Question 1: guess the play and the character
The National Theatre is not the only place to challenge your theatrical knowledge. And let’s face it, my theatre quiz is much more difficult. (Tip: many of the answers are somewhere in my blog. That was not done by design but it turns out this quiz is a blueprint of my obsessions).
1) Let’s start with something easy. Guess the play (and the character) from the props in the photograph.
2) Rupert Goold said: “[he is] the best verse speaker in the country, has that Zidane gift – more time than everyone else while speaking just as fast.” Who was he talking about?
Even before it started, the Thomas of Woodstock rehearsed reading, performed by the RSC Richard II company at the Barbican on December 20th, looked to be remarkable on at least two counts: with about 700 people in attendance, this was the largest crowd in a rehearsed reading I have ever seen. And looking at the notes, I discovered original music had been written for it, an early sign – if nothing else – of how polished the performance was going to be.
Not to repeat what you can read in Wikipedia (and I would strongly urge you to read the entry), Thomas of Woodstock is a play by an anonymous author written between 1590 and 1595 that survives unfinished and without its original title. It covers events in the reign of Richard II leading up to the murder of Richard’s uncle, Thomas of Woodstock. As this murder is the inciting incident in Shakespeare’s play, Thomas of Woodstock is often referred to as Richard II Part 1 as if the two plays can be seen as the same story. (This is not altogether possible: at the end of Thomas of Woodstock, Green is killed in battle, while at the beginning of Richard II he is still alive). Continue reading
Alexander Vlahos (Pavel), Richard McCabe (Tropatchov), Richard Henders (Karpatchov), Iain Glen (Kuzovkin). Photo Sheila Burnett
When it comes to scenes that upset and enrage me, nothing comes close to bullying. With Mike Bartlett’s Bull, I thought I had the winner for most disturbing scene of the year. But Fortune’s Fool, written almost 200 years ago, proves stiff competition. At the Old Vic website, Ivan Turgenev’s play, adapted by Mike Poulton, is described as “savagely funny”. I am not sure it is. It’s more interesting than that.
A country estate in rural Russia prepares for the arrival of a newlywed couple, the mistress of the house and her husband. As servants are busy, Kuzovkin is not. A gentleman fallen on hard times, he lives in the house out of charity. The arrival of the couple and a visit by Tropatchov, a wealthy neighbour with an agenda of his own, reveal secrets, cruelty and empty aspirations. If it wasn’t 19th century Russia, it could have been start of the 21st century anywhere in the world. Continue reading
Tom Hiddleston (Coriolanus), Hadley Fraser (Aufidius). Photo by Johan Persson
The last time I saw Coriolanus on stage was at Gainsborough studios in 2000. I might not remember much about the production, but one thing impossible to forget was the space. The film studios had been turned into a theatrical space just before their demolition, creating a vast stage in front of a vast auditorium. It’s interesting that my second Coriolanus experience is at the Donmar Warehouse, which is the definition of a small space with vast ambitions.
Intimacy has always been the Donmar’s focus: at the first scene of Coriolanus, a child enters the stage and draws a line on the floor. It could be a playground game but this is war and things take a different turn. Soon there is enough hustle and bustle to suggest civil unrest and bloody battles. (The fight between Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus and Hadley Fraser’s Aufidius is particularly forceful. In such a small space it certainly makes an impact: nothing like being a yard away from swords macheting in the air). Ultimately though, it all comes back to that first image and to close familial relationships. In a thrilling scene at the senate, the speeches make political points as much as personal ones, and it’s this uneasy combination that gives the play its drive.
At the end of the performance, somewhere between curtain call and the lights going up, the woman next to me turned to her companion and said “I could watch it all again right now”. And while I wasn’t quite up to it (this was my third play in as many nights, I was tired and in any case the cast wouldn’t be able to cope), I recognised the sentiment. Because, above else, the musical adaptation of American Psycho captures superbly the nihilistic but addictive exhilaration of the end of the last century. You want more of it at any cost.
The company. Photo Manuel Harlan
After the book by Bret Easton Ellis and the film adaptation (that gave Christian Bale his adult film career), the idea of a musical based on the same material seemed bizarre. In the hands of Roberto Aquirre-Sacasa (book), Duncan Sheik (music and lyrics) and director Rupert Goold, the story of a serial killer finds its natural home: Continue reading
Sean McConaghy as Adam, Anna Bamberger as Evelyn. Photo Maximilien Spielbichler
It’s a happy coincidence that as Tom Wells’ Jumpers for Goalposts is playing at the Bush Theatre, Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things is playing at the Arcola. Two playwrights with intelligence, artistic integrity and insight but with opposing views, or at least focus, when it comes to the human condition. It’s no spoiler to say that Neil LaBute comes from a darker, more pessimistic place.
The Shape of Things is the story of a brief encounter in a museum that, as these things go, turns into a romantic entanglement. The problem is, not all interested parties approach the relationship the same way. Friendships, self esteem, quotes by Oscar Wilde are under the microscope.
Neil LaBute’s characters want to be good but, overwhelmed by their selfishness, live in a distorted world of neuroses and power play. The mist of myopic self delusion is thick and tangible. Even with LaBute’s acerbic script, the story could have been too nihilistic to care, except the niggling thought some part of it applies to all of us. Continue reading
Martin Quinn as Oskar and Rebecca Benson as Eli. Photo Manuel Harlan
Overhearing discussions at the interval of the performance was to realise the intensity of feeling surrounding the production of Let The Right One In. Directed by John Tiffany and adapted by Jack Thorne based on the book and film by John Ajvide Lindqvist, it’s the story of a small boy who, in the isolation of his emotional and physical landscape, finds another soul to commit to, and commit he does. Appearances are deceptive, the signs unclear and relationships – human or otherwise – complicated. And then there is blood. Anyone who saw the (swedish) film has a close personal relationship with the story. Talk about great expectations. Continue reading