Archive for July, 2016

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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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“HOLY COW! BUT I HAVE NO BEEF…” A REVIEW OF ROMEO AND JULIET – Everyman Open Air Theatre Festival

July 22, 2016

 

Darren Freebury-Jones

 

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I must confess that I find it rather difficult to get excited about productions of Shakespeare’s tragedy of love, Romeo and Juliet. The play is one of the bard’s biggest hits, and it tends to get put on very frequently, at the expense of some of Shakespeare’s other tragedies, like, say, his collaboration with George Peele, Titus Andronicus, or his Coriolanus. It also gets put on at the expense of many other great early modern tragedies, such as Thomas Kyd’s The Spanish Tragedy, (his contested) Arden of Faversham, and his original Elizabethan love-tragedy, Soliman and Perseda; or Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine plays and The Jew of Malta; not to mention the tragic works of John Marston, John Webster, and sundry others. That said, I have no qualms about Everyman selecting this much-loved classic in order to show off the marvellous talent they have at their disposal. But if you’re going to select a sacred cow, you’d better bring it to pastures new…

And that’s exactly what the directors Mark Modzelewski and Jack Paterson have done. The play began with myriad voices, the prologue incantatory, with vivid tableaus. From the off, I could perceive that Everyman were going for something quite different with this production: they were going to deliver all the great moments in Shakespeare’s play that have been adored for centuries, but they were also going to keep it fresh, with visceral emotion and raw intensity between the warring houses. Many speeches were split between characters, giving more of an ensemble feel, and Benvolio, a role I once played myself, had suddenly become two characters, aptly named Ben (played by Edward Kettle) and Volio (Stephanie Smith). All this made for a Romeo and Juliet that delivered the classic moments and the adulated lines, but mixed things up with great success. If I have one criticism, it is that I felt the cast could have made more of the humour in the first half of the play. What I enjoy most about Shakespeare’s text is the dichotomy between the comedic first half and the despairing second half, engendered by Mercutio’s death. Whether the directors had decided to rein in the comedy for the sake of eliciting emotive responses from the audience, or whether the fact that this was the first night meant the cast were less likely to take risks, I’m not sure. That said, Cari Barley did an excellent job in the Senecan role of the Nurse (however, this part can also be found in Arthur Brooke’s poem, which served as a source for Shakespeare), in the scene when Juliet entreats her to offer information about Romeo’s marriage proposal.

What about the lovers themselves? Mikey Howe made for an eminently likeable Romeo, who demonstrably grew in confidence as the play progressed, and will hit his stride as the production continues, I’m sure. He really nailed the youthful naivety, amorousness, and despair of the protagonist. As for Juliet, I must concede that, in the vast majority of productions I’ve seen, the actress does a poor job. Juliet, if not played right, can come across as a whiney, obstreperous teenager, thus obliterating any invested emotion on the part of the audience. Helen Randall, however, made for a beautiful Juliet, both inside and out, a captivating bright angel whenever she was on stage, with pitch-perfect delivery of Shakespeare’s pentameter lines, perfect diction, wry humour, and understated despair. She was indubitably the finest Juliet I’ve seen on stage and had wonderful chemistry with her Romeo.

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The cast did a great job overall, from the snarling Tybalt (played by Asha Cecil), to the loveable ghostly father, Friar Laurence (played by James Pritchard), and the excellent Jon Barnes as Mercutio. Barnes’s Mercutio was the ideal blend of loveable cad and dangerous ally, and his death was very touching and ushered in the woeful downfall of Juliet and her Romeo. The creative ensemble were also superb, and were integral to the success of the play. The directors evidently allowed the cast to improvise in rehearsal, to experiment, and some moments, such as Romeo’s encounter with the Apothecary, were visually and audibly stunning. Too often reviewers focus solely on the ‘leading’ actors, without acknowledging the hard work of the supporting cast, who provide the very foundations for performance and are crucial to the quality of a play. I must mention Tom Roderick in particular; he listened and responded intently and aptly to every line of the play, and his ability to react, and to invest himself in each unfolding moment, was commendable.

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Nature is above art, a doctrine Shakespeare himself imparts in King Lear, and the outdoor surroundings really contributed to this production. The clock would strike on the most portentous moments, such as Mercutio’s demise, and sometimes it was hard to discern between artificial sirens and real police cars zipping through Cardiff. One particular highlight was the moment that Romeo prepared to kill himself. A flock of seagulls screamed in protest, like the figurative raven from the anonymous The Tragedy of Richard III that Shakespeare parodied in Hamlet, singing not, but screeching for revenge. Indeed, the cast’s deep sighs added more clouds to the ominous lazy-pacing clouds that converged on the production.

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Lastly, I must praise the fight scenes, which really had the audience on the edge of their seats. Some of the blows were incredibly realistic, as one might expect from a production with the super talented Simon Riordan as Assistant Director. All in all, this was a solid production, with a marvellous cast, perfectly directed (and well edited, might I add! It was a brisk piece of engrossing entertainment), that dispelled any gripes I had about the potentiality of this production being same-old.

Once again, I say bravo Everyman; this company never fails to delivery high-quality productions, and I am particularly excited to review the eyases performing Richard II on Sunday.

Romeo and Juliet runs from 21 July – 30 July at Sophia Gardens, Cardiff.

Photography:  Keith Stanbury

 

 

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Open Air Theatre Festival in Cardiff: Shakespeare, 21-30, July

July 18, 2016

 

 

Everyman Theatre is back in Cardiff for the Open Air Festival.

Their Shakespeare productions include:

Richard II, 24th, July, 2016

Everyman Youth Theatre are delighted to return to the Open Air Theatre Festival this summer to perform Shakespeare’s historical play, Richard II. Running time is approximately 90 minutes including an interval.

Romeo and Juliet, 21-30th, July, 2016

Everyman Theatre are delighted to welcome directors Mark Modzelewski and Jack Paterson to our Open Air Theatre Festival and the depiction of Shakespeare’s classic tale of “star-cross’d lovers”, forbidden love and blind passion is a tale of firsts.  Swept away in their first love, teenagers Romeo and Juliet irresistibly drawn to each other, fall in love and marry in secret as their families’ long standing feud comes to a head.  When you are passionately in love, nothing else matters – not even life itself.  Defying the hatred and violence surrounding them, they dare to believe they can, and must, be together.

In modern Verona, violence erupts between the Montagues and Capulets with tragic consequences.  With the death of their children, the citizens come together and through song, movements and story examine how they came to such tragedy.

Find out more.

 

 

 

 

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