Posts Tagged ‘Review’


Richard III Trafalgar Transformed – Cardiff Shakespeare Review

July 30, 2014

Review by Emily Garside (Cardiff Metropolitan University)

Richard III directed by Jamie Lloyd as part of his third ‘Trafalgar Transformed’ series, sees an updated and bloody account of the history play. Lloyd aims with his ‘Transformed’ season to ‘thrill audiences while stimulating open debate and dialogue around the issues central to each play’ For Richard III with Martin Freeman in the title role and a fast-paced and bloody direction, there also seems to be an emphasis on the director’s desire to develop a new more diverse audience.

The production moves fast, at 2 hours 30 minutes, and it feels like a pacey political drama with added violence. Substantial cuts made to the text would probably go unnoticed to those unfamiliar with the text, and the narrative flows well making this an accessible engaging version of the play. In addition to the cuts, many of the off stage deaths are brought on stage, often in graphic detail. Much has been made of the violence and sheer volume of blood in this production (those in the first three rows are warned of being in a ‘splash zone’) and while, yes there was quite a bit of blood it didn’t’ feel particularly gratuitous. Seeing some of the usual off-stage deaths also brought characterisation or motivation home, further fleshing out what we already knew or felt about some characters. The end fight-‘showdown’ actually seems more appropriate, made good use of an issue that troubles many modern-dress Shakespeare plays, how to deal with the imbalance between guns and swords. In this case effective use of guns versus the knives (rather than swords) across the play makes a profound statement of violence at its close.

The 1970s political setting works well for Lloyd’s pacey production. It also works well in some of the slower scenes, in fitting with the back and forth and posturing of political debate. The claustrophobic set – the entirety of the action set in a cabinet office – also works well with the political heat and (literal) back-stabbing of the narrative.

The cast is strong, with a reduced cast fitting the edited nature of the text – stand out performance in particular from Jo Stone-Fewings as Buckingham who delivered a conniving and dark performance. Gina McKee as Queen Elizabeth and Maggie Steed as Queen Margret also provide strong female roles in this testosterone filled play. Freeman’s Richard goes against a more common approach to bring a more cautious, calmer but no less nasty Richard to life. I fully believed his attitude, inspired by his physical deformities. In his scheming he is a carefully planned and poisonous, in that sense a true politician Richard. Personally I missed the charismatic scheming Richard I’ve come to associate with this play. It is still an accomplished performance and fully in fitting with what Jamie Lloyd is trying to achieve with this modern political production.


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



No Need for Uneasiness: A Review of William Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Performed by the University of South Wales

June 4, 2014

By Darren Freebury-Jones

Henry IV University of South Wales 2014

I have, during the course of writing my thesis at Cardiff University, been immersed in Shakespeare’s early plays, such as the Henry VI trilogy, and have analysed his style in the context of imitation and collaboration. It was therefore refreshing to see a production of a play in which Shakespeare refined the history genre and found his own distinct authorial voice, while surpassing the dramatic language of his contemporaries, such as Christopher Marlowe, George Peele and Thomas Kyd. I had no misgivings about the fact that the University of South Wales decided to conflate the first and second parts of Henry IV, for the first part would feel lost without its sequel, and the Dering manuscript, prepared around 1613, suggests that this was sometimes the case even in Shakespeare’s day. I was uneasy about the notion of modernising aspects of the play, given its emphasis on a span of history circa 1403, but more on that later… I do struggle with gender swapping in casting (a staple in student productions, it seems), unless it serves a dramatic or didactic purpose – with Henry Bolingbroke himself played by a woman here – but then I suppose this is a mere subversion of the all-male casting of Shakespeare’s theatre.

The play concerns the king’s struggle to maintain order in England, as factious rebels attack from across England, Wales and Scotland. This production began with the cast clutching at a crown that dangled above them, and from the off the emphasis was very much on the fact that ‘uneasy lies the head that wears’ the troublesome crown of England. In this respect, director Richard Hand’s thematic emphasis reminded me somewhat of Roman Polanski’s film version of the Scottish play. My uncertainties about the modernisation of Henry IV quickly dissipated during the anachronistic comic interchanges in which Sir John Falstaff is foiled by the seeming entrance of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. Or the superb scene in which Falstaff treated the audience to a rendition of another king, Elvis, which was, rather paradoxically, laced with poignancy, as other members of the cast attired themselves for war. Soon, there would be ‘no more cakes and ale’. Indeed, the first half, which was utterly hilarious, constantly foreshadowed the somberness of the play’s conclusion, and the director did a fantastic job in highlighting such ominous moments as Falstaff’s assertion that, ‘Banish plump Jack, and banish all the world’, followed by Hal’s gloomy response, ‘I do. I will’…

The cast, for the most part, did well in making Shakespeare’s sometimes knotted language accessible to the audience. Having worked with Scott Patrick before, I was delighted to discover that he was playing Falstaff, Shakespeare’s most revered comic creation perhaps, next to Bottom. The man’s side-splitting improvisations made me break character once in a production of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, so I expected big things, and (it’s safe to say) he certainly delivered. In fact, his presence often dominated the stage like a colossus, and this huge bombard of comic brilliance was complemented by evident understanding of the significance of certain speeches (and great subtlety), such as Falstaff’s catechism on the concept of honour. Simon King gave a very assured performance as the ruggedly handsome future king, and I must mention Poppy Sturgess as Mistress Quickly. She evinced great comic timing throughout her scenes and had a real natural flair for stage humour.

The second half, being more sombre, did not quite have the same impact as the first (a consensus long shared among literary critics regarding the second part of Henry IV), and this might have had something to do with the maladroitness of stage combat. Though Thomas Nashe praised the staging of ‘all stratagems of war’, Shakespeare’s fellow playwright Ben Jonson mocked actors who ‘with three rusty swords, And help of some few foot-and-half-foot words, Fight over York, and Lancaster’s long jars’. Still, the second half brought to fruition the banishment of Falstaff and the crowning of Harry, in an ambiguous resolution, which transcended jingoistic interpretations of Henry V. The audience left smiling, and I hope that the actors and crew enjoyed a great deal of sack in deserved celebration. As Shakespeare might say, they’re likely to have woken up in their drowsy beds recalling ‘a mass of things, but nothing distinctly’. The audience, and myself, won’t forget the details of this enchanting production anytime soon.


See the production flyer here.

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