Photograph by David Isaac.

Herod’s palace reverberates to thunderous power chords of Perfume Genius and we are led to the dungeons where political prisoners and holy men are detained. Iokanaan, the prophet, rails against the corruption and depravity of the court which intrigues Herod’s stepdaughter, the princess Salome. Salome played by an androgynous Matthew Tennyson in a slip and red high heels captures the wilful self absorption of the princess whose anger at the prophet’s rejection of her advances will bring about his destruction.

Herod’s obsession with Salome and his determination that she should dance for him and his leering courtiers leads him to offer ever more extravagant rewards in return for her performance. The prize she demands is the head of the prophet. Herod must comply with Salome’s uncompromising demand and endure the curse that must fall upon his house.

Alex Waldman Q&A.

Photograph by Helen Maybanks.

The talk began with a resume of Alex’ career. The interviewer had done his homework and put it to Alex that he had been working continuously in classical theatre for the past 13 years without ‘resting’. A remarkable record for any actor. Alex joked that his year long stint at the Almeida gave him more job security that many of his friends enjoyed working in the City!

The discussion then focused on Alex’s much lauded playing of Brutus in Julius Caesar. He shared his insights into Brutus’s desperate and delusional justification of his actions as he becomes increasingly seduced by power. Alex drew our attention to Shakespeare’s ambivalence towards Brutus in Mark Antony’s questionable judgement that Brutus was ‘the noblest Roman of them all.’

Commenting on the decision to play Julius Caesar in togas rather than modern dress, Alex pointed out that when a play has a long run, as this production will, dress that looks topical at the beginning of the run can look out of date remarkably quickly.

Finally, Alex spoke about the difficulties of reconciling an actor’s life with the demands of a young family. He thanked the RSC warmly for its flexibility and understanding.

Vice Versa

Vice Versa
Photograph by Pete Le May.

A hugely enjoyable theatrical experience. Vice Versa is the funniest thing that I have seen in a theatre for a long time. The plot is familiar, canny servant tricks her master into letting his concubine Voluptua escape with her lover while simultaneously freeing his servant, Dexter, from slavery. So far, so unremarkable except this is played with such zest and fun that the audience is totally captivated. The jokes and double entendres are clever and genuinely funny. The physical comedy makes more than a nod at post war British comedy (grey socks, suspenders and sandals are de rigeur).

Music and props add to the general mayhem. The songs are memorable, costume and sets inventive and full of humour, even a mobility scooter doubling as a chariot is met with gales of laughter by the delighted audience.

The plot is predictable the script revels in a familiar irreverence and vulgarity beloved of British comedy. The audience loved it.

The Hypocrite.

'The Hypocrite' by Richard Bean

Photograph by Peter Le May.

This is a lot of fun. A bawdy romp, a pantomime, loosely based on the events of 1642 when the grandees of Yorkshire were trying to decide whether to support King or Parliament in the coming conflict. The answer for Sir John Hotham is to swear loyalty to both sides and pocket the money. The difficulties that his hypocrisy creates provokes witty exchanges as Sir John desperately tries to keep his head. Trapdoors open and close there is much coming and going through slammed doors all in the finest tradition of farce.

More serious reflection on events is provided by three leveller musicians whose songs appeal for equality and democracy with more than a nod at the current Brexit debate.

Antony and Cleopatra.

Anthony and Cleopatra

 Photograph by Helen Maybanks.

Rome and its braying fanfares proclaim its military might through the public humiliation of the vanquished in an official triumph. Meanwhile, Cleopatra’s court beguiles the listener with music that is elusive and dreamlike.
Cleopatra, regal and seductive, offers Antony a tantalising glimpse of a hedonistic and exotic world remote from Rome’s ceaseless demands. At the centre is The Egyptian queen – bewitching and mercurial. Constant in her love for Antony she quizzes Diomedes about the attractions of Octavia, her rival for Antony’s affections, in a scene where acid wit and comic timing delight the audience.

The lovers self absorption generate tensions within the governing Roman triumvirate. Notwithstanding attempts to heal the rift through Mark Antony’s ill judged marriage to Octavius’s sister divisions widen. Anger bubbles up within the ruling triumvirate, an attempt to create an illusion of cameraderie through a shipboard drinking session is predictably doomed to failure.

Antony and Cleopatra are both determined to avoid a shameful and degrading death. Nonetheless, Mark Antony’s botched and prolonged suicide is a messy and ignoble affair. Cleopatra manages a more memorable, dignified, and tragic death. It is some consolation that the lovers escape the horror of Octavius’s triumph.

Julius Caesar.


Photograph by Helen Maybanks

Gary Watt’s ‘Handling Shakespeare’s Rhetoric’ presentation really whetted my appetite for Angus Jackson’s new production of Julius Caesar. Professor Watt had focused on Brutus’ and Mark Antony’s funeral orations in Act 3 Scene 2 and I was curious to see how the play would present the crowd’s gullibility and fickle affections. It is not usual to praise crowd scenes but this was wonderfully well done and the link with the current tide of populism, made explicit in the excellent programme notes, made this scene all the more ominous and powerful.

This production is full of memorable scenes that unsettle and chill the blood. Caesar’s bloody assassination and the murder of Cinna the poet due to mistaken identity by the ignorant plebeians. The staging is sparse suggesting the forum’s columns, a sculpture depicting a lion savaging a horse echoes the mood of incipient violence. The music conjures up the tension and foreboding that pervades the play.

Adopting classical Roman dress for this play at this time works extremely well, at once highlighting the parallels between societies two thousand years apart but facing similar challenges to their political structures.

.Professor Gary Watt’s  workshop was erudite, entertaining and inspiring.  (Gary dwelt on the power and musicality of lists comprising three items) . A wrapt audience was treated to a brief history of rhetoric encompassing Demosthenes,  Cicero, Shakespeare and topical British and American examples; Winston Churchill, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the peerless Michelle Obama.

The focus of the workshop was Brutus’ and Mark Antony’s use of rhetorical devices as each sought to persuade the people that Caesar’s assassination was either a necessary act to save the republic or the unjustifiable murder of a a great Roman general and friend of the people.  The textual analysis was utterly absorbing and enlivened with plenty of humorous asides.

Professor Watt asked us to consider the young Shakespeare, well versed in rhetoric since his schooldays in Stratford, thinking about what Mark Antony could have said to persuade the Roman people to accept the destruction of a revered republic and support the gradual but inevitable birth of an empire and by so doing fundamentally change their world.

Shakespeare presents us with a masterclass in the art of persuasion. Brutus, the patrician, fails to engage his audience, fails to ‘sweeten’ his words and so fails to persuade. Conversely, Mark Antony is a master of rhetoric and wins the people’s hearts and minds.

imageThe hour long workshop flew by, it could have been twice as long for Gary Watt is no mean rhetorician himself and his closing words; ‘ ….because Shakespeare is the best’ rang true with his audience.