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imagePhotograph by Manuel Harlan.

The redoubtable merry wives are played as a pair of formidable Essex girls who fit Shakespeare’s bawdy comedy wonderfully well and delighted the audience. David Troughton’s, as ‘the fat knight’, Sir John Falstaff, attempts to seduce the pair which results in his being   consigned to a noisome wheelie bin, a change in stage direction that adds hugely to the general hilarity.

The sets , music and costumes complement the action creating an amusing amalgam of both Elizabethan eras where padded pinstripe doublets and faux leopard skin vie for comic effect with an unmissable cod piece.

A rumbustious, bawdy comedy that gives scope to the actors abilities to ad lib. A wonderful entertainment. You just have to be there!

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.

Timon of Athens

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Photograph by Simon Annand

Timon of Athens deserves to be staged more often because it shares many of our contemporary concerns about excessive wealth and avarice.

Lady Timon indulges her flatterers taste in fine dining and expensive gifts and is delighted by their expressions of pleasure.The dress code favours gold and feathered capes are evidently ‘in’. It is a feast of bling. Music and costume capture the febrile atmosphere but the lavish expenditure ‘cannot hold’ and bankrupted, Timon is cruelly abandoned by her former friends.

The second half of the play sees Timon renounce material things and become a hermit living in the woods. A fortuitous discovery of gold coins attracts thieves and chancers to Timon’s cave but they are overawed and confounded by this ‘lady of the woods’ and her inexplicable transformation.

Meanwhile discontent festers amongst the ‘gilet jaunes’ of Athens as Alcibiades, affected by Timon’s death, tries to broker an uneasy peace.

A dark and complex satire with excellent performances from an ensemble cast.

Mark Hadfield Q&A.

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Photograph by Ellie Kurttz.

A member of the RSC since 1987, Mark’s most recent appearance has been as Mysetes, King of Persia in Michael Boyd’s Tamburlaine. Much of the discussion that ensued focused on the challenges that Marlow’s epic presents to directors and audiences. Mark drew attention to the difference in style between Marlow’s and Shakespeare’s prose. He drew our attention to Marlow’s excoriating denunciation of the law, religion and royalty. A dangerous brew.

The audience were interested in the shrewd observation that both Tamburlaine and Mycetes were populists with pronounced personality disorders. One member of the audience observed that it was a play worth seeing more than once in order to fully appreciate it.

The session then shifted its attention to Mark’s career thus far. He explained that while he was not from a theatrical family he had been inspired by two particular teachers at school and gained a place at RADA despite his parents misgivings. Stints at two regional theatres; Stoke on Trent and Coventry’s Belgrade brought him to the attention of the RSC.

Mark impressed as an unassuming man, not given to self promotion but possessed of a deep appreciation of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama as well as a keen interest in contemporary drama. He did not minimise the difficulties of joining the acting profession but expressed his constant delight in watching experienced actors bring new qualities and understanding to their roles.

Troilus and Cressida.

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Photograph by Helen Maybanks.

The play opens with a scene reminiscent of Mad Max as the Homeric heroes on motorbikes roar onto the stage through a cloud of dry ice. The visual drama is matched by Evelyn Glennie’s percussive score which mimics the din of battle. ( Some of the audience jumped out of their seats at this point!)

On closer inspection our heroes are looking less impressive. Marooned on the plains that surround Troy their seven year war has ground down to an inglorious stalemate. Absorbed by their own celebrity status they sulk, argue, and boast.

Meanwhile, the eponymous lovers Troilus and Cressida’s find their nascent relationship is being constantly interrupted by Cressida’s well meaning uncle Pandarus. More threatening still Cressida finds herself subject to a prisoner exchange scheme which her lover fulminates against impotently before abandoning himself to a jealous rage.

Is it a comedy, a history or a tragedy? I would say a darkly comic satire on war and heroism. We can see this in the final scenes of the play when Achilles, the greatest Greek warrior of the Trojan War, organises a dishonourable ambush and shamefully murders his rival Hector before disappearing from the stage.

A complex and fascinating play with powerful and evocative music, an intriguing and versatile stage. Well worth getting tickets to see this rarely played production.

Tartuffe

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Photograph by Topher McGillis.
Moliere meets Citizen Kane in this ebullient satire. Transported to Birmingham this production captures the brash energy and humour of the midland city. Neon lit and accompanied by music played on sitar, tabla, harmonium and trumpet evoke the rich cultural mix that is modern Brum.

Asif Khan plays Tartuffe an itinerant imam and confidence trickster who convinces Mr Pervaiz that he is a spiritual guide who can lead the Pervaiz family in their religious quest. Khan exhibits the sinister conviction of a religious fundamentalist and the deceptive guile of a con man. Finally exposed he shouts in panic ‘I’m a con man not a terrorist!’

Meanwhile, the brave and resourceful Darina, the family’s cleaner, responds to the unfolding story with a wry commentary and restores order to the chaotic proceedings.

A thoroughly enjoyable and brave adaptation that addresses contemporary political and religious issues with this irreverent and hilarious comic creation.

Tamburlaine.

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Photograph by Ellie Kurttz

Michael Boyd’s Tamburlaine is a fascinating study of the psychology of a tyrant and is a fitting sequel to the RSC’s acclaimed Roman season. The Scythian shepherd whose ferocity and ambition toppled kings and destroyed established hierarchies set rulers across Europe and Asia quaking.

We meet bloodthirsty tyrants, ruthless dictators, petulant and frightened kings. This requires much of the cast to play multiple roles such is the huge geographical sweep of Marlowe’s play. It is an epic production and the energy and skill of the cast was clearly appreciated by the audience who gave the cast a standing ovation.

Miss Littlewood.

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Photographer: Topher McGrillis.

This new musical is full of humour, warmth, and energy. The dancing, singing and music are all excellent and a tribute to the multi talented cast. The sense of Joan Littlewood’s company being akin to a family is strongly conveyed in this entertaining production.

The stage sets remind us of an era when the proscenium arch was almost universal in theatres. Clever lighting and props show us how Joan broke this old convention. We begin to understand that she was a new kind of theatre director, bold and inventive.

The central conceit of the play works by having seven actors play Joan at different times in her life. This device enables the musical to illustrate Joan’s personal qualities and her passionate commitment to the political and social issues of the time.

We first meet Joan as a fostered child being taught Macbeth by nuns (an hilarious vignette). Next she gains a place at RADA which she leaves without graduating, disillusioned with the rather anaemic dramas being played in British theatres in the inter war years.

Joan’s compassion and resilience feature in the scenes that show her fighting to establish a theatre for the working classes at Theatre Workshop. Her battle to secure recognition and funding is unremitting and ultimately successful. In The final scenes we see Joan reflecting on her life and loves whilst wondering whether her new found commercial success has distanced her from the working class people that she cared so much about.