Days Out · Life · Theatre Stuff

A day in Stratford.

In yesterday’s post I explained how I was planning on spending my day in Stratford. The shopping was decent, though my role in it was purely one of encouragement with a bit of window shopping as we went (I’m so ready to find someone willing to employ me in a full time role so I have money for nice things).

The Mop Fair it turns out is simply a large funfair that takes over a number of the town centre streets. It is incredibly noisy, blocks the view from the street so it’s hard to spot where the shop you’re looking for is, and seemed to be causing lots of disruption for little gain – with the exception of a few children’s rides and the dodgems we didn’t really see anyone taking advantage of the rides on offer.

imageThe whole reason for going to Stratford was to see Richard II at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. Last night was the last of three preview nights and it was an almost entirely packed out theatre. We sat in the circle for the first time, having previously watched a few productions from the stalls. It was also the first time we’d sat on the side, we were actually in the seats closest to the stage – for some sequences they used a gantry that ran from the side of us across the stage to the other side of the audience giving us one of the best views in the house.

The cast was, in general, strong with new and experienced company members alike. Sadly the actor playing the somewhat pivotal role of Bolingbroke was not as strong as the rest of the cast, this proved quite a disappointment. David Tennant in the role of Richard II did however completely satisfy, having previously seen him as Hamlet and Benedick we had been looking forward to seeing him in another Shakespearean role. His take was entirely convincing and provided a really nice contrast to Ben Whishaw’s BAFTA winning performance in last year’s The Hollow Crown season.

The whole day was lovely, and punctuated by regular stops for delicious food. A very nice way to spend a Saturday.

Days Out · Theatre Stuff

Theatre thoughts.

I love going to the theatre. I always have, whilst I’d enjoyed going to see local pantos I think my love affair started when I went to see Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at the London Palladium at the age of 8. My parents took me and my brother out of school for a couple of days and took us to London so that me and my mom could go to the theatre and I could see my then idol Jason Donovan in the flesh. I was completely wowed by the whole thing and I’ve been loving the theatre ever since.

It was pointed out to me recently that I’ve been to see some great things at the theatre in recent months and I realised that I haven’t blogged about any of them, so here’s my whistle-stop tour of the good, the bad and the ugly of my theatre trips this summer.

Macbeth – Everyman Theatre, Liverpool.
We booked to see this for the opportunity to see David Morrissey doing some Shakespeare. He did not disappoint, he was commanding and just downright excellent, he sported his beard very well and was very good at emoting the manpain that the role requires. Sadly he was the lone highlight of the show, the rest of the production ranged from being not very good to being dreadful – the three witches in particular were a real disappointment.

Much Ado About Nothing – Wyndham’s Theatre, London.
The casting for this play was announced on the day I moved back to Aberystwyth for the spring semester. The day passed in a flurry of texts, emails and tweets as plans to see it were made, our group ended up being sixteen strong! We all arrived full of anticipation and excitement, but unfortunately left at the end feeling a little underwhelmed. David Tennant as Benedick was fantastic and absolutely stole the show. Catherine Tate as Beatrice however seemed to suffer from some odd directorial decisions which was a real shame. The direction throughout was at times strange, including the addition of a couple of sequences that only acted to confuse the story rather than help it.

The Merchant of Venice – Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon.
If the first two parts of my summer’s theatre attendance failed to live up to expectations then this completely exceeded them. I studied parts of the play for my GCSE English, but couldn’t remember very much about it so it was like seeing something completely new. We’d seen and loved Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet for the RSC last year so had high hopes for what he would do with this. The decision to move it to a more modern Las Vegas setting was excellent and made for a thoroughly entertaining evening complete with Elvis impersonator! We walked out of the theatre at the end with huge grins on our faces and a real desire to watch it again – we’re keeping everything crossed that the RSC will transfer this to New York in the same way that Romeo and Juliet did, and then there’ll be a rapid scrabbling round for a way to fund the trip!

Pygmalion – Garrick Theatre, London.
This trip was a proper girly weekend, complete with mothers. I was really looking forward to seeing this, I’d seen My Fair Lady on stage a couple of times so I was curious to see how this would compare. The production was excellent, both Rupert Everett and Kara Tointon played their parts brilliantly – I was particularly impressed with Kara who I only knew from her Strictly Come Dancing appearance. The costuming was beautiful, at various points our little group all gasped as Kara appeared on stage in yet another wonderful outfit. The section at the end which is just Eliza and Henry talking was a real example of direction at its best. A thoroughly enjoyable evening.

The Syndicate – Minerva Theatre, Chichester.
The final trip this summer was to Chichester to see Sir Ian McKellan as a mob boss. For years I have wanted to see Ian McKellan on the stage, and he was every bit as wonderful as I’d hoped. The play started in a relatively grizzly manner (I know a lot of people who would have been trying to subtly not watch what was going on) but then settled into a slightly odd plot that didn’t quite seem to know what it was trying to be. The cast was split with a few stand out performances and the rest pretty poor, the worst being two actors who played roles in the third act in the style of a comedy double act of the type last seen in working men’s clubs in the 1980s.

One Man, Two Guvnors – NT Live.
I wasn’t entirely sure whether to include this, but then realised that the whole point of the excellent NT Live scheme is that it allows people to watch National Theatre productions who are unable to get there in person. I didn’t know a thing about the play when I sat down to watch it, and I think I’m glad because it meant I had no preconceived ideas about what I was going to see. The play itself is brilliantly funny, and the cast pulled it off perfectly. There wasn’t a weak performance, but especially good were Daniel Rigby and Jemima Rooper. Then of course there was James Corden, star of the show and former History Boy showing once more just how very talented he is. I can not remember a time when I last laughed so hard or long, it was certainly the most fun I’d had in a theatre in a very long time.

Phew, so I think that’s everything. Whilst there have been high points and slightly lower points I really have had a fabulous few months of theatre going. We’ve already got our next couple of trips planned, I can’t wait!

Days Out · Life · Theatre Stuff

Trip Out : A Weekend in Warwickshire

I spent last weekend in Warwickshire, on Saturday I went to Stratford to see Morte D’Arthur at the Courtyard Theatre and then on Sunday we moved on to Warwick itself for a day at Warwick Castle.

In the week leading up to our trip my anticipation for Morte D’Arthur had been building. Reading this article in The Guardian, and then having looked at the Who’s Who and worked out who from Romeo and Juliet was playing who in Morte D’Arthur I couldn’t wait to see this play that I knew relatively little about. When Gregory Doran walked onto the stage my heart began to sink. He explained that unfortunately Sam Troughton who was to have played Arthur had been taken ill the night before. They’d spent the whole of Saturday working with his understudy but were only able to show us Act 3 and would be refunding our ticket money.

What we saw was very good. There was the occasional moment where things didn’t seem to go quite to plan, but with actors playing roles for the first time or playing against other actors for the first time this was to be expected. James Howard who was taking on the role of Arthur made an excellent job of it. We all found that it took a few minutes for us to work out what was going on and why, but I found that once I’d settled in to the story I could keep up pretty well. The reviews for the production are all very favourable, and I’m sure entirely deserved.

On Sunday we went across to Warwick Castle. I’d visited the castle a number of times before, both with my family and on school trips (including a visit or two as a “responsible adult” for my mom’s school) but it had been about 5 years since my last visit. During this time a number of changes have taken place, most of them following the takeover by Merlin Entertainments. The most of obvious change is that the dungeons have now been developed into a full attraction in their own right, complete with it’s own entry charge. I’m not entirely fond of things that make me jump (I spent the whole weekend at Collectormania Midlands watching out for the Xenomorph from Alien that kept hissing over people’s shoulders) and the poster warned that the narrow winding staircases made it unsuitable for people with reduced mobility so I decided to give it a miss. I took the time instead to have a wander round, take some photos and then get a coffee.

The Royal Weekend Party is also an addition since I last visited, this combines models with live actors to great effect. Walking into a bedroom to find a drunk member of the gentry shouting for his butler was most unexpected, but hugely entertaining. The State Rooms were as beautiful as ever, I always find myself staring at the ceilings in wonder. I had never visited the Victorian Rose Garden before, it’s full of so many gorgeous blooms.

All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend.

Days Out · Theatre Stuff

Trip Out : Romeo and Juliet.

A couple of weeks ago I went to Stratford to see the RSC Ensemble’s current production of Romeo and Juliet. Like most people my first experience of Shakespeare was Romeo and Juliet, as well as covering it in school 3 or 4 times I’ve seen the film versions by Franco Zeffirelli (didn’t enjoy it much) and Baz Luhrmann (loved it) and an AmDram youth production of it (absolutely dreadful). I was really excited to go to Stratford and see it done by the experts, and the reviews I’d been reading only added to the anticipation.

Directed by Rupert Goold, the leads were played by Sam Troughton (Much in Robin Hood) and Mariah Gale (Ophelia in the RSC’s Hamlet). Reading through the programme it seemed that many of the actors in the ensemble had a wealth of experience, including Noma Dumezweni (Captain Magambo in Doctor Who) as the Nurse. With the exception of one actor who appeared to be bored every time he was on stage the ensemble were as good as I had been hoping. It would be hard to single out individuals as they all excelled, but I did find myself thinking that it just showed how poor a lot of the Robin Hood material had been – Sam Troughton is a far better actor than I’d ever imagined.

The staging was also excellent, the use of pyrotechnics and smoke jets (I’m sure there’s a technical term but I don’t know it) made me jump on more than one occasion and helped to create the uneasy backdrop for the play. The costuming was very interesting, Romeo and Juliet themselves were dressed in contemporary clothing whilst everyone else wore period dress. The Stage’s review suggests that this “exposes the vulnerability of the pair and the timelessness of their situation” which makes sense to me, but I also felt it separated their world from the world in which the play is set.

I imagine one topic that most people discussed on their way home was the direction, particularly of Mercutio. Whilst the character always pushes boundaries Goold’s direction took it to a whole different level, something I’m sure some of the more traditional, conservative Shakespeare fans may not have appreciated entirely. I absolutely loved it, but must look back at the original text to see if I can work out what Goold’s thought process might have been.

This was the third play I had seen by the RSC at The Courtyard. The quality of all three has been incredible, my next trip is in a couple of weeks to see Gregory Doran’s version of Malory’s Morte D’Arthur. My expectations couldn’t be higher!

Days Out · Geek Stuff · Theatre Stuff

Trip Out : Romeo and Juliet

A couple of weeks ago I went to Stratford to see the RSC Ensemble’s current production of Romeo and Juliet. Like most people my first experience of Shakespeare was Romeo and Juliet, as well as covering it in school 3 or 4 times I’ve seen the film versions by Franco Zeffirelli (didn’t enjoy it much) and Baz Luhrmann (loved it) and an AmDram youth production of it (absolutely dreadful). I was really excited to go to Stratford and see it done by the experts, and the reviews I’d been reading only added to the anticipation.

Directed by Rupert Goold, the leads were played by Sam Troughton (Much in Robin Hood) and Mariah Gale (Ophelia in the RSC’s Hamlet). Reading through the programme it seemed that many of the actors in the ensemble had a wealth of experience, including Noma Dumezweni (Captain Magambo in Doctor Who) as the Nurse. With the exception of one actor who appeared to be bored every time he was on stage the ensemble were as good as I had been hoping. It would be hard to single out individuals as they all excelled, but I did find myself thinking that it just showed how poor a lot of the Robin Hood material had been – Sam Troughton is a far better actor than I’d ever imagined.

The staging was also excellent, the use of pyrotechnics and smoke jets (I’m sure there’s a technical term but I don’t know it) made me jump on more than one occasion and helped to create the uneasy backdrop for the play. The costuming was very interesting, Romeo and Juliet themselves were dressed in contemporary clothing whilst everyone else wore period dress. The Stage’s review suggests that this “exposes the vulnerability of the pair and the timelessness of their situation” which makes sense to me, but I also felt it separated their world from the world in which the play is set.

I imagine one topic that most people discussed on their way home was the direction, particularly of Mercutio. Whilst the character always pushes boundaries Goold’s direction took it to a whole different level, something I’m sure some of the more traditional, conservative Shakespeare fans may not have appreciated entirely. I absolutely loved it, but must look back at the original text to see if I can work out what Goold’s thought process might have been.

This was the third play I had seen by the RSC at The Courtyard. The quality of all three has been incredible, my next trip is in a couple of weeks to see Gregory Doran’s version of Malory’s Morte D’Arthur. My expectations couldn’t be higher!