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HENRY V – RSC, London

In London theatre, Plays, Regional theatre, Reviews by Matt MerrittLeave a Comment

Shakespeare has loomed large over London’s theatre scene in 2015, from the fevered anticipation to Benedict Cumberbatch’s performances in (the underwhelming) Hamlet to Kenneth Branagh forming his own company and presenting a series of plays built around a pair of the Bard’s pieces. With such fanfare the RSC’s return to the Barbican with the last of their King and Country cycle (and later the whole cycle in repertory) has almost slipped in under the radar, but the less heralded shows are, in our experience, often the most rewarding…

NEWS: The RSC Announce Full Casting For Henry V

In London theatre, News, Plays, Regional theatre by Matt MerrittLeave a Comment

It won’t shock any of our readers to hear we’re very excited about The RSC presenting Henry V as part of their winter season. Their Henry IV was a highlight of 2014 and both productions, alongside the acclaimed Richard II from a few years back, head to London for an exciting run of the “Henries” cycle!

Gregory Doran, RSC Artistic Director, continues his exploration through Shakespeare’s History plays as he directs Henry V, opening in Stratford-upon-Avon, before being broadcast to cinemas and transferring to the Barbican in London.

Alex Hassell, who played Prince Hal in both productions of Henry IV and recently played Biff Loman in Doran’s production ofDeath of a Salesman, plays the title role of King Henry.

Doran’s History tetralogy culminates in January 2016 at the Barbican in London, with a major theatrical event marking the start of the 400th anniversary year of Shakespeare’s death, King & Country, a complete 4-play season cycle of Richard II, Henry IV Parts I and II and Henry V playing in repertoire. Following the Barbican season, Henry IV Parts I and II and Henry V tour to China and are then re-joined by Richard II in Spring 2016 for an exclusive season in the US, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).

The RSC is delighted to announce J.P. Morgan as the Global Tour Premier Partner for all four productions. J.P. Morgan will be supporting the upcoming tour in the UK, US and China where the RSC will perform Shakespeare’s History Plays.

October 2015, also marks the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt whilst Henry V performs in Stratford-upon-Avon, bringing added resonance to the play which uses the battle as the famous centrepiece of Henry V’s reign.

With the start of rehearsals for Henry V, the RSC begins the first pilot in the initiative to produce new, theatrically viable, Chinese translations of all Shakespeare’s 36 plays, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the First Folio in 2023. The RSC will create the translations in collaboration with Chinese writers and translators, who will be embedded into the RSC’s rehearsal process. Professor Zhang Chong, from Shanghai’s Fudan University will be the translator for Henry V working alongside playwright and Deputy General Manager of Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre, Nick Yu.

The full cast for Henry V includes: Daniel Abbott (Gloucester/Monsieur le Fer); Martin Bassindale (Boy); Antony Byrne(Pistol); Sean Chapman (Exeter); Oliver Ford Davies (Chorus), Nicholas Gerard-Martin (Orleans/Bishop of Ely); Robert Gilbert (Dauphin); Alex Hassell (Henry V); Jim Hooper (Canterbury/Erpingham); Jennifer Kirby (Katherine); Jane Lapotaire(Queen Isobel); Sam Marks (Constable of France); Dale Mathurin (Bates/Bedford); Chris Middleton (Nym/Warwick/Governor of Harfleur); Evelyn Miller (Rambures/Lady-in-Waiting); Keith Osborn (Montjoy/Scroop); Sarah Parks (Mistress Quickly);Leigh Quinn (Alice); Joshua Richards (Bardolph/Fluellen); Simon Thorp (King of France); Obioma Ugoala (Grey/Gower);Andrew Westfield (Westmoreland/MacMorris) and Simon Yadoo (Cambridge/Williams/Jamy).

The Henry V Company will perform across all four plays of the King & Country cycle and are joined by David Tennant (Richard II); Julian Glover (John of Gaunt); Jasper Britton (Bolingbroke/Henry IV); Matthew Needham (Harry Percy/Hotspur/Mowbray) and Emma King (Lady-in-Waiting/Lady Mortimer/Doll Tearsheet).

The productions are designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis with lighting by Tim Mitchell. The music is composed by Paul Englishby with sound by Martin Slavin. The Movement director is Mike Ashcroft and the Fight director is Terry King.

Henry V will be broadcast ‘Live from Stratford-upon-Avon’ to cinemas in collaboration with Picturehouse Entertainment on 21 October 2015

To book tickets call 01789 403493 or online at www.rsc.org.uk

DEATH OF A SALESMAN – Noel Coward Theatre, West End

In London theatre, Plays, Regional theatre, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Plaudits have already been heaped on Antony Sher’s performance as Willy Loman in Greg Doran’s scorching production of Death of a Salesman for the RSC. Arthur Miller’s keynote play, long held up as a searching critique of the 20th-century American psyche, pitches Sher into a role that sees him suicidally depressed, hurled onto the scrap heap and casually catapulted between imaginary decades at the playwright’s whim. Often referred to as the Hamlet of American literature, Sher’s immersion in the role is total as he nails Loman’s doomed fragility.

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Death Of A Salesman – Review

In London theatre, Reviews by Jonathan BazLeave a Comment

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon
*****
Written by Arthur MillerDirected by Greg Doran

Harriet Walter and Antony SherTo read my interview with Harriet Walter and her analysis of the role of Linda, click here

Death Of A Salesman not only marks the centenary of Arthur Miller’s birth, but in Greg Doran’s production being staged over Shakespeare’s April birthday, is also the RSC’s jewel in its 2015 crown.
Widely acclaimed as the greatest American play, we witness a meticulous dissection of the last 24 hours of Willy Loman’s life. His sales are flagging, buyers won’t see him anymore and he has been reduced to “commission only” by his young and ruthless boss Howard, a man who (in one of many moments of Miller’s cruel perception) Willy has watched grow up from boyhood to inherit his family’s business. The mounting finance bills on car (and hellishly, even the refrigerator) remind us of the domestic pressures that Antony Sher’s Willy can never escape.
As guilt and failure take their toll on Loman, we see early on how wise his wife (Harriet Walter’s Linda) is to his confusion. “Your mind is overactive, and the mind is what counts, dear.” But she is being kind. As act one unfolds, Harriet Walter delivers one of the most devastating female performances, telling sons Biff and Happy that not only is she fully aware of Willy’s suicidal depression, but that she cannot let him know that she knows, for such a revelation would destroy him. Linda’s strength as a wife and mother, desperate to glue her family together is a recognisable pain and as Walter spoke, the sobbing around the auditorium was profound.
Miller is merciless as he twists the knife into Loman’s last desperate hours. As Biff again disappoints him, the true depths of Willy’s guilt and shame are revealed, whilst Happy (Sam Marks convincing as the shallow even if ultimately loving son, too easily led by his trousers) is happy to desert his desolate father in a restaurant, as he heads off in pursuit of women.
Loman’s descent will be recognised by all and quite possibly be familiar to many and yet along the way he encounters everyday kindnesses too. Linda’s love for her husband breaks our hearts, whilst Charley (a beautifully weighted performance from the lugubrious Joshua Richards) provides one of the most touching definitions of friendship ever penned. In the play’s Requiem, Charley’s eulogy echoes Horatio’s “now cracks a noble heart” speech from Hamlet, as the old New Yorker says of Willy: 
”He’s a man way out there in the blue, riding on a smile and a shoeshine. And when they start not smiling back — that’s an earthquake. And then you get yourself a couple of spots on your hat, and you’re finished.”
Nowhere else in the canon has the so-called “American dream” been so concisely revealed as the nightmare that it can so easily become.
Besides the faultless text, it is Doran’s company that mark this production as one of the greats. Sat at his kitchen table, the shoe-shining Sher defines Miller’s anti-hero for a new generation and as his mind unravels, Sher’s Loman is as brilliantly desperate as he is pitiful.
In a pairing that has seen Alex Hassell play Hal to Sher’s Falstaff, so is the younger man now Biff. Magnificent throughout, it is late into act two when Hassell, with minimal dialogue and outstanding acting, portrays a young man watching the rock that he had previously believed his father to be, crumble before his eyes. Watching the equal despair of the humiliated father and his devastated son, both now destroyed, is almost unbearable. 
Stephen Brimson Lewis’ powerfully overbearing set depicts a tenemented Brooklyn, the Lomans’ home, where nothing grows anymore – and as Miller has the play’s action flash between the years, so too does the staging mirror Loman’s muddled mind. Credit also to Tim Mitchell’s lighting and Paul Englishby’s music, both perfectly enhancing time and place.
In 1979 Miller described Warren Mitchell in Mitchel Rudman’s National Theatre production, as “definitive”. I saw the NT show more than once and Greg Doran’s version shares that pantheon. 
A tragedy that is timeless and epic and yet also everyman, Death Of A Salesman plays at Stratford, before an immediate transfer to London. The production is unmissable. Drama does not come better than this.

Plays at Stratford until 2nd May 2015. Then plays at the Noel Coward Theatre from 9th May until 18th July 2015