Posts Tagged ‘Lucy Menon’

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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 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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Review of Shakespeare’s Macbeth @thegatearts

October 28, 2015

Review by Lucy Menon @LucyMenon

Performed by: The Pantaloons
Directed by: Stephen Purcell
Produced by: Mark Hayward and Caitlin Storey
Venue: The Gate Arts Centre, Cardiff
Date: Thrusday 22nd October 2015

Before attending this production, a quick glance at the length and breadth of their proposed tour gave me the impression that this was certainly a company in demand. From Yorkshire to Essex, The Pantaloons have a “one night only” show across the country for over a month so it gives you plenty of chance to catch them somewhere, and I can highly recommend that you do.

In a season where Macbeth seems to be in vogue, with the latest Fassnebender film offering (which I have yet to see, but do intend to), I felt that this comic interpretation of “the Scottish Play” was the perfect antithesis to something that is essentially a psychological thriller with a very high body count! Channelling the film noir tradition as well as the gangster genre with some stand-up comedy thrown in for good measure, the company evoked a wonderful atmosphere that involved the audience directly but still managed to maintain a believable story-telling narrative.

On entering, the cast were already playing musical instruments and chatting with the audience which established the pantomime aspect of the production. They introduced the play with a song about “the curse of Macbeth”. Dressed in suits and braces, reminiscent of gangsters, the costuming helped to establish the idea of a murky underworld which worked well for the nature of Macbeth. It was a very small performance area but The Pantaloons proved how a minimal set does not mean minimal results: most of the cast had multiple roles but, through small costume changes and vocal alteration, each of these roles were clearly developed and there was no confusion over characterisation. The Weird Sisters were puppets with eerie faces which provided an apt spookiness as they were indeed disembodied creatures that were able to disappear suddenly.

The company also had ingenious ideas such as using torches for headlights to mimic a car, spraying a bottle of water into the air and saying, “it was drizzling”, rustling a plastic bag next to a microphone to give the impression of rain and having Kelly Griffiths pretend to be a lamppost by holding a light above Hannah Ellis when she was narrating as Malcolm! By taking motifs such as these, that the audience are familiar with, and putting a twist on it, the humour of the situation was evoked with ease and to great effect. One instance of this was when Malcolm switched to become Narrator-Malcolm and the other characters seemed shocked by what was said and then this was countered with, “You can’t hear me, I’m narrating.” Another example was when the cast responded to real time events, such as an audience member knocking over a cup, which, despite breaking the fourth wall of performance, actually enhanced the production. The ability of the cast to retain control of the situation was exceptional as such improvisation had the potential to disrupt, or at least interrupt, the flow of narrative but they stayed in charge of the tale and the darkness of Macbeth was sustained.

There were some nice touches including Ross (Alex Rivers) dusting the chair for Duncan (Kelly Griffiths) and shaving him too: it was comical yet also made the situation more believable. Alex Rivers switched between being Ross the dogsbody to a rather chilling Lady Macbeth and delivered the lines with a seriousness that belied the comedy of the earlier role. I felt her to be very much in control of the language and she demonstrated the power dynamic in the relationship that Lady Macbeth has over her husband extremely well. It is made evident that the couple care deeply for each other through frequent physical contact such as face stroking, but it was also revealed to be a disturbing force that in the end, propels them to commit murder.

Darkness and light were put to great effect in this production: a shadow of a dagger was seen to be present during Macbeth’s famous soliloquy of “Is this a dagger I see before me?” and as different cast members were on different sides of the stage, it seemed as if Macbeth was surrounded by this dark presence. This was carried through into the second half where a lot of the action was played out in torch light which emphasised the ideas of sleep, danger, secrets and confusion associated with the darkness.

Sound effects and music were also put to good use with chilling keyboards running through high and low notes in a disturbing fashion, wood blocks, “owl” screeching, drums for footsteps all helped to increase the tension during Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s speech after they have executed their plans. I actually felt my own heart beating which goes to show how the atmosphere was intensified and this was also reflected in the pace of the speech of the characters. Re-entering with red gloves on to symbolise the bloodshed, Lady Macbeth began to speak far more quickly, whereas Macbeth slowed down to the point he sounded dazed and drunk. Lady Macbeth seems to be genuinely frustrated with her husband and the pair engage in what can be seen as a real domestic argument, albeit on this occasion on the rather more surreal subject of the murder they have just committed.

The Gate Arts Centre, Cardiff

The Porter (Kelly Griffiths) managed to engage the audience (all the more entertaining as certain people were obviously more responsive than others at being involved directly) and cracked several groan-worthy jokes which were well received. The humour was heightened by the fact that Macduff (Neil Jennings) responded in a deadpan and uninterested manner to any attempts the Porter made to be funny. Macbeth also manages to undercut Macduff’s tale of how horrific things have been by simply saying, “rough night” which injected an element of humour to the otherwise very solemn narrative.

The re-enactment of a busy train station to signify Malcolm’s journey away from Scotland was well planned out and once again added a wonderful touch of realism to a play that often becomes quite supernatural. The improvisation of using the earlier stories from the audience members as “news” hawked by the paper-seller at the station was great. Having a completely incoherent tanoy changing the train departure platform at the last minute from 1 to 33 also elicited laughs due to the fact that we can all identify with the situation.

There were exquisite moments of bathos in this production delivered through wonderful lines such as “Banquo, park the motor” and “Macbeth lurked outside soliloquising” which was a great way to set up the scene and really struck a chord with anyone that has ever studied Shakespeare and wondered why all these brooding characters seem to be talking to themselves!

Christopher Smart delivered a suitably conflicted Macbeth with a commanding stage presence: at one point coming right into the audience and almost touching several people while he is delivering his speech which draws individuals into empathising with him. The lines were delivered convincingly and Macbeth’s mental turmoil is established well and we see him waver over the decision to kill.

The Macbeths

During the second half, the Porter brought round shots of wine for the audience and gave us lines to involve us in the banquet scene. This was clever as it meant that as Macbeth suffered his mental breakdown of seeing Banquo at the meal we were exposed to it as guests at a party and it made it seem all the more uncomfortable.

There was further amusement derived from the saxophone player being shot to shut him up and then he shuffled himself off stage along the floor which caused the audience to laugh and was also accompanied by one of the cast saying “Don’t encourage him!” which just made it all the funnier.

A special commendation goes to Neil Jennings’ portrayal of Macduff hearing the news about the murder of his wife and children as his reactions were incredibly well acted and his distress was made clear through anger as well as an almost tearful response that was not over exaggerated. The final fight scene between Macduff and Macbeth was incredible and extremely well choreographed to the point I felt it was so realistic it made for uncomfortable viewing.

Concluding with the “curse of Macbeth” song that they had started with, the cast managed to make a well rounded narrative of an age-old tale by infusing it with interesting and inventive modern twists. The pantomime techniques add an air of spontaneity and thus means that each performance will be unique in some way which adds to the charm of this company. Go and see it…if you dare!

Find out more here

Tour Dates:

Wednesday 28 October
7:30pm
Hedingham Castle
HALSTEAD, Essex, CO9 3DJ
01787 460 261

Thursday 29 October
7:30pm
The Lights
ANDOVER, Hampshire, SP10 1AH
01264 368 368

Friday 30 October
7:30pm
The Bacon Theatre
CHELTENHAM, Gloucestershire, GL51 6HE
01242 258 002

Sunday 1 November
7:00pm
The Watermark
IVYBRIDGE, Devon, PL21 0SZ
01752 892 220

Tuesday 3 November
7:30pm
Palace Theatre
NEWARK, Nottinghamshire, NG24 1JY
01636 655755

Wednesday 4 November
7:30pm
Guildhall Arts Centre
GRANTHAM, Lincolnshire, NG31 6PZ
01476 406 158

Thursday 5 November
7:30pm
Cranleigh Arts Centre
CRANLEIGH, Surrey, GU6 8AS
01483 278 000

Friday 6 November
8:00pm
Brookside Theatre
ROMFORD, Essex, RM1 3NH
01708 755 775

Saturday 7 November
8:00pm
Brookside Theatre
ROMFORD, Essex, RM1 3NH
01708 755 775

Thursday 12 November
7:30pm
Gulbenkian Theatre
CANTERBURY, Kent, CT2 7NB
01227 769 075

Friday 13 November
7:30pm
Memorial Hall
DEREHAM, Norfolk, NR19 2DJ
01362 696943

Saturday 14 November
7:30pm
The Place
BEDFORD, Bedfordshire, MK40 3DE
01234 354 321

Sunday 15 November
8:00pm
Drayton Arms
LONDON, Greater London, SW5 0LJ
020 7835 2301

Monday 16 November
8:00pm
Drayton Arms
LONDON, Greater London, SW5 0LJ
020 7835 2301

Tuesday 17 November
8:00pm
Artrix
BROMSGROVE, Birmingham, B60 1AX
01527 577 330

Thursday 19 November
7:30pm
Pomegranate Theatre
CHESTERFIELD, Derbyshire, S41 7TX
01246 345 222

Friday 20 November
7:30pm
Braintree Arts Theatre
BRAINTREE, Essex, CM7 1WY
01376 556 354

Saturday 21 November
7:30pm
St Peters by the Waterfront
IPSWICH, Suffolk, IP1 1XF
01473 225 269

Sunday 22 November
7:00pm
Dilham Village Hall
NORTH WALSHAM, Norfolk, NR28 9PT
01692 536 666
SOLD OUT!

Tuesday 24 November
7:30pm
Mumford Theatre
CAMBRIDGE, Cambs, CB1 1PT
0845 196 2320

Wednesday 25 November
7:30pm
Mumford Theatre
CAMBRIDGE, Cambs, CB1 1PT
0845 196 2320

Thursday 26 November
8:00pm
Trinity Theatre
TUNBRIDGE WELLS, Kent, TN1 1JP
01892 678 678

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Northern Broadsides’ King Lear: A Review

May 28, 2015

KING_LEAR

Northern Broadsides Production

King Lear, Dir. Jonathan Miller

Rose Theatre, Kingston

Friday, 22 May, 2015

A review by Lucy Menon (Cardiff University alumna)

On the evening of Friday 22nd May 2015, I attended the Northern Broadsides’ production of Shakespeare’s King Lear at the Rose Theatre in Kingston.

One of the striking features of this production of King Lear was the Northern accents of the cast; these accents served to reinforce the concept of familial bonds for me as it seemed the ‘down-to-earth’ intonations in the lilt transgressed the idea of it being a royal family and made it instantly more familiar and heightened the tragedy in the sense that it could easily be your own family undergoing such tensions. However, through a very strong cast and able direction from Jonathan Miller, the elevated nature of the play was still maintained and a sense of inner, as well as political, conflict was achieved.

They made good use of a minimal set: a wooden frame, reminiscent of an extremely large curtain rail, complete with deep red velvet curtain wound over the top pole on the left side; wooden tables and benches that were not always present or moved around the stage for various scene changes. The wooden frame literally, as well as metaphorically, served to frame and focus the action on stage. It also took on a more active use when Edgar (Jack Wilkinson), disguised as Tom, would kiss and hold the wooden pole which served to emphasise his disconnection from the others in his own madness. He also took on an almost Jesus-like figure through his nakedness, wounds and crown of thorns and adopting positions with his arms and legs around the wooden frame that almost paralleled a crucifixion stance.

Barrie Rutter gave a convincing performance of the proud king dwindling to a dishevelled old man. Lear’s madness is seemingly a result of his grief and inner turmoil rather than genuine insanity and so seems even more tragic as it reinforces the idea that he is aware of his misdeeds and ill treatment of others and is a fact he will have to bear. When eventually reunited with Cordelia, their interaction is incredibly touching and he becomes the doting father that he should have been from the start: the poignancy is not lost on the audience who realise that this is all too late. In his attempts to reassure her when they are taken to prison we are made to realise what Lear himself realises: this is quite possibly the outcome of his own actions and in some way is responsible for the death of his dutiful daughter. His distress and disbelief at her demise in the concluding moments of the play are highly charged and when he asks for his clothes to be loosened the physical reaction to his emotional grief is made obvious as his heart is literally breaking.

The Fool’s (Fine Time Fontayne) make-up of white face paint with black crosses over his eyes, in a stereotypical clown fashion, gave him an eerie quality and made him appear quite sinister when coupled with the dark replies and dead-pan humour he provides. Appearing after Cordelia leaves and disappearing when she returns, the Fool serves as her stage presence by continually commenting upon Lear’s foolishness and so becoming a disturbing reminder for Lear of his errors.

The three sisters were well cast with Helen Sheals, Nicola Sanderson and Catherine Kinsella playing Goneril, Regan and Cordelia respectively. The strength of the bond between the elder siblings was accentuated when contrasted with those they appeared to share with their father, which did not hold even when slightly tested. The pair are also united through similar body language as well as facial expressions, such as eye-rolling, they both managed to convey their irritation and true feelings about their father which was often quite humorous (after all, who hasn’t been frustrated by an aging parent?) as well as being a source of tension within the play. However, the true spiteful and vicious nature of the sisters, as pointed out by Cordelia in the opening scenes, is still overwhelmingly clear; it is not only their behaviour towards their father that reveals this, it is also the way they lust after Edmund. Eventually, it is the duplicitous Edmund that is the catalyst for the severing of their sisterly affection for each other.

Edmund (Al Bollands) was a suitably suave and simpering son and suitor. Testimony to his ability, it was as though his actions could be understood even if they were horrifically executed and his lies were presented as easily believable. The gulling of Gloucester seems to be done with ease and this poor judgement upon Edgar, with the heavy price upon it, seems to be too hastily accepted. With a commanding stage presence, it was made obvious how the characters Edmund sought to embroil in his plots were easily deceived. His exchanges with Edgar show him at once to be similar to his brother in terms of strength and speech style but also very different as his loyalty lies ultimately to himself. An interesting parallel was that both Edgar and Edmund cut their own left palm at different points in the play; symbolically it is as though they are blood brothers and they are of the same flesh, which is indeed the very bone of contention between them.

Strangely, there seemed to be a greater amount of laughter elicited from the lines throughout the whole production than I had initially expected. Having previously only read the text and examined it as a “tragedy” it is often easy to miss how instances, even though poignant, can also be humorous. I feel that Jos Vantyler deserves a particular mention: his Oswald seemed to have the air of an 80s pop icon which worked wonderfully and he seemed very at home on the stage. His camp attitude while acting as go-between and shrinking from his skirmish with Kent (Andrew Vincent) disguised as a servant provided the audience with light relief and also established a depth to his character.

The blinding of Gloucester (John Branwell) was well enacted and occurred at the back of the stage in a blinding bright light and shrouded in smoke so the audience were given the impression of being close and present but without actually witnessing anything which made it unsettling and effective. In fact, the production used explicit violence minimally (even the fight between Edgar and Edmund at the end was presented in slow motion and more of a choreographed exchange of blows) and this served to enhance the atmosphere as the horror was certainly obvious but not protracted.

Indeed, overall, for this interpretation, words spoke more than actions: considering the power of the language in this play it meant an even greater emotional impact was able to be wrought when the emphasis was not necessarily placed on the visual and the Northern accents helped to establish a very heartfelt portrayal of the destruction of relationships.

***

You can still catch the production in Newcastle-under-Lyme until mid-June:

http://www.northern-broadsides.co.uk/

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@Everymancdf Taming of the Shrew – Cardiff Shakespeare Review

July 28, 2014

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Review by Lucy Menon (Cardiff University alumna), creator of Shakespeare Books

On the sultry evening of Friday 25th July, the Everyman theatre company held their opening night of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. The weather seemed to complement the heated debates on stage as the age-old issues surrounding clashes between parents and children, the struggles for independence, and, of course, the nature of love were presented. The outdoor set was minimal with a wooden frame as the front of “Tony’s” and a table with two chairs in front of it. Like the original play, this version sought to place an introductory framework before the main show. In this instance, we were launched into a very Welsh scene of a raucous stag-do invading the stage. This made a definite connection with the audience as it created a very local link, with jokes being made to the veneer of “Tony’s” as the chip shop in Caroline Street. The hen party also made their way to the stage and immediately established the tension between the sexes as we learnt that their friend Kate had been “dumped” by one of the stags. Indeed, one player came from being seated in the audience to defend her as his sister and implied that he was only participating in the acting to cheer her up. The start to the performance reinforced the concept that some issues never alter, such as the complexities of courtship from being spurned to marriage itself. The characters then melted into the background and re-emerged as members of the cast.

The main setting for this production was 1950s Italy and this proved to be a great success with costumes reflecting status and personality equally well. It also allowed for a snazzy Rat Pack soundtrack to be played prior to the performance and during the interval which subtly enhanced the atmosphere. From the outset, Kate (Sarah Bawler) commanded the stage through silent facial movements, physical action and vocal talent. Her performance continued to be incredibly strong throughout, with her great interpretation of the language and her often perfect emphasis conveying the meaning. This was particularly evident when Petruchio first starts to woo her and she tries to defy him; later when she is being denied food in a bid to tame her and her desperation exudes from her without even speaking and finally in the concluding section of the play when she enters at last eating a sandwich and thus manages to evoke humour through even a small gesture. Costuming for Kate was also well planned throughout, from a drab dress at the start, to a purple outfit on her wedding day which aptly reflected her passion and choler at the event; she wore more muted colours spattered with mud when she was being “tamed”, while, by the end of the play, she sported a navy dress with white polka dots as the respectable and compliant wife. Petruchio (James Pritchard) provided the perfect foil to her and matched her in stage presence and wit. Dressed in a sharp suit, he managed to come across as suave and business-like which reflected Petruchio’s character well. The height difference between the central couple also allowed for entertainment value as Kate was significantly shorter than Petruchio, so moments of interaction almost contained an element of slapstick.

Tranio (Richard Atkinson) provided initial comedy value by sounding like a Welsh Baldrick from Blackadder with his attempts at cunning plans with his master Lucentio (Matt Lody); then a simple costume swap of a suit jacket and a woollen vest top allowed for a very definite change in demeanour and role. This then made Lucentio appear as a preppy school-boy which, with the later addition of a bowtie, provided the perfect guise as a tutor for Bianca. Indeed, the tutor scenes involving both Lucentio and Hortensio (one of Bianca’s much older suitors) disguised as would-be tutors were another high point for physical comedy. The attire of the tutors in identical costumes of woollen vests and bowties, but in differing colours, worked well visually and also added to the sense of comedy. Initially attempting to educate Kate, Hortensio leaves the stage, but promptly returns with his ukulele broken around his neck! This simple action demonstrates Kate’s temper and Hortensio’s unsuitability to the position. Later, Hortensio hopes to win Bianca by pretending to be her music teacher but is thwarted by the younger Lucentio’s Latin conjugations which allow him to have more private whisperings with Bianca, whilst Hortensio is left to tune his “instrument”, allowing the innuendo to run high in this scene.

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Baptista (John Atkinson) plays the part of the anxious father well, and we feel convinced of his concern for both his daughters. As the programme tells us, “Baptista’s job as a father is to marry off his daughters, and the eldest before the youngest; so far he’s failed…” and this turmoil is well presented as he feels unable to allow Bianca to marry before Kate, yet he is aware of his elder daughter’s awkward disposition. He does seem to initially favour his younger daughter, Bianca, which only adds to Kate’s frustrations. However, in scenes with Petruchio, he does imply that he wants Kate to be happy and marry for love, not just to become part of a financial contract. He also becomes quite annoyed when Petruchio turns up late and inappropriately clothed for his own wedding. There is also a tender moment in which Kate runs to the arms of her father, away from her demanding husband, which is reminiscent of an earlier embrace between Bianca and Baptista, after Kate had tied her sister to a chair. It is pertinent that this occurred during a discussion of possession and how, now they are married, Petruchio considered Kate as belonging to him like a “barn” or general “chattels”.

The part of Grumio (Chris Williams) also deserves a notable mention as he injected another layer of humour into the production and stood out in terms of his convincing performance of an unfairly treated servant. Reminiscent of Charlie Chaplain in terms of both costume and physicality, Grumio also added further to the humorous elements of the play. This physicality was coupled with a wonderful use of voice to convey a range of sentiment. Clad in a purple bridesmaid’s dress for his master’s wedding, he was an amusing sight to behold and harkened back to Shakespeare’s own gender-bending era when the boy-players would dress as women. This duality was emphasised as he was still wearing his bowler hat and brogues and held a small bouquet of flowers in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other! A moment of sheer ridiculousness passed when Grumio removed his weapon from under his dress to reveal it is a small, plastic carrot.

Biondello (Bridie Smith and Serena Lewis) also deserves a special mention for their musical interludes and general slapstick entertainment. Splitting the role allowed for a greater depth of humour as they became two court jesters bouncing off each other (literally in some cases). The double act evinced several laughs from the audience just for sheer facial expression and reaction to the events on stage. This was particularly evident when they mimed alongside Gremio’s account of Kate and Petruchio’s wedding. Although the songs they sang were not in keeping with the 1950s theme, they were reminiscent of karaoke on a hen-do and as such allowed the modern thread to intertwine with the main play. Regaling us with classics such as “I Will Survive”, “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, “Somebody to Love” and culminating with “Don’t Stop Believing” as the finale of the show, the duo managed to allow for smooth running at the end of acts and scenes.

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In the second half, even a shower of rain did not detract from the action and the players continued as if it wasn’t happening. A simple change of set with the turning around and relocation of the wooden frame allowed for “Tony’s” to become the interior of Petruchio’s house. The table that had earlier served as an ironic candle-lit moment during Petrucio’s initial wooing of Kate now became the main dining table at which no food was actually eaten. This simple subversion of the significance of these instances resonates on a level that does not sit comfortably, as we realise that Kate has been denied even simple pleasures in this relationship. It also prepares us for the escalation of tension and the conclusion which, despite being played for laughs, really is most uncomfortable, as we realise the extent of Kate’s character alteration when juxtaposed with the widow and Bianca. At the start, Bianca seems the model daughter and adheres to stereotypical ideas of femininity and so her refusal to attend on Lucentio at the end of the play may seem to be the smallest act of stubbornness, yet now, in comparison, Kate humbles herself even more and it seems that Bianca is being incredibly unreasonable.

By having a lot of the action come from the audience area, we were drawn into the antics and the proximity increases the level of engagement. This was particularly so when Petruchio launched the newly made bonnet which Kate likes into the audience (directly at this reviewer!) in a demonstration of his power over her and how she needed to learn to make her choices through him. This is reinforced during the debate over whether it is the sun or moon shining at night: the party passed directly in front of the audience and lingered there which made us feel as if we were also being drawn into the dispute. The couple also sat on the steps between the audience seats to watch the action onstage during Bianca’s marriage and the unravelling of the various levels of deception and disguises.

After Bianca’s wedding, all of the cast were on stage as guests and there was a particularly nice touch when, through a snapping sound and the flash of an overhead light, it is as if a photograph of the new extended family had been taken – complete with Kate scoffing a sandwich. As mentioned, Kate’s newly altered behaviour is flaunted when the men place bets on the obedience of their wives and, through her soliloquy, the darkness and ambiguity is established around the unsettling nature of this dedication to command and obedience. This anxiety is somewhat short-lived as the duo of Biondello start to sing their final number and the addition of a glitter ball as well as the stripping of a few cast members to reveal hen-do outfits suggests more of a party atmosphere. Although there is the hint of return to the modern day through this costume change for some of the characters, there is no formal conclusion of the framework and this renders the climax a little confusing as there is a merging between 1950s Italy and 2010s Cardiff for the final medley. This production did not really deal with the underlying gravity of a play which – with modern-day hindsight – seems to be celebrating domestic abuse; Everyman’s production seemed to skim over this aspect, but by drawing out the humour and commanding the comedy so well it allowed for a mockery to be made of the behaviour of the more domineering characters and as such created a very entertaining “two hours traffic” which I would highly recommend. Everyman’s Taming of the Shrew runs until Saturday August 2nd, Sophia Gardens, Cardiff.
 

p.s. Cardiff Shakespeare has a new twitter account – at the same handle @CardiffShakes. Please re-follow!

 

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