King Charles III

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Seen January 5 2015

Wyndham’s Theatre, London

A Future History Play by Mike Bartlett

Directed by Rupert Goold

Cast: Tim Pigott-Smith, Rory Fleck Byrne, Richard Goulding, Nyasha Hatendi, Adam James, Margot Leicester, Miles Richardson, Tom Robertson, Nicholas Rowe, Sally Scott, Tafline Steen, Lydia Wilson

This was the last play on this trip to London. Beforehand, we joked that we managed an entire five days without seeing a Shakespeare play, but after having seen ‘Future History Play’ King Charles III, I have to say we kind of did.

There’s some Lear (even quoted by Duchess Kate) and Richard II in there as well as elements of original practice. Add political intrigue, family issues, two very different sons and a ghost, et voilà.

In a nutshell, Charles refuses to sign off on a new law that practically makes privacy a thing of the past. While he is legally absolutely within his rights, this unusual decision is used by Prime Minister and leader of the opposition to rile up the public against the royal family and question the monarchy. The quick escalation and poor handling of the situation pits family members against each other as well. As if there weren’t enough ‘well meaning’ meddlers already, Diana’s conniving ghost jumps into the fray as well.

Charles is portrayed as a conscientious ruler and loving father, being unable to sign a law he finds alarming, supporting Harry when his activist commoner girlfriend is dragged through the mud by the media and not turning his back on William when it would have been understandable to a certain extent. Harry is the other person in the play who gets off lightly. He tries to live as normal a life as possible and make his own decisions only to realise he’s just a pawn on the royal chess board after all.

I can’t say much about the other members of the royal family without giving away too much of the plot, but they were all  recognisable and very well played. Mannerisms, body language and speech patterns were very close to their ‘templates’, while not overdone to the point of being Spitting Image figures but always real and flawed persons (ghost notwithstanding of course). The scene that most reminded me of Richard II (For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground/And tell sad stories of the death of kings;) when Charles still thinks making tea and having a conversation with William can actually change something was heartbreaking.

Harry’s girlfriend who started out as something akin to ‘the voice of the people’ unfortunately turned into a stereotypical ‘hear me roar’ girl who instead of evolving with the new situation she finds herself in just came across as petulant. A more interesting character is the kebab vendor who gets philosophical about the royal family with Harry whom he does not recognise, reminiscent of Henry V.

The unsettling and scary thing about the play is that it’s all entirely possible. Let’s hope there won’t be tanks guarding Buckingham Palace any time soon.

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!

Skylight

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Live recording from July 17, 2014 at the Wyndham’s Theatre, London

NTL broadcast Oct 23, Haydn English Cinema Vienna

Written by David Hare

Directed by Stephen Daldry

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Bill Nighy, Matthew Beard

Teacher Kyra gets visited by two ‚ghosts‘ from her past in her small east London flat. First Edward Sargeant bursts in, bringing beer and rap CDs and accuses her of leaving his family for no reason. He tells her of the death of his mother and that his father has been impossible to live with since.

Shortly after Edward leaves and Kyra has just started to prepare dinner, Tom Sargeant and his bottle of whisky make an unexpected appearance. In the next hours, while the spaghetti dinner is actually being cooked on stage, Kyra and Tom are not just talking through how they met, became a family and what then happened that tore them apart, but are also throwing a lot of uncomfortable truths at each other. Adding to the already existing conflict is wealthy Tom accusing Kyra of self-punishment and mocking her now unglamorous lifestyle while Kyra is calling him out on being out of touch with reality outside his well-to-do world.

While the production is very 1990s (please don’t bring that kind of jeans jacket back, ever), the play itself is anything but. Even as just a frequent visitor to London who keeps up with the news it is very clear to me that the gap between the Toms and the Kyras is growing bigger every year. Playwright David Hare went into detail regarding the relevance of the play in today’s Britain during the interval interview with Emma Freud and earned applause from the audience for being so frank.

If it sounds like a bleak evening, I can assure you that David Hare didn’t save his humour for interviews; there is also plenty in the play. It’s funny, sad and thought-provoking in equal measure. At one point during the play when Bill Nighy went into one of Tom’s rapid-fire diatribes, I just thought ‘holy ****, that’s a lot of lines there’.

Carey Mulligan (who is on stage the entire time), Bill Nighy and Matthew Beard make their characters believable and real, preventing them from becoming caricatures, which could easily have happened with the two Sargeants who seem to have a knack for drama.

If you have the chance to catch a re-run, go for it and maybe have some spaghetti first.

The Weir

The Weir by Conor McPherson
Wyndham’s Theatre (West End transfer from the Donmar Warehouse)

Directed by Josie Rourke
Risteárd Cooper, Brian Cox, Dervla Kirwan, Peter Mc Donald, Ardal O’Hanlon (nominated for 2014 Olivier Award as best supporting actor)

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Location, Location, Location….

When I learned I was going to go on a business trip to Liverpool and London, one of the first things I did was checking if there were any tickets to shows I had grumbled about not being able to see. Fortunately, the West End transfer of the Donmar Warehouse production of Conor McPherson’s The Weir had just begun, and I was lucky.

A few weeks later, and I really wished someone would finally manage to beam entire human beings (and not in a Galaxy Quest way if possible), so seeing shows at their original venue was possible more often. While I did think the play was very well staged and acted, I thought it got a bit lost in the bigger theatre.

The Wyndham’s fits 970 versus the 251 person capacity of the Donmar. The Weir is basically a chamber play – four guys and a mysterious female newcomer from Dublin talk in a pub – so not being able to properly read facial expressions from the first row of the Grand Circle took away quite a bit from the experience. It would be interesting if and how the opinion about the play changes from being seated in the stalls/royal circle/grand circle/balcony.

The play itself is quite funny and the conversation very natural. I could imagine most of it taking place in the last pub in Dublin I visited – if the patrons there actually had had full sets of teeth. This was only the second play directed by Josie Rourke I saw, but I do get the feeling that she is more interested in people, their actions, reactions and flaws than in flashy productions which I do appreciate a lot. By foregoing the interval (the play clocks in at 1hr 45min, so it should be possible to sit through it even for the most weak-bladdered), the risk of ripping the audience out of setting and story is also cleverly eliminated.

The one big disappointment for me comes down to marketing. I am so used to watching Shakespeare plays and the likes that I ususally know the story very well before watching the play, so I decided to go ‘spoiler-free’ for this one. Or would have, if the promo text plus the artwork for the poster hadn’t been such a dead giveway that reading the playtext beforehand wouldn’t have made a difference.

Look away NOW and scroll down to the next paragraph if you don’t want to  know the big secret. For those still reading: woman with mysterious past+girl under water+ghost story=ghost of dead daughter hunting mysterious woman causing her to leave Dublin and flee to the countryside, right? My sister’s opinion on this is that I am just weird and have – thanks to jobs past and present – watched way too many TV shows and movies.

I do hope the pubs in walking distance of the theatre send thank you notes to the production team and cast. If you walk out of the play without having the strange urge to drink some thrice distilled goodness from Bow Street or its brewed, dark cousin from St. James Gate, you have my utmost respect. If the actors really had to drink what it says on the labels, evening shows after a matinée should be a hoot. Maybe they should take this into consideration for their dernière 😉