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

From the archive: Ian McDiarmid talks about Macbeth at the Other Place

We had a few Macbeths this year, most famously James McAvoy’s – which I loved – and Kenneth Branagh’s and the one at the Little Angel theatre – which I missed but might just be the most glorious of them all.

At the other side of the Atlantic, Ethan Hawke and Anne-Marie Duff are opening tonight as M and lady M, the reviews will be here soon enough.

Perfect timing then to hear Ian McDiarmid talk about the legendary 1976 production at the Other Place, directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Judi Dench and Ian McKellen. McDiarmid played the Porter and Ross and it is a fascinating account:


(Source: National Theatre podcast,  recording of a platform event from August 2011)

Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia is twenty years old today

Hand-corrected typescript of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia. © Tom Stoppard. From the Harry Ransom Centre website.

Hand-corrected typescript of Tom
Stoppard’s Arcadia. © Tom Stoppard. From the Harry Ransom Centre website.

Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia premiered at the National Theatre on April 13th 1993, 20 years ago. I am not inclined to remember these things, but recently I came across an old interview with Simon Russell Beale that got me thinking about that moment in time: Mr Beale was preparing for Richard III and wouldn’t do Hamlet for several years yet, Arcadia – the best play of all time – was just coming out to the world  and I hadn’t the faintest idea I would eventually move to London and spent almost all my adult life in England.

I was still in Greece back then, flashed with young excitement of discovering things, and my most precious – and incomprehensible – obsession was Tom Stoppard. I had seen Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead*, the perfect text to discover when you are young, and I was spending many hours in the British Council library trying to read books beyond my command of the english language. I clearly remember the issue of Theatre Record with the reviews of Arcadia (this is a world without internet, and it’s hard to believe such a moment in time existed). I remember the reviews saying something about maths, and I really couldn’t understand how a play – any play – can be about maths. When I eventually saw the 2009 production at the Duke of York’s, everything was perfectly, gloriously clear. “We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it.”

But the story doesn’t finish here: 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

What do David Tennant and Andrew Scott have in common?

Kyle Soller as Edmund in Long Day’s Journey Into Night

Last week, I went to see Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Apollo theatre, a pitch perfect production of a fascinating play. I will post a review soon but Long Day’s Journey Into Night also interests me for its production history: the play features demanding roles for five actors of two different generations, and while established actors are cast in the older roles, the younger roles are taken by talented, often uknown actors, who often go on to become big stars.

In the 2012 West End production, Edmund, the younger son of the family, is played by Kyle Soller, who recently won the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Outstanding Newcomer for his performances in three 2011 productions: Glass Menagerie and The Government Inspector at the Young Vic and the Faith Machine at the Royal Court.

In the last 25 years, Edmund has been played by, among others, David Tennant in a 1994 production for Dundee Rep, Andrew Scott in a 1998 production for Gate theatre in Dublin and Stephen Dillane in a 1991 National Theatre production. Continue reading