One of the London stage hits of the immediate post-pandemic period, 2.22 A Ghost Story opened with a big gala night in its new home. The big attraction on this occasion is the West End debut of Cheryl (her name now a simple mononym rather than the Tweedy she once was as one-fifth of pop band Girls Aloud).
Exploitation can take many forms and sometimes it even begins with a creative opportunity. Sonali Bhattacharyya’s lead character in new play Chasing Hares at the Young Vic takes a while to find themselves confronting a major moral dilemma but the road to it begins with storytelling, imagination and character creation.
The third edition of Royal Court’s Living Newspaper moves online only, with some seriously fierce political writing this time around.
Director Bijan Sheibani turns playwright in a fine two-hander about family and the crisis of masculinity in The Arrival at the Bush Theatre.
Jeremy Sams and his creative team have delivered theatrical magic in Oklahoma! at Chichester Festival Theatre.
This year Chichester Festival Theatre is taking on Oklahoma! with their usual mix of respect for the piece and urge to find a new viewpoint on it.
How many productions does it take for a playwright to have a moment? We could be on the cusp of a William Wycherley wave, with the second production of The Country Wife to arrive this year (the first being at the Southwark Playhouse in April).
William Wycherley’s Restoration romp, The Country Wife, has been given a makeover in Jonathan Munby’s modern, monochrome production at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre.
First things first, the foyer is extremely spacious and rather beautifully lit. So whilst there were hefty queues at the box office and the bar, there was still plenty of room to mill about, some seats available and a wide enough staircase that, when we finally started going down to the stalls, it wasn’t too much of a crush.
Shakespeare’s Globe has confirmed the full cast for Matthew Dunster’s production, running from 17 September until 16 October 2016.
Energy and fidelity to the intriguing source material are not enough to distinguish Brave New World at the King’s, in a touring production marred by odd choices and a curious lack of life.
Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel tells of a world divided by genetic design into castes – Alpha, Beta and so on – and controlled by drugs, recreational sex and facile diversions. Into this world comes ‘John the Savage’, an outsider from a reservation, raised on family, religion and Shakespeare – all of which civilisation has banned.
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