Tag Archives: Shakespeare

The Winter’s Tale
reviewed in Cambridge on 31 January

Three words sum up this latest touring production from Cheek by Jowl – stylised, intelligent and stylish. Declan Donnellan’s direction with its contrasts of almost frenetic action and oases of calm is matched by Nick Ormerod’s bleak setting of a forbidding hinged white crate and near-black modern costumes.

Only Orlando James’ Leontes in his early scenes and the pastoral merrymaking of the fourth act relieve the intensity of the gloom. Nothing in James’ portrayal of the play’s anti-hero lets us forget that we’re in Sicily; it’s as though the king himself is a near-eruption volcano, desperately trying to recapture his boyhood escapades with Edward Sayer’s Polixenes and his own young son Mamillius (Tom Cawte)

Meanwhile his a wife and courth has accepted that time passes and inexorably brings change with it. It’s a marvellously well-fleshed portrait of a man one cannot either love or admire, but one who is recognisable and understandable. The weight of the feminine side of the drama is borne by Natalie Radmall-Quirke’s Hermione and Joy Richardson’s authoritative yet pragmatic Paulina.

That is, until we meet Perdita, Leontes’ discarded daughter Eleanor McLoughlin), not to mention the sympathetic old shepherd who found and reared her (Peter Moreton) and the disguised prince Florizel (Sam Woolf) who woos her. Radmall-Quirke offers us the maternal side of the queen, which spills across from her son to her husband and, to a lesser extent, to his friend. Only when her honour and her life are threatned do we see the steel concealed under the weight of her burgeoning body and her sense of responsibility for those who surround her.

The lighting by Judith Greenwood is clever; the fifth act statue scene is particularly effective. Paddy Cunneen’s music alternates with a great deal of loud noise – although the verse is articulated with a proper sense of both the words themselves and the multiple meanings behind many of the phrases, I did sometimes wonder how much travelled back further than the front rows of the stalls. But that is, perhaps, to quibble about a staging which carries conviction from beginning to end.

Four and a half star rating.

The Winter’s Tale runs at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 4 February with a matinée on 4 February. it can also be seen at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester between 14 and 18 March.

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The Shakespeare Revue

(reviewed at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 10 August)

This new and updated version of the 1994 RSC production is directed by one of its original devisers Michael McKee. It should by rights be packing out the Cambridge Arts Theatre; the audience at the performance I saw was properly enthusiastic though not particularly numerous.

There are five performers with musical director controlling them from the piano. Anna Stolli has a voice which copes with the coloratura of “The heroine the opera house forgot” (mainly Verdi) and dances Nicola Keen’s sometimes elaborate choreography nimbly. Lizzie Bea contrasts well and puts over her solo sketches with style as well as humour.

Jordan Lee Davies, Alex Morgan and Alex Scott Fairley dance, sing and make the audience share their enjoyment of the wide-ranging variations on the Shakespeare theme from “The man who speaks in anagrams” through “Giving notes” to the curtain speech for Sir in The Dresser.

“Brush up your Shakespeare” is performed as a quintet and there are references to the current battle for the US presidency to make sure that we leave the theatre knowing that Shakespeare is indeed a playwright and poet for all time. After all, you can only make stylishly agreeable fun of someone or something universally recognised as completely secure in his or its eminence.

The Shakespeare Revue continues at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 20 August.

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Filed under Music & music theatre, Reviews 2016

The Tempest

(reviewed at the Theatre in the Forest, Jimmy’s Farm, Wherstead on 29 July)

“Ramshackle” and “shenanigans” are two words mentioned in the programme for Joanna Carrick’s production of The Tempest, this summer’s Shakespeare from the Red Rose Chain at the Theatre in the Forest.

They are apt, for the cast of five appear much more at home with the rough’n’tumble of the jester and the butler than with the poetry and multi-levels of treachery, betrayal and redemption which underpin the story of Prospero, his usurping brother and the equally disfunctional royal family of Naples.

So Edward Day – who plays Prospero and Sebastien, the Milanese dukes – comes to life as clown-masked and wigged Trinculo; Prospero’s great speeches somehow seem to take second place. Rachael McCormick doubles Miranda (a typically stroppy teenager) and the pedantic but honourable councillor Gonzalo. Lawrence Russell is a boyish Ferdinand, the crown-ambitious Antonio and a literally knockabout Stephano.

This is a play, like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where the spirit and the mortal worlds meld. Kirsty Thorpe’s Caliban not only provides some of the production’s most intelligent speaking but makes Alonso’s grief at the apparent loss of both his daughter (to marriage) and his son (presumed drowned) credible. Jack Parker is an Ariel with an underpinning of Puck as he seeks to earn his freedom.

Carrick’s production makes much use of water, quite a lot of which finds its way among the audience; if you prefer to remain dry, don’t book for the foremost block of seats stage right. David Newborn and Carrick have created a set in sea shades peopled with oil drums and overhung by an enormous sail.

Costumes for the shipwrecked contingent run variations on hot orange; island dwellers sport greens and more sea-blue. Laura Norman’s soundscape has live additions from the farm donkeys, beautifully on cue at “The isle is full of noises”. McCormick is also the choreographer.

The Tempest continues at the Theatre in the Forest until 28 August with matinées on 6, 13, 20 and 27 August.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

(reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 21 June)

Which week of the year is ideal for opening a new production of what is arguably Shakespeare’s most performed play? For Trevor Nunn’s return to his home town of Ipswich with the one Shakespeare play which u to now he has not been commissioned to direct, the summer solstice is the obvious choice.

Nunn and his designer Libby Watson have set the action in British-ruled India during the 1930s. The contrast in cultural values adds weight to Egeus (Sam Dastor)’s ferocity of purpose as far as his daughter Hermia (Neerja Naik)’s marriage is concerned. Demetrius (Assad Zaman) is his choice; she prefers Lysander (Harry Lister Smith).

If Duke Theseus (Matt Rawle – doubling the role of Oberon) supports Egeus, his war-won bride Hippolyta (Fiona Hampton – who also plays Titania) is not so sure. But she is at this point powerless to intervene and it is Hermia’s friend Helena (Imogen Daines), fruitlessly attempting to wash away her unrequited love for Demetrius with alcolhol, who precipitates the confusion which will ensue when the elpoping lovers are pursued by Demetrius and he himself by Helena.

Once we’re in the forest, Esh Alladi’s lithely malevolent Puck is the master of woodland ceremonies, indeed a spirit of no common sort. This is where Sarvar Sabri’s score really underlines that this is a spirit realm into which humans trespass under under licence; the musicians are led by Suhail Yusuf Khan. Costumes for the sprites are shredded and faintly fluorescent; those for Titania and Puck more blindingly so.

None of the woodland creatures, led by Michelle Bishop (who doubles as Theseus’ up-tight personal assistant Phyllis) are ever still. Arms wave and undulate constantly, as though the thinnest, finest tendrils were stirred by a forest breeze. Sonia Sabri is the choeographer, devising a mixture of western courtly ballroom, Kathak and Indian folk-dance styles to great effect.

The mechanicals suggest a community of street traders hawking their own crafts from their initial appearance. You feel that their fee if their play is performed for Theseus’ wedding is genuinely important. Harmage Singh Kalirai’s Quince is a marvellously homespun philosopher, just about managing to keep Kulvinder Ghir’s know-all Bottom in check (would you really buy a rug or length of cloth from this man)?

Deven Modha’s Flute makes his sari-clad Thisbe into a gentle foil to Ghir’s Pyramus in the play scene. All six newly weds join in the exuberant dance which heralds the arrival of the immortals to bless the nuptials. When Puck invites the audience’s applause, it’s no wonder that the response is enthusiastic.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at the New Wolsey Theatre until 9 July with matinées on 22, 25, 28 June, 2, 5 and 6 July.

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King Lear

(reviewed at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 20 June)

This Max Webster Royal & Derngate production of Shakespeare’s tragedy emphasises its bleakness. Designer Adrian Linford presents us with a bare stage, backed by a greying wall, a window-piece which barely illuminates the world outside and is as much a restriction as an egress.

The play begins with Cordelia (Beth Cooke), waiting her moment to shine. A chandelier is lowered, a throne materialises – and the court bustles in. The costumes are timeless ones, which means that guns and duelling pistols supplement knives and short swords. Yu either accept this blurring, or you don’t. It’s up to you.

Dominating the play is Michael Pennington, not yielding an inch as either the absolute monarch, or the abdicated one – feeling himself for the first time not to be in command of anyone. Or anything. He times Lear’s decay into dementia so subtly that one is scarcely conscious of when irritation with the king’s arbitraryways melts into compassion for the man.

All the other characters, given a central performance of this strength, are satellites. Tom McGovern’s no-nonsense Kent metamorphoses well from the blunt senior army officer into the equally outspoken but infinitely more relaxed man of the people. Joshua Elliott’s Fool is an intriguing mixture of acute wisdom and apparently pointless nonsense. He’s the dark side of the glass to Gavin Fowler’s poor Tom as the fugitive Edgar desperately seeks to claw a future from his bleak prospects.

If Cooke’s Cordelia comes across as a spirited as well as principled princess, Catherine Bailey’s domineering Goneril an Sally Scott’s deceptively uxorious and motherly Regan offer contrasting essays in unpleasant ambition. Shane Attwooll’s Cornwall at first seems to have the edge on Adrian Irvine’s more contained Albany, but this is shown to be yet another layer in the interlocking web of deception.

Scott Karim’s Edmund is a plausible villain, though his initial soliloquy seemed to portray a cavalier approach to the verse. As his father the Earl of Gloucester, Pip Donaghy gives a somewhat muted performance, so that his terrible torture by Cornwall for his temerity in scouring his king is a piece f stagecraft rather than something to horrify us.

King Lear continues at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 25 June with matinées on 23 and 25 June..

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The Tempest

(reviewed at the Hippodrome, Great Yarmouth on 12 May)

The early 20th century Hippodrome Circus building just west of Great Yarmouth’s seafront offers opportunities for 21st century spectacle in a production of what is arguably Shakespeare’s last complete play which reflects the early 17th century masque tradition. Director William Galinsky takes full advantage of the space.

Visually, you can’t fault this production designed by Laura Hopkins. Two semi-circular beds of mudflats with a causeway running between them, as at Mersea Island down the coast, aerial acrobats (Lost in Translation Circus), swimmers, strange hooded sea monsters in human form, rain and floods – what more could you ask for? Well, clarity of speech would be helpful; too many cast members at the performance I saw seemed to be suffering from an epidemic of the mumbles.

As Miranda, Pi Laborde Noguez is the principal offender. Tony Guilfoyl’s Prospero is mostly audible, and credible in his portrayal of a man who slowly comes to abrogate the consuming bitterness which has enveloped him since he was ast adrift from his duchy. Jane Leaney is a string Ariel, alternatively swathed in magenta and black and suggesting that, once free, she might well be Prospero’s proper mate.

Ferdinand in Freddy Carter’s interpretation has a good balance between teenage naïveté and a growing awareness that tasks are worth accomplishing properly, not a bad philosophy for a future king. Graeme McKnight makes no attempt to play Caliban for sympathy; this son of Sycorax is truly his mother’s offspring. Ravi Aujla gives Alonso a dignity which at times seems at odd with his previous support for Oliver Senton’s usurping Antonio. Antonio’s mirror-image is of course Adam Burton’s power-hungry Sebastian.

Colin Hurley’s Stephano is an almost-lovable rogue Stephano with John McCarthy as his side-kick (literally) Trinculo. Elder staesman Gonzalo is given a gentle characterisation by Christopher Saul; this is a man who knows that you can do as much good by stealth as with the fanfare of trumpets. When the banquet of sugar subtleties floats towards the shipwrecked nobles, it is he alone who can lie back and enjoy the fruits.

The Tempest continues at the Hippodrome, Great Yarmouth until 21 May with matinées on 14 and 21 May. It is part of this year’s Norfolk & Norwich Festival.

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Richard III

(reviewed at the Avenu Theatre, Ipswich on 10 May)

The Red Rose Chain is an Ipswich-based company which likes to provide an unusual slant for its productions. Take the most recent example, Joanna Carrick’s version of Shakespeare’s Richard III. She has a cast of just four actors with Lawrence Russell taking the title role and all the other parts played by Edward Day, Rachael McCormick and Kirsty Thorpe.

Carrick and David Newborn have set it in the immediate post-World War II years. Russell is on stage almost throughout the action, initially listening to his crackling wireless, leafing through a newspaper and contemplating his pin-board studded with photographs of those who must manipulate or die to ensure his translation from Duke of Gloucester to the throne. Hunchbacked and stiff-legged, he is a sartorial mismatch of checks and stripes.

It’s a mesmerising performance, ablaze with cackles as he admires his own dexterity and invites us to share his glee. A Richard in the comic vein rather than one to strike shivers down the spine. Unless, that is, you’re one of his victims. Torpe is two of these – Lady Anne and the initially conniving Buckingham – giving two well contrasted portraits of recognisable human beings.

Edward IV’s widow Elizabeth and the ultimately avenging Richmond are both played by Day. His Elizabeth is properly commanding; the Act IV Scene IV wooing scene in which Richard, just after the murder of her sons, proposes to marry her daughter turns out to be one of the production’s high points. McCormick doesn’t make quite enough of Clarence’s dream in Act I Scene IV but rants to good effect as Queen Margaret and the Duchess of York.

Keeping the running time, including the interval, down to a little under two hours has meant the elimination of a number of characters, including Hastings, the Woodville clan and Lord Stanley (whose last-minute intervention at Bosworth sealed the historic Richard’s fate). This does make the story much easier to follow for non-historians. Whether the two interpolated songs by Leon Sheppard contribute much is more of a moot point.

Richard III runs at the Avenue Theatre, Ipswich until 4 June with matinées on 14 and 21 May and 4 June.

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream

(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Norwich on 26 April)

Erica Whyman’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which alighted at Norwich’s Theatre Royal this week as part of its five-month national tour, is part of the Shakespeare quatercentenary celebrations. At each venue, adult amateur actors play the mechanicals (here they are members of Norwich’s own The Common Lot) and children from a local school (Sprowston Community High School) make up the fairy train.

So far, so slightly unusual. Designer Tom Piper takes it all further with a set suggesting the aftermath of Second World War damage and the actors wearing clothes which evoke the 1940s. Interestingly, Oberon’s entourage are actor-musicians (Sam Kenyon is the composer of the sparsely evocative score) led by Tarek Merchant.

In Theseus (Sam Bedford)’s court, Peter Hamilton Dyer stands out as a military Egeus whose desire to force his daughter Hermia ((mercy Ojelade) into marriage with Chris Nyak’s self-satisfied and posturing Demetrius growls with menace. Nyak’s performance is one of the production’s gems, well contrasted by Jack Holden’s softer-keyed Lysander. An equally spiky relationship is that of Laura Harding’s Hippolyta with Bedford.

Laura Riseborough’s Helena looks right for the girl thrown over by Demerius, but – and the women of the cast with two major exceptions are mostly guilty – I had no sense that she really understood what her lines actually meant. That’s not something of which Ayesha Dharker’s sinuous Titania can be accused. Nor Lucy Ellison’s cabaret turn as Puck, all mischief with just a hint of actual wickedness underpinning her relationship with the audience.

Oberons come mainly in two guises; light and dark. Chu Omambala tips slightly towards the dark side – there is malice in his trick on Titania if not in his intervention on behalf of love-lorn Helena. The Common Lot has a Bottom in Owen Evans who practically steals the show from the professionals, though deliciously upstaged in the closing sequence of the play scene by Dan Fridd’s Flute.

Anyone who has ever attempted to direct a student or amateur play will sympathise with Amelia Hursey’s Quince, faced with a leading man who knows better than anyone else what’s needed – and tht he’s the man for the job. Charles Balfour’s lighting, a simple plot for the Athens scenes and subtle shifts of colour and shapes for the woodland interlude with a sunset glow suggesting both an all-encompassing night and the aftermath of devastation.

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Much Ado About Nothing

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 7 March)

Expect a lot of new Shakespeare productions this year – it’s his quatercentenary. Hornchurch under its new artistic director Douglas Rintoul has been quick of the mark with what is my personal favourite of Shakespeare’s comedies – Much Ado About Nothing.

Rintoul and his designer Jean Chan have kept the Sicilian setting but opted for the end of World War II period. There are also some gender-shifts in the casting; Leonato (Mark Jax)’s broher Antonio is now his widowed sister Ursula (Eliza Hunt) and Pamela Burgess doubles Dogberry and Margaret.

What stands out in this interpretation is the characterisation of the two main characters. Thomas Padden’s Benedick and Hattie Ladbury are both outsiders in their respective milieux. One feels that he has developed his blistering wit as a fitting-in device with his fellow officers. She is a land-girl type, preferring slacks to skirts, and perhaps also concerned, as a poor relation, to prove her usefulness to her uncle and aunt.

Both catch the audience’s attention and affections from their first exchanges; we have all of us known the type and understand the vulnerability under the carapace. James Siggins’ Claudio suggests that it is Hero (Amber James)’s fortune as her father’s heir which initially attracts him. Both Liam Bergin’s Don John (all fascist black and bitter with it) and Sam Pay’s rough-hewn Borachio are excellent portraits, and there’s a good sketch of the Friar by Jamie Bradley.

But the play stands or falls by its Beatrice and Benedick. Ladbury and Padden wear these personalities with complete comfort and naturalism. I was waiting for the nervous laugh which so often follows her “Kill Claudio” and his immediate reaction “Not for the wide world”. It doesn’t happen here; just a gasp of horror has the injunction and rebuttal sink in.

Much Ado About Nothing runs at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 26 March with matinées on 10 and 19 March.

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Lady Macbeth

(reviewed at the Hostry Festival, Norwich on 24 October)

This solo operatic cantata by Kenneth Ian Hÿtch takes the words spoken by Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s tragedy and weaves them into a tonal but uncompromisingly modern examination of a woman with ambitions who ultimately fails because she finds herself able to initiate but not to execute.

It requires a singing actress, which is what Lisa Cassidy shows herself to be, managing the coloratura and bravura passages (notably in the banqueting scene) as well as the guilt expressed in the repeated “The Thane of Fife had a wife” from the sleep-walking scene which Hÿtch sets to a quasi folk tune which haunts the listener well after the conclusion of the piece.

Pianist William Fergusson and violinist Elizabeth Marjoram accompany Cassidy as – black-robed and variously mantled and crowned (with thorn-like spikes) – she demonstrates her love for her husband (a fur-collared cloak thrown over the back of a throne-like chair) and writhes both vocally and physically in a tortured torrent of impotence; she can take no action herself.

The promotional image for Lady Macbeth is the famous Sargent painting of Ellen Terry in the rôle, robed in Byzantine splendour and holding the crown aloft. Cassidy also holds the crown but shows that Lady Macbeth’s grasp is altogether less secure. it would be interesting to see and hear Cassidy in the Verdi Macbeth opera – the 1865 revision rather than the 1847 version.

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Filed under Opera, Reviews 2015

Roll Over Beethoven

(reviewed at the Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch on 24 August)

Forget the Chuck Berry 1956 hit and even the Beatles’ 1963 version. Bob Eaton’s full-length musical called Roll Over Beethoven, now premièred at Hornchurch’s Queen’s Theatre, has snatches of Beethoven as well as a variation on Shakespeare’s Hamlet as the story line, iambic pentameters and all.

We are in a northern town in the mid-50s. Johnny Hamlet is in the middle of his National service; his school-friends Larry (Laertes) and Horace aka Waltzer (Horatio) have secured postponements – Larry through being at university and Waltzer by flourishing his homosexuality at the selection board.

One of the most interesting things about Eaton’s plot is that Eaton makes the Ghost into a malevolent downright vindictive figure. Fred Broom revels in the part as he seeks to manipulate his son towards murder. The not-quite grieving widow Gertie (Sarah Mahoney) and her new husband Claud (Antony Reed) are partners in a faltering music-shop business with Henry Polonius (Steven Markwick), whose attitude to changing tastes is mirrored in his repression of his lively 17-year old daughter Ophelia (Lucy Wells).

Wells has one of the best first-half numbers in “Seventeen” and the “Ghost train” sequence with Broom, Markwick and Wells is also effective. So is “Murder by silhouette”, when Rodney Ford’s lego-style design becomes a major actor in the sequence and Mark Dymock’s lighting complements this admirably. Matt Devitt’s direction keeps the pace going briskly while allowing breathing space between the numbers and the dialogue exchanges.

Ben Goddard is the musical director though, as usual with the cut to the chase… c company, all the cast play keyboards, strings, brass and percussion as appropriate. As in the original tragedy, it is Hamlet on whom we focus. Cameron Jones makes this mixed-up and angry young man very real as he struggles to find his own path through a tangle of lies and other people’s emotions.

Roll Over Beethoven runs at the Queen’s’s Theatre, Hornchurch until 12 September.

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Filed under Musicals, Reviews 2015

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

(reviewed at the Theatre in the Forest, Jimmy’s Farm, Wherstead on 28 July)

As most of the action of Shakespeare’s comedy takes place in a forest, this would seem to be a logical choice for the Red Rose Chain’s third woodland production. The setting, framed by mature trees which incorporate perfectly in to human and fairy adventures, is indeed an effective one – especially when darkness allows stage lighting to play its part.

The trouble is that Joanna Carrick’s production only really takes off towards the end, when the mechanicals’ proffered burgomasque turns into a brilliantly lit, burlesque of dance devised by Rachel McCormick as a kaleidoscope of styles, from ballet and Irish through to chorus-line slickness. It’s long time to wait, though.

We are all used to a certain amount of double-casting; usually this takes the form of Theseus and Hippolyta also playing their other-world avatars Oberon and Titania. Carrick goes one better by triple-casting almost all her eight actors. There’s an amusing logic to both the by-the-book Egeus and the maverick (not to say anarchic) Puck being played by Adam Wilson and the two men who both think their talents are not sufficiently appreciated – Demetrius and Bottom – by Daniel Booroff. Both give excellent performances.

Robeet Dowdeswell radiates authority as Theseus, a man comfortably aware of his natural right to command and Oberon, the fairy kingdom ruler who gets his own way in the end. Kirsty Thorpe gives warrior queen Hippolyta a slight foreign accent and then is pleasantly feminine as the distinctly hippy Titania. I grew weary of Eleanor Cotton-Soares monotonous shouting as Hermia, though Joanna Brown’s beanpole Helena has her moments – and seizes them wholeheartedly.

The court characters are dressed by Carrick and David Newborn in black and white, while the mechanicals, as well as providing what you might call the town band, are straight out of Dad’s Army in khaki greatcoats. Once we’re in Fairyland, that turns out to be flower-power territory, all caftans and funny stockings; Puck emerges from a petal-painted beat-up Reliant Robin to take the audience by storm.

For the play scene, we are treated to bathing costumes in bright scarlet, some outlandish props and an unfortunate apparent inability to see that the comedy comes mainly from its bunch of inept actors taking themselves absolutely seriously. As I said, Act Five is a long time to wait for a play to take fire. This one proves to be something of a damp squib, and that’s a pity.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at the Theatre in the Forest until 30 August.

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Romeo & Juliet

(reviewed at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 30 June)

This new touring production of Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare’s Globe is a concentrated affair. Because it is a story about young people still in their teenage (their elders only make things worse, not better), the characters’ impatience is mirrored by the way in which directors Dominic Dromgoole and Tim Hoare intercut scenes in an manner more often encountered on film than on stage.

it’s extremely effective, ensuring that we’re caught up in the drama from its very beginning. Andrew D Edwards’ set is a brown-wood, rope-edged affair on two levels, against which the off-white costumes stand out. Most of the cast take on at least two characters and provide the, at times, raucous musical accompaniment (the composer is Bill Barclay).. We are in hot Verona, but it’s a timeless sort of place.

Choreographer Siân Williams and fight director Kevin McCurdy have devised some effective moments. There’s a particularly effective Mercutio by Steffan Donnelly (who also doubles the Prince) and a marvellously country wise-woman Nurse by Sarah Higgins. Matt Doherty contrasts Paris and Tybalt to considerable effect.

You can believe completely n Samuel Valentine’s Romeo as a youth on the cusp of adulthood, conscious that he owes his family and city a duty but reluctant to step up to it. Mooning over the unattainable Rosaline and larking about with his friends is so much more an apparently easier option.

Cassie Layton’s Juliet is also a credibly teenager, confiding in the audience as though to a coded diary as she comes to terms with the threat as well as the blessing of love and marriage. The older Capulets – Steven Elder and Hannah McPake – make a couple to be reckoned with, unleashing their fury at Juliet’s apparently wilful disobedience (she had, after all, earlier seemed delighted by the idea of marrying Paris) in a flailing crescendo.

Tom Kanji makes Benvolio into the butt of his friends’ japes, then gives us a somewhat rough-hewn Friar Laurence, a simple man who means well but is totally out of his depth when he tries to play God. As the humour fades with the daylight and the tragedy unfolds itself, its inevitability brings its own catharsis.

Romeo & Juliet plays at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 4 July as part of a national tour.

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I, Malvolio

(reviewed at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich on 6 June)

For a modern audience with post-Elizabethan sensibilities, Shakespeare’s treatment of Shylock in the trial scene of The Merchant of Venice and – albeit to a lesser degree – of Malvolio in Twelfth Night is uncomfortable. We find it difficult to laugh at forced conversions or at insanity.

Tim Crouch takes us into the twisted world of that admittedly overweening steward Malvolio. Crouch is dangerously intense as he manipulates his audience with a mixture of cajolery and derision. Wearing tattered and stained long-johns, yellow stockings snaking down his legs, his head covered by a lappeted cap crowned with a cuckhold’s horns and brandishing the letter which has been his downfall, he combines ridiculousness with the menacing.

Various audience members are lured into increasing his humiliation; that’s so that Crouch can turn each situation on its head to make us ashamed that we have been laughing at each predicament. When he finally resumes the clothes appropriate to his status in Olivia’s household, they are as distorted as Malvolio’s warped mind which we recognise as both inherent and provoked. it’s a disturbing piece.

Pulse 2015 ended on 6 June.

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Macbeth
(reviewed at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds on 14 April)

It’s a long time since I’ve heard such an intelligently-spoken version of Macbeth as Jactinder Verma’s new touring production for Tara Arts in association with Queen’s Hall Arts and Black Theatre Live. The Asian-flavoured staging, full of bear-foot stylised movement against Claudia Mayer’s stark metallic setting (adorned only with the changing portraits of Scotland’s fighting rulers) and accompanied throughout by Rax Timyr’s side-stage percussion.

The three weird sisters, all glittering saris and oiled beards, are played as hijras, India’s legally-recognised third gender community dating bak thousands of years. John Afzal, Ralph Birtwell and Deven Modha suggest a self-satisfying mischievous malevolence as they prophesy for Robert Mountford’s Macbeth and Mitesh Soni’s Banquo.

Shakespeare’s text is given in a very full version and its verse flows easily. Mountford’s Macbeth, a warrior nobleman hitherto suppressing – if indeed he ever has previously recognised – the ambitions which will leads him so inexorably to his destruction, is a marvellously full portrait. Shaheen Khan matches him as Lady Macbeth, all the more frightening because she never rants or raves at full blast; controlled menace in action.

Shalini Peiris plays Lady Macbeth’s maid, doubling as the porter (with a very funny “equivocation” monologue) and the doomed Lady Macduff. Birtwll contrasts Dauncan and the doctor while Modha takes on (with excellent contrast) the three sons – Malcolm, Fleance and Macduff’s heir. Umar Pasha is a stalwart Macduff while that thinking general Banquo comes over as quietly authoritative in Mitesh Soni’s interpretation.

Macbeth runs at the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds until 18 April and at the Key Theatre, Peterborough on 28 and 29 April.

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