilogy to Christopher Marlowe; the assignation of parts of Titus Andronicus and All’s Well That Ends Well to Thomas Middleton, and, in the teeth of objectively verifiable evidence, but the result of remarkable rhetorical legerdemain, the inclusion of Thomas Kyd’s Arden of Faversham in Shakespeare’s canon. By the end of this performance, these details seemed about as trivial as they must to the readers of this review. It matters little what goes on behind scholarly scenes when children can engage with Shakespeare’s text on stage in this way. I should imagine that the rehearsal process, and the performance itself, was a real education that I hope will settle in their hearts and minds forever. It was certainly an education for this reviewer, and a wonderful theatrical experience.

Photography:  Keith Stanbury

 

 

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