Tag Archives: William Shakespeare

REVIEW: Romeo and Juliet – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Dominic Dromgoole’s final touring production before finishing his tenure as Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe is a pared-back Elizabethan style booth staging of Shakespeare’s much-loved tragedy Romeo and Juliet. With multiple roles and minimal props the actors deliver a ‘strolling player’ take on the Bard’s blockbuster.

Atmosphere is such a critical element of Globe productions, the feelings evoked in the famous wooden ‘O’ when night falls and the stars twinkle above, is both hard to beat and to replicate. And so it proved in this beautiful, jewel box, mid-Victorian, proscenium arch theatre. The lights remained ‘up’ throughout and unlike its home at the Globe did not dim as evening progressed and while certainly prompting the audience to attention, it also served to highlight the early exits of some theatre-goers during the production.

There are though, many things to applaud here: the production begins with spirit, though it feels like many miles from Verona due to the Balkan-like jig, seeming to signal an energetic purpose the proceedings; scenes are trimmed and play out overlapping one another, ridding it of time-wasting scene changes and also, in the early stages, imbuing the storytelling with drive and the narrative throughout retains its clarity due to the well thought out direction. That said by the end this early drive had all but ran out of steam and been eschewed for quite possibly, the longest draw out death scene one can remember having had to sit through. It is never a good directorial choice to provoke a desire in the audience to leap onstage and fell the fatal blow to speed up proceedings.

The company, whilst hugely competent are somewhat low-key, only Tom Kanji’s Friar Laurence/Benvolio and Sarah Higgins’ Nurse remain writ large in the memory, the pair charismatic and confident presences onstage.The young lovers are played here by close to age-appropriate actors who manage to encapsulate not only the all-consuming fire of young love but its gaucheness and naivety. However the emotions portrayed by Cassie Layton as Juliet don’t seem to come from a place of any depth, it feels more surface than substance, all not helped by her difficulties with projection in this cavernous auditorium: much of her dialogue was consigned to the ether rather than the ears of the audience.

It is such a pity, there’s much that is good here, but an evening at Shakespeare’s Globe is such a magical experience, and one’s hope is that this competent but sometimes lifeless production doesn’t prevent the audience from exploring the riches of Shakespeare further.

Runs until Saturday 8 August 2015

This review was originally written for and published by http://www.thepublicreviews.com

REVIEW: The Tempest – Tron Theatre, Glasgow

This review was originaly written for and published by The Public Reviews at:


Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Andy Arnold

Design: Hazel Blue

Lighting Design: Sergey Jakovsky

Sound Design: Barry McCall

Tron Artistic Director Andy Arnold directs a predominantly female cast from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s MA Classical and Contemporary Text programme, in this his Mayfesto production of The Tempest: Shakespeare’s tale of magic, morality, love and betrayal.

While the programme notes state ‘the text has been slightly edited’, it manages to stick largely to Shakespeare’s original whilst giving greater focus to the themes of colonisation which exist in the text: indeed in this production the play’s first and last words are given over to Martinican poet, politician and denouncer of colonial racism, Aimé Césaire. These judicious cuts result in a lively and engaging production which whips along at a cracking pace.

The production scores highly on atmosphere: Hazel Blue’s inventive staging, an earthy hued island with a skeleton of a high-masted sailing ship, provides enough interest for the eye without detracting from the action and is complemented well by Sergey Jakovsky’s effective lighting design. However it must be said that Barry McCall’s sound design whilst evocative, often drowns out whole patches of dialogue, whether this is down to poor enunciation on the part of the actors or a heavy-hand on the volume button one cannot tell.

Arnold’s nimble direction showcases the skill of his actors and keeps the interest levels high throughout; indeed he manages to elicit some beautifully measured performances and a United Nations of accents from this youthful cast. Standout among them Rebecca Murphy as Prospero, who delivers a perfectly controlled central performance, though her extremely strident Australian accent sometimes consigns some of Prospero’s most notable lines to the winds. Kenny Boyle’s Ariel is a less sulky characterisation than the usual and his mastery of the ethereal other-worldliness of the sprightly spirit is captivating. The two are ably supported by the rest of the company, most noteworthy among them Flora Sowerby’s Cockney wide-boy Stephano and Amy Drummond’s Welsh Valley Trinculo, who provide the high comedy of the piece. There is also a more thoughtful and dignified portrayal  of the native, enslaved Caliban from Renee Williams.

This is a refreshing departure from the more traditional stagings of the play and the perfect showcase for these young actors at the start of their careers. A vibrant re-telling of the tale, visually pleasing, bristling with life and with some new food for thought thrown in. Well worth catching if you can.

Runs until 16th May 2014

REVIEW: Coriolanus – National Theatre Live from the Donmar Warehouse

tomLaunched in 2009 with a production of Phèdre with Helen Mirren, National Theatre Live aims to bring the best of British theatre live from the London stage to cinemas across the UK and around the world. Broadcasts have now been experienced by over 1.5 million people in 500 venues around the world, including 250 in the UK. Past broadcasts include Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller and One Man, Two Guv’nors with James Corden.

Tom Hiddleston CoriolanusThe latest offering in the programme is Josie Rourke’s version of the little seen Coriolanus from the Donmar Warehouse: Shakespeare’s last tragedy, his most political play and possibly his least favourite title character. Characterising the power struggle between the early Roman republic’s two main social classes; the patricians and the plebeians, it speaks of the common themes of war, social inequality and the abuse of power.

Having never experienced watching a play in the cinema the first surprise was the size of the audience, the powerful draw of Tom Hiddleston enough to fill the entire screening room.

Tom Hiddleston NT CoriolanusDifferences between the live theatre experience and the filmed one soon become apparent: unlike the theatre, this presentation included Emma Freud introducing the work, some background videos and a somewhat cringe-worthy live interval-time interview with director Josie Rourke musing on the casting of “sexiest actor on the planet” Hiddleston. Whilst these might provide some worthwhile information for those unfamiliar with the play (my presumption was that most people investing in the cost of a ticket for a screening of a Shakespeare play might have some inkling of what they were letting themselves in for) this is not the norm, so if the intention was to recreate the experience of live theatre this was somewhat off-base. The filmed production, unlike on stage, also has a measure of editing involved: the use of multiple camera angles and cutting between them, is one not experienced in a theatre, but the film-makers to their credit respected the fact that there is no such thing as a close up or a panning shot in theatre and studiously avoided them.

tumblr_my0ybgGswF1rxmb0io1_500As an example of British acting at its best there could be no better showcase. That Hiddleston is the finest actor of his generation is in no doubt after watching this production and the supporting cast are of a universally high quality in particular Deborah Findlay as Coriolanus’ mother Volumnia, Hadley Fraser as Aufidius and Mark Gatiss as Menenius. Rourke’s stripped-back staging gets the balance right between retaining the feel of ancient Rome whilst infusing the production with a welcome modernity. The creative lighting too adds atmosphere and creates a sense of menace throughout.

As an opportunity to gain access to productions that one otherwise might not be able to is worthy, the fact that it may inspire non-theatre goers to give live productions a try can only be encouraged, but as an emotional or visceral experience it does not have the power to move that being in a theatre does. the sense of a shared emotional experience just wasn’t there. There was also the embarrassing situation of to clap or not to clap at the curtain call, with the audience divided 50/50 (I was in the half who didn’t feel moved to clap – it just didn’t feel right – it was a cinema after all!)

Put simply: Did I enjoy it? Yes.  Is it as good as live theatre? No. Would I do it again? Yes.

REVIEW: Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s Globe, London with Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry

The combination of Tony and Olivier winning Rylance returning to the Globe for the first time since his tenure as artistic director, the revival of this previously universally lauded production and the return to the stage after 17 years of national treasure Stephen Fry, ensured that this run sold out as soon as it was released in January.

It has been ten years since this play first held the audience transfixed at the Globe, now Mark Rylance and many of the original team return to weave their magic. 

This was the last night of this year’s season at the Globe and as magical as the Globe always is  this was probably the most magical ever – as close to perfection as anything I’ve ever seen on stage.

Joining Rylance from the original cast to recreate their lovingly remembered performances are Paul Chahidi, a mischievous Maria, Peter Hamilton-Dyer as a golden-voiced Feste and the wonderful Liam Brennan as the besotted and beguiled Count Orsino. Rylance is the master (or in this case should I say mistress) of this space. No one I have ever seen appear here has managed to hold the audience in their thrall quite like him. For all his mastery of the dramatic role he truly shines in comedy. In black gown and ghost white face he glides hovercraft-like across the stage, executing three point turns every time he wishes to sit. With one tiny look or minuscule gesture he reduces the audience to tears.

New for the production, but no strangers to this stage, are Globe regular Colin Hurley as a deliciously debauched Sir Toby Belch, and from this year’s Richard III, Roger Lloyd Pack a  bumbling Andrew Aguecheek, Samuel Barnett and Johnny Flynn as twins Sebastian and Viola, and of course, Stephen Fry as Malvolio, who, in a nicely tuned performance, never lets the character fall into cheap farce.

This is theatrical perfection and the ultimate example of an ensemble cast. Luckily for those who didn’t get the chance to see this in its spiritual home they will have the chance to catch it from November at The Apollo on Shaftesbury Avenue where it runs in rep with Richard III.

Photo credit – John Tramper, Shakespeare’s Globe

REVIEW: Edinburgh Fringe – As You Like It, C Venue C

This review was originally written for and published by The Public Reviews

Writer: William Shakespeare

Director: Charlie Parham

The Public Reviews Rating: ★★★½☆

This might not be Shakespeare as you know it, but you’re definitely going to like it. The tale of Rosalind and her love Orlando and their gender-swapping love games are played out in a wholly original way by Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club.

Rosalind and Celia are in Paris, the inhabitants of a corrupt modern-day court, and their only concerns are where to charge their iPods and plug in their hair straighteners. So begins this all-male, time travelling production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. As they wander deeper into the countryside the pair fall further into the past and find themselves in corsets instead of Louis Vuitton. Our hero Orlando is also in dismay, he can’t get a signal on his Blackberry – so he has to try his hand at tree-carving instead.

This modern take on one of The Bard’s most joyful plays is still pleasingly faithful to the original but the most appealing thing about this production is its return to the bawdy spirit of its Elizabethan origins. There’s something to marvel at every minute: linguistic gymnastics, amazing physicality, falling wigs, Renaissance garb, time travel and a lot of laughs.

However its ebullience is its downfall in many ways, the dialogue is often mangled in an attempt to be exuberant, and there’s the feeling that some of the players are wringing every ounce of drama out of their parts. That said, there is some fine acting too, in particular Tom Russel as Rosalind whose subtly nuanced performance was the highlight of the piece.

Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Group achieve what many fail to – and that’s bring originality to Shakespeare, and that in itself is well worth paying the admission price to see.

Runs until 18 August

REVIEW: Macbeth starring Alan Cumming, Tramway Theatre Glasgow 22nd June 2012

Alan Cumming has said:

“I have been obsessed with Macbeth for as long as I can remember. It was the first Shakespeare I ever read, the first I was ever in and it continues to haunt and inspire me”.

It is a brave man indeed who decides to take one of Shakespeare’s most loved plays and tackle it (almost) alone. It is a truly great actor who can single-handedly hold an entire audience in enraptured silence for over 100 minutes and leave them emotionally wrung dry by the end – Alan Cumming is that actor.

Cumming’s theatrical history in Scotland has mainly been as a comic actor – and a fine one at that, but we, his countrymen seem to forget the string of awards he trails in his wake for a series of exceptional dramatic performances. The words Tony, Emmy, Olivier, and BAFTA are liberally sprinkled in his CV. Here he gets the chance to finally show his talents. The skill, grace and ingenuity with which he seamlessly tells the story of Macbeth is utterly hypnotic. He imbues more emotion, power and most of all, understanding to the tortured Scottish monarch than many full casts have managed to achieve.

The atmospheric set design of a desolate, cold psychiatric hospital and the cinematic reactive lighting is chillingly effective in creating an oppressive Orwellian feel.

This production is something truly different and special.

This radical re-imagining of the Scottish play by National Theatre of Scotland is only running for 17 performances at the Tramway prior to the show moving to New York. Unfortunately as of writing this the production is sold-out, but returns can be found by ringing the box office. It may not however, be the last we see of this production – fingers crossed for a triumphant return.

Directed by John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg

Set Designer Merle Hensel

Lighting Designer Natasha Chivers
Sound Designer Fergus O’Hare

REVIEW: King Lear starring David Hayman – Citizen’s Theatre Glasgow 10th May 2012

“I am a man, More sinn’d against than sinning”

“The ageing King decides to step down from the throne and divide his estate between his three daughters. Deceived by false promises and rejecting his one faithful daughter, Lear’s former kingdom spirals into chaos as he is driven to madness by the cruel treatment of his own family.”

This intense exploration of the human condition is the focal point of Artistic Director Dominic Hill’s inaugural season. Celebrated Glasgow actor David Hayman, returns to the Citizens in the title role, 33 years after his last appearance here. He is joined by a cast of familiar faces including; George Costigan (Calendar Girls, Shirley Valentine & Rita Sue and Bob Too) as Gloucester: Paul Higgins (The Thick of It) as Kent and Cal Macaninch (Downton Abbey & Wild at Heart) as Cornwall.

After a 33 year absence from his “creative home” David Hayman returns to The Citizen’s Theatre and delivers a truly sublime performance: a performance that will doubtlessly be remembered for many years.

He begins this theatrical tour de force by striding imperiously across the stage, Cossack hat on head, to dispense his kingdom with arrogant zeal amongst his three daughters and then proceeds to take us on a journey which sees him end as a physically shrunken, anguished, remorseful shell of a man.

In the wake of Hayman’s truly inspiring performance it would be easy to overlook the rest of the cast. However, from George Costigan’s heart-breaking turn as Gloucester (seen below with Hayman),

Kieran Hill as the double crossing Edmund (below centre),

to Paul Higgins’ strong performance as the loyal Kent (below left), they more than hold their own.

This is a re-imagined Lear, placed smack-bang in our recession-hit times.

Olivier award winner Tom Piper, who designed the set, recently worked on Kevin Spacey & Sam Mendes’ Richard III for the Old Vic, (which I had the privilege to see), and the design is similar in many ways. It evokes the same bleak historical-modernist feeling. Lighting design is by Ben Ormerod.

Now when I heard that an original soundscape, performed live on custom-made instruments, was being created for the production my heart sank, However, Paddy Cuneen has actually enhanced the performance with a series of atmospheric and unobtrusive sounds.

There were a few downsides, Ewan Donald as Edgar and Shauna MacDonald as Regan both had appalling diction especially Donald who at times was utterly unintelligible, even from the third row. However this is a King Lear that would stand up against anything you could possibly see at the Globe or the RSC and the queues around the block for tickets (as seen below) show what an appetite we have here in Scotland for Shakespeare. Artistic directors take note.

all pictures from Citizens Theatre and Citizens Theatre Flickr

REVIEW: The Tempest – Theatre Royal Haymarket, London

There were crowds forming before ten in the morning for return tickets outside the theatre and indeed the draw of seeing Ralph Fiennes play Shakespeare was the reason I booked to see this.

Fiennes is a fine, fine actor in full command of his powers and his is a highly impressive and commanding Prospero. He manages to convey the torture and complexity of the role and has a lucid way with Shakespeare’s verse, speaking it beautifully, meaningfully and clearly. He also has a magnetic quality like most true acting stars and you are drawn to him wherever he is on stage. Fiennes is, by far, the best thing about this production and is certainly worth the admission price alone. When he opens his mouth for the first time and his magnificent voice sounds out you really are transfixed.

The Tempest is one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays, however this version by Trevor Nunn comes in at 3 hours. All faults in this production have been laid squarely at the feet of Nunn by the critics. Charles Spencer from the Telegraph blames Nunn’s ability to “bore for England.” It may be due to the fact that Nunn never seems to resist the temptation to turn everything he does into a lavish musical production – the parallels can really be drawn here as the set, with its crumbled buildings looks like he’s recycled it from Cats.

There are some moments of spectacle here as well as some Cirque de Soleil inspired ones and a whole lot of music (which probably results in its running time) but ultimately it’s Fiennes who is the source of all real quality and interest in the whole production.

Tom Byam Shaw is a bleached blonde Ariel and he captures the character’s sprightly nature well (he has an impish face which helps) but at moments to me he seemed a bit on the camp side – which elicited a few sniggers from the audience.

Elisabeth Hill as Miranda seemed wooden and unnatural at times when playing against Fiennes. Two years ago the 23yr old was at Manchester University and this is her first major role. Playing alongside a star such as Fiennes seem to be a step too far. His naturalness and believability just highlighted her stage school expressions of emotion.

Nicholas Lyndhurst displays his comic timing well as Trinculo and Clive Wood plays a spectacularly drunk and boorish Stephano.

I am glad I saw this, for all its faults I wouldn’t have passed up the chance to see Ralph Fiennes on stage and he certainly surpassed any expectations I had. A truly great actor at the height of his powers and a real talent for Shakespeare.

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