RSS

As You Like It

Venue = Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

There is no better place to watch one of Shakespeare’s comedies than Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre on London’s Southbank. Entering the Globe Theatre feels like stepping 400 years back in time. Authentically reconstructed, based on the original 16th century structure, the Globe is an open air theatre, exposed to the elements, pigeons, helicopters and aeroplanes. Naturally lit, the Globe allows its actors to build a rapport with the audience, which is unique to this venue, and works astonishingly well when staging Shakespeare’s comedies. Running alongside Hamlet in Michelle Terry’s debut summer season as Artistic Director, As You Like It sees the same Globe Ensemble cast tackle one of the Bard’s greatest romantic comedies. In a play that already has its characters swapping genders, Michelle Terry’s inclusive, gender-blind casting works to superb comic effect and results in a thoroughly entertaining production.

“Who ever loved that loved not at first sight?”

Some may feel that it is controversial to cast a male actor as Rosalind. She is an iconic role and is given more lines than any of Shakespeare’s other female characters. However, Jack Laskey plays the role so well, it is hard to argue against his casting. Having already played Orlando in the Globe’s 2009 production, Laskey is a wonderful Rosalind. His chemistry between the other characters, particularly Celia, is infectious and delightful. He is believably lovestruck with Bettrys Jones’ Orlando and stays effeminate, even when cross-dressing as Ganymede. It is a casting choice that harks back to the tradition of men playing female roles in early-modern theatre. To counter this, Bettrys Jones plays Orlando. I initially had doubts about Jones’ casting as Orlando, but I was quickly converted. It is a stroke of genius. Seeing such a small actress playing the ‘muscular’ Orlando, wrestling in the play’s opening scene, was absolutely hilarious. Jones’ small stature is constantly exploited to provide some truly funny moments in the play. Jones and Laskey make a delightfully heart warming Orlando and Rosalind. Their relationship is believable, endearing, and a complete joy to watch.

However, it is deaf actress, Nadia Nadarajah who steals the show as Celia. Nadarajah, who also plays Guildenstern in Hamlet, combines British Sign Language with invented signs representing Shakespeare’s archaic language, such as ‘Forest of Arden’, ‘knave’ and ‘Orlando’. Converting Shakespeare into sign language must have been a challenging task, considering the complexities and rhythms of iambic pentameter. It is a testament to the intensive rehearsal schedule that the sign language used in As You Like It felt natural and could be understood. It was truly refreshing to witness BSL being  incorporated into a play and I hope that it encourages more diversity and inclusivity within the arts, with disabilities being represented better. Nadarajah proves that there are no boundaries to making Shakespeare work on stage. Her Celia is perfectly enchanting. She has an irresistible chemistry with Jack Laskey’s Rosalind, solidifying their friendship into a ‘sisterly’ love. This was enhanced by their constant communication and interaction with each other when other characters were speaking. Nadarajah’s mannerisms are wonderfully expressive, particularly as her character gets more exasperated with Ganymede’s outlandish scheming. Her astonished reaction to being asked to ‘marry’ Ganymede and Orlando is hilarious. I loved very minute that Nadia Nadarajah was on stage in both Hamlet and As You Like It. I hope she returns to the Globe in more productions!

Globe veterans Pearce Quigley, Colin Hurley and James Garnon increase the comedy tenfold. Pearce Quigley’s melancholic Jacques is highly entertaining and shows his vast experience at the Globe by interacting with the audience during his monologues. Skulking in the shadows of the stage and dressed in a black velvet suit, he is the perfect choice to play Jacques. Quigley delivers the play’s most famous line; “All the world’s a stage” whilst munching a banana and playfully picks out a schoolboy in the audience for his Seven Ages of Man speech. Quigley is a natural, comedic performer, and his Jacques is a wonderfully playful interpretation of Shakespeare’s mournful character. Colin Hurley’s Touchstone, the fool, is equally amusing, particularly in his bizarre relationship with James Garnon’s superbly sluttish Audrey. Their scenes were incredibly funny, and were some of my favourites in the play.

“All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players”

As You Like It has more songs than any other Shakespeare play and the majority of them were sung beautifully by Tanika Yearwood. The rest were vibrantly performed alongside dances by the ensemble. The usually outdated “hey nonny no” song, hilariously performed as suggestive, romantic ballad between Touchstone and Audrey, had me in stitches. All the songs are authentic instruments, by the Globe’s fantastic musicians, who make the experience of watching a play in this theatre even more magical. Every play ends with a jig, as they did 400 years ago, and As You Like It had the best choreographed, most ecstatic, joyful jig I have seen at the Globe. The audience had a fantastic time and clapped along with the music. The joy that these jigs bring is infectious and it is hard to leave the Globe without a smile on your face.

It is true that most of the comedy in As You Like It is slapstick, but it is a thoroughly charming and incredibly funny production. I felt that this was a better, more accomplished play than Hamlet. But like Hamlet, it is a delight to see a play so embracive and inclusive to gender, ethnicity and disability. I hope these plays pave the way for more diversity, and that other productions follow the Globe’s Ensemble’s example. If these plays provide a glimpse of the Globe ‘s new direction under Michelle Terry, then I applaud it, and highly anticipate what will follow!

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

 

Photo credits = Tristram Kenton

 
1 Comment

Posted by on August 29, 2018 in Theatre

 

Tags: , , , ,

King Lear

Venue = Duke of York’s Theatre

There is a poetical poignancy to Sir Ian McKellen returning to the Duke of York’s Theatre to play one of William Shakespeare’s most challenging roles, King Lear. This is the same theatre that McKellen made his professional West End debut in 1964. Now, 54 years later, at the age of 79, he triumphantly returns to the title role of King Lear. McKellen has often said that this would be the final time that he will be performing Shakespeare on stage. Sir Ian McKellen has become a national treasure, appearing in countless plays and films, most notably playing Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings. It is no surprise that tickets to King Lear quickly sold out. With audiences desperate to witness what many believe will be McKellen’s final stage performance, this is a rare opportunity to watch a true legend performing Shakespeare live on stage. Having appeared in several iconic Shakespeare plays, such as Othello, Hamlet and Macbeth, McKellen is no stranger to the Bard’s work. Nor is he a stranger to the role of King Lear, having played him at the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2007 and at the Chichester Festival Theatre’s production in 2017, before it moved to the Duke of York’s Theatre this summer.

Sir Ian McKellen’s stage presence is mesmerising. As expected with his experience, McKellen is a skilled master of Shakespeare’s language. He speaks his dialogue with proficient fluidity and ease. McKellen is truly outstanding as King Lear, an ageing monarch who unwisely banishes his youngest daughter, Cordelia, whilst his other two daughters, Regan and Goneril, plot to overthrow him. Lear slowly slips into a despairing grief which borders on dementia. Watching Ian McKellen play Lear is tragically sad, because we are so fond of him. His performance is beautifully constructed to add a humanity and naturalism as Lear’s faculties start to decline. There are signs of dementia evident from the start, with angry outbursts, unfinished sentences and long pauses in his dialogue. These all culminate in the play’s most poignant scene, King Lear’s breakdown in the storm; a powerful metaphor for “The tempest in my mind”. This scene is perfectly lit, with rain falling, lightning flashing and the characters on stage being soaked to their skin. It creates a memorable scene, so poignant because it is so heart-breaking to watch the powerful monarch reduced to a frail and vulnerable old man. This vulnerability is carried forward for the rest of the play as Lear slowly loses his mind. McKellen’s performance transfixes the audience. His Lear is captivating, yet it is desperately tragic to see him so weak and fragile. It is an astonishing, spellbinding performance which thoroughly deserved the standing ovation he received.

“I fear that I am not in my perfect mind.”

Sometimes when the lead performance is so strong, the rest of the cast cannot compare and the production can be disappointing. Thankfully, the support cast of King Lear were strong enough to make this a fully rounded, excellent production. James Corrigan was delightfully villainous as Edmund, engaging the audience with his soliloquies, and being charming enough to believably woo two sisters. Danny Webb was superb as the blinded Gloucester and Sinéad Cusack played an excellent Kent. However, it was Kirsty Bushell’s frankly frightening portrayal of Regan that was shockingly memorable. Bushell was sublime in the Royal Exchange Theatre’s The Cherry Orchard earlier this year. She was equally as good in King Lear, sadistically squealing with delight as Gloucester’s eyes were being gauged out. Appropriately set in an abattoir, Bushell’s horrifying pleasure made this scene even more brutal and difficult to watch.

King Lear’s inventive production design included a gangway, cutting through the stalls, on which the actors could enter/exit. This added an intimacy often missing from many West End theatres, with the audience being unusually close to the actors. The set effectively switched from regal opulence in the first half, to a minimalist barren stage in the second half, perfectly mirroring Lear’s mental state. Having a minimalist set in the final act, when Lear is at his weakest, meant that the audience’s attention was not diverted and instead could fully empathise with the tragic demise of Lear’s character. This made the final scene all the more heart-breaking, as there was nowhere for McKellen to hide. You could feel that he was putting his heart and soul into his performance, particularly when he sadly finds Cordelia’s dead body. His agonising grief at finding his youngest, and favourite, daughter dead was heart-wrenchingly moving. This must be an incredibly physically, and mentally, demanding role for a 79 year old to play. However, McKellen has a stamina and grace which defies his age. It is a true triumph. If this is his last Shakespearean role on stage, then what a phenomenal way to end such an illustrious stage career.

It was a real honour to get the opportunity to see a true legend performing Shakespeare live on stage. Sir Ian McKellen’s performance as King Lear is an astonishing achievement and will go down in history as one of his most significant roles to date. His Lear was spellbinding and desperately tragic. It was so heart-breaking, it had me in tears.

I strongly urge everyone to get down to their local cinema to watch King Lear when it is broadcast live on 27th September. Tickets are available here.

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Photo Credits = Manuel Harlan

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 27, 2018 in Theatre

 

Tags: , ,

Othello

Venue = Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

William Shakespeare’s popular revenge tragedy, Othello, forms part of the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre’s summer season. This year, Michelle Terry takes over the reins as the new Artistic Director of the Globe Theatre, after Emma Rice’s unfortunate departure. Terry’s debut season is packed with Shakespeare’s most popular plays and also sees Claire Van Kampen return to direct Othello. Van Kampen has an illustrious history with the Globe theatre as the Director of Music, having composed music for over 50 productions. In addition to directing several productions, she also wrote the critically acclaimed Farinelli and the King for the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, before its transfer to the West End and Broadway. Othello also has Van Kampen making another welcome collaboration with her husband, Mark Rylance, to bring a unique perspective to a much performed play. This collaborative experience speaks volumes in Othello as Rylance steps forward to play Shakespeare’s most despised villain, Iago.

The casting of Mark Rylance as Iago is a masterstroke. Rylance’s Iago is a unique blend of understated subtlety. Mark Rylance is a naturally likeable, genuinely nice person with a softly spoken voice. He is irresistibly charming and constructs his character to be the epitome of “honest Iago”. Rylance’s charm equally captivates the audience, in addition to the characters on stage. During his soliloquies, he teases the audience, building a rapport that subconsciously hoodwinks them into becoming entirely complicit in his plot. The audience are pawns in his game, just as Othello is. Rylance’s Iago remains charming, likeable, funny and endearing throughout the majority of the play. He rattles through his dialogue to make it appear that he is acting off the cuff, rather than having any true malevolent motive. Rylance makes jokes, plays the mandolin, naturally repeats and stumbles over his words, and has instinctive mannerisms, such as wiping his moustache with his handkerchief. He appears on the surface a genuinely human, caring character. When presenting Othello with ‘suspicions’ that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio, Rylance’s Iago honestly looks upset to be the bearer of bad news. When Othello doubts him, Iago appears to be genuinely offended that his friend would doubt his integrity.

When Iago’s façade is thrown aside during the play’s climax, and his actions have gone too far for justification; it is a complete shock to the audience to see Iago’s true colours. As he brutally breaks Roderigo’s neck, Iago’s physical strength and hidden malice are revealed, causing the audience to literally gasp with shock. This results in the audience feeling betrayed and complicit in Iago’s actions. You feel like you have been fooled and played, like Othello. The audience feel responsible for everything that is happening, and helpless to stop it. Knowing that we were also bewitched by Iago’s charm makes the audience feel true empathy for Othello. Full credit needs to be given to Rylance for this accomplished performance as he makes Iago’s character even more puzzling. His motives are more ambiguous than they have ever been, and the audience, like Othello, are left “Perplexed in the extreme” and bewildered as to why Iago committed these horrendous deeds. Mark Rylance presents an exquisitely multi-layered, subtle, and unique approach to playing Iago.

“And what’s he then that says I play the villain,

When this advice is free I give, and honest”

Likewise, American actor André Holland gives an outstanding performance as Othello. Casting an American as the ill-fated Moor may be controversial to some, but Holland speaks Shakespeare’s language beautifully and is the best Othello that I have seen. His passionate devotion to Jessica Warbeck’s Desdemona early in the play is infectious. Holland and Warbeck perfectly render their characters’ innocent adoration of each other. It is a relationship that is so natural, it feels like first love. There is no wonder that Iago’s poisonous accusations have such an effect on Othello. It is easy to see how the smallest doubt would have such a huge effect on somebody so utterly besotted. Holland’s slip into jealousy and torment is similarly believable and is truly heart-breaking to watch. I have seen many productions of Othello and each time I think Othello is an idiot for being so easily fooled. Holland made me understand Othello’s character and feel a deep sympathy for Othello that I have never experienced before. His mortification of being led into jealousy and of killing Desdemona was truly tragic. The fact that he managed to present Othello as a genuinely tragic figure, with multiple helicopters flying overhead during his death scene, deserves the highest praise.

You can’t discuss Othello without discussing the important issues that Shakespeare’s play raises with regards to race. These debates are centuries old, yet feel outdated in the multicultural world we now live in. Van Kampen’s production masterfully sidelines these debates by creating the most diverse casting of Othello that I have seen and proving that Othello isn’t the only Shakespearean character a black actor can play. With Sheila Atim playing Emilia and Aaron Pierre playing Cassio, it is refreshing to see a production of Othello where Othello isn’t the only black character. This completely removes the 400 year old notion that Iago’s main motive is racism. Iago’s soliloquies were also carefully edited to remove a lot of the racist language, as was Emilia’s tirade against Othello; “the more angel she, and you the blacker devil!”. It is Othello’s American accent, rather than his skin colour that marks him out as a ‘foreigner’. In addition to further blurring Iago’s motives, it gives the production a modern feel, despite its authentic setting. Instead of raising issues of race, Van Kampen’s production shines a spotlight as to how talented the actors are. Sheila Atim is a tour-de-force as a bold, resolute Emilia, who completely dominates the final scene. Aaron Pierre gives a blistering stage debut as Cassio who is naturally appealing, rather than being portrayed as a flirtatious ladies’ man.

As I mentioned in my review of Hamlet, the Globe Theatre is a spectacular theatre. Being an authentic reproduction of the Elizabethan Globe Theatre, it has a magical quality about it. There is nowhere better in the world to watch Shakespeare. As usual, the music at the Globe is wonderful, played on authentic instruments. I am glad to see that Van Kampen removed the usually awkward “cannikin clink, clink” song and replaced it with a joyous, salsa-esque dance. The entire cast looked like they were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Desdemona’s mournful Willow Song was also harmoniously sung by both Sheila Atim and Jessica Warbeck, cementing Emilia and Desdemona’s love and friendship. The costumes were also magnificent, even with Mark Rylance resembling Mario in his red cap. Othello’s richly embroidered jacket was gorgeous, and the dresses of Desdemona and Emilia were stunning, particularly the striking gold dress she wears.

This is a wonderfully unique production of Othello that has drawn the crowds because of Mark Rylance’s appearance as Iago. Rylance will doubtlessly split the crowds too, with his likeable, charming, “Honest Iago”.

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Photo Credits = Simon Annand

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 25, 2018 in Theatre

 

Tags: , , ,

The Railway Children

Venue = King’s Cross Theatre (Sky Arts on Demand)

E Nesbit’s novel, The Railway Children, has been cherished by children and adults for several generations. It tells a beautiful, enduring tale of a family forced to relocate from the urban metropolis of London to the idyllic pastoral countryside of Oakworth. As the father is wrongfully accused of being a spy and imprisoned, his family are plummeted into poverty and are compelled to relocate to Yorkshire. The children struggle to settle into their new surroundings. Peter, Phyllis, and Roberta are immediately fascinated with the railway and its powerful steam trains. Each morning, they wave to the 09:15 train, becoming dubbed the Railway Children. A charming coming of age story, The Railway Children depicts the difficult relationship between childhood innocence and adult pride. The children strive to do the right thing, yet find it difficult to do so without wounding adult pride and having their good intentions mistaken for charity.

Adapted for the stage by Mike Kenny, The Railway Children embarked on a critically acclaimed run at the purpose built King’s Cross Theatre in 2016. It is currently available to download and watch for free, on Demand, through Sky Arts on Demand.

The 1,000 seat auditorium was built as an annex to King’s Cross Station, specifically for this production. This traverse stage boasts a railway track running through the middle of the theatre, with the audience sat on either side of the railway track on raised platforms. This gives the impression that the audience is sat at a railway platform, awaiting the same 09:15 train as the children. There is an impressive bridge above the tracks, with a railway station building. Joanna Scotcher’s production design is truly spectacular, with the icing on the cake being an actual steam locomotive that thunders into the station at several points during the play. This is particularly effective during the scene where the children have to warn the train that there has been a landslide on the tracks; endangering their own lives. Having an actual locomotive during this pivotal scene adds a real sense of peril and danger that takes your breath away. The stunning level of detail throughout the set design is the finest aspect for me. The audience’s eye is directed across several different levels and heights, as the action moves from the submerged train tracks, to the heights of the bridge. The station building is decorated with delightful antique advertisements for Rowntrees Pastilles, Bovril, and Cadbury’s chocolate. It gives the production a charming, nostalgic feeling which permeates throughout the play.

Christopher Madin’s delightful musical score also invokes a sense of nostalgia, making the play utterly charming and idyllic. It is so delightful, it has the audience clapping along with it. Craig Vear’s sublime sound design also deserves significant praise as it perfectly captures the sounds of the railway, from the chuffing sounds of the locomotives, to the steam engine’s whistle, and the hissing of steam as the trains pull into the station. Even when locomotives are not physically on stage, the audience can easily imagine that they are at a railway platform. Another thing that impressed me was Vear’s brilliant use of the echo sound effect, added to dialogue, to render an empty house or a railway tunnel. It was used to particularly great effect when amplifying character’s voices, to give the impression that they were speaking through a tannoy system during an award ceremony and presentation. All the technical aspects of the production were remarkably executed and perfectly suited to a children’s classic.

The play’s narrative is relayed through the principle characters’ reflections of their childhood. A bold decision was made to use adult actors to portray the Railway Children. This is a delicate balance to achieve and sometimes does not work. However, in this play, the principle actors seamlessly switch from their adult narratives to their childhood selves so subtly it is hard to notice. The actors perfectly capture the innocence and naivety of childhood without being condescending. Beth Lilly’s performance as Phyllis wonderfully embodies the joy and delight of being a child, which is delightful to watch and thoroughly infectious. Izaak Cainer brilliantly manages to portray the shame and guilt of being caught stealing coal. Rozzi Nicholson-Lailey’s Roberta delivers a fully rounded performance as her character matures throughout the play. The audience witness Roberta growing from a child into a young woman. There is a truly touching scene where Roberta discovers the secret of her father’s incarceration, which is genuinely moving and heart breaking. Her introduction to romance is also beautiful to watch as she captures the awkwardness of first love. All the characters are fully believable and utterly endearing, and just like the book, they provide a nostalgic reflection of childhood.

The support cast also demonstrate fine performances, in particular, Martin Barrass’ Mr Perks. The most moving part of the play was his character mistaking the children’s good intentions of celebrating his birthday. Mr Perks mistakes their gifts as charity, berating the children for wounding his pride. This is a heart-wrenching scene, where the cruelty of adult pride is revealed to the children. It is a brutal scene which would be difficult for younger members of the audience to watch. However, for adults, it shines a spotlight on the differences in perspective between children and adults. The scene highlights the loss of innocence with age and how, as you grow older, you become more concerned with the judgement of others. This is effectively mirrored in the mother’s character, who selfishly keeps secrets from her children to protect her family’s pride.

Mike Kenny’s The Railway Children is a delight from start to finish. It will appeal to audiences of all ages and boasts spectacular production design. The play remains thoroughly entertaining, with characters repeatedly breaking the fourth wall, such as Peter’s exclamation; “How splendid! Just like in a book!”. The audience are also encouraged to wave to the 09:15 train, sending the children’s love to their father. This production captures the essence of E. Nesbit’s novel and I strongly encourage everyone to watch it whilst it is still available to download for free.

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

 

Photo Credits = Tristram Kenton

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 20, 2018 in Theatre

 

Just Call Me God: A Dictator’s Final Speech

Venue = Sky Arts (On Demand)

Just Call Me God: A Dictator’s Final Speech is a new play written and directed by Michael Sturminger which premiered in Hamburg in 2017, before embarking on a European tour. It is the third collaborative work between Sturminger and lead actor John Malkovich. Stepping aside from his Hollywood roles, Malkovich appears on stage to portray a fictional crazed dictator, Satur Diman Cha. When confronted by soldiers and a reporter, Caroline Thomas (Sophie Von Kessel) in a subterranean concert hall within his presidential palace, Diman Cha delivers a series of powerful monologues to the world’s media revealing his deranged nature. These speeches are accompanied by organist Martin Hasselböck’s improvised classical pieces of music. Just Call Me God‘s narrative revolves around these three characters, with the audience’s focus being directed towards Malkovich’s villainous despot. It is currently available to download on Sky Arts’ On Demand service for free.

As Just Call Me God is set in a music hall, the setting is effectively reflected by the auditoriums chosen to accommodate the play. It toured concert halls across Europe, making the production’s ambience mightily impressive. This is amplified by the striking set design; with huge banners draped across the venue proudly displaying the emblems of Diman Cha’s totalitarian regime. His own portrait, placed rear stage, looms over the production and gives the impression of an oppressive state, solely led by a tyrannical leader. As Diman Cha has a passion for classical music, the set matches his character perfectly, but causes problems with acoustics throughout the performance. Diman Cha forces a soldier (Hasselböck) to play the organ at gunpoint, as an accompaniment to his powerful speeches. The acoustics of these venues cause the organ to drown out any dialogue spoken at the same time. Sadly, this makes substantial sections of dialogue become inaudible to the audience. As the majority of the play is dialogue, the organ serves as an unnecessary distraction to being able to fully immerse in Malkovich’s monologues.

It cannot be argued that Malkovich is a hugely accomplished actor. To be able to deliver the sheer amount of dialogue with an impeccable accent is a feat worthy of praise. He also effortlessly manages the volatile nature of Diman Cha’s character; instantaneously switching from violent to humorous, yet remaining likeable. Malkovich excels in dark comedy. However, the script also gives the tyrannical dictator an eccentricity which nudges Diman Cha’s depiction into a caricature-like amalgamation of other familiar tyrants, such as Stalin, Mussolini and Saddam Hussein.

Unfortunately, this destroys the character’s credibility, making him an unbelievably farcical leader, lacking the true malevolence of a ruthless autocrat. In the play, Diman Cha is repeatedly referred to as a “horrific monster”, yet there is little to justify this claim within Just Call Me God. His first lines are from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night; “If music be the food of love, play on”.  Likewise, Sophie Von Kessel’s reporter Caroline Thomas is equally as implausible as a character. She is fundamentally two dimensional and is predictable with her responses to Diman Cha’s blistering tirades. This predictability sadly leaks into the play’s narrative too. There is a supposed twist at the end of the play, which is all too predictable and disappointingly revealed by the play’s title.

In contrast to the predictability of its characters, Just Call Me God is an inventive hybrid between live film and theatre. Caroline’s camera is linked to the television screens that surround the stage. The action and dialogue is therefore dually relayed through the medium of theatre and television. This enhances the ‘Big Brother’ feeling of constant surveillance and scrutiny that is initially imposed by the set design. It is a truly effective technique that gives the play a documentary-like impression, with a heightened sense of realism. This was the finest aspect of the production for me.

Just Call Me God is a production that manages to hit and miss. There are things to like about the play, such as the stage design and inventive use of technology and media. However the overpowering organ music, its predictable narrative and unbelievable characters are problematic. Albeit, this is an entertaining play, which shows how magnificent Malkovich is as a stage actor. As mentioned earlier, it is available for free on Sky Arts on Demand so it is well worth a watch whilst it is still available.

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

(Pictures taken from Official website)

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 5, 2018 in Theatre

 

Queens of the Coal Age – Maxine Peake

Venue = Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Queens_of_the_Coal_Age_532px

Britain in the 1980s was a period of civil unrest, political and industrial dispute. The most prominent of these was the Miners’ Strike in 1984, where working-class mining communities protested against the closure of coal mines, which jeopardised hundreds of thousands of jobs, and an entire way of life. Violent scenes erupted as the police arrested the striking miners and the UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher was labelled as ‘the enemy within’. Arthur Scargill was the leading figure amongst these disputes, but importantly, his wife, Anne Scargill, also fought against the pit closures. With other members of the Women Against Pit Closures, she entered mines under pretence and protested within the mine, staying there for days on end, fighting for the preservation of jobs, communities and injustice against the working-classes. As I was born in 1986, I didn’t live through this turbulent time in British history so I was vastly unaware of this period of unrest. As a northerner, the devastating consequences of the mine closures are still evident in everyday life, for example, the north/south divide. However, until I watched Maxine Peake’s play, I didn’t understand the gravity of such events on the culture and lives of the working-class communities in northern England.

Queens of the Coal Age is a new play written by Maxine Peake, telling the true story of the Women Against Pit Closures, namely Anne Scargill and her fellow activists Elaine Evans, Betty Cook and Lesley Lomas as they take over a pit and protest against the closure of the coal mines. Despite its setting, this play feels contemporary. It is refreshing to see a new play with four outstanding roles for powerful, inspirational women, written and directed by equally exceptional women. They are the foundation that this play sits on and each character that Maxine Peake portrays is wonderful. Peake gives each character beautiful, moving monologues which are juxtaposed brilliantly with rib-aching comedic scenes. The four lead actresses were sublime and made their characters naturally believable and funny, but also vulnerable at the same time. It is an incredibly accomplished play, with superbly rounded characters.

Due to my age, I didn’t understand some of the jokes as they referred to cultural icons of the 1980s, of who I am unaware. However, Queens of the Coal Age has some truly hilarious moments in it. One can imagine how hilarious the toilet situation can get with four women stuck in a coal mine, particularly when one has a potentially explosive substance hidden in her knickers. Maxine Peake effectively juxtaposes these moments with powerful moments describing racism, police brutality and the death threats Anne Scargill faced as a consequence of being married to a prominent activist. It is a delicate balancing act, which worked perfectly for me. It kept me constantly engaged with the play and the characters within it.

The Royal Exchange Theatre is in the round so naturally, there was a minimalist set, which allows the audience’s attention to be focused on the wonderful characters of this play. Steel plating creates the floor, which is then ripped up to reveal a pit. Staging this play in the round helped amplify the claustrophobic ambiance of its setting, as did the dark, dim lighting. I absolutely loved Elliot Griggs’ lighting design for Queens of the Coal Age, which fully utilises the lights on the workers’ helmets. They provide much of the illumination, lending naturalism and earthiness to the production. This is particularly effective when the cast of extras; male miners, congregate for scene changes. These are some of the play’s most striking moments.

Queens of the Coal Age educates younger generations, like myself, about the devastating consequences that closing coal mines caused, such as high levels of unemployment, the destruction of communities and a greater division between the classes. What particularly struck me was how many generations of families were employed by the mines, meaning the demolition of a complete way of life. The play filled me with admiration of the extraordinary women who protested in appalling conditions to protect their communities. By the end of the production, I was moved to tears in sheer awe of the power, bravery and determination of these exceptional women. I was the only one in the auditorium who gave a (very teary) standing ovation, but this play thoroughly deserved it. It is a powerful story which needed to be told, particularly in these times of political unrest. There is nobody better for telling this story than the incredibly talented northern soul, Maxine Peake. I was left moved, educated and entertained by her brilliant play and can’t wait for her to return to the Royal Exchange Theatre again!

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 23, 2018 in Theatre

 

The Play That Goes Wrong

Venue = Manchester’s Opera House

The Play That Goes Wrong is a farce from LAMDA graduates, the Mischief Theatre company. It has achieved profound success on the West End, winning the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 2015. On the back of such a successful run on the West End, the play has embarked on a UK tour, receiving critical acclaim. In a similar fashion to Michael Frayn’s Noises Off or Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques, this production playfully mixes slapstick comedy with funny dialogue, as jokes keep coming at a relentless pace. As the fictitious Cornley Polytechnic Society stage their latest production,The Murder at Haversham Manor, everything that could go wrong does go wrong, much to the audience’s delight. From intentionally hammy acting, actors getting their lines wrong, the parts of the set falling down to cast injuries, this play capitalises on the conventions of the farcical genre and delivers a thoroughly entertaining evening. Even before the play even begins, the fourth wall is instantly broken as the cast look around the auditorium for their missing cast member, a dog named Winston.

Throughout the play, the fourth wall is effectively broken as cast members interact with the audience and the play’s ‘director’, played by the brilliant Jake Curran, introduces his Cornley Polytechnic Society’s production. After the interval, he apologetically explains to the audience that they may have noticed “one or two mistakes”. I loved the way that this play breaks the fourth wall. It helped keep the play fresh and thoroughly entertaining. None of the cast is better at breaking the fourth wall than the ‘sound engineer’, Trevor, played by Gabriel Paul, who physically sits in the audience’s space of the auditorium at his sound desk. At the risk of revealing any spoilers, it is his interaction with the audience that had me laughing the most.

To say that The Play That Goes Wrong is an incredibly funny play does it a disservice. It is hard to put into words just how funny a play is that makes you cry with laughter. I had tears rolling down my face and even the next day, my face still ached from the prolonged laughter that this play created. I have honestly never seen anything as funny as this play in my life. I have never laughed so hard at anything before. From start to finish, this play was absolutely hilarious and I loved every minute of it. I was left in complete admiration of all involved in this play. It is expertly choreographed with and comically timed to absolute perfection. Its relentless pace left me exhausted, let alone the superbly talented ensemble cast. As the play continues, this pace gets even more intense as it hurtles towards calamity. The more that goes wrong, the funnier it gets, as the characters get even more exasperated, desperately trying to cover their mistakes. The sheer physical exertion and stamina of every member of the cast had me in awe.

It is clear that The Play That Went Wrong won’t be everybody’s cup of tea. It is preposterously silly and gets even more absurd as the play continues. It is traditionally British and heavily relying on slapstick comedy smacks of Charlie Chaplin’s films. It is a conventional farce, which may mean that it feels predictable to some audience members. However, the Mischief Theatre Company raise the bar an extra level. Just when you feel that nothing else could go wrong, it gets even worse. When you predict what will happen next, they defy your expectations and heighten the antics further than your imagination can comprehend. To me, this made the play refreshing and gave it an originality. Even though I have seen Noises Off, The Play That Goes Wrong constantly had me guessing what on earth could happen next, and how the comedy can be increased to another level.

I had a great time watching this play. It is the funniest play I have ever seen. It was absolutely hilarious, thoroughly entertaining and had my ribs hurting with laughter. I will definitely be getting tickets to Mischief Theatre’s comedy about a bank robbery, imaginably titled The Comedy About a Train Robbery, which is on at The Lowry Theatre later in the year. The Play That Goes Wrong fully deserves the Olivier Award it received. I recommend everyone reading this to watch it. You won’t regret it!

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 8, 2018 in Theatre