What is certain is that if you want an account that’s faithful to the spirit (sorry!) of the original but doesn’t let proceedings drag on (it comes in at under two hours without missing much out) then Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story is certainly worth your attention.
Stand-out performances in any era are often only judged so in retrospect and modern theatre offers much that will be remembered. But once in a while, you know you’re in the presence of greatness, and Ian McKellen’s King Lear will be talked about for years to come.
Paapa Essiedu’s Hamlet is likely to be remembered and talked about in years to come and Simon Godwin’s production is a beautifully accessible performance of a perfect play.
This Frozen is a dark story, a revival of Bryony Lavery’s 1998 award-winning play about a child killer — definitely no singing, no dancing, no hummable tunes, but it does have an outstanding cast: Suranne Jones, Jason Watkins and Nina Sosanya.
Set entirely in a one-roomed hut in the Scottish Highlands, The Retreat tells the story of thirtysomething Luke, who has quit his high-powered City job to become a Buddhist. But just as he is settling down to a bit of chanting and meditation, his karma is ruffled by the unexpected appearance of Tony, his older brother.
At a time when everyone is talking about globalization, when this is an issue in every election, plays about the international reach of European countries are still quite rare. So it’s great to be able to see two recent dramas that give some sense of how difficult it is to grasp the bigger picture in all its complexity.
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
As Rolls Royce productions go, they don’t get much better than this. Homegrown screen and stage star Damian Lewis returning the stage after a six-year absence, and for the first time since Homeland made him a mega mega international star (after seeing him in this and Band of Brothers, my nephews in Chicago simply refuse […]
MEN UP A DEAD END… The marvellous junk-shop set by Paul Wills comes into its own most gratifyingly when Damian Lewis finally loses control and trashes it. For most of the play it simply evokes the rubbishy oppression of heavyset, … Continue reading →