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?

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.

Vice Versa – The Royal Shakespeare Company

As you may have realised if you are a regular reader of this little blog, I am quite a fan of The RSC and their work. Usually, it is all about their adaptations of Shakespeare, but recently I have decided I need to give some of their other work a chance (after all, ‘Wendy and Peter Pan’ and ‘Matilda’ are two of my favourite shows and they were brought to life by The RSC). So, when a friend asked if I fancied going to the theatre, I jumped at the chance to see ‘Vice Versa’. And, how can you say no to £16 tickets?

Vice Versa has been created as part of the Rome Season (which sensibly includes ‘Julius Caesar‘, ‘Antony and Cleopatra‘, ‘Titus Andronicus’ and ‘Coriolanus’) and it is an absolute joy of comic theatre. I can say without reservation that we laughed from start to finish, and were rather delighted that, despite being set in Ancient Rome, it was in modern English.

Vice Versa is ‘a new Roman comedy by Phil Porter, inspired by the plays of Plautus, and it is sheer comic genius. The cast, with their epic comic timing and clear enjoyment of being on the stage, bring this play to wonderfully raucous life for the audience. The tale is mainly told by Dexter, a slave, played by Sophia Nomvete (a wonderful comic actress) as the farce unfolds to ensure that the ever-so-vain General Braggadocio gets his just desserts after kidnapping Voluptua (played by Ellie Beaven – I slightly fan-girled at this, being of the generation of ‘The Wild House’ and ‘Down to Earth).

The laughs just keep coming all the way through the play; it reminded me of the good old-fashioned comedy of the Carry On films, as there are some slightly cheeky jokes. However, it has also carefully observed the current world around us to make some very pertinent comments about the madness that is the world we live in.

The musicians are also a brilliant part of this play, especially as several end up on the stage during a wonderful scene with the monkey (I’ll say no more…), as they provide the wonderful atmosphere and sound effects for the comedy that unfolds on stage.

This is really one of the most feel-good productions I have ever seen. Everyone involved is incredibly talented at bringing all the joy of theatrical comedy to the audience – the laughter was infectious in the theatre. I do not believe that anyone there did not leave without a huge smile on their face – because we certainly did.

Vice Versa is playing at The Swan in Stratford-Upon-Avon until the 9th September, so catch it if you can!

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.

Why I love the Royal Shakespeare Company

One evening in 2009, I walked into the RSC’s Courtyard Theatre with my parents. We had arrived to see Julius Caesar. This was not my first experience of Shakespeare in Stratford-Upon-Avon but it was the first that did not result in me returning to a classroom to write an essay.

I had read Self Made Hero’s Shakespeare Manga Julius Caesar in preparation, but nothing can really prepare you for the experience. I was hooked from the moment that the cast took to the stage. The RSC Ensemble were, on this occasion, led by Greg Hicks in the role of Julius Caesar, but a huge part of the charm was that there was not a ‘star’, but an ensemble of very talented actors telling the story of the Emperor of Rome. I left that evening exhilarated with a new appreciation of the Bard (I already loved Romeo and Juliet but that was probably thanks to Baz Luhrmann casting Leo in the film…). It was clear from that moment that nothing could beat seeing these plays on the stage. I was lucky enough to see a number of the plays at the Courtyard with the RSC Ensemble and have never looked back since and now visit the beautiful RSC Theatre.

Over the years, going to the RSC productions have become something of a family tradition. And, if we have not had the same desire to see some of the productions, then I have gone with friends who have a similar passion for the theatre. However, none of us restrict ourselves to the tales of Shakespeare. The wonderful musical ‘Matilda‘ started at the Courtyard and ‘Wendy and Peter Pan’ was a fabulous retelling of J.M Barrie’s classic.

Memories are made each time we visit this wonderful town and its theatre, and I can not wait for the fast-approaching Rome Season and making many more memories.

Top 10 memories (in no particular order – and I have probably still missed something):

  1. Matilda on a very snowy December day.
  2. Othello with Hugh Quarshie in the title role and Lucian Msamati as Iago.
  3. Richard II with David Tennant (and spotting him in the street on the morning of the play).
  4. Wendy and Peter Pan (on both occasions).
  5. Love’s Labours Lost, sitting on the same row as Prince Charles.
  6. Julius Caesar – that first grown-up RSC experience.
  7. The Merchant of Venice with Sir Patrick Stewart as Shylock.
  8. Twelfth Night with the very funny Richard Wilson as Malvolio.
  9. Much Ado About Nothing with Meera Syal and a truly exotic setting.
  10. The wonderful Hamlet with the award-winning Paapa Essideu in the lead role.