The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Globe

Last week I was back down in London with work. I had a consultancy assignment on the Wednesday so traveled down Tuesday afternoon. Rather than spend the night in my budget hotel room I decided to see if I could get a ticket for the theatre. I’d never been to the reconstructed Globe on the South Bank and managed to get a seat for the production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Getting a seat was important for me. As a reconstruction of an Elizabethan theatre, most of the patrons have to stand in the area before the stage, just like the Elizabethan “groundlings”. But at my age I didn’t fancy standing for over 2 hours.

Untitled

The play is a comedy – a rather bawdy farce, in fact. The main character, Sir John Falstaff, was played by an actor from Salford, Pearce Quigley , who I’ve seen many times on TV and who played the father in Mike Leigh’s film, Peterloo.

The structure and layout of the Globe means that it’s easy for the actors to interact with the audience. And they certainly did during this play. I wouldn’t have liked to have been stood too close to the left hand of the stage last Tuesday!

Untitled

Although, being a too serious type of person (according to my family!) I usually would plumb for a tragedy rather than a comedy, but I enjoyed the production. The cast were very good, The production was light-hearted and there were plenty of laughs. Pearce Quigly was excellent in the role of Falstaff and his comic timing was pretty much perfect. For parts of the play I could have been watching Monty Python as Richard Katz, in his role as the French Doctor Caius, with a comical accent could quite easily have been mistaken for one of the French knights from Monty Python’s Holy Grail.

After the play, leaving the theatre, I had a good view over the City of London.

Untitled

It was a balmy evening so I walked back to my hotel, clocking up a few more miles towards my 1000 mile challenge target.

All in all a good evening and certainly better than sitting working or watcjing the TV in my hotel room

Stratford-upon-Avon. A walk along the river

IMG_6203.jpg

A couple of weeks ago I was in Stratford-upon-Avon for the annual conference of the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS). The conference started on the Tuesday but as I was running a professional development course the day before, I’d travelled over on Sunday afternoon. Although it turned hot and sunny in the middle of the week, Sunday afternoon was rather grey and showery but it brightened up later in the day, so after my evening meal I decided to get out for a stroll. Stratford is only a small, albeit pleasant, town and the obvious place for a walk was along the River Avon.

I crossed the river over to the “left bank”

IMG_6198.jpg

and then passed the Royal Shakespeare Theatre on the opposite side of the river.  Built in 1932 it was designed by the then 29-year-old Elisabeth Whitworth Scott, it was the first
public building to be designed by a female architect.  There was a major renovation of the theatre at the beginning of the 21st Century. While the facade was retained the inside was gutted and completely rebuilt and there were additions, including the viewing tower and new roof top restaurant

IMG_6202.jpg

There were plenty of swans swimming on the river

IMG_6207.jpg

A little further downstream I passed the Holy Trinity church on the opposite bank.

IMG_6236.jpg

Further on there was a footbridge and I crossed over to the right bank, now following the river upstream.

IMG_6231.jpg

I passed the Holy Trinity Church, getting a closer view of the church where Shakespeare was baptised and buried.

IMG_6214.jpg

It won’t have looked like this when Shakespeare was around, mind. Although some older stonework was visible it has the look of a Victorian neo-Gothic building, due to its restoration in 1836-7 and 1839-41.  I only found out later that Shakespeare is buried here, so, sadly, although I walked through the graveyard I didn’t visit his grave.

Carrying on I walked through the RSC gardens where there was a pavilion which had images of actors from performances at the theatre.

IMG_6215.jpgIMG_6217.jpg

A little further along I reached the back of the RSC building, with a view of the Swan Theatre

IMG_6223.jpg

Walking along the river side to the front of  the building I could see the bridge I’d crossed at the start of my walk. The sun was starting to set and the light was fading, but it was a pleasant evening and I felt like walking further, so I turned around and re-traced my steps, circumnavigating the river in the opposite direction.

IMG_6226.jpg

Othello at the Abbey

AT_Othello_Banner

When working away from home and staying in a hotel for five nights, like this week, it’s good to get out of my hotel room. So on Tuesday I booked a ticket to see the latest production at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. The Abbey, which opened on 27 December 1904, styles itself the National Theatre of Ireland. It’s located in the Centre of Dublin on the north bank of the Liffey in Lower Abbey Street. Traffic during the evening is always busy in Dublin, especially along the Quays. But roadworks due to the building of the new extension to the Luas tramline required a diversion in congested traffic to reach the Irish Life car park I intended to use. So the journey was more unpleasant than usual.

It’s 400 years since the death of William Shakespeare, and in celebration the Abbey’s latest production is one of his well known plays, Othello. Although I knew the general gist of the plot, it wasn’t a play I was particularly familiar with, so it was going into it with a relatively open mind. However, being a Tragedy there was a good bet that the main characters were going to end up dead.

As during previous visits to the Abbey, I enjoyed the evening. It was a modern dress production with the characters speaking in a variety of Irish twangs. Except for Othello, that is, who spoke in a distinctive West African accent. There were some strong performances, particularly Marty Rea as a sly Iago. He spoke in a Northern Irish accent and looked rather like a young Gerry Adams.

13267699_10153682546635642_8427490288346917665_n

I also enjoyed the performances by Karen Ardiff as Armelia and Gavin Fullam as Roderigo. Peter Macon was a powerful Othello, if a little bombastic, and Rebecca O’Mara was an attractive Desdemona.

Othello is brought down by the “green eyed monster”, his jealousy, engineered by Iago who was motivated, no doubt, by racism. I wasn’t entirely convinced by how easily he was able to manipulate Othello and induce his jealousy. I guess that’s a weakness of the plot, partly due to the inevitable time limitations, but I’m not sure that the production got this completely right.

Despite this reservation it was an enjoyable evening, and a much easier drive back to the Naas.

Romeo and Juliet at Blackwell

Theatre/2015/Globe/Romeo & Juliet/CG

While we were on holiday up in the Lake District, the London based Globe Theatre’s touring company were performing Romeo and Juliet in the garden at Blackwell on three consecutive evenings, organised in conjunction with the Bowness based Old Laundry Theatre . We decided we’d like to and see it as we weren’t staying too far away.

DSC06146

As we’d left booking tickets to rather late the performances on the Monday and Tuesday were fully booked but we managed to get tickets for the Wednesday. This ended up working out quite well for us. The booking website was clear that the performance would go ahead in all but the most extreme weather conditions. So we made sure we had our waterproofs with us. Luckily, we didn’t need them. Although it had rained for the first two evening the Wednesday performance started in bright sunshine and it stayed dry. However, the temperature wasn’t so warm, especially as the sun began to go down, and we needed to wrap up well. The lamb stew and coffee we bought helped to keep us warm as well.  The setting, by the side of the house with views of Windermere, Grizedale forest and the Coniston Fells was familiar to us due to our regular visits to Blackwell, but magnificent none the less.

DSC06144

DSC06148

The play was performed by a small company of only 8 actors most (in fact, all except the two leads) had to play multiple roles, differentiated by their costumes and clever use of regional accents. They performed on a “double decker” mobile stage, very useful for the famous balcony scene but also cleverly used throughout the play. Its design was based on those used by Elizabethan companies, when most plays were performed by travelling players.

DSC06145

I’ve never seen Romeo and Juliet before – either on stage or the films made of it – and never read or studied the text. But the plot was familiar to me, so there were no major surprises. I thought the ending was a little weak. The warring clans were rather quick to make up after the deaths of the two lovers, but hey, who am I to criticise the Bard!

The company pulled the humour out of the play, more so than most productions (I was told!) and there was effective use of music too. The play started and finished with the actors playing instruments and singing and music and other sound effects were used to enhance the mood throughout the performance. The two main roles were played by young actors – Juliet was only meant to be 14 after all. I thought they did well. There were strong performances from Sarah Higgins as the nurse (with a broad Scottish accent) Matt Doherty as Tybalt, Paris and a Geordie servant, Tom Kanji as Benvolio and Friar Laurence and Stephen Elder as Juliet’s father.  The latter was particularly good in the scene where he insists that Juliet marries Paris, seamlessly going from the loving father to enraged dictator.

The performance finished as it was turning dark and we had a 30 minute journey back down the country roads to our cottage.

All in all an enjoyable evening.

Hamlet at the Royal Exchange

hamlet

I’m a bit late getting round to writing this up, but a couple of weeks ago we went to see the latest production at the Royal exchange – Hamlet, one of Shakespeare’s most well known plays. I’ve never seen a production of the play before and only had a sketchy knowledge of the plot as it wasn’t one of our set plays when I was a school. I knew that Hamlet was the Prince of Denmark, but the Royal Exchange had well known local actress Maxine Peake playing the lead role. She played the part as a man, though. However there were a few gender changes in the cast – Ophelia’s father had become her mother, one half of Rosencratz and Guildersterm was female as were the two gravediggers. These changes, increasing the number of female roles, didn’t seem to affect the story although, so I’ve been told, there were some omissions from the story with no mention of the war with Norway and Fortinbras, the King of Norway didn’t appear at the end to claim the crown when (spoiler alert!!!!) all the main characters had killed each other (or themselves). The latter was no surprise really, it was a Shakespeare tragedy after all.

The production is pretty much a sell out. We couldn’t get the tickets we wanted for a Saturday, our usual night for the theatre, so we had to settle for Tuesday night which meant going over to Manchester straight from work. I got something to eat before the play and as it was a long production I had a dash to the car park to make sure I was able to pay the discounted price –it goes back to the normal exorbitant cost after 5 hours. I made it with a few minutes to spare and would have been quite annoyed if I had to missed the deadline by just a few minutes. The charge would have more than doubled from the £5 discounted cost for theatregoers.

As usual a great production with an excellent cast. Barbara Marten, who was recently on TV in The Mill as Gertrude, John Shrapnel as Claudius were particularly strong. But the star was Maxine Peake. It’s not the first time a woman has played Hamlet – that honour probably goes to Sarah Bernhardt. But Maxine put her own stamp on the role. She played it as a man,nt a woman, and came across as a very convincing young man. Mad as a hatter, I thought, but was he?

Twelfth Night at the Everyman

13898103935_856fb80cef_b

It’s a while since we’ve been to see a production at the Liverpool Everyman theatre. For the last two years it would have been difficult as the buidling has been completely demolished and rebuilt. It reopened a few weeks ago and the first play was Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. The run finished on 5th April but we managed to catch it a few weeks ago. And very good it was too.

An excellent production with some outstanding performances. Mathew Kelly as ‘Toby Belch’ was extremely good as was Nick Woodeson as “Malvolio”, Adam Keast as the pompous as “Sir Andrew Aguecheek” and Paul Duckworth whose performance as “Feste” reminded me of Lilly Savage. But the cast as a whole were very good.

I wasn’t familiar with the story of Twelfth Night – my study of Shakespeare at school concentrated on tragedies and history plays, except for Midsummer. Night’s Dream we didn’t study any of the comedies. Janice knew the play but I told her not to tell me anything so I could experience it afresh. And. I enjoyed it very much. The beginning was little contrived. I couldn’t understand why Viola wanted to dress as a man. But that didn’t really matter. It was a device.

13105034084_78467d6707_b

The production was excellent right from the beginning with Viola and the Sea. Captain appearing on stage through a pool of water. A very dramatic entrance. The main comedy scenes were extremely well done. They were funny. Slapstick, with excellent timing by the team of actors. And some improvisation too. At one point they brought out a trolley of cakes and jellies and started dishing them out to the front row. They also involved one of the ushers in the scene who ended up with a custard pie in her face (I spoke to her at the interval and she told me she wasn’t expecting that). The improvisation occurred when one of the audience put a couple of empty jelly cases back onto the trolley. Suddenly the actor playing Malvonio (well known TV actor Nick Woodeson) pointed at him and shouted "leave those jellies alone" and the other members of the cast then played along. Excellent!

After the applause at the end the cast came back on and started to dance around the stage in a choreographed routine with the audience all joining in by clapping along. This routine lasted for several minutes and finished with balloons and party streamers descending from the ceiling. Then it all ended. No one actor singled out for particular applause as is usually the case, but a recognition that this was an ensemble piece. Very democratic and very right too.