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Twelfth Night

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Photograph by Manuel Harlan.

Twelfth Night is probably the best loved of Shakespeare’s comedies and this production was well received by a delighted audience. The comic scenes are played with gusto and accompanied by meticulously researched music hall ditties that add to a distinctly upbeat and joyful production.

Chris Luscombe’s sumptuous and ingenious set is an engineering marvel and a perfect backdrop to Orsino’s world of aesthetic self absorption. The references to India and the mystical east in the rich costumes cleverly links the Raj and the hedonistic sensibilities of the aesthete.

Much fun is had with the confusion caused by Sebastian’s and Viola’s gender swap. The hesitation over the lovers sexual preferences at the play’s resolution is hilarious and provides a contemporary slant that would surely amuse the bard.

Imperium 1.

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Photograph by Ikin Yum.

Greg Doran’s Cicero play provides a powerful summary of his Roman season. Once again RSC examines the forces that threaten democracy and draws parallels with contemporary politics. Similarities are pointed up by seating part of the audience on stage where they become alternately an ad hoc senate or mob.

Cicero, master of rhetoric tries to save the Republic by exposing corruption and treason but is eventually compromised and called a hypocrite by populist politicians who cynically claim to be defenders of the poor.

Music and staging contribute hugely to this production by evoking the grandeur and pomp of Rome whilst also suggesting menace as the drums roll like peals of thunder. The stage is bathed in a bronze light, a scored and cratered sphere hangs above and the inscrutable eyes of a god or hero survey the unfolding tragedy.

Kim Hartman

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Photograph by Pete Le May.

Kim has enjoyed a long and successful career as an actor and director in theatre, television and cruise ship cabaret. She is probably best known for playing Private Helga in all 96 episodes of the enormously successful television comedy ‘Allo ‘Allo.

Kim’s season with the RSC came after an initial interview with Greg Doran followed by a 9 month wait while she wondered whether her previous season in pantomime was viewed positively in Stratford. In fact panto had been a perfect preparation for the part of Climax in the hugely popular farcical comedy ‘Vice Versa’.

A very different play was soon in the offing, Christopher Marlowe’s Dido Queen of Carthage. Kim described the part of nurse as ‘Climax after rehab!’ Kim gave us an insight into Marlowe’s awareness of the pain of unrequited love and the technical challenge of building a functioning water curtain on stage.

Kim’s busy schedule includes co ownership of Quinton Arts with her husband, director and actor John Nolan.She has worked in many West End productions as well as cabaret on cruise ships. The seven year full time commitment to ‘Allo ‘Allo is at an end and Kim is looking forward to a family Christmas before she returns to work in the theatre.

Coriolanus

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Photograph by Helen Maybanks.

Angus Jackson’s Coriolanus resonates with a contemporary audience producing disturbing parallels with the current political scene. Shakespeare seems even more prescient as this addition to this season of Roman plays progresses. This production emphasises the parellels with the zeitgeist in the initial scenes of urban unrest in modern dress set against a sparse grey set.

Coriolanus is lauded as a successful general but the populace turn against him as he uncompromisingly broadcasts his arrogant disregard for the poor and his refusal to soften his language inflames the populace. His family and friends try to mitigate the damage caused by this rough soldier who absolutely refuses to soften his utterances.

Exile inevitably follows but Coriolanus returns threatening vengeance and allies himself to his old enemy Tullus Aufidius. Volumnia, Coriolanus’s mother, pleads for mercy before the gates of besieged Rome. In the most affecting scenes of the play Coriolanus breaks down and promises a merciful and fair peace settlement for all parties. It is too late for Coriolanus, he has forfeited his power base, his family and friends are demoralised and defeated he is assassinated by his former rival. A cautionary tale for dictators and demagogues.

Dido Queen of Carthage.

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Photograph by Topher McGrillis.

The play opens with the gods arguing. Irascible, capricious and self obsessed- we are challenged by a lascivious Jupiter, haughty Juno and flirtatious Venus accompanied by a mischievous and puerile Cupid. Like callous oligarchs they view suffering humanity as mere playthings.

Meanwhile a band of refugees from sacked Troy tumble out of the surf in Carthage. Aeneas, their leader, is broken and vengeful recounting the outrages and massacres that he has witnessed. Dido and the Carthiginian court are full of compassion for the new arrivals whilst Venus ensures that Aeneas and Dido fall in love with tragic consequences.

Marlowe’s poetry powerfully portrays the suffering of the bewildered emigres and confronts the audience with uncomfortable parallels with the contemporary human crisis in the Mediterranean.

A thought provoking and fascinating production.

Venus and Adonis.

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Photograph by Lucy Barriball.

Shakespeare’s narrative poem has not been staged at the RSC since 2004. Greg Doran’s revival is enchanting and knits together the narrative poem with musical interludes, and beautifully modelled marionettes.  The skill of the puppeteers in bringing the narrated text to life is wonderful to behold. The puppets slightest movements convey the whole spectrum of romantic passion and its vicissitudes. It is  by turns, comic, tragic, and erotic.

The set evokes a magical, pastoral landscape enhanced by delightful interludes of  classical guitar.

Titus Andronicus

 

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Photograph by Helen Maybanks.

I had not seen this play before and I approached the theatre with some trepidation aware of its grisly depictions of murder, and mayhem that was once so popular with a Tudor audience. Having said that, I tell myself,  modern audiences seem to share this insatiable appetite for horror  given the popularity of ‘Scandi noir ‘and its imitators.

What impressed me about Blanche McIntyre’s production is how well the play works in a modern day setting. The sudden changing allegiances and betrayals where honour and integrity are abandoned and lies and deceit hold sway seem terrifyingly familiar to our world. The Goths enter Rome as prisoners of war and then suddenly their queen is chosen to be  the Roman emperor’s wife, the world is topsy turvey and frightening, the old certainties have gone as the empire crumbles.

The acting is superb, the sets and music excellent and the audience find themselves laughing at times ( admittedly a little uneasily!) I try not to single out individual performances in these blogs but  I must mention David Troughton’s masterful  playing of Titus Andronicus. The descent of the character from blind loyalty to the state to madness as he sees his family betrayed and destroyed prefigured  King Lear. David Troughton captures Titus’s rage and bewilderment perfectly.

This play is a worthy inclusion in the RSC’s Roman season. Well worth seeing.