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This production of King Lear was broadcast live from The Globe Theatre to cinemas around the world – the first time The Globe has done this, but hopefully  not the last. I went to see it at Showcase Cinema, Dudley, in the West Midlands.

King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s best loved tragedies – it starts with the title character demanding that his three daughters demonstrate how much they love him. While the eldest two, Goneril and Regan go over the top with waxing lyrical about how much their father means to them – all the while with their eyes on his riches – youngest daughter Cordelia refuses to bow to his vanity. She, of course, is the most loyal and loving of all three, but Lear, in his anger at her refusal to kowtow, banishes her from his kingdom and his life.

Meanwhile, Edmund, son of the Duke of Gloucester, is angry at his illegitimate state and plans to get rid of his older, legitimate brother Edgar. He tricks his father into believing that Edgar wants to overthrow him.

The play depicts Lear’s descent into madness, and his journey to actually becoming a better man. Kevin McNally, in the title role, was excellent. He was alternately terrifying and sympathetic, funny and pathetic. He plays Lear as a vain old man, blinded by his daughters’ words and unable to see past the deception of Goneril and Regan, who have cleverly played to such vanity.

The supporting cast were all wonderful too – Emily Bruni and Sirine Saba as Goneril and Regan were standouts, and I also liked Burt Caesar as the Duke of Gloucester. Joshua James and Ralph Davis put in strong performances as Edgar and Edmund respectively. Finally Saskia Reeves put in a terrific turn as Kent, Lear’s faithful friend (a male character in the original play), who is also banished from the realm when she expresses anger at his treatment of Regan.

Played out in modern dress, I found this production relatable and enjoyable. It was also surprisingly funny in parts, which I wasn’t expecting given the nature of the play.

Overall I would have to highly recommend seeing this King Lear if you get chance.

 

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Shit-Faced Shakespeare has been running in America and the UK since 2010, and has enjoyed great success. The concept is simple – a small group of actors (six in this case, plus the compere) stage an abridged version of a Shakespeare play, with the twist that one of the cast is drunk. Well…shit-faced actually. Before the show, the compere told the audience that the cast member (in this case the actor playing the part of Claudio, although you are not told beforehand which cast member is going to be drunk, and the cast rotate that particular duty from show to show) had had several beers and half a bottle of Tequila prior to the performance.

What followed on this occasion was a truly hilarious hour – yes the show is just an hour long, and there are LOTS of liberties taken with the Bard’s script! – where Claudio was clearly drunk, fluffing lines, paraphrasing, whipping off his sunglasses at will (don’t ask, it made perfect sense at the time), interrupting other actors and basically causing uproar. The other five cast members were forced to work around his unpredictability and improvise, but it was fairly clear that none of them were taking it very seriously in the first place – and this just made it even funnier.

Needless to say that if you are planning or hoping to see a faithful production of the play, this is NOT the show for you. For one thing, the characters of Dogberry and his cronies are completely shaved from the script, and in this version the bad guy is Don Pedro, not his brother Don John (who also is not in the play). A male audience member is dragged onto stage to play the part of Margaret – and to be fair, he certainly got into the spirit of things! On the other hand, if you are looking for a lot of belly laughs, and you are not easily offended, then I would highly recommend this show. It’s probably worth pointing out that there is a lot of swearing and crude behaviour in this show, but if that doesn’t bother you, then definitely try and catch Shit-Faced Shakespeare if you get chance. I will certainly go again if the opportunity arises!

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Shakespeare and Me is a collection of essays by a variety of (mainly) writers, actors and directors, on what Shakespeare means to them and how he is still such a big part of modern culture. Throughout the essays, most of Shakespeare’s plays are mentioned, with many of the writers concentrating on just one.

As with all books featuring contributions by different people, some appealed more than others. My personal favourites were the three essays on Othello, and especially James Earl Jones’s ‘The Sun God’ (I was amused by the fact that he mentions actor Hugh Quarshie, and writes that he thinks Quarshie should play Othello – this essay was written prior to Quarshie’s performance as Othello at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre last year, which I was lucky enough to see). Eammon Walker – who himself played a fantastic Othello at the Globe Theatre – writes ‘Othello in Love’; and Barry John writes ‘Othello: A Play in Black and White’ which studied how the staging of a production of Othello started to draw parallels to the play itself.

I also enjoyed Re-revising Shakespeare by Jess Winfield of the Reduced Shakespeare Company; Shakespeare and Four-Colour Magic by Conor McCreery (where he discusses turning Shakespeare and his characters into comic book stars), and Ralph Fiennes’s ‘The Question of Coriolanus’.

If you have any interest in Shakespeare, I recommend this book.

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Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre is somewhere that I have wanted to visit for a long time, and I was very fortunate that my first (but certainly not my last) visit there was to see this wonderful production of one of Shakespeare’s best-loved comedies.

Briefly, the story of As You Like It centres on Rosalind, the daughter of a Duke who has been banished from his own court by his brother. Rosalind has been allowed to stay at the court because the new Duke’s daughter Celia (Rosalind’s cousin) and she are great friends, but the new Duke worries that Rosalind might commit treason and banishes her from the court too, but not before Rosalind has met and instantly fallen for Orlando, a young man who has been denied his birthright by his older brother. Rosalind and Celia run away to the Forest of Arden, with Rosalind disguised as a man named Ganymede, and Celia disguised as a servant girl named Aliena. There, Rosalind again meets Orlando, who is pining for her, but doesn’t realise that his new friend is in fact the girl he fell in love with at the court.

Meanwhile, young shepherd Silvius is in love with shepherdess Phebe, but she in turn has fallen for a young man named Ganymede (!) And there are also love problems for Touchstone, the court jester who has accompanied Rosalind and Celia on their adventure. I don’t think it’s giving anything away to say that it all gets sorted out in the end, but there is  much confusion and – for the audience – much hilarity along the way.

As You Like It is one of my favourite comedies, and this production was simply superb. Michelle Terry was absolutely wonderful as Rosalind – captivating and funny, and frankly adorable. I also loved Simon Harrison as Orlando, and was not the only female in the audience to share in Rosalind’s delight when he took his shirt off near the beginning of the play! James Garnon, who will be familiar to many who have been to the Globe before (or who, like me, have watched televised performances from the Globe) played Jacques, the melancholy, cynical Lord, who lives with the banished Duke and his men in the forest. This character can occasionally seem surplus to requirements (apart from his famous All the World’s A Stage speech, and his Seven Ages of Man speech), but in the capable hands of Garnon, Jacques was not only enjoyable, but actually essential to the play. Special mention also to Ellie Piercey as Celia – who has ALWAYS been one of my favourite characters in this play – and Daniel Crossley as Touchstone. (Touchstone is another very divisive character, with many people finding him annoying or pointless; however, in this production, he was lovable, funny and – unexpectedly – a marvellous tap dancer!)

To say that the play was funny would be a huge understatement. It was actually hilarious, largely due to the gutsy and uninhibited performance of Michelle Terry, and the whole audience seemed very appreciative of the entire, excellent cast.

To sum up – a wonderful production, in a beautiful setting. If you get chance to see this play, take it – you won’t regret it!

(Click here for more information about Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, or this production.)

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The play may be called Othello, but iconic villain Iago is by far the bigger role, and needs a great actor to carry it off. The RSC certainly picked such an actor in Lucian Msamati, who is also the first black actor to play the role in an RSC production.

The story of the play is one of manipulation, jealousy and murder – Othello is happily married to Desdemona, but Iago, furious that renowned soldier Othello has chosen the younger Cassio for promotion to lieutenant over Iago himself, hatches a plot to rid himself of his rival. He sows seeds of doubt about Desdemona’s fidelity in Othello’s mind, insinuating that Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair. Unfortunately, the consequences of his plans are far reaching and horrific when Othello becomes so overcome with fury that he kills his wife, and then kills himself when he learns that Desdemona was true to him all along.

Hugh Quarshie was ideally cast as the titular character – his good looks and charisma make it easy to see why his young wife has fallen in love with him, and make his subsequent breakdown all the more shocking. However, earlier scenes of him tacitly endorsing waterboarding a prisoner of war suggest that he was never as benevolent as he initially appeared. Msamati also fits perfectly into the part of the villain of the piece – he’s funny and clever, but his scheming is never far below the surface – for the audience at least, if not for his fellow characters. In this production, more than some others, Iago actually is – at times – a fairly sympathetic character. It is easy to understand his dislike of Cassio, and his real belief that he has been passed over for a promotion that was rightfully his. Joanna Vanderham was also excellent as Desdemona, combining a visual fragility with heart and pluck.

The production is modern – to an extent. Laptops, mobile phones and computers are all used, and this may not please some of the audience – a couple behind me said that they would have preferred a traditional performance. However, I personally liked that aspect, as it is a reminder that Shakespeare is as relevant to modern audiences as to those of his lifetime.

The action is gripping, and there are no dull moments – strong performances all round and genuine tension on stage make this a highly recommended production of a classic play.

(Click here for more information about this production, or the Royal Shakespeare Company.)

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This Shakespeare comedy has been updated in this production by the Royal Shakespeare Company, and is set in 1914, which allows the show to pay respects to the hundred year anniversary of World War I.  The story revolves around the King of Navarre (Sam Alexander) and his three companions Berowne, Longaville and Dumaine (respectively, Edward Bennett, William Belchambers and Tunji Kasim), who all agree to swear off the company of women for three years, in order to concentrate on study and fasting.  However, their plans go awry upon the arrival of the Princess of France (Leah Whittaker) and her three companions, Rosaline, Maria and Katherine (respectively Michelle Terry, Frances McNamee and Flora Spencer-Longhurst).  A battle of the sexes ensues, with the play eventually ending in a poignant scene, which gives cause for reflection.  There is also a subplot featuring the visiting Don Armado (John Hodgkinson), a Spanish visitor, who falls for a local lady named Jaquenetta (Emma Manton).

I really loved this production.  Apart from the fitting and respectful ending (where – spoiler alert – the Princess is informed that her father has died, and she and her ladies in waiting inform their suitors that they must wait a year before their courtships can continue, and which ends up with the four men appearing in World War I uniforms, about to go off and fight in the war), there was so much humour and verbal sparring, with several laugh-out-loud scenes that had the audience in fits of giggles.  The King and his friends were so well portrayed, and the Princess and her companions perfectly matched to them.  (I love how Shakespeare wrote so many strong and intelligent female characters).

The stage was beautifully and cleverly designed and the costumes were gorgeous (I had serious gown envy during the final part of the play!)

Love’s Labour’s Lost is presented as one part of a diptych, together with Much Ado About Nothing (retitled here as Love’s Labour’s Won, which was the name of a lost Shakespeare play – possibly Much Ado).  I have tickets to see Love’s Labour’s Won next year, and I am really looking forward to seeing it.  (In that play, the four main male characters are returning from World War I.)  Edward Bennett plays Benedick, opposite Michelle Terry’s Beatrice, and having seen the chemistry between them in this production, it promises to be a great show.

Overall, an excellent evening of comedy, with excellent acting and staging throughout.  Thoroughly recommended.

(For more information about this production, please click here.)

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Shakespeare’s goriest play is by no means his most popular one, and I can imagine that some people would find it too distasteful to watch (I had my reservations, initially), but as this production, directed by Michael Fentiman proves, it can be successfully brought to the stage.

Briefly the storyline concerns the titular character who has returned triumphant from the war against the Goths in Rome.  He slays a son of Tamora, queen of the goths, in revenge for his fallen soldiers.  She in turn urges her two remaining sons to rape Titus’s daughter Lavinia (which they do in the most horrific fashion, also cutting out her tongue and cutting off her hands so that she cannot identify her attackers).  Titus’s sons are then framed for this grievous crime, and executed.  When Titus discovers the truth, he swears revenge on Tamora and her sons, and – well, it’s safe to say he gets it, although it’s also safe to say that there are no real victors in this play, which ends in a bloodbath (a bloodbath that is as uncomfortably amusing as it is wince-inducing).  Sounds bloodthirsty?  It was, and at the time that it was written, there was a great public appetite for such plays, and Shakespeare was obviously happy to provide one.

This production certainly made me grimace on occasion, but it was extremely compelling and watchable, and even managed to include some dark humour – no mean feat in such a gory play.

Stephen Boxer made an excellent world-weary Titus, whose descent into madness is clear to the audience.  The rest of the cast were also superb in their roles, especially Katy Stephens as the vengeful Tamora, John Hopkins as a very amusing Saturninus, and Kevin Harvey as Aaron – a truly detestable, and strangely charismatic character!  Rose Reynolds was also heartbreaking as the tortured Lavinia, who never finds the happiness she is owed after her brutal attack, and the murder of her husband.

Titus Andronicus is not a play for everyone, and I would recommend that people are aware of the storyline before going to see it.  However, I found it extremely watchable (even if I watched some parts through my fingers!) with excellent performances all round.

(For more information about the Royal Shakespeare Company, or this production, please click here.)

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