Just before Christmas I was lucky enough to get to see the play of Neil Gaiman’s “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” at the National Theatre. It’s on for a comparatively short run – only about eight weeks, I think – and in the smallest theatre (the Dorfman) which only seats 400 people – so it’s fair to say that demand for the tickets were pretty high.
It’s been an eventful couple of months for “Ocean…”, as prior to the play starting there was also a new version released with illustrations by Elise Hurst (which is beautiful) although as I understand it the two things aren’t actually related or connected.
Anyway, the play itself is superb – I would say it’s probably the best thing I’ve seen this year – and the staging and lighting are excellent as well. It’s hard to explain things without spoilers, but basically the story of a man returning to his childhood home, and remembering the things that happened back then. It’s a lot more than that, with themes of magic, loss, change and sacrifice.
I truly hope that it goes on to another theatre, and/or on tour – if it does, it’s totally worth making time to go and see it.
As I said last week, this year’s Shakespeare intake has somehow ended up being all about the history plays. It’s not been an intentional set of decisions, just the way things have worked out.
I’ve already seen two productions of Richard II, Richard III, Henry IV parts 1 and 2, and Henry V this year. (And of course I also saw “Queen Margaret” late last year, which takes all of Margaret’s lines from Henry VI – all three parts – and Richard III and builds a play/story around that)
And now I’ve also booked to see the RSC’s production of King John later in the year.
All told, that means that of the histories, by the end of the year I’ll have seen …
King John Richard II Henry IV, Part 1 Henry IV, Part 2 Henry V
- Henry VI, Part 1
- Henry VI, Part 2
- Henry VI, Part 3
- Henry VIII
- Edward III
So, I’m more than halfway through the histories. Not bad, in less than a year.
This year, for some reason, it appears that my Shakespeare input is primarily consisting of various history plays – not something that’s been planned, but that’s how it’s worked out. Prior to this year I hadn’t seen any of them
I’ve already seen two different productions of Richard II this year, and last week’s Henrilogy of Henry IV parts 1 and 2, and Henry V. And last night I went to see Headlong’s production of Richard III at Northampton’s Royal theatre.
I was really impressed with the whole production – the set is small, making interesting use of mirrors and lighting – and overall I really enjoyed it.
The cast were excellent, and I found the entire thing far easier to understand than some of the others I’ve seen. (That may also be down to the source material, I don’t know for sure)
Obviously it’s not a happy play, but all the same, it was well worth going and seeing.
On Friday, I went with a friend to Shakespeare’s Globe to see their Henry season on one of the Trilogy Days.
It’s three plays, all around the two-and-a-half-hour mark, with a decent break between them. But all the same, it makes for one long-ass day. Particularly because the Globe’s seats (no way was I going to do the whole thing standing) are solid wood, backless, and pretty bloody unforgiving. Yes, you can hire cushions or a seat back, but even so, it makes it hard-going.
I hadn’t seen any of these before, and (as usual) went in with very little knowledge of the stories involved. I’d seen Richard II earlier this year so knew the prior events, but that was about it – and my history knowledge (as I keep on being reminded by things like this) is fuckin’ abysmal. (I’m also seeing Richard III this week – I must be a glutton for punishment!)
I enjoyed the plays – IV Part 1 and V more than Part 2, as I don’t really do well with the “political intrigues” type of thing. I think that seeing all three in a day meant it all gelled together better in my head, although I’m still going to need to read the plays and some of the history around them in order to build up the knowledge a bit.
It was worth going, and I enjoyed the whole day. I don’t know that I’d necessarily want to see any of them again any time soon, but I’m glad I’ve seen them.
So far this year, I’ve been to London to see two versions of Shakespeare’s “Richard II” – first at the Almeida Theatre, and then last weekend at the Sam Wanamaker theatre at the Globe. (I’m also seeing Richard III later in the year, as well as the Globe’s three-plays-in-a-day marathon slog of Henry IV Part One, Henry IV Part Two, and Henry V – by the end of that, I may be somewhat kinged out!)
The Almeida’s production was a modern interpretation, and much-abridged – it had a run time of 1hr 40mins, which was pretty much the same as the first half at the Globe. By comparison, the Globe’s was more traditional in how it was staged and performed, but with a cast entirely of Women of Colour (WOC).
It’s been interesting to compare the two, so I thought I’d write a bit about it here. Obviously all views are my own, and all that jazz. It’s also worth pointing out that I had done my usual thing of going in with no real idea of the story, chronology or characters, which sometimes doesn’t help.
I found the Almeida’s production to be far harder to follow – and primarily that was because of how it was being staged. The entire stage was made into a steel box, with no active exits (there had to be some, for getting on/off the stage at least, but they weren’t used during the actual production) which meant there could be no cleanups, no costume changes, and no scenery changes. That meant it was hard to actually keep track of who was who – and even more so with a reduced cast. As an example, one actor’s first character died off fairly early on, and they then played a different character (and possibly two) but still wearing the blood and costume of the first role – which meant it was pretty hard to follow. Honestly, I’d almost rather have just had the actors wearing placards with names on, in order to explain who they were at any one time.
Additionally, the abridging of the text – and the speed with which it was performed – made it even more confusing, with seemingly more focus on people chucking gloves at each other than the actual plot and actions.
So all told, I didn’t like the production that much – I felt there was too much that got rushed, or that made no sense at all. It was interesting in many ways, but also fairly high on the infamous “Load of old bollocks” scale.
The Wanamaker / Globe version
The production at the Wanamaker was (for me) far preferable. I’ve found I have very few issues with changing roles/stereotypes and doing things differently – particulary with Shakespeare, the story seems to take precedence over who’s doing what, so it doesn’t matter (to me) whether Richard is played by an older white man, or a coloured woman. I know it annoys purists and so on, but I truly don’t feel it matters.
I’d not been to the Wanamaker theatre before, but really liked it – the entire thing is lit by candles (with the exception of the windows ‘out’, which are lit changeably with LEDs, although it’s not intrusive) which makes for an interesting semi-authentic feel. (It also means that there’s a person in the cast/creatives list whose title is “Candle Consultant”, which is pretty special)
The production itself made a lot more sense to me – the cast size is similar (I think there’s one more cast member in the Wanamaker version) but because they’re allowed off-stage to change costumes for the different roles, it was far easier to follow who’s who and so on. Additionally, the extra run-time meant that it didn’t feel rushed, which also helped.
I’m glad I went to see both productions – but in this case I far preferred the more traditional version at the Wanamaker to the modern/short version at the Almeida.