Posts Tagged ‘Macbeth’

And so another year draws to a close, and it’s time to look back on another theatrical year. Here are the TheatrePunk awards!

So, in no particular order, here are the top ten. These represent the most fun I have had in a theatre this year. They may not be the best things to be staged in Britain this year, but they are the shows that gave me the most pleasure. The shows that I recommended to friends, sometimes saw twice, or the ones that really gave me something to think about. In summary, they are my favourites of the year…

Matilda (RSC)

Just an absolute joy from beginning to end. Intelligent, moving, funny and with a soundtrack that sticks with you and for two hours turns you into a child again. It was one of the best musicals I’ve seen in years, and I’m absolutely delighted that, having already had its sell-out run extended, it appears to be settling down for a long West End residency.

Frankenstein (National Theatre)

Probably the theatrical event of the year, and I’m sure it’s a show that will be appearing in many ‘best of the year’ pieces. Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller were incredible in Danny Boyle’s return to the UK theatre scene. I saw this with Jonny Lee Miller as Frankenstein’s monster and Benedict Cumberbatch as the doctor. They both shone, and perhaps because of that, the piece marked another triumph for the NT Live screenings, which allowed people to watch the cast in their alternate roles.

Journey’s End (Touring Consortium)

As a fan of anything related to the First World War, I was really looking forward to seeing this show. I certainly didn’t expect it to be as brilliant as it was. It was just spectacular. A masterclass in acting superbly staged and sensitively tackled. It was one of those shows that played on my mind for a long time afterwards, and remains one of the best adaptations I have ever seen.

Operation Greenfield (Little Bulb Theatre)

One of the few shows I saw twice this year. I was simply too good to only see once. Little Bulb have been quietly bubbling away for a while now, creating fun fringe pieces which challenge audiences and demonstrate the supreme talents of the small company. All actor-musicians.  The music in this piece is the thing you will take away with you more than anything. ‘Summer Flowers’ was a classic, ‘I am the True Vine’ was another, but ‘Zachariah in the Temple’, Operation Greenfield’s final triumph is the song that left you wanting to leap for joy.

Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer (Weeping Spoon)

If this were a list from ten to one, then there is a very good chance that Alvin Sputnik would top that list. It is, to put it simply, my play of the year. I can’ do justice to it’s brilliance in a paragraph, so I’ll sum up. It is a one man show about a man who dives to the bottom of the sea in pursuit of the soul of Elena, his wife. The story was perfectly executed using a circular screen in centre stage, a wonderful moustache, and one of the best puppets I’ve ever seen. Alvin Sputnik was a white glove and a white foam ball. It was theatre at its very finest and something every theatre fan should see.

Translunar Paradise (Theatre Ad Infinitum)

Sometimes I am so grateful for twitter, as without the buzz I saw on there I would never have spotted this little gem. Theatre Ad Infinitum have created a beautiful little show which certainly gets my ‘Best Show at the Fringe’ award this year. A simple story about an elderly man mourning his wife, it used masks and an accordion so effectively that every single person in the audience was crying by the end. I believe the show is now on tour so is definitely worth a trip – though bring tissues. Many tissues.

One Man Two Guvnors (National Theatre)

It’s about to transfer to Broadway following an extended run at the National and a transfer to the West End, which demonstrates just how popular this show has been. James Corden shines in this traditional farce, and demonstrates that he’s not just ‘Smithy’. Richard Bean’s script is tight, with jokes packed into every single moment. The dialogue is funny, but the physical comedy and slapstick is even funnier. Using traditional Commedia set ups gives the whole thing a structure and clarity that is rarely seen in comedy. Certainly worth the hype it has received.

Othello (Crucible Theatre)

This is my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays, which means I’m hyper-critical and very difficult to please when it comes to new productions of it. As the first paragraph of my review demonstrates, I hold a grudge. So I was delighted to find that the Crucible’s adaptation of Othello was brilliant. It was performed in a traditional style, allowing Shakespeare’s language to do the majority of the work. Dominic West was the best Iago I have seen, revelling in the maliciousness of the character without ever becoming repellent, a difficult task indeed!

Dunsinane (RSC)

I think this was too quickly dismissed by many. In my view, this represents one of the best scripts I’ve read this year. The writing was really sharp, with relevant points and a pace that made the whole thing trip along quite nicely, despite the strong subject matter. Jonny Phillips was also brilliant in the role of Siward – every time I see him he’s great, which makes me think that anything he’s in next year is probably worth a look.

Wastwater (Royal Court)

As a fan of new writing (though looking over this list, you wouldn’t know it) I am a massive fan of Simon Stephens. This trilogy of tales were all really strong, in my opinion, and provided a lot of food for thought  about relevant issues and social situations. I loved the scenes in the hotel room, and the way in which what was being left unsaid was much more important than what was being presented. It was a really strong piece, and the script has given me many joyous hours of reading and rereading.

If this were a top fifteen, the next five would be…

The Wild Bride (Kneehigh Theatre)

The Heart of Robin Hood (RSC)

Richard III (Old Vic)

Our Private Life (Royal Court)

Frisky and Mannish: Pop Centre Plus (Frisky and Mannish)

The Theatre Punk Special Awards 2011

Best Tearjerker

Honourable mentions must go to Alvin Sputnik, and Love Letters Straight from the Heart, but the winner for this has to be Translunar Paradise by Theatre Ad Infinitum. A play so sad that I ran out of tissues, because I was sharing them with the two people sitting next to me. The term ‘not a dry eye in the house’ is used too often these days. Translunar Paradise demonstrates that sometimes that’s really true. Every single person in that audience was crying.

Annoyed that I paid the ticket price award

13 at the National. Annoying because I had an inkling it wasn’t going to be brilliant, but I like Mike Bartlett and keep ignoring the times he disappoints me. I’d like to think it won’t happen again, but…

Numb Bum Award

Richard III at the Old Vic. Kevin Spacey was spectacular, the show was brilliant. But did it really need to be three and a half hours long?!

Daily Mail baiting award

Marat/Sade at the RSC. Over the din of the anal rape you could still hear Quentin Letts grinding his teeth in fury.

Up and Comers award

Curious Directive. Your Last Breath at the fringe showed real promise , and a style that was reminiscent of Complicite. Definitely a company to watch next year.

 Worst of the Year

This is the one everyone really wants to know, right? Well my award goes to Woyzeck on the Highveld by Handspring Puppet Company. Just dreadful from beginning to end. Badly written, poorly structured, and perhaps the most surprising of all, the puppetry was fairly slapdash. Simply had no redeemable features.

Happy Christmas fellow Theatre Punks, and we’ll see you in the new year!

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 Shakespeare For Breakfast

 Shakespeare for Breakfast

Shakespeare For Breakfast has become a staple of my Fringe experience; putting aside the free coffee and croissant you get with your ticket, the show is really just a great way to wake yourself up if you’re feeling a bit show-fatigued. This year’s production is Macbeth, but filtered through some High School movie clichés, and, as always, it’s fast-paced, funny and rather well written.

At Castle High School, Duncan is head boy and favourite of the overbearing and glory-hunting PE teacher, Mr Macduff. Meanwhile Macbeth (Joseph Morpurgo) is visited by three Goths, one of whom is hilariously portrayed a glove puppet, who predict his rise to be head of Cawdor House and ultimately head boy. When his ambitious cheerleader girlfriend, Beth, (Felicity Russell) hears of this, she schemes to embarrass Duncan and install Macbeth as head boy.

This year’s production is much better than it has been in previous years, and i really enjoyed previous years!  The writing is slick and treads that line between traditional and more topical jokes really well – the acting is also well above the normal standard. Tomas Wolstenholme is just outstanding as Mr Macduff, and his comic timing worthy of a much much larger audience. The rest of the cast are great too, though perhaps outshone slightly by Wolstenholme’s performance.

This is essentially a Fringe panto. There is audience participation, jokes about the tiny cast, a musical number, and a few blue jokes thrown in for good measure. It’s probably not going to win awards, it may not be innovative and life changing, but it’s incredibly good fun, and will set you in good stead for a day of Fringe fun. Highly recommended. 

Little Matter

 The River People: Little Matter

I feel this review needs some explanation. When I stepped into the tiny theatre set around a beautiful wagon, I first registered the delightful folk music filling the space, then I inhaled and my heart sank. The River People had, I suppose in an attempt to engage all senses, filled the air with inscense. Unfortunately for me, I am violently allergic to inscence and air fresheners, so was immediately dreading the following hour. I understand that not everyone had this problem, but I was immediately put off. I noticed quite a lot of other people coughing too – and spotted one mother subtly trying to give her son his inhaler in the middle of the show. Perhaps a sign or something similar outside the tent would help to warn people?

Anyway, I was understandably a little distracted during the performance as my arms broke out in hives and my eyes started streaming, but I struggled on as, despite my whinging, I really am a big fan of The River People.

Tucked away in a car park off Chambers Street, The River People present their usual blend of puppetry, music and storytelling, telling the story of a young man who feels he has not reached his full potential, wrapping this tale in magic and myth.

There are echoes of their previous production Lilly Through The Dark here as The River People once again examine the light and dark in all of us. However, where Lilly was driven by a fantastic story, Little Matter lacks this. The music, atmosphere and tehcnical skill are all there, but the story is not. The narrative is muddled and often appeared incomplete. What started as a tale of a man who did not live up to his potential became a confusing and convoluted trip into the subconscious; encountering potential children and dark characters along the way. And then, seemingly from nowhere, the whole thing was blamed upon an absent parent. I really wanted to like this, The River People are one of my favourite companies at the moment and they have bags of potential, but this one just doesn’t match up to the very high bar they have previously set.

Saying that there were some lovely moments of storytelling and puppetry, most notable the ogre of a boss with glowing green eyes. The music was also beautifully executed, and the design was great (though the lighting a little low for intricate puppetry). All four actors were brilliant actor/musicians, and there is something incredibly endearing about seeing such talented people appear so humble.

I am confident that with some polishing this show could be just as great as their previous productions. I wonder if the wagon signals a swing towards rural touring, because The River People would no doubt bring a lot of joy to smaller communities. 

Street Dreams

 Street Dreams

It appears I am on something of a puppetry binge this Festival. Street Dreams was the only time flyering actually worked on me, as it was handed to me while I was queueing for Swamp Juice, and as I had a gap I thought I’d give it a go. This is puppetry at its simple and glorious best.

The story is a simple one. A little hobo tries desperately to read his book in peace, but is distracted by his rubbish dump companions. Because of this, he decides to emigrate to the grassy land he spotted just a short umbrella ride away. When there, he realises that home really is where the heart is, and travels back to be with his old friends.

A silent and simple puppet show, Little Cauliflower use bits of scrap and things from the rubbish bin to create a rich and engaging world. The birds are made from carrier bags, his rubbish dump friends a rubber glove and old banana skins. It’s lovely to see the young company breathe life into these ordinary objects.

The main puppet, that of the hobo, could perhaps be a little more expressive – his movements weren’t immediately clear, and took some guesswork to figure out his intent, but you were willing to make that effort, as the company had instilled in this little puppet a warm and child-like personality.

I am unaware of Little Cauliflower’s work until now, but this show shows some promise. The music and puppetry is delicate, if not totally accomplished, and the story is really quite touching.  It’s a very sweet play, and I’m sure this would be particularly great for children, though may not have the universal appeal I have seen in other puppet shows.

And The Birds Fell From the Sky

 

Sitting in a darkened and dirty waiting room, watching a broken TV relaying newsreels of a freak occurrence in America, I wondered what I had let myself in for. I had no idea what Birds Fell was when I bough the ticket, but, like most things at the Fringe, a friend had recommended it, so I had to give it a go.

Performed every 15 minutes for only 2 people, its worth seeing this piece if only for the technological innovation involved. The show takes place on some video goggles, while you and your companion are drawn, both physically and mentally into this world taking place before your eyes.

The smells and sensations around you completely match up with what you are experiencing visually – a clown spits alcohol over you and you feel it hit your skin, smelling the pungent alcohol smell in your nostrils. Objects are placed in your hands, and you are seated in a car and taken on a wild ride.

The difficulty with this show is the story itself. If there was a story, I was so disoriented by the style that I found it impossible to follow, and even if I were completely nonplussed by the goggles, it would still have been incredibly difficult to understand. As a piece of art it was certainly interesting. The car full of clowns was a powerful image, but they overcomplicated the story for the audience who are new to this style.

Those niggles aside, this is a nicely innovative show that stays with you for some time. I particularly enjoyed all the small touches that made the show that bit more special: a phone number you can call afterwards, a keepsake that unravels to become a tarot reading, and a parish newsletter in the waiting room. This appears to be the start of something new. It covers ground that Alma Mater tackles a little more delicately, but the intent is the same. This is the next level of immersive theatre – first person theatre, if you will.

 

 

18/06/11

When we are thrown into the world of Dunsinane, Macbeth is all but defeated and the battle appears to be won. The soldiers we follow are trained in being a forest, and then thrown into a bloody skirmish. Peace takes hold of Dunsinane, but in Greig‘s adaptation, it isn‘t as simple as that.

Dunsinane follows the English officer, Siward, who seeks to impose order in Scotland after the death of Macbeth and Malcolm’s installation on the throne. He finds peace-keeping in the chaotic tribal run country fraught with hidden pitfalls.

When Siward orders his comrade to “Tell the men we’ll be in Scotland a little longer than expected.”, immediate parallels are drawn between 11th-century Scotland, and the current situation in the Middle East. The struggles faced by Siward, accompanied by an army ill-equipped to deal with the guerilla tactics of the native population, are fascinating to watch. The more the English officers and soldiers attempt to understand Scottish culture and the alien land they have been thrown into, the more hapless their efforts to tame it look.

The problems of negotiating a foreign land and its people are also wittily portrayed from the point of view of the common soldier, with one boys letters to his mother back home providing moments on levity and a stark insight into the morale of the troops.

This is definitely a character piece, and the performances are amazing. I first came across Jonny Phillips playing Iago at Riverside Studio’s – it was this performance that first ignited my passion for Shakespeare, so it was a delight to see him tackle this equally meaty role. He is glorious as Siward, conveying the bubbling frustration and confusion beneath his grizzled surface, while constantly trying to maintain his honour and principles.

Siobhan Redmond is superb as the formidable Gruach, the proud queen seeking to restore her son to the throne. While her accent is a little odd at times (which I find strange considering she is actually Scottish), she leaves the audience in no doubt that, while she is prisoner, she is the person who possesses the real power in Scotland.

In contrast to this, Brian Ferguson’s deadpan Malcolm is just hilarious. Sporting an oversized crown, his mannerisms and speech let the audience know immediately that he is not the man to unite the clans of Scotland, indeed, he seems to actively hate Scotland, and all the clan leaders to boot! He becomes a scene-stealer in any scene he finds himself in, peppering the otherwise depressing situation with sardonic witticisms that skewer Anglo-Scottish behaviour and highlight the futility of the situation.

The stage itself is wonderfully simple: a large Celtic cross perches on some stone steps, overlooking a rocky layered stage. This simplistic design allows for the fast pace we see throughout, with soldiers running through the Swan Theatre as though the battle is taking place just beyond the walls of the theatre. Live music is also handled brilliantly, with some very beautiful Celtic singing framing a lot of the action.

David Grieg’s Shakespearean sequel, expertly directed by Roxanna Silbert, is an outstanding addition to the RSC’s season. At 2 hours 30 minutes long, they appear to have cut a lot from the daunting 3 hour run time that many complained about at Hampstead Theatre; this seems to have created a much slicker play. The timing throughout this piece is wonderful, tripping delicately between comedy, tragedy and satire with the greatest of ease.

In a speech delivered cautiously by Malcolm, we come to realise that peace is not a default situation in this Scotland, but rather a rare freak occurrence, like a calm sea before the waves come. It is a depressing, but beautiful allegory, and one that demonstrates the futility of modern conflicts much more simply than any news report ever could.