Review: ‘Julius Caesar’ @ Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Having seen an offer for discounted tickets, I couldn’t resist seeing my second play of the Rome 2017 trilogy at the RSC, and I was rewarded for spending my time and money in a turbulent Rome.

Brutus – yes, of et tu fame – was stellar. Alex Waldmann showed us the epitome of the man in conflict; it was obvious that Brutus wasn’t a murderer of a man but a murderer of the corruption coming through the man. His fight with ideology was evident in every action, from his cringing at the first thrust of the knife to his willingness to die in the failure of a Roman democracy. Brutus was an honourable man indeed, just perhaps a man too led by his peers in achieving that honour.

And seeing emotions laid bare wasn’t exclusive to Brutus – the cast were brilliant in their subtle and less subtle mojulius-caesar-production-images_-2017_2017_photo-by-helen-maybanks-_c_-rsc_214266-tmb-img-1824ments, expertly weaving between these for maximum effect. One of my favourite moments has to be at the end, when Mark Anthony (James Corrigan) can barely hide his dislike of Octavius Caesar (Jon Tarcy) – it’s blindingly obvious to everyone apart from Octavius how he has been used by Anthony to exact vengeance, despite finding him a churlish youth.
Caesar (Andrew Woodall), of course, cannot go unmentioned. He had majesty without royalty, and ambition whilst remaining grounded. You saw glimpses of why he had to die but not enough to justify this, and certainly not enough to prevent the horror at his brutal murder.

Speaking of which, the staging was spectacular and yet minimalist. The murder was a highlight, bloodbags aplenty and yet no one betrayed this theatrical trick in their realism. I especially loved the second half scenery, with the broken ruins of war lying around the stage and acting as plinths from which characters could rise and fall. It was incredibly thoughtful and, unlike some productions, not over the top in any manner, which made it all the more resonating.

The only thing I’ll say – and this is at Shakespeare and his era than the production itself – is the lack of women. They were well used by the director, Angus Jackson, despite this, but it seems incredibly sad that Calpurnia (Kristin Atherton) gets no resolution after her desperate pleas to Caesar, and we don’t see more of Portia’s (Hannah Morrish) conflict between her husband and her country. But this was not an age of women, and so we’re left with a lot of men (and a lot of six packs) around the stage (not complaining!).

‘Julius Caesar’ hits cinemas on Wednesday 25th April for the live screening of the performance, and I urge you to see this gripping production and live through the trials and tribulations of an empire on the edge.

 

Review: ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ @ The RSC

‘Antony and Cleopatra’ is an exotic and wonderful Shakespeare play, albeit one with a rushed second half where we’re told things happen rather than seeing them. Nonetheless, the RSC’s latest production is bold and rhythmical to capture even novice Shakespearean viewers.

 

The opening musical segment transports you to Egypt and the seductive den of the most radiant Cleopatra, and was an entrancing was to being events. The continuation of dance and music throughout was mesmerising and added that real Eastern feel to the events, separating the cold and calculating Roman empire from the rich and sultry Egyptian lands.

 

Cleopatra followed suit with this exoticism, although despite her captivating temper and demeanour I have to say it was sometimes difficult to understand her entirely, especially when she was louder; it was purely an accent thing, and it’s just worth knowing so that you know to move on when you don’t understand rather than missing the plot development whilst trying to translate.

 

However, both Antony and Cleopatra were magnificently regal, despite the clumsiness of Shakespeare’s ending where Antony is dragged up the monument, which (frankly) is mildly ridiculous. As I said, the whole second half is a bit ropey – blink and you’ll miss it explanations as to who likes and hates whom are all you’ve got and they’re so rapid it’s difficult to follow.

 

The whole cast, as expected, were brilliant; my highlights were Enobarbus and Cleopatra’s handmaidens, who made this less of a history lesson and more of a journey through these foreign climes.

 

The traditionalism of the setting was something unusual and the RSC, but their normal modernisation wouldn’t necessarily work through the Rome season; it’s classical nature is what makes it enjoyable and recognisable, no work needs to be done here to make this period of history accessible to all. The use of the trap door to change the stage was very effective; small changes that indicated the mood and processes of the characters well.

 

The Rome season at the RSC promises to be a memorable run, and ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ is just a third of this brilliance – make sure you don’t miss out on a trip through time.

Review: ‘The Red Shoes’ @ Birmingham Hippodrome

Ballet is increasingly becoming something I want to go and watch, following the wonders of ‘The Nutcracker’ and ‘Swan Lake’, and given the acclaim following it to the stage, it seemed counter-intuitive not to put on ‘The Red Shoes’.

The first 20 minutes, as a ballet novice, left me a little lost. However, this was as far as I could go in any form of misunderstanding, because from the moment Victoria Page reaches stardom it all becomes clear – the play within a play, in particular, was a wonderful bit of stagecraft that took my breath away.

‘The Red Shoes’ is a ballet full of wonder, heartache and breathtaking moments. Personal favourites included the love scene between Victoria Page and Julian Craster, where this show proved chemistry, a fabulous score and amazing dancing is all you need to experience pure love. Another favourite was when, after being presented with the red shoes for the first time, Victoria Page is gently encouraged into the stage light at the end of a dance expressing her confusion and elation; it spoke of her destiny within the production.

No expense was spared within the production itself; the sets and costumes were stunning and really made the story leave the stage. In fact, I have to say that (albeit in my limited experience) I’ve never seen a ballet that involved so much acting as well as dancing; it normally feels like acting has been discouraged, and I loved its involvement here in intensifying the drama.

‘The Red Shoes’ returns to Birmingham Hippodrome in the summer, and I urge you to book tickets quickly – if February was a sell-out before the reviews came out, what will happen to availability after this stellar run? Get your shoes on before it’s too late – just be careful which ones you pick up…

 

‘Dick Whittington’ @ Birmingham Hippodrome – December 2016

This year’s panto has arrived at the Birmingham Hippodrome – oh yes it has! And both the Hippodrome and the audience were thrilled to welcome back John Barrowman after an eight year absence – and my, doesn’t absence make the heart grow fonder!

In true rip-roaring tradition, the Hippodrome’s latest panto was funny, risque (talking boobs anyone?!) and downright ridiculous, catering to everyone from toddler to teens and, of course, the ticket-paying parents! The storyline was put aside for making you genuinely glad to have stepped out the house to enjoy this comedy showcase, with panto regular Matt Slack being a highlight with his brilliant impersonations, razor-sharp wit and inventive replacements for dialogue – I’ll say no more…

The one character I came home utterly in love with (besides John Barrowman, he’s an older love from a Torchwood time) was Babby the Tabby – the best Brummie cat I ever did see. I now only wish that my cat could talk so I could mould him into Babby Junior.

But, of course, Barrowman and Babby were not the only stars of the show. Steve McFadden (Phil Mitchell) was a superb baddy in King Rat, and I only wish we could have seen more of the giant rat he was working for, particularly at the end to see how King Rat fared against his boss’s displeasure!

Jodie Prenger, from the TV show ‘I’d Do Anything’, has a spectacular voice, and the Krankies were in fine form as the comedy duo of the piece – Jimmy Krankie in particular was an absolute riot! Add to that a chorus of talented backing dancers, singers, actors, and a clearly talented backstage crew, and this is a panto you won’t forget in a hurry – particularly if you’ve never seen Captain Jack fly an upside down reindeer! And that’s not to forget the spectacular (if rather scary!) 3D effects in the second half.

In short, Birmingham has once again excelled itself in providing festive entertainment for all the family – it’s hysterical, it’s amusing, and it’s everything the holiday season needs, so get yourself to where the streets are paved with gold and turn your fortunes into those of Dick Whittington today!

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Review: ‘The Nutcracker’ @ Birmingham Hippodrome

‘The Nutcracker’ is a festive favourite around the country and the world – the music, the Christmas wonders, the magic…it’s hard not

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Birmingham Royal Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’

to fall in love with one of the world’s definitive ballet shows.

After seeing Sir Peter Wright’s production at the Birmingham Hippodrome, here are my top five reasons to use this phenomenal ballet to project you into the Christmas spirit…

  1. The costumes: having had a sneaky peak at the costumes backstage, they are as stunning close up as they are in the shimmering stage lights of the theatre. They’re a sight to behold, and the dancers look exquisite as they lead you around Clara’s dreams.
  2. The sheer skill: ballet is one of the toughest disciplines going – if you don’t believe me, watch a ballet dancer sitting at rest, you’ll find their backs are still poker straight and their feet in formation. It’s no wonder, therefore, that this skill translates into something beautiful, magical and breathtaking on the stage. The smallest move has the utmost grace – if a picture’s worth a thousand words, a ballet movement is worth so much more.
  3. The props and set: a flying swan, the ultimate Christmas decadence and toys fit for royal offspring. That’s all I need to say.
  4. The music: you’ll recognise more than you’d realise! Tchaikovsky’s masterpieces are never better heard than with a live and hugely talented band who deserve every second of applause they receive.
  5. How it makes you feel: it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll leave wanting to put up (possibly another) Christmas tree, blast out the festive music and bring the sparkle of Christmas day to every day – after all, what else is a sugar plum fairy meant to do to you?!

If you’ve never seen a ballet before and have been curious, this is the one for you – the relaxed family atmosphere, the familiarity of the family scenes and music, and the magic of toys come to life in a land of sweets and dreams is enough to bring out anyone’s inner child and let you stare in delight at the stage for two hours of wonder.

Enjoy yourselves – and merry Christmas!

Review: ‘Cymbeline’ @ the Royal Shakespeare Theatre

The RSC’s production of the much-underperformed and often underrated ‘Cymbeline’ was a different experience for me: it’s the first time I’ve seen a Shakespeare play without having read the script first. As such, it became a small test for me; would I understand it without having studied it?

Answer: yes.

Because the RSC’s production was incredibly accessible and amazingly performed, making three hours of theatre seem like a blur of betrayal, mistrust and reconciliation.

The first thing to note was that Cymbeline was no longer King of Britain; Cymbeline was, in fact, the Queen, with the leering and overly confident Duke preening at her side. It made the play have a different dynamic; suddenly strength was redefined, and to be Queen in such a male-dominated world became a harder task, and instead of being an ineffectual ruler, Cymbeline became a woman with a lot to fear within and without the court. It was an intriguing and wonderful decision, proving Shakespeare still has new dimensions to add hundred of years after the play’s conception.

Innogen became my new favourite female Shakespearean character within this (although technically Guideria could have taken that role, but more gender-swapping means this might not technically be my favourite female). She was feisty, determined, principled and courageous; at least, that’s how Bethan Cullinane played her. I admired her more than Posthumus, a character often proclaimed for his virtues and yet one whose virtues I saw little of. He was easily manipulated and impulsive in all the wrong ways – not the man I would have liked our heroine to pledge her honour to, but still…

I also loved the lighter moments, particularly with Guideria (Natalie Simpson – of Ophelia in ‘Hamlet’ fame) and company in the woods. My favourite lighter moment was when Cymbeline questioned Clotten’s (Marcus Griffiths) fate and, in her best northern accent, Guideria declared ‘I slew him’. It was moments like this that made sure you weren’t fully plunged into the depths of despair, preventing tragedy from becoming all-encompassing and wholly distressing – a feat the RSC has often achieved with wonderful effect.

As I said, having not read the play some of its more delicate symbolism was lost on me until the end; the tree stump in the centre of the stage was a mystery until the closing scenes, where Cymbeline’s tree had regrown with family and honour. It worked, and was a pleasing revelation at the end tying the whole play up neatly. I loved the romantically brutal movements at the beginning separating Innogen and Posthumus, so gently and yet so tragically after their young love was denied.

The only, and it’s absolutely miniscule, thing I disliked about this came from the above scene, where the lovers ended their meeting with Posthumus’ trousers down – a feat unnecessary and a little bit distasteful after all the pledges of undying love. I realised it was so that Cymbeline and the cunning Duke had something to catch more than just Posthumus in a room with Innogen, but something about it jarred with the value of their words for me.

Two questions I would ask of Shakespeare’s play: surely a better resolution than ‘after all that war, let’s give in to Rome’s demands as we should have done in the first place’ could have been found? And where was the comeuppance for Philario (Byrron Mondahl), the erstwhile childcatcher who robber the Queen of her eldest children? These were niggles with the plot rather than production, but suspending disbelief, the experience was still an enjoyable one.

Cymbeline’s reign is short – the RSC and cinema screens host her for a short while, and I urge you to become an attentive citizen and follow a story of love, deceit and family with avid attention…

 

Reading ‘The Cursed Child’: Pros and Cons

Last night marked my final night of being consumed by ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ – and it is a brilliant story, not overcomplicated but thrilling in equal amounts, it seems to make for a spectacular production.

But fans are conflicted as to whether to follow the script-reading route or to leave the play a magical surprise (the surprise being getting tickets in 50 years time). So here’s my five pros and cons of reading the script…

323970110Pros:

1) It’s enchanting: in the punderful and literal sense. It’s a heartwarming story and reminds us what Harry Potter is all about – friends, family and a world unified by love.

2) You’ll understand the nuances of the play: from Augurey’s to spells cast, there are inevitably bits of any play that you miss in the excitement of watching – this is a handy guide.

3) The chances of getting tickets: slim to none, at present. This way, you know the story but still have the theatrical spectacular to look forward to (along with the inevitable tour, then film…).

4) What if you can only see Part One? Here’s the cure without leaving you clawing at your eyeballs desperate to know the end.

5) It’s all about the journey: whether it’s read, seen, heard, danced…Harry Potter has always been a wonderful journey, and this allows you to experience it with your own interpretations, and your own response to the characters – just as the books did.

 

Cons:

  1. Spoilers! Need I say more? Everything’s ruined, there’s no magical surprises. But then again, see the issue vis a vis ticket acquisition…
  2. Misreading: there are areas that will inevitably leave you scratching your head because you don’t know how it’s supposed to be acted, intoned and seen – it’s a play, not a book, after all, and stage directions are minimal.
  3. Guessing: in the frenzy of the theatre, it would be easy to get engrossed and forget to guess ahead as to what’s coming, but in reading I couldn’t help it – there are so many tantalising clues that you’re constantly second guessing your reading.
  4. Your favourites aren’t the same: perhaps its better to divorce them from the books in certain places, because the trio we left behind have changed, and sometimes for the frustrating rather than the good.
  5. Theatre advocates, unite! Who doesn’t enjoy the wonder of the theatre?! Let the theatre do its job – transform a magical script to a spellbinding play.

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