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?

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.

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!

#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!

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.