The (very) Merry Wives of Windsor

A couple of weeks ago I posted about Romeo and Juliet, and as part of that had a little ramble about my favourite Shakespeare plays – and I have realised I did not mention The Merry Wives of Windsor. What an error on my part, because after seeing the third adaptation of it in 8 years, I have remembered what pure comedy gold it is and how much I love it.

I will start with the words of my dad ‘Can we see it again and we need it on DVD’ – high praise indeed from Daddy Bookwormandtheatremouse, who only really started seeing Shakespeare as my mum wanted to.

There is so much to say about this production, so first and foremost, the staging catches your eye from the moment you arrive. I do not like to spoil the setting for people who may want to see it, but from two buildings they create a whole glorious, over-the-top world for our colourful characters.

Then we move on to the amazing costumes, so cleverly structured that they are modern and Elizabethan all at the same time. They are perfectly suited to each character and tell us so much about who they are before any action has taken place. Brilliant!

However, the cast was the most fabulous part of the whole thing. Every single actor on that stage was an absolute joy to watch. There was so much physical comedy, as well as the humour of Shakespeare’s words, and everyone on the stage put their heart and soul into every moment. There is no star, it is an ensemble of stars, and you will leave with some incredibly happy memories. I have never seen such wonderful ‘flossing’ (the dance move), found a pink wheelie bin so amusing or seen a remote controlled golf trolley almost cause a cast to corpse. I do though need to give some special mentions, as they were so impressive: David Troughton’s Falstaff will surely go down as one of the greatest of all time, David Acton’s Sir Hugh was pure ‘Welsh’ comedy gold and Jonathan Cullen’s Dr Caius had me crying with laughter (especially with my French heritage). However, it really is a little unfair for me to make this statement, as it would not have worked if even one member of the cast was missing. And, really, the women are the stars as they make fools of the men – girl power!!

So, in conclusion, this is one the funniest plays you will see – ever! And, by luck it is being broadcast in cinemas on 12th September – so go if you can. It is pure comedy gold!

Romeo and Juliet – Another Birthday Treat

As regular readers will know we as a family love a bit of Shakespeare and time at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. So, a little birthday treat was to see my second-favourite (I think – although top spot will always be ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ – I seem to constantly change the other rankings) play, ‘Romeo and Juliet’.

I always try to avoid finding out the staging and setting of productions before we go, as I love the element of surprise. However, I had a not totally managed it before this production, so I knew it was modern and that it hoped to raise awareness of knife crime in the 21st century, especially amongst the young.

The stage was wonderfully plain, only starting with a box on stage. I am always impressed how little staging the RSC productions need for some of their adaptations. I was intrigued to see how we would experience the story on this simple stage.

As the lights dim those famous opening lines begin – ‘Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona were we lay our scene…’ I was excited. The production is certainly a young one; the real focus, for me, was on the relationships between the young characters. The risks of being quick to anger and the lack of empathy and understanding that big rival groups can have for each other. The damage that the actions of others can have even on positive situations. And, how extreme tragedy can sometimes be the only thing that causes people to stop and think – unfortunately, something that we witness almost everyday in the world that we live in.

I enjoyed the production, especially the performances of Karen Fishwick as Juliet, Baily Gill as Romeo ad Andrew French as Friar Laurence. (That moment at the end – if you know the story, you’ll know what I mean – was emotional and beautifully done). However, there was a little bit of a feel that it was inspired by the Baz Luhrmann film and, as huge fan of the film, I totally understand what an inspiration it could be. Yet, I do not think that this production needed it, as it was relatable as it was.

This production is still a must see, and certainly one that I think younger generations should see and really think about. It always surprises me how much Shakespeare plays are relevant today and certainly cements why he is still so much part of our British culture.

Do you have a favourite Shakespeare play? Or an adaptation that really strikes you?

Four the Love of Matilda

This week I was lucky enough to see ‘Matilda: The Musical’ for the fourth time. A beautiful friend of mine and I went out on a school night – a big deal as we are both teachers – to see the touring production at the Birmingham Hippodrome. It was everything I hoped and remembered it would be. Humour, great tunes, wonderful characters – and a serious but heart-warming message for adults and children alike.

However, this post is going to be a little more about the appreciation of the wonderful character that is Matilda Wormwood.

Growing up I was a huge Roald Dahl fan and I still remember the birthday my Uncle gave me ‘The BFG’, The Witches and Matilda. They were 3 novels that struck a chord with me but most particularly ‘Matilda’. Like her I was a total bookworm (although maybe not as advanced) when it was not particularly cool. However, she made me realise that it did not matter – if you like to read then you can read. I am so glad that my parents encouraged me to read (unlike the Wormwoods) because, just like for Matilda, it brought so much more to life. In fact, as I have grown up, reading has become one of the things that has been important in some of my closest friendships. Books and words were even feature of my wedding day.

Matilda is also a wonderful character and role model. She is a strong female lead and – as the wonderful musical always reminds you – it is OK to be a little bit naughty. You really should not let anything stop you from standing up for what is right and, in turn, stand up for yourself.

So, my love of the book by Roald Dahl and Tim Minchin’s musical interpretation is all based om the fact that you should never let anything stand in your way. When I grow up – I want to be just like Matilda Wormwood.

P.S You really should go and see the show while it is at the Birmingham Hippodrome – it is marvellous!

The Duchess of Malfi

As, I am sure you have realised, I am really rather a fan of an RSC production. This weekend, we popped along to see The Duchess of Malfi. This was the choice of my Mum and was a play that I knew nothing about. I knew it was a play from a similar era and it was to be a revenge tragedy, but that was as far as my awareness went.

Well, wow, it was definitely a revenge tragedy – the level and symbolism of blood made ‘Titus’ look like ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. I have not been to a play before where the front row is given blankets in case the blood splashes.

Anyway, back to the play (rather than the blood). The Duchess of Malfi’s two scheming brothers certainly have their eyes on her land and fortune. However, as a strong, independent woman, she makes some choices of her own which do not sit comfortably with the plans of the brothers. As things follow the path as it unfolds, the Duchess makes some decisions to save herself and those she loves from the corruption of society. As the term ‘tragedy’ suggests, it is not a happy ending for all involved.

I do not like to reveal spoilers because, despite it being an old and famous play, each production is different and special.

So, instead, I will comment that the acting was superb by all the cast. Particularly both Joan Iyiola as the Duchess and Chris New as the Cardinal. You fully believed each of the characters they were portraying. And, let’s be honest, we all love a good villain, which the Cardinal embodied perfectly.

I am not sure I need to see quite such a tragedy again but it was certainly memorable and has introduced me to a play that I may not have known otherwise.

Art

One of my favourite things is to give theatre experiences as presents. Making memories with people you love is so precious, so I grab every opportunity I can to spend time with all the special and important people I know.

So, the trip to Birmingham Hippodrome was a Birthday treat for my Mum. The play was ‘Art’ and the cast was the appeal – Nigel Havers, Denis Lawson and Stephen Tompkinson. I mean – what a cast that is – one was even in the original Star Wars Trilogy (as well as being Ewan McGregor’s uncle).

I knew ‘Art’ was clearly about…Art, but other than that I had no idea what we were in for as our evening entertainment. However, as the play unfolded I was not at all disappointed. The play studies the relationship between the 3 men, Serge, Ivan and Marc – best friends until a piece of ‘White’ artwork becomes almost the fourth part of the relationship. Their differing opinions of this piece of ‘Art’ leads to a very close and comical evaluation of their friendship.

The chemistry on-stage between the 3 actors is clear from the word go and makes the play even more enjoyable to watch. There is also the joy that the 3 are equal; there is no star but 3 talented actors bringing the story to life. Although, saying that, there is a wonderful moment where Ivan (Tompkinson) recreates a conversation and phone call that has taken place off-stage and it is a moment of pure comedy which had the audience in fits of giggles.

I am so glad that I chose this play to take my Mum to, as we both left with smiles on our faces. And it was worth it for my Mum’s great review – ‘It is very French!’.

The Scottish Play

First trip to the RSC’s new season was to see ‘The Scottish Play’. This is the shortest Shakespeare play (just a bit of trivia for you) and also one of my favourites. There is something comforting about a good old-fashioned good-versus-evil tale with a sprinkling of madness, ghosts and witches.

Now, I am not going to lie. Christopher Eccleston as Macbeth and Niamh Cusack as Lady Macbeth were quite a draw. Also, the fact that this is a season of female directors adds an attraction – how will these classic tales be adapted?

So, what was the play like? A bleak and modern setting – with sprinklings of excess – for me really emphasised the greed from the Macbeths but also highlighted the descent into madness of the two leads.

There was something very cinematic about the production as lines from play were projected onto the scenery and a digital clock ticked down to the big conclusion. (A wonderful stage fight between Macbeth and Macduff). And while I do not like to post spoilers, the time theme played a big part in the play’s finale – especially the idea of history repeating itself…

Christopher Eccleston is a really engaging Macbeth. He fully embraces the role – taking us all on the journey of Macbeth’s madness. However, for me the real villain of the piece will always be Lady Macbeth. I am not sure if Shakespeare or this adaptation intended that view but it is certainly how I view the play – and Niamh Cusack convinced me I was correct. Cusack certainly made the role her own and was mesmerising to watch. Macbeth was her puppet until she was too overcome by the guilt of her actions.

Although I name-check the two leads, as always there is not a star. RSC productions are always a team effort. No production would be as wonderful as they are without the whole cast giving it their all and, of course, those who work behind the scenes. (That knocking made me jump each time.)

I am now on countdown to the other productions this season – look out for those posts too as we travel through the season on the words of Shakespeare.

Beautiful is Beautiful

One of my favourite gifts for people is a theatre experience. This Christmas, I got my Mum tickets to the UK touring production of Beautiful at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

Beautiful tells the story of singer/songwriter Carole King as she starts to make her way in the world of music, and real life, until the release of, possibly, her most famous work: ‘Tapestry’. An album that most certainly came from the heart. I had a fair idea, (or so I thought) of the work of Carole King mainly thanks to Radio 2. However, I was surprised about how many of my favourite songs she has penned with her then husband, Gerry Goffin. I mean who does not love ‘Up on the Roof’?

The cast of this production were all brilliant. You could sense the enjoyment they each felt for being part of this show. A particular favourite of Mum and I was each appearance by The Drifters; there was so much joy and humour in each song they performed. (Neil Sedaka was a good giggle too). Of course, Bronté Barbé’s performance as Carole King was stunning. It always seems a very brave act to take on such a well-loved star, but she certainly did justice to the role.

The whole production was a joy to watch and there was a real buzz among the audience throughout, some even absent-mindedly singing along – but that added to the overall enjoyment of the show.

You certainly leave this show still singing along to the many wonderful songs and, for my Mum, it was chance for her to tell me about all the gigs she has been to (jealous? me? never). If you enjoy a good night out, this is the show for you!

Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein

So, we all know I love the theatre, and musical theatre is always a winner, but when it comes to encouraging Mr BookwormandTheatremouse to enjoy the musicals it can be a challenge. However, as his birthday gift, I got him tickets to see ‘Young Frankenstein’ (there was no thought of me when I picked this gift, promise) because it looked very silly and it starred Ross Noble – I mean, what else do you need?

The show is on at The Garrick in London, which is a theatre that I have not been to before; however, it is just along from the National Portrait Gallery, which is one of my favourite spots in London. The theatre is an absolute delight – although it is fairly small, I suspect that there is not a bad view (we were upper circle), as it is well laid out, so you seem to have a good view from most seats.

Enough about the theatre – let’s talk about the show. I did not know too much about it, other than I was sure it was going to be good fun, as it involves the imagination of Mel Brooks and it was starring Ross Noble (I may have mentioned that already); that was enough to convince me that it was going to be good fun. And, oh my, was it good fun: you sense from the moment that the first note strikes up (which had the lady behind us in the giggles) that it is going to be a show that everyone enjoys, whether they are in it or in the audience.

Everyone on the stage was superb, with true enjoyment of what they were doing and so much natural comic timing you could not help but smile all the way through the production. There is so much cheeky humour, it is like an extended game of innuendo bingo, but it is so cleverly done that you could blink and miss it (other than in the number ‘Roll in the Hay’ – that does not leave much to the imagination), but you will no doubt be rolling in the aisles throughout the jokes.

Mel Brooks certainly has a skill for finding the funny side in the cinema triumphs of the age, so ‘Young Frankenstein’ is a gentle mick-take of the old-fashioned horror films that so many enjoyed in the early days of cinema. You may see some of the gags coming if you have watched any such films, but you still appreciate every moment, and probably laugh even more as you realise how obvious the plots of so many of those films were.

This was another production where there was no star, as every member of the cast (although, I am not going to lie, I did think that Ross Noble’s Igor was very good), orchestra and crew made the show what it was: an absolute triumph. I can understand why so many people have been to see it more than once because I am keen to head back. I am, also, pretty sure that Mr BookwormandTheatremouse would say the same – when he has finished laughing and humming show tunes.

Have you been to see ‘Young Frankenstein’? What did you think?

A Christmas Carol

I am a huge fan of the story of ‘A Christmas Carol’ (and I must confess that it is the only Dickens tale that I have read from start to finish), so when I saw that the RSC was going to be doing an adaptation this festive season, I had to get tickets. Then my excitement was heightened when the cast was announced and Phil Davis was to be taking on the role of Scrooge; he has been a family favourite of ours for a long time, especially for shows such as ‘Whitechapel’ and the appearances that he makes in all our favourites.

So, on the 16th December (I know, I am a little behind – blame festivities) we arrived at a very Christmassy Royal Shakespeare Theatre to take our seats for ‘A Christmas Carol’. From the moment the production started, you were transported to Victorian England at Christmas time. The thing I admired the most was that such a simple set transported us to all the favourite destinations in the tale, from Scrooge’s chambers to Fezziwig’s Christmas party, in such simple moves of staging from all of those involved. The other immediate charm was that it was a small cast who took on the mammoth job of bringing this favourite to life, but it was all so cleverly done with subtle links between the characters they took on (I always admire a quick change).

Dickens takes you through the story as the narrator of the tale (although he too must take on other roles as we move through the play, but you almost do not notice, as it is all such a smooth transition). However, what I really admired about the tale having some narration, rather than it just being played out, was the real focus on context that this story was given with this narration. The social and historical context were really key to this production and this in fact probably made the tale even more relevant for the modern audience as, sadly, we are still in a society of clear divisions.

The costumes and the effects throughout the production are absolutely stunning. Every single member of the company appears to thoroughly enjoy themselves from start to finish, and you are entranced from the very beginning. The audience certainly showed a great deal of appreciation for the play.

I am not sure I can ever really say that I have a favourite Scrooge – give me any opportunity to read, see or listen to this story over the festive period and I will take it. However, Phil Davis was a wonderful Scrooge, conveying the small emotional changes you see in the character as the story unfolds before his eyes just as it does for us.

I would highly recommend catching this at the RSC if you can; it is another wonderfully festive interpretation of a much-loved classic and it will keep that festive spirit alive a little longer as we head into 2018!

The Nutcracker

On a snowy Friday night, is there any better adventure than a night at the ballet watching the most magical, festive show ‘The Nutcracker’? I do not think so, and that was exactly how I spent my Friday night with my Mum.

I last saw ‘The Nutcracker’ when I was 5 years old. I remember the evening so fondly, especially as I wore my favourite princess dress and remember feeling so grown up being at the theatre in the evening.

This 2017 production (because let’s not work out how long ago I was 5) by the Birmingham Royal Ballet did not burst the festive bubble I hold ‘The Nutcracker’ in.

The moment the music strikes up, you are transported to the festive wonderland. The thing that amazes me throughout a ballet is that the music and dance have to tell the story. The skill of each dancer and musician is always amazing and you are into the tale of ‘The Nutcracker’ and all its adventures.

I was mesmerised throughout; everything gelled so beautifully from start to finish. However, the ‘best’ moments (if I dare to be so brash) were the dances in the magical land, performed as a reward for the bravery of our heroine Clara.

Clara, and the audience, witness some of the most beautiful and magical dances of all time. Let’s be honest, as has pretty much every girl who has ever done ballet, I would have loved to have been the Sugar Plum Fairy too. Well, to be honest, I would have pretty much have loved to have been any one of those dancers in such an iconic piece of ballet.

I enjoyed every single moment of this production. ‘The Nutcracker’ remains one of my all-time favourite pieces of theatre. Let the festive season well and truly begin!