Archive for the ‘Theatre Reviews’ Category

Being so pleased with the stage and auditorium evolved from the Swan and Courtyard Theatres which has resulted in our new brilliant thrust style stage and one room space at the RST, we were a bit unsure of how we would re-act to our first proscenium arch theatre event for quite some time.

Armed with the knowledge that David Tennant was such a good Hamlet at The Courtyard we went on an away day to London. The Wyndham’s in the middle of Theatre-land is beautifully maintained and has a charming atmosphere. But, the first thing that struck us was the uncomfortable seats. They were certainly not as comfortable, roomy or with as much leg room as the RST- we had top class seats mind you and really those who have problems with some of the narrower seats at the RST should just visit another theatre like we did and then appreciate the RST version.

We did, however, enjoy the production albeit there is no doubt about it, in our minds, that it would have been better if it had been carried out by an RSC Ensemble. There is non-stop action and the fun factor was nearly as good as at Stratford. It’s hard to miss the sexual aspects of the play and Tennant and Tate do a fine job leaving no-one in any doubt regarding the double meanings. David Tennant was excellent and clearly enjoyed carrying out slapstick. However, he alone appeared to be in tune with the audience – probably as a result of his tenure with the RSC. Catherine Tate was quite good in parts, very funny but not always our ideal for the part of Beatrice.

The Director used 1980s Gibraltar for the setting. It was typical of the British military presence, on the Rock, where partying was the norm. With this in mind it helped in the trickery regarding Benedick and Beatrice. Perhaps the remaining class differences in British society are most evident within the military and the superb Navy uniforms were used to great effect. The Director, Josie Rourke made a change to the original players by giving Leonato a wife instead of a brother. Very well staged was the pre wedding party where Margaret (wearing Hero’s wig) has a vivid and noisy sex scene with Borachio which left little to the imagination.

One great strength of the production was that the non stop action was helped by the stage which kept revolving. There was a wonderful scene where decorators were working and it was not clear why. Suddenly it was obvious as later Tennant was covered in paint and Tate was hoisted up on a pulley. We still could not help thinking that Shakespeare is by far better if one uses the one room auditorium and a thrust stage.  Yes it was worth going to watch and very enjoyable but we left so glad that the RST and Swan Theatres are walking distances away from our house.

David and Ingrid Stevens

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The Stratford Poetry Festival had a wonderful ending to their programme with Muse of Fire devised and presented by Paul Edmondson.. We were really looking forward to this because both Penny Downie and John Heffernan would be reading. And we were not disappointed. The programme was divided into two distinct halves. 

The first  was presented, in regard to the 400th anniversary of the King James version of the Bible, and a good prelude to the play being presented at The Swan later in the year- Written on the Heart. The idea was based on the two desert island books (from the radio programme) – The Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare. The principle behind the idea being the creative connections between both major works of English literary culture. The readings, from both The Bible and Shakespeare, were excellent but two parts stood out for me. Penny Downie, when she read Portia’s plea for mercy  (Merchant of Venice 4.1.) and John Heffernan as Prince Hal,  from Henry IV 1.2.

And so to the second half where there was a reading of a new, short play written and introduced by Graham Holderness, Wholly Writ, about Shakespeare being involved with the Translation of the Bible. Here Penny (Judith Shakespeare and Angel) and John (Ben Jonson and St. Peter) were joined by Sam Lesser who played Shakespeare.

Shakespeare (Sam) having arrived at The Pearly Gates after a lengthy queue (apparently normal according to the script) was interviewed by St. Peter (John) and asked why he should enter Heaven. Shakespeare talked about his contribution to the translation of The Bible and how he had written Psalm 46 by pointing out the words “shake” and “speare”. In Psalm 46, these words are 46th from the beginning and 46 from the end. It was 1611 when the translation took place, William Shakespeare was 46!!

I hope those who did not get the opportunity to see this really interesting play are able to do so in the future and therefore will not dwell further on the content.Sam Lesser played his part very well. This was a great opportunity for this young actor to work with Penny and John and I congratulate him.

For us to watch Penny Downie again was a privilege. Her Gertrude in the RSC Hamlet was an outstanding performance and it was so good to meet her again. I will always remember her giving us some of her time to talk with us when we travelled over to Stratford to see that production at the Courtyard. Penny is a genuine, charming lady and a brilliant actress.

Many of you know that John is the son of Viv and has inherited that lovely smile from his Mum and has the ability to mesmerize an audience with his sheer stage presence. We were lucky enough to see his performance as Richard 11 at The Bristol Tobacco Factory in March. His performance has been rightly acclaimed and some critics have declared it to be the best Shakespeare performance of 2011.

by David Stevens 


We were fortunate enough to watch the performance of A Summer Garden at the Holy Trinity Parish Centre on Saturday. Written by Steve Newman, who lives in Stratford, it is an inspired story about a meeting, in the 1933, between the two greatest composers of the time- Frederick Delius and Edward Elgar in the garden of Jelka Delius near Paris. It is understood that they actually met albeit the story of course is purely the thoughts of Mr. Newman.

The fact that both composers were British is heartening. Delius was born in Bradford of German parents and clearly spoke excellent English (albeit Yorkshire!) but in this version the actor performing the role shows his talents by using, from time to time, a German accent. Who else could play the part but Tony Boyd- Williams who first played this role two years ago? Outstanding performance by Tony and both his real and stage wife, Glenda, who played Jelka. Jelka was a German painter and as stated the Delius couple lived in France.

Steve Newman who competently played the part of Elgar produced a play which demonstrated how two very different men and composers got on and the result was excellent from our point of view. The story, which also included music and song, was about change, the fear of the rise of Hitler about the possibility of war and with the very poor health of Delius about death. But there was a lot of laughter in a story which explored the social aspects of the time and how both men were still planning their music and other matters. They both died the following year. There was no mention of ill health regarding Elgar, who was unaware that he was suffering from cancer.  

I am so pleased we went.

by David Stevens

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We went to the Opening Performance on the 14th April, 2011 and loved every moment of the production. Such inspirational casting- Lucy Briggs-Owen and Oliver Rix. I was really impressed by Christopher Godwin as Don Camillo. The music was wonderful and what a beautiful ending with music and dance. Well done Greg Doran. Our thanks to you for re-imagining the “lost play”, a fantastic achievement. This was a really memorable evening and a superb way to celebrate the re-opening of the lovely Swan Theatre.

……..And so we went to see Cardenio again on the Saturday evening, having so enjoyed the wonderful and informative talk by Greg Doran in the morning to Friends. It was even better the second time and sitting in a different part of the theatre appreciated even more the performance of Pippa Nixon as Dorotea. Superb.

People go the theatre for different reasons, hopefully to enjoy the performance. Certainly we did with Cardenio. Fully recommend it. We will go again!

by David Stevens, RSC Friends

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I took myself off to the Theatre Royal Haymarket last night to see the latest Rattigan play to open in London and I can certainly recommend it. Several very good performances and some not so good. Fortunately, Mr Wood is definitely in the first group, playing a camp but steely character called “Gloria” Swanson. Go while you can!

Geraldine Caulfield

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Just before we look at the new season work David and Ingrid Stevens, RSC Friends in Stratford wanted to share their review of a couple of pieces of work which came at the end of the transformation offerings. 


Having been so lucky to have attended the RSC Ensemble Revealed event on the 27th March, 2011 at the Swan Theatre we have now bought the book- photography by Asia Werbel and Lucy McLeod and as compiled by Hannah Young, Kelly Hunter and Asia Werbel. It is available from blurb.com. There is a great shot of Valerie Thompson and Penny Kirkwood at the main entrance of the RST.

It is a superb souvenir to remember the Long Ensemble 2009-2011 and for the very worthy cause for James Gale.

Congratulations to all members of the Ensemble for their brilliant efforts raising money for James Gale. As an audience we thoroughly enjoyed everything they did. There were so many memorable moments but I would like to mention Brian Doherty. This was a poignant piece and so apt for our turbulent times. The audience was one and ready to join in “And the band played Waltzing Matilda”. Well done Brian, brilliantly executed and even better than the Pogues. We should congratulate Hannah Young and Kelly Hunter for organising the event and also David Collins and the lovely ladies from his RSC Marketing team who were so much involved in helping create such a great and worthy event for a wonderful cause. And one should not forget the Box Office and FOH staff who clearly did their bit as well Congratulations.

Camille O’Sullivan in “The Rape of Lucrece”

A good friend of mine told me that Camille was not only delightful but extremely talented. So off we went to watch “Lucrece”. Ingrid, my wife, wrote the following.

“People, who had seen her before, highly recommended it. So trying to get an idea of the text, I read through it and, honestly, I was a bit sceptical about how this might be performable. Camille, though, carried me away from the very first moment. The lines that look a bit tedious in the book became one great magical spell. With only her touchingly sweet hands and feet for a wand, she enchanted the audience and brought this Roman crime in Elizabethan words to a thrilling and moving topicality that could easily match any of today’s thriller productions. At the same time, it got so thoroughly deep into the emotions of the victim as well as the perpetrator that it was much more than that. Her voice, oh her voice was hypnotizing and Feargal Murray’s music always ready to touch this one admissible chord…A truly great performance”.

Yes it was superb. This brilliant lady portrayed with music this beautiful, albeit violent, narrative poem so well. I was mesmerized, but as Ingrid told me, so was the entire audience.

David Stevens, RSC Friends, Stratford upon Avon

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As I thought he would be, Des was a superb Frosch in DIE FLEDERMAUS ,with his brilliant comic timing and deadpan delivery. He DID sing, with a splendid parody of the GO COMPARE TV ad and also sent up the fact that we were watching a performance from the Welsh National Opera. Even his curtain call was played as a drunk, but the significant thing about his drunkenness is that it was never overplayed. Certainly a definitive interpretation – thanks, Des! Tony Boyd-Williams

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As previously indicated, my wife and I took our eldest granddaughter to a recent matinee of MATILDA. It was her first visit to The Courtyard and she thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience. The two “grown up children”  also had a marvellous time, but I think this is the secret of this wonderful show .In fact, it seems that adults are returning again and again and again. Now that IS significant!

Watching the show for the second time, it was fascinating to experience the interpretation of another talented Matilda (Adrianna Bertola) and to see the production quite literally from another angle. Last time it was from the rear of the stalls, and this time it was from the side of the circle. This meant I was nearer to marvel at the fantastic movement/choreography and also the ingenious way director Matthew Warchus has used the entire auditorium for special production moments and I’m NOT going to reveal these for those who might not yet have seen the show.

If you haven’t then I strongly advise you to make haste to book your tickets before it is a case of RETURNS ONLY for all future performances in Stratford. I say “in Stratford “, because after reading some of the marvellous press notices  it seems clear that this wonderful show will soon be joining Les Miserables as another RSC musical that will be taking the West End by storm. 

Miss Trunchbull has the now celebrated references to “winners and losers “. Here, we certainly have a winner and quite possibly the first (as suggested recently by Michael Boyd ) instance of a West End musical beginning life on a thrust stage. To all concerned – Bravo indeed!

Tony Boyd-Williams

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Tony has sent in this interesting review of the Simon Callow play we mentioned a few weeks ago. The tour of the show is nearly finished for now but you can still catch him playing this weekend in Richmond, Surrey and in August during the Edinburgh Festival see http://manfromstratford.co.uk/.

It was interesting at the theatre in Malvern the other day, to note  the number of people from the Stratford district who had made the short journey to see Simon Callow’s one man show about our William. In fact, this event could be called a Complete works reunion, following Simon’s splendid portrayal of Falstaff in MERRY WIVES THE MUSICAL and the publication during that memorable year of the RSC’s edition of Shakespeare, the chief editor being Jonathan Bate who also wrote the script for this fantastic tour de force at Malvern and on tour.

Fantastic? Yes, because between them Messrs Bates and Callow have given us a marvellous panorama of not only Shakespeare’s life and times, and also suggestions as to how the latter  may have influenced scenes and characters from the plays. We are given the feeling as to what it may have been like to grow up as a child in Henley Street or Wilmcote, attend school in Stratford, see the travelling players come to the town, arrive in London from the provinces and be present at the first performance of HENRY V at The Globe.

Throughout, we are reminded of  the “Seven Ages of Man” speech from AS YOU LIKE IT ( I had great fun picking out all the plays from our current Ensemble’s repertoire) and are treated to excerpts both familiar and unfamiliar .

We are asked to consider Who Is Shakespeare? What is He? The reflection on these is richly rewarding and satisfying. Our author and actor also suggests what DID happen to Shakespeare during those infamous “lost years “.

The enthusiastic applause at the end showed that not only had we enjoyed a special theatrical experience but that we could return to Stratford rejoicing that we have the RSC -and the forthcoming opening of the new RST -to remind us of the glories of these immortal words and the characters who speak them.

Tony Boyd-Williams

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Wednesday 14th July was a special day. Yes, I am well aware all French citizens and Francophiles celebrate it as Bastille Day but this year, the date was also special because it marked the first night of the revival of  David Farr’s production of THE WINTER’S TALE.

And what a night in the theatre! Some relatives from Australia were making their first visit to The Courtyard and also to a performance of the play. At the end of a marvellous evening in the theatre, their comment was “How wonderful to see so much talent on one stage”. It was in fact like a First Night in every sense  with performances, production and staging coming across as mint fresh. By the time, our splendid puppet bear made his entrance (I say “he “because it seems that back stage he is known as Bernard),the audience were ready to explode with enthusiasm. This was definitely a case of exit pursued by a bear, followed by spontaneous applause. Thereafter, much applause punctuated the performance with loud (and well deserved) cheers at the end.

There was so much panache on the part  of  every member of the ensemble , with rich relishing of Shakespeare’s text and totally committed and unselfish teamwork. Earlier this year, Michael Boyd wrote about this new season being the moment when the work of the entire ensemble really started to cook. Wednesday 14th July 2010 gave us yet another  real theatrical banquet and I am sure that the AS YOU LIKE IT ensemble will be supplying us with a similar rich theatrical feast when  the production is revived.

Hasten to The Courtyard box office all ye who have not yet purchased your tickets. 

Tony Boyd-Williams

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Monday 21 June witnessed another splendid Public Understudy Performance – this time it was the turn of the ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA company. Prior to the action, Assistant Director Helen Leblique told us she was proud of these members of the ensemble for what they have achieved in a short space of time. A most enjoyable and stimulating afternoon confirmed that such pride was more than justified.

Indeed. the enjoyment was (in a most professional sense ) clearly evident on stage as Kathryn Hunter, Darrell D’Silva, John Mackay and Brian Doherty appeared in cameo roles whilst unselfishly supporting their colleagues appearing in the parts normally taken by them. What strength in an ensemble which can field such main performances as well as those from understudies Katy Stephens, Geoffrey Freshwater, Charles Aitken and Phillip Edgerley.

Special mention must also be made of Greg Hicks and Paul Hamilton who each played three roles! However, as accolade is due for the whole cast (and they were appearing in their usual roles that evening).

This never to be repeated performance crowned a series of quite unforgettable Public Understudy Performances by our 2009/2010 ensemble. What a further feast of theatrical memories. Ah, the privilege of now being able to tell the grandchildren “I WAS THERE”.

Tony Boyd-Williams

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