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.

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!’.

Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein

So, we all know I love the theatre, and musical theatre is always a winner, but when it comes to encouraging Mr BookwormandTheatremouse to enjoy the musicals it can be a challenge. However, as his birthday gift, I got him tickets to see ‘Young Frankenstein’ (there was no thought of me when I picked this gift, promise) because it looked very silly and it starred Ross Noble – I mean, what else do you need?

The show is on at The Garrick in London, which is a theatre that I have not been to before; however, it is just along from the National Portrait Gallery, which is one of my favourite spots in London. The theatre is an absolute delight – although it is fairly small, I suspect that there is not a bad view (we were upper circle), as it is well laid out, so you seem to have a good view from most seats.

Enough about the theatre – let’s talk about the show. I did not know too much about it, other than I was sure it was going to be good fun, as it involves the imagination of Mel Brooks and it was starring Ross Noble (I may have mentioned that already); that was enough to convince me that it was going to be good fun. And, oh my, was it good fun: you sense from the moment that the first note strikes up (which had the lady behind us in the giggles) that it is going to be a show that everyone enjoys, whether they are in it or in the audience.

Everyone on the stage was superb, with true enjoyment of what they were doing and so much natural comic timing you could not help but smile all the way through the production. There is so much cheeky humour, it is like an extended game of innuendo bingo, but it is so cleverly done that you could blink and miss it (other than in the number ‘Roll in the Hay’ – that does not leave much to the imagination), but you will no doubt be rolling in the aisles throughout the jokes.

Mel Brooks certainly has a skill for finding the funny side in the cinema triumphs of the age, so ‘Young Frankenstein’ is a gentle mick-take of the old-fashioned horror films that so many enjoyed in the early days of cinema. You may see some of the gags coming if you have watched any such films, but you still appreciate every moment, and probably laugh even more as you realise how obvious the plots of so many of those films were.

This was another production where there was no star, as every member of the cast (although, I am not going to lie, I did think that Ross Noble’s Igor was very good), orchestra and crew made the show what it was: an absolute triumph. I can understand why so many people have been to see it more than once because I am keen to head back. I am, also, pretty sure that Mr BookwormandTheatremouse would say the same – when he has finished laughing and humming show tunes.

Have you been to see ‘Young Frankenstein’? What did you think?

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!

The Nutcracker

On a snowy Friday night, is there any better adventure than a night at the ballet watching the most magical, festive show ‘The Nutcracker’? I do not think so, and that was exactly how I spent my Friday night with my Mum.

I last saw ‘The Nutcracker’ when I was 5 years old. I remember the evening so fondly, especially as I wore my favourite princess dress and remember feeling so grown up being at the theatre in the evening.

This 2017 production (because let’s not work out how long ago I was 5) by the Birmingham Royal Ballet did not burst the festive bubble I hold ‘The Nutcracker’ in.

The moment the music strikes up, you are transported to the festive wonderland. The thing that amazes me throughout a ballet is that the music and dance have to tell the story. The skill of each dancer and musician is always amazing and you are into the tale of ‘The Nutcracker’ and all its adventures.

I was mesmerised throughout; everything gelled so beautifully from start to finish. However, the ‘best’ moments (if I dare to be so brash) were the dances in the magical land, performed as a reward for the bravery of our heroine Clara.

Clara, and the audience, witness some of the most beautiful and magical dances of all time. Let’s be honest, as has pretty much every girl who has ever done ballet, I would have loved to have been the Sugar Plum Fairy too. Well, to be honest, I would have pretty much have loved to have been any one of those dancers in such an iconic piece of ballet.

I enjoyed every single moment of this production. ‘The Nutcracker’ remains one of my all-time favourite pieces of theatre. Let the festive season well and truly begin!

#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.