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


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.

King John

Photograph by Steve Tanner

A different and bold attempt to make a rarely played text engaging and relevant. This tale of the Plantagenet family at war with itself burst upon the stage with the most boisterous and energetic dance accompanied by loud grinding power chords from the musicians. The audience were visibly surprised and delighted even more so by the ensuing bun fight and fight scenes that looked potentially lethal.

So glad I got my tickets before the end of King John’s run. Hugely entertaining. Well done to Eleanor Rhode and her multi talented cast.

A Museum inBaghdad.

Photograph by Ellie Kurttz

An ingeniously constructed play that confronts a number of insoluble historical dilemmas. The setting of the play in both 1926 and 2006 brings us face to face with issues about the ownership and meaning of historical artefacts and their significance to the societies that claim them. Meanwhile the poor are starving and for them the museum is an expensive irrelevance.

The dramatic tension is heightened in the second part of the play when a desperate mother attacks a precious golden tiara. The physical presence of the treasure on stage forces us to face issues of security and ownership. The women, who at different times, curate the museum are laudable in their common purpose to help rebuild Iraq. Ultimately both have to admit failure.

A fascinating exploration of the complex issues surrounding the debate over ownership of the past in the Middle East.

Alexandra Gilbreath Q&A.

Photograph by Pete Le May.

Alexandra literally bounced into the Friends gathering and greeted the audience warmly. Her stories of trailing around a bamboo cane which in her infant mind was a pet dog soon had the Friends hooting with laughter.

The session moved on to discuss the lack of roles for women once they were over 30 and became a ‘hag’ glumly looking forward to playing Cleopatra and not much else.

Alexandra made light of her considerable and critically acclaimed body of work in theatre, film, and television that she can lay claim to at thirty two years of age.

In the future Alexandra would like to see greater emphasis on little known restoration plays, often written by women and often forgotten. Her enthusiasm nearly succeeded in recruiting her audience as the cast of a future ad hoc RSC production!

A delightful and thoroughly entertaining Friends event.

Amanda Harris Q&A


Photograph by Ikin Yum

‘Harris’ as Amanda is known in the business is a born storyteller. Her own life has all the ingredients for a thrilling read. Amanda moved to England while still a child. At 16 she ran away from school and 3 years later she joined the ground breaking theatre company Cheek by Jowl. Amanda went on to play the youngest Desdemona on the English stage partnering the first black actor to play Othello. Amanda earned critical acclaim for her performances in Andromache, Vanity Fair and Pericles.

In 1986 Amanda joined the RSC and described the frenetic work schedule of actors sometimes performing in 4 plays a week. Thankfully, she says that a much calmer and more organised atmosphere prevails under RSC director, Greg Doran.

Amanda concluded by giving views on recent productions that challenge the patriarchy with Mark Rylance’s all female cast at the Globe and the hugely successful ‘gender flipping’ in RSC’s Taming of the Shrew.

A wide ranging and fascinating talk.

Measure for Measure

Photograph by Helen Maybanks.

A play for our time and one that explores the twin themes of sexual hypocrisy and the arrogance of power. This excellent production is set at the turn of the nineteenth century. The sets are spare but effective in conjuring up the gilded salons and shadowy underworld of a dissolute Vienna.

The cast play with passion and conviction. The hypocrisy of the Duke of Vienna and Angelo, his Deputy is laid bare as is the moral dilemma facing Isabella, the novice nun. There is no happy resolution to Measure for Measure but the audience is left with much to discuss about ‘Shakespeare’s Vienna.’

Les Dennis Q&A.

Venice Preserved
Photograph by Helen Maybanks

Les Dennis had his debut in 2 RSC productions this season. It was clear that he found working with the company in The Provoked Wife and Venice Preserved immensely satisfying and that he had learnt much from the RSC gymnasium workshop sessions.

Les is a born raconteur and he entertained the Friends’ audience with his story’s of how he developed his act in working men’s clubs in and around Liverpool. Les was so successful that he became a household name with television shows such as Family Fortunes and The Laughter Show. Les has worked with all the ‘comedy greats’including Tommy Cooper, Russ Abbott, and Bob Monkhouse. Despite his self confessed appetite for publicity (‘Where’s the camera? Is his punchline). Les impressed us with his relaxed style and immense fund of hilarious jokes and anecdotes.

As for future work with the RSC Les would love to play the great comedy roles of Falstaff, Malvolio, or possibly, in a different vein, the Fool in King Lear.

The Provoked Wife

Photograph by Peter Le May

Intriguing, surprising and hugely entertaining. The play begins by following two pairs of lovers attempting to escape from failed or soured relationships. The elements of farce are brilliantly played out to the audience’s delight. There is skilful deployment of trapdoors and amusing asides but what is so impressive is how slickly the cast move the play into a darker key where drunkeness and domestic violence confront us with the question, are we watching a tragedy or a comedy?

Director Philip Breen’s excellent programme notes are very helpful at this point explaining how this’play about nothing’ is full of profound psychological insights that bears close kinship to modern dramatists such as Ibsen and Pinter.

The musicians deserve special mention for the superb singing and woodwind ensemble. Costume and sets are also excellent and showed off the wonderful versatility of this extremely talented cast.

Kunene and the King

Photograph by Ellie Kurttz.

Antony Sher and John Kani give absolutely riveting performances in this powerful drama. The two protagonists bring very different perspectives to the dialogue as they reflect on a quarter century of change in South Africa. They expose the whole gamut of raw emotion as they develop an uneasy relationship which is full of anger and bitterness but also leavened with compassion and a growing realisation of their common humanity forged in the crucible of South Africa’s politics post apartheid.

A ‘must see’ production from two actors at the top of their game.

Photograph by Ikin Yum

I was curious to see how the gender swapping that distinguishes this production worked in practice. Any qualms I might have had fled within a few minutes of the start of the play because this conceit works wonderfully well. A whole new dimension of uproarious comedy is discovered in what is the funniest play I have seen in a long time.

The play, as the programme notes make clear, is interested in ‘characters, male and female, who transgress fundamental social and political boundaries, in both directions.’ It also touches on disturbing matters such as the domestic violence that is a central theme of the play.

The cast are multi talented and supported by a wonderful set and costumes. The extra balcony that spans the stage helps recreate the intimacy of a Tudor stage. The musicians are excellent as is Justin Audibert’s direction. A must see production.

As You Like It.

Photograph by Topher McGrillis.

A debut season with the RSC for six of the cast whose high spirits and enthusiasm was clearly enjoyed by a responsive and enthusiastic audience. The comic timing of the lines was faultless and adds to the merriment which this production abounds.

Costume is ‘as you like it’ with a variety of periods on stage. Meanwhile, The magical forest of Arden is conjured into being through music and the strange optical illusion suggesting sunlight streaming through a forest canopy while actors float above a grey disc. Very mysterious.

The play ends with multiple marriages overseen by the god Hymen. A most impressive and strange creation.

A tantalizing and thoroughly enjoyable production.