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.

Photograph by Topher McGrillis.

A change of format from our usual Q&A session. Nicky Cox, Assistant Director of Tartuffe, described the development of the play from its conception in 2016 to its latest evolution two years later.Nicky explained how Director Greg Doran was anxious to retain the controversial ‘bite’ of Moliere’s original play as well as its structure and characters. Setting the play in a Pakistani Muslim family in modern Birmingham created perfect conditions for this fast moving comedy.

Asif Khan and Zainab Hasan played Tartuffe and Mariam Pervaiz respectively and brought other perspectives to the discussion. The actors gave us insights into the development of their characters as rehearsals and workshops progressed. Asif and Zainab were both committed to creating characters that were true to the world of the play that avoided stereotyping in its depiction of the muslim community

Q They described the hard work involved in playing Tartuffe and Tamburlaine two or three times in the same week. The exceptional heat of summer 2018 was another challenge which caused the musicians sitars to constantly go out of tune!

A well structured and tremendously informative session.

Timon of Athens

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.

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.

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.