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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.

Romeo and Juliet

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Photograph by Topher McGrillis

Erica Whyman’s production continues RSC’s exploration of contemporary social and political issues. The youthful cast, some making their debut season others drawn from local schools, clearly related to this evocation of urban violence. The fight and dance scenes capture the frenetic energy of youth, the mood switches from fast talking banter to dark menace and the glint of knives in the dark. The teenage audience were enthralled and voiced their enjoyment with loud cheers at the final curtain.

The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich
Photograph by Helen Maybanks.

This rarely staged play by the once lauded female dramatist, Mary Pix, deserves to be better known. All credit to the RSC for reviving it. It engages a modern audience because its themes of snobbery, misogyny, and women’s ambition to improve their position in society reflect many contemporary concerns. All of this is delivered by a hugely talented cast with great energy and brio in this fast moving comedy.

The musicians and the props all contribute to this affectionate recreation of the seventeenth century theatre. The costumes are lavish, the dialogue is acerbic and witty, there are even well behaved dogs for the audience to fawn over. Mary Pix’s hilarious confection is a real delight. Buy your tickets now!

Macbeth

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Photograph by Richard Davenport.

The electrifying performances of Niamh Cusack had the audience on the edge of their seats. There is a powerful and convincing chemistry between the two protagonists as they will one another to contemplate a murder that will shake the established order and unleash a violent chain reaction.

The tension is heightened by a soundscape of thunderclaps and lightening bolts that flash and fizz through the theatre reminding us of the traditional accompaniments of the horror film. Meanwhile the monochrome set is captioned with ominous lines from the play, dire warnings that will result from Macbeth’s murderous actions.

An ingenious piece of stagecraft is the hospitality box that looks down upon the main stage and enables the Macbeths to plot whilst other actors are unaware of the evil deeds being planned elsewhere.

Original features of this production include the lugubrious porter  who constantly patrols the stage with his Eubank carpet sweeper. Enigmatic and malicious by turns. The witches are played by three young girls in pink onesies offering Macbeth their misleading riddles. Eerie and unsettling , do the girls presage the revenge that Macbeth will suffer for destroying the future?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Duchess of Malfi

The Duchess of Malfi Photograph by Helen Maybanks.

Oh horror! A stage soaked in blood and strewn with bodies, the Jacobeans loved a gorefest.

Surely this has little to inform our contemporary issues? Not so, Webster’s powerful and disturbing play portrays a misogynistic society in which the constant threat of violence is used to control women. The set becomes a gym in which pumped up jocks dominate the space transforming themselves into an intimidating, testosterone fuelled pack all to a soundtrack of thunderous drums. Meanwhile, a huge butchered carcass of uncertain provenance hangs ominously in the shadows like something from a Francis Bacon painting.

The Duchess, superbly played by Joan Iyiola, has infuriated her brothers by marrying a man of a lower class without their permission. They work themselves into a fury and launch a campaign of threats and mental torture culminating in the murder of the Duchess, her husband, children and waiting woman.Today it might be called an ‘honour killing’.

Violence begets more violence as the perpetrators try to justify their actions, blame others and ultimately turn their anger onto their confederates in the massacre. We are appalled by the destruction of young lives and the stupidity of those who thought it was justified.

This production is a sobering and thought provoking experience which speaks to a modern audience as directly as it did to Webster’s contemporaries. You could hear the audience holding its collective breath as the play ended. Well worth seeing.

Michael Cochrane Q&A.

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Michael treated us to a hugely entertaining and hilarious session with his amusing reminiscences of life in the theatre over his long and successful career. Michael is a born raconteur who can deliver a punch line that both surprises and delights.. He divulged that his acting career had begun inauspiciously as he had inadvertently fallen off stage during a school production of Julius Caesar! He followed this with a description of the actors’ nightmare of arriving on stage having forgotten one’s lines. Friends empathised with as Michael shared his agonised pondering over whether to throw himself down stairs to avoid going on stage!

Michael spoke at length about creating the role of Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night. He was quick to give credit to the director, Chris Luscombe,for his tremendous support to actors and paid tribute to the good humour and and help he had received from the whole company. Creating a weak and cowardly character who is nevertheless endearing and retains the audience’s sympathy is no mean feat. Michael gave us an insight into how Aguecheek has been badly treated by ‘fake friends’ by delving into his own past, reminding us of the underlying melancholy aspects of the play. It was clearly a great favourite with this audience  and several had seen the play several times.

Michael told us amusing anecdotes about his parts in Downton Abbey and The Crown and his long term commitment to the Archers. He confessed that Radio was his great love- ‘No make up, no messing about with costume.’

The session put a smile on everyone’s faces, a great antidote to a cold February afternoon.

Phil Davis Q&A

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Photograph by Manuel Harlan

A warm and enthusiastic welcome, from a near to capacity crowd, greeted Phil Davis at this popular Friends event. Phil came across as a modest and self effacing man despite his remarkable achievement in being an actor for 46 years with many lauded performances to his credit.

Phil’s passion is for new writing in television, film and theatre. He had worked with great avant garde directors such as Joan Littlewood and Mike Leigh. He expounded on some of the techniques employed in method acting and explained how this enabled him to develop greater depth and originality in his work.

Phil acknowledged that he is mostly known for portraying villains which he believes are more interesting than romantic leads. He relishes in the description of on one critic that; ‘no one winces like Phil Davis!’

Phil is currently playing Scrooge in Christmas Carol. He explained that he wanted to get beyond the name, a euphemism for hard hearted miserliness and create something human, more than a caricature. It was interesting to hear how he prepared to go on stage by rehearsing an expression , or a way of standing. He revealed that the National Portrait Gallery often provided inspiration for the creation of a character.

A thoroughly enjoyable and interesting afternoon session.

A Christmas Carol

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Photograph by Manuel Harlan.

I took my four grandchildren to see Christmas Carol and they loved it. They are; Evie (11), Will (9) Tom (8), and Oliver (8). They said; ‘ it was spooky and had me on the edge of my seat’ (William) The scenery was brilliant, and I liked the old fashioned clothes.’ (Oliver), ‘I liked the changes from dark gloomy scenes to the light joyous scenes, especially the dancing.’ (Evie). ‘ the humourous characters were the best bits, especially Fezziwig and Scrooge’s nephew.'(Tom)