“What do you think about the London riots?” Few questions are as loaded as this. It’s what we think, what we want to think, what we say, what we mean. And then it’s what happened. Because something happened to someone. Alecky Blythe – of London Road acclaim – attempts to unpack meaning and fact by taking the direct approach: verbatim theatre, the words of the people, immediate access to the energy of place and time. Does she succeed? To a degree.
Unsurprisingly, the play exists in intertwined moments: the writer is at the centre of it, facilitator, observer, actor (in every sense of the word: Alecky Blythe plays herself – or rather a writer called Alecky). The play is at its best the closer it stays to the riots and director Joe Hill-Gibbins does a great job capturing those moments with brilliant adrenalised energy and a surprising clarity of thought: the conflict crystallises the argument and the staging – with the auditorium in the round and part of the wall between auditorium and foyer missing – delivers a heart-in-mouth experience. In one scene, two different arguments flare simultaneously, and we are transfixed by the threat of violence. At another time, we find ourselves one block from a burning car, with the sound carrying the action and the crowd overspilling into our space. Much of the action and energy is introduced at the foyer before it is brought into the theatre. I would be quite happy to stay with a drink at the bar for the whole performance to see how it looks on the other side. Continue reading
John Heffernan as Edward, Kyle Soller as Gaveston. Photo Johan Persson
From announcement it seemed great timing that Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II and Shakespeare’s Richard II were going to be performed so close together, at the National Theatre and Royal Shakespeare Company respectively. The stories of two kings forced to abdicate the throne on the way to a violent death, the similarities between the plays make comparing and contrasting tempting. Even more so now that I have seen the productions and they are both in my “I am so in love I want to talk about them all the time” list. In other words, any excuse will do.
Spoiler warning and context: I normally try to avoid spoilers but this is a different kind of post, with plenty of spoilers for the plays and the two aforementioned productions. If you so wish, you can read my (mostly) non spoilery reviews for Richard II and Edward II. Also I am not a scholar and my understanding of the text comes almost exclusively from performance. My observations relate to these particular productions as seen through my eyes.
Edward and Richard: One would be hard pressed to describe either as good rulers (at least at the time we meet them), but similarities stop there. Edward, as played by John Heffernan, is the rebel barefoot king, defined by his need to love and be loved. It makes him vulnerable, often weak, but opens the soul and makes it easy to be on his side. Richard is far more elusive. His divine right to rule is his default understanding of himself, but at the same time there is an ever present – if well hidden – hollowness to his conviction. It’s the trojan horse that opens the door to his salvation. Richard is not easy to like, and in David Tennant’s performance he never quite surrenders that last scrap of regal entitlement, but there is hope in a man who looks at his downfall in the same uncompromising way he reigned supreme. Continue reading
John Heffernan as Edward II – Photo Johan Persson
A play by a young playwright, a young director and a young cast. No, it’s not a National Youth Theatre production in collaboration with the National Theatre – although you should definitely check those out – but Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II performed at the Olivier stage. It’s a five hundred year old play but Marlowe died at 29, most of the actors in the company are in their late twenties and director Joe Hill-Gibbins is 36. The Olivier as a rowdy youth club? You bet, and so much more.
The play is the story of Edward II, King of England, who probably prefers the embrace of his lover Gaveston to ruling England, but rule he must. The power struggles around him involve his wife Isabella, her lover Mortimer, his underage son Edward, his sister Kent, the Barons and the Church. Needless to say it doesn’t end well.
The production spills with energy Continue reading
August is a strange month: unless you are on a beach somewhere, it’s like time stood still. Press officers are on holiday, and for someone with attention deficit like myself the trickle of theatre news is torture. But September is around the corner, and the following teasers will lift my spirits till then.
Royal Shakespeare Company will follow Richard II with Henry IV part 1 and 2, The Taming of the Shrew and Two Gentlemen of Verona. Jane Lapotaire will play the Duchess of Gloucester in Richard II and with rehearsals starting in a couple of weeks, the announcement of the remaining cast can’t be far behind.
At the National Theatre, Rufus Norris Continue reading
Simon Russell Beale’s King Lear, directed by Sam Mendes and heading for the National in 2014, will undoubtedly be the theatre destination for next year. Phrases like “hot ticket” and “eagerly anticipated” are frequently used, but in this case totally justified. The rest of the cast isn’t announced yet, but word is Adrian Scarborough will be Simon Russell Beale’s Fool. Be still my heart, can this be right? Excitement kicks up another notch (if that was possible) and we only have nine months to wait.
In other casting news, Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II starring John Heffernan and directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins, will be staged at the National Theatre later in the year, a great opportunity to see the play with one of the most exciting young actors in the title role. (And it will make a nice companion piece to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Richard II starring David Tennant). Again, very little information about the remaining cast but Vanessa Kirby will play Isabella, a sign that things will be very interesting indeed.