The Comedy Of Errors ~ Red Lion, Barnes

The Comedy Of Errors is produced and presented by We Are Open Bar and you can catch it on its tour by checking the website for Shakespeare in the Garden, here: Shakespeare in the Garden

Star rating: *****

The Comedy Of Errors is not only the shortest of Shakespeare’s plays, but also arguably the most humorous. This version, set in the garden of a pub (indeed, it’s toured around many pubs in the Fullers chain) is inspired in that for such a farcical piece the surroundings lend themselves superbly to comings, goings and en route costume changes.

This production is not only unique due to its setting, but is also punctuated with musical modern twists throughout and it’s fair to say that we audience members were all singing along to “Twins, Twins” long after the ‘curtain’ had closed. Audience interaction and also participation was also the order of the day and kept us all on our toes. The ‘breaks in the story to interact with the crowd did not cause the piece to lose momentum and were all appropriately place.

The Comedy Of Errors revolves around Egeon – A merchant of Syracuse who is trying to avoid execution and has recently fathered twin boys. Simultaneously another pair of twin boys have been born to a poor woman and Egeon purchases them as slaves to his boys. Soon afterwards, the family made a sea voyage, and was hit by a tempest. Egeon lashed himself to the main-mast with one son and one slave, and his wife takes the other two infants. His wife was rescued by one boat, Egeon by another. Egeon never again saw his wife, or the children with her. Recently, his son Antipholus, now grown, and his son’s slave Dromio, left Syracuse on a quest to find their brothers. When Antipholus did not return, Egeon set out in search of him.

Antipholus of Ephesus and Antipholus of Syracuse and Dromio of Ephesus and Dromio of Syracuse are soon in the midst of chaos as, Adriana – wife of Antipholus of Ephesus meets with Antipholus of Syracuse and mistakes him for her husband. Easily done when they’re identical twins! The twins are also mixed up by Angelo, a goldsmith and various other characters who cross their paths.

It’s a fast paced, punchy play and the six strong cast under the direction of Nicky Diss more than do it justice. Thomas Judd as Antipholus of Ephesus  and other characters is a forceful and steely presence yet with excellent comic timing. Equally, Chris Whotton brings humour, mirth and gives a strong performance as Antipholus of Syracuse and other characters. Jo Wickham is exceptional as Adriana with perfect clear diction, facial expressions which communicate a great deal more than the script does at times and she’s a force to be reckoned with. Vicky Gaskin and Emma Longthorne give fantastically slapstick performances as their respective Dromios and are also notable in the other characters that they take on. Jennifer Healy is remarkable in her various roles of Adriana’s sister, Luciana, she also breathes new life into the role of the Duke of Ephesus, but amongst all of the roles that Healy makes her own, it’s Angelo the Goldsmith whom I felt she characterised brilliantly. Every part that she plays is so markedly different form the other that it could almost be easy to forget that it’s the same actress multi-tasking!

I can’t wait to see more from We Are Open Bar, they have produced my favourite incarnation of a Shakespeare play this year, so far – and I’ve seen a few! Go and see this while you can and enjoy the two intervals and the food on offer too!

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King Lear ~ The Globe Theatre

King Lear runs at The Globe Theatre until Saturday 14 October, book your tickets here: King Lear Tickets

Star rating: *****

Many productions of King Lear have emerged over the past twelve months, however from my personal point of view, this version resonated more keenly and Nancy Meckler’s direction emulates my own feelings when I read the play.

Of course, Lear is a tragedy, following the title role’s descent to madness which he self-catalyses when he pits his three daughters against the other and send his youngest away when she is unable to articulate her feelings in the same elaborate way that her elder two have done. For the most part this incarnation is portrayed as a tragedy, however it’s appropriately punctuated with comedy to enhance the equilibrium of the piece. Characterisation from each member of the cast felt natural, beautifully synchronised and there’s a strong sense of unity amongst the strong ensemble – even when characters’ paths are divided.

The set lent itself to the splendour of the Globe’s stage, so basic and stripped back that it laid way for the space itself to take the lead. There was a desolate council-estate feel to the backdrop, it set the tone for the piece and costumes added to the theme and ambiance created.

Emily Bruni was a strong and fiery Goneril, her feistiness was all consuming yet the nuances in her performance were engaging. Similarly, Sirine Saba as Regan was a force to be reckoned with, her facial expressions alone told the audience of her hatred for her foolish father. Saskia Reeves’ performance as Kent was inspired, vulnerability, sensitivity and an underlying sense of loyalty which the character battles with. Reeves was captivating in the role and has an extraordinary stage presence. Loren O’Dair gave a stunning performance as the Fool, incorporating her musical talent and with a Pierrot-style which made so much more of the part than merely a comedy aide. Ralph Davis brought great physicality to the role of Edmund, he connected superbly with each character whom he interacted with. Kevin McNally was surely born to play Lear, the sheer swiftness with which he delivers each radical character trait, remarkable in itself. The chemistry with his three daughters is palpable and although his frailty is not highlighted until later in the play, the suggestion is subtly present from the outset, kudos to McNally’s portrayal and ability. A finer Lear I have yet to see, especially as his comic timing is an asset, which would be wholly unexpected from such a piece and such a character.

The Globe’s King Lear strikes the perfect balance of tension, trauma, violence, devastation and comedy – all of which dovetail to produce an innovative version of the Bard’s famous tragedy. If you’ve never seen it on stage, this would be a perfect introduction, if you’ve seen previous productions, this one has plenty to offer and is worth giving your time to.

 

Images: Marc Brenner

 

 

 

 

The Tempest ~ RSC, Stratford Upon Avon

The Tempest stays at Stratford until 21 January 2017: https://www.rsc.org.uk/the-tempest/about-the-play 

Star rating: *****

An extraordinary tale of betrayal, revenge and sorcery is brought to life thanks to wondrous special effects and a strong cast at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford Upon Avon.

The Tempest centres around Prospero (Simon Russell Beale) who is the rightful Duke of Milan and was betrayed by his brother, Antonio (Oscar Pearce). Antonio wanted the title of Duke and the property that came along with it, for himself, and set Prospero and his daughter Miranda (Jenny Rainsford) off to sea on a raft. This was twelve years earlier and against all odds, they have been living on an island.

With knowledge that Alonso, King of Naples (James Tucker) was travelling by ship with a party including Antonio, Sebastian, the King’s Brother (Tom Turner) and the King’s Son, Ferdinand (Daniel Easton) – Prospero uses the magic that he has learned to control, to create a horrific storm. The special effects and set used to mimic the storm are on par with the effects that are used in films and my heart was in my mouth while the ‘doomed’ troop was fearful for their lives.

Prospero, we learn, has not only taken control of the magic on the island, but also has a sprite by the name of Ariel (Mark Quartley) under his wing and has enslaved an inhabitant of the island, Caliban (Joe Dixon). Prospero’s tyranny is quite transparent, especially when it comes to his power over his daughter, too. Ariel longs for freedom which has been promised to him and Caliban wants his island to be returned to him so that he can live in peace. Meanwhile, Miranda falls in love with Ferdinand, who is brought to her and reciprocates her feelings. All of the ship’s passengers have made it ashore, unharmed, but they have been separated into three groups. Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian are among one group – where dark dealings are afoot with Antonia up to his old tricks and convincing Sebastian to murder the King, his brother. Alonso is caught up in grief as he believes that his Son, Ferdinand has not survived the storm.

The holographic technology utilised to aid the mystical appearance of Ariel offered a breath taking effect. Mark Quartley played the role with effortless elegance and roguish charm, anyway, however the added visuals were a stunning addition to the portrayal of the role. Joe Dixon had a caveman quality to his role of Caliban, primal and uncivilised, yet pained. It was a gritty performance which, I felt, earned much sympathy from the audience. Jenny Rainsford gave a balanced performance as Miranda, showing her girlish naivety and blending with a steely determination which escalated upon the arrival of Ferdinand. Daniel Easton was suitably love-struck as Ferdinand and demonstrated believable chemistry with Rainsford. I was instantly drawn to Oscar Pearce’s portrayal of Antonio, as it was clear which role he was playing before the introductions were made. Simpering, sarcastic and almost snarling at times, he was everything you would expect a traitor to be. Simon Russell Beale is an inspired choice as Prospero, he delivered the character’s monologues with ease, heart and precision. I found myself in turmoil as to my siding with him, unsure as to whether I pitied his misfortune at the hands of his brother or whether I despised him for his control of the island and his demands of Ariel.

My favourite characters in this story have always been the third party of castaways, Trinculo the jester (Simon Trinder) and Stephano the butler (Tony Jayawardena),

this motley pair bring light hearted moments when they’re needed and the casting of these two couldn’t have been better. Jayawardena in particular appears to be a very physical performer and he was able to play the drunken butler to hilarious perfection. Trinder bore a resemblance to Heath Ledger’s Joker from Batman, this in itself refocused my attention to the seriousness of the undertones where these characters are concerned.

Overall, this piece featured a spectacular set which made the best use of the stage, a cast who appear to have gelled, each member of whom embraced their role and brought out the themes of the play in their portrayals. The added magic and wonder which is provided throughout makes this a must-see this Christmas.

Photo credits: The RSC

Spotlight On… Artistic Director of Bardolph’s Box, Nicola Pollard

Bardolph’s Box

Tour Dates
We are primarily performing during the school day, in schools and public venues. Member of the public are welcome at performances in libraries – space permitting. Please see below for the schedule. We also have performances for families at 3 venues:

Queen’s Hall Arts Centre, Hexham Saturday 8th October http://www.queenshall.co.uk/whats-on 01434 652477 11am and 2pm

Malvern Theatres  Saturday 15th October http://www.malvern-theatres.co.uk/events/event/bardolphs-box/  01684 892 277 10.30am

Harlow Playhouse Saturday 22nd October https://uk.patronbase.com/_playhouseharlow/Productions/  01279 431 945 11am and 2pm

I chatted to Artistic Director, Nicola Pollard about the production that is opening up Shakespeare to younger viewers:

Thank you for talking to Break A Leg. Tell me about the production and what the inspiration was for it.

The production was initially a response to a call-out for Shakespeare inspired productions for the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, so I wrote the outline in winter 2013. The show needed to be tourable to small spaces and relatively inexpensive to create. I designed a show called ‘Bardolph’s Box’ that involved two actors, a frame with a backdrop and plenty of props and costumes, plus The Box of course. I gave the show a working title but it seems to have stuck!

Has anything changed from the original concept to the finished product?

I decided to have a third actor involved. It allowed more exciting costume choices, a greater number of characters and the possibility of two characters onstage with Bardolph at the same time. We made the show through a Research and Development process, with two actors, myself, my deisgner and a production assistant. Collectively we made a much more interesting show than I would have managed by myself, by thinking about Bardolph’s adventure and what had brought him to the island.

bardolph-2

What is the aim of the show?

The aim of the show is to introduce children to Shakespeare’s plays in a positive, fun and engaging way. I feel Shakespeare can sometimes get a bad press in schools and I wanted to give children a positive start with his works. There’s so much fun to be had in them, a lot of joy and humour, and I wanted to showcase that. We include family shows in our tour so parents, grandparents and everyone else can enjoy the show with their children, so Shakespeare isn’t just something associated with the classroom.

What do you feel the strengths of the production are?

Bardolph is a huge hit with our young audiences! They love it when he sits amongst them. I think the number of characters we meet is also a real strength of the show, and the ways the actors portray these different people. We designed it specifically for touring to young audiences so it’s a flexible set, and worked with children when making the show, which has really paid off.

What would you say to encourage people to come along?

‘Bardolphs’ Box’ is a fun, lively, energetic production. Adults enjoy it almost as much as the children, and you won’t meet your usual Shakespeare suspects. My cast are terrific. This is a really accessible, popular show, a real roller-coaster ride through Shakespeare’s stories.

Huge thanks to Nicola for her time, all the information about the show is below:

bardolph-3

TOURING PRODUCTION BRINGS SHAKESPEARE’S WORKS TO A YOUNGER AUDIENCE FOR 400TH ANNIVERSARY
Up The Road Theatre announce their 2016 autumn tour. Bardolph’s Box is a smallscale Shakespeare inspired production for 8-12 year olds, celebrating 400 years of Shakespeare’s work. The 4-week tour will begin at Greenwich and Lewisham Young People’s Theatre in the week of September 26th then continue to visit schools, libraries and theatres across the country, including Cumbria, Northumberland, Malvern, Gloucestershire and Harlow, finishing on Saturday 22nd October.

Up The Road Theatre are a new company based in Kent who specialise in creating work that explores literature, culture and history.
Bardolph’s Box introduces children to Shakespeare’s plays. It will inspire the younger generation and make Shakespeare fun. The touring company compromises of 3 actors: Stuart Crowther plays Bardolph, Falstaff’s sidekick from Henry IV’s, Henry V and The Merry Wives of Windsor, Lucy Heath and Gareth Wildig play a number of roles.

The company explore some of Shakespeare’s lesser known plays and characters, such as The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Comedy of Errors and the Nurse from Romeo and Juliet. Their exchanges with Bardolph include both modern English and extracts from the plays, and opportunities for the audience to interact with the performers as they help Bardolph on his way.

Washed up on a distant shore, Bardolph finds an island in trouble. In his quest to save the isle, he meets a host of colourful characters from Shakespeare’s plays, including Cleopatra, Prince Hal, Ariel and cheeky Puck. Everyone needs a helping hand, and Bardolph is just the boy for the job – but he can’t do it alone!

Join Bardolph, on a roller-coaster ride through Shakespeare’s stories. Who will you meet? Where will you go? Can you get his pals out of a pickle? One thing’s for sure, you’ll have a whole lot of fun along the way!

Many young children are initially put off the plays by Shakespeare’s complicated language, but this production utilises Shakespeare’s language in a manner that makes it easier for a younger audience to understand.

Nicola Pollard, Artistic Director of Up The Road Theatre, said: “We’re really looking forward to introducing children (and their families!) to Bardolph and his wonderful world. Through an exciting myriad of characters, we’re exploring a number of Shakespeare’s plays, including ‘The Comedy of Errors’, ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, ‘The Tempest’ and ‘Twelfth Night’. Our audience are encouraged to help young Bardolph on his first big adventure, as he gets his friends out of fixes and deliberates their dilemmas. With live music, puppetry and a good dollop of humour, ‘Bardolph’s Box’ is a brilliant way to celebrate Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary!”

“I’m really proud of our first production. We performed to over 1,700 children in the spring, the majority of whom joined in with gusto as they assisted Bardolph is his quest. It’s a lively piece, lots of fun and very energetic. Stuart Crowther is hugely  engaging as Bardolph. It’s great seeing families enjoy the show together – although designed for a younger audience we always intended it to be a show that adults could also enjoy.”
The production lasts approximately 50 minutes.
The production had a successful spring tour in Kent and the north-west. Feedback from teachers included:
‘Bardolph’s Box makes the plays much more accessible’  ‘The show demonstrates how child-friendly Shakespeare can be’ ‘This is a rewarding experience’ ‘Bardolph’s Box adds a fun aspect to Shakespeare’ ‘The production stimulated all sorts of creative writing and ignited a real interest in Shakespeare’

Visit http://www.uptheroadtheatre.co.uk for more information.

Spotlight On… Writer of Now Is The Winter, Kate Saffin

I chatted to Kate Saffin, who has written a piece as part of Rewriting Richard for The RSC – here are the links to the listing information and to book tickets: http://alarumtheatre.8ch.co.uk/ and https://www.rsc.org.uk/tickets/rewriting-Richard

Here’s what she had to say about the project…

Thank you for talking to Break A Leg, tell me about the piece and the inspiration for it.

It’s a reworking of Shakespeare’s Richard III. I was thinking about the fact that men get all the best speeches. Even where women have played those parts and bring a different perspective on it one could argue that they are still playing a male part.

I started thinking about the ‘Now is the winter…’ speech and wondering how it would sound spoken by a woman. Not a woman playing Richard but a woman being a woman in that world and who that woman might be. I found the answer was firstly that it made perfect sense in terms of commenting on the state of the nation and Edward IV’s return to the throne and secondly, that the woman was a servant. Someone moving freely about the castle, observing but almost invisible. Bess is a fictional servant, devoted to Richard – in my mind she is sister to the nurse who is referred to. In reality, of course, she could never have existed as few women were servants in the 15th century and those that were limited to the nursery or the laundry, they certainly wouldn’t have had had the freedom that Bess does to observe and take part in castle life.

Was it an easy piece to put down on paper?

In one sense, very easy – I had Shakespeare’s text to work on. In another, very difficult because there were choices to be made at every stage about what to include, what to leave out, how to create a 55 minute narrative from three hours of text. Ultimately it was shaped by Bess’s devotion to Richard. He is her focus, the events that affect him, affect her. She gossips her way through the story as she chops vegetables, sorts the laundry and kneads bread.

How has it translated from page to stage?

One of the fascinating aspects of the process was the way that, in the translation to the stage, we began to see how this new text turned Shakespeare’s version of Richard as evil on its head. Whilst using Shakespeare’s own words.

How does the space lend itself to the piece?

It’s a very simple, unfussy space which allows us to create the images of the world that Bess inhabits. At the same time it is a piece that could be set in many different spaces – we would love to perform it in the kitchen of a castle!

What do you hope the audience will take away with them?

The notion that you can play with Shakespeare’s text and create something new that provides a different perspective on his original work and the context that it was written in. A smile at Bess’s waspish observations of those she observes and gossips about. And perhaps a new sense of the wonderful language that he gave us – the rhythms, cadences and shapes of the text.

Finally, do you have a personal favourite Shakespeare play and why is it your favourite?

It probably has to be Richard III, partly because I have now spent so long immersed in the text that it is the play I know best and partly because it has been one of the most powerful and effective examples of propaganda through the arts in history. It shaped hundreds of years of thinking about Richard in a way that almost no other play has done.

I’d like to extend my thanks to Kate for chatting to me and wish her every success with the play.

Spotlight on… The Faction’s Mark Leipacher and Rachel Valentine Smith

It has ben announced that Selfridges will open a fully-fledged theatre with a new production of Much Ado About Nothing presented by critically-acclaimed theatre company, The Faction.

Celebrating Shakespeare400, Selfridges are joining forces with one of the most exciting young British theatre companies in the UK with a reputation for contemporary Shakespeare productions and innovative collaborations.

The reFASHIONed Theatre, complete with workshops and rare access to rehearsals, is an intimate 100-seat auditorium with a traditional box office, furniture designed royal box and seats, and bespoke rib by the masters of stage-lighting Whitelight. It’s not just any pop-up!

Much Ado About Nothing – The Faction @ Selfridges 
Selfridges & Co, 400 Oxford Street, London W1A 1AB 

Production: Tuesday 23rd August – Saturday 24th September 2016 Press Night: Friday 26th August, 7.30pm 

Box Office Tickets are available from Selfridges on phone number or online at http://www.selfridges.com.

I thought that this sounded like a fantastic idea and decided a chat with Director, Mark Leipacher and Co-Director, Rachel Valentine Smith was in order!

Thank you for talking to Break A Leg, tell me all about the production and why audiences will love it.

Much Ado About Nothing is one of Shakespeare’s most dazzling comedies – packed full of witty banter and physical comedy that audiences will lap up. It’s also a play in which reputations are quickly built and the tiniest slither of gossip can lead to a very public shaming. It has a distinctly 21st century vibe, and we’ve taken it as a play for ‘now’ – where rumour can spread like wildfire on social media, and tabloid slander can undo anybody. So we hope that the audience recognises something of themselves, or the world around them, up on stage. Ultimately it’s a play that’s full of joy – that’s something that we’ve worked hard to release in rehearsals and something that the audience will love in performance

What was the inspiration for this unusual piece?

The inspiration was actually Shakespeare himself! The Faction were excited by the idea of celebrating #Shakespeare400 in the spirit of the bard himself by creating something in a boundary breaking, irreverent way. Being part of the Selfridges Shakespeare Refashioned campaign has been a great way to push that idea as we present this full-fledged production in a new, albeit temporary, studio space in the heart of Selfridges.

How long has the process taken to being the piece to the stage and what were the initial ideas in the creative process?

We had our first meeting back in November following which we pitched some small, some medium and some large scale ideas. Selfridges have a rich heritage of innovation and collaboration, working with some world class artists in the past. Our large scale idea was a fully-fledged theatre and programming a new Shakespeare production. Fast forward 9 months and here we are on the brink of technical rehearsals. Much Ado as a title sprung out to us because of its joyfulness, it’s a brilliant comedy that we think represents the Bard at his most mischievous and is an exciting play for anybody experiencing Shakespeare for the first time.

The other ideas included some pop-up performances that have been taking place on the shop floor over the last few weeks so we have already opened up a direct dialogue with the public and hope this has encouraged them to enjoy the Shakespeare Refashioned campaign further.

What’s your personal favourite Shakespeare play and why?

The Winter’s Tale. There are so many exciting themes to explore, and so much scope for theatrical opportunities. The splitting of time and space, the characters and it feels like Shakespeare at the height of his powers, experimenting with the verse and ideas. A play so full of imagination is a gift to a director.

Have any particular productions influenced you in the past?

The company has always been influenced by European theatre both in practice and in model. The culture of theatre going is very different in France and Germany to here at home. But the spirit of the Schaubühne, the style of the Deutsches Theater the magic of the Bouffes are all inspirational. The Globe’s Globe to Globe festival was amazing, we found the Maori Troilus and Cressida absolutely thrilling and a joy that we may not have been able to behold had it not been for the festival. Another favourite would be Deborah Warner’s Julius Caesar at the Barbican. Cheek By Jowl have also been great inspiration to us.

Finally, sell the show to me, why should everybody come along and see this?

It’s a fantastic play taking place in an unexpected location. It mixes the light and the dark – so you get comedy and tragedy in equal measure. It’s fun, fast-paced, wild and modern. These are wonderful characters of joy, warmth and intelligence and it’s a delight to spend 90 minutes in their company. You’ll want to get up on stage and join in with them. They’re mischievous and bold. Whether you’re a Bardologist or this will be your first experience of a Shakespeare play there’s genuinely something for everyone: it’s really the perfect way to mark Shakespeare400.

Break a leg, everybody and thank you for your time!

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream ~ Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford upon Avon

With a fascinating take on 1940s meeting a surreal and magical world, Erica Whyman has directed a beautiful, melodic and hilarious piece of theatre. This has been by far my favourite production of Shakespeare’s tale of four lovers who’s lives are meddled with due to the mischief and desires of the fairy world.

This play has been dubbed ‘A Play for the Nation’, and with children from various schools joining each performance and performers from fourteen amateur theatre groups each taking on the roles of the mechanicals (including Bottom), this is a collaborative effort, indeed.

The set displayed a great deal of realism with a theatrical backdrop used, whereas the forest where love and mischief reigns supreme displayed an overriding theme of red symbolism. This worked well, especially coupled with the inclusion of the piano centre-piece (where Titania, and later, Bottom take their rest). Music, dance and frivolity is very much a part of the piece and it lends itself perfectly.

Oberon the Fairy King and Titania the Fairy Queen are played with subtlety yet grace and gentility by Chu Omambala and Ayesha Dharker. Their chemistry is poignant and bold, excellent chemistry is also noted between Oberon and Puck, who is the cheeky elf who enjoys wreaking havoc. Lucy Ellinson plays the role and she was outstanding, facial features that spoke a thousand words and hilarious audience interaction. The four lovers, Lysander (Jack Holden), Demetrius (Chris Nayak), Hermia (Mercy Ojelade) and Helena (Laura Riseborough) were superbly cast and each were notable for comic timing which moved appropriately to emotionally charged performances. Riseborough appeared to use her height to achieve some comic effect, whether it was deliberate or not I’m unsure, but it worked! Each actor brought out nuances that highlighted their differences and vulnerabilities simultaneously.

A huge pat on the back must go to The Bear Pit amateur theatre group who played the mechanicals. There was an invisible divide between professional and amateur performers, David Mears as Bottom was a joy to watch, this must surely be a role that he was always meant to play.

This is a must-see and comes highly recommended as a show to beg, steal or borrow ticket for, this year.

The production is going on a UK tour before finishing back at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in July. Tickets for all performances can be purchased here and further details can also be found: https://www.rsc.org.uk/a-midsummer-nights-dream/the-plot

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