The Rover.


Photograph by Ellie Kurtz

Aphra Behn’s swashbuckling tale of the banish’d cavaliers is a nostalgic and affectionate imagining of the adventures enjoyed by the men who had fought for the Royalist cause some thirty years before and endured poverty and exile for their loyalty.

In this reworking of history these Englishmen are short of funds but not downcast. On the contrary,they are bold, charming, and very amusing- qualities not lost on the ladies they encounter.

The exiles are determined to have a good time behaving badly in foreign lands and what better time than carnival when the usual moral strictures are somewhat relaxed?

The musicians get us into the party mood with Latin American rhythms. Costumes and lighting add to the raunchy mix. There are sword fights and insults, mistaken identities and deceptions. The women see through the cavaliers stratagems and lies but forgive them anyway because marriage to a young and lusty, if penniless Englsh gentlemen has got to be preferable to an arranged marriage to an old man or life in a nunnery hasn’t it?

The cast are full of gusto and invention and deliver this hugely entertaining play with aplomb. The laughter and applause of the audience were noisy testimony to its success.

King Lear.


Photograph by Ellie Kurtz.

The play opens with the mute presence of the ragged homeless who, like ghosts are dispersed by the rich, dark panoply of Lear’s court. The wealthy and powerful are preoccupied with the king’s abdication and the opportunities it presents for personal advancement meanwhile the silent suffering of the people provides an unsettling and recurring leitmotif.

Lear is now a king without authority, hanging on to the trappings of kingship by touring his abandoned kingdom with a hundred ‘riotous knights’, (a good twenty or so are present on stage). Like a rugby team on tour they are egged on in their boorish behaviour by Lear’s fool, the excellent Graham Turner.One cannot help but experience some brief sympathy with duplicitous Goneril, her father’s reluctant hostess.

Antony Sher’s consummate skill as an actor takes us on a roller coaster ride of great emotional intensity as the King comes to terms with the realities of his nominal sovereignty without influence or power. The dark forces and intent that this void unleashes are unflinchingly portrayed, in the scenes where Edgar is exiled and Gloucester is blinded, are both remorseless and terrifying.

It is invidious to single out individual performances,as the whole cast share in the creation of this bleak and powerful masterpiece. Sets and costumes convincingly evoke a dark, pre Roman world. Music and lighting combine to produce a terrifying storm scene and add depth and definition to the crepuscular kingdom.

This is bleak and sobering play that resonates strangely with the present time. The audience was deeply moved and were wholehearted in its appreciation of Greg Doran’s excellent production.

Tanya Moodie Q&A.

Photograph by Manuel Harlan.

An utterly riveting and enjoyable hour with Tanya Moodie.Tanya led us through the fascinating process of creating Gertrude, Queen of Denmark. She was insistent that other members of the cast bow in her presence and were not allowed to turn their backs on their queen. Tanya also emphasised the need to have A dominating physical presence which she demonstrated by building an impressive ‘bun’ secured with a gold bracelet. This was done expeditiously-essential if she was to make Ophelia’s funeral in time!

Tanya had given much thought to Gertrude as a queen schooled in how to look and move as a queen whilst having little self esteem or agency and ill equipped to take over the throne when her husband died. Tanya also reflected on Gertrude’s dysfunctional relationship with Hamlet and the lot of children sent to boarding schools at a young age.

Friends commented on the excellent diction of the cast in this production. Tanya was complimentary about the training in diction given by RADA and the other English schools of drama. A member of the audience wondered whether television, with its propensity for mumbled delivery, was to blame for poor diction. Tanya was inclined to see that as as different technique for a different media.

Tanya made interesting points about diversity in the theatre and cited Trevor Nunn’s all white War of the Roses which has been justified because it allegedly reflected historical veracity. Tanya said that she did not care what colour the actors were, that directors should be free to choose their cast and that actors should get the job on merit. She believed that historical veracity was a spurious justification anyway and cited the recent discovery of the grave of an African Roman legionary in Stratford. She opined that people of colour and people with disabilities may have been more numerous and visible in medieval and Tudor England than we think.

Tanya talked about her work with drama students at RADA and her need, inspired by her Buddhist beliefs, that she should give something back to the academy that accepted her at the age of 17. She spoke of the need to give aspiring actors hope and not shatter their dreams. It was an inspiring and hopeful end to an excellent Q&A.

The Alchemist

The Alchemist.?

Jonson’s exploration of human greed and folly opens with a memento mori still life- a skull on a table in a heavily draped room into which the river fog creeps. We are in plague ridden Blackfriars in 1610 curiously accompanied by a medley of television theme tunes that reassure us that this is a comedy.

We meet a disparate selection of the avaricious and gullible; religious fundamentalists, a gambler, a lascivious hedonist, a disputatious gentleman and an entrepreneurial tobacconist. All are desperate to be favoured by fortune, all are certain to lose. The gulls are easy prey for the bogus alchemist and his partners in crime, Doll and Face. The fragile criminal partnership shows signs of dissent from the beginning and is sure to end in threats and recrimination.

As the action builds to a climax the gulls become more desperate, the tricksters more outrageous- with hilarious results.

Set firmly in 1610 The Alchemist resonates with a contemporary audience well aware of Internet frauds and plausible rogues. It reminds us that ‘something for nothing’ rarely works out but also revels in the timeless ingenuity and indefatigable optimism of humanity.

Director, Polly Findlay, and her creative team have produced a fast moving production with some wonderful slapstick and utilising seventeenth century costume to great comic effect.
A fantastic production, well worth seeing.

Rufus Hound Q&A.

Don Quixote RSCRufus bounded onto the stage rather like the friendly and over enthusiastic animal from which one imagines he takes his name. His alter ego, Rob Simpson quickly explained that the choice of name was a much more random process and he could as easily be Jiminy Biscuit! Rufus was disarmingly honest about the journey from stand up comedy to Don Quixote at the RSC. He arrived full of chutzpah on a cold December day and was overawed and temporarily humbled by the RSC edifice resplendent in red neon.

it was fascinating to view Stratford through the eyes of an actor arriving fresh to the RSC . Rufus described how he developed his experience of ad libbing and audience interaction in his acclaimed role as Sancho Panza.He gave us an entertaining description of working with director, Angus Jackson and his dry ripostes; (Rufus) ‘ I was going to do some acting’ (Angus) Yes, we will do some of that.’

Rufus gave us a (mostly) discrete backstage view of  Shakespeare’s 450th double anniversary and the parties that followed it. One informal  soirée on Waterside  included Tim Minchin In deep conversation with the girls from wigs while Rufus Wainwright sang a Neil Young song for some loose change.

Once again, a thoroughly enjoyable and well attended Friday afternoon at a Friends’ Q&A.



Photograph by Paul Stuart

Melli Still’s production is a fascinating and challenging interpretation of Shakespeare’s tragi comedy. The intricacy of the plot and the complexity of the language are evidence that it was designed for a sophisticated audience. Melli Still’s production does not evade these issues but rather seeks to build on and emphasise the uncertainties and fluidity that are features of the text. Cymbeline’s change of gender from king to queen to the wicked stepmother of folk tale is an example of this seems to be implied given the context and the complex lineage of the fragmented Royal family.

A further bold step is setting the play in an unspecified dystopian future, possibly Britain post the EU referendum! What is certain is that we are in an uncertain world which confounds our expectations. The true and chaste Innogen is betrayed to satisfy her lover’s base and thoughtless decision to bet that she will resist an attempted seduction. Later, Innogen mistakes her step brother, another would be ravisher, for her decapitated lover. Meanwhile, in this topsy turvey world the Roman oppressors are unfailingly courteous and chivalrous and ultimately save the Britons from themselves!



Simon Godwin’s Hamlet is a triumph and received a well earned standing ovation from an appreciative audience. Paapa Essiedu’s portrayal of the Prince of Denmark as a young man in transition between adolescence and manhood is pitch perfect. Essiedu delivery of the text is sure footed as he oscillates between vengeful anger and self doubt.

There are so many fine performances here that it would invidious to mention some of the supporting players and not others. Suffice to say that this Hamlet is so powerful because the whole cast so convincingly ‘match their words to their actions’.

The setting of the play in a contemporary African state with a returning, European educated, prince works extremely well. The set is sparse, a mainly monochrome backdrop enlivened with patches of vibrant colour and pattern evoking an African dictatorship – insecure and dangerous.

The wonderful, thunderous percussion heightens the sense of foreboding while the vibrant colour of the costume and the joyous dancing that introduces the players’ scene works well as a counterpoint to Hamlet’ dark reflections.

When all of the constituent parts of a production work this well together it can be an overwhelming experience. Hamlet is such a production.