Tag Archives: Marcus Griffiths

Great Briton

CYMBELINE

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Saturday 11th June, 2016

 

Melly Still’s production of Shakespeare’s rarely staged late play embraces the bonkersness of the story – revelling in it, in fact.  Set in a dystopian near-future, a post-technological age, there is a medieval quality to the design; inevitably my mind finds parallels with Game of Thrones.  The extremes of behaviour, the graphic violence – the play has more villains than your average Shakespeare, and, in this production, when Innogen disguises herself as a boy, she chooses Arya Stark cosplay.

As the beset princess, Bethan Cullinane is an appealing lead, with strength and vulnerability – the emphasis is on the latter.  Hiran Abeysekera shows conviction as her secret husband, Posthumus (aka Leonatus), but all the swagger, all the brio, comes from the bad guys.  Marcus Griffiths is magnificent as the arrogant, petulant Cloten; his serenade to Innogen is an unalloyed delight.  Oliver Johnstone is a delicious Iachimo, a louche lounge lizard, cocky and flash – for me one of his worst transgressions is his lack of socks.  James Clyde as the Duke, second husband of Cymbeline (in this show, the titular monarch has been gender swapped), plots and smarms, with elbow patches on his blazer, like a Machiavellian supply teacher.

Queen of the Britons, Cymbeline (Gillian Bevan) is authoritative but also world-worn.  She speaks with the authority of someone who has been through a lot – as if the loss of two of her children twenty years ago has been eating away at her.  Those lost children have been living in Wales all this time.  Mere mention of Milford Haven gets a laugh.  Natalie Simpson makes a fierce Polydore/Guideria, complete with Xena: Warrior Princess battle cry.  Her brother Belarius/Arviragus (James Cooney) is wiry and energetic; he sings beautifully when it comes to Fear No More the Heat of the Sun.

The whole cast is splendid.  Among the ensemble, Theo Ogundipe makes a strong impression in a couple of roles, and Kelly Williams stands out as troubled servant Pisania.

Melly Still freezes the action, or slows it right down, during the characters’ many asides – a neat device that reminds us this is not the real world we are witnessing.  Also, some scenes are spoken in Italian or Latin, with the text projected on the scenery.  This is amusing at first, but Latin doesn’t sound right in an English accent.  But then, who knows what Latin sounded like?

The play deals with deceit and treachery, allegiance and devotion.  War comes because Britain has not paid its tribute to Rome.  After some bloody rushing around and a high body count, Cymbeline agrees to pay what is due.  A metaphor for the upcoming EU referendum?  If so, Cymbeline is definitely on the REMAIN side.  Hooray.

This is a hugely enjoyable production, a real treat to be reacquainted with a play that is not as over-exposed and familiar as the Bard’s greatest hits.  Such is its charm and invention, we go along with it.  In the same way that the characters take reversals of fortune and revelations on the chin, we laugh along.  The sincerity and heart of the performance carries us through the sensationalism of the plot.  Another big hit from the RSC.

Cymbeline_production_photos_May_2016_2016_Photo_by_Ellie_Kurttz_c_RSC_192868

Cloten (Marcus Griffiths) sings his head off (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)

Advertisements

Fresh Prince of Denmark

HAMLET

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 14th April, 2016

 

I don’t know how many Hamlets I’ve seen – the most recent was the Cumberbatch one in which I found the cast excellent but the whole somehow lesser than the sum of its parts.  One thing I do like in my Princes of Denmark is youth.  Hamlet shouldn’t be pushing forty.  He works better, I find, as a younger man, unsure of his role in the revenge drama that his life becomes when his uncle marries his mother so soon after the funeral of his father.  Uncertainty, indecision and depression can strike at any age, to be sure, but (as in this production) there is increased credibility when the life that’s turned upside down is that of a younger man, still finding his way in the world.

And so, Simon Godwin’s production begins with a snapshot of Hamlet’s graduation from Wittenberg Uni.  At once, Paapa Essiedu in the title role captivates.  Everything Hamlet will state later on about the Player King applies here: it’s all in his eyes.  Early scenes of grief and shock hit hard – Essiedu handles the all-too-famous soliloquies well, casting light and shade in surprising areas.  His lunacy, here signalled in shorthand by abstract painting – he gets as much on himself as on his canvases – adds unpredictability.  Above all, sensitivity comes to the fore.  This is a Hamlet we can care about.

Clarence Smith’s lying king Claudius gets across the public face of the dictator as well as the personal side – he can’t run his household as well as the state.  Tanya Moodie’s Gertrude is coolly elegant – at her best in the bedroom scene, horrified to see her husband’s ghost and strident in her denial of the phenomenon.  Cyril Nri’s Polonius is a star turn, funny and charming in his longwindedness.  His fate behind the arras also elicits laughter in its suddenness and slapstick.

Ewart James Walters impresses as the Ghost, in tribal robes, sonorous and forbidding.  He also plays the smart-alec gravedigger, with a twinkle in his eye.  Natalie Simpson’s Ophelia seems curiously sidelined until her mad scene, pulling her hair out and handing it around like sprigs of the herbs she names.  It’s always a difficult sell but Simpson makes it work, terrifying the court into singing her refrain.

Denmark has moved closer to the equator for this African-themed show.  Well, why not?  After all, Disney borrowed the plot for The Lion King.  Loud drums punctuate the more extreme moments and the colour palette suggests heat and intensity.  The music (by Sola Akingbola) reminds us this is a thriller, despite Hamlet’s vacillations.   The climactic fencing match with Laertes (a striking Marcus Griffiths) is done here with sharpened sticks.  The poisonings are swift and shocking – events come to a head in an outburst of action that breathes new life into the well-worn plot.  There is freshness in Godwin’s take that keeps this Hamlet watchable and affecting, but it’s Essiedu’s performance that is the keystone of the production.  Powerful in its intimacy, it’s a portrayal that touches and then breaks your heart.

Hamlet_production_photos_March_2016_2016_Photo_by_Manuel_Harlan_c_RSC_187401

Paapa Essiedu banging his own drum as Hamlet (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

 

 


Maltese Crossed

THE JEW OF MALTA

The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 29th April, 2015

 

Christopher Marlowe’s play, which has a Jew as the villain, is not staged anywhere near as often as Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice – perhaps we find Shylock more palatable to our modern sensibilities. While we can understand the motivation of Marlowe’s Barabas, his path of vengeance and destruction renders him inhuman – psychopathic, even.

Forced to surrender his fortune in order to pay the state’s protection money to the Turks, Barabas soon bounces back, and sends his spirited daughter Abigail undercover as a nun into the nunnery his house has been turned into, to dig up his secret stash of gems and gold. With these he is able to rebuild his fortune – but that is not enough. He embarks on a plan of revenge on all those who have wronged him. The son of the governor is set up in a duel with a rival that ends fatally. A priest is framed for the murder of a friar. The nuns are wiped out by poisoned porridge…

It’s melodramatic stuff but Justin Audibert directs with a sense of humour and the result is a very black comedy indeed. As the titular Jew, Jasper Britton portrays a delicious kind of evil in a compelling performance. He is aided and abetted by his henchman, Ithamore (Lanre Malaolu, who uses physicality to add humour to his characterisation). Catrin Stewart is powerful as Barabas’s loud and strident daughter and there is excellent support from Matthew Needham as pimp to Beth Cordingly’s jaded hooker, Bellamira. Marcus Griffiths cuts a dash as the imperious Turk, Calymath, while Geoffrey Freshwater and Matthew Kelly vie amusingly with each other for Barabas’s soul and gold coins as two supposedly holy men.  Particularly striking is Annette McLaughlin as Katherine, grieving for her murdered son.

Oliver Fenwick’s sunny lighting gives us the brightness and warmth of the Maltese climate, bouncing off Lily Arnold’s paving stone set. Jonathan Girling’s music, performed live, is both evocative and beautiful, and the fight sequences by Kevin McCurdy have the front rows flinching in their seats.

Marlowe gives his villain all the best lines – Barabas is able to be scathing about religion and people who profess to be Christians but behave contrary to their faith (reminding me of our current and hopefully outgoing government!). “Religion hides many mischiefs from suspicion,” says Barabas. He is not wrong.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable production in which Barabas’s victims deserve what’s coming to them. Moving along at a cracking pace, with plenty of laughs and shocks along the way, the show is as entertaining as you could wish.

To hear the word ‘Jew’ as an insult and disparaging term, makes us wince. We like to feel we are more inclusive and that there is less anti-Semitism around – but then I recall that only the other day the Tories had to sack one of their own for saying she would never support ‘the Jew Ed Miliband’ and I despair.

Jasper Britton (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)

Jasper Britton (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)


Passion Play

LOVE’S SACRIFICE

The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Monday 27th April, 2015

 

There’s often a reason why a play isn’t performed for centuries: it’s not very good or its day has come and gone and there is nothing of relevance to it. With this in mind, I settle into my seat at the RSC’s Swan and try to keep an open mind.

John Ford (you know, him – he wrote Tis Pity She’s A Whore) gives us a tragedy, the likes of which opera has been thriving on for yonks. Two best friends, one woman, loved by both but married by one… It can only end badly.

Matthew Needham is excellent as The Duke, whose emotions are never far from the surface. He is an exuberant hedonist, when things are going his way, but there is the suggestion he could become unhinged at any moment – we see flashes of his violent temper. His bride Bianca (Catrin Stewart) is perky and lively, and obeys her husband’s instructions to treat his bff Fernando (Jamie Thomas King) like a second husband, in all ways except one, of course! Bianca and Fernando get the hots for each other but never consummate their passion, despite a few stolen moments – enough to get the villain of the piece plotting and scheming. Stewart and King go through the anguishes of love without the pleasure, matching Needham’s emotional outpourings in intensity. As the villain D’Avolos, Jonathan McGuinness is a snide and unctuous presence, Iago with an admin job – and it almost looks like he will get away with it.

There is a couple of subplots, one of which ends horribly. Arrogant womaniser Ferentes (Andy Apollo making an impression) gets his comeuppance in a masque, when three of his conquests decide to have a stab at vengeance. Superannuated fop Mauriccio (an exquisite Matthew Kelly) has a happier ending – if banishment and marriage are anything to go by – and his relationship with Brummie servant Giacopo (Colin Ryan) is both funny and touching. Kelly and Ryan are a little and large double act with perfect comic timing – I find I am more moved by the resolution to their story than I am to the main plot.

Beth Cordingly is strong as strident widow Fiormonda, and Marcus Griffiths’s Roseilli, banished but comes back disguised as a simpleton, cuts a dash, but is too removed from the main action – This is a fault of the writer.

On the whole, it’s a watchable, rewarding piece with passions running as high as the production values and well worth sacrificing an evening to see. Anna Fleischle’s design conveys the period beautifully, but the projections on the back wall add little beyond mood lighting – I am too busy watching the actors to take much notice of these effects. There is, for my taste, a little too much of the discordant music. Director Matthew Dunster interrupts the action with interludes of dumb show – I could do without these. He also adds many humorous touches, heightening the comedy to match the intensity of the drama.

Many of the plot points can be traced to Shakespeare but I come away thinking about the great Spanish dramatist Lope de Vega, a playwright The Swan would do well to feature – in translation, of course!

Tonight Matthew, I'm going to be... (Colin Ryan and Matthew Kelly.  Photo: Helen Maybanks)

Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be…
(Colin Ryan and Matthew Kelly. Photo: Helen Maybanks)