Tag Archives: Ayesha Dharker

A Way With The Fairies

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: A Play For The Nation

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 16th June, 2016

 

As part of the commemorations of Shakespeare’s 400th death-iversary, The RSC has undertaken the unenviable and colossal task of staging a production of his popular comedy and touring it around the country – but that’s only the half of it.  At each stop, the so-called ‘rude mechanicals’ are being played by hand-picked troupes of amateur performers.  A big chance for them and a big gamble for the RSC.  Add to this, dozens of children from local primary schools… Luckily, no one handles child performers like the RSC – you only have to think of Matilda to know this is going to work brilliantly.

If this afternoon’s performance is anything to go by, the gamble has paid off in spades.  It is an absolute pleasure to see ‘The Nonentities’ from Kidderminster taking the stage among world class professionals, and holding their own.  But I’ll come back to them in a bit…

Among the pros – a delightful ensemble that, under Erica Whyman’s direction, make familiar lines sound fresh and funny – we get a female Puck (Lucy Ellinson) a kind of cross-dressing music hall figure, like Vesta Tilley.  Ellinson is both knowing and clownish in this setting: we’re in a disused theatre, it looks like, during wartime.  Tom Piper’s design gives us bare floorboards and footlights.  The forest has not a speck of green but rather the red of the Curtain.  Chu Omambala’s Oberon, the fairy king, is stylish in his white suit, bringing a jazzy element to proceedings, in contrast with Ayesha Dharker’s exotic Titania, in blood red sari.  Omambala and Dharker are deadly serious – these are not fairies of whimsy, however petty their squabble may seem.

The other ruling couple, Theseus (Sam Redford) and Hippolyta (Laura Harding) stride around like genial aristocracy.  It is the younger members of the cast that bring life to the scenes in Athens.  Mercy Ojelade is a fiery Hermia, her passion born of pain and injustice, while Laura Riseborough’s Helena also expresses the pain of unrequited love in a highly sympathetic characterisation.  Chris Nayak’s Demetrius is a pompous prig, so it’s enjoyable to see him go to the other extreme in the name of love, but it’s Jack Holden’s delightful school prefect of a Lysander that gets the most laughs and touches the heart.  It is the freshest interpretation of this character I have seen.  Scenes in which the young men vie for Helena, to Hermia’s dismay and fury, are superbly done, using physicality as well as Shakespeare’s barrage of insults to great comic effect.

But back to those mechanicals.  Chris Clarke is spot on as overbearing bully Bottom – and you can’t help liking his ridiculous declamations.  Sue Downing’s Peter Quince is assertive enough to stage-manage Bottom’s ego, and Andrew Bingham’s shy Snug makes for an adorably shy and cowardly lion.  Of course, the West Midlands accent gives them a head start when it comes to comic value, but here it is the playing that gets the laughs and endears them to us.  Alex Powell’s Flute blossoms as a performer so we he comes to give his Thisbe (or Thiz-bay, as they would have it) we see how far he has come.  The performance that is the culmination of their efforts is absolutely joyous.  It is surely Shakespeare’s funniest scene and here it is expertly executed.  The affection we feel for the mechanicals succeeding in their task is echoed by the admiration we have for this company who rise to the challenge, hold their own, and pull it off with aplomb.

An unadulterated delight.

A_Midsummer_Night_s_Dream_A_Play_for_the_Nation_production_photos_February_2016._2016_Photo_by_Topher_McGrillis_c_RSC_184492

Chris Nayak and Jack Holden restrain Mercy Ojelade – just about (Photo: Topher McGrillis)

 

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Anita and Me & I

ANITA AND ME

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 13th October 2015

 

Meera Syal’s partially autobiographical novel comes to the stage via this lively adaptation by Tanika Gupta. It’s the 1970s and Meena is growing up in a Black Country village; she’s already fed up with the demands of family life and so the chance to strike up a friendship with local ne’er-do-well Anita proves irresistible. There is more than a hint of Blood Brothers to it.

Bob Bailey’s set of terraced houses and discarded tyres is the backdrop for this working-class community, a tight-knit group who by and large have welcomed Meena’s family. When a new motorway threatens to run through the heart of the village, tensions break out. It doesn’t help that the official from the council is Punjabi. Racism, depicted early on as the comedy of ignorance, turns nasty and Meena at last sees Anita for what she is.

Mandeep Dhillon shines as Meena, carrying the show as the moody but imaginative teen, sulking and stamping around. Dhillon makes Meena endearing nevertheless.   Her rendition of Slade’s Cum On Feel The Noize at a family gathering is a hoot. Jalleh Alizadeh is the pretty but ugly Anita, endowing her with enough of a spark that we hope Meena will help lift her out of her background.

Janice Connolly lends strong support as neighbour Mrs Worrall, and Amy Booth-Steel is twice the value as Anita’s grotesque mother and do-gooding shopkeeper Mrs Ormerod, whose true colours are revealed late in the piece. Joseph Drake convinces as tearaway Sam, disaffected by lack of opportunity, to the point of violence and Nazi salutes.   Ameet Chana and Ayesha Dharker are excellent as Meena’s parents – some characters are more rounded than others, which is fine, because we are seeing everything through Meena’s eyes.

There is much to enjoy – the 1970s references, the clash of cultures and some very funny lines. I can’t quite swallow how beautiful they keep saying the village is, given the Coronation Street stylings of the set, but this is more than a period piece, alas. The protests of the locals against the new motorway that is ‘inevitable’ have echoes in the ill-advised HS2 railway, working class youth are still disaffected, and the rise of racist nastiness is with us all over again – you can bet Mrs Ormerod is a UKIP voter these days.  The production’s fusion of cultures gives a positive message about Britain – a Bhangra rendition of My Old Man’s A Dustman goes down a treat.

Director Roxana Silbert delivers on the fun, the tension and above all the heart of this story of friendship and family. The whole cast exudes energy and fun but the evening belongs to Mandeep Dhillon in a star turn as a girl forced to grow up.

Bostin.

Mandeep Dhillon and Jalleh Alizadeh (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)

Mandeep Dhillon and Jalleh Alizadeh (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)


Hanky-Panky

OTHELLO

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 18th June, 2015

 

Iqbal Khan’s new production of Shakespeare’s tragedy takes the unusual but not unprecedented step of casting a black actor in the role of Iago, thereby putting a different slant on proceedings from the get-go. What motivates this villain, if the racist card is denied him? Shakespeare gives us other possibilities: Iago suspects Othello has had his way with his wife, for example. Iqbal gives us another: Iago resents Othello for doing so well in a white man’s world, and so every time he refers to Othello as ‘the Moor’ it drips with a different flavour of loathing.

Lucian Msamati dominates as the ‘honest’ villain – and this is by no means a bad thing. His Iago is sarcastic, darkly funny and bitter. You can easily picture him as Richard III. Othello, by contrast, is statesmanlike and reserved – Hugh Quarshie hangs up his Holby City stethoscope to give a strong performance of a man coming apart, poisoned by jealousy.

It’s a modern-day setting, with traces of old Venice in Ciaran Bagnall’s beautiful set. Khan keeps the surprises coming. My heart sinks when the soldiers launch into a rap battle (!) but they pull it off, within the context of the action. Othello puts a plastic bag over Iago’s head – don’t worry, he also pulls it off.

There is a torture scene using all the mod cons available to the unscrupulous army of today – the accoutrements are then handy for Othello to use against his own man, in a shocking scene that reveals his violent streak. This adds tension to subsequent scenes with Desdemona; we have witnessed what he is capable of, and so his final, murderous act does not come out of nowhere.

Joanna Vanderham’s Desdemona is not quite Disney princess (Disney minor royalty, perhaps), a mix of boldness and naivety. She stands up to Othello, to a point, but is unaware of the machinations in which she is unwittingly embroiled.

Ayesha Dharker is a striking, rather sedate Emilia – one wonders how she and Iago came to be married – but comes into her own as the situation unravels.  Jacob Fortune-Lloyd’s Cassio is brash but not unappealing, and James Corrigan’s hapless Rodrigo brings humour in an excellent characterisation of this dupe and patsy. There is a fine turn from Brian Protheroe as Desdemona’s ranting father, as resolute in his bonkers opinions as a UKIP candidate: he can only attribute his daughter’s attraction to the Moor to witchcraft. What other explanation could there be?!

Also making an impression are Nadia Albina as the Duke, a hard-nosed CEO, and Scarlett Brookes’s Bianca, a lovelorn whore.

Energy levels run high throughout, as the ever-appealing Msamati carries out his plan to bring Othello down. That is all comes down to the presence or absence of a particular handkerchief wouldn’t withstand a more forensic approach, but Shakespeare – through Iago – gets us to go along with it.  By revealing to us his tissue of lies beforehand, Iago keeps us one step ahead of the other characters, and so we don’t have to be as gullible and credulous as they.

With more laughs than you might expect, this Othello shocks and thrills rather than moves but is invariably entertaining and enjoyable.

Hugh Quarshie and Lucian Msamati (Photo: Keith Pattison)

Hugh Quarshie and Lucian Msamati (Photo: Keith Pattison)