Review: Pericles

Written for The Stage

The adage ‘show, don’t tell’ – a precautionary note designed to stop writers from relying solely on description – could be put to good use here. David Weinberg’s Pericles is an enjoyable romp that moves at a sharp pace. But the expositional acting of this likeable cast is reminiscent of the classical fantasy films of the 1960s.

Still they just about get away with it. Philip Mansfield’s Elizabethan narrator bounds on stage before pulling us back in time to a cast dressed in reams of fabric and Greek sandals. Incest, love, shipwreck, comedy, calamity and a happy ending are all laced together by Mansfield’s fruity commentary and a cast of no less than 11 performers.

Jonathan Leinmuller is gallant as Pericles, the valiant centre of this adventure. As his tearful and silver-tongued daughter, Rachael Cunliffe manages to avoid the irritation caused by many wide-eyed and put upon heroines, which is no mean feat.

Alessia Alba’s costumes are elegant while Philip Jones’ lighting transforms this Homeric Odyssey into a mini-series, with blackouts breaking the action down into workable chunks.

Weinberg’s Pericles is old fashioned but it has a nostalgic charm that carries its audience through even the silliest parts of this epic soap opera.

Runs until 28th October

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: Romeo and Juliet

Written for The Stage

Romeo and Juliet production photos!

Entering the Rose Theatre is usually atmospheric enough, but this is thoroughly romantic as you are seduced with the smell of sweet incense and the sight of delicate candles flickering in jars. The setting of Martin Parr’s production of Romeo and Juliet feels as light to the touch as his quicksilver direction does.

Parr has cut Shakespeare’s story of woe to a swift 90 minutes. It’s a whistlestop tour of all the best bits with famous quotes dropping like jewels from this speedy cast. With the production moving as quickly as Romeo and Juliet do, there is a palpable sense of their haste in love.

The cast juggle their roles with the bravado of street performers, with character changes reliant on shifts in posture and a handy array of scarves. Their control in this circus is impressive although it is only really Jennifer Higham’s girlish Juliet and Isabel Pollen’s warm Friar Lawrence whose performances are particularly moving.

This is because the brevity also strips the major moments of their emotional power; Mercutio dies too quickly, as do our star-crossed lovers, leaving us as cold as their bodies. Ultimately, though, we know each event is coming, we would just like a little more time to wallow in our grief.

Runs until 30 June – more information here

Review: As You Like It

Written for The Stage

While the big boys are wowing us with the World Shakespeare Festival and Globe to Globe, it’s great to see smaller venues doing the Bard proud too. Rae McKen’s boisterous production of As You Like It takes a suitably light touch to one of Shakespeare’s frothiest comedies, drawing plenty of giggles from this jam-packed audience.

What this cast lack in age they more than make up for in youthful energy. If they are unable to fully convince as fathers, it is in the boyish scenes between banished lords or flushed moments of twirling sisterly affection that they excel.

Oliver Mott’s Orlando would make Justin Bieber fans swoon, while Rebecca Loudon marries a handsome girl and bonnie youth together beautifully as Rosalind, although perhaps she throws her arms out in joyous abandon a little too much. Wild At Heart’s Olivia Scott-Taylor makes a lovely Celia, a role where the devil really is in the detail and perfect for an actress straight from the telly.

But it is Fred Gray as the melancholy Jacques who most impresses, bringing some much-needed gravitas and delivering a truly compelling “All the world’s a stage” speech – definitely an actor to watch.

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

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.