Tag Archives: Robert Innes Hopkins

Drama Queen

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Thursday 11th May, 2017

 

A kind of sequel to Julius Caesar, charting the latter years of that play’s hero, the plot mixes the personal with the political and back again.  Mark Antony, one of Rome’s three leaders, is neglecting his duties by dallying with the Queen of Egypt.  The three men fall out.  There is war.  And another war.  And so on.  Meanwhile, Cleopatra carries on like the lovestruck diva she is, with all the wiles and depth of a teenager.  It all leads to tragedy.  Of course it does.

Iqbal Khan’s production feels very much a companion piece to Angus Jackson’s Julius Caesar.  Designer for both, Robert Innes Hopkins, uses the same idea for both: first half is dominated by tall columns, the second by a cyclorama with turbulent weather… Unfortunately, it feels like a disappointing episode in a series, proving the truism that sequels are never as good as the originals.  Some scenes lack focus – a nice idea of using model ships to depict naval battles just doesn’t come off.  Antony Byrne’s Antony is in the same mode whether he’s loving or fighting – I would like him to lighten up, have more fun with his drama queen, even being reduced to her level, for love does make petulant teenagers of us all.

The stage really comes to life whenever Josette Simon is on as the Queen of the Nile.  Grand, elegant, moody, manipulative, she is a hedonist used to getting her way, and knows how to get it.  Her schemes get out of hand, though, when she gives out word that she has topped herself.  Simon is captivating as the emotionally immature Queen – but in one scene, she is togged up like an Egyptian fembot that is at odds with everything else.

I feel that Andrew Woodall’s Enobarbus is casual to the point of being underplayed – his defection from Antony to Octavius Caesar comes across as no great loss.  The mighty James Corrigan is underused as Agrippa.  Speaking of Octavius, Ben Allen retains his role from the previous play.  Here Octavius is more mature, more assured of himself.  I also like Will Bliss as a Christ-lookalike soothsayer.

Original music is by Laura Mvula and, for the most part, its effective with discordant fanfares and a sense of foreboding, marred only by the occasional use of present-day beats, as if the composer is fighting against the urge to give us a rock opera.

It’s Josette Simon that maintains our interest throughout in this production that could do with a few judicious cuts or a tighter grip on the reins.  I hope the RSC’s Rome season is not already in its decline.

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Josette Simon and Antony Byrne (Photo: Helen Maybanks. Copyright RSC)

 


Government Cuts

JULIUS CAESAR

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Wednesday 10th May, 2017

 

The current production of Shakespeare’s political thriller takes a straightforward, but stylish all the same, approach, with a recognisably Roman setting and design aesthetic: towering columns, imposing stairs, more togas than a student party – but for all its historical flavour, it could not be more current.  One gets the feeling the conspirators would have put a stop to the rise of Trump as soon as he popped his orange head over the parapet.  Closer to home, the play is rich with oratory and persuasive speech.  In the run-up to the general election, I don’t know whether to be relieved or disappointed that Shakespeare isn’t around to script the party political broadcasts – for all sides!

Andrew Woodall is a grand Caesar, an imposing figure of a statesman but rather up himself and, fatally, ambitious. James Corrigan is a well-built Mark Anthony – his ‘Friends, Romans, Countrymen’ is the best I’ve seen, rousing and manipulative, a perfect scene.  And I think that’s how I characterise Angus Jackson’s production: there are moments of brilliance, such as the tension of the assassination scene, the brief flashes of combat and the sickening instances of violence (poor Lucius!) but as a whole, it’s a bit patchy, up and down.

Alex Waldmann’s Brutus is a star turn, a decent chap driven to take extreme, direct action for the greater good;  I know how he feels.  The current political climate makes me all stabby too. Waldmann is excellent in Brutus’s bigger, public moments and also the more private scenes.  The play is as much his tragedy as Caesar’s – perhaps more so.  And you have to admire the chutzpah of a playwright who kills off his titular character before the interval!

There is strong support from Tom McCall as Casca and Martin Hutson as Cassius, to name just a couple from this impressive ensemble.  This is the RSC showing that you can take a traditional, accessible approach to a classic text and still make the production seem absolutely contemporary, rather than an exercise in theatrical archaeology.

Robert Innes Hopkins’s set gives us a sense of imperial Rome: the columns dominate and the statue of a horse being mauled by a lion links power with violence.  In the second half, when the action moves from the city, the architecture is stripped away.  Stunning use of lighting (by Tim Mitchell) plays on the cyclorama, bringing sweeping, romantic, expressionistic colour to proceedings.  Mira Calix’s original compositions are brassy and percussive, discordant and searing.

Well-worth the trip to Stratford, the production refreshes the familiar lines – so many speeches and phrases have seeped into the language and popular consciousness.

Entertaining, relevant, thrilling and powerful.

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James Corrigan and Alex Waldmann auditioning for Blood Brothers. (Photo: Helen Maybanks, Copyright RSC)


Tall Story

THE B F G

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 2nd December, 2014

 

The REP’s big Christmas show this year is David Wood’s adaptation of a Roald Dahl novel – not one of his strongest but containing the quintessential elements of a Dahl classic nevertheless: horrible villains, a downtrodden but virtuous child protagonist, nonsensical words, and some scary moments.

Director Teresa Ludovico throws everything at the stage in the first act to bring Giant Country to life, with music, movement, masks and mime… There are circus skills and gigantic legs and hands – it’s like a bonkers Italian variety show rather the traditional fare and it works!  Especially in the transmission of the darkness and horror that runs through Dahl’s slender tale.

Lara Wollington (a former Matilda) is excellent as perky orphan Sophie.  Abducted by a giant (in a terrifying sequence) she soon befriends him and he reveals he’s not like other giants in that he refuses to eat the flesh of human children.  Weirdo.  Shunned by his peers, he faces the type of scorn and derision usually doled out to Vegans by meat-eating brutes.  Wollington is nothing short of perfect in the role.  She has a strong, clear and expressive voice, bags of energy and performs the quirky, jerky, sometimes balletic, movements with ease and ability.

In his Frankenstein footwear and waistcoat this Big Friendly Giant looks like a lecturer from Middle Earth Polytechnic but Joshua Manning fulfils this tall order superbly well, making the titular character a likeable sort and managing the mangled language with ease.  He may not be all that B of a G but he is certainly F.  With the aid of sound effects and the clever use of perspective, he stomps around, leading his new little friend through a series of moments, each of them beautifully staged by a talented and versatile ensemble, who will backflip as soon as look at you.

It’s all gloriously theatrical, a cavalcade of the performing arts, and carried off with such brio you are willing to overlook the fact that it’s largely padding to eke out the story until the interval.

In the second act we move from Giant Country to Buckingham Palace and the bedroom of Her Majesty the Queen of England.  Here, Sophie does a Michael Fagan, breaking in to warn Her Maj of impending giant-sized disaster.  Mike Goodenough’s Queen may resemble Benny Hill more than that lady off of the postage stamps but he’s more than good enough – a restrained panto dame who gets the funniest lines, which he delivers with pouting relish.

The other giants are left (largely) to the imagination and this makes them all the scarier..  Huge shadows are thrown across the backdrop and sometimes hands and feet appear.  It’s what we don’t see that scares us and talk of bones found outside an orphanage is particularly gruesome.

Hats off to the technical team.  Set and costume designer Robert Innes Hopkins, along with lighting by Peter Mumford, gives the piece a dreamscape quality, with mists and shadows contrasted with bursts of vibrant colour.  Frank Moon and Martin Riley’s unconventional score is played live under the musical direction of Riley himself on keyboards.  Percussionist Tom Chapman and guitarist Tom Durham are accompanied at various points by cast members on a range of instruments.  It all adds to the atmosphere and above all the fun.

Stylish and surreal, this BFG is an enjoyable alternative to the usual pantomimes on offer, a theatrical banquet with plenty to satisfy everyone.

Lara Wollington and Joshua Manning (Photo: Robert Day)

Lara Wollington and Joshua Manning (Photo: Robert Day)