Review: Fortune’s Fool, by Ivan Turgenev, at the Old Vic theatre

Alexander Vlahos (Pavel), Richard McCabe (Tropatchov), Richard Henders (Karpatchov), Iain Glen (Kuzovkin).  Photo Sheila Burnett

Alexander Vlahos (Pavel), Richard McCabe (Tropatchov), Richard Henders (Karpatchov), Iain Glen (Kuzovkin). Photo Sheila Burnett

When it comes to scenes that upset and enrage me, nothing comes close to bullying. With Mike Bartlett’s Bull, I thought I had the winner for most disturbing scene of the year. But Fortune’s Fool, written almost 200 years ago, proves stiff competition. At the Old Vic website, Ivan Turgenev’s play, adapted by Mike Poulton, is described as “savagely funny”. I am not sure it is. It’s more interesting than that.

A country estate in rural Russia prepares for the arrival of a newlywed couple, the mistress of the house and her husband. As servants are busy, Kuzovkin is not. A gentleman fallen on hard times, he lives in the house out of charity. The arrival of the couple and a visit by Tropatchov, a wealthy neighbour with an agenda of his own, reveal secrets, cruelty and empty aspirations.  If it wasn’t 19th century Russia, it could have been start of the 21st century anywhere in the world. Continue reading

Review: A Tender Thing, RSC, at the Swan Theatre in Stratford

Richard McCabe as Romeo and Kathryn Hunter as Juliet. Photo Keith Pattison

Is love a tender thing? It is too rough. Too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn.” At its best, writing a review is my attempt to stay a little longer in the world of the production. Not to explain or dissect, but to stay in a place that I loved. A Tender Things is such a place. Ben Power’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, with an old couple facing the only inescapable tragedy love deep into old age can face, is indeed a tender, magical, deeply moving and ultimately joyous thing.

Ben Power rearranges Shakespeare’s text into a new world, but words carry the memory of young love and language leaves space for unspoken sorrows to live. Richard McCabe and Kathryn Hunter, under the direction of Helena Kaut Howson, create a world of two people, a world so complete and perfect, that the ending is the natural and only possible conclusion. (In Shakespeare’s play, the tragedy is there are many solutions to the problem, but none is taken and the story ends in death. In A Tender Thing, the tragedy is the characters have to face the end in the full knowledge that there is one possible conclusion).

Kathryn Hunter, with her vital physicality, gives her Juliet an extraordinary spectrum of emotional and physical life, even as she wastes away. Richard McCabe lives the joy of love and the tragedy of parting with heartbreaking openness. He pulls, pushes, struggles with his glasses like these actions could give an end to his pain. When he gives into it, everything about him crumbles. Their spoken interactions are teasing, silly, warm but their true emotional life is in their physical connection: in one scene Romeo tries to support Juliet who, literally, slips away from him. His distress and resolve reflects everything that is at stake. 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.