The artistic love affair between August Strindberg’s ghost, playwright Howard Brenton and director Tom Littler continues to bear strange fruit in Creditors at the Jermyn Street Theatre.
Now it’s come indoors, I must beg you to ignore all that and be assured that this is a Restoration riot to restore the spirits: a hoot, a perfect winter treat. It’s gorgeously set in courtly gold tassels, velvet and the tacky backstage paraphernalia of Mr Killigrew’s theatre where Nell becomes one of the first women onstage.
Gemma Arterton shines wonderfully in West End outing for jolly, if rather superficial, Restoration romp.
The poster of Nell Gwynn shows a saucy, bare-shouldered Gemma Arterton and promises “fun, funny and joyous… a cast of 20! and a band… naughty songs… merry dances. And a dog!”
Full casting has been announced for the West End transfer of Jessica Swale’s new play Nell Gwynn, directed by Christopher Luscombe. The production stars Gemma Arterton in the title role, with the full cast including Paige Carter, Michele Dotrice, Matthew Durkan, Michael Garner, Greg Haiste, George Jennings, Ellie Leah, Peter McGovern, David Rintoul, Anneika Rose, Nicholas Shaw, David Sturzaker, Jay Taylor, Sasha Waddell and Sarah Woodward.
Richard II is one of Shakespeare’s great treats and, for
this writer at least, contains some of his most beautiful writing as well as
one of the more fascinating storylines in the canon. Somehow though, this is my
first experience of seeing it performed live. I’ll confess to having trouble picturing
Charles Edwards as Richard. I’ve always enjoyed Edwards’ work but this is
a little bit different to his recent roles.
Thankfully I was wrong (and not for the first time) to be
concerned! We’ve seen petulant Richards, childlike Richards and recently Ben
Whishaw’s ethereal monarch in the BBC’s majestic Hollow Crown series. Edwards gives us Richard the bon-vivant, letting
loose with sardonic asides that his pandering courtiers fall over themselves to
laugh at. He’s lost in his own world and thinks himself hilarious, making his
eventual fall all the more harrowing. When he realises he is lost and bids his
followers sit with him and tell stories of former kings it’s harrowing,
especially when, with a lost look on his face he reaches out and clutches the
hand of an audience member.
who shone earlier this year as Gratiano in Shakespeare’s
Globe’s Merchant of Venice is excellent as Bolingbroke, merciless in the
face of those who wrong him he nevertheless seems reluctant to take power until
he realises it is his only choice.
Director Simon Godwin
balances the humour and the sorrow well, taking pains to ensure that the
funnier lines hit home. Sadly the dramatic moments fall a little flat as
several of the cast seem hell bent on reducing the running time by gabbling
through their lines as if they might miss their train home. The exception is William Gaunt who delivers his namesake’s
fervent elegy to his homeland as a masterclass in understated grief.
Gaunt’s passionate dismissal of Richard “Live in thy shame, but die not
shame with thee!”
cuts like a knife and still rings in the ears when the former sovereign meets
Shakespeare’s Globe, London
Written by William ShakespeareDirected by Simon Godwin
Simon Godwin hones his focus in on the fallible nature of authority, in a smartly paced production with plenty of humour. His Richard II is an examination of the facets of hierarchy and begs the audience to consider the true origins of power. Is the right of Kings truly a gift from God? Or is it an innate and simplistic ability to rule justly and fairly, possessed of any man willing to seize the opportunity? Therein lies the central conflict between Charles Spencer’s enigmatic Richard and David Sturzaker’s earnest Bolingbroke.
Designer Paul Wills has crafted a technically intelligent set, casing every wall and pillar in a slightly decayed gold leaf. The extravagant opulence of Richard’s court is immediately captured in the garishly blanket plating of every surface, yet the hidden rot of his rule is also reflected in the decay. Just as the surface of the very walls is aged and scratched, so Richard’s personal façade can only last so long. Richard himself, clad as he is in light creams and further gold, often disappears into his own throne, lost in the architecture of his surroundings and blind to the threats of the more darkly clad Bolingbroke, Northumberland and Willoughby.
As Richard, Charles Spencer’s central performance captures the glib swagger of a man raised in a form of regal captivity. We see the young boy crowned in a coronation prologue and in so doing understand Richard’s inability to see beyond the needs of his immediate entourage and desires. He is not inherently selfish, simply a man told since his pre-pubescent years that his actions are the will of God. Spencer is especially strong when physically handing over the crown to Bolingbroke. The former king is reduced to a linen clad waif, not mad, simply unable to fathom the recent turn of events. Spencer delicately portrays the sickened confusion of a man who has lost his spiritual foundation.
Godwin keeps the play motoring along and whilst a couple of actors seem to slightly rush their lines, it gives the production a sense of welcome pace and comedy. Exchanges between Richard and his courtiers are fired off with precise timing and a catty wit. These scheming felines spit snide remarks behind closed doors and in one scene cackle over some odd catwalk-like entertainment. It all feels very ‘high fashion mogul’. There are also some fantastically funny set pieces that lift what could’ve been a rather drab second act. Sarah Woodward and William Chubb, as the Duchess and Duke of York, do fine work on their knees in a farcical squabble over their sons’ misdeeds, whilst the biggest laugh of the night came from a sequence involving as many thrown gauges as you are likely to see in a single scene.
If the production lacks anything, it is perhaps a degree of narrative investment. Sturzaker’s Bolingbroke is likeable and well acted, but lacks that enigmatic zeal that would convince an audience of his ability to rally the disgruntled Lords to his cause. Also, both the Dukes of Richard’s court and Bolingbroke’s eventual sympathisers lack a sense of individual identity. They blur into a mass of camp malevolence and haughty aggression respectively, which robs the play of a sense of character depth.
This aside, Richard II delivers in terms of a charismatic central performance from Charles Spencer and a slick sense of pace throughout. Godwin’s direction has clarity and his deft touch for the light-hearted encourages the audience to find humour in the pomp and reverence of sovereignty, as well as pity for a young boy King doomed by ideals thrust upon him.
Runs until 18th OctoberGuest reviewer: Will Clarkson
Photo credit: Johan Persson
You could be forgiven, if you didn’t know The Merchant of Venice well, for believing it to be a tragedy and more so for thinking Shylock is one of Shakespeare’s most caricature villains. Thankfully, Jonathan Munby directs with flair, amping up the comedy without losing even a hint of pathos in what may already be the highlight of Shakespeare’s Globe’s summer season.
Shakespeare’s Globe, London
Written by William ShakespeareDirected by Jonathan Munby
Phoebe Pryce and Jonathan Pryce
Jonathan Munby’s production of The Merchant Of Venice at Shakespeare’s Globe is likely to prove a long remembered classic. The staging offers an interaction with the groundlings that defines the raison d’être of this remarkable venue and with some of the Bard’s finest verse bestowed upon both Shylock and Portia, Jonathan Pryce and Rachel Pickup respectively provide a masterclass in English poetry.
It can be all too easy to forget that The Merchant Of Venice is one of Shakespeare’s comedies. Munby’s production however makes much wonderfully timed merriment, with Stefan Adegbola’s Launcelot Gobbo putting on a class act that is as much Vaudeville stand up as it is classic Elizabethan drama. Elsewhere, David Sturzaker’s drunken Gratiano and Dorothea Myer-Bennett as Nerissa make for excellent comic foils.
The design of both costume and stage is gorgeous. The dress is of the period, with the Venetian masked Carnevale a prominent theme. Designer Mike Britton’s Belmont is suggested magnificently by drapes of burnished gauze that billow in the Southwark breeze, cleverly catching the light and evoking a modest understatement to the wealth of Portia’s estate
So much for the hilarity, there is heartbreak too – and in the most complex of parent-child dilemmas, Pryce wrestles with the demands of his Jewish faith as daughter Jessica spurns both father and tradition for her gentile lover, Ben Lamb’s Lorenzo. That Jessica is played by Pryce’s real life daughter Phoebe (who eschewing any whiff of nepotistic stunt-casting, more than earns her stripes) only adds to the moments of emotional devastation hurled at us.
Much too is made of Bassanio’s bisexuality as Daniel Lapaine and Dominic Mafham’s Antonio the eponymous Merchant, make frequent references to their past love. Away from the comedy again, Munby spotlights Portia’s anguish as she comes to realise her new husband’s sexual history, making for another neat and credible shot of pain.
Throughout, Munby’s work is nothing short of visionary. His Princes of Morroco and Arragon (Scott Karim and Christopher Logan respectively) are stereotyped caricatures – indeed Karim’s Arabic creation could be straight out of Disney’s Aladdin. But Munby knows just when to ease off too. Whilst his Princes may be buffoons, there is no hint of grotesque Jewish caricature to Shylock, with the director letting the evil of the play’s prejudice speak for itself.
Whilst Shakespeare’s original English text is respected, Munby takes brave linguistic licence elsewhere. Shylock and Jessica converse in Yiddish behind closed doors, whilst a devastating epilogue sees the now proselytised Jewess lament in Hebrew, whilst her father is subject to the full baptismal onslaught of a Catholic Latin liturgy.
But the heartbeat of this production lies in its devastating depiction of racist hatred. Shylock speaks of having been and is, spat upon. The courtroom scene is imbued with a lynch-mob menace that bays for the Jew’s blood. Whilst his desire for murderous vengeance can never be condoned, this production more than most, speaks clearly of the lifetime of abuse that the old money-lender has endured.
In what is likely to prove one of the capital’s stand out Shakespeare plays of the year, Pryce’s performance dominates and devastates. We share the pain of his yelp as his skullcap is brutally removed, realising more than anything else that the prejudices of 17th century Venice were barely different from those of Hitler’s Berlin in the 1930s. And when we read today of the barbarity wreaked upon Iraq’s Yazidis and upon many of Africa’s Christian communities, we can only weep at Shakespeare’s timeless wisdom.
Runs until 7th June
Image by Manuel Harlan