Tag Archives: James Corrigan

Drama Queen

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Thursday 11th May, 2017

 

A kind of sequel to Julius Caesar, charting the latter years of that play’s hero, the plot mixes the personal with the political and back again.  Mark Antony, one of Rome’s three leaders, is neglecting his duties by dallying with the Queen of Egypt.  The three men fall out.  There is war.  And another war.  And so on.  Meanwhile, Cleopatra carries on like the lovestruck diva she is, with all the wiles and depth of a teenager.  It all leads to tragedy.  Of course it does.

Iqbal Khan’s production feels very much a companion piece to Angus Jackson’s Julius Caesar.  Designer for both, Robert Innes Hopkins, uses the same idea for both: first half is dominated by tall columns, the second by a cyclorama with turbulent weather… Unfortunately, it feels like a disappointing episode in a series, proving the truism that sequels are never as good as the originals.  Some scenes lack focus – a nice idea of using model ships to depict naval battles just doesn’t come off.  Antony Byrne’s Antony is in the same mode whether he’s loving or fighting – I would like him to lighten up, have more fun with his drama queen, even being reduced to her level, for love does make petulant teenagers of us all.

The stage really comes to life whenever Josette Simon is on as the Queen of the Nile.  Grand, elegant, moody, manipulative, she is a hedonist used to getting her way, and knows how to get it.  Her schemes get out of hand, though, when she gives out word that she has topped herself.  Simon is captivating as the emotionally immature Queen – but in one scene, she is togged up like an Egyptian fembot that is at odds with everything else.

I feel that Andrew Woodall’s Enobarbus is casual to the point of being underplayed – his defection from Antony to Octavius Caesar comes across as no great loss.  The mighty James Corrigan is underused as Agrippa.  Speaking of Octavius, Ben Allen retains his role from the previous play.  Here Octavius is more mature, more assured of himself.  I also like Will Bliss as a Christ-lookalike soothsayer.

Original music is by Laura Mvula and, for the most part, its effective with discordant fanfares and a sense of foreboding, marred only by the occasional use of present-day beats, as if the composer is fighting against the urge to give us a rock opera.

It’s Josette Simon that maintains our interest throughout in this production that could do with a few judicious cuts or a tighter grip on the reins.  I hope the RSC’s Rome season is not already in its decline.

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Josette Simon and Antony Byrne (Photo: Helen Maybanks. Copyright RSC)

 


Government Cuts

JULIUS CAESAR

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Wednesday 10th May, 2017

 

The current production of Shakespeare’s political thriller takes a straightforward, but stylish all the same, approach, with a recognisably Roman setting and design aesthetic: towering columns, imposing stairs, more togas than a student party – but for all its historical flavour, it could not be more current.  One gets the feeling the conspirators would have put a stop to the rise of Trump as soon as he popped his orange head over the parapet.  Closer to home, the play is rich with oratory and persuasive speech.  In the run-up to the general election, I don’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed that Shakespeare isn’t around to script the party political broadcasts – for all sides!

Andrew Woodall is a grand Caesar, an imposing figure of a statesman but rather up himself and, fatally, ambitious. James Corrigan is a well-built Mark Anthony – his ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ is the best I’ve seen, rousing and manipulative, a perfect scene.  And I think that’s how I characterise Angus Jackson’s production: there are moments of brilliance, such as the tension of the assassination scene, the brief flashes of combat and the sickening instances of violence (poor Lucius!) but as a whole, it’s a bit patchy, up and down.

Alex Waldmann’s Brutus is a star turn, a decent chap driven to take extreme, direct action for the greater good;  I know how he feels.  The current political climate makes me all stabby too. Waldmann is excellent in Brutus’s bigger, public moments and also the more private scenes.  The play is as much his tragedy as Caesar’s – perhaps more so.  And you have to admire the chutzpah of a playwright who kills off his titular character before the interval!

There is strong support from Tom McCall as Casca and Martin Hutson as Cassius, to name just a couple from this impressive ensemble.  This is the RSC showing that you can take a traditional, accessible approach to a classic text and still make the production seem absolutely contemporary, rather than an exercise in theatrical archaeology.

Robert Innes Hopkins’s set gives us a sense of imperial Rome: the columns dominate and the statue of a horse being mauled by a lion links power with violence.  In the second half, when the action moves from the city, the architecture is stripped away.  Stunning use of lighting (by Tim Mitchell) plays on the cyclorama, bringing sweeping, romantic, expressionistic colour to proceedings.  Mira Calix’s original compositions are brassy and percussive, discordant and searing.

Well-worth the trip to Stratford, the production refreshes the familiar lines – so many speeches and phrases have seeped into the language and popular consciousness.

Entertaining, relevant, thrilling and powerful.

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James Corrigan and Alex Waldmann auditioning for Blood Brothers. (Photo: Helen Maybanks, Copyright RSC)


Broad Strokes

THE SEVEN ACTS OF MERCY

The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 22nd December, 2016

 

Anders Lustgarten’s new play is a powerful and thought-provoking piece set in two seemingly disparate time periods.  Naples 1606 and Bootle 2016 take their turns on the stage.  In the former, we meet painter and outlaw Caravaggio; the latter introduces us to Leon Carragher and his grandson Mickey.  While Caravaggio seeks to restore ‘dignity to the poor’ by using them as life models for his great works, Leon strives to pass on his old-school socialist values through art appreciation discussions with young Mickey.  The painting that gives the play its title becomes a list of socialist principles, i.e. the decency of human beings.  With Leon ailing fast, Mickey embarks on a photography project with his mobile phone, to show his granddad there is still decency left in people, despite appearances to the contrary in this self-serving, selfish society, where compassion is seen as a political act.

A strong link between the two eras is Caravaggio’s thick Merseyside accent.  Patrick O’Kane is electrifying as the intense and passionate painter, a common man made great through talent, hard work and opportunity.  He finds a kindred spirit in the form of a life model, Lavinia (a fiery Allison McKenzie), who is forced to abandon her artistic ambitions and be a prostitute.

Edmund Kingsley provides contrast as the well-spoken Marchese, a decent if condescending figure, and the extremely good-looking James Corrigan brings a touch of oomph as Vincenzo, one of Caravaggio’s pickups.

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Patrick O’Kane as Caravaggio (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)

As Leon, Tom Georgeson exudes strength and weakness, often in the same breath, as old socialism dies out.  His values have skipped a generation (Don’t we know it!), as evinced by his property developer-cum-gangster son Lee (Gyuri Sarossy) – Hope lies within the upcoming generation, represented here by Mickey (TJ Jones).  Their Bootle is tough.  Ruthless government policies enable the ruthless to prey on the vulnerable.  The cold cruelty of the bedroom tax and its consequences could not be made plainer.   The play wears its relevance on its sleeve, lain on like the thickest impasto – and it could not be more timely.  Also apparent is the pride of the poor: having to go to a food bank is a demeaning process.  Gangsters Razor (Patrick Knowles) and Prime (Leon Lopez) are darkly funny, menacing and violent – as though a couple of Pinter’s hard men have moved to the north west.   They are the ones with power, nasty, cruel and vicious, enabling the will of the unseen big boys to be enforced.

Director Erica Whyman uses contrasts of dark and light, noise and silence, like the painter used chiaroscuro.  Charles Balfour’s lighting design certainly replicates the painter’s dramatic lighting – Surely, Caravaggio invented staged lighting long before the theatre had the technology to bring it about!

The scenes are intense and gripping but there is also warmth, humour and humanity here.  As Lavinia comments on Caravaggio’s work-in-progress, the individual scenes are great, but the whole lacks a unifying feature.   It is only at the end, when Mickey’s latter-day Seven Acts is finished and Granddad is wheezing his last, that the two worlds come together.  Caravaggio has passed on his baton at last.  What are we to do with it?  As Leon observes, you have to be strong to be kind.

We must be strong.

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Tom Georgeson and TJ Jones (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)


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?!

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

 

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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)


Fashion Victims

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 28th May, 2015

 

Before the play begins, Antonio, the titular merchant, stands centre stage in tears. Other cast members take position on benches at the back – they will step up from here as the action requires but there are also more conventional exits and entrances. Servant Launcelot Gobbo sits in the audience, nudging people and directing his comic monologue at them. Director Polly Findlay seems keen to remind us we are in a playhouse – it’s a while before the houselights go down and we can no longer see ourselves reflected in the metallic backdrop.

Most of the time, this approach works and keeps the action zipping along – until there has to be an interlude to sweep up thousands of banknotes, accompanied by some choral singing.

The Venetians inhabit a strange featureless world, their lives measured out by a kind of wrecking ball that acts as a pendulum. The only furniture seems to be a table and chair that appear in the court scene. I don’t mind this – it’s refreshing to see an uncluttered stage but I do question some of the design decisions, in particular the costumes. The clothes are contemporary, kind of, with an Italian couture feel, but work on me as alienation effects. “What has he got on?” I think every time someone walks on. Poor Lorenzo (James Corrigan) is the biggest fashion victim, in his sleeveless, knee-length fur coat and bright blue shoes. There are designer hoodies and clashing colours. When the trial scene comes, it’s a relief to see them clad more soberly and sharply.

Sartorial nausea aside, this is a cracking production, well-played by all. Jamie Ballard’s Antonio is unequivocally the older gay man buying the companionship of the mercenary Bassanio (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) – also blatant is his hatred of Shylock, ‘voiding his rheum’ a couple of times directly in the old man’s face. (The only whitewashing I could detect was the omission of Portia’s line, when the Prince of Morocco has lost the casket challenge, “Let all of his complexion choose me so.”) Portia is then the moral heart of the piece. When we first meet her she is the poor little rich girl, bound by the ludicrous rules of her father’s will. She is spirited and humorous, but when we get to the trial scene, she rises to the occasion while still being the sensitive girl we know her to be. Patsy Ferran knocks it out of the park, bringing depth and pain to the triangle she perceives between herself, her new husband and his ‘best mate’.

Antonio and Bassanio are not likeable blokes, but Ballard brings out the suffering as he offers himself up to Shylock’s knife, while Fortune-Lloyd is dashing and not as shallow as he could be. Ken Nwosu is great fun as Gratiano and sweet as the Moroccan Prince – one almost wishes he’d choose the correct casket. (The caskets, by the way, are geometrical shapes suspended on cables: a squat cylinder, a cone and a cube, for some reason) Brian Protheroe is underused as slimeball playboy Aragon, and there is lively support from Nadia Albina as Portia’s waiting woman Nerissa.

Makran J Khoury’s Shylock is an elderly man, who acts with dignity despite being dressed like he’s just off down the betting shop. His revenge against the so-called Christians is justified within the context of the piece and his defeat is upsetting – not because he didn’t get to carve up his enemy (Are his terms any less palatable than Wonga’s?) but because he is stripped of his identity as well as his livelihood.

I’m still puzzling over Tim Samuels’s clown make-up as Shylock’s servant Launcelot Gobbo. Shylock is not the kind to employ a clown. Without these bizarre design choices, this stripped-down Merchant would be excellent.

Time to reflect: Polly Ferran and Nadia Albina (Photo: Hugh Glendinning)

Time to reflect: Polly Ferran and Nadia Albina (Photo: Hugh Glendinning)