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Coriolanus

.Coriolanus
Photograph by Helen Maybanks.

Angus Jackson’s Coriolanus resonates with a contemporary audience producing disturbing parallels with the current political scene. Shakespeare seems even more prescient as this addition to this season of Roman plays progresses. This production emphasises the parellels with the zeitgeist in the initial scenes of urban unrest in modern dress set against a sparse grey set.

Coriolanus is lauded as a successful general but the populace turn against him as he uncompromisingly broadcasts his arrogant disregard for the poor and his refusal to soften his language inflames the populace. His family and friends try to mitigate the damage caused by this rough soldier who absolutely refuses to soften his utterances.

Exile inevitably follows but Coriolanus returns threatening vengeance and allies himself to his old enemy Tullus Aufidius. Volumnia, Coriolanus’s mother, pleads for mercy before the gates of besieged Rome. In the most affecting scenes of the play Coriolanus breaks down and promises a merciful and fair peace settlement for all parties. It is too late for Coriolanus, he has forfeited his power base, his family and friends are demoralised and defeated he is assassinated by his former rival. A cautionary tale for dictators and demagogues.

Dido Queen of Carthage.

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Photograph by Topher McGrillis.

The play opens with the gods arguing. Irascible, capricious and self obsessed- we are challenged by a lascivious Jupiter, haughty Juno and flirtatious Venus accompanied by a mischievous and puerile Cupid. Like callous oligarchs they view suffering humanity as mere playthings.

Meanwhile a band of refugees from sacked Troy tumble out of the surf in Carthage. Aeneas, their leader, is broken and vengeful recounting the outrages and massacres that he has witnessed. Dido and the Carthiginian court are full of compassion for the new arrivals whilst Venus ensures that Aeneas and Dido fall in love with tragic consequences.

Marlowe’s poetry powerfully portrays the suffering of the bewildered emigres and confronts the audience with uncomfortable parallels with the contemporary human crisis in the Mediterranean.

A thought provoking and fascinating production.

Venus and Adonis.

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Photograph by Lucy Barriball.

Shakespeare’s narrative poem has not been staged at the RSC since 2004. Greg Doran’s revival is enchanting and knits together the narrative poem with musical interludes, and beautifully modelled marionettes.  The skill of the puppeteers in bringing the narrated text to life is wonderful to behold. The puppets slightest movements convey the whole spectrum of romantic passion and its vicissitudes. It is  by turns, comic, tragic, and erotic.

The set evokes a magical, pastoral landscape enhanced by delightful interludes of  classical guitar.

Titus Andronicus

 

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Photograph by Helen Maybanks.

I had not seen this play before and I approached the theatre with some trepidation aware of its grisly depictions of murder, and mayhem that was once so popular with a Tudor audience. Having said that, I tell myself,  modern audiences seem to share this insatiable appetite for horror  given the popularity of ‘Scandi noir ‘and its imitators.

What impressed me about Blanche McIntyre’s production is how well the play works in a modern day setting. The sudden changing allegiances and betrayals where honour and integrity are abandoned and lies and deceit hold sway seem terrifyingly familiar to our world. The Goths enter Rome as prisoners of war and then suddenly their queen is chosen to be  the Roman emperor’s wife, the world is topsy turvey and frightening, the old certainties have gone as the empire crumbles.

The acting is superb, the sets and music excellent and the audience find themselves laughing at times ( admittedly a little uneasily!) I try not to single out individual performances in these blogs but  I must mention David Troughton’s masterful  playing of Titus Andronicus. The descent of the character from blind loyalty to the state to madness as he sees his family betrayed and destroyed prefigured  King Lear. David Troughton captures Titus’s rage and bewilderment perfectly.

This play is a worthy inclusion in the RSC’s Roman season. Well worth seeing.

Salome

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Photograph by David Isaac.

Herod’s palace reverberates to thunderous power chords of Perfume Genius and we are led to the dungeons where political prisoners and holy men are detained. Iokanaan, the prophet, rails against the corruption and depravity of the court which intrigues Herod’s stepdaughter, the princess Salome. Salome played by an androgynous Matthew Tennyson in a slip and red high heels captures the wilful self absorption of the princess whose anger at the prophet’s rejection of her advances will bring about his destruction.

Herod’s obsession with Salome and his determination that she should dance for him and his leering courtiers leads him to offer ever more extravagant rewards in return for her performance. The prize she demands is the head of the prophet. Herod must comply with Salome’s uncompromising demand and endure the curse that must fall upon his house.

Alex Waldman Q&A.

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Photograph by Helen Maybanks.

The talk began with a resume of Alex’ career. The interviewer had done his homework and put it to Alex that he had been working continuously in classical theatre for the past 13 years without ‘resting’. A remarkable record for any actor. Alex joked that his year long stint at the Almeida gave him more job security that many of his friends enjoyed working in the City!

The discussion then focused on Alex’s much lauded playing of Brutus in Julius Caesar. He shared his insights into Brutus’s desperate and delusional justification of his actions as he becomes increasingly seduced by power. Alex drew our attention to Shakespeare’s ambivalence towards Brutus in Mark Antony’s questionable judgement that Brutus was ‘the noblest Roman of them all.’

Commenting on the decision to play Julius Caesar in togas rather than modern dress, Alex pointed out that when a play has a long run, as this production will, dress that looks topical at the beginning of the run can look out of date remarkably quickly.

Finally, Alex spoke about the difficulties of reconciling an actor’s life with the demands of a young family. He thanked the RSC warmly for its flexibility and understanding.

Vice Versa

Vice Versa
Photograph by Pete Le May.

A hugely enjoyable theatrical experience. Vice Versa is the funniest thing that I have seen in a theatre for a long time. The plot is familiar, canny servant tricks her master into letting his concubine Voluptua escape with her lover while simultaneously freeing his servant, Dexter, from slavery. So far, so unremarkable except this is played with such zest and fun that the audience is totally captivated. The jokes and double entendres are clever and genuinely funny. The physical comedy makes more than a nod at post war British comedy (grey socks, suspenders and sandals are de rigeur).

Music and props add to the general mayhem. The songs are memorable, costume and sets inventive and full of humour, even a mobility scooter doubling as a chariot is met with gales of laughter by the delighted audience.

The plot is predictable the script revels in a familiar irreverence and vulgarity beloved of British comedy. The audience loved it.