Andrew Scott as Angel in Original Sin. 2002 Sheffield Crucible. Photo Simon Walker
We are only a few weeks away from the first performances of Simon Stephens’ Birdland at the Royal Court. So much excitement riding on this: Andrew Scott in a Simon Stephens play (Sea Wall anyone?) directed by Carrie Cracknell. No pressure but anything less than superlative might be a disappointment.
This is not Andrew Scott’s first theatrical appearance since he played Moriarty (there is no way around it, for certain actors in certain roles there is before and after). He always stuck very close to the stage, all the way back to his native Ireland and Abbey theatre. My first introduction to his talents was at a Royal Court rehearsed reading in early 2009. (I had to look it up but the play was The Uncertainty Of The Situation (Die Unsicherheit der Sachlage) by Philipp Loehle. The cast – take a deep breath – included Katherine Parkinson, Jeff Rawle, Paul Ready, Samuel West). Once I saw him on stage, I always kept tabs, I wanted to have that rush again.
But this was seven years after he played Angel in Peter Gill’s Original Sin, after Frank Wedekind’s Lulu. The production premiered in Sheffield Crucible with mixed reviews but I can’t help to feel bawled over by its subject matter: “Angel, a spell-bindingly beautiful boy is plucked from the streets to be the plaything of a wealthy newspaper proprietor. Continue reading →
Anna Maxwell Martin (Regan), Simon Russell Beale (Lear). Photo Mark Douet
There are three things you should know about Sam Mendes’ production of King Lear: it’s modern dress (more about it later), it achieves quite a few revelatory moments in the interpretation of the text (more about them later) and has a brilliant Lear in Simon Russell Beale. Maybe it’s true of King Lear what is true of Hamlet: it’s easier to have a brilliant central performance than having a brilliant production. If Sam Mendes’ King Lear falls short of true greatness, that’s more of an observation than criticism. The experience is rich and the rewards many, and any shortcomings become part of an intensely rich dialogue with the audience.
Simon Russell Beale’s Lear (short, with his head sunk in his body and quite reminiscent of Stalin in Collaborators) starts to show signs of deterioration early on. In the first scene, he has everyone under his thumb, unpleasant, mean, revengeful but his unstable mood picks through already. Did I miss the power of the king? I don’t think so. His bileful behaviour with Goneril in Act I, Scene IV is relentless and stomach-churning but underpinned with the abyss looking back. The moment he catches on – “O, let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven. Keep me in temper: I would not be mad!” – feels like an explosion, it creates a vacuum around him. Continue reading →
The National Theatre is not the only place to challenge your theatrical knowledge. And let’s face it, my theatre quiz is much more difficult. (Tip: many of the answers are somewhere in my blog. That was not done by design but it turns out this quiz is a blueprint of my obsessions).
1) Let’s start with something easy. Guess the play (and the character) from the props in the photograph.
2) Rupert Goold said: “[he is] the best verse speaker in the country, has that Zidane gift – more time than everyone else while speaking just as fast.” Who was he talking about? Continue reading →
John Simm, Simon Russell Beale, Harry Melling, promotional photo for The Hothouse. Photo Jay Brooks
When the cast was announced for Harold Pinter’s The Hothouse at the Trafalgar Studios, my immediate reaction was delighted disbelief: the headline (and the poster) can only accommodate two stars, but make no mistake, any of the five principal actors would get top billing in another production. They just happen to be on the same ensemble piece, and the challenge for director Jamie Lloyd (who must have worked true magic to assemble such a cast) was not to squander their talent. On this evidence, there was nothing to fear.
Pinter’s play as directed by Lloyd is a comedy with such hellish vibe that could easily be one’s worst nightmare. On Christmas day five characters rattle around a mental institution, dark secrets, hidden motives and increasingly disturbed behaviour oozing through their pores like sweat. These are merely the staff. In fact we never see any of the patients who, when referenced, seem balanced and compassionate. The staff, it’s a different story. This is a furnace of a production: not only due to the reference of the title but also because of the hermetically sealed environment. These characters live inside the pressure cooker, long string of words (that shouldn’t make sense but they do in a disturbingly funny way) delivered with the violence of steam escaping. No one sees in, they can’t see out. It’s chilling, scary, funny and chilling again. On a loop.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.
Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia premiered at the National Theatre on April 13th 1993, 20 years ago. I am not inclined to remember these things, but recently I came across an old interview with Simon Russell Beale that got me thinking about that moment in time: Mr Beale was preparing for Richard III and wouldn’t do Hamlet for several years yet, Arcadia – the best play of all time – was just coming out to the world and I hadn’t the faintest idea I would eventually move to London and spent almost all my adult life in England.
I was still in Greece back then, flashed with young excitement of discovering things, and my most precious – and incomprehensible – obsession was Tom Stoppard. I had seen Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead*, the perfect text to discover when you are young, and I was spending many hours in the British Council library trying to read books beyond my command of the english language. I clearly remember the issue of Theatre Record with the reviews of Arcadia (this is a world without internet, and it’s hard to believe such a moment in time existed). I remember the reviews saying something about maths, and I really couldn’t understand how a play – any play – can be about maths. When I eventually saw the 2009 production at the Duke of York’s, everything was perfectly, gloriously clear. “We shed as we pick up, like travellers who must carry everything in their arms, and what we let fall will be picked up by those behind. The procession is very long and life is very short. We die on the march. But there is nothing outside the march so nothing can be lost to it.”
Last night, thirty minutes from the end of Timon of Athens at the National Theatre, Simon Russell Beale slipped and broke his finger. The performance was interrupted – “I’m sorry ladies and gentleman, I seem to have broken my finger” – an announcement was made by the stage manager, and ten minutes later Paul Dodds, Simon Russell Beale’s understudy, took over and finished the performance. Thankfully, the injury was a minor fracture and Simon Russell Beale is back performing tonight. This is very good news, first and foremost, for Mr Beale (see what I did there, I am turning into the New York Times), the audience (I am sure Mr Dobbs was fantastic, but nobody wants the big star to go off sick for long) and me. Because I can now discuss, guilt free, my not entirely healthy fascination with injuries on stage.
I am not attracted by the pain and misfortune. But in a live performance, it’s the thrill of the unexpected. When an actor falls, even a practiced fall, you know it is real, it must hurt a little. And if something goes wrong, everyone, actors and audience, enter a place when noone knows what will happen. It’s always interesting to see the audience’s reaction to the understudy who takes over: in theory, this should be a disappointing development, but the audience wants to experience the adrenaline, fear and excitement of someone who goes on stage at a moment’s notice. The best performance in the world can’t quite beat that. Continue reading →
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.
David Tennant and Penny Downie in Hamlet, RSC 2008. Photograph Ellie Kurttz
By many standards, I am a Hamlet novice (or even a heretic to the cult): I only have eight stage and four screen Hamlets under my belt, and occasionally I bristle in the news of another stage production announced (there is always another production announced). Do I really want to see another Hamlet so close to the last one?
If that thought crossed my mind, then the David Tennant / Hamlet documentary on BBC2 (part of the Shakespeare Uncovered series) came along to remind me that a) yes, I most definitely want to see another Hamlet (and another one after that) and b) my love for Hamlet predates my obsession for theatre or Shakespeare, and it will probably outlive them.
As far as I am concerned, Hamlet is black magic. Even if we occasionally stray away, we (all of us, audience, actors, everyone) are bound to it and we return. David Tennant said as much at the end of the programme. My intention here isn’t to review the BBC2 documentary (the Hamlet Weblog has done it much better than I could, let’s briefly say that it was as simple and complex and exciting as it should be) but to list some additional (and personal) Hamlet treasures: Continue reading →
I love audio content of any description. Audio content plus theatre combines two of my favourite things, and this is a quick rundown of theatre podcasts (or rather audio content relating to theatre) that I visit on a regular basis. The order is random, so make sure you go through the whole list as some of the gems are right at the end. Continue reading →