It’s a rare pleasure when I can enjoy advance word of mouth without first hand experience of a production. When I am without a ticket and uninterested enough not to be avoiding spoilers, but intrigued by what I hear and read. This is the case with the Old Vic production of Much Ado About Nothing, with its big name cast (Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones) and its larger than life director (Mark Rylance). Press night is tonight but the word of mouth has been interesting (to use a word that, if it had an expression, it would be a poker face).
“This Much Ado About Nothing is bolder than one might have expected” writes Ian (Ought to be clowns) . Another blog (Cream of Vampire Soup) disagrees: “All Old Vic productions are the same (…) No mess. No fuss. And definitely no risk.” Webcowgirl (in a blog post that has generated 46 comments so far) isn’t impressed: “Rarely has a title for a Shakespearean show proven so prophetic.” Westendwhingers give it two out of five. Huffington Post raves about it: “This wonderful production has so much innovation, spirit and humour that I loved every minute.”
Charlie Rowe as Ronnie Winslow. Photo Nobby Clark.
What do Terence Rattigan and Mike Bartlett have in common? Making the town of Reading the butt of their jokes apparently. I shouldn’t start my review in such a facetious way, as this fine production of a near perfect play deserves better, but I can’t help it.
But let’s get back to the business at hand: Terence Rattigan’s play, about a small case fought with absolute conviction that justice can’t be measured in a balance sheet, feels fresh, unexpected and rich in every way. With its big themes, small distilled moments and perfectly observed relationships, it is a dream for any director and cast. And Lindsay Posner and his actors grab the opportunity and do it justice.
What I found irresistible is the play’s ability to surprise: Continue reading
Adrian Scarborough as George Tesman and Sheridan Smith as Hedda Gabler. Photo Johan Persson
Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic, with Sheridan Smith in the title role, was always destined to be a much talked production: a successful star in a famous and demanding role is catnip for the media: I expect that, come Thursday morning, the headline “Is Sheridan Smith’s Hedda a hit?” will show up in the papers – hopefully in the front page. But theatre isn’t meant to be a test, and without a hint of nervousness or acknowledging the expectations, this production, directed with huge confidence by Anna Mackmin, bypasses the media hype and does what great theatre should do: it’s thrilling, visceral and fresh.
I ‘ll start with the set (designed by Lez Brotherston), partly because it’s the first thing we see: multiple glass panels and huge windows, they create depth but also give out a bottomless feeling, like if someone could fall into this world and never manage to come up for air. First scene, at night, Hedda silently stalks the house like a ghost and admittedly, this made me a bit nervous: I am not a big fan of additional scenes bolted at the beginning of a play, seemingly for the star to appear first. But soon it became clear I had nothing to be nervous about: the production, as well as beautiful to look at (the costumes alone are a marvel), brings this world alive and makes you look at it with fresh eyes. Continue reading