Tag Archives: Sheila Reid

Troying Times

TROILUS AND CRESSIDA

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 8th November, 2018

 

Gregory Doran sets his production of Shakespeare’s Trojan War story in a post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-type world – although we have to wait a considerable while for the action and excitement associated with the genre when we finally get to climactic scenes of armed combat.

Here, leather-and-denim-clad women are as likely to be butch warriors as the men, and so we get Suzanne Bertish’s shock-haired Agamemnon, Amanda Harris’s fiery Aeneas, and the mighty Adjoa Andoh’s wily Ulysses.  There is a humorous tone to the piece that Doran tends to emphasise, as Shakespeare satirises the supposedly heroic figures, but the production’s Achilles heel, if you will, is its lack of emotional attachment.  It looks great and sounds great but it does not grip or move.

Gavin Fowler makes an appealing Troilus, comical in his awkwardness and initially more of a lover than a fighter.  Amber James is fantastic as a stately Cressida, using a cool wit as a shield.  When she blurts out her love for Troilus, she immediately backpedals, unwilling to allow herself to experience or display her true emotions.  Even though the play is named for them, they are merely two characters among a host of many, and their story feels undeveloped.  As the go-between who, um, goes between them, Oliver Ford Davies is tremendously enjoyable as the doddering, overly attentive Pandarus.

Andy Apollo (yes, really) is an Adonis of an Achilles, striding and posing about the place with James Cooney’s sweet and boyish Patroclus at his side.  This pair of lovers is perhaps more tragic than the titular couple; when Patroclus is struck down, it provides a rare moment of empathy from us.

Andrew Langtree’s Menelaus would not be out of place in an Asterix book, while Sheila Reid’s grubby Thersites is like a dystopian Wee Jimmy Krankie (if that’s not a tautology).  Theo Ogundipe is a delight as thick-headed Ajax.

Original music by virtuoso percussionist Evelyn Glennie evokes the clatter and clang of battles we don’t get to see.  There are many things to admire and enjoy but as a whole, these things don’t amount to a hill of beans.  Shakespeare’s genre-defying play is notoriously difficult to pin down.  Doran’s funny, orotund and noisy production lacks depth.  It’s Troy without weight.  By the end of this loud but empty spectacle, I yearn for Tina Turner to come on and belt out We Don’t Need Another Hero.  It would be apt at least.

Troilus and Cressida production photographs_ 2018_2018_Photo by Helen Maybanks _c_ RSC _265416

Brought to heel: Andy Apollo as Achilles (Photo: Helen Maybanks)

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Jewel in the Crown

MAURICE’S JUBILEE

Festival Theatre, Malvern, Monday 11th March, 2013

 

There is a trend in recent cinema of making films for the older market.  Think of Song For Marion and that one about the hotel in India.  And Quartet, that’s another one.  In a way, this new play follows that trend in that the main characters are well over the hill, with the concerns and extensive back stories of those who have been kicking around the planet for several decades.  I’d argue the play is more than an attempt to attract a particular demographic and has universal appeal.

Earnest and professionally cheerful nurse Katy moves into the bungalow of elderly couple Maurice and Helena to provide palliative care.  He has terminal cancer and his wife has a severe case of denial.  As Katy settles in, she learns (and we learn) about Maurice’s past.  Formerly a jeweller, he had the privilege of guarding the crown jewels the night before the coronation.  This duty afforded him a few hours in the company of the young queen, an encounter he has never forgotten.  In fact he has been banging on about it, to his wife’s dismay, for sixty years.

Time is running out for Maurice.  He strives to stay alive for his 90th birthday – on that day he is expecting a very special visitor, based on a pact made on that night before the coronation.  No one believes him, but cheery Katy decides to indulge the old man.  She and Helena cook up a ruse: Katy will dress up as the Queen and fulfil Her Majesty’s obligations on her behalf.

Nichola McAuliffe’s play is a diamond.  The script is warm and touching but never mawkish or sentimental and, above all, it is very funny.  Maurice (Julian Glover) is fond of the corny and/or salacious joke.  His sense of humour and his faith that the Queen will come to tea keep him going. Helena (Sheila Reid) is exasperated but eventually comes to face the truth.

Julian Glover is marvellous as the ailing Maurice.  The first act closes with a lengthy monologue from him as he tells Nurse Katy about that fateful night in the Tower of London.  He holds her and us spellbound.  In the second act, he stumbles around, bent over his walking frame, trailing an intravenous drip.  There is something extra poignant about seeing such a giant brought low by infirmity. The play is not without its hard-hitting moments. Beneath the veil of humour, there is fear and anguish.

The playwright herself plays Katy as a fussy but sympathetic spinster.  She also gets the chance to impersonate the Queen in a wonderful scene, the jewel in this play’s crown, that shows how versatile an actor she is and proves that Helen Mirren hasn’t cornered that particular market.

Sweet and funny, beautifully written and constructed, Maurice’s Jubilee shows us the effects of old age and terminal illness on love and life.  It also gives us a view of our monarch in a positive and amusing light, with some belly-laughs along the way, although it is for Nichola McAuliffe that I came away feeling a reinforced respect.

maurice's jubilee