Photo of the week: Frances de la Tour as Hamlet (1979)

Frances de la Tour as Hamlet. Photo Donald Cooper

Frances de la Tour as Hamlet. Photo Donald Cooper

Tonight it’s the first performance of Maxine Peake’s Hamlet at the Royal Exchange Manchester, undoubtedly one of the most exciting theatrical propositions of recent months, and definitely the Hamlet I most look forward to.

The last notable female Hamlet produced in the UK was in 1979 at the Half Moon theatre, with Frances de la Tour in the title role. It’s alarming to think that’s 35 years ago, which means no one at my age could be reasonably expected to have seen a woman play the part.

This is what Plays and Players wrote about the Frances de la Tour production:

“In a square room flanked by props and scenery around the walls the audience is ushered to stand or sit wherever they can. It was soon realised once the production had got under way that there was nowhere safe to sit. The steps leading to a raised platform were the way to the castle battlements where the ghost of the late King Hamlet walks and where silver reflectors pick up the eerie light thrown from his shroud. A stage to the left of it becomes the room in Polonius’s house, a corridor in the castle, the stage where the Players enact the murder of the King, the Queen’s apartment and where it dips and rises on a slant, a panel is removed to disclose the grave where Ophelia will lie. At the corner is another part of Polonius’s house and along the wall from that an enormous throne, like a carved seated skeleton of a man.” Continue reading

Photo of the week: Eve Best throws a rose to the audience (Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare’s Globe)

Yesterday, it was the last performance of Antony and Cleopatra at Shakespeare’s Globe and Duncan (Shakespeare aficionado extraordinaire) captured this beautiful photo at the curtain call: Eve Best throws a rose to the audience, while Clive Wood kneels at the background and the rest of the cast looks on.

The composition is perfect and the post performance energy – especially the exuberance of the last performance – is sharply  distilled.

Duncan’s other photos (most of them around Shakespearean performance) are beautiful too, and he writes a mean Shakespearean blog (mean as in excellent, not as in unkind!)

List: Three boys called Josh (and a boy called Lewis) or the Donmar young actors’ club

The Donmar Warehouse is having a good year. After Versailles (which I didn’t like), they hit a home run of three productions, each of them special in distinct and varied ways. Not only that, but a series of young actors took centre stage, and it’s been a huge pleasure discovering new talent for the ever expanding “Actors to Watch Out for” list. In strict alphabetical order:

Joshua James: Before Fathers and Sons, I hadn’t seen Joshua James since Polly Stenham’s No Quarter and how has he grown! As Arkady, he held the centre of the story with confidence and did this thing my favourite actors do, balancing the ridiculousness and majesty of the human nature in a single breath.

Joshua James in Fathers and Sons. Photo Johan Persson

Joshua James in Fathers and Sons. Photo Johan Persson

Continue reading

Photo of the week: David Dawson as Gethin Price in Trevor Griffiths’ Comedians (with bonus David Tennant in the same role)

David Dawson as Gethin Price. Photo Helen Maybanks

David Dawson as Gethin Price. Photo Helen Maybanks

Tonight it’s the BBC4 broadcast of The Duchess of Malfi, as it was performed earlier in the year at the Sam Wanamaker playhouse – Shakespeare’s Globe. This is an important occasion, not least because there has been no Jacobean plays on tv since 1993 (more on the subject at John Wyver’s blog, and if you have the least bit of interest on how theatre translates into other media, you have to follow his writing).

I found the production itself bloodless – figuratively, the luminous beauty of the setting didn’t always translate to the fever of the story and text.  With one exception: David Dawson as Ferdinand, his soul twitching with forbidden desires while his face remained waxed in explosive immobility.

I first saw David Dawson in Trevor Griffiths’ Comedians at the Lyric Hammersmith in 2009. As Gethin Price, the uncompromising idealist of the group walking the line between  madness and genius, David Dawson’s impressive talents were in full display: a feverish performance that combined subtlety and extravagance, threat and charisma in equal measures. I clearly remember him in his big scene, full of drool and snot, both repulsive and attractive. Continue reading

Photo of the Week: Andrew Scott in Original Sin – 2002 (with added fantasy casting for Angels in America)

Andrew Scott as Angel in Original Sin. 2002 Sheffield Crucible. Photo Simon Walker

Andrew Scott as Angel in Original Sin. 2002 Sheffield Crucible. Photo Simon Walker

We are only a few weeks away from the first performances of Simon Stephens’ Birdland at the Royal Court. So much excitement riding on this: Andrew Scott in a Simon Stephens play (Sea Wall anyone?) directed by Carrie Cracknell. No pressure but anything less than superlative might be a disappointment.

This is not Andrew Scott’s first theatrical appearance since he played Moriarty (there is no way around it, for certain actors in certain roles there is before and after). He always stuck very close to the stage, all the way back to his native Ireland and Abbey theatre. My first introduction to his talents was at a Royal Court rehearsed reading in early 2009. (I had to look it up but the play was The Uncertainty Of The Situation (Die Unsicherheit der Sachlage) by Philipp Loehle. The cast – take a deep breath – included Katherine Parkinson, Jeff Rawle, Paul Ready, Samuel West). Once I saw him on stage, I always kept tabs, I wanted to have that rush again.

But this was seven years after he played Angel in Peter Gill’s Original Sin, after Frank Wedekind’s Lulu. The production premiered in Sheffield Crucible with mixed reviews but I can’t help to feel bawled over by its subject matter: “Angel, a spell-bindingly beautiful boy is plucked from the streets to be the plaything of a wealthy newspaper proprietor. Continue reading

In Praise of The Pride (with Bertie Carvel, Ben Whishaw, Daniel Evans, Hugh Dancy and more)

Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride came back to London last week, timeless, tender, profound and this time unexpectedly topical: the play coincided with protests for Putin’s anti-gay russian laws.

It’s a rare modern play that I remember so many of its past productions: Although aware of the glowing word of mouth I missed the first production in 2008 at the Royal Court and I regret it ever since. Among other things, I had to wait for Almeida’s The Rope several months later to discover Bertie Carvel for myself. And in a case of ex post facto typecasting (I always wanted to use latin in my writing), I always thought that Bertie Carvel played Philip, while in fact he was Oliver.

JJ Field (Philip) and Bertie Carvel (Oliver) in the 1950s. Photo Tristram Kenton

JJ Feild (Philip) and Bertie Carvel (Oliver) in the 1950s. Photo Tristram Kenton

Every time I go to revstan’s flat, Continue reading

Photo of the week: Ron Cook at the Donmar

Rae Smith sketch - Juno and the Paycock Donmar 1999

Rae Smith sketch – Juno and the Paycock Donmar 1999

Ron Cook belongs to a group of actors that everyone knows, everyone loves but not everyone can name. He doesn’t often headline projects but invariably gives the stand out memorable performance: his Mr Crabb was the earthy soul in Mr Selfridge, Trelawny of the Wells wouldn’t be half as good without his sparkling talent and his sir Toby Belch is still the best I have seen.

In the last fifteen years, he has regularly worked with the Donmar Warehouse under three different artistic directors (a big achievement in itself), and the company’s digital team have gone through the archives and put up a collection of photographs in their facebook pages.

The digital print (not really a photograph) that caught my attention was Rae Smith’s sketch from the Juno and the Paycock, 1999. The caption simply says: Ron Cook as ‘Joxer’ Daly and Colm Meaney as ‘Captain’ Jack Boyle (1999). Rehearsal sketch by Rae Smith.

The role led to an Olivier Best Supporting Actor nomination for Ron Cook (hard to believe but this is his only nomination so far). Continue reading

Photo of the Week: David Tennant at The Pillowman

Nigel Lindsay and David Tennant in The Pillowman. Photo Nigel Norrington

Nigel Lindsay and David Tennant in The Pillowman. Photo Nigel Norrington

Update June 2nd 2013: When I originally posted The Pillowman photo a couple of months ago, I had no idea one of David Tennant’s co-stars in that production would be his Bolingroke in the upcoming Richard II, directed by Greg Doran, for the Royal Shakespeare Company. It has been announced that Nigel Lindsay will play the role, an excellent choice and an interesting dynamic, I ‘d like to think, based on their previous working partnership. Additionally, two other members of the cast have been announced, Oliver Ford Davies as Duke of York and Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt. Richard II starts performances in Stratford-upon-Avon on October 10th with a transfer to London on December 9th. It will broadcast to cinemas in the UK and around the world on November 13th. End of update, continue to the original post below. Continue reading