Monthly Archives: August 2010

Private Lives, at Wadham College

he didn't know how to tell her that her outfit clashed with what he intended to wear

Bickering is not usually considered an evening’s entertainment, but when it is as good as the Oxford Shakespeare Company’s production of Private Lives it is unmissable. When Amanda says: “I was brought up to believe that it was beyond the pale for a man to strike a woman.” Elyot replies: “A very poor tradition. Certain women should be struck regularly, like gongs.” So begins this comedy of manners that is full of camp humour, a laugh a minute, and verbal, as well as actual, sparring.

It is 1930. Elyot and Amanda have divorced five years ago and are now honeymooning with their new spouses in Deauville, France. They soon find out, however, they are not only in the same hotel but adjoining suites. At first glance, setting a play that takes place in France and largely indoors in Wadham College’s garden shouldn’t work. It’s a brave choice by Director Nicholas Green that pays off, making the performance more enriching and enjoyable. The music by strolling players also helps, which is Charles Trenet’s La Mer, a pleasing motif repeated throughout the play.

The work is memorable because of Noël Coward’s dialogue, and here it is delivered quick and sharp. It’s a surprise that the two-minute silences, which come whenever Elyot and Amanda say their private code word “Solomon Isaacs” to take time out from arguing, work smoothly onstage and are just as engaging. All of the actors keep up with the pace, especially Amanda, played by Pandora Clifford, who is perfect as the flamenco dancing, mink wearing queen of catty comebacks. And Matthew Fraser Holland’s brief appearance as a female maid is hilarious, as he keeps the audience laughing with every line of his over the top French accent.

Some of the fight scenes are a bit sloppy, and the two intervals unnecessary. The play is, however, reminiscent of the company’s successful 2006 production The Importance of Being Earnest, as it is performed with the same wit, speed, and gusto. After the charming production of The Tempest, which is also on, it is interesting to see the company mature into Private Lives. Who knew bickering could be this much fun.

Runs till 20 August.

To see or not to see: * * * *


Spotlight: Max Hoehn, Actor and Director

Max is a part of the Oxford University Dramatic Society. He has just been awarded a first-class degree in History at Queen’s College, Oxford. He first came to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007 with ‘Danton’s Death’, and returns this year with an adaptation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita. He has co-adapted the play with Raymond Blankenhorn, and also directed and acts in the work.

In Master and Margarita you play the Devil, what attracted you to the role?

The Devil in Master and margarita has one of the most famous openings in Russian literature. He’s full of wit, charm and flair. In other scenes he evolves into a grander, Milton-esque figure. Capturing the different parts he plays in the book while preserving a recognisable charisma has been one of the main challenges.

Jesus, Satan, and Pilate are the main characters in the play. How did your perception of these figures change over the course of adapting, rehearsing, and performing the play?

Jesus, Satan and Pilate are hugely important because we all have our own preconceptions about what they’re like. Bulgakov gives each of them a different, surprising twist. In casting and rehearsals I was keen to avoid any slide towards traditional portrayals of these characters. Pilate in Soviet uniform was an interpretive decision to suggest a link between Bulgakov’s Jerusalem and the Stalinist world and to avoid any iconographic spin on the scene.

You have adapted, directed, and are acting in the play. What did you gain from the experience?

Directing, acting and co-adapting the play has meant I’ve really invested a huge amount in it and that has helped me to be committed heart and soul to the project. It’s not something I’d repeat in the professional world but for the fringe you can just about get away with it.

What would you say to a young person about the Oxford University Dramatic Society’s Master and Margarita to encourage them to see it?

The production of Master and Margarita stays faithful to the spirit and complexity of the novel while also presenting it in as imaginative a way as possible to make it engaging for those who don’t know the book. We’ve toured Oxford and London to full houses and a lot of positive feedback, particularly from Russians. I think it’s a vibrant engaging story that deserves to be seen.

What other play at the Edinburgh fringe have you seen that you would recommend?

That’s easy, Derevo at the Pleasance is a Russian show by a company Harlekin and is by far the most powerful thing I’ve seen so far. Its combination of dance, mime, and circus tells a simple set of stories with great beauty and heart.

Master and Margarita, at the Edinburgh Fringe, runs from 16 August till 30 August.

The Tempest, at Wadham College

i can't, i'm in love with trinculo

Caliban has been performed in many ways onstage: a woman, punk rocker, Rastafarian, Millwall fan, and a practically naked predator carrying a large phallic bone that offended one member of staff so much that it caused them to resign. When Miranda sets her eyes on Ferdinand, the third man she has ever seen, she instantly falls in love with him. Prospero protests, “this is a Caliban”, a similarity that is obvious throughout the story, but has yet to be fully realised onstage. Until now.

Ferdinand and Caliban are both royal suitors and treated in the same way by Prospero. In the Oxford Shakespeare Company’s version of the play Richard Pryal proves he is an outstanding actor playing both Ferdinand and Caliban. He switches, even in front of us, from being an upright, handsome, well-spoken Ferdinand to an ugly, aggressive, ape-like Caliban. It is a brave move by director Mick Gordon that works smoothly and excitingly to bring alive the character’s similarities, since it highlights how Ferdinand, and even we, can be “the Other”.

The story is set on a desert island, where Prospero has been ruling by use of his magic art for twelve years. He uses his powers to create a tempest, which his enemies from his hometown Naples get caught in. What follows are a series of attempts to usurp power, a pursuit for love, and families reunited. Much is made of the magic, comedy, and love, so much so that there is a song and dance with the repeated line “contract of love”. Nick Llloyd Webber (Andrew’s son) creates pretty and playful music, which compliments the production’s preoccupation with all things happy. It feels like more should be made about the plays more important themes like the relationship between art and nature, master and slave, and, of course (because of its Caliban), colonialism.

Some bits feel mismatched. Matthew Fraser Holland is doubled up to play Ariel and Gonzalo. His Ariel is whitened-up, in an outfit like a strait jacket, and has a demeanour like Rik Mayall’s Drop Dead Fred. He carries around a megaphone, occasionally blurting out lines or singing. Additionally, Prospero has Moses robes and a stick alongside a Miranda who wears an 80s Madonna-clad outfit teamed with Doc Martens.

At 90 minutes, with textual cuts, and frequent musical interludes, this is a bite size version of the play. It’s cute, snappy, and just as enchanting as the garden of Wadham College it is set in. The production only really succeeds, however, when it is more daring, as it is with Caliban, and is worth seeing simply for this.

Runs till 19 August, and tours the country including Hampton Court Palace from 21 August till 31 August.

To see or not to see: * * *

Romeo and Juliet, at the Saïd Business School

now you can be pete doherty and i'll be gerard way

Creation Theatre have uncovered a previously unknown Shakespearean Comedy, Romeo and Juliet. The love story is played for laughs, as the famous balcony scene begins Romeo pulls a series of funny faces, dashes backwards and forwards, and has the audience laughing out loud. This is a fun, delightful, and original take on the story.

There are two feuding families, the Capulets and the Montagues. Romeo, the son of a Montague, and Juliet, the daughter of a Capulet, meet at a masked ball, are instantly smitten, and only recognise the other when it’s too late. Director Charlotte Conquest adds religious symbolism to the tale, when the two fall in love it is akin to the fall of man, they dance seductively together, bite from a red-hot apple, and cause calamities to arise.

Everything about the production is tight and fast-paced. Amy Noble proves she is an excellent actress convincingly playing the teenage Juliet and an elderly Lady Montague, and the double role itself is clever as it suggests a kind of Oedipal reason for Romeo’s affection. Patrick Myles’ Romeo, however, is transformed into more of a fool rather than a tragic lover, he often has a lost Frank Spencer look, a fumbling rapport with his lover, and is the butt of jokes. Benjamin Askew is extraordinary, too, as Mercutio, he delivers every line like a tease in the same way he teases the other characters. He is a blond, spikey-haired rocker, with golden “nimble soles”, much like My Chemical Romance’s Gerard Way. He is a crowd-pleaser, providing funny fight scenes, dancing with his enemies, and then hitting them in their private parts.

The world of Verona is also successfully created: even before we sit down the opening brawl takes place in the courtyard, in the interval Benvolio sits outside the bar crying next to the dead body of Mercutio, and throughout the play characters can be spotted continuing bits of the action in the courtyard in the background. The company are known for staging Shakespeare plays in some of Oxford’s most imaginative locations, these have included an island in the River Cherwell, Headington Hill Park, Oxford castle, and now Oxford University’s Saïd Business School. The building is uber-modern and designed by Dixon and Jones, the architects responsible for the Royal Opera House in London. It’s a spectacular setting for a spectacular play. A fun evening’s entertainment.

Runs till 4 September.

To see or not to see: * * * *