Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 12th March, 2019
I have lost count of the number of productions of the Scottish Play I have seen over the years; I have yet to see one that gets everything absolutely right. This touring version of the acclaimed National Theatre production doesn’t, I’m afraid, do it for me either.
Set ‘now’ but ‘after a civil war’, the action takes place in a dingy world of camouflage gear and the kind of clothing that gives the cast the appearance of an urban dance troupe that has fallen on hard times. I’m all for diversity in casting, but I can do without Diversity as an aesthetic. I half-expected Ashley Banquo to come on and flip Fleance over the heads of the group. Said Fleance is gender-swapped and dressed like a young rapper. Nuff said.
Rae Smith’s set includes a large ramp, like a broken footbridge, which is initially put to good use but is then side-lined in favour of plastic chairs and beat-up sofas. There are also tall poles, like bedraggled palm trees, up and down which the Three Witches clamber and slide like post-apocalyptic circus performers – I could have done with more of this kind of thing, and a bit less of their booming, echoey voices, which go against their other ethereal qualities.
Michael Nardone’s Macbeth is all right to listen to, but we don’t get the impression of a great warrior gone bad – especially not when he’s being duct-taped into his armour. Kirsty Besterman’s Lady Macbeth’s first appearance, in khaki vest, has the look of a military physical trainer, which she trades up for some garish gowns, at odds with the rest of the design. Besterman brings intensity though and her sleepwalking scene is rather good.
Instead of crowns, the ruling monarch sports a blood-red suit, and so Duncan (Tom Mannion – effortless in his nobility) looks like a lounge singer. When Macbeth later dons the trousers, it brings to mind the “I am in blood stepped in so far” line, which makes sense of Moritz Junge’s costume choice at last.
I can’t take to Joseph Brown’s Malcolm in the slightest but I do like Deka Walmsley’s bawdy Geordie Porter, Patrick Robinson’s Banquo, and above all Rachel Sanders’s Ross – these three seem to get the most out of the language, while coping with director Rufus Norris’s decisions, some of which make Shakespeare sound ironic: “This castle hath a pleasant seat” (it doesn’t; it looks like half a portacabin) and “Never shake thy gory locks at me” (Banquo’s pate is as bald as a Malteser)…
There is some effectively dissonant original music by Orlando Gough, and Paul Arditti’s sound design adds to the eeriness – until it becomes intrusive – while Paul Pyant’s lighting is suitably dramatic. But the action doesn’t grip me, the tragedy of a great man brought low by his ambition and supernatural interference doesn’t’ come across.
Ditch the camouflage get-up and the urban combat gear. Let’s have a Game of Thrones version. That would be relatable to the Youth too.
Ramping up the action: the cast of Macbeth
Leave a comment | tags: Deka Walmsley, Grand Theatre Wolverhampton, Joseph Brown, Kirsty Besterman, Macbeth, Michael Nardone, Moritz Junge, National Theatre, Orlando Gough, Patrick Robinson, Paul Arditti, Paul Pyant, Rachel Sanders, Rae Smith, Rufus Norris, Tom Mannion, William Shakespeare | posted in Review, Shakespeare, Theatre Review
The Swan Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Wednesday 12th October, 2016
Loveday Ingram’s exuberant production of Aphra Behn’s raucous comedy is almost a reversal of The Taming of the Shrew, in which a wayward character (here, the titular Rover) is brought to heel by the machinations of another (the wily Hellena). In the Shakespeare, the shrew is completely cowed and rendered submissive; here it is more of a meeting of minds, a matching of appetites. Things are on a more egalitarian footing from the off – in fact, it is the females who rule the roost, in terms of plot devices and spirit.
Joseph Millson is marvellous in the title role. His Willmore is a swaggering braggart with ratty pirate hair and an Adam Ant jacket. He exudes bluster and charm in equal measure. He is outrageous and irresistible. Faye Castelow’s Hellena is adorably lively and witty. As her sister Valeria, Emma Noakes is a livewire, while other sister Florinda (Frances McNamee) is more elegant but none the less funny. Patrick Robinson is suitably noble and upright as good guy Belville, but things take a darker turn when the gauche Blunt (Leander Deeny), gulled by a prostitute, seeks violent revenge on any female who happens across his path. Even in these scenes, Ingram keeps the energy levels high – this is a show performed with unrelenting verve and brio. The cast are clearly enjoying themselves immensely, transmitting that sense of fun to us, the lucky audience.
The carnival atmosphere is propagated and maintained by the superlative music, composed by Grant Olding, and performed live on stage throughout the action. The Latin rhythms are infectious, the Spanish guitar, the muted trumpet – every note is delicious. If the RSC doesn’t release a CD, they’re missing a trick.
A highlight for me is a flamenco-off between Dons Pedro and Antonio (Gyuri Sarossy and Jamie Wilkes, respectively); another is Alexandra Gilbreath’s melodramatic courtesan, holding Willmore at gunpoint – there is a wealth of things to enjoy in all the comings and goings, the disguises, the misunderstandings and the mistaken identities. It’s fast-paced, rowdy, riotous fun, performed with gusto and charisma by a vivacious ensemble. Ultimately, Millson dominates with his colossal presence, but we love him for it and egg him on. Willmore is flawed, at the mercy of his appetites – indeed, the men are victims of their own desires – but Behn celebrates human frailties without moralising. She was way ahead of her time.
Wild Rover: Joseph Millson as Willmore (Photo: Ellie Kurttz)
Leave a comment | tags: Alexandra Gilbreath, Aphra Behn, Emma Noakes, Faye Castelow, Frances McNamee, Grant Olding, Gyuri Sarossy, Jamie Wilkes, Joseph Millson, Leander Deeny, Loveday ingram, Patrick Robinson, review, Stratford upon Avon, The Rover, The Swan | posted in Theatre Review
THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 28th September, 2015
Stephen King’s novella gave rise to one of the most popular films of all time. For this new touring production, Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns return to the film’s source material and adapt it for the stage. Film fans will notice differences – inevitable, given the differing natures of the art forms. That said, O’Neill and Johns do a bang up job with this story of prison life.
Red (Patrick Robinson) is our part-time narrator in this sparsely populated penitentiary (over-crowding is no problem in Shawshank!) introducing us to a lively bunch of characters, not all of them pleasant. There is Leigh Jones’s Rooster who laughs like a maniacal drain every chance he gets. Rooster is teamed with Bogs (Kevin Mathurin) to form a pair who stop at nothing to assert their dominance among the men. We met Brooksie (Ian Barritt) an old lag completely institutionalised by his lengthy sentence, and Lady Chatterley fan Rico (Declan Perring). Then newcomer Andy Dufresne arrives, wrongfully convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover. Dufresne stands out – Ian Kelsey gives him a stillness and steadiness, making him a quietly compelling figure among the other, larger-than-life inmates.
Adaptor Owen O’Neill himself plays the slimy Warden Stammas, backed up by brutal guard Hadley (Joe Reisig). It’s an excellent ensemble, with Robinson and Kelsey as very strong leads. Also making an impression is George Evans as young convict Tommy Williams.
The story is episodic in nature, building up a picture of prison life and charting Andy Dufresne’s growing stature among the inmates, the guards (for whom he files tax returns) and the Warden (for whom he cooks the accounts). Unless the characters mention it, we don’t really get a sense of the passage of time but nevertheless the story builds to an emotional climax that still brings moistness to the eye.
Director David Esbjornson mixes naturalistic staging with symbolic – Andy’s escape (oops, spoiler) is beautifully represented and, supported by Chris Davey’s lighting, which marks out cells in sharp rectangles, and Dan Samson’s sound, which hints at hordes of prisoners somewhere off-stage, hits all the right notes.
Shawshank Prison is well worth a visit.
Andy Dufresne (Ian Kelsey) makes his move. (Photo: Mark Yeoman)
Leave a comment | tags: Chris Davey, Dan Samson, David Esbjornson, Declan Perring, George Evans, Ian Barritt, Ian Kelsey, Joe Reisig, Kevin Mathurin, Leigh Jones, New Alexandra Theatre Birmingham, Owen O'Neill, Patrick Robinson, review, Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption | posted in Theatre Review