Tag Archives: Blanche McIntyre

Hands Off!

TITUS ANDRONICUS

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Thursday 20th July, 2017

 

Shakespeare’s bloodiest play (and a big box office hit during his life) is given a contemporary setting in Blanche McIntyre’s darkly enjoyable production.  Hoodie-wearing plebs pose for selfies in front of pageantry.  A Deliveroo driver turns out to be a hapless messenger, murdered for his bad luck.  It’s all recognisable if at times the relevance comes in the form of cheap laughs.

David Troughton is utterly compelling as the warlike general Titus, whatever the outlandish demands of the script.  Madness and grief are closely entwined as events unfold, with his lust for revenge tipping him over the edge.  Nia Gwynne’s formidable Tamora embodies icy determination and fiery emotion in her slight form, while Luke MacGregor and Sean Hart earn their crust (ha!) as her flaky sons Chiron and Demetrius.

Stefan Adegbola is just about perfect as the villainous Aaron, brimming with spite until the last, while Tom McCall’s Lucius is as upright and righteously vengeful as you would hope – in a play teeming with baddies, Lucius is at best the anti-hero.  I also enjoy Martin Hutson’s Saturninus, a hollow politician who could have come directly from Westminster or the US Senate.   There is strong support from an excellent cast, definitely not least of whom is Patrick Drury as Titus’s brother, Marcus (not Ronicus as I at first assumed… Never mind).  Drury is upright and decent – it takes a lot to break him, but he shares the play’s most tender scene when Marcus stumbles across his niece, the ‘mangled Lavinia’ following the traumatic attack by Tamora’s sons.  As Lavinia, Hannah Morrish is truly heart-rending – mostly through stillness to accompany her enforced silence.  Meanwhile, young Will Parsons makes a strong impression as Young Lucius – and he makes you wonder, along with Aaron’s bastard offspring – into what kind of world children are being born.  Young Lucius stands observing, like young Barron Trump – How on Earth is he going to turn out being set such an example?

The action performs a dizzying tightrope act between horror and humour – the violence is graphic, the humour blacker than dark matter.  For the most part, McIntyre steers with an assured hand – it’s the abrupt gear changes of the play that give rise to wobbles.  The bloodbath at the denouement is fast-paced and breath-taking, and all the more shocking because of it.

Entertaining, harrowing and a stark reminder of the barbarism that passes for civilised society, this is a Titus that will stick in the memory longer than a certain meat pie sticks in Tamora’s craw.

RSC Titus Andronicus

Off-hand remarks: David Troughton as Titus Andronicus (Photo: Helen Maybanks)

 

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New Bromantics

THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN

The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 31st August, 2016

 

Shakespeare’s final play, written in collaboration with John Fletcher, lifts its plot from Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale.  It’s a story of friendship – the friendship between cousins Palamon and Arcite and the wedge driven between them by their infatuation/obsession over Emilia, a woman they only view from afar.  The cousins are prisoners of war and, as Mel Brooks might have put it, prisoners of love.  Fate holds different things in store: Arcite is banished, Palamon, with the help of the jailer’s love-struck daughter, escapes…

It’s a satisfyingly sensational plot, performed with vigour here.  At times, the speeches can be rather dense and impenetrable but the energy of the cast, especially from Palamon (James Corrigan) and Arcite (Jamie Wilkes) helps us to keep focussed.  Corrigan is a charming, petulant presence, while Wilkes’s Arcite is arch – the affection between the two convinces both in the lauding of each other’s virtues and the bickering when they fall out.  Chivalric values are held up for ridicule as much as admiration.  Within this world, where the gods answer prayers directly, we may understand characters’ motivations absolutely.

As Jailer’s Daughter, a thankless role that doesn’t even get a name, Danusia Samal stands out.  She has three lengthy monologues that track her decline from lovesick young girl to Ophelia-style mad wench.  Samal both appeals and convinces, emotions undimmed by the sometimes heavy-handed writing.

There is much to enjoy in Blanche McIntyre’s production of this seldom-staged story.  A Bacchanalian morris dance, complete with phallic hobbyhorses, fight scenes (directed by Kate Waters), and live medieval-modern music composed by Tim Sutton.   Palamon and Arcite climb the bars of their prison like apes in cages – the central relationship of the titular two underpins the entire production. The jarring note for me is the costume design.  Anna Fleischle gives us era-less clothing rather than evoking classical Greece.  Some of the choices are bizarre to say the least.  Amazonian Hippolyta looks like she’s off to New Romantic night at the student union.  In one scene she brings on a chainsaw but doesn’t use it.  The Jailer’s suit makes him look like a weary supply teacher, and Emilia’s twin buns and white shift bring to mind Princess Leia.  There is something performing-artsy about the designs that doesn’t match the quality and commitment of the actors.

But the dramatic storyline engages and the play’s teasing of same-sex relationships vs love and marriage make it seem very ‘now’.  The strongest, starkest message comes from the ebullient Gyuri Sarossy’s Theseus at the end, driven at last to compassion by the unfolding of events: For what we lack we laugh, for what we have, are sorry.

Ain’t that the truth?!

kinsmen

Cousins in bondage: Jamie Wilkes (Arcite) and James Corrigan (Palamon) Photograph: Donald Cooper

 

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Doubling up

CIPHERS

Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Wednesday 20th November, 2013

Dawn King’s play is a taut little thriller, and like the playwright’s name suggests, the plot dawns on us as the action unfolds.  We move back and forth in time, witnessing events out of sequence – like the spies on stage, we look for patterns and meaning in what we see and hear.

It is the story of two sisters.  One joins the secret service and winds up dead.  The other strives to uncover the truth about her sister’s death.  The spy sister has an affair with a married man, an artist, and this poses a security threat, and this brings about her downfall…

The cast of four double up on roles.  As well as being economical, this is a device that mirrors the double lives the characters lead.  Grianne Keenan is strong as the sisters, cold and dispassionate as one, driven and emotional as the other.  Shereen Martin portrays two more strong women – there is a theme here: women being strong and more than efficient in what is traditionally perceived as a man’s world, international espionage.  Ronny Jhutti is a terror suspect turned informer along with the philandering artist.  In contrast to the women, the men are more unstable, volatile even.  Finally, there is Bruce Alexander as Russian boss and the girls’ father, giving a very touching scene as a bereaved parent trying to make sense of his loss.

James Perkins’s set is all screens that slide across stage to effect the transitions.  They are for projecting handy translations of some of the dialogue for those of us whose Russian doesn’t go much further than ‘vodka’.  The set is all clean lines and angles.  It could be the artist’s exhibition, if the artist is ripping off Malevich’s white, black and red squares.  Gary Bowman’s lighting design adds a touch of colour and mood.  There is no moment when what’s on stage is not elegant and stylish.

Director Blanche McIntyre keeps things sharp.  The script treats the audience with intelligence (pun intended) and what we get is an absorbing and intriguing mystery.  We may feel detached from the characters somewhat – the set aids and abets us in this distancing – but the unravelling of the plot and the cold intensity of the performances are enough to keep us hooked.

The play shows us that you don’t have to be a spy to live a double life – anyone who has had an affair knows this.  But in a more general sense, it is a stark reminder that we can very rarely (if at all) know who someone else really is.  Everyone leads a double life.

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Star Tern

THE SEAGULL

Derby Theatre, Tuesday 11th June, 2013

John Donnelly’s new version of Anton Chekhov’s masterpiece (in my view) brings the Russian tragicomedy up-to-date and yet it feels thoroughly Chekhovian.  The play is riddled with lines and themes from Hamlet – indeed, the first act involves a play-within-a-play, and it is from this device that the production takes its cue.  The setting is somewhat abstract, sometimes impressionistic, sometimes expressionistic, but it wears its theatricality overtly.  When characters, played naturalistically, deliver a soliloquy or an aside, they step over the edge of the bare black proscenium and address the audience directly.  Our positioning beyond the fourth wall represents the lake to which they often allude.  “There’s nobody out there,” mourns someone, plaintively.

But we are out there, hanging on every word of this punchy script.  These Chekhovians swear and sing Burt Bacharach (or try to) but apart from these interpolations, all the tedium and banality of their everyday lives is there, squeezing the existential angst out of them in sudden outbursts.

With precious little to do, they philosophise about Life (naturally) but also about Theatre and Writing – these are a few of my favourite things!  There are some very arch moments, playing on different levels.  I found myself shrinking in my seat when they decried theatre critics.

Blanche McIntyre directs a strong company with an assured hand, marrying the content to the form – the only happy union of the piece!  Beautifully lit by Guy Hoare, Laura Hopkins’s set reveals its versatility across the acts.

Abigail Cruttenden rules the roost as matriarch Irina, an actress who readily confesses she is never ‘off’.  She wears her passions on her sleeve and has a declamatory tone to even the most mundane of utterances.  She is the Gertrude figure whose affections have been drawn away from troubled (i.e. artistic) son Konstantin towards writer (i.e. tortured) Boris (Gyuri Sarossy).  Konstantin (the excellent Alexander Cobb) shoots a seagull, then himself (but misses) before finding some measure of success as a writer.  Konstantin loves Nina (Pearl Chanda – also excellent) who aspires to be an actor, inspired by Irina and in awe of Boris.  Meanwhile, Masha (Jenny Rainsford) loves Konstantin but settles for marrying the pleasantly dull Semyon (Rudi Dharmalingham) in that doom-laden way that these characters do.  I also particularly enjoyed Colin Haigh as the ailing Petr and David Beames as Yevgeny, but really the entire ensemble merits undiluted praise.

It’s a very entertaining version and also very rewarding.  For all its meditations, it’s what the subtext provokes in the observer that makes it a great play. It is, as its own thesis claims, a moment of the extraordinary that keeps us going through the mundanity and longings of our own mortality.  It’s a story of thwarted hopes and expectations, false alarms and anguish.  It is also very funny.

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Emotional seesaw. Pearl Chanda and Abigail Cruttenden