The Whip

As the world appears to be a strange place at the moment, we took the chance to indulge in some escapism at the RSC. We went to see ‘The Whip’, a period piece set in 1833. It tackles the abolition of slavery, and the politics around it, but also the issue of the conditions in the Northern cotton mills.

I do not think I can do this play justice. It was a brilliant piece of theatre. Thought-provoking, emotional, humorous and entertaining. It really demonstrates how complex some of these issues were and how money was the fuel to so much of what took place. Attempting to achieve any kind of reform was difficult; even those who were really motivated to had struggles to overcome or prevent them from achieving their real aim.

The acting from the company was outstanding. The music framed and supported the narrative perfectly. The play itself was beautifully written with engaging dialogue. As well as the clever title, ‘The Whip’ – a reference to so much throughout the play.

As a History teacher, I have walked away with so much to think about and so much more I want to follow up. Unfortunately, there is only one week of this play left (this was written before the recent announcements) to go, but I hope it tours or gets another season, because I would encourage people to go and see it – and I would love to see it again.

The Boy in the Dress

I have finally been to see ‘The Boy in the Dress’ – and why, oh why, did it take me so long?

This musical is awesome – a true production for the twenty-first century. I have never read a David Walliams book (although my niece is a huge fan and did once give me a thorough lesson in his work), but now I may have to change that.

‘The Boy in the Dress’ is brought to us by David Walliams, Guy Chambers. Robbie Williams and Gregory Doran, and they have genuinely put together one of the most heart-warming shows I have seen. There is singing, dancing, comedy and – at one point for the majority of the audience – tears (due to the beautiful emotion between father and son).

Dennis knows he feels a bit different – and discovers he likes to wear a dress. Something his friends Sarah James and Darvesh have no issue with. But not everybody is so understanding, because it is not what boys do. Boys play football, they don’t wear dresses… However, as the story unfolds many of the characters go on a journey to realise that things don’t have to be ordinary, but they an in fact be extraordinary.

Everything about this show is golden. The set is, as always, simple but clever. The costumes are wonderful and tranistion with the tale. The songs are catchy and toe-tappingly perfect. And finally, the performances from every single member of the cast brought every moment of the story to life. This is not a production with a star but with a team, each clearly having a whale of a time entertaining the audience. And, wow, the audience was entertained; clapping, laughing, cheering.

It also struck me how diverse the audience was, proving, as always, that we do not need to limit people’s access to culture and theatre. People of all ages can enjoy an afternoon at the theatre. ‘The Boy in the Dress’ certainly united so many – just as fashion and football can. So, if you think you can squeeze a trip to the theatre in before ‘The Boy in the Dress’ closes, I would do it. And, if not let’s keep everything crossed that The RSC decides to tour this or, as with Matilda, gives it a chance in London. And let’s all remember: we are extraordinary not ordinary.

Measure for Measure

Our summer trip to the RSC was to see Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse’s favourite play, ‘Measure for Measure’. A probloem play, so I am told, as it does not appear to fit perfectly into any category.

This production, by Gregory Doran, is set in early 1900s Vienn. Angelo has been left in charge of the city to deal with the brothels and low morals that the citizens appear to be demonstrating. However, is he in fact, any more morally superior than the people he is accusing?

This production was certainly played for laughs (including actors corpsing which, for me, always makes the show more enjoyable). However, what struck me through some of the action and the soliloquies is that, again, Shakespeare’s plays could have been written for the age we are living in. Are those in control really deserving? Can we believe or trust anything we are told?

As always, the production was superb. The cast engaged the audience in the tale, the set so simple but yet so versatile, and the music creating the perfect atmosphere.

Overall, a highly enjoyable, yet thought-provoking evening.

Sir Ian McKellen

Sir Ian McKellen is currently on tour to celebrate his 80th birthday. Also, his aim is to raise money for the arts, allowing theatres and companies to decide what the money raised will be spent on.

I have been a fan of Sir Ian McKellen as long as I can remember. He is someone who I rank with many of Britain’s great classical actors such as Dame Judi Dench, Sir Michael Gambon, Sir Patrick Stewart, the list is endless. And when the opportunity came up for me to see him on the stage of the RSC theatre, I was over the moon. It has been on my theatre bucket list to see Sir Ian McKellen on the stage, and what better place than Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s home town?

From the moment he took to the stage, the audience was fully captivated. Especially as he opened with a passage from ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’. McKellen held the audience’s attention as he told tales about his journey to stardom. There was so much humour and emotion as he took us on a tour of his career, we were even given the chance to see his Dame Twanky. I was grinning all the way through the first half – and possibly a little starstruck.

The second half was a wonderful nod to Shakespeare and all his plays. Sir Ian McKellen told anecdotes of productions he had performed in, as well as performing extracts from plays – he must be one of the only actors who can create a Shakespeare medley. In fact, I may have shed a little tear when paid tribute to some of the family and friends he has lost over the years. It was beautiful.

An evening in the company of Sir Ian McKellen is one of the best moments I have spent in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre (and that’s a bold statement). Everyon around me was also having an amazing time, which was a true tribute to the talent of the star that is Sir Ian McKellen.

The Taming of the Shrew

Well, a rather cutural weekend in mid-July started with a trip to my happy place (The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, for any newbies to the blog). The play of choice was the latest version of ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ from the RSC.

This was an interesting adaptation of the classic tale, as the roles were gender-reversed. Kate and Bianco were the focus of the tale, men who came to the attention of the powerful women of Italy. However, still set in Shakespeare’s day, and the matriarchy of Elizabeth I. To begin with, I fully embraced the idea of strong females playing the game, having all the skill and focus to tame the men and achieve what they want. However, as you watch it, you realise that it is actually not a particularly friendly tale (as it is often romanticised as), but actually a tale of manipulation.

Now, this is a sign of a good production, as it makes you reflect and think about the tale that is unfolding in front of you. And maybe, as a female I was more aware of the tale as the women took the lead.

This was an excellent production. Purists may not enjoy the change of genders, but this does not take away from the tale at all. There is comedy and emotion in the production, and you are invested in the tale from the moment it begins. Bianco is fabulously vain; Kate is fabulously rough and ready, but goes through the transformation like a butterfly, and Claire Price makes Petruchia her own.

There was, of course, everything else you would expect from an RSC production. A simple but engaging set and a great use of music and costume to bring the tale to life. A clever reflection of past and present, I would recommend catching this porduction if you can, as I think it will lead you to reflect on this story a little differently to before.

Although, I have to admit that this experience was probably enhanced by spotting Sir Ian McKellen in the audience which will conviently lead to my next post…

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!