Richard III, Almeida, 2 July 2016

A week on from seeing the other Fiennes in Chichester I am now back in London to see Ralph appear as Richard III in Rupert Goold’s production. Fiennes senior has been doing a lot of theatre recently (Man and Superman, The Master Builder) but it doesn’t stop him still being a huge draw in this small venue.

The problem with the production is that is very Shakespeare by numbers. It should be a thrilling insight into the motives of a psychopath but it is just a series of death and chats. Vanessa Redgrave is meant to be the furious former Queen of England Margaret and she simply reads out words with no emotion. In a venue as intimate as the Almeida you feel every ounce of rage but everyone just seems to stumble from scene to scene in shock or indifference at worst. The women are badly cast, I don’t think Shakespeare wrote Queen Elizabeth ( Aislin McGuckin), Lady Anne (Joanna Vanderham) and the Duchess of York (Susan Engel) as these weak women/characters but their feelings just seem to have been ignored by Goold, as if they don’t matter and not feeling that sympathy for them really affects the audience’s relationship with Richard and the play as a whole.

On paper Fiennes shouldn’t work as Richard III, he is too old (the real Richard was 32 when he died) but his gets the villain status right without descending into panto. It is a shame it doesn’t feel more House of Cards as Richard makes us complicit in his plans.richard-iii-almeida-theatre-06 There is some great casting in Finbar Lynch as Buckingham and James Garnon as Hastings but it doesn’t save what is a messy production (swords and mobile phones), with its dull set by Hildegard Bechtler it takes the battle scenes to really get going.

The issue is that this production stops being about Richard’s mental state and more about his next killing, distracting you from the complexities of the character.

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Southwark Playhouse, 1 June

Glass Half Full Productions & Go People Theatre present a production that is a perfect introduction to the Bard and to theatre in general.

When I told people I was going to see a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with seven actors there was genuine horror. This is clearly abridged in all senses, the Indian boy is cut out for example but it is so much fun. It is made clear by the actors that purists won’t be happy but nobody is coming to this production, especially when there are so many around and on TV, including a Cbeebies version and an adaptation by Russell T Davies

This version, directed by Simon Evans, who directed Bug at Found 111, is really good fun. It starts with the cast stating that this will not be your standard production. Actors play multiple parts and it could feel pretentious but it is done with such charm that you forgive the indulgences as they perform as themselves.

The most famous names are Freddie Fox, who goes to great lengths to explain his metamorphism into an ass when playing Bottom but is also perfectly cast as Demetrius. The other name is Maddy Hill, more famous for playing Nancy Carter in EastEnders she proves that she is incredibly capable in the varied roles of Titania and Quince and this is a great return before she appears as Imogen at the Globe.

They are more than well supported by the five others; Freddie Hutchins as Lysander and Flute, his comic timing with Fox in Act 5 is really fun and I enjoyed Ludovic Hughes as Oberon and Theseus. He brought a real gravitas and stability to a production that could have been completely messy. Melanie Fullbrook as Puck was delightful, she interacted well with the audience and didn’t make it feel like a terrifying stand up gig and I felt the diverse performances of Lucy Eaton and Suzie Preece really made what could have been a confusing version.

Ultimately I think this should be shown to those who find Shakespeare boring or are hesitant to commit to hours and hours of his work. It is a perfect introduction and has made me want to watch all those full versions that are out there.

King Lear, Theatre Royal Brighton, 7 May

ATG have brought a superb production to Brighton. It is the Lear all need to see, especially if their first experience was rather poor like mine. Seeing this production made me realise that Lear is hard to do well but when it is it can be spectacular. It has been overshadowed by the upcoming Deborah Warner production at the Old Vic starring Glenda Jackson but I think this will be a hard Lear to follow.

 

Max Webster’s King Lear (played by Michael Pennington) is atmospheric; the storm scene is exceptional on such a small space and some really subtle performances. Pennington is a very understated but effective Lear. He starts off strong but early elements of Lear’s madness are much clearer in his first scene with his daughters. I also enjoyed Pip Donaghy as Gloucester. The eye gorge scene is probably too graphic for some stomachs but it is the perfect conclusion to the high expectations of those scenes. Technically it was a strong production, I really enjoyed the sound and the simple set managed to convey the complexities and grand locations within the play.

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Pip Donaghy (Gloucester) and Michael Pennington (Lear)

 

The daughters are played incredibly well by Beth Cooke,  Catherine Bailey and Sally Scott as Cordelia, Goneril and Reagan. There is a really nice touch to have Reagan as a new mother and what initially seems like a gimmick is used brilliantly without affecting the text. The only characters I struggled with were Edgar (Gavin Fowler) and Edmund (Scott Karim), it wasn’t that they were bad performances but based on looks I questioned whether their roles should be reversed. The charming Fowler would have more women fighting over him than the gaunt, monotone Edmund Karim performs.

 

The three hour production flies by, you care about the characters and for me has been a real showcase for actors that I wasn’t previously familiar with. Joshua Elliott, a recent Central School of Speech and Drama graduate is a fantastic Fool, silly and energetic he shows real concern when his master’s madness becomes apparent.

King Lear is touring throughout the UK

Shakespeare @400

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Ian McKellent in Richard III (1995)

23 April 2016 sees the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. Here’s a guide to the best theatrical alternatives in London.

Film

BFI Shakespeare on Film, April-May

Highlights in April include Ian McKellen’s screen adaptation of Richard Eyre’s Richard III (1995), an adaptation of Max Reinhardt’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935), Kenneth Branagh’s A Much Ado About Nothing (1993) and Peter Brook’s King Lear (1970)

The Complete Walk, Shakespeare’s Globe, 23-24 April

The Globe has produced 37 Shakespeare adaptations to be shown along the River Thames featuring some of Britain’s finest actors.

Talks

National Theatre’s Celebrating Shakespeare Platforms , 19-22 April

The National Theatre presents a series of talks and conversations about the NT’s relationship with Shakespeare as well as talks with actors and directors about their performances and productions.

Shakespearean Performance in Modern London: Discussions and Performances on the Shakespeare in Modern Theatre, The Rose Theatre Southwark, 25 April

Presentations by directors Duncan Moore (KDC Theatre), Bryon Fear (South London Theatre) and Tom Salyers (Tower Theatre) alongside Pepe Pryke from the Rose Theatre Trust about recent productions of Shakespeare plays and how they are relevant to life in modern London.

Shakespeare in 1916: The First World War & the Origins of Global Shakespeare, Senate House, 3 May

In this talk, Professor Gordon McMullan will reflect on the intersection of the Shakespeare Tercentenary and the First World War, looking in particular at one of the main elements of Tercentenary commemoration, Israel Gollancz’s Book of Homage to Shakespeare..

Performance

Romeo and Juliet, Royal Festival Hall, 15 April

Jaime Martín conducts music from Prokofiev’s celebrated ballet score.

Late at the Library: World Book Night celebrates, British Library 23 April

An alternative night of Shakespearean festivities in honour of our greatest writer, hosted by actor and author Ben Crystal, with special guests, performance, music and food and drink.

For more events see http://www.shakespeare400.org/