D4D

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Archive for the category “Theatre”

A Tale of Two Macbeths

As I said earlier in the week, over the last two weekends I’ve ended up seeing two versions of Macbeth, one at the RSC in Stratford-on-Avon starring Christopher Eccleston, and one at the National Theatre in London, with Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff .

It’s a weird piece of scheduling – for whatever reason, I’d have expected the two main theatre companies to at least communicate a bit, in order for this kind of clash to not happen. However, everyone else I’ve said that to has said “No, they don’t talk”, but all the same it seems pretty odd to me – not least because as well as those two, there’s also the Verdi operatic version also being performed at the same time at the Royal Opera House !

Anyway, for my purposes, it made it interesting to be able to compare the two performances in such proximity.

For me, the RSC version was the one I preferred, although both had flaws.  In the RSCs version, parts of the stage set weren’t visible from our seats – seats that hadn’t been marked as ‘restricted view’ – which was annoying.  It’s a modern-dress setup, which is fine with me, but sticks with a more traditional timescale all the same. The witches were played by a trio of young (9-10 years old) who all spoke in sync, and were extremely good at being creepy. The porter in this one was very good, quite creepy, always on stage, and marking off all the deaths in chalk on the wall.  I hadn’t noticed that initially, but it was very effectively done in later scenes where news of Macbeth’s rule, and the deaths involved – seeing them all getting marked on the walls was a very effective way of putting the point across. We weren’t just seeing the on-stage deaths, this despot was killing all and sundry, feeling invincible while doing it.

We were very early in the run, so there were some hitches with lines not being perfect – but I am seeing it again with different friends later in the run, so it’ll be interesting to see what’s changed – but all told I thought it was a pretty good performance, and really good to see Christopher Ecclestone doing his thing.

The NT version was much more modern, supposedly staged ‘after a revolution’, on a blackened stage. It is very dark in general, but also emphatically trying too hard (in my opinion, of course!) and in particular I felt the witches were less effective as a result. Rory Kinnear was good as Macbeth, as was Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth, but most of the rest of the cast faded in the memory very quickly.   There’s one particular scene with the witches that is very effectively creepy, but the rest is just… meh.  I wasn’t overly taken with the production – and it manages to miss the ‘double double toil and trouble’ speech completely – but I’m still glad I went to see it, and to compare two quite different interpretations of the same play.

Q1 Done

This coming weekend, the end of March, is the first weekend this year that I’ve had free.

Until Friday, it wasn’t free, but plans changed – which is fine. It had been a chain change – yesterday became free because of another change, which meant I could bring the planned day-trip for next Sunday back to this one, and it all worked out pretty well.

It meant that yesterday was daftly busy, with a day-trip down to see friends in North Somerset, with an early start leaving by 6.30am – just what you need on the day that the clocks also went forwards an hour – to get down there, and getting home at 23.30 in the evening. A Looooooong day, but a good one.   I’d already spent the Saturday in London, doing a fair amount of walking, and seeing Macbeth at the National Theatre (having already seen the RSC’s version of Macbeth last Saturday!)

Anyway, that all means that, at the end of the first quarter of the year, I actually have two weekends on the trot where I have nothing booked in or organised. Which is pretty weird, and is already making me somewhat twitchy.

I’ll still be doing things, and I’ve got some plans in place for both weekends – but they’re all more random and disorganised, it’s nothing scheduled or appointments.

And to be honest, that’s just fine with me.

Operatic

On Saturday, I went to my first opera – a production of Aida at the London Coliseum by English National Opera. As with going to plays and so on, I went in with very little knowledge of Aida or what to expect.

I did enjoy it – although it’s not necessarily something I’d plan to go to on a regular basis, or to see this particular opera again. I don’t yet know – but as with other things, I’m not going to base any judgements or expectations on a sample of one, so I’ll definitely be going to at least one more production.

*Personally*, I found that the first half dragged, but the second half was better. The staging throughout was really interesting though, which did help things.

The plot/story is hideously melodramatic (in my opinion) and would’ve been rejected from most soap operas as being too ridiculous. So yeah, the odds are I won’t bother with Aida again, but there’s plenty of others I can try instead.

All good fun, though…

Stratford

Over the weekend, I went to Stratford-on-Avon.  It’s somewhere I’ve only been once before, and had thought it was a long drive to get there.  Then when I got in the car on Saturday morning, I discovered it’s actually only 70 miles, and so only just over an hour.  Why had I thought it was much further? Because I’m an idiot – last time I went, I travelled via Cheltenham, for lunch at Champignon Sauvage (it was part of my Michelin Project last year)

So I got there a lot earlier than I’d originally planned/expected to, which gave me plenty of time to wander and explore the place a bit, and do some other stuff as well.  Last time I went, I got mislaid a couple of times (not majorly – it’s too small a place to get properly lost in) so I wanted to do things differently this time.

I really enjoyed wandering around – or at least until midday or so, once the coach trip people had all woken up and descended on the place, along with usual weekend shoppers and the like.  But it’s a nice place that’s easy to walk around, and my mental map of it is now a lot more comprehensive.

Then I met up with a friend, M, with whom I was having lunch, and then seeing a play later – see, there was a reason for going, it wasn’t just random!

We had lunch at Salt, a passion-project restaurant for the chef, Paul Foster, who used Kickstarter to fund getting it running. That was thoroughly enjoyable, and is definitely somewhere I’ll be returning to next year when there’s other RSC stuff on that I want to see.

Afterwards, we had some time to kill, so sorted out booking into our respective hotel rooms, then took a ride on the Stratford Ferris Wheel, and then pre-performance cocktails at the RSC.

Finally, we saw Coriolanus at the RSC (about which more another time) , and back to hotels.  I’d booked the room before realising how easy the drive home would’ve been, so that was a bit of expense I won’t need to make next time, but it still made for a decent weekend away from home.

How Things Change

While looking at historical August posts on D4D while writing a couple this morning, I came across this one.

So it’s just two years ago – almost to the day – that I saw my first Shakespeare play in a good decade or two, which was Hamlet, with Benedict Cumberbatch in the main role, at the Barbican.

Since then I’ve seen (in no particular order)

  • King Lear  – twice (Don Warrington, and Glenda Jackson)
  • Hamlet (Andrew Strong Scott)
  • Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe
  • Romeo and Juliet at the Garrick
  • Macbeth (open-air production near my parent’s place)
  • Tempest (Simon Russell Beale) at the RSC Stratford-upon-Avon
    and
  • something else that I can’t currently recall.

I’ve also got Coriolanus in Stratford-upon-Avon next month, and Lear (again) in Chichester in October.

There’ve been a number of other plays along the way as well, and it’s all been pretty damn good.  I’m just surprised I’ve wedged as much as I have into two years…

The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui

Following on from a friend of mine seeing it, I decided to have a look and see if there were any tickets still available for “The Resistible Rise of Arturo UI” at the Donmar Warehouse on the date I was available in London with no solid plans. (Last Saturday)   As it turned out, there was – just one ticket apparently “near the back”.  That’s OK, I’m tall, so yep, ticket successfully obtained.

As usual with my theatre trips, I knew absolutely sod-all about the play. Indeed, I’d never even heard of it before the previous weekend.  That doesn’t bother me anyway, and armed with a decent review from someone whose opinion I tend to trust, I was willing to go for it.   All I knew was the name, and that it was by Bertolt Brecht.

And I’m really glad I did.  The original play is an allegory based around the rise of Hitler in Germany, but using the gangsters of 1920s/1930s America to tell the story.   It’s been updated a bit – there were lots of references to Trump and his collaborators, along with an (odd but effective) sung intro to each major scene, using modern(ish) songs.

It’s very hard to not see the parallels between Nazi Germany and Trump’s rise, so it all felt very relevant.  But still interesting in a lot of ways.

The entire of the Donmar Warehouse has been changed for this production, and it’s been made into a 20s/30s speakeasy. As you walk in, the actors are already on ‘stage’ talking, dancing and the like. It certainly made things more interesting, having Lenny Henry come round in character as the club owner, talking to – and shaking the hands of – all the guests, as well as other cast members doing the rounds.

As an aside, one thing that was great was that a lot of the audience around me were a group of visually-impaired people, coming to the theatre for a play that would also be audio-described for them by a company called TalkingSense – and as it turned out, I got talking to one of the narrators, who was sat next to me for the first half, before going to narrate the second half.  I thought it was brilliant to open up theatre in this way  (and I also liked that Arturo Ui managed to use one of the visually-impaired people as his ‘witness’ for one section)

Ah yes, the audience participation.  This was something really interesting, and not something I’d expected at all – this version of the play makes great use of the audience.  In the photo above you can see a gallery with people on it – in the second half, these become the jury for a court case, with the judge sat in the middle.  Another audience member became the railroaded ‘accused’, and by the end of the play everyone is involved, either standing in support of Ui’s bid to be the main gangster (sorry, “protector”) or sitting – in which case their votes don’t count.

Note – I’m not giving away anything major here – and the production ends tomorrow!

Lenny Henry is particularly impressive as the titular gangster, developing through the production. But he’s also well supported by a generally excellent cast – all of whom also seem to be enjoying taking part in the play. (Which isn’t always the case)

All told, it’s a very dark vision of life – yet also extremely funny.   I laughed a lot more than I would have ever expected to, in a play based on the rise of Nazi-ism.  If the run were longer, I’d probably enjoy going to see it again. It’s quite a thing.

 

Weekend Walking

On Saturday, I went into London – primarily to see Don Juan in Soho again, as I’d booked a ticket for myself, and then my friends booked theirs for a couple of weeks earlier. If I hadn’t enjoyed it when I saw it with them, I’d have given up the ticket or whatever, but I did like it, so I was OK with seeing it twice.

This time though, I wasn’t going to be drinking beforehand. Among other things, there were some bits of the play I was hazy on, or couldn’t get to gel with the rest of it, so that was another reason to see it again.  Instead, it was a nice day, so I decided to go for a bit of a walk.

And, because I’m an idiot of world-shattering proportions, I came pretty close to breaking myself. I didn’t, but it came closer than usual to happening.

I hadn’t accounted for a couple of things – primarily, the sun and temperature. London on Saturday was bloody hot, and sunny. Me being me, I hadn’t really made any plans or preparations, I’d just got a route in mind, I’d got my boots on, and walked it. Two hours, and 7½ miles later, I was pretty knackered.

Because of the warmth, I also noticed that the plane trees along a lot of the route were chucking out something that affected the back of my throat, and made it harder to breathe – not life-threatening by any stretch, just harder work than usual – which made it all more tiring.

Having now read that Wikipedia page, I’m more sure of this – the quote

However, it has a number of problems in urban use, most notably the short, stiff hairs shed by the young leaves and the dispersing seeds; these are an irritant if breathed in, and can exacerbate breathing difficulties for people with asthma.

seems to confirm my theory somewhat.

By the time I’d got to the Albert Memorial, I was pretty much stuffed, and also thinking I’d probably been in the sun for longer than I should’ve been.  But by then, well, I was on the ‘final straight’ so I kept on going, just at a slightly slower pace.

I did OK though, and was then more sensible once I’d got to my intended destination, by opting to sit downstairs in the shade, drink lots of water, and generally take some time out. From there, it was a simple short stroll to the theatre, and once the play was done, I closed the circle of that route, and walked back up to Euston.

Once I was home, I was properly knackered, and my legs were more sore than I’d have expected as well. But happily it all recovered overnight and was fine, so I’m happy with what I did – I just could’ve been more sensible about the entire bloody thing.  I suppose that “being sensible” might actually happen one day, rather than only ever occurring to me in hindsight, but well, we’ll see.

 

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