Troilus and Cressida

Arriving at The RSC on a Saturday evening (two weeks ago – oops) in October, I realised that I did not have a clue what Troilus and Cressida is about. All I knew was that there was a ‘Mad Max’ feel to the production (confession number two – never seen it) and there had been a lot of positive hype about the production we were about to see.

Just before the play began, Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse offered me a whistle-stop synopsis which basically told me it was set during the Trojan War (something else that is not my forte). However, once the action began, my lack of background knowledge was not a problem. This story contains everything that I think makes a good play – humour, intrigue, action and a little bit of tragedy. You certainly can’t fully categorise this play into any niche as it is peppered with a little bit of everything.

Central to the plot is the power struggle between Greece and Troy. Well, in fact, power struggles as a whole. There are a lot of games played throughout to really find out who is top dog, or so that someone gets exactly what they want. Our star-crossed lovers (I know, traditionally a different play) are caught up amongst all the power plays, mainly thanks to Pandarus. This play certainly keeps you on your toes as the tension builds and the action unfolds.

The setting of this play may not be traditional but it works. The costumes are stunning, the set so versatile and the casting excellent. Although some characters may not be their ‘traditional’ gender, it is certainly the best actors in the role in every case.

The percussion, from the imagination of Evelyn Glennie, is perfect. Wonderfully performed throughout, it gels with the whole production.

So, for dare I say it, little known Shakespeare play, I was enthralled (and certainly need to brush up on my ancient history) and, for me, it has one of the best closing lines ever – ‘And at that time bequeath you my diseases’ (delivered perefectly by Oliver Ford-Davies).

War Horse (The UK Tour)

In this centenary year of the end of World War One, I can not think of a more emotional and wonderful play to have seen.

I have been a fan of the writing of Michael Morpurgo since I was a child. War Horse is, of course, one of the books I have read and taken to heart. So, over the last decade, this show has been on my to-be-seen list and it was so exciting to tick this one of the off the list on Saturday.

You arrive at the theatre already very full of emotions – well I did. World War One evokes so many emotions (as any war does) that you know you need to be prepared for quite an experience in the theatre. As soon as the show starts, you are engrossed in what is unfolding on the stage. It is so simple and yet so powerful. The beautiful use of folk music sets the scene and stirs the emotions. The beautiful ‘puppets’ that are the horse (and goose) almost make you forget they are puppets as they bond with the characters on the stage.

The reality of the experiences of those men in 1914-18 are not glossed over, but handled with care. Nothing is hidden when it comes to the horror of war for the soldiers, animals and civilians but it is cleverly portrayed and it more thought-provoking than shocking.

Something that this story does, which I always like to make the students I teach think about, is emphasise that these men were doing what their country told them  was right – on whichever side, the ordinary men were all victims of war.

By the end of this beautiful play I was quite a jumble of emotions, as you are fully invested in every single aspect of the story. The bond that Albert and Joey have is beautiful but also the support Joey and Topthorn gave others that they encountered is deeply moving. I may have shed some tears as I thought about all those people who had been touched by WWI and those of us who still are.

If you can catch this show, please do – every single member of this cast does the memory of World War One justice.

The Return of Theatre Club

 

September 22nd 2018 was the day that Theatre Club returned. It had a little break while a lot of exciting events took place but now it was back and as awesome as ever.

We shook it up a little this time, deciding one of us would organise food and the other the show. This way there was a surprise for both of us. After all, who does not enjoy a surprise?

So, for me, the surprise was brunch at ‘100 Wardour Street’ – and what a brunch (slightly alcoholic) it was. It was a three course food sensation – with a cocktail. And it was simply delicious. For me (and Mrs M) it was a starter of streaky bacon, duck eggs and tomato foccacia, followed by wild mushroom risotto (Mrs M had the Seabass), and concluded for us with waffles, berries and the most delicious Chantilly cream. It was perfectly accompanied by a ‘Cloud No 9’ cocktail, which was just a dreamy combination of gin, blueberries and lemon juice (there may have been other things but those were the best). We both absolutely loved the chance to sit down and put the world to rights – and it was a perfect place to do so.

After, it was my chance to spring the surprise, which was ‘School of Rock’. This was a show that had been on my radar for a while and was recommended by so many. It was a great choice! As soon as the lights went down, there was an excited vibe in the theatre. (As I would guess many of the audience had seen the film). The joy of this show is that it is full of humour for all, adults and children alike. The songs are catchy from the word go and you are filled with instant happiness. The talent shown by every child on the stage is extraordinary, singing, dancing, playing instruments and making people laugh. I also, as a teacher, loved the little life lesson about what a difference an inspirational adult can make, even if they are not the role model you would expect.

By the end of the show, you are encouraged to quite literally dance in the aisles. After all, you are witnessing a rock concert – so what else should you be doing other than having a great time?

For me, this really was a five-star show and a five-star day out with an awesome friend. I absolutely can not wait to start planning for our next Theatre Club, because making memories is one of the most precious things you can do.

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!