Tag Archives: Ciaran Bagnall

Troy Story

DIDO – QUEEN OF CARTHAGE

The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 11th October, 2017

 

Kimberley Sykes’s new production of Christopher Marlowe’s classic romantic fantasy is, in short, a corker.  This is a world where gods interfere directly with the lives of mortals – the two species are differentiated by costume: the gods in modern day dress, the humans in period costume.  It can be no accident that Jupiter (the wonderful Nicholas Day) bears more than a passing resemblance to RSC Artistic Director Mr G Doran… Ellie Beaven is glamorous in a Miss Scarlet gown as the meddling Venus, and Ben Goffe is in good form as the cheeky, mischievous Cupid, pricking his victims with a syringe of Venusian blood.

As the eponymous monarch, Chipo Chung is every inch the regal ruler, albeit an accessible and hospitable one.  Her attachment to the warrior Aeneas (Sandy Grierson) unleashes passionate and capricious emotions; Dido is very much in the Cleopatra vein, at the mercy of her passions – and so is everyone else.  Chung is fantastic, compelling and credible in her excesses of emotion.  Grierson makes a fine paramour as Aeneas – he does come across as a little bit quiet at times but his recounting of the Trojan War is a vivid and gripping piece of storytelling.

Kim Hartman does a pleasing turn as a Nurse, tricked and pricked by Cupid, and Andro Cowperthwaite is especially alluring as Jupiter’s toy boy Ganymede.  Bridgitta Roy stalks around with a stick as the conniving Juno and Amber James brings intensity as Dido’s sister Anna.  I also like Will Bliss’s somewhat rangy Hermes, with wings in his hair.

Mike Fletcher’s original compositions, played live by a tight ensemble, add plenty of locational colour, while Ciaran Bagnell’s versatile lighting plan brings texture and variety to the deceptively simple staging.  Designer Ti Green gives the actors a stage covered in grey sand.  Pristine at first, it is soon disrupted and imprinted by the footprints of all the comings and goings.  It says a lot of the impermanence of life, I find, how easily our presence can be erased.

Above all, the show is a lot of fun.  Heightened action, passions running at full tilt – you can see why the tale is well suited for opera – stirring emotions and more humour than you might expect.

The show contains a lesson in how refugees might be treated, as people today continue to flee for their lives from war-ravaged countries.  Unfortunately, men (it’s invariably men, isn’t it?) persist in committing the atrocities Aeneas describes – but where is the divine intervention now?

Dido_ Queen of Carthage production photos_ 2017_2017_Photo by Topher McGrillis _c_ RSC_231594

Yass, Queen! Chipo Chung as Dido (Photo: Topher Mc Grillis (c) RSC)

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Dancing up a Storm

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle under Lyme, Tuesday 5th July, 2016

 

Sometimes, human beings get it right and create a piece of perfection that stands in contrast to the countless ways we have screwed up on this planet.  Such a piece is the flawless 1952 film, Singin’ in the Rain.  You only have to watch it to have your faith in our species renewed.

I’ve seen stage adaptations before and while the quality of the performers has been unquestionable, I always come away with a ‘Why bother?’ look on my face.

Not so the case with this new production, on which the New Vic has collaborated with Bolton’s Octagon Theatre and the Salisbury Playhouse.  This is feel-good theatre to the max.  There is the added bonus of the New Vic’s in-the-round setting; we are in the rain along with the cast – some of us more than others (bright yellow ponchos are provided!).  There is an intimacy here the proscenium arch cannot deliver.  Ciaran Bagnall’s stylised set is basically a circle, above which art deco screens play the movies the characters make.  Around the circle, cast members play instruments, providing the score and the accompaniment to whomever is singing at the time.  They’re a versatile bunch and under Richard Reeday’s musical direction, form a tight ensemble with an authentic Roaring Twenties sound.

Matthew Croke absolutely dazzles as movie idol Don Lockwood – the Gene Kelly role.  He has the dreamboat good looks, the rich crooning voice and, of course, the moves.  I could watch him all night.  When the iconic title song comes at the end of the first act, it’s perfect.  Croke glides and splashes around and the front few rows get a soaking – it’s equally elegant, beautiful and uproariously funny.  What we lose in scenic devices, we gain in good old slapstick!

Christian Edwards makes Cosmo, the wacky friend (the Donald O’Connor role) his own, with an energised performance that keeps on the right side of charming.  Eleanor Brown is a striking Kathy (the Debbie Reynolds role), with clarity and purity in her vocals, and a sober contrast to Sarah Vezmar’s deliciously monstrous Lina Lamont, the egotistic villain of the piece with a voice like fingernails down a Brooklyn blackboard.  Vezmar almost steals the show but for the stellar quality of handsome hoofer Croke, whose performance is truly phenomenal.

There is not a weak link in the whole shebang.  Philip Starnier amuses as movie producer R. F. Simpson; Helen Power sparkles as professional gossip Dora Bailey; cast members come and go in a range of roles, adding to the fun, the atmosphere and, above all, the music.  The songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, some of which predate even the film by decades, sound fresh – Reeday’s arrangements bring out the romance as well as the fun.  Within a tight performance space, Sian Williams’s choreography emulates Gene Kelly’s, managing to be scaled down without being cramped.  The auditorium fills with talent and its genuinely thrilling to be present, to be so close to such an accomplished company.  Stardust sprinkles on us all, even more than the water.

Director Elizabeth Newman gives us another look at the charm of Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s screenplay, wisely keeping her cast from aping the stars of the film.  The show both meets and exceeds expectations, due to its focus on theatricality rather than the fool’s errand of trying to reproduce cinematic perfection.

As refreshing as a summer shower, this production brings undiluted joy.  My only regret is that it wasn’t raining when I left the theatre; I really wanted to splash about in puddles for myself.  In these dark and uncertain times, we must seize our pleasures where we may, however simple, and life-affirming shows like this have never been more welcome.

 

singin in the rain

Raining supreme: Matthew Croke splashes out

 

 

 


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)