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).

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?

#LoveTheatreDay

So, today is #LoveTheatreDay, and that is pretty much my dream day! Shame that I could not really celebrate with a theatre trip, but I thought I would share with you all my top 5 shows of all time. (At this current moment at time, because I really struggle to ever make this definitive, and I change my mind all the time as I change the criteria).

1. Matilda – The Musical

This is one show that will always make any list about theatre that I love. This stunning adaptation of the much-loved Roald Dahl book is a show that I have seen 3 times and I am always considering seeing it again (after all, it is touring next year). My love of this show is based on so much! It is a fabulous story from the mind of one of the greatest storytellers of all time, with a wonderfully colourful collection of characters. The songs are simply wonderful; it is probably one of my most played albums on my iPod, as they contain all the humour and sensitivity of the story. And the set…oh the set is a beauty, perfect for setting the scene for the story. I could go on and on about my love of this show, but I think that is a taster of why I am such a fan of this wonderful show.

2. Nativity! – The Musical

This is a very new show to the musical theatre scene and I have already written a post about how wonderful it is (please, feel free to pop over and have a read), but it still needs another mention here. Nativity! – The Musical is based on the much-loved Christmas film and it is simply a joy. You will not leave the theatre without smiling and singing, if you were to see it. This is one of the happiest shows I have ever seen, so if you can catch it this festive season, I would really recommend it.

3. Love’s Labours Lost and Much Ado About Nothing (Love’s Labours Won)

I have cheated here – I know! This is technically two shows but they were produced by the RSC as  a pair that, really, you need to see together to appreciate. These two productions were both absolutely stunning; so much humour and warmth in both. However, they also had a very important message about World War One and the impact that it had on so many. The ensemble who brought both plays to life were a joy to watch. This was, again, perfect proof of how versatile the stories of Shakespeare can be as they transcend the generations.

4. All New People

This was a play by the wonderful Zach Braff that I was so determined to see I went all the way to Glasgow to see it. It did not disappoint! I am a huge Zach Braff fan and the thought of, one, seeing him on stage and, two, in something that was his own work was just too much to miss for me, and it was great. Such skilled writing and acting, and a great tale about what can happen when a random selection of people are thrown together.

5. Spamalot

This is a show that holds a special place in my heart as my dad is a huge Monty Python fan (as is Mr BookwormandTheatreMouse), and it is a musical that I have seen with them both. This is just classic, silly comedy that sweeps you away on the most ridiculous adventure, but every moment is so entertaining. The affectionate mick-take of musical theatre that runs all the way through the production is also so much part of the fun. I have seen professional and amateur productions of this, and both were so entertaining and brought so much joy to the audience that it was a real reminder of why theatre is such a great part of our culture.

There you go; that is – at this precise moment – 5 of the best for #LoveTheatreDay, but I have been lucky enough to see so many amazing productions and made so many happy memories at the theatre with friends and family that I would just urge you all to enjoy as much live theatre as you can!

Twelfth Night

There is always a buzz of excitement in this household when we know we are off to the RSC. There was a little addition to the excitement because Mr BookwormandTheatremouse has never seen Twelfth Night (this was my third adaptation) and, also, because Adrian Edmondson was in this production. Although, if I am honest, as a huge Archers fan (yes, I have admitted it), I was equally excited to see Michael Cochrane.

I always avoid looking at anything before a visit to an RSC production that might have given anything away about the adaptation. However, on this occasion, it was clear that it was a Victorian setting from the lovely production poster.

This production is, in fact, truly stunning. It is a real nod to the humour of the likes of Oscar Wilde and classic music hall entertainment of the later Victorian era. The setting and atmosphere created also leads to a gentle study of relationships of different kinds, and really made me appreciate that we live in a time in this country where ‘love is love’ and not a crime. Maybe I have over-thought that angle, but as a history teacher in my day job, it really struck a chord.

So, on a lighter note – this production is stunning (yes, I have said it again)! It is one of the most complex sets that I have seen at the RSC, as they take us through the tale and from town to country. However, it all moves seamlessly from scene to scene. The music hall vibe comes from the songs that are dotted throughout the play. As always, the music is beautifully performed and perfect for the setting of the play.

Adrian Edmondson is absolutely fabulous as Malvolio. Playing the character wonderfully stern but still with subtle humour, he manages to make Malvolio a character that you feel sympathy for. However, there is not an individual star in this production; the ensemble work together to make this a laugh-out-loud comedy with a sensitive side.

As we left the theatre, we could not help discussing how much we had enjoyed the production. It is cheeky but very thoughtful, and perfect for the festive season.

Coriolanus

I always look forward to my trips to the RSC. It is a tradition to attend with my mum, dad and Mr BookwormandTheatreMouse, and knowing we were off to see Coriolanus added huge excitement. My Mum studied Coriolanus at A-Level (a little while ago…hehe) and she had been going on and on about wanting to see it again, so I was keen to see why this play had captured her imagination.

We were all hooked from the moment that it began; as always, the action was immediate. And, with war as a central theme, there was a wonderfully choreographed fight scene between Coriolanus and Aufidius early on. However, their enthusiasm did seem to be a little too much, because after quite some encounter with the shutters, that formed a key part of the scenery, they no longer worked. This technical hitch did not spoil anyone’s enjoyment; in fact, after the slight interlude, the cast managed to make quite a joke of the situation as they returned to the stage and acted as though nothing had happened.

All seemed well as the tale continued and the power struggles developed, until in a moment of total darkness there was quite a crash as the shutters stopped the play again. I only mention this because of the amazing spirit of the cast, crew and RSC staff as they proved that the show must go on. All of this, in fact, led to us having an exclusive performance – as in it became a shutter-less performance. This did not remove from the story or the action at all; you would not have known that the shutters were missing, other than that it was a missing element of the industrial setting.

The play was one that had a clear theme of war and the struggle for power. Coriolanus has clearly been brought up to be a fighting machine, but the desire for power from the people around him exposes some of his weaknesses. This leads to an alliance that eventually ends in tragedy.

Sope Dirisu led the cast wonderfully in this production and really finds his stride as the play develops. As you would expect from an RSC production, the whole cast gel together to bring the story to life for the audience.

I think that this is a hidden gem in the Shakespeare collection and I am so glad that my dad is determined to collect a whole set to keep us all visiting the RSC.

 

 

Titus Andronicus – Don’t eat the pie!

The Rome Season from the RSC so far has been incredible, with their productions of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra, so I had very high hopes for Titus Andronicus. My excitement levels had also been building since it had been announced that David Troughton would be taking the lead role. There are two reasons why this is big news for me: 1. (confession time) I am a huge Archers fan, and 2. (a more grown-up reason) he had been brilliant in King Lear as Gloucester, really making you believe that his eyes had been plucked out.

It was with great excitement that I arrived at the theatre; I was keen to see where this adaptation would take us. As it happens, it more or less brings us bang up to date – maybe a little worryingly so, considering the current situation in parts of the world, but the story does move seamlessly into the 21st century.

There are of course themes of conflict, power, wealth, deception and revenge; in fact, it is a very hard-hitting tale and maybe not one for the faint-hearted. The acting throughout from the whole cast was stunning; you were mesmerised by what was unfolding in front of you, even if at times it is slightly uncomfortable viewing. For me, it does contain one of the best acts of revenge in any Shakespeare (and possibly in any tale) but so as not to spoil it too much, I will simply warn you not to eat the pie – especially if it is being served to you by Titus himself!

This production was again a credit to the whole Royal Shakespeare Company and all the people it takes to bring such a production to the stage. It was truly brilliant and an excellent third installment in the Rome Season and a thoughtful reflection that the issues in modern-day society are not that far removed from those of thousands of years ago.

Coriolanus is the fourth part of this Rome Season, and I am excited to see what that has in store for us later this year.

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

If you are a regular reader of the blog, you’ll know that I love Shakespeare. I cannot quite quote the Bard, but I am a huge fan of the stories and the characters that he created for us – so, when I found out about the Hogarth Shakespeare project that was opening up the opportunity to give some of his most beloved plays a modern twist, I knew I had to read them.

So, I have started with ‘Vinegar Girl’ by Anne Tyler. This is a modern take on ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, one of Shakespeare’s most famous comedies, and Tyler’s writing certainly keeps the light-hearted charm of the tale. This version is set in America, with the lead character, Kate, doing her best to look after her father and sister, and keep her ‘expressive’ mouth and face under control.

Kate has not quite had the life she may have imagined, but is a little taken aback when her father suggests she should marry his lab assistant, Pytor, in order to secure his green card. There is a clear exploration of the relationships between the characters and how small things can lead to big changes. Image is also central to this story: the image that people try to portray, sometimes even leading to surprising discoveries about the ‘real’ people.

There is a charm to this book that does make it very difficult to put down. You find yourself rooting for almost every character as they almost haphazardly make their way through day-to-day life. And there is a happy ending, even if it is not a fairy tale.

This has certainly inspired me to have a go at all the others – the question, however, is which one?

Antony and Cleopatra

After the bar had been set by Julius Caesar, I had very high hopes for Antony and Cleopatra and…it did not disappoint. Antony and Cleopatra is a gorgeous, golden production and is still flying the flag high for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Rome season.

The settings for this production are the ancient civilisations of the Roman Empire and Cleopatra’s Egypt. The scenery is amazing as it seamlessly moves between kingdoms and the action. It, also, clearly connects to the Caesar production in the current Rome season. The music fully supports in creating the atmosphere for the destinations and the story as it unfolds.

There is no mistaking the Queen of Egypt in her stunning, shimmering costumes. Josette Simon plays Cleopatra with real elegance and perfect humour. Antony Byrne is a commanding Mark Antony and together they play out the true passion between the two lead characters. The rest of the cast perfectly support the central characters as the plot picks up pace. It is always wonderful seeing the ensemble of actors move from one play to another demonstrating their true versatility.

For one of the longer of Shakespeare’s plays, you are hooked from the moment the stage erupts into life with a dance scene in Egypt until the tragedy of the final closing scene, played out beautifully by all those involved.  The intense applause was well deserved for all involved (on the stage and behind the scenes) as the lights signalled the end of the performance.

The next stop will be Titus Andronicus and, if the first two plays are anything to go by, I absolutely can not wait.

Five Fabulous Females in Fiction

International Women’s Day first really came to my attention when I was living in Italy, as they celebrate Women’s Day every year. Beautiful yellow flowers are handed out to the women and families celebrate the women in their lives. It was such a lovely tradition.

As I have thought back and remembered that day, I have decided to think about the females in fiction that I have loved, as I have grown up reading so many wonderful books. They need a little bit of celebrating too.

  1. Matilda (Matilda by Roald Dahl)

I was an enormous Roald Dahl fan as a child and, to be honest, I still am. I do not believe that he wrote books that were only to be enjoyed by children. I can remember the birthday that I was given three Roald Dahl titles as a gift and Matilda was in the collection. She is already ideal to me because she loves books and she does not let being a little girl stop her from achieving exactly what she wants. She may not feel that she always fits in, but she has so much character and is a great role model for fans of her story.

2. Beatrice (Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing)

I first met Beatrice as I studied A-Level English Language and Literature. She is someone who appealed to me straight away, as she is not your typical heroine. Beatrice is a witty and independent figure, and seems very different to many characters of the time – she may appear cynical about happy endings but, in fact, desires them more than most. She is someone that I would love to have as a friend; she would cheer up any situation and would certainly tell you to ‘get over it’.

3. Emma Woodhouse (Emma by Jane Austen)

Now, let us all be honest: there could have been any number of characters that could have been plucked from the pages of Austen’s works; however, for me it has always been Emma. I am not entirely sure what appeals so much about Emma, as I can totally recognise that to some she may be a little irritating and misguided. Yet, when I first met Emma on the pages of Jane Austen’s novel, there was something that I found charming. She wears her heart on her sleeve and all her actions are, she believes (most of the time), to benefit others. Emma may get a bit carried away and does not always go about things in the right way, but she still is a lovely heroine and learns her lesson. Even reimagined in the recent retelling by Alexandar McCall Smith, I thought Emma was great!

4. Hermione Granger (Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling)

Hermione may be one that many of you expect but she has been a female character that I have learnt to love as my love for these books has increased. I am not going to lie – at the start, I had a similar reaction to her Ron Weasley but, as he did, I learned to love her. Hermione is a strong, independent young woman who (very much like Matilda) does not let anything stand in her way. She is one of the bravest female characters I think you can find in fiction, and the most fiercely loyal. The friendship between her, Ron and Harry is inspiring and shows that gender should never stand in the way of true friendship and adventure.

5. Mrs Hudson (The Sherlock Holmes novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Great female characters don’t always have to be central to the stories they appear in. In fact, many have an important supporting role too, and Mrs Hudson is one of those characters. As the long-suffering landlady of Mr Holmes, she must have seen all sorts treading the famous stairs of 221b Baker Street. Mrs Hudson may not always have a voice, but she has nothing but affection for Holmes and Watson, and offers them great support – even if it is as simple as a cup of tea.

Who are your favourite females in fiction?

Happy International Women’s Day!