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.
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.
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.
As part of my ongoing education about Shakespeare plays, I went with my friend M to see Troilus and Cressida at the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon on Saturday.
As usual, I knew sod-all about it beforehand – I’d figured some of the basics (that it was around the Trojan war and so on) but that was it.
It’s an interesting production, with extra percussion and sound created by Evelyn Glennie, and in some ways feels like it’s a mix of Stomp and Shakespeare. (Which isn’t a bad thing, in my own pantheon of opinions/preferences) It’s also a fairly modern staging, with shipping containers taking the place of tents and so on, whereas the costuming (and in some cases lack thereof) is more traditional. So it’s a bit confused, but in a way that I liked.
I was, to be honest, less taken with the play itself. It was interesting enough, and enjoyable enough, but at the same time I don’t know that it’s one I’d make a big effort to see again.
Weirdly, Troilus and Cressida themselves aren’t really major roles within the play – they’re on stage a lot less than most of the other primary characters.
All told, there’s a lot of focus on political intrigues and deal-making as well as the war itself, and it makes for a complicated script and set-up that can sometimes be confusing.
So yes, I enjoyed the entire thing and I’m glad I went. But there are other Shakespeare plays I’d prefer to see before seeing Troilus and Cressida again.
Last night, I went to see the new play “Touching the Void” in at the Royal part of the Royal and Derngate in Northampton. Based from the film that’s based on the book by Joe Simpson, and all three are the story of Simpson’s near-fatal accident on a climb of a mountain in Peru.
It’s had some very good reviews in the media from the Bristol part of the tour and looked interesting, so I booked a ticket to see it in Northampton.
And all told, I have to say I was really impressed with the play as a whole. The staging is really clever, making use of tables as an initial example of a rock-face, and it’s also a hugely physical production, with a large suspended structure being used to tell most of the story of the mountain climb.
There are a couple of odd bits (two musical numbers in particular seem pretty stramge) and I personally found the last five minutes to be a bit of a let-down, but all told it’s a very very good production, and worth going to see if you get a chance.
I’ve liked all the films by Martin McDonagh – “In Bruges“, “Seven Psychopaths” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” – but didn’t know until this year that he’s also been a prolific playwright.
(This, it turns out, isn’t unusual – the knowledge of McDonagh’s works seems to be pretty polarising. I haven’t yet met anyone who could blather about both sides of his work – people know either the films or the plays, but rarely both, and are surprised to learn of the other side)
Back in January, it was announced that there would be a new McDonagh play premiering at the Bridge Theatre in London, and on spec I thought I’d book tickets and give it a go. (Still knowing nothing about his plays) The play was called “A Very Very Very Dark Matter” (always a good omen) and the description for it was…
In a townhouse in Copenhagen works Hans Christian Andersen, a teller of exquisite and fantastic children’s tales beloved by millions. But the true source of his stories dwells in his attic upstairs, her existence a dark secret kept from the outside world.
As it turned out, I managed to get tickets for the second performance – previews rather than “proper” performances, but still, second ever one. Which is pretty good, by anyone’s standards.
On Saturday, that’s where I was. And it’s a strange old production for sure. I’m fully aware that I have other friends going to see it still, and I’m not tosspotty enough to spoiler it at all (which makes this a bit harder to write) but it’s a weird, dark, sweary and scabrous affair.
Jim Broadbent plays Hans Christian Andersen as a fairly unpleasant human being – utterly self-centred, but also a quite spectacular idiot – who is taking advantage of the source of his stories. He also goes to visit Charles
Darwin Dickens (a regularly repeated joke through the play) who is played by Phil Daniels as an exceptionally sweary (and very funny) Cockney – and who may also be housing a similar source for his stories.
Along the way there’s violence, creepy attics and puppets (and arachnophobes should be aware that one of them is a big spider), time travel, writers, lots of swearies, and general weirdness. In short, it’s a Martin McDonagh script.
All told, I did enjoy the play – although I did feel that it could’ve been better, and made more of the subject matter it had – but I don’t honestly know that I’d want to see it again…
A couple of weeks ago, I read a piece on the BBC about a new play, “Queen Margaret” that was being staged at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester.
“Queen Margaret” is Margaret of Anjou, who has parts in four Shakespeare plays – Henry VI parts one, two and three, and Richard III – and across those plays, she has the most lines Shakespeare wrote for any part. For Queen Margaret, the playwright (Jeanie O’Hare) takes those lines and adds new ones to connect all the extant scenes.
Anyway, it all sounded interesting enough that I booked a ticket for last Saturday’s matinee performance, and made a day-trip of it. It’s easy enough – the train from Milton Keynes gets to Manchester in 90-100 minutes, which brings it well within day-trip range. I certainly couldn’t do the drive in the same time.
I’m really glad I did so, too – I thought the entire play was excellent, and done well enough that you couldn’t easily tell who had written which lines. (Although I’m no expert on those Shakespeare plays, so if one were super-familiar with them then I assume it’d be easier to separate the two writing styles) The whole thing held together really well, and I enjoyed it thoroughly – while also learning a lot about all of the stuff around Henry VI and Richard III.
The run finishes this week (on Saturday 6th October) and I really hope that it’s generally perceived as having been excellent so that it gets a longer run, and ideally comes down to London and elsewhere. In my opinion, it thoroughly deserves it.