Exeunt Critics’ Picks of 2011

LOTS of fabulous picks here by some people who really know their stuff including some expected and not so expected pieces. Wish I could have mentioned London Road, wish I could have seen Mission Drift…

Originally published on Exeunt

Of course we are wary of the arbitrary nature of these things, the artificiality of seasons, the ordering of experiences into peaks, the hierarchal maps they reproduce, the dangers of placing Fabulous ones next to Those who have just broken a vase.  However at some point you have to be practical.  Our critics have valiantly seen a metric stage-tonne of theatre this year, so what better to relive with sufficient context their most notable moments? And from here it looks like they have produced a list unrivalled for its scope, depth and surprises.  So without further ado-ing, and in no particular order…

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Review – Much Ado About Nothing at St Stephen’s

In the cooling arches of the beautifully refurbished St Stephen’s in Hampstead a very gentile evening is taking place.  Antic Disposition’s production of Much Ado About Nothing may lack a raucous joie de vivre, but it is a very enjoyable, if slightly safe, evening. 

We are in the victorious year of 1945 and Don Pedro and his men have returned from fighting in the Second World War to find a society much changed in their absence.  Women have been working in roles other than that of wife and mother and the shift of power has subtly changed.  Into this framework Antic Disposition have successfully placed Shakespeare’s playful war of the sexes, Beatrice’s independence and Hero’s dutiful submission, Benedick’s acceptance of Beatrice as an equal and Don Pedro’s propensity to buy and sell women like objects, all sitting comfortably in this developing era.

Directors Ben Horslen and John Risebero utilise the elegant stone floored nave of St Stephen’s to polite effect with the red and white chequered audience tables framing the space and creating a pleasant intimacy of environment.  The sunlight dappled floor presents a very pretty stage and the action moves smoothly if a little reservedly.  Peppered with some gently smiling moments, this reserve for the most part stops these grins from ever developing into full throttle laughter and the comedy throughout is not always as prominent as it should be. Dogberry in particular has been directed in a very slow fashion making his usually hilarious scenes a little dampening.

Anouke Brook brings a centred strength and inherent sexiness to her barbed and husky Beatrice and as her sparring partner Ashley Cook is a very dapper and watchful Benedick, if lacking in a little merriment.  Bethany Minell twinkles prettily as the youthful and easily impressionable Hero, not an enviable part, and Chris Waplington turns in a very intelligent and dastardly Borachio.

Risebero’s design of delicate strings of lights and bunting which line the entrance and the white clothed, sunflower and orange filled, trestle table simply lend a gentle Southern French feel to the piece.  The sound has slight memories of The Last of the Summer Wine but although the recorded soundtrack jars a little, the cast choral singing moments are strong and fill the space impressively.

Lightly funny, gentle and pleasant, this is a restrained but highly affable night out.  If the echoes of Kenneth Branagh’s iconic 1993 film are a little strong it doesn’t really matter in a production which lightly prods at the war of the sexes and comes away leaving one, if not exactly completely satisfied, then definitely cordially warmed.

Runs at St Stephen’s Church, Hampstead until 19 July 2009

Review originally published online at http://thepublicreviews.blogspot.com/

You shall go to the ball!

I am going to a mask ball on Thursday as part of Antic Disposition’s production of Much Ado About Nothing showing at St Stephen’s in Hampstead.  Sadly it’s not a part of the show as per say and more an after show party darrrrrrling.  But before it sounds like I’m crowing it’s only because usually it’s not expected or really ‘good form’ for press to attend parties so I’m rather excited.  You should be at home squirreling away on your computer and what if you were spotted by an over enthusiastic performer who was desperate to see what you thought of the show.  There’s only so many deflecting responses that one can make because even if you liked it you don’t talk about it until the review is out in black and white with the artists – rule one apparently.

But here it is on the press invitation; ‘Followed by a MASKED PARTY – Masks compulsory’.  So Cinderella can finally go to the ball, and my fairy godmother in this godsend? – my compulsory mask.  A mask enables you to become someone else, and so a critic can become a paying member of the public and no enquiring eyes peering through their cut holes will be able to tell the difference.  Of course I will still have to get back to do the review pretty early in the evening, but one dance won’t hurt and this girl’s dancing shoes need a bit of a wiggle. So off to the ball I go, maybe I’ll see you there, but will you see me?

I’ve fallen in love and it’s with a long dead Elizabethan playwright.

It’s easy to skim the surface with William Shakespeare and miss all the nourishment beneath.  Rather capriciously if you’ve seen even one or two productions done very badly then it’s very easy to begin to think (somewhat treacherously) that maybe he’s not so ‘towering’ after all.

But then you see one show which makes you realise why the British are so proud of this  National Treasure and it’s like falling back in love with an old partner, suddenly all the annoying things that they do (the protracted verse, the ‘hilarious’ out of context social comedy) are transformed into actions and moments of delight.

And so it was for me.  Just as Rosalind falls so marvellously for Orlando in As You Like It, so I fell head over heels in love with Shakespeare after seeing a superlative production of this text which is currently on at the Globe.  My interest had previously been moistened with a little light flirting in the form of Timothy Sheader’s very sweet Much Ado About Nothing at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, but it wasn’t until I sat in the Globe earlier this week that I was once again hopelessly enamoured with the Bard. 

Director Thea Sharrock and her superb cast have an immense understanding of As You Like It, and what can often seem like a string of famous quotes is woven together with great humanity and sparkling wit in an enrapturing production. Out for all to see is Shakespeare’s inherent humour, the liveliness in his characters (in both villains and heroes) and his timeless empathy of the human condition all burnished with the richness of his beautiful language. 

Shakespeare then is daring, funny, lively, empathic, poetic, and elegant; it’s no wonder that I feel like a flushed school girl eager to see the next play from my long forgotten crush (I have already watched an outdoor promenade version of Romeo and Juliet, and still the flame burns for more).  But I’m not a jealous lover and there’s plenty of Shakespeare to go around this season for everyone, if that is, you fancy it.

2 reviews and the promise of an interview…

Further to my post on the Blue Elephant last week, I was fortunate enough to interview Jasmine Cullingford who runs the space and will be posting this interview over the next couple of days…please watch this space.

But now reviews and views on a bizarrely brilliant Swedish cabaret and a sparkling outdoor Much Ado….

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