Tag Archives: shakespeare

Countdown to Edinburgh Fringe

I’ve never been to Edinburgh Fringe before. (I know, right?) I haven’t been deliberately avoiding it, it’s just been a lack of the fates aligning for me to have enough annual leave to go away for a week in August.

So I have my accommodation and trains booked. I have spent weeks drowning in spreadsheets and maps, meticulously planning how best to pack in everything I want to see, both cost effectively and efficiently so that I’m sticking to venues in the same locale rather than madly criss-crossing the city. This is all good in principle, but I do have a talent for cutting it fine and being easily distracted, so my military precision may all count for nothing.

Last night I begrudgingly accepted that with 8 shows all starting around 2 o’clock, and only 6 days in which to see them, I’d have to let a few things slip. It’s heartbreaking, because so much sounds so promising. The more you look, the more you find. So unless Professor McGonagall can lend me a Time-Turner for the week, I’m going to have to deal with a lot of FOMO (Speaking of which, I should probably find time to go and have a cup of tea in the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter).

But I’ve found some real gems which I’m hoping will be good. Most of my picks seem to fall into the following categories:

  • Comedy
  • Circus
  • Friends’ shows
  • Shakespeare-based
  • Confined spaces/darkness
  • “Please wear sensible shoes”

Some shows fit into more than one category – although I’m yet to find a comedy Macbeth performed to one audience member at a time in a series of dark cupboards in Edinburgh Castle and told through the medium of circus – if someone wants to make that, I promise I will come and see it. Admittedly I dreamt a week ago that I went to see Thunderbirds on Ice which also had audience participation.

So I have a hugely diverse bunch of shows to see: improvised lost Jane Austen titles, 1940’s Hitchock-inspired circus, a Shakespeare where the audience play the other characters, a series of conversations in the back of 3 cars, a choose-your-own-adventure where the audience determine the order of the scenes, frank explorations of mental health, my friend’s older brother trying to transmute base metals into gold, Game of Thrones spin-offs, and a steampunk scavenger hunt. It will be nothing if not eventful. I am quite concerned that I will be torn between the need for sleep and the need to see more shows.

So here are my picks, all beautifully listed for you with links (some of these I’ve managed to see in London previews):

Comedy

Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel
Fake It ’til You Make It
John Robertson – The Dark Room: Symphony of a Floating Head
Sooz Kempner – Character Activist
Thrones! The Musical
Will Seaward Has a Really Good Go at Alchemy
Will Seaward’s Spooky Midnight Ghost Stories II
Winter is Coming. Again.

Circus/Physical Theatre

Blind Man’s Song
Bromance
Close Up
Hitch!
Ockham’s Razor: Arc and Every Action…

Shakespeareish

Hell Hath No Fury
Mrs Shakespeare
Richard III
Titus Andronicus: An All-Female Production
To She or Not to She

Immersive/Confined Spaces/Darkness/Sensible Shoes

Awakening, Sweet and Sour Sensory Composition
Comfort Slaves
Father Time
Fiction
Helpless Doorknobs
Jethro Compton presents Sirenia
Phantasmagoria
Tate Postmodern
This Time Tomorrow
We This Way

Other

Citydash
Down & Out in Paris and London
I, Elizabeth
Much Further Out Than You Thought
My Beautiful Black Dog
The Eulogy of Toby Peach
We Can Make You Happy
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream – The Savill Garden, Windsor

“Immersive” is theatre’s buzzword of the moment. But it has come to mean various different things. On one hand, it can be the sensation of stepping through the fourth wall and being immersed in a world which feels completely real, leaving behind the humdrum of ordinary life.  On the other, there is the complex niche genre where you as an audience member have a bearing on your experience of the performance, be that through making active (or passive) choices which then have a tangible impact on how things play out, or wandering through spaces where there are several scenes running simultaneously and it would require repeat visits in order to see all of it. Just when you think you’ve understood how to pinpoint what is and isn’t immersive, another company comes along and throws that definition out of the window.

Watch Your Head’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is very much the former: a site-specific promenade production. But in truth these are clunky words which risk alienating the general public before they’ve even bought their tickets –  and that would be a terrible shame as while it doesn’t break any new ground in terms of immersive theatre, this is a very strong, imaginative and accessible Shakespearean production filled with magic and mischief, set in the breathtakingly beautiful Savill Gardens near Windsor. We were well attended by families, with kids boisterously racing from one scene to the next, lapping up the novelty of multiple locations in the fresh air and fading daylight.

All of Shakespeare’s familiar story is here: bickering lovers, bumbling mechanicals and troublesome fairies – but with plenty more besides. This versatile cast double up as woodland creatures that trill, chirrup and squeak as they guide us deeper into the park.  There is the added bonus of live music, ranging from close harmony singing to bluesy jazz, perfectly complementing the 1920s-inspired costumes.  The passages of text delivered as song add an extra dimension and are pulled off with great finesse. There’s even a little bit of audience participation snuck in, to great comic effect.

My cast highlight was Joss Wyre as a very magnetic Puck – veering between remorseful child and wild-eyed sprite, there are times when you’re never quite sure if she’s made a genuine mistake or is reveling in the havoc she has created; but then an impish twinkle flashes across her face and we know exactly what she’s up to. There are some roles which demand that you crank the overacting up to 11 and Oliver Lavery is the quintessential Bottom, brashly steamrollering through the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe, much to the horror of earnest director, Quince (George Jennings).

By far the stand-out performance of the lovers is Paige Round as Helena – bruised of heart by her unrequited love for Demetrius (Edward Firth), she cuts a very sympathetic character – partly because he comes across as so spiteful that it’s a wonder what she sees in him in the first place, apart from his unattainability. Sara Langridge is effortlessly elegant as Hermia – right up until she loses the affections of Lysander (Jared Garfield) to Helena in a slight ‘puck up’ as the flower juice takes effect and everyone falls in love with the wrong person. It is a joy to watch the two boys squabble over Hermia in a hilarious fight scene.

There’s a large amount of doubling up in the cast, e.g. Theseus/Oberon by the brooding and serious Jack Bannell, and Anneli Page who switches from the gentle, reserved Hippolyta into hippy-dippy Titania. While the mechanicals provide the obvious comedy, it’s really refreshing to see them bring contrast and personality to their secondary roles as the fairies. Joshua Considine as the almost Gollum-like Moth, Bruno Major as a very dopey Mustardseed, and Emma Jane Morton as ethereal fruitloop Peaseblossom.

The only thing that spoils it slightly is the inescapable noise from the Heathrow flight path. There are many beautifully subtle moments which are sadly drowned out by passing aeroplanes – but it is testament to the performers that they still manage to tell a very rich story, even if we do miss a few lines. While this is closer to a traditional Shakespeare than the more experimental end of the immersive theatre spectrum, it is still nonetheless a bewitching production filled with wit, depth and invention that is absolutely worth a trip outside the big smoke. Go and see it.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing until Sunday 19th July at The Savill Garden, Wick Lane, Englefield Green, Windsor, Surrey TW20 0UU. Running time approximately 2 hours including an interval. This is a promenade (walking) production through parkland. In the event of rain, an indoor version will be performed instead. For those travelling from London, the closest station is Egham and taxis are available outside; it takes around 10 minutes and costs about £9 each way. For tickets and more information, please go to http://watch-your-head.co.uk/

Macbeth – RIFT

Having thrown myself into this immersive theatre lark recently and as quite a fan of Shakespeare, the idea of an overnight Macbeth in a ‘secret London location’ was irresistible.  It was a little ambiguous as to whether the actors would be performing throughout the night with the whole play stretched over 12 hours or it was just going to be a late finish, but given that a ticket included sleeping arrangements (Hard – bring your own sleeping bag, Soft – you get a campbed, Deluxe – you get a bed), there was only one way to find out.

In anticipation that some of you have bought tickets and are waiting for your performance date, here are some important tips for you:

  • Wear comfortable shoes – you’ll be wandering about a lot.
  • Take a few warm layers with you – while the whole thing takes place inside the building in the height of summer, when the windows or balcony doors are open (or you are out on the balcony), it gets a bit nippy once it’s got dark.
  • Get there before your start time – there’s a few things to do before it actually starts (i.e. fill in a medical form).
  • Have something to eat before you go – there is a small vegan meal included, but it’s served quite late in the evening and you’ll need sustenance for all that wandering about.
  • Hard and Soft have changes to the sleeping arrangements (a bit of an upgrade!) – check your email.

Here endeth the tips.  The below contains spoilers.

On arrival at Balfron Tower, I went through the security check point of Borduria where I handed over my phone, filled in a medical form and almost had time to exchange money for Bordurian currency (was running late due to getting very lost at Stratford International trying to find the right DLR platform).  We were then escorted by Uri, Borduria’s finest security guard to enter the Rift between fact and fiction and step from daylight into a very dark underground car park….

Where I was promptly terrified by a witch.  I don’t know where she came from, but she appeared next to me very suddenly, before my eyes had had a chance to adjust to the dark.  I carried on walking ahead, following the rest of the people in my group, only to look round to my side and find the witch still walking alongside me as the other two appeared out of the gloom.  We gathered around an oil drum with a fire lit in the top for the opening scene.  Macbeth appeared along with a few accomplices, their military styling perfectly at home in the brutalist architecture.  As we walked along, we were treated to one of Macbeth’s cocky, self-assured soliloquies with knowing looks.  A strong start.

We were shepherded round to the entrance where our guide, Ivana was waiting.  We were ushered into a lift where there began a lot of deadpan instructions (pure comedy) as we rose up to the higher floors.  I’ve often wondered if immersive theatre could ever tackle comedy and it seems that it can, I just wasn’t sure if Macbeth was necessarily the right vehicle for it.  We were then taken up to a bar where we could buy drinks with Bordurian currency (luckily soft drinks were free).

As the evening progressed, we were ushered into various rooms, sometimes with other groups, so that we were taken to scenes, or scenes were brought to us.  We soon worked out that the flat we were taken to on repeated occasions was the flat we’d be staying in for the night.  While the scenes were good, there were often long gaps in between – I can only presume the actors had to do the same scene a few times over in various flats before the show could move on to the next bit.  These gaps were often covered with TV reports of ‘Birnam wood is on the move’ from man on the scene, Uri (We love Uri!  He should have his own show) or something from our guide, but usually some sort of comedy which frequently had us helpless with laughter.

But then suddenly we’d be jolted back to drama as Macbeth would storm into the room for an argument with his wife as they try to cover their tracks or an uneasy stand-off with Macduff.  Then they’d be out again and we’d either sit and wait or be ushered off to another room.  There was a frequent loss of impetus as the links between scenes are a long way from seamless.  This is where the logistics of promenade theatre become incredibly exposed.  As an audience, we were never quite sure when it had actually finished – we’d all settled down for drinks and a chat when a scene was brought to us – after this we were moved onto another bar.  After a few minutes, exhaustion kicked in and it was very much time to go to bed (a bunkbed rather than a campbed was much appreciated!)

But as I was there on opening night (presumably their first time with an audience that isn’t made up of their family and friends for dry runs), I am prepared to be forgiving.  They have set themselves an enormous task and are so close to pulling it off.  There are many things to like about this production: The acting I saw was brilliant and the guides remained in character at all times, even when things seemed to be going slightly awry.  There were also some lovely little touches to the set dressing such as a wedding photo of the Macbeths and the bloody bed in Duncan’s flat.

Macbeth is the perfect production for the building and comedy is a brilliant way to manage the gaps between scenes – I’m just not sure that the two things belonged together in the same show.  But if RIFT want to try their hand at a through-and-through comedy in promenade (with Uri, of course), I will absolutely be buying a ticket.

Happy Birthday Shakespeare

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“The course of true love never did run smooth.” ~ A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Generally speaking, I love Shakespeare.  But I don’t understand all of it.  Today marks what is widely accepted as his 450th birthday, so it seemed apt to write something about it.  I have grown into Shakespeare as I’ve got older, learnt to appreciate plays which I had previously written off as “probably boring” and yet there are still a few which are currently utterly lost on me.  I’m afraid I found the production of King Lear at the National Theatre well acted, but inaccessible – everyone I know who enjoyed it had studied the play in some form – I haven’t, but I’m prepared to think that it may resonate with me at some point in the future.

I didn’t have such a good start with Shakespeare.  I remember tortuous English lessons at school where whichever teacher would simply take a speech and go around the class asking us to read out a line each.  A stilted sequence of adolscent voices all variously proficient at reading aloud.  At best, this disjointed method left those words devoid of meaning and power – at worst, it made them tedious and pointless.  The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice and Measure for Measure all became quite dull in the hands of assorted teachers.  The feeling of futility as we scoured the playtext for quotes and tried to describe power structures and synonyms, just to put into essays to satisfy examiners.  But all was not completely lost.

I think it was just sheer luck that Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes came out in 1996 when I was studying it – a modern interpretation which spoke to a generation of teenagers jaded with Shakespeare.  That same year, I was taken on a tour of the Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre which was still under construction – I spent £5 on a brick (in hindsight, money well spent) and it was opened in 1997.  I remember a school trip to see The Merchant of Venice and the discovery that the play wasn’t actually as boring as it was in the classroom.  1998 followed with the film of Shakespeare in Love and the youth group at my theatre put on a summer production of Living With Lady Macbeth by Rob John, where I was given a fairly major role and my lines included several snippets of speeches by Lady M – suddenly those words came to life.  Shakespeare does not belong in a book.  It needs to be up on its feet in a theatre and spoken with rhythm and conviction.  These are words written for the mouth and ears, not for the eyes.

So there have been several watershed moments for me over the years – here are some of my favourites:

Performing as ensemble cast in Twelfth Night at The Minack Theatre (2001)
This was really my first taste of working with a whole play and this is probably why it remains my favourite Shakespeare comedy – even so far as to reword the opening line as the name for my blog.  I was playing a lady-in-waiting to Olivia and a general servant/stage crew in costume, but we were in the wings so frequently, that when we weren’t on stage, we were watching almost every single scene anyway.  I remember our dress rehearsal under a giant full moon and how the box tree scene would have both the audience and us helpless with laughter at every single performance.  In 2012 I was lucky enough to see Twelfth Night at the Apollo Theatre (I would’ve sold my soul to see it at the Globe) with Mark Rylance playing Olivia as a woman completely at the mercy of sexual desire – an incredible performance by one of the greatest Shakespearean actors of our time.

Titus Andronicus at Shakespeare’s Globe (2006)
This was for a friend’s birthday – I hadn’t seen her for a long time, so really I wanted to see her rather than the play, but a £5 groundling ticket was a bearable price to pay and I’d heard it’d had good reviews.  I knew nothing much about it except that Titus kills 2 boys, cooks them in a pie and feeds them to their mother.  But from its epic beginning, as Roman generals are wheeled in on raised platforms to the sound of thundering drums with their spoils of war, the captive Goths, through delicious black humour, tit-for-tat violence and graphic, merciless butchery, to the chilling finale – I was hooked.  Geraldine Alexander as vengeful tiger-mother Tamora was a force to be reckoned with – if I can every persuade my theatre to put on Titus, I want to play Tamora (this may have to wait a decade or so until I’m actually old enough).  The same production returns to the Globe this summer under the same director and I strongly urge you to see it if you can, and definitely from the groundling pit if your feet, legs and back can handle standing for a few hours.  (My friend’s birthday was pretty good too).

The Factory Hamlet at Shakespeare’s Globe (2008)
Spearheaded by director Tim Carroll, The Factory Hamlet works on a simple principle; around 30 actors, each of whom has learnt 2 or 3 parts in Hamlet, ergo you have 2 or 3 actors who could play each part.  In the spirit of fairness and spontaneity, two actors who could play e.g. Laertes were brought forward and 2 audience members hauled on stage to play rock-paper-scissors to decide who would play the role that night.  The whole play was cast as such and away we went!  In addition to this, all audience members were asked (when booking tickets) to bring along random objects to be used as props.  The actors were given a different rules for each act – e.g. musical statues, so you can speak when it’s your line, but only move when the music is playing, or you can only have one actor standing on the stage at any time (so one actor enlisted a member of the audience to give him a piggyback on the stage!).

factory hamletThe emphasis is very much on ‘playing with Shakespeare’, finding unlikely new connections, experimenting with how lines are delivered, movements etc.  The ghost of Hamlet’s father was an inflatable shark, a duel was played out with a baguette and a mink stole, Polonius hid behind a full sized taxidermied stag only to be stabbed to death with a top hat and alas poor Yorick was a tin of baked beans.  But the true talent of this bunch was best demonstrated in Act V – actors who lost the rock-paper-scissors were asked to stand in the gallery and speak the words of their character, and the actors who won would be on the stage lip-synching.  Played with alarming pace, this incredible feat of teamwork and trust was a sight to behold, especially the burly Horatio with a newly acquired feminine voice!

Visiting Elsinore Castle in Denmark (2010)
I went to see a frien in Malmo, Sweden for the weekend, but as my flight hope from Copenhagen wasn’t until the evening, we had a whole day to fill, but ideally this needed to be in Denmark and something not too complicated with a small suitcase in tow.  So in some vain hope of inspiritation, we asked the lady at the tourist office what she suggested: “Well, what interests you?”  I naturally said that I like the theatre.  “Have you ever been to Elsinore Castle where Hamlet is set?”  I could’ve kissed her.  “Well you could go via Copenhagen, but if you get the train north to Helsingborg, you can get the ferry across the Oresund to Helsingor.  It’s really worth seeing the castle from the sea first.  Then it’s about a 10 minute walk from the ferry terminal.  There’s a train to Helsingborg in a few minutes.”  Decision made.  So as the boat drew closer to the Danish coast, I was greeted with the view of copper spires:

If this weren’t enough, Hamlet and Ophelia were standing outside Helsingor Station:

As it turns out, Hamlet is based on the legend of Amled written in the 12th century Danish Chronicles and it appears that Shakespeare chose the castle at Helsingor as the setting for his version of the story, renaming it Elsinore.  There are some who say that Shakespeare didn’t write all of his plays and perhaps there is an element of truth in this – that he wrote the words, but didn’t come up with the original story.  In 1816, a group of soldiers from the local garrison decided to put on a production of Hamlet in the castle to mark the 200th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death; this has become a regular occurence over the years and recent performances have included Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Christopher Plummer and Jude Law in the title role.

Me with Mr S.

There is still so much more Shakespeare out there to discover; I’m really only just starting to familiarise myself with the sonnets.  One of the most used apps on my smartphone is Shakespeare Complete Works – and it was free to download!   I’ve started to re-read sections of plays which I haven’t touched since secondary school.  I have dared to dip into plays that I know nothing about, but I think I need to see and hear them on a stage to get the full benefit.  You’ll often find me on Twitter participating in #ShakespeareSunday (as led by @HollowCrownFans).  I don’t think I can ever pretend to be an expert on any of it, but I know what I enjoy and how it makes me feel.  But safe to say that those words were for his time, for our time and for all time.

Happy birthday Shakespeare!

The Knight of the Burning Pestle – Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

When Shakespeare’s Globe was built in the 1990s, the plan was always to have 2 theatres on the site – one of course being the open air Globe Theatre – but their budget fell short of being able to cover the costs of building an indoor candlelit Jacobean-style theatre, so space was left and the empty shell was used as a rehearsal room for over a decade.  But for the last few years, they’ve been fundraising (I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve put in a fiver here and a tenner there) and building the sort of theatre that Shakespeare and his contemporaries would’ve been familiar with – and I finally got to see it in all its glory last week for a performance of The Knight of the Burning Pestle.  It is BEAUTIFUL.  With its oak framed U-shape and seating for just 340 people, it is wonderfully cosy and intimate – and right now, it contains the silliest play in all of London Town.

Rather than ‘a play within a play’, this is almost a play outside of a play.  We the audience are gathered to watch The London Merchant but there’s a commotion in the front row; Citizen (Phil Daniels) stands up to complain that plays are always about the nobility and that there should be more plays about ordinary people, so he suggests that the players include his apprentice, Rafe (Matthew Needham) as a knight in their story.  The Citizen and his busybody Wife (Pauline McLynn, best known as Mrs Doyle in Father Ted) then spend the evening upstaging the players by noisily eating roasted nuts out of a paper bag, offering them around their nearby audience, talking over the actors and interfering with the plot when Rafe has been off stage for too long.  It is utter mayhem and you never quite know what situation they’ll dream up next.

Pauline McLynn and Phil Daniels

The players valiantly try to carry on with their tale of The London Merchant in spite of the frequent interruptions – the Merchant’s headstrong daughter, Luce (Sarah MacRae) is engaged to be married to wet blanket Humphrey (Dickon Tyrell), but instead she has fallen in love with the devil-may-care Jasper (Alex Waldmann), the son of Mr Merrythought (Paul Rider), a rather Falstaff-like character, and his moralistic wife Mistress Merrythought (Hannah McPake).

Each scene is bookended with a traditional Boy (Samuel Hargreaves) who gracefully presents placards and plays the lute.  It seems that two stage hands, Tim and George (Dennis Herdman and Dean Nolan), have been enlisted as squires on Rafe’s great quest, much to their annoyance.  But it is these two who provide endless amounts of comedy, shuffling about rather like the little men you’d see on a cuckoo clock, falling over, turning the Boy into a human maypole, almost strangling him with ribbons.

It’s occasionally confusing to watch, but you can tune into the language very quickly and there is so much slapstick that it almost doesn’t matter which plot we’re in – when the Merrythoughts and their precocious son Michael (Giles Cooper) set out to rescue Luce, they enlist Rafe and his companions to fight Jasper, which soon descends into chaos as various character flail about with swords, clamber through the audience and tear around the outer perimeter of the auditorium (there’s a wonderful moment when a face slides down a window) and tumble back onto the stage in a mess of shouting limbs.  Brendan O’Hea also plays a variety of increasingly ridiculous characters (as requested by the Citizen’s Wife) including a pirate and a grotesque giant.

Matthew Needham, Brendan O’Hea and Dean Nolan

But in total contrast, there are some darker moments of drama where a candlelit venue really comes into its own; all of the candelabras can be raised and lowered on ropes – so during one scene they were brought right down, hovering just a foot off the stage floor – the total change in atmosphere was incredibly effective, to the point that you’d almost forgotten that you were watching a comedy.

At times the whole thing descends into utter nonsense – but very entertaining nonsense.  Yes it is far-fetched, but this is a zany satire on badly behaved audiences, a problem which remains in theatres today with mobile phones, chattering and rustling.  If you are happy to put realism on hold for an evening, this rebellious comedy will have you grinning from ear to ear all the way home.

The Knight of the Burning Pestle is on at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, SE1 9DT until Sunday 30th March 2014.  For tickets and information, go to http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/whats-on/sam-wanamaker-playhouse/the-knight-of-the-burning-pestle 

Macbeth – Bridewell Theatre

“Can amateurs really do Shakespeare as well as professionals?  Is it going to be any good? ”  These two questions were niggling in the back of my mind as I sat down in the intimate Bridewell Theatre for a steampunk themed Macbeth.  A friend was stage-managing and the photos looked awesome, so I had high hopes.  Perhaps this time to understand it (my last dalliance and with The Scottish Play was at the Globe, everyone bar Lady M were wearing tuxedos and I couldn’t even tell which one was Macbeth, let alone any others).

The steampunk military and mechanical styling with dramatic lighting work well as as a setting – the attention to detail is pretty impressive given that they don’t have a megabucks West End budget. But this is a show with both style AND substance. Director Chloe Faine (having played Lady Macbeth herself) has chosen a strong and capable cast – it is clear that she has a good grasp of the play and how to best present this to modern ears.

Sarah Peachey and Daniel Bogod

Macbeth (Daniel Bogod) is suitably gutless; while he has some glimmer of ambition to be king, he doesn’t really have the drive to go through with the murder, nor is he that comfortable even when he seems to have got away with it.  With every subsequent murder, he becomes ever more desperate to hold onto his crown, to fulfil the witches’ prophecy.  His cause isn’t helped by his malevolent wife, Lady Macbeth (Sarah Peachey) who switches between sultry and scheming with great ease, trying every possible method to get her husband to grow a pair.  She holds great command of the stage and her soliloquies show her as a single-minded woman, hell-bent on being queen at any cost.

The gruesome task is made no easier by the fact that he has to kill Duncan (Will Harrison-Wallace) who makes for a very engaging, warm-hearted king.  Duncan’s son, Malcolm (Douglas Baker) has a cherubic face and plays the part with great naivety, still young enough to want to stick to his ideals, not yet corrupted by the machinations of politics.

It is of course Hecate and the weird sisters (Robert J Stanex, Sarah Beebe, Sarah Heenan and James Bretherton) who play a pivotal role, indicating to Macbeth his possible options – the simple act of sliding on and off their single spiked welding goggle indicates to the audience when they are invoking their magic and when they are blending into the crowd. Their only agenda seems to be to wreak havoc and mischief in the mortal world and their presence is deliciously unnerving.

Robert J Stanex, James Bretherton, Daniel Bogod, Sarah Heenan and Sarah Beebe

Banquo (Christopher Warren) makes a gentle giant of his character – tame, without being a pushover. His murder simply fuels Macbeth’s unease with what he has started. Macduff (Stuart McMillan – originally from Glasgow) laces his lines with rich Highland tones and there is a great contrast between his initial calmness and his descent into furious rage at the murder of his wife, Lady Macduff (Fran Rafferty) who makes a great job of a very small part.  This production doesn’t pull its punches on the gore; the gutteral groans as she is mercilessly butchered by the witches genuinely turned my stomach.

The sword fighting towards the end did seem a little careful at times, but once the foils were knocked from their hands, the violence of bare-hands-combat is tangible, with the two men stamping on feet and booting each other in the ribs.  This is a very accessible production of the play, delivered with great understanding – the haunting doom-laden steampunk styling is a nice touch, but this still deserves to be seen in its own right.  I will be keeping an eye on Sedos (they are the resident theatre company at the Bridewell) – their upcoming 2014 season appeals to me.

Macbeth is on at the Bridewell Theatre, Bride Lane, London, EC4Y 8EQ until Saturday 2nd November including a Saturday matinee at 2.30pm.  More information and tickets available from http://www.sedos.co.uk 

The Tempest – William Shakespeare (Shakespeare’s Globe)

I am a long term fan of Shakespeare’s Globe.  I bought a brick for £5 when it was being built in 1996, and having now seen 8 excellent productions on its stage, I’d say it was a great investment.  If your back, legs and feet can handle it, standing in the yard with the groundlings is the best ‘seat’ in the house – you get a great view of the stage and can always move if someone tall stands in front of you.  At just £5.00, it’s also the cheapest theatre ticket in London.

tempest

Prospero, the usurped Duke of Milan was banished by his brother Antonio and 12 years later, he still wants revenge.  When Antonio’s ship sails near the island, Prospero uses his magic to conjure a tempestuous storm.  The play opens with its iconic shipwreck scene, with all sound effects provided by the percussionists in the gallery – the matinee sunshine is a little at odds with the sounds of rolling thunder and howling wind, but the men onboard the ship become separated in the storm and each in turn wash up on the island.  There we meet Prospero (Roger Allam), his daughter Miranda (Jessie Buckley), his spirit companion Ariel (Colin Morgan – Merlin in the BBC TV series of the same name) and his deformed feral servant Caliban (James Garnon).

Roger Allam gives a great performance as a man whose bitterness has been reignited by the reappearance of his brother and he proceeds to play tricks on the shipwrecked men, aided by Ariel.  Colin Morgan imbues his character with an almost childlike mischievousness and proves himself more that worthy in a stage role.  Jessie Buckley gives Miranda a glow of naivety, almost drunk with joy when she first encounters the strangers arriving on the island.  But it is James Garnon whose wronged simian-like Caliban steals the show at times with his vocal gymnastics, swinging from deeply guttural to high pitched squeaking.

The highlight of the play is a typical Shakespeare slapstick scene; drunken jester Trinculo (Trevor Fox – last seen in The Pitmen Painters) stumbles ashore, wrings out his oversized codpiece and hides under a blanket waiting for the storm to pass, only to find Caliban underneath and the two proceed to get tangled up in the fabric.  The writhing, shouting mass of limbs is found by Stephano (Sam Fox, a regular face in Shakespeare comedy roles) a drunken steward from the shipwreck who believes it to be creature that is either ill or possessed: “four legs and two voices: a most delicate monster!”  Shakespearean comic acting at its best.

The Tempest runs on selected nights up until Sunday 18th August, however it forms part of the ‘Season of Plenty’ at the Globe which includes A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth which are running until Sunday 13th October.

Shakespeare’s Globe, 21 New Globe Walk, Bankside, LONDON, SE1 9DT

http://www.shakespearesglobe.com/

Shakespeare’s Globe is currently building a traditional indoor Jacobean theatre which will be open for its first performances in January 2014.  To be named the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, after the Globe’s visionary founder, this will be an exquisite candlelit venue in which Shakespeare would have felt right at home.  They have so far raised 94% of their £7.5million target.  If you would like to contribute towards this exciting new venture, you can do so by clicking this link.