Tag Archives: Nadia Albina

He Says, She Says

HECUBA

The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Monday 5th October, 2015

 

New adaptations of ancient Greek tragedies are all the rage at the moment, with the Oresteia and Bakkhai being extremely successful down in London. Now comes Marina Carr’s retelling of the story of Hecuba, wife of Priam – loser of the Trojan War.

Carr employs an unusual device – we are accustomed to having narrators to describe what is not staged – but here she has the characters narrate to each other’s faces, reporting conversations while they are having them, and so Hecuba tells us what Agamemnon is saying and vice versa. It’s all a bit odd to begin with, but you soon become accustomed to it, get caught up in it.

The tale is one of unrelenting horror but in true Greek tradition, it’s all kept off-stage. Instead we imagine the butchered bodies, the bashed-in bonces of babies, in more vivid detail than any shlock film director could put on the screen. The characters endure such grief and misery – on both sides of the conflict. Hecuba has lost just about everyone (those who remain will be taken from her during the course of the play!) and Agamemnon grieves for the daughter he had to sacrifice in order that the wind might change – Ah, religion! It brings no comfort to anyone in this extreme situation. Of course, there are parallels to be made with situations going on today: war crimes and atrocities visited on the vulnerable, but I am reluctant to make them. Carr’s language ennobles both the doer and the deed and the barbarians of today don’t deserve such grand and poetic language.

Derbhle Crotty is spellbinding as the ousted Queen of Troy, in terms of expressing her own agony and reporting the reactions of others. There is dignity among the bloodshed, poise and resilience amid terrible losses. Crotty is matched by Ray Fearon’s Agamemnon, the conquering King. He is more than the perpetrator of barbaric cruelty: he is an honourable soldier and a family man touched by his own tragedy. Together the pair are electrifying.

Nadia Albina is a sassy Cassandra, disowned for her prophetic gifts; also striking is Amy McAllister as doomed daughter Polyxena. Chu Omambala impresses as Odysseus and there is some haunting singing from Lara Stubbs.

Director Erica Whyman keeps us hooked through this onslaught of horrific acts by keeping the intensity levels high – we don’t get an interval so there is no let-up in the barrage of sickening images we are made to picture for ourselves. By the end, I am a little punch-drunk and stagger out, a little like blinded Polymestor (Edmund Kingsley) although I wouldn’t be seen dead in his lemon yellow pyjama suit.

Oh, Hec! Derbhle Crotty and Ray Crotty (Photo: Topher McGrillis)

Oh, Hec! Derbhle Crotty and Ray Crotty (Photo: Topher McGrillis)

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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)


Lady and the Tram

A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE

Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry, Tuesday 11th November, 2014 

The Secret Theatre Company’s  new production of the Tennessee Williams classic is startling in its approach.  The stage is stripped bare, with only white walls, strip lighting and a stepladder as scenic elements – there is also a poor man’s TARDIS: a cubicle with a shower curtain that is wheeled on to represent the bathroom.  There is no attempt to convey any sense of the Deep South in terms of setting or even accent and so mentions of place names jar, as though New Orleans is a London borough you’ve never heard of.  Not only is the play robbed of its sultry, steamy qualities, many of its passions are also misdirected.

A minimalist approach could work very well but I think director Sean Holmes overdoes it with the alienation effects.  By the interval, the starkness and the blaring music had given me a stonking headache.

That said, there are some powerful and striking moments of theatricality, many of them from Nadia Albina as Blanche – but we are not allowed to become emotionally involved with any of the characters, kept at a distance as we are.  Sergo Vares’s Stanley is not meaty enough; Adelle Leonce’s Stella veers from the engaging to the chillingly deadpan; and Steven Webb has a lovely moment as a young man with whom Blanche flirts.

By the final act, I think I’ve cottoned on.  Blanche’s mental state has deteriorated so much it strikes me we have been in her head all along.  it’s all nightmarish because that’s how she experiences the world.. Sort of.  Maybe.  Perhaps.  I don’t know.

This Streetcar is bold and brash but doesn’t quite reach its destination.  It is not so much reliant on the kindness of strangers as on a kind of strangeness.

On the case: Nadia Albina as Blanche

On the case: Nadia Albina as Blanche