Othello

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Seen August 26 2015, Haydn English Cinema Vienna

Directed by Iqbal Khan

Firstly, apologies to my regular readers for the lack of new content recently. My day job made it impossible to find the time to write up a review of the last live broadcast, The Merchant of Venice. Not that there was much so say about it except for it relying too heavily on Patsy Ferran and Shylock being too smirkily knife-happy for my taste with no visible conflict, but festered rage and bitterness instead. Pity, this can be done so much better as proven by Graham Greene’s dignified Shylock in the other Stratford in 2007.

We went to London last weekend to see Three Days in the Country and Hamlet (yes, that one) however and I hope I can squeeze in a night at the theatre during a business trip to London in a few weeks, so there is new stuff coming up.

But now on to the next of the bard’s plays that can be problematic to stage nowadays: Othello. Let’s start with what we see first: Continue reading

Love’s Labour’s Lost

11 February, 2015
broadcast live from the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-upon-Avon

by William Shakespeare

Cast: Sam Alexander, Peter Basham, William Belchambers, Edward Bennett, Nick Haverson, John Hodgkinson, David Horovitch, Tunji Kasim, Sophie Khan Levy, Oliver Lynes, Emma Manton, Chris McCalphy, Frances McNamee, Peter McGovern, Chris Nayak, Jamie Newall, Roderick Smith, Flora Spencer-Longhurst, Michelle Terry, Harry Waller, Thomas Wheatley, Leah Whitaker, featuring Teddy the Bear

directed by Christopher Luscombe

Continue reading

Coming up this year

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Hi there! Just to let those of you following know that this blog hasn’t been abandoned. Things have been even more busy than usual at work and since sleep is overrated, I also did a twelve weeks Edx course on ‘Shakespeare: On Screen and in Performance’ by Wellesley College which was a lot of fun, but also time-consuming.

The new year started just like the last one: with a trip to London (the photo above shows the Austrian alps from the plane en route there). We saw East is East at Trafalgar Studios, City of Angels at the Donmar Warehouse and King Charles III at Wyndham’s. The reviews are coming up asap! The latter two are only on for a few weeks more and East is East is now touring, so a quick spoiler should you be undecided whether they are worth it: definitely.

This blog is now one year old and I never thought it would be so much fun. A friend kept suggesting I should blog about my visits to the theatre and after dismissing the thought for years, another friend said she’d start a band if I started the blog, so I went for it, thinking no one would read my ramblings anyway. Boy, was I wrong. A huge thank you to all of you who read, commented, contacted me via the contact form or retweeted!

Another big thank you goes to my sister iwishyoumuchmirth, who has kindly been contributing reviews to the plays she’s seen without me or when my day has not enough hours to get a review done in a timely fashion.

I can already say that this year will be as full of theatre as the last. We will watch all broadcasts of NT Live and RSC (as long as I’m in the country) and I’m still hoping the three plays filmed at the Stratford Festival in Canada are going to be made available in Europe too.

Additionally, we have tickets to The Ruling Class at Trafalgar Transformed, there will be at least two Hamlets (one in Stratford, On and one at the Barbican in London), The Pysicists, The Adventures of Pericles, Taming of the Shrew, She Stoops to Conquer, Oedipus Rex, Possible Worlds and an amateur production of Ödön von Horváth’s Jugend ohne Gott (Youth without God). I’m sure there will be more productions announced within the year that we won’t be able to resist.

In the meantime, I’d like to recommend spending your time over at Mingled Yarns (her review of King Charles III convinced me to get tickets) and for those of you who understand German, Singende Lehrerin. Don’t open the e-mail alert for a new post of hers if the title contains ‘Stilblüten-Quickie’ and you are in public or at work. Her English students provide her with the bloopers, but her commenting them is what is going to crack you up.

For the Shakespeare fans: There’s a MOOC about Hamlet starting on Futurelearn January 19, followed by Much Ado About Nothing (both by the University of Birmingham in collaboration with the RSC). Also, should you not know her work yet, http://goodticklebrain.com/ (or @GoodTickleBrain on Twitter) is hilarious.

And now I’m off to write the promised first reviews of the year. Talk you you soon!

The Unbelieable Tragedy of Richard III. A Comedy by Michael Niavarani

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Die unglaubliche Tragödie von Richard III.: Eine Komödie von Michael Niavarani

Seen September 17, 2014 at Globe Wien (Marx Halle)

Written by William Shakespeare, Michael Niavarani

Cast: Michael Niavarani, Hemma Clementi, Eva Maria Frank, Susanna Preissl, Pia Strauss, Stefan Altenhofer, Jakob Elsenwenger, Georg Leskovich, Bernhard Murg, Michael Pink, Oliver Rosskopf, Manuel Witting u.a.

Directed by Vicki Schubert

This is an English language review about a Shakespeare(ish) play performed partly in German, partly in Austrian dialect at The Globe. No, not that Globe. Confused yet? Welcome to my world.

What happens when one of Austria’s most beloved comedians suddenly discovers William Shakespeare? He and his manager build a version of the Globe stage (not as a thrust stage however) into Vienna’s historic Marx Halle (formerly Rinderhalle – beef hall – due to its past as part of a slaughterhouse and also Vienna’s first wrought iron building) and include an entire pub while they are at it. I never thought I’d sit in the middle of my home town, half-pint of London Pride in hand and watch Richard III as a comedy.

Michael Niavarani pulled a Blackadder using Shakespeare’s play as background for the shenanigans of two original characters; a cook in York’s army (Bernhard Murg) and a shoemaker (Michael Niavarani) who haven’t seen each other since their shared childhood, run into each other by chance on the battlefield and decide to stick together and try their luck at court displaying flexible allegiances.

Even for those who have never seen or read Richard III before, the distinction between Shakespeare’s characters and Niavarani’s original ones is made very clear in the difference of speech. While the former are using language you would expect watching the original play, the two old friends speak in Austrian (Viennese) dialect and mock the nobles for their parlance.

The actors playing the classic characters, especially Michael Pink in the titular role, are admirably straight men and women to the hilarious and over the top jesters that are William Forrest (probably named thusly in order to include the good old ‘run, Forrest’ joke) and Fredrick Dighton. Adding to the merry cast – most of whom play several characters – is a troupe of parcours and stunt artists called ‘ape connection’.

Just like in the aforementioned Blackadder, there is a lot of license in regards to the story of the original play, so even seasoned Shakespeare enthusiasts don’t really know what’s coming next. It’s bawdy and at times a bit disgusting, but always funny. Probably just like the audience at the original Globe would have wanted it.

The only negative thing about the whole thing was that the stage was built too low. There were seats where the groundlings would have been in The Globe and if something was happening on the floor of the stage, only the front rows and the ascending seats in the back could see it. We were in row 7 and sometimes couldn’t see what was going on despite neither of us being short.

Long story short: If you ever wondered what would happen if you gave CPR to a severed head, this play is for you.

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.

King Lear

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Seen: September 4 (Matinée), Festival Theatre, Stratford Ontario

Cast: Colm Feore, Maev Beaty, Sara Farb, Liisa Repo-Martell, Stephen Ouimette, Jonathan Goad, Scott Wentworth, Evan Buliung, Brad Hodder, Michael Blake, Mike Shara, Thomas Olajide, Karl Ang, Derek Morgan, Xuan Fraser, Robert King, Josue Laboucane, Gordon S. Miller, Michael Spencer-Davis

Directed by Antoni Cimonlino

This was our second King Lear this year as well as the second one we have seen in Stratford. Even though the last time we saw this play here – also in the Festival Theatre – the production was underwhelming (no actor taking on the titular role should be allowed to direct it as well), it was never a question whether we wanted to see this production or not. Firstly, it’s Lear, secondly, the cast list is insane. Stratford regulars Colm Feore, Stephen Ouimette, Jonathan Goad, Scott Wentworth, Evan Buliung and Mike Shara on one stage was just too good to pass up.

Speaking of insane: not only is this version of Lear definitely cookoo (in contrast to Simon Russell Beale’s who was suffering from dementia), but so are the performances. I’ve seen Colm Feore in a lot of Stratford productions before, but this was an entirely different league.  No matter if he was angry, mad or desperate, he was always absolutely believable. Little touches like the left boot not being pulled up properly after the journey from Goneril to Regan helped illustrate the downward spiral.

It was great to see Scott Wentworth again, who was superb as Gloucester as well as Stephen Ouimette as a nicely understated fool. Actually, Jonathan Goad (still my favourite Iago) as Kent was a lot funnier than the fool.

The thunderstorm before and after intermission was extremely well done (and went on more quitely in the auditorium throughout the break). The only issue with it was that some people in the audience around us had trouble hearing what was being said on stage and yelled over the noise to ask each other who was on stage and what they were saying, so the actors were drowned out by those ‚considerate‘ folks.

That the behaviour of select members of the audience is the only bad thing I can say about this production should speak volumes. The play extended its run until October 25, so if you have a chance to go to Stratford and see this production, go online now and book your tickets before they are gone.  http://www.stratfordfestival.ca/BoxOffice/calendar.aspx?id=85

Still to come: Midsummernight’s Dream, Mother Courage, King John (all Stratford), The Crucible (Old Vic, London) and Richard III (Trafalgar, London)