Tag Archives: Mark Arends

A Visit to the Gents


Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 14th August, 2014

One of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies and – guess what – it’s very funny. The script effervesces with word play and there are some good groanworthy gags to boot. The cast in Simon Godwin’s easy-going production handle the convoluted verbal sparring apparently effortlessly, and comic set-pieces (monologues and a double act) are played to the hilt with expert timing.

Michael Marcus is a dashing, upright Valentine, a likeable young man leaving home to make his way in the throbbing metropolis that is Milan. He’s a decent cove so we’re on his side when he plots to steal away Silvia, the object of his affection, from her lofty accommodation with the aid of a rope ladder. The plan goes awry and Val finds himself banished. Meanwhile, his BFF Proteus (an excellent Mark Arends) is sent to join him, parting with such sweet sorrow from his girlfriend Julia (Pearl Chanda). As soon as he claps eyes on Silvia, Proteus changes his affections and sets out to have the girl to himself by whatever means.

He’s a villain, driven by love, a selfish kind of love. You wonder why Julia bothers to come after him, disguised as a boy.

In this play Shakespeare sets out his stall for comedies to come. The best ideas here are reimagined in later works: Julia as a page, delivers letters to Silvia (c.f. Viola and Olivia in Twelfth Night); a comic routine detailing the virtues and vices of a milkmaid chimes with Dromio’s spherical woman in Comedy of Errors… The lovers’ tribulations come to a head in the wild, lawless world of a forest… (Midsummer Night’s Dream). In this respect, this fun and enjoyable production would serve as an excellent introduction to Shakespeare.

Roger Morlidge (Launce) and Martin Bassindale’s Speed are the clown roles, intercutting the main action with comic business that never gets in the way of the inherent humour of the text. The former’s dog, Crab, (an adorably scruffy ‘Mossup’) inevitably steals every scene in which he appears.

Pearl Chanda is an appealing Julia, supported by perky, sometimes downright bawdy maid Lucetta (an energetic Leigh Quinn). Sarah Macrae is elegant and chic as the beautiful Silvia – the costumes (Italian, 1950s-60s) look their best on her. Jonny Glynn’s Duke of Milan brings gravitas and cunning – his surprise exclamation of ‘Booyah’ intimates that we are not meant to take him too seriously. The mighty Youssef Kerkour appears in a brief cameo as Sir Eglamour, but one of the undoubted highlights is prat-on-the-make Turio’s rendition of the song Who Is Silvia? – Nicholas Gerard-Martin brings the house down in a superbly realised moment.

Also handled very well is the play’s problematic ending – perhaps it’s only problematic to our cynical postmodern eyes – as Valentine forgives Proteus for all his wrongdoing. I found the reconciliation rather touching.

The RSC has a hit with this seldom-performed treat. Visually beautiful, with some lovely live music (by Michael Bruce) this stylish and accessible production hits all the right notes in all the right places.

The Two Gentlemen of Verona production photos_2014_Stratford - Royal Shakespeare Theatre_Photo by Simon Annand _c_ RSC_2G0V-141

Valentine (Michael Marcus) and Speed (Martin Bassindale)

Orwell That Ends Well


Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Wednesday 16th October, 2013


Any mention of this book gives rise to comments about what a visionary Orwell was and every generation is able to find parallels in its own society, saying dear old George predicted this or warned against that.  And it’s true: our surveillance society (there are more CCTV cameras in England than anywhere else), proposals to monitor the internet and police access to certain types of site, how freely we surrender personal information to websites and supermarket loyalty schemes… The thought police are in the shadows, wearing the outrage of the politically correct brigade and we are invited to police each other through schemes like CrimeStoppers and Shop-a-Scrounger.  There is manipulation of the masses through propaganda and lies perpetrated by the media… Orwell is not far off the mark and his 1984-world is not far away.

What Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan’s adaptation does is give the story an additional spin.  It begins with protagonist Winston Smith daring to write in his diary, but he is like a ghost, a spectre present at a kind of book club at which a group of people intellectualise about the nature and meaning of the book itself.  To them, (as to us) the book is a thing of the past. It’s a framing device that is a little disconcerting to begin with but eventually the story proper gets under way and the Orwellian world is revealed to us gradually.

Mark Arends is appealing and vulnerable as Winston, the everyman of the piece, awakening to the truth – or the truth as it is presented to him in order to trap him… His mindfuck is our mindfuck.   He meets Julia (a striking Hara Yannas) for a bit of sex and chocolate in a love nest around the back of an antiques shop.  Some scenes happen off-stage and we witness them on a large video screen that forms the backdrop of the set, casting us in the role of Big Brother, watching these private moments.   Later, during Winston’s torture, he cries out to us, begging us not to sit there and let this happen.  It’s a startling moment of breaking the fourth wall, as if we weren’t uncomfortable enough by this point.

At the end we return to the framing device – people in the future discussing the book.  Orwell’s society has come and gone, they seem to think.  Or has it?  Does The Party now operate in more subtle ways?  One leaves the theatre tending to agree…

Headlong Theatre’s startling production is intriguing from the start and downright gripping by the finish.  Chloe Lamford’s set design explodes from institutional wood panelling to the stark and featureless nowhere of Room 101, aided considerably by Natasha Chivers’s lighting.  The piece is not just a symposium – it’s a highly theatrical experience, a powerful and inventive presentation of a well-known story.

One line lingers with me in particular and it’s not “Big Brother is watching” or “What’s in Room 101?” as hijacked by popular culture; it’s “We didn’t ought to have trusted them” and it haunts me as the media remain silent about NHS privatisation and promulagate lies about the welfare system, and all the other cruelties inflicted on people by governments the whole world over.  “People are not going to revolt,” says the torturer-in-chief smugly, “They’re not going to look up from their screens long enough to notice what’s going on.”

Absolutely chilling.