Monday, 26 December 2016

Happy Holidays!

I had a lovely, low-key  Christmas Day with my  sister, her partner and our parents , and got some lovely gifts, including the new, illustrated versions of 'American Gods' and 'Anansi Boys'.

Also aquired some fancy fruity gin, and LOTS of chocolates!

More relatives today and tomorrow, and then some time with some old friends.

I hope your holiday season is full of love and happiness.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Shakespeare Trilogy at Donmar Kings Cross

Phyllida Lloyd first directed her all-female version of Julius Caesar 2 or 3 years ago, at the Donmar Warehouse, and followed up with a production of Henry IV, with a final production of The Tempest.

And all three are now being performed as a trilogy. People can see the plays separately or, as I did, can see all three in one day.

All of the plays are performed in the round (or technically, in the square), and are set in a women's prison, which does add an extra layer to the plays. Each actor plays the role of a prisoner, as well as their roles within the plays, and each play is introduced by  different actor, in character, explaining their character's offence, and there are moments in each play when the prison environment breaks through, and the play is interrupted, by the 'guards' or a person falling out of character. (for instance, in one of the tavern scenes in Henry IV, as Falstaff quarrels with the  'Hostess' (Zainab Hassan), they insult her increasingly personally, until she breaks character in distress and and the 'guards' intervene) 

This works surprisingly well, and invites us, the audience, to pay attention to the parallels in the plays with the prisoners own lives, and how the plays may speak to them.

Seeing all three plays together was amazing - for one thing, it allows you to see how incredibly versatile and skilled the actors are, but also to see how their characters develop.

In Julius Caesar, Harriet Walter is Brutus, Jade Anouka is a wonderfully eloquent Mark Anthony, and Jackie Clune a somewhat Trump-esque Caesar, and the prison setting worked very well indeed.

Clare Dunne's Portia was as eloquent as Mark Anthony - every un-heard and ignored woman..

Henry IV (which compressed Parts I and II into about 2 hours) featured Harriet Walter as Henry IV, tired, world-weary, less querulous than is sometimes the case, and obviously a prisoner of his own crown, softening the final scenes as Hal tries the crown.

Jade Anouka was an excellent Hotspur, and Clare Dunne as Hal,resplendent in headphones, baseball cap and Chelsea shirt! 

The scenes as Hal draws back from his relationship with Falstaff are made particularly poignant by the setting - Dunne introduces the play in character as a prisoner about to be released after a drug-related sentence, and so the farewells, and the idea of giving up excess and debauchery echoes with the 'reality' of the prisoners' respective positions.

The Tempest was, of the three plays, the one which  was most sceptical about, in terms of whether it would work in the pared down 'prison' setting, given the magical and fantastical content, and of course it was bound to draw comparison with the wonderful (and high-tech) RSC production we saw last week.

Harriet Walter as Prospero (photo from Donmar site)

I need not have worried. Of the three plays this was perhaps the most successful. 
Harriet Walter as Prospero gives a searing, heart-breaking performance - she introduces this play in character as 'Hanna', an inmate in her 60s, in her 4th decade of a life sentence - it highlights the way that the Island is a prison, despite Prospero's power there, and her grief and regrets.

The play also draws in the audience - on entrance we were all given tiny torches, which were used to create hundreds of stars, almost the only 'special effect' in the production.

Jade Anouka was again a stand-out performer, as Ariel, and the 'spirits' which guide the shipwrecked mariners were all dressed as prison guards, an insight into the 'inmate's' view of their situation.

As the play ended, rather than bringing the curtain down on Prospero's final words:

And my ending is despair,                        
Unless I be relieved by prayer,                
Which pierces so that it assaults              
Mercy itself and frees all faults.               
As you from crimes would pardoned be, 
Let your indulgence set me free.               
the production leaves Hanna alone in her cell (reading Margaret Attwood's 'Hag-seed') while the other inmates, not in civilian clothing, say their farewells, thanking her for her support and help. 

It's an infinitely moving way to end the performance, and the trilogy.

I would urge eveyone who can to see the trilogy, although that may be tricky -the run at Donmar Kings Cross finishes on 17th December. 

However, they were filming the performances I saw, so (though the cameras were a little intrusive at times) I think this must mean there must be a reasonable chance that it may be available in cinemas or on DVD at some point in the future. Which is a Good Thing. 

I would love for anyone who thinks that Shakespeare isn't relevant to modern audiences, or isn't for them, to see these plays.

(Edited to Add: The company have created more background for the prison Characters, which can be found at )

Thursday, 8 December 2016

The Tempest

On Saturday, I went with  some friends  to see the RSC's production of 'The Tempest' in Stratford on Avon.

The production has been created in collaboration with the imaginarium studio,  (Which did the motion capture special effects for films such as the Lord of the Rings) .

Stage, pre-performance

Going in the the theatre, the set is striking, the huge, broken shell of a  ship, and then of course the performance begins - Simon Russell Beale is, at first, not  a striking Prospero,a small figure, in a simple, dark, academic gown, but he grows in strength and power as the play progresses.

Simon Russell Beale as Prospero (Photo (C) RSC)
Ariel, (Mark Quartley) is one of the stars of the show, performing, as he does, with his own avatar - it's fascinating to watch, as mostly he is on stage at the same time as the projected version of him; sometimes in the shadows, sometimes more obviously. The avatar takes all sorts of different forms,  including a huge, winged harpy, and seemed almost synchronized with his movements, but sometimes with a slight lag, and occasionally appearing to be moving a little in advance of him!

Ariel in the cleft tree (C) RSC
It was absolutely stunning.

I was a little concerned that the special effects might overshadow the play itself, but I didn't feel that they did, largely due to Mark Quartley and Simon Russell Beale's performances.

I was slightly underwhelmed by Caliban,who seemed to be defined by grotesque costuming (and a fish) but had little opportunity to let any character show. I don't find the 'comedy' between Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban very funny, but it was well done (particularly Tony Jayawardena as Stephano.)

All in ll, I was very impressed, and enjoyed the play a lot. I know it is due to be broadcast to cinemas on 11th January and I am tempted to go to see it, to have the chance to look more closely at the details.

The live play is at Stratford until 21st January, and then in London at the Barbican from 30th June until 18th August next year.

There is a video about the making of the special events, for those who are interested!

Thursday, 1 December 2016

I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue

If you are familiar with  'I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue' you'll understand why I was so excited when I found they were going to be recording in Bath, on 27th November.

If you aren't familiar with it, I recommend that you go  here and listen to an episode or two, then pop back.

I've been fortunate enough to go to  previous recording, and to the touring show,  so I know I was in for a treat!

Chairman Jack Dee (and producer John Naismith)

And I wasn't disappointed. It was great fun! The Theatre Royal was completely sold out, with people also standing.

The evening starting with the producer, John Naismith,explaining the ground rules (including 'no-one can hear you smile on the radio, so do laugh' and 'if you're not sure whether something is supposed t be funny - give us the benefit of the doubt')

Jeremy Hardy and Barry Cryer
There were then a selection of all the usual games, from 'one song to the tune of another' (Barry Cryer singing 'I am an anarchist, I am an Antichrist, to the the of 'A You're Adoreable' was particuarly moving) to sound charades, and of course, Mornington Crescent!

We actually got tohear two complete recordings, which will be broadcast on 12th and 19th December, with the second episode being repeated on Christmas Day

Miles Jupp and Tim Brooke-Taylor (with Colin Sell at the piano)
It was an enourmous amount of fun!