You have to forgive me for what I am about to do. I don’t do it often and I don’t do it lightly. I have been going to the theatre long enough to know the unknown actor who has three lines will dazzle you and the big name headlining the production might leave you cold (or more likely, crack under the pressure). Then again, some big names are big names for a reason. On my way to Trafalgar studios for the one off event titled “The Moment Before I am Powerful” (a series of Shakespearean monologues riffing on power), I discovered James McAvoy was in the cast. This was excellent news: a baby-faced actor with a mischievous disposition, McAvoy has a knack for reluctant superheroes and Shakespearean generals and junkie cops in meltdown and nerds and gambling addicts. And I loved his Macbeth. To put it mildly and with some restraint, I was excited.
Even so, I was quite unprepared for what happened next: this is a rehearsed reading, actors are relaxed and don’t go about it at full whack (they hardly had any rehearsal after all). Lauren O’Neil did the “Speak the speech, I pray you” from Hamlet, and Deborah Findlay was a sharply moving Volumnia, even more so than I remembered from the full production of Coriolanus last year. Paapa Essiedu materialised from under a desk (was he there the whole time?) to be a playful Mark Antony and Cynthia Erivo was beautiful as his Cleopatra.
And then, James McAvoy did Mark Antony from Julius Caesar, Act III Scene II, all the speeches from “Friends, Romans, countrymen” onwards. Off book. Continue reading
Should I start at the beginning or the end? The very good or the not so good? Any way you look at it, Jamie Lloyd’s production of Macbeth at the Trafalgar studios (or Trafalgar Transformed as it’s being rebranded) is a play of two halves: until the interval, I was happy to declare it one of the best productions in recent memory. After the interval, it lost momentum and struggled to regain focus.
Some problems in the second half are due to long absences of the protagonist: his name is above the title and his performance shows he deserves it. James McAvoy accommodates the soldier, the husband, the friend and the killer with surprising ease. The words dance out of his mouth fresh and unexpected. His Macbeth is clear eyed about moral consequences though unapologetic about his choices. Apparitions, ghosts and bloody daggers hang around him as much as in him. He fights them as much as he welcomes them. It’s a fearless commanding performance of light and shade, and it fuels the production. Continue reading
I love rehearsed readings. Perfect little pleasures especially if I am darting across London mid afternoon to catch one while everyone else is toiling away in offices. Last Wednesday (October 31st, Halloween no less), the Donmar Warehouse, in celebration of their current production of Berenice, held a special reading of Bajazet, another Racine play translated by Alan Hollinghurst. As it’s often the case with rehearsed readings, the cast was a theatre producer’s wet dream: Hayley Atwell as Roxanne, Alex Jennings as Acomat, James McAvoy as Bajazet, Ruth Negga as Atalide, Rosie Jones as Zatime, Georgina Rich as Zaire and Kurt Egyiawan as Osmin. Under the direction of Josie Rourke, the afternoon was a very special treat indeed. Continue reading