Tag Archives: Oliver Rix

Camp David


Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 24th October, 2013


Hot on the heels of Ben Whishaw’s BAFTA-winning portrayal comes another favourite actor of mine in the title role of Richard II. A big name draw, David Tennant improves on his Hamlet (a characterisation I thought was The Doctor by another name) with a performance that switches from regal reserve to petulant camp and back again.  In a world of macho men in leather and shining armour, Tennant’s Richard saunters around in beautiful gowns, with his crown on his wrist like a bracelet.  With his hair extensions and sharp features, he is an off-duty drag queen or an old school rock star.  The effeminacy and the bitchiness energise a sometimes languid king.  It is a captivating performance.

The whole production is redolent with delicate beauty.  Projections of pillars and vaulted ceilings capture both the solidity and airiness of a cathedral.  Designer Stephen Brimson Lewis keeps scenery to a minimum, suggesting locations, complimented by Tim Mitchell’s lighting.  Richard’s throne flies in and out on a gantry, suggesting the monarch’s link to divinity – a bone of contention in the play.  The visuals are supported by beautiful music performed live by sopranos (the singers not the organised criminals) and trumpeters.  Gregory Doran’s production has no problem in engaging the eye and the ear, but what of the emotions and the intellect?

Oliver Ford Davies as York brings humour and heart.  Scenes with his wife (Marty Cruickshank) bring comic relief from all the politicking and macho posturing.  Michael Pennington’s John of Gaunt masterfully handles the play’s greatest hit, the ‘sceptre’d isle’ speech, and Nigel Lindsay’s meaty Bolingbroke makes an effective contrast to Tennant’s light-in-the-loafers king.

For me the most compelling on-stage presence is Oliver Rix as Aumerle.  Even in scenes where he has little to say, he is there, intense without drawing focus from the speakers.  His scenes with Tennant are the highlights.  Upset by Richard’s decision to hand over his crown, Aumerle is comforted by the king in a moment that is more tender than it is homoerotic.

When Richard is set upon by assailants in his dungeon, there is too much of the action hero in his self-defence.  The effete king reveals himself to be something of a medieval martial arts expert in a moment that is incongruous with the rest of the characterisation.  Yes, Richard would fight for his life, but not in such an obviously choreographed manner.  When the fatal blow is struck, it is a moment of shock and surprise – it’s a credit to the schoolgirls in this matinee audience that they gasped at this point rather than at Richard and Aumerle’s kiss.

The play begins and ends with a coffin centre-stage, reminding us of the cycle of kingship: one must die so the next can take over. With its projections and lighting effects, it is a production of surfaces.  We don’t really get to grips with the rights and wrongs of who should be on the throne and how he should behave.  Richard seizes what isn’t his to raise funds, which leads to rebellion.  Opposers of the Royal Mail and NHS privatisations, take note!

Who's a pretty boy, then? Oliver Ford Davies (Duke of York), Nigel Lindsay (Bolingbroke), David Tennant (Richard II) Photo by Kwame Lestrade

Who’s a pretty boy, then? Oliver Ford Davies (Duke of York), Nigel Lindsay (Bolingbroke), David Tennant (Richard II)
Photo by Kwame Lestrade

Oh dear, what can the Marat be?


Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, Wednesday 26th October, 2011-10-26


I don’t know what kinds of prigs and prudes attend the shows at the RST on a regular basis, or what kinds of idiots would fork out ticket money for a show that might not be to their taste.  Perhaps they are the kind of people who like nothing better than being offended.


What was it then that reportedly sent people flocking from their seats?  The simulated fellatio performed on a prone archbishop? The unholy communion performed by said archbishop during which he farted in the face of each celebrant in turn? The F words?  The C word?  I don’t know.  On the whole, I found the shock value a little low.  Perhaps I am more inured to depravity than the delicate flowers who took umbrage at this provocative production.


The show makes every effort to be relevant and contemporary.  There is imagery suggestive of situations in the Middle East and Guantanamo Bay – that terrible American soldier lady posing cheerily for a photo with a torture victim, for example.  The play-within-a-play, performed by the inmates of an asylum, is, in the end, a clothes line on which to peg ideas political and theatrical, rather than to enlighten us with anecdotes of incidents from the French Revolution.  We are shown the insanity in the world today and, sad to say, folks, things don’t seem to have changed much since 1964 – or, the play would argue – since the French Revolution…


The cast capture the earnest amateurism of the inmates as they lumber through their performance to an invited audience of worthies – kept at a safe distance up on the balcony with the musicians.   They drop out of their character’s character to express frustration, in good old-fashioned Anglo Saxon, when props aren’t there, or the leading lady has succumbed yet again to narcolepsy.   It is amusing, in the same way as watching the mentally ill be paraded through auditions for The X Factor is amusing.


The inmates watch events outside of their play through the screens of their mobile phones.  When they show signs of becoming a little too feisty, their ringtones go off and they are immediately captivated by their handheld devices.  This is how the director of the hospital controls his patients.   But the production more than hints that we are subject to the same control mechanisms as these poor, disturbed sods.  The mobile phones are a metaphor for the madness that keeps them at a remove from reality.  When our phones ring, we, like the unfortunate inmates, are taken out of the present.  We are there but we are not ‘all there’.


Their play about revolution breaks down, in direct correlation to the way society breaks down after a revolution.   The closing moments of Act One degenerate into chaos (beautifully choreographed and lit as it may be).  One inmate is stripped naked and anally raped with a dildo (right before your very eyes)  – and this is not part of their play-acting.  When we see him again after the interval, he resumes his role in the drama with welts on his face.  The audience has to keep the layers of performance clear: when are the actors acting as actors acting?


Some sequences are more effective than others.  The Marquis de Sade calmly relates an horrific story of torture and mutilation that doesn’t require any on stage illustration, but then  I lost the thread of one of his later speeches as, in drag, he was chained up and repeatedly tasered.


As inmates, the cast presents a range of disorders and afflictions.  The compulsive masturbator provides much of the comic…relief, for want of a better term.  Oliver Rix (so dashing in the title role of Cardenio) plays one of the quieter patients, childlike and prone to  outbursts; he reaches into a toilet, pulls out a turd and smears it across his handsome face.


The show is loosely held together by Lisa Harrold as the “Herald”. At one point, she asks an audience member for financial assistance for her online shopping habit.  She throws the pound coin donated by the hapless punter to the floor and tears verbal strips off him with four-letter invective.  At another point, the Marquis de Sade pelts the audience with open bags of popcorn.  I wanted more of this kind of thing.  I wanted to feel as though anything could happen at any moment.  I didn’t want to sit back passively and watch the action unfold.  I wanted to feel more uncomfortable than I did.  It seems to me that director Anthony Neilson could have gone further.


Peter Weiss’s play has left a legacy that I find disturbing.  Every performing arts course and unimaginative physical theatre company now uses the setting of an insane asylum as the basis for pieces of work. It has become a cliche, in my experience, to use the mentally ill as a springboard for drama.  None of them do it with the impact of this groundbreaking play.


A thought occurs to me: perhaps those gentle, sheltered souls who walked out thought they had booked tickets for a Sade concert.  If so, I have even less sympathy for their affronted sensibilities.



A Cardenio of Earthly Delights


The Swan, Stratford upon Avon, Tuesday 20th September, 2011


Controversy about the authorship of Shakespeare’s works comes and goes with every other tide, it seems. Currently, it has all been stirred up again with the coming of specious nonsense film, Anonymous but don’t let me get started on that, please.  I’m here to talk about this rather special piece of “theatrical archaeology”, a new version of Bill’s “lost play” Cardenio.


I’m not going to bang on about the process that led to the finished version in performance by the RSC this season.  That is well documented elsewhere – the show’s programme gives a fascinating insight into the play’s history and re-imaginings.

What matters to me, whether Shakespeare wrote most of it, all of it, or just scraps of it on the back of cigarette packets discovered down the back of Anne Hathaway’s sofa, is does the play work in production?  Is it a good night out at the theatre?


As a text, the play is practically a primer for Shakespeare scholars.  Familiar elements that appear in his comedies are here: girl dressed as a boy, pastoral scenes, friends betrayed and reconciled, lovers reunited… I could write reams in a reverse bit of detective work (Ooh, that’s like The Winter’s Tale, and that’s like Timon of Athens…) but that would digress from what I want to say about the show.

Set in seventeenth century Spain, the production is a feast for the senses. Sumptuous period costumes, evocative guitar music, rousing flamenco dancing, pleasing verse and an effective plot – there is even a scene where incense is wafted around the auditorium.

Dominating the action as faithless friend Fernando, the excellent Alex Hassell gives us a villain to love. Ruled by libido, Fernando cannot help himself.  He knows he shouldn’t but he also knows he will. “And is the man yet born who would not risk the guilt to meet the joy?” Dashing, Machiavellian and irresistible, he is an endearing baddie right up until the final moment, yet in the end, his conversion and promises are credible.  Yet another towering performance this season from one of my favourite players.

Also impressive is Lucy Briggs-Owen as neurotic heroine, Luscinda.  In a succession of fabulous frocks, she glides and struts around the stage, giving voice to her insecurities.  She gives the character a kind of tic, the subtle, spasmodic waggling of her tongue, a precursor to her decline into suicidal anguish. The psychological insights into her predicament are what we expect in Shakespeare – this is another admirable aspect of Gregory Doran’s production: it all rings true.  It might be faux Shakespeare but it works.

There is a freshness to the lines and their delivery.  Because there are no familiar speeches, no big moments to anticipate, the delivery comes across as more spontaneous than other plays. There is a real sense of characters thinking things through in their soliloquies, as if the thoughts are occurring to them for the first time. This is a quality rare in productions of Hamlet, say, where the words are all too familiar and the actor has to work hard to make it all sound and feel new.

Veteran actor Christopher Godwin is a delight as Cardenio’s sprightly father, Camillo – his reunion with his son is for me the most touching moment in a very effecting denouement.   The entire company is very strong: Pippa Nixon as wronged wench who turns to cross-dressing, Dorotea, carries the emotional weight of the piece, but for me the evening belonged to newcomer Oliver Rix in the title role.

He begins as a charming swain, nervous and frustrated in love, wearing finery and a smart haircut – the quintessential young man.  His betrayal by Fernando is such that by the second half of the play he is living wild in the mountains, barefoot, his shirt in tatters, his hair a straggly mess.  He is raving bonkers and plaguing the troupe of lowly shepherds who bring their flocks to graze.  This is a mad scene to rival the ramblings of Ophelia, but also Cardenio is dangerous, prone to violent outbursts.  The action sequences as the shepherds try to restrain this barmy hermit are stirring – one man in the front row almost got himself throttled before Cardenio could be contained.  His stoical forgiveness of Fernando at the end is more powerful in its understatement.

With his deep, rich voice, physical presence and sensitivity, Oliver Rix in his professional debut gives us a Cardenio to be remembered and he is definitely one to watch out for in future shows.  It would be a pity if the play disappears from the repertoire forever.  I found it the strongest production in the RSC’s current season.