Review: Propeller’s The Winter’s Tale

What country friends is this? Photo: Manual Harlan

For the current season Propeller have created a pretty much pitch perfect Henry V but on this evidence it seems The Winter’s Tale is one play which Hall’s all-male company cannot conquer.

Perhaps more so than any of his plays, Shakespeare’s tragi-comedy explores the relationship between men and women and, more poetically, between the masculine and the feminine; Hall’s production doesn’t quite pull off this delicate process. Within the world of the play the importance of female endurance and faithfulness is highlighted and the idea of redemption is examined. This potent feminine strength is personified not only in Hermione’s dignified exile but in Paulina’s constant vocal protest. Redemption comes in the balanced equality of Perdita and Florizel’s love where no one holds the upper hand.

Propeller’s production fails to fully illuminate this aspect of the text. While their Henry V was as complex and layered as it was full-blooded, this is one play where the all-male company struggle to convey Shakespeare’s emotional intricacies. In this case their maleness counts against them – and although Richard Dempsey and Vince Leigh give solid performances as Hermione and Paulina respectively, theirs is not a feminine strength we see put to the test.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Review: Propeller’s Henry V

Once more unto the breach. Photo: Manual Harlan

This Propeller production of Henry V – performed in repertoire with The Winter’s Tale – is my third Henry V in as many weeks. But this is a Henry to conquer all others. All-male theatre company Propeller are the perfect troupe to tackle this testosterone laden play and they do so with relish in a production which is as relentless as it is engaging.

As a friend commented, this is blockbuster Shakespeare. Everything about it is punchy and impressive. Even the scene changes are masterly in their  choreography, entertaining in their own right.

The piece is powered by a chorus made up of eloquent but bluntly spoken squaddies. Edward Hall’s production places the action firmly in the now, with a soundscape of war that raises hairs on the back of your neck as bullets hiss by. The strong ensemble cast switch between supporting characters just as quickly. These men are, on one hand, aggression-fuelled fighting machines and on the other, vulnerable, human, men of flesh and blood. With the connection between actor and audience at the forefront of every choice, the production offers both detailed realism and enlarged Elizabethan playing.

Continue reading

Thoughts: Get Stuff Break Free

Written for Exeunt

Wow there’s a lot going on this year. THE DIAMOND JUBILEE! THE OLYMPICS! THE SHARD! “It’s good the Shard opens before the Olympics begins. I was worried we wouldn’t have enough hubris in London this summer,” tweeted Andy Field and boy is he right.

According to a dictionary definition of hubris it means ‘overbearing pride or presumption; arrogance.’ That seems to fit the bill 2012 is an unusually preening twelve months isn’t it. Celebrate! CELEBRATE!

If you detect a note of sarcasm in my tone you’d be right. Who are we kidding? We liberals feel rather grumpy about all this money-sucking, altar-to-capitalism building, royals-on-a-boat style celebration.

The idea of hollow celebration is key to Made In China’s new show (although it is powered by something much more hopeful than that). Get Stuff, Break Free highlights society’s penchant for ‘bread and circuses’ – keep us diverted and distracted and we’ll play nicely. The piece involves party poppers, cucumber sandwiches, jugs of Pimms, balloons, sparklers, a dance and fireworks.

………………………………………………………………………………………….

But what is it actually about? I have spoken to them about this; I should know this.

………………………………………………………………………………………….

Tim: “We’re being cagey about this because it’s a bit like if you say that [earlier show] Stationery Excess is about superman…”

 Jess: “It ruins the show.”

Honour: “Absolutely. Yes. But so….how do I write about it?”

…………………………………………………………………………………………..

Made In China are Tim Cowbury and Jessica Latowicki. They are passionate, involved, politically aware artists; ‘Look at this world you are so willingly a part of’ they challenge ‘Just notice it in all it’s problematic and grotesque glory.’

Get Stuff Break Free has been called a helpless acknowledgement of societal appeasement. But I think it’s too engaged for that. It’s a state of the nation piece.

It takes the form of a Q&A with a band who’ve seen it all. Maybe they are London; maybe they are society; maybe they are revolution; maybe they are a failed revolution; maybe they are human; maybe they are us.

Get Stuff Break Free is not a resigned shoulder-shrug to the schlock filled opium of the masses; its a clarion call to open your eyes and break out. It talks about large scale events from the capital’s past and present; riots, fires, weddings, funerals.

It’s Jess and Christopher Brett Bailey again (We Hope That You’re Happy (Why Would We Lie)) but this time it’s also Nigel Barrett and Sarah Calver. Four figures looking like a folk rock group standing on a roof top of the National Theatre. I’m told people can see them when crossing Waterloo Bridge.

They look secure in clumpy ox-blood Doc Martens but also vulnerable, precariously perched on a platform so exposed the wind could lift them up at any moment. Safe and unsafe, I think it’s a metaphor for life – but is it?

It’s definitely both cocky and fragile; they’re like revolutionaries who’ve lost their way but still have flames in their eyes. “The world is explosive and full of greed. It won’t encourage questioning and it won’t give you space to be different.” It says. “But fight for that space because it CAN BE DIFFERENT.” It also says.

My use of capital letters here is not ironic. Made In China never are. Though they satirise the greed of the world, they are earnest in their call for the possibilities of change.

……………………………………………………………………………………….

So, sorry, what is it about again?

……………………………………………………………………………………….

I can’t stop thinking about the first of the Twelve Steps. ‘The first step is, admitting you’ve got a problem.’ That’s what Get Stuff Break Free is about.

Once we all do that, just think of what else we can do.

WOS Blogs 5,6,7,8,9,10…AND 11

SO once again I’ve been writing, writing, writing. But not updating. So here’s ANOTHER round up of the last month or so over at

Am dram & the dilemma of reality TV casting

Last night at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue the great and good of the West End came out for the launch of Sky Arts’ new reality TV show “Nation’s Best Am Dram”…

Critical star wars

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the star rating system, whilst problematic, is here to stay. Or is it?…

Devoted & Disgruntled? A roadshow for you

This weekend a lot of devoted and a number of disgruntled people either lined the streets or locked their doors as the Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee….

(No) Royal Court Reservations

Sat in marvellous splendour above the ‘Become a Friend’ title of the Royal Court’s webpage is a production shot of Jerusalem

Inside Out

They may have picked one of the wettest summers in history but the National Theatre’s Inside Out festival is tantalising nonetheless…

Shakespeare in pubs? You’re Bard

I’ve seen a lot of Shakespeare above pubs this year and I’ve come to the conclusion that you can’t do this huge playwright in tiny rooms; not in traditional productions anyway…

Women (should be) in the spotlight

The art world has always placed women front and centre (for better or voyeuristic worse)…

Review: As You Like It

Written for The Stage

Since they took over the idyllic garden of St Paul’s Church in 2009 Iris Theatre Company have proven themselves to be masterful Shakespearean promenaders. This year they are putting the ‘Arden’ into Covent Garden in a robust production of As You Like It.

Daniel Winder’s cast lead us with typical dynamism through this pastoral comedy. It’s a confident display that is pure entertainment. The actors focus damp audience members’ attention from the start with laughing winks, and their earnest speeches keep it there.

Emily Tucker and Joe Forte have real chemistry as cocky Rosalind and heroic Orlando while Fiona Geddes is charming as the put upon Celia. But occasionally Winder over-eggs the pudding. For all Matthew Mellalieu’s natural comic ability, making him a drag Audrey feels superfluous. Diana Kashlan’s Touchstone puts the Grotowski into grotesque to the expense of the comedy and it is hard to connect with this fool.

Planted around the garden, Tessa Battisti’s sets spring up like wild flowers from the lawns and trees of this bucolic haven. Sophia Anastasiou’s extraordinary costumes, which flip from the twisting bustles of the city to the gypsy flare of the country, bring a dose of existentialist style to this English country garden.

Runs until 4 August.

Review: Wicked

Written for Time Out

Rachel Tucker in Wicked

The film world continues its love affair with werewolves, vampires and all things ‘Twilight’. But theatre types have always known witches are where it’s at. In its sixth year at the Apollo Victoria, Oz prequel ‘Wicked’ continues to fill this massive theatre with an international crowd of voracious consumers (glass of champagne and a choccy for £16 anyone?). But this stylish and bombastic musical still delivers, sailing over its patchy score thanks to a gravity-defying performance from its current leading lady Rachel Tucker, as the intense green-skinned undergrad who goes on to become the Wicked Witch of the West.

‘Wicked’ is a circus that rises or falls around its central performance. In the midst of a gigantic production full of bangs, bells and whistles Tucker, with her small frame and searing vocal ability, simply flies off with the show.

She’s closely followed by Gina Beck, who plays good girl, Glinda. Glinda and Elphaba’s relationship forms the heart of this story and, as the Good Witch, Beck is a consummate clown, playing up the silliness of her character at every turn. But she can raise a tear, too, and her final duet with Tucker, ‘For Good’, is genuinely heart-rending.

The Tim Burton-inspired ensemble oscillate between the hypnotic and grotesque and a sweet but thin voiced Matt Willis charms as the rather superfluous Prince. As in classical ballet, this is all about the women and, even by previous lead Idina Menzel’s standards, they are in soaring form here.