A Streetcar Named Desire – NT Live Broadcast

September 16, 2014
Broadcast live from the Young Vic Theatre, London

“Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

By Tennessee Williams

Directed by Benedict Andrews

Cast: Gillian Anderson, Clare Burt, Lachele Carl, Branwell Donaghey, Otto Farrant, Ben Foster, Nicholas Gecks, Troy Glasgow, Stephanie Jacob, Corey Johnson, Vanessa Kirby, Claire Prempeh

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Richard III

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Seen: 13 September, Trafalgar Studios. Trafalgar Transformed: Season 2

Cast: Alasdair Buchan, Simon Coombs, Philip Cumbus, Martin Freeman, Madeleine Harland, Julie Jupp, Gerald Kyd, Joshua Lacey, Paul Leonard, Gabrielle Lloyd, Forbes Masson, Paul McEwan, Gina McKee, Mark Meadows, Vinta Morgan, Lauren O’Neil, Maggie Steed, Jo Stone-Fewings, Louis Davison, Stuart Campbell, Ross Marron, Tommy Rodger, Will Keeler, Tom Sargent 

Directed by Jamie Lloyd 

Jamie Lloyd’s ‘Trafalgar Transformed’ Richard III starts with a bang. Actually, long before that, Margaret is already taking her place on a bench underneath a picture of the current monarch, but I am not sure how many patrons thought her to be a fellow member of the audience, so things really get started with said bang that also shuts everyone up nicely.

The production is set in 1979, a winter of discontent in England with the colours used on stage painfully reminding me of my late grandmother’s idea of interiour design.

I actually feel a bit sorry for Richard III for Shakespeare taking so much artistic license writing this play that he is probably always going to be a hunchbacked mass murderer in people’s minds. On the other hand, if he hadn’t, we wouldn’t have gotten such gleefully evil performances as Martin Freeman’s.

There can be so much humour found in Shakespeare’s tragedies when the right people are involved and this version was as funny as it was bloody and tragic. Based on reports and twitter pictures of people looking as if they just attended a Walking Dead convention, I expected a lot more blood. The first rows even got equipped with shirts to protect their clothing. The blood spray was not for cheap shock value; considering how it happened when it did, it was actually realistic.

Margaret, who was often in neutral at the side of the stage when she wasn’t directly involved in the proceedings, was rather interestingly used in the big final battle. I probably missed a few deaths keeping an eye on her. The inclusion of technology – especially after said battle – was cleverly done and apparently no fish were harmed in the making of this production.

They managed to assemble a cast that worked very well together, both in the serious and the hilarious parts. Martin Freeman really pulled off Richard, adressing the audience to include them in his scheming once in a while.

There were rumours going around that young people who usually didn’t go to the theatre went to see Martin Freeman in the title role and were behaving badly, clapping at inappropriate times or taking photos. We didn’t see anything even remotely like that. Everyone behaved respectfully and watched with rapt attention.

However, I just read a report that 55% of patrons of this play were first time West End theatregoers. Way to go, Trafalgar Studios! I can’t imagine anyone having seen this to ever call Shakespeare boring again or thinking that theatre is for old people or whatever the current prejudices are. If it takes Dr. Watson-Baggins to show them, why the hell not? It wasn’t stunt casting after all – that just doesn’t work with this role.

No matter what reasons brought people to the Trafalgar, I doubt many left with complaints. This production was definitely something different – in a very good way.

The Crucible

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Seen: Friday, 12 September at The Old Vic

Cast: Richard Armitage, Harry Attwell, Samantha Colley, Marama Corlett, Jack Ellis, Ann Firbank, William Gaunt, Natalie Gavin, Christopher Godwin, Catherine Hammond, Hannah Hutch, Lauren Lyle, Anna Madeley, Paddy Navin, Sarah Niles, Tom Peters, Neil Salvage, Rebecca Saire, Adrian Schiller, Michael Thomas, Alan Vicary, Daisy Waterstone, Matt Weyland, Zara White

Directed by Yael Farber

Here we go with the last two reviews of our rather theatrical holidays in Ontario and London. Sorry I didn’t get those done earlier, I’m back at work and was running in a charity race.

After having been awake for about 30 hours (we don’t sleep on planes) going from Toronto to London, it was not at all disorienting to enter a theatre to find ourselves looking at a plaque honouring Ed and David Mirvish’s efforts to restore The Old Vic to its former glory. The lovely profile on Tyrone Guthrie in the program didn’t help either.

The Mirvishes and Guthrie are not the only parallels of our vacation spots however; The Crucible was not just performed at The Old Vic, but also in Toronto by Soulpepper at the same time. So just to clarify, this post is about the production in London only. The lady sitting next to my sister at Midsummer Night’s Dream in Stratford had seen the Soulpepper production though and gave it an enthusiastic two thumbs up.

My fear about falling asleep watching a play that runs for 3 hours and 30 minutes while being massively jet-lagged was absolutely unfounded. Not one minute was superfluous and even the group of school kids that seemed to have been in a theatre for the first time didn’t dare to make a sound. The decision to perform the play in the round was brilliant as there was no physical barrier between actors and audience which drew people into things even more.

The performance opened with a dance-like choreography and this element was used throughout the evening for scene changes, getting harsher and louder as the story progressed. It was a brilliantly lit, eerie way to change the settings while staying in the play.

As expected after the official artwork had been released, there is a lot of darkness and black costumes, but never as a gimmick. It just fits the play perfectly.

The cast played extremely well off each other and in some scenes you really could have heard the proverbial pin drop with everyone being completely quiet and at the edges of their seats. Some of the roles seemed very physically demanding; there was a whole lotta shakin’ going on for the girls when they claimed to see the devil and the characters whose lives fell apart also did so visibly, but always realistically.

Unfortunately, Arthur Miller’s play is very relevant again right now with religious zealots of all denominations running amock in the world and people voting in elections driven by fear rather than facts.

This brilliant production and its equally great John Proctor Richard Armitage – who probably drew some kids into the theatre who wouldn’t have bothered otherwise but wanted to see The Hobbit’s Thorin Oakenshield – is very impressive. If it makes people think about the parallels to current affairs, all the better. It certainly kept me wide awake and my brain rattling afterwards.

Both Soulpepper and The Old Vic ended their runs by now (we caught the penultimate performance), but if you want to judge for yourself if the standing ovation at the end was justified, you will be able to rent or download the Old Vic version on http://www.digitaltheatre.com soon.

King John

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Seen September 6, Tom Patterson Theatre

Cast: Tom McCamus, Patricia Collins, Andrew Lawrie, Jennifer Mogbock, Brad Rudy, Stephen Russell, Sean Arbuckle, Wayne Best, Daniel Briere, Graham Abbey, Brigit Wilson, Ryan Field, Peter Hutt, Adrew Robinson, Rylan , Wilkie, Jamie Mac, Anthony Malarky, Antoine Yared, Noah Jalava, Seana McKenna, E.B. Smith, André Morin, Karack Osborn, Carmen Grant, Deirdre Gillard-Rowlings, Brian Tree

Directed by Tim Carroll

Somewhere over the Atlantic now and still bumpy. The 10 fingers typing system gets interesting when netbook and hands are moving in different directions….

King John was our last play in Stratford this year, but also a first; out of the three of us, none had ever read or seen it, so we really weren’t prepared for the Graham Abbey show that was the first half of the play. It was absolutely hilarious and a few teenagers in the first row are probably never going to forget that making a loud noise during a performance can lead to you being dragged into things for the rest of the night.

To those who read my previous posts: you are probably going to think I’m repeating myself when I’m saying how great the entire cast was, but it’s true. I am not going to point out every single cast member – even though they would have deserved it – but I would watch the Abbey/McCamus (who is brilliant in reacting via facial expressions alone)/Arbuckle comedy hour any time, this (and Mother Courage) might be the best I’ve seen Peter Hutt do so far and the person who found Noah Jalava, who plays young Arthur should get an award. Most adults would have trouble with that many lines and the kid not only memorised them perfectly, but also displayed quite some acting talent.

There was one side-effect of the witty first half of the play: walking out, we heard several patrons complain that the second part wasn’t as funny as the first one. King John isn’t that well known and apparently the shenanigans at the beginning led some to believe they were watching a comedy which resulted in disappointment later on.

Speaking of shanenigans, if you are on Twitter you might want to check out the Ladies of Angiers (#ladiesofangiers) to see what they have been up to in Stratford in the last months.

One issue I had with the play: if that’s the way Austrians are being treated in Stratford now we might have to reconsider future visits 😉

Mother Courage and Her Children

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Seen: September 6 (Matinée), Tom Patterson Theatre

Cast: Seana McKenna, E.B. Smith, Antoine Yared, Carmen Grant, Randy Hughson, Wayne Best, Sean Arbuckle, Geraint Wyn Davies, Ben Carlson, Peter Hutt, Daniel Briere, Deidre Gillard-Rowlings, Jennifer Mogbock, Anthony Malarky, André Morin, Brad Rudy, Karack Osborn, Stephen Russell, Jamie Mac, Andrew Lawrie, Ryan Field, Brigit Wilson, Patricia Collins, Andrew Robinson, Cal Potter, Laura Burton

Directed by Martha Henry

Firstly, apologies for the delay in writing this. Not only were we running around like headless chickens during our time left in Toronto, for some reason it’s possible to get a decent internet connection in Stratford but not in the big city, so I couln’t have uploaded the remaining two reviews anyway. If you can read this, the connection over the pond was stronger 😉

We are currently getting shaken through over Newfoundland on the way to London where we are going to see The Crucible at the Old Vic later today and Richard III at the Trafalgar Studios tomorrow night before going back to Vienna (and a live screening of A Streetcar Named Desire), so there will be more posts some time next week.

There seems to be a second motto in Stratford this season next to ‚Minds Pushed to the Edge‘: Actors Mingling with the Audience. Before Mother Courage and her Children (Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder) started, some of the actors were walking around, chatting up unsuspecting patrons.

The stage was bare except for a chopping block and a ramp and of course once the play got underway Mother Courage’s wagon – both home and business to her and her children.

I have to admit I don’t care much for Bert Brecht or the play. German can be a harsh sounding language at the best of times, to me Brecht manages to make it sound downright ugly. I was still willing to give Mother Courage another try, not only because my sister wanted to see it and I was courious how it would be handled, but also because it’s sadly very current again with all the conflicts rising up in the last years. And of course it was performed in English.

When the cast and director were announced, it was getting clear that the play was in very good hands. Martha Henry is not only a great actress, but once more proved that she’s brilliant behind the scenes too. Seana McKenna is a formidable Mother Courage who almost made me sympathise with the character. Carmen Grant, Ben Carlson and Geraint Wyn-Davies are not just accompanying her along the way and help illustrate different phases and relationships in her life, their characters are all interesting and important to the story in their own right. Grant’s Kattrin is speaking volumes without a single line of text.

While I am never going to be a fan of Brecht’s, I actually really liked this simply staged and well-acted production and really recommend it.

PS: ‚Fichtelgebirge‘ really isn’t pronounced like that 😉

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

2014-09-06 16.06.31 Seen: September 5, Festival Theatre

Cast: Bethany Jillard, Liisa Repo-Martell, Tara Rosling, Mike Shara, Scott Wentworth, Maev Beaty, Michael Blake, Michael Spencer-Davis, Derek Moran, Stephen Ouimette, Karl Ang, Lally Cadeau, Keith Dinicol, Victor Ertmanis, Brad Hodder, Evan Buliung, Jonathan Goad, Chick Reid, Charlie Rose Neis, Hazel Martell-Abraham, Graci Leahy, Isabella Castillo, Brooklyn Rickert, Josh Buchwald, Savita Brickman-Maxwell, Gabriel Long, Josue Laboucane, Thomas Olajide, Thomas Ryder Payne

Directed by Chris Abraham

One of the countless things I love so much about the Stratford Festival is that you never know what you are getting and was that true for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Upon entering the auditorium, you are part of a garden party wedding, with decorations at the end of every second aisle and actors mingling with the patrons coming in until the play starts. That’s about as far as I will go concerning production spoilers (except for some info that was revealed in the Q&A after the performance) because I really don’t want to spoil it for anyone who is still going to see this play.

The best way to describe this production is probably that you have to see it to believe it – which also fits Evan Buliung’s Titania. Buliung and Jonathan Goad are alternating the roles of Titania and Oberon. September 5, Buliung was the swishy-dressed Titania, while Goad seemed to have a lot of fun playing a deliciously diabolical Oberon. As much as Stephen Ouimette dialled down his melancholy fool in King Lear, he cranked it up to 11 as Daddio of the Patio – better known as Bottom – in this one. He really got to show off his comedic chops, as did Mike Shara as Demetrius, Liisa Repo-Martell as Helena, Bethany Jillard as Hermia, Tara Rosling as Lysander and Chick Reid as Puck.

In case you are planning to see this play with a theatre-reluctant Star Wars fan, there is something in there for those too. I mentioned in my review of Man of La Mancha that I never laughed so much in a theatre as few years back at Pirates of Penzance at the Avon. That was nothing compared to last night. My abs and face hurt from laughing so hard for such a long time. There is a healthy dose of irony and sarcasm in the play and all the chaos is performed so perfectly, time flies by and suddenly it’s over.

The shortest way to sum up this production is ‚utterly brilliant‘.

Before I go on to the spoilerish As from the Q&A, one note for those who might be interested: there will be an ASL performance on September 20.

Bethany Jillard and Evan Buliung kindly participated in a Q&A after Friday’s performance. One of the first questions was if this production was going to be filmed. Disappointingly, it is not which is a crying shame. And don’t try to tell me it’s because of the music rights, I know there’s a way to clear this stuff, I used to do it.

One other question that tied in with something we actually experienced during the show was if there had been backlash for the production being rather progressive. Sadly, the reply was a clear ‚yes‘. Apparently the fact that there are same-sex couples and a guy in a dress causes patrons to yell out things, leave to come back and shout ‚may God have mercy on your souls‘ then leave again, and entire school classes to walk out. A lady behind us started to shout ‚this is ridiculous‘ at the use of sign language. Lady, if you don’t like it, shut up and air your grievances during interval or after the show, not during. Also please refrain from then being as noisy a possible, this kind of behaviour is unacceptable once you’re older than 2. The couple in front of us left during interval, every one else around us however seemed to have the time of their lives.

I was flabbergasted that school classes were walking out. Maybe teachers unable or unwilling to have serious discussions with their students after a visit to the theatre should think about what kind of values they are supposedly teaching. I’m 38 now and sometimes I really think we are going backwards.

On an entirely different note; I had no idea there were not enough signs in ASL to actually sign Shakespeare properly. The actors had to develop and improvise some things with their interpreters, who are currently working on an encyclopedia that is supposed to make Shakespeare accessible in the future. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is still on until October 11, click here for tickets: http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/OnStage/productions.aspx?id=24197&prodid=52393