RSS

Hamlet

Venue = Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

There is truly something magical about going to Shakespeare’s Globe theatre in London.  It is an authentically reconstructed replica of the original Globe Theatre, built by the Lord Chamberlain’s men in 1599. The original building burned down in 1613 as a result of cannon fire used during a production of Henry VIII. It was rebuilt the following year, until it was torn down later on that century. Nowadays, for a sum of £5, groundlings can stand and watch a Shakespeare play, or you can pay more to sit in luxury on a wooden bench in the galleries. There is a £2 charge to hire a cushion but it will be the best £2 you will ever spend in your life! Even watching the shortest Shakespeare play can be hard on the derrière! I absolutely love the Globe Theatre and wish I could live there. It has been lovingly restored and truly feels like stepping back in time, 400 years, to Elizabethan England. Every time I go to London, I make sure that I watch a play here. There is something truly special about watching theatre open to the elements, pigeons, planes and helicopters. Hamlet is my favourite play so I made sure that I caught it when the summer season was announced.

The 2018 season of plays introduces Michelle Terry as the artistic director of the Globe, following Emma Rice’s unfortunate resignation. Michelle Terry instantly puts her own stamp on her productions, using the Shakespeare ensemble to employ gender-blind casting, creating a truly diverse cast. Genders are switched, with men being cast as female characters and vice versa. Michelle Terry takes centre stage by playing Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark.

Every production of Hamlet hinges on its casting of the infamous Dane. Michelle Terry delivers a strong performance as Hamlet, but I feel that she raced through the dialogue, resulting in the entire production feeling rushed. This was particularly evident in the fencing match, which turned too quickly into a graveyard. There was no time given for Claudius to deservedly suffer as he died, nor was there any time allocated to Hamlet’s death. She appeared fine one second and was dead the next. The rushed production meant that I didn’t feel much of an emotional attachment towards Michelle Terry’s Hamlet. This is a real shame as she was superb as Rosalind in As You Like It! Hamlet’s slip into madness was also absurd, with her wearing a full clown costume. It made it blatantly obvious that Hamlet was putting on an ‘antic disposition’. Personally, I prefer Hamlets that subtly slip into madness, making the audience question whether his madness is fabricated, or whether the death of his father has truly left him depressed and suicidal. Performing the infamous ‘to be or not to be’ soliloquy dressed in a clown outfit felt ridiculous, rather than moving. There was no possibility of taking this soliloquy seriously when the character is dressed in a full clown costume. This should be a moving speech where Hamlet is deliberating whether he should commit suicide and pondering mortality. It didn’t feel natural; it felt like watching a recital, rather than genuinely watching a character considering death.

In complete contrast to this was Ophelia, superbly played by male actor, Shubham Saraf. Saraf stripped back his performance and hauntingly portrayed Ophelia’s overwhelming grief over her father’s death, caused by her lover. The scene where Ophelia delivers rosemary and other flowers, in remembrance of her father, was perfectly captured by Claudius’ reaction to this sight; deep sorrow and regret. What struck me most was the devastating grief and anger that Saraf displayed by brutally beating his chest and erupting into fits of intense rage. The song that Ophelia sings of her father; ‘he is gone’, is heart-breaking to watch. A blend of anger and despair, it is beautifully performed. Sharaf delivers one of the most striking, memorable representations of Ophelia that I have seen. It will stay with me for a long time!

James Garnon also excelled in the role of Claudius. With him being a veteran of the Globe’s ensemble, I have been a fan of his for a long time. He was a deliciously evil Cardinal in John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi, so I was excited when I discovered that he would be playing Hamlet’s murderous uncle, Claudius. His portrayal of this character was truly unique, making him seem like a nice person that had gone awry, having been corrupted by power. He inserted a likeability and humanity to Claudius’ character that made it seem like he was truly remorseful of his crimes. Saying that, there was a streak of violence to his character that made the audience gasp in shock! I loved this different, entertaining Claudius. He was utterly compelling.

Unfortunately, I found the character of Laertes miscast. I have no problems with a woman playing this role but I struggled to hear any of Bettrys Jones’ dialogue. I was sat on the second row of the lower gallery, quite near to the stage, yet her voice didn’t project very well at all. This was a real problem when the Globe actors have to contend with the noise of jet engines, as a result of the theatre being open to the elements and placed underneath the flight path of Heathrow airport.

There were other things that didn’t quite fit with me either; the representation of Polonius as a bumbling fool, rather than a scheming politician who cruelly manipulates his daughter, being one of them. The strange mix between modern and Elizabethan costume didn’t work for me either. I also didn’t like the bareness of the stage and absence of many props, as I love the traditional props used at this theatre. Because the stage was so bare, there was a complete lack of a heightened feeling of confinement to prompt the line; ‘Denmark’s a prison’. It made the production feel like it was missing political scheming and deception.

However, there was plenty of things to enjoy about this play. As usual, the music at the Globe was fantastic. Glorious brass instruments triumphantly rang out and reverberated across the theatre. The Mouse Trap was a captivating scene, effectively performed  through dance. Where the production truly soars is in its casting of deaf actress, Nadia Nadarajah, who plays Guildenstern, and its incorporation of British Sign Language into the play. This must have caused difficulties considering the archaic language of Shakespeare’s work and the complexities of iambic pentameter. It was truly refreshing to witness sign language being used naturally in a play, particularly when the jig was performed using BSL too. This was a complete highlight of the production for me. I hope this opens the door and encourages more diversity, with disabilities becoming better represented in the arts.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable production of Hamlet, but it fell a little flat for me. It didn’t stir me the way this play usually does. It felt rushed and skipped through the poignant parts of the play too quickly, resulting in me feeling emotionally detached from the protagonist. However, it had the most striking Ophelia I have ever seen, and brilliantly incorporated BSL into the production.

Watching Shakespeare performed at the Globe is always an authentically thrilling experience. I absolutely love this theatre and can’t wait to return in August when I watch As You Like It and Othello.

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

 

 
2 Comments

Posted by on June 25, 2018 in Theatre

 

Tags: ,

Macbeth

Venue = The National Theatre

In 2016, to celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th birthday, the Royal Shakespeare Company staged a compilation of Shakespearean scenes, songs and soliloquies, which was televised. During this celebration, Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff performed a scene from Macbeth. It was tantalising to see such a brilliant pairing onstage. I hoped that one day these two fantastic actors would perform the play in its entirety. When the tickets came on sale for this production at the National Theatre, I was extremely excited to see it. Even as the negative critics’ reviews were published, I vowed that I would make up my own mind regarding the play. I was still hyped by the possibility of seeing Rory Kinnear perform Shakespeare live on stage.

There are few better at performing Shakespeare than Rory Kinnear. The intonations and stresses in his voice follow the rhythmic pattern of iambic pentameter perfectly. There is no doubt that he masters the bard’s poetic language and rhythms. He effortlessly tackles Shakespeare’s soliloquies and truly captivates the audience throughout his plays. His performance in Macbeth was no different. Having seen veteran Kenneth Branagh play the doomed character in Manchester, Kinnear’s performance is equally as strong, adding a unique vulnerability to Macbeth which I have never seen before. Rather than a ruthless killer, Kinnear’s Macbeth is horrified by the grotesque murders he commits. He turns into a nervous wreck, his mannerisms were unsettled and his voice wavered. With a shaking leg and hands, Rory Kinnear’s Macbeth is visibly shocked and full of anguish and remorse. Rather than a power hungry murderer, he presented a man who had gone too far into bloodshed to turn back. It gave Macbeth a humanity which was refreshing to see.

Similarly, Anne-Marie Duff’s Lady Macbeth was equally as disturbed as her husband. The scene where she sleepwalks and washes her hands from murderous blood; ‘out damned spot!’, was naturally believable and shocking. She performs this scene perfectly and really shines during these scenes. The chemistry between the married couple is convincingly authentic. It is clear that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are passionately in love. However, there was nothing in Anne-Marie Duff’s performance that indicated how she convinced her husband to become a murderous villain. Personally, I believe that she wasn’t manipulative enough as a character. Despite this, there is no denying that her Lady Macbeth perfectly expressed the physical mortification of her crimes.

Unfortunately, the fine acting from Kinnear and Duff was spoiled by an obstructive, distracting setting and stage design. This production is set in a post-apocalyptic world, where the characters live in a desolate wasteland, eating from mess tins and curiously improvisational clothing. While this looks visually striking, it considerably causes the play to become confusing. Macbeth strives to be Thane and King, becoming a vicious murderer in his quest to become King. This production questions just what Macbeth will be king of… A desolate wasteland? There isn’t even a crown to be desired. Literally the only prominence of King Duncan is that he wears a red suit. There is no other motivation evident in this production for Macbeth to want to usurp the king.

Other than the superb lighting, the rest of the stage design for this production was disastrous. The set was distracting and obstructive. A vast ramp dominates the stage, yet is rarely used. It is only used as an entrance/exit and doesn’t add anything integral to the play. Large poles spring up from the stage with plastic bin liners on the top to represent trees. Actors frequently climb the ‘trees’ which is effective in certain scenes, such as the witches, but entirely distracting in others. Whenever an actor climbs a ‘tree’, there is an irritating rustling noise. This was most evident when Macbeth finds his wife’s dead body. What would be a touching, emotional scene was spoiled by someone climbing the ‘tree’ closest to where I was sat, creating a distracting rustling noise that diverted my attention and ruined the poignancy of the scene. Equally, huge drapes of plastic bin liners were used at the back of the stage to create a post-apocalyptic stage curtain. Whenever a scene change was taking place backstage, there was an annoying rustling noise protruding from backstage that was vexing to me.

In addition to this, clunky buildings adorned the set, but obstructed the audience’s view. My seat was stage-left and I struggled to see the action through the concrete walls of the buildings. Unless you were sat centre-stage, the concrete buildings blocked your view. I couldn’t see Banquo’s ghost at all as the side wall of the house hindered my view. A revolving floor was used to mitigate this problem, however, it revolved at the worst moments possible. The stage revolved during Macbeth’s soliloquies, which served as a distraction. Shakespeare’s soliloquies are designed for the audience’s attention to be solely on the character revealing their inner thoughts. However, when that character was stood on a revolving stage, that attention is broken, and the intimacy between the character and the audience during these speeches was destroyed. It was a real shame as Rory Kinnear is an accomplished Shakespearean actor who really excels in these soliloquies.

Sadly, that is not where the problems in this production end. Shakespeare’s play itself is butchered, making this Macbeth seem more like an abridged version. Entire characters such as Donalbain were brutally removed. Many of the famous lines have been savagely cut from this production, such as ‘by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes’. When you stage a Shakespeare play, there are certain lines that the audience expect to hear and anticipate. This is one of them. It is like when Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet experimented with the placement of the ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy. I don’t mind productions being experimental, however, here it just side-lined the witches, meaning that their prophecies didn’t hold as much gravitas as they should. This further blurred the audience’s understanding of Macbeth’s motivation for killing King Duncan.

The two assassins in Macbeth were woeful. The decision to use the Geordie clown character as one of the assassins was a terrible decision as Trevor Fox remained the same character throughout. This actor warned Macduff’s wife that assassins were coming to kill her and her children; having killed Banquo in an earlier scene. It caused endless confusion. If they used the same actor for both of these roles, there needs to be a distinction that separates the different parts, rather than remaining exactly the same for both. The other assassin was a squeaky voiced actress, sporting a Joker denim jacket and was a strange blend between Harley Quinn and Bellatrix Lestrange. She wasn’t intimidating enough to play this role. The method of payment for these assassins also raised questions. It appears that they basically kill people for a can of San Pellegrino.

It is such a shame that Macbeth has so much potential due to its superb lead actors, yet is let down by poor stage design and production. I felt the same after watching Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet. They both felt like they were trying too hard on being different, without focusing on what people love so much about Shakespeare, the plays themselves! The magic of Shakespeare lies in his poetic verse, his fascinating characters and the way they represent values that are inherent in all humankind. Whether that is love, death, greed, jealousy, ambition, desire or grief, there is always a quality in Shakespeare that reflects what it is to be human. His plays have endured for over 400 years without the need for extravagant stage design.

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 20, 2018 in Theatre

 

Tags: ,

Happy Days – Samuel Beckett

Venue = Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Maxine Peake has a long affinity with Manchester’s Royal Exchange theatre. She has appeared in several plays here over the years, most notably playing Hamlet and appearing in A Streetcar Named Desire. However, this is the first time I have ever been lucky enough to get tickets to see her live on stage. As she is such an incredible actress, I was really excited when I got front row tickets to Happy Days. The Royal Exchange Theatre is my favourite theatre in Manchester so I knew it would be a good way to spend a Saturday night in the midst of World Cup fever, granting a much needed escape from the football!

Happy Days, by Samuel Beckett, comprises of only two actors on stage; Winnie, who is buried up to her waist in a mound of earth, and her husband, Willie, who is buried behind her in a hole. Despite sharing the stage with her husband, Winnie is inextricably alone. She cannot see her husband and only knows that he is there by his infrequent monosyllabic responses to some of her questions. The audience never finds out why Winnie is stuck in a hole. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter. Watching this play is experiencing a day in the life of the married couple and from start to finish, it is utterly engrossing. Happy Days portrays a realistic marriage that survives despite the awkward situation its characters find themselves in. It is a very natural, human marriage that demonstrates the realities of a long-term relationships and the distance that slowly builds between people that have been in a relationship that long. It is humorous to watch as she constantly talks, irritates her husband with countless questions and berates him for not putting suncream on. He retaliates by picking his nose, enjoying soft porn and lazing around.

Crawl back into your hole Willie! You’ve exposed yourself enough today!”

In the second half of the play, Winnie is then covered up to her neck in earth, for no reason. This must have been an incredibly difficult play to stage in the round. Luckily, the stage designer does a fantastic job by ensuring that the mound of earth slowly rotates, in order for the audience to be able to enjoy Maxine’s phenomenal performance. By placing Willie on the other side of the mound, it ensures that wherever you sit, there is always something to watch. In the second act, when Winnie is buried up to her neck, television screens effectively relay the action that you are unable to see from such a restrictive performance. Hats off to the designer, Naomi Dawson for ensuring that this play remains accessible to the audience at all times!

The best thing about this production is Maxine Peake’s remarkable performance. It is honestly the most extraordinary acting I have ever seen. I have always loved Maxine Peake’s acting, but this is the best acting I have ever witnessed on stage. She carries most of this entire performance alone, and is restricted to acting from the torso upwards. This was impressive enough before the second act that sees her restricted to just being able to act with her face. It must be an incredibly demanding, intimidating role, as the audience’s attention is entirely focused on Winnie. Having a minimalist set, and no other cast, means there’s nowhere for Peake to hide. She instantly engages the audience and holds their attention throughout the play. As the play progresses, and her body disappears, her character becomes incensed, with disjointed, repeated dialogue. Maxine Peake draws the audience fully into her performance and is utterly engrossing. Being so restricted in movement, even the smallest of Peake’s mannerisms are wonderfully expressive, from her quivering lip right through to her twitching nose. The thing I loved most about Maxine’s Winnie was her voice; a masterful blend of upper-class sophistication with an irritating edge to it whenever she calls her husband’s name. It made it seem like she was constantly nagging Willie, and you can certainly sympathise with him!  I was left astounded and in sheer awe at how truly talented Maxine Peake is in this play. She effortlessly controls the play, captivates the audience and makes her character natural and entirely believable. I have never seen acting so incredible. It is honestly a masterclass.

As for the play itself, I enjoyed it without really understanding it properly. I think it may have gone over my head slightly, as most of Beckett’s plays do. It left me deliberating what on earth it was about. But I think that is part of the charm of his plays. They always leave many questions unanswered and the audience pondering them much later on. The same happens with Happy Days. You never understand why Winnie is buried in a hole. The end remains ambiguous and her fate, and her marriage, is left unresolved. However, I like that. I like the fact that I am forced to think about the play, its characters and its setting. It encourages philosophical thinking.

Even without fully understanding the play, I really enjoyed Happy Days. It was an absolute honour to witness Maxine Peake deliver the finest performance I have ever seen. I will definitely strive to get tickets to her next endeavour with the Royal Exchange Theatre!

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 17, 2018 in Theatre

 

Three Sisters – Rash Dash Theatre

Venue = The Royal Exchange Theatre – Studio, Manchester

I remember working backstage on props at Northenden Players when we staged a production of Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters. I have to admit to taking an immediate dislike to the play as it was longwinded and basically revolved around philosophical deliberation and extensive dialogue and monologues. Having to watch this play time after time during rehearsals, then its week production run, was sleep inducing. However, Rash Dash Theatre’s inventive retelling of Chekhov’s play completely defied all my expectations. Running in the Royal Exchange Theatre’s Studio alongside The Cherry Orchard in the main theatre, Three Sisters delivers originality and drags Chekhov kicking and screaming into the 21st century.  It completely blew my mind and left me so astonished, I went to see the it twice. It is hard to describe just how brilliant this play is, but I will attempt it here.

Rash Dash’s Three Sisters is a thoroughly modernist retelling of Chekhov’s play and is a wonderfully refreshing blend of live music, expressionist dance, dialogue and beautifully constructed tableaus. It matched the Studio’s intimate surroundings perfectly, feeling more like a gig than a play. Within the first few seconds, the audience is plunged into pitch blackness, accompanied by white noise. With your senses on edge, suddenly a rotating bust of Anton Chekhov is thrown into a spotlight at centre stage before the audience is thrown into darkness again. From the very start, this play is an assault on the senses and on expectations. Three Sisters had me immediately captivated and intrigued, guessing what will happen next. I was not disappointed.

Rash Dash’s masterstroke is to remove all male characters from the play, only leaving the three sisters. Accompanied by two superb musicians, drummer Chloe Rianna and violinist, Yoon-Ji Kim, the three sisters dominate the play, rather than being side-lined, as they are in Chekhov’s play, where the male characters have the majority of the dialogue. This instantly gives the play a feminist feel, and the three sisters are exceptionally rendered by the three actresses. Helen Goalen, Abbi Greenland and Becky Wilkie are phenomenally talented individuals, not only being superb actresses but brilliant singers and musicians. What would be long monologues, philosophising on life, are seamlessly performed as songs.

The songs in this play are superb, with my particular favourites being the ones performed by Masha, Abbi Greenland, who is experiencing heartbreak after separating from her boyfriend. Her voice is sublime as she sings reminiscences of her boyfriend, which are funny as well as sorrowful. The song where she expresses that ‘My friends imagine me with a boy who can hold the room, but all I want is a boy who can hold me’ was beautiful. All of the trio’s songs were brilliant, but it is Masha’s songs that really struck a chord with me.

I have never seen so many costume changes in a play before. Most of the costume changes were in front of the audience, on stage. We were warned of nudity, but it was incorporated well into the play so I didn’t really notice the nudity after a while. All costumes were fantastic, in particular where all 5 members of the production were dressed as different Spice Girls. As soon as you saw Abbi Greenland in Geri’s famous Union Jack dress, it dawns on you that they are dressed as The Spice Girls. I also loved the evening dresses for Irena’s birthday party. They were stunning.

It has been hard to put into words just how great this play was. It completely blew me away. I will definitely watch out for the return of Rash Dash to Manchester!

Since the trio sing a song satirising reviews of Chekhov’s play, I was unsure whether to even review it at all. But since it was so great, I had to!

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 14, 2018 in Theatre

 

The Cherry Orchard – Anton Chekhov

Venue = Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

It is a time of change in Russia.  The old world of the aristocratic society ruling over serfs has come to an end. Privilege and wealth is giving way to educated, young entrepreneurs.  It is this world of change that Anton Chekhov uses as the backdrop for his brilliant play, The Cherry Orchard.  This play is my favourite of his works, beautifully blending humour and pathos. I studied it in university when studying Twentieth Century Literature, and immediately fell in love with Chekhov’s wonderful characters. Originally performed at the Bristol Old Vic, it is currently visiting Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre.

The play tells of Madam Ranyevskaya’s return to her aristocratic home, heavily burdened with debt, yet with a frivolous lifestyle which may prove her downfall. The cherry orchard attached to the property is where her young son tragically died by drowning in the river. Naturally, she is loathed to sell the land and lose the memories attached with it. Having no money to pay off the surmounting debts, nor the interest, the cherry orchard must go to auction. Lopakhin, the young son of one of the family’s serfs, tries to rescue both the orchard and Madam Ranyevskaya’s self destructive nature.

The Cherry Orchard is a play that is perfectly suited to be performed in the Royal Exchange’s round theatre. I initially had concerns as to how such a large cast of characters would fit onto the stage, whilst maintaining fluidity and smooth transitions of the play’s scenes. But with a minimalist set and props, this allows the audience’s focus to be entirely on Chekhov’s wonderful characters and the phenomenal performances of all the actors playing them. And what performances they are! There isn’t a weak performance across any of the cast. Kirsty Bushell is electric as Madam Ranyevskaya. She absolutely stole the show, proving equally capable of portraying her character’s entertaining frivolous nature in addition to her more emotionally fragile side. Some of Bushell’s scenes, reminiscing the death of her son, were heart-wrenchingly sad. In my opinion Bushell is even better than Judy Dench in the Richard Eyre film production.

The other performances by the rest of the cast are also exceptional and credit needs to given to the casting department for perfectly matching Chekhov’s characters. I loved the subtly subversive casting of black actors into the educated characters, ascending up the social ladder. Although it would cause Quentin Letts nightmares, I thought this added depth to the characters. This was particularly evident with Jude Owusu’s wonderful characterisation of  Lopakhin, the man who has risen through the ranks. Once the son of a serf, he has ascended to be commercially prosperous.  I really believe that having an incredibly talented black actor play this role adds weight to many of his lines.

“I’ve bought the estate where my father and grandfather were slaves, where they weren’t even allowed inside the kitchen. I must be dreaming. I must be imagining it all. It can’t be true”

The Cherry Orchard is a beautiful balance between humour and pathos. This production captures this balance perfectly. Humour is provided in abundance with larger than life characters like the scrounging Pischik and the eccentric Gayev being brilliantly rendered. Gayev’s absurd billiards references and his monologue serenading the bookcase are brilliantly funny. The play has its fair share of slapstick comedy too, particularly when it comes to the hilarious Yepikhodov.  Christened ‘captain catastrophe’, this character is a walking disaster, albeit with squeaky shoes. Jack Monaghan captures his bumbling character perfectly.

The play also has touching moments of sadness. Madam Ranyevskaya’s dead son is hauntingly ever present throughout the play. This is where this production triumphs. Grisha hauntingly walks across the stage throughout the play. In one scene, he carries a white balloon, signifying the moon, and leaves wet footprints behind. It is a haunting image that stayed with me long after the play had ended.

I recommend that people catch this wonderful play whilst it is on at the Royal Exchange. For anyone who has the preconception that Chekhov is boring, this will prove you wrong. I love The Cherry Orchard and this production did Chekhov’s work justice. It will make you laugh and break your heart.

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on May 6, 2018 in Theatre

 

The Other Side of Truth – Beverley Naidoo

With the death of Winnie Mandela currently in the press, the appalling footage of the South African apartheid regime has also been replayed on the news. For those, like myself, who were not alive, or were too young to remember the apartheid, this has educated me to the segregation and harrowing treatment of black South Africans during this period. I am not old enough to remember the jubilation of the freedom of Nelson Mandela in 1990, nor him being democratically elected as the President of South Africa in 1994. Author Beverley Naidoo grew up in Johannesburg and, as an anti-apartheid campaigner, was arrested and subjected to solitary confinement. Eventually seeking exile in England, Naidoo started to highlight the political oppression of the South African apartheid to a new audience.

The Other Side of Truth, published by Naidoo in 2000, is a winner of the prestigious Carnegie Award. This book is more relevant today than it has ever been. It tells the story of two child refugees, eleven year old Sade, and her younger brother, Femi. Their father is a Nigerian journalist who writes stories exposing the truth of the political oppression and violence that engulfed Nigeria following the execution of journalist Ken Saro-Wira in 1995. Similarly to the South African apartheid, the people of Nigeria who stood against the dictatorial government suffered crippling brutality, particularly journalists. The story opens with Sade getting ready for school. She hears gunshots and witnesses her mother being shot and murdered by a gang. Folarin, their father arranges them to be smuggled out of Nigeria, using fake passports, in order to protect his children.

Two sharp cracks splinter the air. She hears her father’s fierce cry, rising, falling.”

The Other Side of Truth is a powerfully told story of the plight of African refugees in England. This is a situation which should be all too familiar for modern readers, as a result of the war in Syria. Catapulted into a foreign land, and separated from their father, Sade and Femi have to learn who to trust and, crucially, what truth is. They have to learn when it is best to tell the truth, when it is best to lie, and the consequences of doing this. There is an underlying conflict throughout the novel that balances these questions against each other. Folarin, their father tells the truth in his articles, yet as a result, their mother was murdered and the children had to flee Nigeria.

This conflict and constant questioning is enhanced by the book’s narrative voice, which constantly asks questions. This prompts the reader to also ask themselves the same questions. Naidoo’s narrative is effectively told from Sade’s perspective, putting the reader in the shoes of the children and it pulls no punches. Juxtaposed with Sade’s memories of Nigeria, violent scenes, corruption and bribery are told through the children’s perspective, highlighting the innocence of those affected by war. The internal conflict of Naidoo’s characters between the truth and lies makes The Other Side of Truth genuinely engrossing. It will keep you turning the page to see how/whether the conflict is resolved. 

“It was so difficult to know what was right and wrong any more. And doing the right thing could lead to awful things happening”

This book also shines a spotlight on the indifference and hatred shown towards refugees. It brutally depicts the customs office and refugee detention centres. Rather than being welcoming, they make refugees feel like criminals simply because they are having to flee their homeland in order to survive. Naidoo also realistically portrays the school bullies, who bully Sade because she is different. This novel explores racism and constantly challenges the reader to question their own attitudes towards refugees. You constantly ask yourself why children are being treated this way, considering the horrific events that they have experienced. It is a question that we should all ask ourselves today regarding Syrian refugees.

Refugees? They were those winding lines of starving people, with stick-thin children… Refugees were people trying to escape famine and war. You saw them on the television. Were she and Femi really refugees?” 

Thought provoking, enthralling and incredibly relevant to our current climate, I would recommend everybody to read this brilliant book. Hopefully it will help more people understand and empathise with Syrian refugees, and others who have been displaced by war.

 

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

 
 

Frankenstein

Venue = Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

Frankenstein_RetouchIt has been 200 years since the publication of Mary Shelley’s Gothic novel and since its publication, Frankenstein has become a cultural icon of the horror genre. Hammer Horror Films and Hollywood are partly responsible for creating a cultural icon out of Shelley’s novel, distorting the story and creating a lumbering, silent, giant monster with green skin. This is what has been embedded into culture thanks to the versions we see on the cinema screen, for example, Boris Karloff’s adaptation. In fact, Frankenstein is the name of the scientist who reanimates the dead, not the monster itself. Secondly, his creation is labelled as The Creature, and is an eloquent, melancholic, lonely creature searching for companionship. He becomes educated by studying the same society which shuns him. Because of his abhorrent appearance, The Creature is subject to heart-breaking rejection from the public, and most importantly, from his creator. For me, Frankenstein is a desperately sad story about rejection and isolation. Rory Kinnear’s portrayal of this character, in the TV series Penny Dreadful,  is the closest to Shelley’s initial depiction of this Gothic character that I have seen.

04-RET-Frankenstein-Shane-Zaza-Victor-Frankenstein-Images-Johan-Persson1-700x455The Royal Exchange Theatre’s production of Frankenstein is faithfully adapted by April de Angelis, staying true to Shelley’s novel throughout. Every scene from the novel is rendered in this production. This is particularly effective when it comes to Shelley’s narrative, which is entirely told by Victor Frankenstein to Captain Walton.  Walton rescues the scientist from the frozen tundra, on a voyage to the North Pole. In this production, Captain Walton, played by the brilliantly witty Ryan Gage, stays on stage throughout the entire play. This effectively shows that the entire story is narrated by Victor recounting his life. This is a triumph when it comes to Shane Zaza’s characterisation of Victor Frankenstein. Zaza flawlessly portrays the abhorrence and revulsion that the scientist feels as a result of playing God and reanimating the dead. As the play progresses, Zaza perfectly gets more manic as the consequences of Victor’s actions become apparent. This matches the novel brilliantly, as Victor becomes so frantic with vengeance that people start to believe he is mad.

05-RET-Frankenstein-Harry-Attwell-The-Creature-Images-Johan-Persson-1140x450The risk of faithfully rendering every scene from Shelley’s novel is that the pace of the play feels rushed.  This is particularly evident when The Creature tries to befriend the DeLacey family. Rather than build up this scene, making The Creature begin to hope that he can integrate into normal society, this scene is condensed to The Creature looking through the window for a short while, learning language, becoming educated, then spurred by the DeLaceys. This is a real shame as the audience never quite feels absolute sympathy for Frankenstein’s Creature, nor feel his true heartbreak of having his hopes of friendship destroyed. Throughout this production, the Creature constantly suffers from not having enough time to gain the audience’s sympathy. The absence of poetry also added to me feeling unsympathetic towards the Creature in this production. In the novel, and in Penny Dreadful, The Creature is so eloquent that he beautifully recites Milton’s Paradise Lost and other great Romantic poetry. It gives his character heart and makes you instantly empathise with him. Poetry is the only beauty that The Creature receives. It is his retreat from the cruel world that shuns him.

FRANKENSTEINAll this takes nothing away from Harry Attwell’s brilliant portrayal of Frankenstein’s Creature. Attwell’s strongly projected voice was perfectly melancholic and despairing. His appearance was older and his stature was more gigantic than I was expecting. Shrouded in enormous black robes, walking with a limp, Attwell plays The Creature with a wonderful balance of despair, compassion and strength. It is just a shame that the audience were never given an opportunity to fully connect with The Creature. He was absent from the stage for the majority of the production, but the scenes where he appeared were enthralling, gripping and tense. However, it is worth adding that whilst The Creature’s absence hindered the compassion I felt for the character, it added to the tension and horror of the production. I was left on the edge of my seat, not knowing when, or where, he would appear. But personally, I always feel that Frankenstein is a desperately sad tale of rejection, loneliness and despair.

Frankenstein2018JP_03006This production brilliantly plays on the horror genre, scaring the audience at times and brilliantly adding to the tension by plunging the auditorium into pitch blackness. This is actually really uncomfortable as an audience member, as you have no idea what will happen next. Through the effective use of smoke, the stage is constantly foggy, giving it a haunting impression. The constant presence of Captain Wolton acts as a safety blanket. When he is taken away and the auditorium is plunged into total darkness, it is genuinely unnerving. Lighting is also used dramatically when the entire stage is entirely lit by a single candle. Again, this plays on the Gothic theme and heightens the intensity of the play. When Frankenstein’s Creature is ‘born’, there is a wonderful mix of electric, modern, strip light bulbs, with the period setting, costumes and candles. This fusion of modern and period lighting struck me as being as inventive as Victor Frankenstein’s creation.

Overall, this was a brilliant production and well worth watching. Frankenstein is tense, gripping and will leave you on the edge of your seat. It is just a shame that it didn’t fully leave me feeling empathy or compassion towards Frankenstein’s Creature. It didn’t leave me in tears, the way that Shelley’s novel did.

RATING = ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 1, 2018 in Theatre