Monthly Archives: October 2009

Twelfth Night, at the Courtyard Theatre

due to the recession it was one script between four

due to the recession it was one script between four

You better believe it, Richard Wilson is appearing onstage as Malvolio in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Twelfth Night. Wilson triumphs, despite being terrified at the age of 72 having never tackled Shakespeare before. Malvolio has attracted top actors like Patrick Stewart, Simon Russell Beale, and more recently Derek Jabobi; oddly for Wilson it is the tragedy of a duped Malvolio, who is left walking alone in the dark at the end onstage, that he is better at than the hilarity of the yellow stockinged one. There has never been a more sympathetic Malvolio.

As the opening lines representing excess, “if music be the food of love, play on” are spoken, director Gregory Doran takes us into an exotic world of violins, hookahs, fine mats, and silken cushions. The play tells the story of twins Viola and Sebastian who have been shipwrecked and lose each other, as Viola finds herself swept ashore and alone she disguises herself as a man and takes a job working for the Duke Orsino. What ensues is mourning, madness, and love triangles. 

Doran’s production is sensitive, perhaps from having been a twin himself, which makes moments like the twin’s eventual reunion incredibly touching. What the play gains in empathy it loses in comedy, and this is meant to be a Shakespearean Comedy. It does not have enough laughs or sex appeal like most Twelfth Nights, instead quick laughs come from having Sir Toby Belch break wind rather than from Shakespeare’s funny lines. 

It is refreshing to see an alternative Feste, this all-singing all-dancing Feste is playful making music from rubbish bin lids and spinning through clothing lines. He is Puck-like rather than elusive like Ben Kingsley’s famous portrayal in Trevor Nunn’s version that many Festes follow. Stand out performances come from Milton Yereolmeou’s Feste, Wilson’s perfectly cast Malvolio, and Alexandra Gilbreath’s Olivia. As Feste ends the play singing “we’ll strive to please you everyday” though, this production does just that, it pleases rather than impresses.

Runs till 21 November, and moves to the Duke of York’s Theatre from 19 December till 27 February 2010. 


To see or not to see: * * * 


Dial M for Murder, at the Oxford Playhouse

she couldn't stand being on hold to celine dion

she couldn't stand being on hold to Celine Dion

Alfred Hitchcock’s 39 Steps, Vertigo, and now Dial M for Murder have all recently been remade for the stage. Hitchcock made Frederick Knott’s 1952 play famous with his film starring Ray Milland and Grace Kelly, and now the West Yorkshire Playhouse company are touring the country with their version.

When Tony discovers that his wife Sheila has had an affair, he plots to kill her and inherit her money. But the plan backfires in the most unexpected way, and it’s up to Tony to cover up the clues. All the action takes place in the couple’s living room, making it intense and voyeuristic, though we still get a good sense of the outside world with its namedropping of London locations such as Victoria station and Chelsea. 

The set is sexy and chic with its blood-red drapes, seductive lighting, and jazz music. It succeeds when it sticks to its old-fashioned storytelling: having the stage revolve at key moments is misjudged. The carousel-like motion does not add to the topsy-turvy nature of this world, instead it is disrupting, messy, and gets in the way of the action.

Lucy Bailey’s direction nevertheless is superb, cleverly creating the suspense and chilling atmosphere required. She previously directed The Postman Always Rings Twice, starring Val Kilmer, for the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and Julius Caesar for the Royal Shakespeare Company. And Aislin McGuckin shines in a role that Grace Kelly made famous.

The play falls down with its slow denouement, however. Since it is not simply a whodunit but a “can he get away with it?” it becomes tiresome. For classic old-school theatre, especially for those who have not seen the Hitchcock version, it is worth watching, otherwise Dial M for Mediocre.  

Runs till 10 October, and tours the country including Richmond Theatre from 3 November till 7 November.


To see or not to see: * * *

Spotlight: Tom Piper, Royal Shakespeare Company’s Associate Designer

Tom PiperTom studied at Magdalen College School, Oxford, began a BA in Biology and switched to Art History at Trinity College, Cambridge. When school friend Sam Mendes, now director of American Beauty and Revolutionary Road, needed a set designer for a university play Tom volunteered to do it. He went into complete a postgraduate course in Theatre Design at the Slade School of Art, and is now the Associate Designer for the Royal Shakespeare Company. 


How did you get into theatre designing? 

I enjoyed building tree houses as a child and then at university where I was meant to be studying Biology I got into student theatre . I did thirty shows in four years; I built and painted them all myself with not much sleep, including trips to Edinburgh and Avignon with shows


What skills are important to be a theatre designer? 

You have to be able to think like a sculptor, engineer, dress maker, painter, model maker and have a passion for theatre and how plays work. Be a collaborator and be prepared to change and develop your ideas all the time.


How much do contemporary concerns affect your creative choices?

After 9/11 I was designing The Tempest and it very much influenced how we thought about the production. The ship was an abstract structure made of tall ladders almost like a tower. The storm a bright light that seemed to hit the structure. The island was made out of the ruin of the tower. Modern politics often seems to be reflected in Shakespeare’s plays which deal in universal themes, the rise of popular leaders, and their inevitable downfall.


Do you think theatre reacts quicker to news than other art forms?

Not always. There are examples of plays that are made in a rapid response to world events, but there is still the time it takes to commission, write and rehearse. Another example was when I was doing a production of Twelfth Night that started rehearsing immediately after the 2006 Tsunami. All the initial reference material I had gathered of ship wrecks and storm damage seemed voyeuristic after the horrors of that event, so we move away from any literal depiction of the storm and instead found a more abstract way of representing the terror of a ship wreck.


What would you say to young people about the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new production of Twelfth Night to encourage them to see it?

Theatre in the Courtyard is an immediate and very involving experience. The actors are in the same room with you, the audience are on three sides, so there is a very direct communication between the actors and audience. It is not the stuffy experience you might imagine in an old fashioned theatre. There is a great mix of people throughout the theatre, with even seats up in the gallery having a great view. Nobody is more than thirteen metres from the stage.


Twelfth Night, at the Courtyard Theatre runs from the 15 October till 21 November, and at the Duke of York’s Theatre from 19 December till 27 February 2010.

Your Bard: Bindiya on Barrie Rutter’s Othello

BindiyaBindiya is 24 years old. She works as an Assistant Validation Officer in the Houses of Parliament. She loves the television channel Dave, Alan Rickman, and libraries.

What did you make of Lenny Henry’s Othello?

Lenny lets the Bard’s words do the talking. He does not attempt to bring something new to the character or try to copyright him as “Lenny’s Othello”. His gift is his timing, his unbelievably fluent yet emotional delivery of the script, and his infrequent but excellently-judged interaction with the audience.


The actor Hugh Quarshie believes that if a black actor were to play Othello it would conform to a negative racial stereotype. What is your opinion?

There is no need for a black man to play a black tragic hero and feel somehow pigeon-holed by it. Othello knows his biggest hurdle is that he is a noble black man in a white society, but he overcomes that through his nobility, prowess and unquestionable leadership. The key is how much an actor can distance himself from the prejudice.


Who would the play appeal to?

Anyone interested in the play and in Shakespeare. I got chatting to a lady at the play and she told me her sons enjoyed it immensely. The 12 year old son had asked “how did they change the language so that we could understand what they were saying?”, and was amazed to find that they hadn’t and that he had understood it word for word.

Speaking in Tongues, at the Duke of York’s Theatre

i can't believe you forgot to tape X Factor

i can't believe you forgot to tape X Factor

It takes two to tango, or in the case of Speaking in Tongues, four. The play tells the story of two couples who unknowingly switch partners. Andrew Bovell adapted the work from his award-winning screenplay for the 2001 film Lantana. Bovell also wrote When the Rain Stops Falling that played at London’s Almeida Theatre in May, and co-wrote Strictly Ballroom with Baz Lurhman.

>The action begins with two scenes happening at the same time in one seedy, darkly lit hotel room. Both couples go through the motions, the men asking in unison “have you done this before?”, the women answering in unison either the same or different answers. It shows that they are not only all capable of committing infidelity, but that they all have the same desires, fears, and guilt, which makes them all human. It’s quick, clever, and instantly compelling.

Under Ben Stone’s direction the play is film-like with its tango-dancing interludes, slick scene changes, and visual backdrops. Excellent performances come from John Simm, from the television drama Life on Mars, as the confused cop Leon and Kerry Fox, from Shallow Grave, who plays “plain Jane” with low self-esteem.

The first half is full of deep emotion and the second half turns into a whodunit. Complications arise by having the actors take on multiple parts and the plot’s heavy reliance on chance encounters. It manages to keep you hooked however through its intensity, suspense, and fine performances. A hit.

Runs till 12 December.

To see or not to see: * * * *

Your Bard: Susie on Anthony Neilson’s The Drunks


Susie is 19 years old. She is currently doing amateur theatre and is hoping to apply to Drama school. She loves reading Shakespeare and acting Shakespeare, but hates his hair and thinks that her hair is much better.

Describe The Drunks in three words.

In your face.

The Drunks or The Grain Store, which do you prefer?

I’ve seen The Drunks twice and The Grain Store once. Having read the scripts I can see that the Royal Shakespeare Company really transformed them, and with The Drunks it was the intense style that grabbed me. The Drunks is more relevant to a desire for change in a modern day society, there seemed to be parallels, perhaps unintentional, with the treatment of soldiers returning from Iraq and the use of heroic deaths for political means.

What attracts you to the Royal Shakespeare Company’s productions?

Their productions breathe in a way like no other. They grow individually from the text to produce something engaging, relevant, and always different. As an audience member I constantly feel involved, almost as if I helped create what I’m seeing.