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)

Review: Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude at the National Theatre

strange interlude poster reviewAs luck has it, in the last week I saw two of the longest productions I am likely to see all year: Lucy kirkwood’s Chimerica at the Almeida – at a hefty 3 hours 10 minutes – followed a few days later by Eugene O’Neill’s Strange Interlude at the National Theatre – at an even more impressive 3 hours 30 minutes. As a regular theatregoer my dirty little secret is long running times make my heart sink. I don’t exactly feel negative towards long shows, but I want them to justify my investment for the better part of four hours. While Chimerica’s ambitious world won my affections, Strange Interlude, despite many fine moments and stellar performances, struggles under a text that goes from compelling to flabby in a heartbeat. Continue reading

In Praise of the barely rehearsed understudy

Robert Hardy in rehersals for The Audience. Photo Johan Persson

Robert Hardy in rehersals for The Audience. Photo Johan Persson

The announcement was simple: “Robert Hardy pulls out of Gielgud theatre’s production of The Audience. Edward Fox steps in“. But behind the headline, several remarkable things stand out. Before his injury, Bafta-winning actor Robert Hardy, aged 87, was planning to do eight live performances a week for the next three months. Even after he cracked his ribs in a fall, he continued to perform at previews. And Edward Fox, who is replacing him, will learn the part, rehearse and perform at press night in less than a week.

Actors are often dismissed as pumpered and spoiled but they strike me as much tougher than most white collar workers. Granted, acting is not hard labour but working in an office, as I do, isn’t either. I don’t know many 87 year olds who want to get out of the house, let alone work.

As for actors working with little or no preparation, I am often amazed at the performances they can give. Last fall, I saw a preview of This House at the National Theatre when Phil Daniels, set to play Bob Mellish, was indisposed (this turned out to be the first of several performances he missed). Howard Ward, who stepped in, was given the script to hold and walked on stage to perform. Did it show? Hardly. Apart from holding the script, often done with such skill that it went unnoticed, the performance was accomplished and involving.

Continue reading

Review: Berenice at the Donmar Warehouse

Anne-Marie Duff (Berenice) and Stephen Campbell Moore (Titus). Photo Johan Persson

Berenice by Jean Racine, in this new production at the Donmar Warehouse, should have been a triumph:  Anne-Marie Duff is an actor of rare emotional truth, director Josie Rourke is responsible for some of the most vibrant productions of the last few years and leading men Stephen Campbell Moore and Dominic Rowan are always a joy to watch. In the end, the production is a more tentative effort, some times uncertain, some times tender, which only finds its real power and focus in the last half hour of the play.

The major problem with the production is the design: breathtaking to look at (a wooden bridge overseeing sand dunes and wooden passages) it plays havoc with the performances: walking on sand is tricky, it’s hardly ever graceful and the actors often play emotional scenes off balance (not in a good way). The long wooden bridge takes time to navigate, choices are restricted and certain scenes lose momentum. Continue reading

What will be the National Theatre’s Christmas show and other stories

This August continues to be slow for theatre (after all, we have all been focusing on other exciting events), but casting and other news are hotting up. Here is what caught my eye this past week:

  • Director Jamie Lloyd launches his own production company in association with the Ambassador Theatre Group. The announcement of this new commercial theatre venture comes not long after Michael Grandage announced his West End season of five plays chock full of big names (Simon Russell Beale, Ben Whishaw, Judi Dench, Daniel Radcliffe). Although my wallet undoubtedly suffers when I have to pay West End prices, it’s healthy to have commercial theatre that feels exciting.
  • A couple of years ago, the Royal Shakespeare Company produced and toured Ben Power’s play A Tender Thing, a new way of looking at the story of Romeo and Juliet. I was sad to miss it then, but the play returns at the RSC this autumn, this time with two of my favourite actors, Richard McCabe and Kathryn Hunter. Not missing it this time.
  • Anne Marie Duff at the Donmar was already exciting news, but now the remaining cast for Jean Racine’s Berenice has been announced: Stephen Campbell Moore and Dominic Rowan will join her as husband and lover. In this “perfect tragedy of unfulfilled passion“, it’s a delicious combination.