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Hamlet at the Almeida: A review by @EmiGarside

April 2, 2017

Hamlet Almeida

A review by Dr Emily Garside

Hamlet is a play that is familiar even to those with no direct experience of the play – whether it’s a general knowledge of a much-adapted plot or the countless lines that have made it into common usage. So it is an achievement of a director and cast to not only make the production feel fresh and innovative but also for lines so often uttered they are virtually cliché to sound new.

Robert Icke, former artistic director of Headlong, now associate of the Almeida inserted new life into Oresteia last year, and it’s in a similar vein he has approached Hamlet, starring Andrew Scott as the Danish Prince. The production is modern dress and makes use of video technology but it’s period is indistinct, at times feeling in the present moment, others having a slightly futuristic air.

The major change it feels Icke has made is a shift in pace to the expected ebb and flow of the piece. Gaining infamy for a nearly four hour running time, it doesn’t feel like the theatrical marathon it is. There is a natural pace to the overall piece, and within each scene, down to each line that Icke seems to have taken apart and put together again. Although the first segment is familiar in its staging, approach and length, there is a clattering towards a finale that despite some additions – some from the first Quarto lines, some dialogues additions to staging – that give this take a freshness.

The contemporary staging – so often nothing more than some suits and contemporary furniture – is woven into the staging effectively. The play opens with news footage of King Hamlet’s funeral, and across the play video is used, from a Skype meeting with the ambassadors, to filming The Mousetrap, through to war footage and final evocative images that show integration and addition of film and stage at their most effective. Most engaging of this is the staging of play-within-a-play The Mousetrap in which when Claudius storms out, disrupting both the staged performance and the filming of the royal family, the ‘Pause’ created is so realistic for a moment it feels like there is something genuinely wrong. These elements of meta, thrown back onto the audience across the play, make for an engaging and challenging reading of the well-worn Hamlet.

Of course, any Hamlet is only ever as good as the actor playing the title role. And again, Andrew Scott brings to light elements of the part that even in those moments that usually feel so familiar, there is a different slant to Scott’s performance that creates a freshness. The early and end scenes are emotionally charged and made for the most moving portrayals of the part in memory. In the early scenes, Scott veers from quietly grief stricken to unhinged and over the top from moment to moment. Scott’s balancing of the two elements of grief stricken and depressed works, and although at times the moments of exuberant grief and madness may seem ridiculous, it is because Hamlet himself is indeed at times ridiculous. The intimacy of the venue works in favour of this portrayal as well, with the loud, abrasive Hamlet feeling too close to be comfortable, and the quiet, reflective Hamlet feeling intimate and moving.

Robert Icke’s production has successfully re-invigorated Hamlet in his staging, using the contemporary elements rather than simply creating a backdrop of them. Meanwhile Scott’s Hamlet offers a different take on the classic role, and perhaps one unexpected from the actor. He is a contemplative, but emotional Hamlet, caught in a changing world on both a personal and political level. It’s an intellectual challenging Hamlet for the audience, but also one which resonates with the underlying emotion of the piece.

Visit the Almeida website

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A Play of Two Halves: Review of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Marvellous Pretenders, 2-4 March 2017

March 7, 2017

DARREN FREEBURY-JONES

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is probably my favourite Shakespeare comedy. I have fond memories of playing Demetrius in a production several years ago, and I know how much hard work goes into ensuring that the pace and choreography is on point, in order to make the play as accessible and humorous as possible for modern audiences.

The rain lashed down as I drove through bush, through brake and brier, from Cardiff to Caerphilly, and I found it curious that the first Shakespeare production my girlfriend would see was a summery text quite at odds with the despicable Welsh weather. But it was considerably warmer inside Newbridge Memo, a magnificent Grade II listed building complete with ballroom and, on the uppermost floor, a gorgeous theatre with lovely staff members. The Marvellous Pretenders are a newly formed theatre company founded last year by Suzie Rees. What is truly attractive about this company is that they aim to produce plays that link to the English and Drama GCSE and A Level syllabus.

I didn’t know what to expect from this production, so I waited eagerly for the curtains to open and reveal the proscenium stage. I found my right eyebrow twitching somewhat at Theseus and Hippolyta’s costumes, which resembled something from a school nativity play. Moreover, the acting performances in the first half were variable; some of the players overacted, sawed the air with grand gesticulations, whereas others underacted, not evincing enough energy in crucial moments and not quite projecting enough. Some aspects of the first half of the play simply did not work. The fairy lullaby was a muddle, and I found it peculiar that Oberon’s long speeches (containing such vivid images as a mermaid singing on a dolphin’s back) were not sent to the barbers, given that Puck demonstrably mocked their showy nature.

The curtains closed for the interval, and I didn’t know quite what to make of the production. Some elements, such as the slapstick, rather modern comedy, really worked and should have been emphasised, whereas the play sometimes felt low on energy. Some of the performances were very enjoyable, including Steve Purbrick as Theseus/Oberon, Jeremy Linnell as Puck, and Karim Bedda, who gave a particularly assured performance as Lysander. However, the cues needed to be picked up quicker, especially as many of the lines have an incantatory rhyming quality, and the business between fairies and lovers required sharper choreography.

MND

Many of my quibbles dissipated when the play resumed. It was like a different cast were on stage. A production like this, with an evidently low budget, should give emphasis to the cheesiness and pantomimic potentialities of this play. On many occasions in the first half, the cast and director had come close, but in the second half (particularly the last quarter) the nail was firmly hit on the head. The Mechanicals’ production of Ovid’s Pyramus and Thisbe narrative is so naff (here Shakespeare seems to poke fun at his own tragic work, as well as the bombastic tragic diction of plays such as the anonymous Locrine, and the works of George Peele, although the passage concerning ‘the raging rocks and shivering shocks’ has long been recognised as a parody of John Studley) that it’s hilarious, and it is fitting that this scene was the highlight of the evening. The cast were simply brilliant during the play-within-the-play; the humour (such as Francis Flute’s breast hypertrophy) was crude, the slapstick elements were played to their full potential (Chris Chandler-Williams’s Nick Bottom had the audience in stitches) and, most commendably, all of this was done during a fire alarm that threatened to end the performance early (twice!). I take my hat off to the actors, who showed a great deal of professionalism in coping with the sort of nightmarish situation every actor has dreamt of at least once. My girlfriend understandably struggled with some of the language in this play, but she too found the second half to be hilarious, and I felt a sense of warmth and joviality walking into the rain-swept streets that told me Marvellous Pretenders had done a decent job.

Such companies are very important for local communities and performing arts as a whole, and I wish them all the best as they take on future classic plays and the works of local authors. The passion for theatre, and the willingness to endure the sort of bad luck one might expect in a production of Macbeth, was encapsulated not only by the fire alarm going off twice but also by founder Suzie Rees, who broke both ankles and had to perform in a somewhat squeaky wheelchair. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a chaotic play, with confused lovers, mischievous fairies and therianthropic humans. This was a chaotic production, but I think it worked as a result, and I wish to thank Newbridge Memo and Marvellous Pretenders for a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

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The Duchess of Malfi by @actonecardiff 23-25 February

February 23, 2017

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Some of my favourite productions of early modern plays have been by Act One (The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth etc), the Cardiff University Drama Society.

Dr Johann Gregory

Find out more

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream @NewbridgeMemo – March, 1st-4th

February 20, 2017

a-midsummer-nights-dream

Marvellous Pretenders are a newly formed professional theatre company, based in the Newbridge Memo.

The group, who are fronted by director and actor Suzie Rees, are the only professional producing company in the area and will be bringing classic plays to Newbridge over the next few years…the first installment being the Shakespearian classic: A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Wednesday, March 1st – Saturday, March 4th

Tickets on sale now: £8 standard | £6 concession.

Ballroom Bar Open: 6.30pm | Theatre Doors: 7.00pm | Event Start: 7.30pm.

Find out more

 

If you would like to review this production for Cardiff Shakespeare, please get in touch with Johann Gregory.

***

So why come and see the show?
It’s going to be great fun as the company have approached it as a Shakespearean farce so it’s quite fast and furious. Also, it’s the first opportunity to see classic theatre by the Memo’s own professional theatre company.

Is the show accessible and up to date? What can people expect?
The actors have spent a long time working on understanding the language so that the audience will be able to understand it too.  Our version is a long way from the stuffy, static performances many people associate with Shakespeare.

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RSC Live The Tempest – Encore Screenings 7 Feb @theRSC

February 3, 2017

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If, like me, you’ve yet to see the RSC Tempest, there is a chance to catch it in Cardiff next Tuesday. I was lucky enough to hear the co-producer Sarah Ellis talk yesterday in Cardiff at an event on digital and the arts, where she discussed the RSC’s collaboration with Intel and Imaginarium Studios. Last semester I was teaching the play on a Late Plays module at Cardiff University and in seminars we discussed what the masque in the play would look like in the twenty-first century, so I’ll be interested to see how this scene is staged especially.

Johann Gregory

Find the nearest cinema screening to you.

BBC NEWS: Shakespeare’s Tempest gets mixed reality makeover

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The Moot Virginity of Catherine of Aragon @ShermanTheatre

January 24, 2017

This production is currently showing at the Sherman, Cardiff:

Europe divides in two. An act of teenage love could be the cause. Catherine of Aragon’s first wedding night with Henry VIII’s brother, Arthur comes into question in this no-nonsense music-theatre first. Did they? Didn’t they?

With live on-stage musicians and an award-winning team, this immersive show is a must as we reconsider one of history’s misremembered women.

Performed by Abigail McGibbon (winner Best Supporting Actress, Irish Times Theatre Awards, 2016)

Directed by Conor Mitchell

This is an immersive piece where audiences can choose to stand or sit.

 

More information

Running time: 50 minutes

Contains strong language and themes of an adult nature and a short scene which includes the use of a real deceased pig’s head

Performed by Abigail McGibbon
Directed, Written and Composed by Conor Mitchell

An immersive piece where audiences can choose to stand or sit

Date Time
Tuesday 24 January 8.00pm
Wednesday 25 January 8.00pm
Thursday 26 January 8.00pm
Friday 27 January 8.00pm
Satuday 28 January 3.00pm
Saturday 28 January 8.00pm

Find out more

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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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