Posts Tagged ‘Royal Shakespeare Company’

Cooper’s London

March 1, 2016


Mel snapshot 19



Coming Up, In and Out of London…

For imminent highlights, don quixotemy instincts tell me that first and foremost I must get tickets to see the new adaptation of Don Quixote appearing soon at the RSC. It plays 25 February until 21 May in The Swan at Stratford-upon-Avon and has definitely raised my hopes. The novel’s adaptation will be by James Fenton, whose The Orphan of Zhao in 2012 is still one of the best and most memorable shows that the RSC has commissioned. The director is Angus Jackson, whose imaginative staging of Oppenheimer I saw in 2015 was one of the most original, intelligent and dazzling realizations of a script imaginable. Its sheer theatricality is still with me; as are several of the spot-on performances that Jackson got from his actors. Actor david threlfallDavid Threlfall is playing the mad, appealing Knight of the Woeful Countenance, the original quixotic hero. Have you seen him on TV in the UK version of Shameless? He’s a reliable and dedicated character actor whose popularity goes back to playing Smyke in the eight-hour-long RSC production of Nicholas Nickleby in the early 1980s—a performance that is still available on DVD. Add to that the fact that the novel of Don Quixote is a wonderful but ridiculously long and varied text; it will be fascinating to see which bits Fenton chooses to include. Not long ago the RSC did a reconstruction of Shakespeare’s lost play based on Don Quixote, Cardenio. I am very excited about this project, which is in rehearsal already.

Looking further ahead, I am particularly keen on two of the many major opera and music festivals that arrive every summer. Gaining repute as the new Glyndebourne, this year’s just-released programme at the Longborough Festival in rural Gloucestershire is its most ambitious yet. Several audience favorites are returning among four operas: Handel’s baroque opera Alcina will be jeremy silverconducted by the adept and youthful Jeremy Silver who is working for the third consecutive year with the same production team and with young professionals early in their careers to give them a springboard. They have already shown that they can be both cheeky and moving in this repertory; and there will even be a performance at the Greenwood Theatre near London Bridge on 4 August.

As with Glyndebourne, you want to get to the original venue if you can to experience the full pleasure of the place; they provide a show that includes time to wander around lovely grounds and have a long interval for dinner after an early start.

longboroughTannhauser should be powerful in such an intimate venue. John Treleavan and Neal Cooper are sharing the title role; the rest of the cast looks interesting, and the music director of the festival, Anthony Negus, is conducting. He has already been highly praised by the press and audiences for his previous Wagner performances at Longborough and has a solid reputation. Conductor Robert Houssard leads another established production team for a Marriage of Figaro that will star baritone Benjamin Bevan as the Count and the Australian baritone Grant Doyle (formerly a Young Artist at the Royal Opera House) in his role debut as the impertinent valet. The wonderful Norwegian soprano Beate Mordall and England’s Lucy Hall are sharing the role of Susanna. Finally, lee bissettLee Bissett, who is a huge favourite with the audiences at Longborough after taking on Isolde last year, will return to sing Janacek’s Jenufa.

The Glyndebourne Festival, that mother of all summer al fresco festivals in the UK, runs this year from 21 May to 28 August and needs very little introduction from me. Whatever you find still availableeven if you think you do not like that opera—just buy the damned tickets and go for the experience. Established in his stately home by glyndebourneJohn Christie in the 1930s to do Mozart in its original scale (in every sense of the word), many of its productions have been mythical from the very start; much of its work has been broadly influential, and many young artists have gone on from there to important international careers: Janet Baker, who started in the chorus and ended up as Orfeo in Gluck’s opera, among them. (According to legend, they nearly fired Montserrat Caballe, and Roberto Alagna scored an early success as Rodolfo.) Today’s casts are just as riveting and, in a purpose-built theatre, the productions are almost invariably innovative and thought-provoking, while maintaining the highest musical and production standards. Probably all this is due to several factors, two of which must be the long rehearsal periods and being able to work in a rural setting away from the ususal stresses of major opera houses.

For me a highlight of this summer will be more Wagner in a more intimate venue: the revival of the famous David McVicar Meistersinger von Nurnberg with Gerald Finlay as a youthful, sonorous and exceptionally moving Hans Sachs and Michael Schade as Walter. The new production of Rossini’s Barber of Seville draws me like a magnet to see danielle de nieseDaniele de Niese undertake the role of Rosina with the veteran Alessandro Corbelli as her venal guardian, Dr Bartolo. In the past, Glyndebourne has had Victoria de los Angeles and Maria Ewing as memorable Rosinas and I am confident that de Niese will be added to that list. And among the other treats I am particularly delighted to see there is to be a revival of
midsummer night's dreamPeter Hall’s magical interpretation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare set to music by Benjamin Britten) from the 1981 festival.

There will, of course, also be the Proms in London throughout July and August and early September; and there are the interesting productions coming up at Shakespeare’s Globe and Regent’s Park, as well as opera in Holland Park. More of all that anon. But meantime, a reminder to start booking if you fancy a trip around the countryside with a little bit of culture as well. The Brits really do this kind of thing brilliantly.


Cooper’s London

January 27, 2015






If the Shoe Fits… See It!

I remember Clifford Leech, a great scholar of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, insisting that one of the more under-rated and under-known of Shakespeare’s contemporaries was Thomas Dekker and that this was a damned shame. (No, not the current Thomas Dekker, a film actor and musician born in 1987, but the playwrightThomas_Dekker(writer) born around 1572 and thus only eight years younger than Our Will.)

The Elizabethan/Jacobean Dekker collaborated on most of his extant works, on such successful and admired dramas as The Witch of Edmonton (with Ford and Rowley, 1621), Westward Ho! (with Webster, c 1607)) The Roaring Girl (with Middleton, about 1609?). He worked mainly with theatre companies that were rivals to Shakespeare’s. He worked with, made enemies with, made friends again and collaborated with Ben Johnson. He wrote political and other pamphlets of some notoriety that give us amazing and fascinating glimpses into the life of his times; and he lived in Debtor’s Prison for seven years from 1612. His work spans and spins around the various fashions of the Elizabethan Golden Age of theatre and then shifts to the Jacobean style and fashion under James I. He dealt with plagues, coney-catchers (criminals), the War of the Theatres and London life; His one undisputed solo masterpiece is the 130px-The-shoemaker-holiday-a)now-rarely-performed The Shoemaker’s Holiday; and the Royal Shakespeare Company has just mounted a sparkling and endearing new production that explains why Clifford Leech rated Dekker highly.

This new production of The Shoemaker’s Holiday is consistently energetic, brilliantly designed to interest the eye and to convey the era in which the play is set, and so full of apt activity throughout that it invigorates the audience, yet is paced to allow the characters to have moments of stillness and contemplation. Phillip Breen’s direction breenof the play cleverly and sensitively convinces us easily of the masterpiece that it is. I came away wanting to read the text to get more of a grip on the action and the language and certainly hoping that this production will inspire even more directors to attempt new interpretations (though this one is more than satisfying). Having never seen the play before, I was relieved that it lived up to its high reputation.

Like all masterpieces, The Shoemaker’s Holiday is very much of its erayet timeless; a dramatic comedy not about aristocrats, but firmly centred on the artisan classes living in a recognizably urban and teeming London. Set clearly in the time of its writing, it constantly provokes topical comparisons: we cannot help thinking about Afghanistan and Pakistan and the Middle East today, or of ruthless bankers and corrupt politicians, as the play unfolds. Perhaps this is because Dekker himself was doing the same slippage of references. Instead of the contemporary wars in Ireland, he seems to be setting his tale in the time of the French The-Shoemakers-Holiday-15-2014-261x541 (1)wars a century of so before. Breen’s meticulous staging, with Elizabethan costume, and the visual allusions, convey layers of meaning to the audience at high speed. The cast is well-drilled in movement, meaning and a sure conviction of the poignancy of the tale underlying the madcap japes and jollities for which it is famous.

While Henry V was celebrating heroic victories like Agincourt down the street at the Globe theatre in 1599 , at the Rose theatre Dekker was shwoing the impact of war on the Home Front (akin in its meaning in some ways to the 1944 Selznick film Since You Went Away!) The subject of the play is part comic Romeo and Juliet: an aristocratic young man, Rowland Lacy (appealingly portrayed by Josh O’Connor), is in love with the bourgeoise Rose Oatley (charming Thomasin Rand), and neither family is very happy about what they perceive as an unfortunate misalliance that must be stopped at all costs. Forced to go off to wars in shoesFrance, Rowland secretly returns to hide in London as a Dutch shoemaker (much comic cod Dutch is spoken by him as a running joke). How he learned to speak Dutch and also make shoes is one of the delightful back stories to this play. And from then on we follow his fortunes among, and sympathies with, the artisans.

Meanwhile, Ralph Damport (a very touching Daniel Boyd) is forced to leave his new wife for the fighting. And who makes him do that? The very Rowland Lacy who is our hero. Ralph returns maimed and desperate to find his lovely Jane (Hedydd Dylan) who has disappeared. She is, in fact, about to be tricked into a marriage by the salacious and wicked aristocrat Hammon (Jamie Wilkes) who has shown her Ralph’s name among the war dead.

With David Troughton dominating the action at times as the Falstaffian shoemaker boss Simon Eyre, who rises to be Lord Mayor of London by the end of the play (a nice bit of social hopefulness for 1599?), the busy skein of plots is convincingly and clearly conveyed and the deeper pains and issues of the characters are amply implied or shown among all the rough-and-tumble.

Music and movement enhance the experience of this often-neglected play. The king who appears quasi-ex machina at the end might be Edward VI or Henry V (even though the show was written in the reign of Elizabeth I and played before her by royal command. Why a King in the era of a Queen? It doesn’t matter. He’s an ideal and idealized monarch, a mixture of royal metaphors.

shoemakers marriageAnd though the play ends as a comedy, and with dancing and marriages, and is quite a romance in its way, and even though there is much gentle sweetness in the writing (along with the satire), the dark shadow of looming battles in France is invoked in the final sequence. Rowland will have to go to war after all, and Ralph, though reunited with his Jane with the help of his artisan peers, will still have to live with his injuries and disfigurement for the rest of his life.

The Shoemaker’s Holiday is playing in repertory at the Swan Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon until 7 March 2015

Cooper’s London

November 5, 2013





Illuminating Richard

greg doran 2Greg Doran has turned to illuminated manuscripts and mediaeval images to dress his new production of Richard II within a modern, clean design so that the visual imagery of the evening matches text and creates context. He has, as always, richard II posterturned his group of actors into an ensemble working with and off each other within a beautifully poised and controlled production. And, as always with Doran, the language is delivered impeccablyanyone can understand what is being said even if they are usually terrified of listening to Shakespeare. Last (but definitely not least) he has devised marvellous stage business to point up and clarify the text at every step.

The opening scene, for instance, is played literally over the dead body of the Duke of Gloucester. The old Duchess enters even before the play starts, led by a page, and she kneels over the bier to mourn and pray while an angelic choir of three maidens sings mediaeval-inspired hymns. When the tale of the Duke’s recent murder and the allegations and counter-allegations about who was responsible are told, this whole strand about the fight between Bolingbroke and Mowbray that implicates Richard himself, and is the catalyst of Richard’s ultimate downfall, is urgent and lucid, conveyed to the audience with complete transparency. This is merely one detail in a production where the layers of visual and verbal presentation continuously act together to integrate and propel the story.

At the centre of this production is the tennant4startlingly edgy portrayal of Richard II in his last year by David Tennant. Starting as an effeminate, self-centered, and waspish man (who turns up for a funeral in white robes), concerned to be stylish, somewhat foppish, a bit of a show-off fascinated by his own ability to play-act for his favorites, Richard is surrounded by courtiers, with whom he’s constantly conferring in whispers and giggles, from whom he seems to tennant5need to take his decisions. The audience wathes as he mistakenly and almost casually over-reaches his authority, betrays his family and his people, and then turns, step-by-step into a genuine Christian martyr. Efectively, Doran is emphasizing the intrpretation of Richard II as a Passion Play. The flowing hair of the fop in the firts scene turns into the long hair of the Christ-figure that we see in many mediaeval portraits of Jesus.

The production provokes a complexity of feelings for Richard: horror at his silliness early on, great pathos and strong sympathy as he learns what he has done and cannot undo, who he is, and how much he was loved for his position and not his real self. The imagery of royalty and the imagery of the martyrdom adhere to him throughout.

And as his power declines and finally falls away from him, this Richard grows constantly in stature and becomes a frail, brave and heroically open-eyed figure. But this is not the whole story or point of the evening. Even when Richard is not onstage, we are completely riveted by what is happening to the other characters, while we wait for him to reappear. (This production presents the play complete.)

lapotaireThe play is strongly cast throughout, with Jane Lapotaire memorable as the touching and troubling Duchess of Gloucester in the first scene; Michael Pennington as a compelling John of Gaunt. The Queen, played by Emma Hamilton, and her ladies, are present, as they would have been, even in scenes where they are relegated to silence. It makes the meeting between Richard and his wife at the end all the more touching. And in the last moments for Richard, Elliot Barnes-Worrell is striking as the groom.

Nigel Lindsay as a threatening, self-aware 468px-Shakespeare-390x500and powerful Bolingbroke conveys a shrewd sense of knowing how far he can push his followers and  which of them he can actually trust. Oliver Ford Davies is the conflicted and suffering Duke of York, Marty Cruickshank is York’s son-protecting wife, and Oliver Rix stands out as a vividly impressive Aumerle, who’s interpreted, in this production, as turning into a Judas figure under the pressures of events. He even is given the Judas kiss by Richard, though if you are seeing this production for the first time, you won’t understand the point of this kiss, perhaps, until the final curtain.

There are some fascinating readings richard IIof the text; all the set pieces and poetry are delivered with insight and as if newly devised, everything comes across as fresh.  The readings are consistent with the characterizations yet as brilliantly theatrical as they would be in a court where image and self-presentation are so important. But there is a surprise at the end for those who know the text: Sir Piers Exton’s part, that of the actual historic murderer of Richard, is replaced by Aumerle. This is a debatable but fascinating gloss highlighting an important aspect of the story.

Ultimately, during the curtain calls, while richard II musicthe actors are enthusiastically cheered by the audience along with the musicians (who, throughout, provide wonderful support to the action with the score by Paul Englishby), this is another triumph for Gregory Doran. The lyricism, the poetry, and the tragedy are all conveyed with great precision; the play is paced perfectly; and the production brings out the wit and humour of some parts of the text that are often forgotten, especially in Richard’s early posturings and self-satisfaction and in the scene between the York family and Bolingbroke about Aumerle’s potential treason. Doran manages to elicit from his company the balance between sheer theatricality of a high order and a truly intellectual response to the text.

This is the RSC at its finest, giving a compelling and totally fascinating reading to a text by Shakespeare that, as you watch it, is always completely convincing and thought-provoking.

Doran is following Richard II next spring with his new productions of Henry IV, Parts I and II. He plans to build and present the entire cycle of the Shakespeare history plays of the Hundred Years War over the next few years. Like Wagner’s mighty and eternal Ring, definitely worth waiting for.

Richard II plays in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon- Avon in the UK until 16 November. It then transfers to the Barbican Theatre in London from 9 December to 25 January, returning the RSC to their old London home for the first time in years,. The play will be broadcast worldwide in cinemas (in HD) on 13 November.

Cooper’s London

September 29, 2011

Autumn Picks in London


There’s still time to catch Greg Doran’s extraordinary recreation of a lost Shakespeare play, Cardenio, at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford (in rep until 6 October) which, along with The City Madam (in rep until 4 October) was my best and most rewarding experience at Stratford this summer. Coming up at the RSC in November is an interesting-looking new play by David Edgar about the creation of the King James Bible called Written on the Heart. Since Doran is directing this as well, and Edgar has a fine track record of new plays for the RSC, I would place a bet on it–as well as on the Measure for Measure that will be directed by Roxana Silbert, definitely a talent to watch grow. Meantime, if you’re in London with children for the holidays or before, the RSC is transferring last year’s Christmas hit at Stratford, the musical of Roald Dahl’s Matilda, from 18 October for a season. It is utterly charming,some of the music is quite memorable; and the nasty headmistress of the school is done as a traditional panto dame.

In London, the hottest ticket is without a doubt the atmospheric and touching production of Eugene O’Neill’s Anna Christie at the Donmar Warehouse, with Ruth Wilson, Jude Law and David Hayman. It’s a compelling look at the play, but tickets are hard to come by and you will probably have to queue on the day you go to get standbys and returns. But it’s worth it! Or pray that it’s transferred to the West End for a longer run? Even if Jude Law were to leave to make a movie, this is such a strong production that there’s no reason to kill it – much better to keep it going with some recasting.

Looking ahead, the Young Vic is reviving its sell-out production of Kurt Weill’s Street Scene briefly for the second half of September. More compellingly, book now for their Hamlet (28 October through 21 January). It will be directed by the hugely talented Ian Rickson and star Michael Sheen as the troubled prince. Meantime, down the street at the Old Vic in the Cut, you can see a promising new production of The Playboy of the Western World. John Crowley directs J. M. Synge’s sometimes provocative and always irreverent masterpiece, with Niamh Cusack, Ruth Negga and Robert Sheehan in the main roles. The National Theatre’s War Horse continues in the West End, trailing its Broadway awards. And The Pitman Painters, an even more interesting play, returns to the West End in October. Meantime, at the National itself you might want to look out for Jonathan Miller’s staging of the St Matthew Passion; then A New Play by Mike Leigh from mid-September; and also Juno and the Paycock coming in mid-November. Add these to the news that the inestimable David Suchet will be playing James Tyrone in a new production of Long Day’s Journey Into Night in the West End from April 2012, I am feeling quite Irish this season. To which you can add a play by St. John Ervine called Mixed Marriage, set during the Troubles in Ireland, before partition. This is the first production of the play in London in about 90 years. It will be at the Finsborough Theatre, one of London’s smaller but more adventurous off-West End venues, a place that has recently been exploring neglected masterpieces of the early part of the 20th century. The production is to be directed by Sam Yates.

At the end of September, Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones bring their successful Broadway production of Driving Miss Daisy to Wyndhams Theatre. You might also want to consider taking a look at a new production of The Killing of Sister George with Meera Sayal at the Arts Theatre from 5 – 29 October. And if you have children with you, you should try to see the adaptation of The Railway Children that re-opens on 2 October, runs through Christmas, and is being performed in the former Eurostar Terminal at Waterloo. Those steam engines are the real thing!

Music: High and Low

Many of the musicals remain as before, so there is no need to tell you to check out Les Miserables or Legally Blonde or The Lion King, or even Chicago with a new cast and transferred to the Garrick Theatre from early October. But one that you might not know about is the transfer – from this summer’s festival at the Regent’s Park Theatre – of the George Gershwin pastiche Crazy for You. It’s preposterously cheerful and delightful and will be at the Novello Theatre from 8 October.

Meantime, for music theatre you might also want to try the English National Opera, where Jonathan Miller’s inventive and charming and spot-on production of Donizetti’s Elixir of Love is opening the season. Weinberg’s The Passenger receives a London premiere in a production by David Pountney that is preceded by much praise. But my vote for top spot in the Autumn season is a new production of Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin directed by Deborah Warner and, more importantly, conducted by Edward Gardener. Gardener always gets into the musical soul of the piece; you may have seen him conduct closing night of the BBC Proms this year.

Great early-in-the-season excitement at the Royal Opera House is being generated by their production of Puccini’s Trittico directed by Richard Jones, and a revival, with Gheorghiu and Hvorostovsky, of Gounod’s Faust. My top choice for this Autumn, however, is the revival of Graham Vick’s entrancing, wise and moving production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg. It’s got a strong cast and Pappano is conducting; in truth, there’s rarely been such an evocative production of this opera, detailed and nuanced and utterly captivating. Mind you, as a person with a taste for bel canto, I am going to try not to miss La Sonnambula either, conducted by the inestimable Daniel Oren.

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