Category Archives: London

Spotlight: Kashman Harris, Writer

Kashman writes for Eastender’s online spin-off E20, which was conceived in 2010 as the naughty little brother of the main show. The show’s writers, all aged between 17 and 22, were found as a part of the BBC’s new talent initiative. The show has created two series, and the third has been announced.


Why did you decide to become a writer?

I’m motivated by the chance to be heard, like most writers I guess. Though writing is something I developed a liking for from a young age, telling stories always seemed to have a cathartic effect on people. I wanted to be someone who could do the same.


What piece of art can you remember having an impact on you?

I remember from a young age watching a variety of TV shows, Quantum Leap springs to mind, mainly how it was my first experience with a genre hybrid of drama and sci-fi done so seamlessly. Also 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick, as it’s the most original and inspiring piece of film I’ve ever seen, it made me realise how films could pose questions to an audience and make them think.


Are there different obstacles facing black and ethnic minority writers?

If there are any obstacles it’s finding the outlets for work, but they are there, it’s just how hard you look for them. I can’t say that I’ve faced many obstacles in regards to my ethnicity. There are new schemes within corporations, such as the BBC, where they are expanding their horizons to reach groups that they wouldn’t normally. Such schemes give minorities a chance to enter the industry from a grass roots level, and that’s essentially how E20 started.


What are the common stereotypes that appear in stories about young people?

I think the common misconception is that young people, regardless of colour, have this definite, uncivilised way of talking. In other words, slang. It’s important that writers who choose to write stereotypically show both sides of the coin. It’d be wrong to act as if the stereotypes didn’t exist, but it’s also possible to have a story where young people are not represented in a stereotypical light.


What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a writer?

I’d recommend Talent Circle, but also joining up with your nearest theatre group, mine was the Oval House Theatre in Kennington. If you have an idea, get it onto paper as quickly as possible. Mainly it’s to be patient with yourself and understand that the results won’t come if you’re not putting just as much work in. Writing is a complicated career choice, but if you’re truly passionate about it then you’ll be able to persevere.


Follow Kashman on Twitter, and click here to find out the latest on the BBC’s E20.

Spotlight: JQ of The Q Brothers, Writer and Composer

The Q Brothers are from Chicago. In 2008 they took Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and put a hip-hop spin on it to create Funk it up About Nothin’. They have taken the play to Chicago, New York, Australia, and the Edinburgh Fringe. The play is now showing in London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East.


What piece of theatre can you remember having an impact on you?

Bring in the Noise, Blue Man Group. I guess I liked things that were a little outside the box.


You’ve performed in Chicago, New York, Edinburgh, and Australia. How does the audience in London differ?

The audiences in Stratford are the most diverse we’ve ever had. It’s the type of audience most theatres dream of having. They are really doing something special here and we are so glad to be a part of it. That said, I think the story is universal and anyone would enjoy it if they are into fun characters and clever wordplay.


What would you say to a young person to encourage them to see the show?

We are really proud of the piece and people of all ages find it exciting. Most young people I know find Shakespeare boring even if they appreciate his genius. All we are doing is trying to give the audience an experience of what we think it might have been like to see Shakespeare in his time.


What do you say to the critics who say this isn’t Shakespeare?

I have nothing to say to them. If they have actually seen the show and don’t think we are true to Shakespeare, then they don’t really know Shakespeare. Most of the people that show up and have a preconceived notion of the show are completely won over once they actually see the piece.


If Shakespeare were alive today, would he be rapping?

Absolutely. He would be telling stories just like he did before, like Slick Rick and Eminem.


Funk it up About Nothin’ at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East runs till May 7.

Spotlight: Alexander Feklistov, Actor

Alexander Feklistov graduated from the Moscow Art Theatre School in 1982, and worked for the Moscow Art Theatre for twelve years. He went onto create the 5th Moscow Art Theatre Studio. He is currently playing Caliban in Cheek by Jowl’s Russian production of The Tempest.


Why did you decide to become an actor?
I became an actor because of the mystery that lives in theatre. From my early childhood I wanted to know: what’s behind there? Behind Uncle Tom’s cabin.


What early theatrical experience can you remember having an impact on you?
I cannot forget Anatoly Efros’s Cherry Orchard. It was performed by great actors Alla Demidova and Vladimir Visotskiy and the action took place on a cemetery. Nothing I saw afterwards in my whole life has touched me as deeply, and it astonished me how this production of The Tempest affected me in a similar way.


Caliban has been performed in many ways onstage: a woman, punk rocker, and Rastafarian. What made you choose to play Caliban the way you do?
Caliban is a child, but he was abandoned and not brought up properly. You feel sorry for him, he can be very irritating, and it’s a very Russian part.


Shakespeare has been performed in Russian to Hindi. What is it to you that makes Shakespeare translate well into all cultures?
I think Shakespeare can be played in any language, but we’re only trying to do it justice. We enjoy his poetry, his verse, but once we start talking about the interpretation of the plays we never have the same viewpoint.


What would you say to a young person to encourage them to see this play?
I think it’s a very simple and honest production, simple but not simplified, and it has huge potential in it. We as actors are trying to catch up with the form of it and it’s never boring.

The Tempest at the Barbican runs from 7 April till 16 April.

Romeo and Juliet, at the Oxford Playhouse


she didn't believe him when he said she smelled like roses

It’s not often you go the theatre and find yourself surrounded by young people laughing. Not just laughing, but laughing at Shakespeare. Pilot Theatre and York Theatre Royal’s production of Romeo and Juliet pulls out all the stops to get the audience, largely made up of school children and students, to laugh out loud. The only problem is that it’s at sexual innuendos, which of course Shakespeare has many of, but at one’s that were never quite there. “Draw thy tool” is fittingly followed by a phallic object, erect, and thrusting, but so too is every other line that is said by the male characters. This modern version dumbs down the action, dashes through the verse, and does not shed any new light onto our understanding of the story.


The play tells the tale of Romeo, a Montague, who meets Juliet, a Capulet. The two are from feuding families, but fall in love, and don’t realise who the other is until it is too late. One of the unique things about the play is Chloe Lamford’s stage design. Before the action starts the stage is already like a shrine: a flowerbed at the front, flowers attached to posts, and flowers anywhere else possible. The symbolism is simple but clever: we are at a spot that will stage one of the greatest romances, but also where someone has tragically died.


Rachel Spicer, who plays Juliet, has come straight out of drama school to the company. Her Juliet looks young, pretty, and Topshop-clad, but is played bolshy, hard, and with little sincerity. Romeo and Juliet’s relationship should be erotically charged, but here it lacks any real passion. The masked ball, the moment two of the world’s most famous lovers meet, is unmemorable and unromantic. And the balcony scene pits Juliet more like an Amsterdam window girl framed by neon lights, pulling down her bra strap, and blowing kisses.


Oliver Wilson’s Romeo shows promise and is funny as a fumbling Romeo. Additionally, William Travis’ Lord Capulet is excellent at nailing Capulet’s anger, and Louisa Eyo is perfect as a friendly Jamaican accented Nurse. The main downfall for this production is the delivery, even some of the most famous lines like “a plague on both your houses” and “my only love sprung from my only hate”, are not said with conviction. The monotonous music does not help either, rather than adding a feeling of doom it adds a feeling of dreariness.


The company specialises in theatre for teenagers and young adults, and it certainly has this group laughing out loud. But by concentrating on gags it assumes this audience won’t be drawn to the most important thing about Romeo and Juliet: the tragedy.

 

Runs till November 13. Tours the country until 9 April 2011, including the Unicorn Theatre, London from 2 February till 12 February.


To see or not to see: * *

Prince of Denmark, at the National Theatre, Cuttesloe Theatre

she couldn't believe he forgot to tape the apprentice

Have you ever wondered what Hamlet was like before his father died? Was he more concerned with being a man or a prince? Was he truly in love with Ophelia? And did he always think so much? These are just some of the questions that are answered in director Anthony Banks and writer Michael Lesslie’s new specially commissioned play that is currently showing alongside Hamlet.

 

We follow the famous characters a decade before Hamlet. Polonius’ family have arrived making Laertes anxious about his position, so he tries to set up a way that Hamlet can meet his demise. If you have never read or seen Hamlet this would be difficult to follow, there are so many in-jokes and reference that would be lost. The play does not shed any new light onto Hamlet, but is extremely funny, witty, and interesting because of our hindsight.


The show stars teenagers drawn from the National Youth Theatre (of which Jude Law, a later Hamlet, is a famous alumnus). Eve Ponsoby’s Ophelia is mesmerising, and much of the story sympathetically explores her character as a girl in a man’s world. The whole take on Ophelia pre-Hamlet is much like Virginia Woolf’s idea of Shakespeare’s Sister, which wonders how a female who is just as talented as a male would succeed in Shakespeare’s world.


The sixteenth-century speech is wonderfully recreated, for example when Hamlet questions the “measure of a man” it has echoes of Macbeth’s “I dare do all that may become a man”. Additionally we constantly feel like we are a part of the action with actors lurking in the circle, and then shouting out lines from the aisle.


This is 50 minutes jam-packed with sword-fighting, verbal sparring, and full on flirting. Judging by the applause and enthusiasm of the audience largely made up of young people, this could have certainly been longer. Following on from the Royal Shakespeare’s tour of schools with a shortened Hamlet, which enraptured its eight-year-old audience, Banks’ version further shows how the play is perfect for getting a younger audience into theatre. A gem.


Runs till 26 October.


To see or not to see: * * * *

Hamlet, at the National Theatre, Olivier Theatre

he took method acting seriously and took to sleeping onstage

One of the most famous Shakespearean speeches, “to be or not to be”, is about to begin and Hamlet is at the front of the stage in a hoodie and puffing on a cigarette. This is Hamlet in modern day: he is dressed more like a student than a prince, Ophelia is first found listening to indie band The XX, and the players wear t-shirts with acid house smiley faces and “villain” across it in capital letters. If you’re a hardcore Hamlet-ite, you have been warned.


The play tells the story of Hamlet who is distraught by the recent death of his father, and “o’er hasty” marriage of his mother Gertrude to his uncle Claudius. He sees a ghost claiming to be his father, and it tells him to revenge his “foul and most unnatural murder” by Claudius. Director Nicholas Hytner’s version is refreshing, but the subtle changes certainly add to the text rather than take away from it: it is suggested that Ophelia’s death is a set-up not an accident, and there are secret agents often lurking onstage like sixteenth-century palace informers.


Rory Kinnear, son of late comedian Roy, is an outstanding Hamlet. He is played as an ordinary everyman in an extraordinary situation, and whose madness, which Kinnear excels at, is a comedy act. Kinnear effortlessly slips from being anxious to self-assured, from miserable to enraged, and in and out of Hamlet’s multifaceted parts. Clare Higgins Gertrude is played perfectly as the sympathetic mother with little attention to the Ernest Jones’ Oedipus Complex study, however Patrick Malahide’s Polonious remains a svengali figure with no suggestion that he could genuinely be in love with Gertrude.


The set, largely made up of white palace walls, works well indoors but does not always lend itself well to the outdoor scenes. One of the unexpected highlights, however, includes the players; what is often a dull moment in the play is vamped up with a dance narrating the story. Additionally you don’t notice that the play is a lengthy three hours and thirty minutes, instead it takes its time to simmer and sparkle. Hytner has done it: his previous work London Assurance was an eighteenth century comedy bash that was well received by critics, but Hamlet has been updated in a fresh and brave way for all audiences. A hit, a palpable hit.


Runs till 9 January, and tours the country until 12 March. Returns to National Theatre, Lyttelton Theatre from 13 April till 23 April.


To see or not to see: * * * *

Romeo and Juliet, at Sadler’s Wells


nope, i still got the hiccups

It’s certainly the season for ballet: Natalie Portman is already tipped as an Oscar favourite for her role as the tortured ballerina in Black Swan, Emily Blunt is starring as a ballerina falling for a politician in The Adjustment Bureau, and even Cheryl Cole is trading her harem pants for a tutu in her latest single Promise This. If you want to watch ballet at its best, however, the Birmingham Royal Ballet Company touring production of Kenneth Macmillan’s Romeo and Juliet is unmissable.


As the curtain rises there is no mistaking that we are in Verona; there are sixteenth century costumes and grand palace-like set pieces. In this ballet it is love at first dance for the two teenagers from feuding families. When Romeo, a Montague, meets Juliet, a Capulet, at a masked ball, they instantly fall in love and only recognise the other when it’s too late.


Sergei Prokofiev’s gripping and tragedy-tinged score accompanies the story of the two doomed lovers, taking us through the delights of first love to the heartbreak of their death. Highlights include the spectacular opening brawl that begins with two, four, and then suddenly up to ten pairs of sword fighters; the Dance of the Knights, better known as The Apprentice theme tune, as the backdrop of the ballroom dance; and the menacing dark chord progressions and soaring melodies accompanying Juliet’s suicide.


Everything about the production is polished, dramatic, and undeniably sensual. One of the most powerful images occurs in the ethereal moment when the lovers are at the balcony, never quite being able to hold hands, forever reaching out for each other. The image epitomises the play, which could do with being more erotically charged. Romeo and Juliet are a couple full not only of love, but lust, looking to get married soon so they can consummate their relationship.


Juliet, with this ballet, is the focal point, and Jenna Roberts does not disappoint as we constantly feel her psychological and emotional turmoil. One minor point is that it is difficult to see how she has progressed, as she does in the text, from being a girl into a young woman, as she remains forever angelic in her movements and virginal outfit. Mercutio is excitingly played by Alexander Campbell and is, as he should be, a crowd pleaser. He has a bravado that brings comedy to the performance in addition to sentimentality in his ill-fated death. And Michael O’Hare proves he is a fine performer, playing both Friar Lawrence and Lord Capulet.


A poignant and rich show from the start to finish.


Runs till 16 October, and tours the county until 20 October.


To see or not to see: * * * *