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imageYes, the entire Clarke clan (including a new favourite child) trooped to the Barbican last night to see the  much-trumpeted, much hyped, much anticipated Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Hubby and I had seen him on stage before in the fantastic Frankenstein at the National, and of course I’d also adored him as Sherlock.

And he was good. Yes, he really was. You have to watch him when he’s on – your eyes are drawn to him. And he is amazingly physically adept – climbing up and down the huge ‘last supper’ dining table in the midst of a huge country house that is Elsinore and he delivers text in an easily digestible way. But no one gives a shit about him. Or any of the characters. We can’t – somehow all the real emotion has been sucked out of the play.

I don’t know Hamlet well enough to be able to tell you what was missing or moved around. Was it meant to be seen that he was really pissed off he didn’t get to be King rather than sent mad with grief so threw his toys out of the pram and broke the whole dynasty like a spoilt only child? “I’m the King of the castle” perhaps should have been the opening song rather than Nature Boy….

So I loved him, loved the vast set. hated the pointless costumes which were non-descript.  Couldn’t get Ophelia at all –  pathetically child like and too quirky to ever have been believably loved by Hamlet or seen as a future daughter in law by Gertrude – she came across as about nine years old. Polonius and Gertrude each had their moments but were essentially dull and leaden, and don’t get me started on Rosencrantz and Guldenstern who were like intense sixth formers playing their parts. The grave digger was great (as was the person catching the skulls he threw!) but really this wasn’t one of those Shakespeare productions where you come away thinking how amazing it is that we are still watching this 400 years later. It was one of those where you think “I can see why people don’t like Shakespeare”. But I still love the Cumberbatch and would go see him in anything he’s ever in on stage. I just wish he’d had the benefit of a better cast and director.

The Globe

The Globe

I love the Globe and it is a wonderful setting, but this all-female production was sadly lacking. It started with an embarrasingly bad drunk scene and I feared it would be a cringeworthy evening, but it did improve. Somehow there was little real connection between the characters – not helped by them playing a number of roles each so it was hard to keep track – but some fine individual performances. Unfortunately they were not enough to carry this play which was directed as a farce rather than a story with high comedy moments and had me at times thinking it was an amateur production.
“If I be waspish, best beware my sting.” Two stars.
The Globe-trotters this evening

The Globe-trotters this evening

King Lear at the Almeida

September 27, 2012

Overdosing on Shakespeare, we went to see Jonathan Pryce as King Lear. I have to admit I wasn’t looking as forward to it as I had been Twelfth Night. But I really enjoyed Pryce’s performance as a tyrannical, abusing father who flicks between seeming good grace and humour and vengeful, threatening animosity. His madness and moments of lucidity made him more human and vulnerable than previous productions I’ve seen.

Unfortunately none of his three daughters (or their husbands) did anything for me, and these are key roles and relationships to make this play ignite. But their acting was somewhat overegged and one-dimensional. Which is a real shame as this prodcution introduced the idea that Lear had abused his daughters, and would do so again if he didn’t get his way.

The fool was excellent, as was Gloucester who gets his eyes gouged out, and the lighting made me truly believe there was a raging storm – wonderful. Edmund too deserves praise for his humour and lightness of touch that endeared himself to us. The first ‘half’ –  90 minutes – is  much better than the second  – 50 minutes – which seems to enter in to a world of ham acting and comedy simply to tie up lose ends and get it over with. I might have rested my eyelids for a moment during one of the numerous deaths. But over all three stars. Good, but not great.

And the seats in the Almeida are bloody uncomfotable for a production as long as this!

Atmospheric setting at the Globe. And it stayed dry!

Last night we abandoned Australian rels to go to the first night of Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry in Twelfth Night at the Globe theatre. It marked Stephen Fry’s return to the stage after running away with stage fright (or was it after a bad review?) 17 years ago. So I expect he was nervous.

The Globe is just a magnificent setting and it was packed to the gunnells. And it was great. Played full on for laughs and they got them. An all male cast excelled as women dressed as men dressed as women. Yes, Twelfth Night is the one with the twins who each think the other has drowned at sea, so the girl becomes the male valet to the King and has to court Olivia for him. Olivia, in mourning for her brother, refuses to acccept his advances, but falls for the girl/boy messenger. Meanwhile Malvolio, Olivia’s servant is hopelessly in love with her, and the girl/boy valet in love with her boss…….. You get the idea. Oh what a tangled web we weave. When we also intoduce a drunken cousin, his friend who also tries to woo Olivia, Olivia’s maidservant and a fool, the longlost twin brother and his manservant we have near farce.

Yet again Rylance alone  is worth the price of the ticket. He plays Olivia and the stage lights up when he is on. He is absolutely fucking awsome. Dressed head to toe in a corseted black dress, with a high neck ruff and a black veil so we cannot see his face. Yet STILL he can convey every inuendo, every slight winsomeness, every beat of melancholy. He physically embodies the character as if he is transformed in to her. He glides across the stage as if on wheels. He plays with the language with such ease and accomplishment – tripping over words, stumbling as if they are just being formed in his head. One forgets entirely this is Shakespeare. This is sheer fun and enjoyment.

His maid (reminiscent of ‘Nursie’ in Blackadder) was also completely on the money – with marvellous expression and intonation. And perfect comedy timing. The final ‘woman’ – Viola – too was a complete victory – (s)he was played expertly and you could watch her falling in love with her boss and really believe it was happening.

But what about Stephen Fry? Well he was good. But not brilliant .Too much like Stephen Fry. Who I love. And I’m not meant to love Malvolio initially.  He was not unlikeable enough at first and then not quite smarmy and smiley enough after the trick is played on him. I think he needs to push it to the edge more and be more extreme in his portrayal, but this was his first night and I think he’ll warm in to it. The one that perhaps let them down was the jester – which is actually a big part and his diction wasn’t clear enough for me so I missed things particularly in the first half.

But if you get chance to see it do go – it’s Shakespeare as it should be.

Last night we became London tourists and took the tube to Southwark from whence we marched towrds the river and rested awhile at the Globe theatre. The Olympic travel warning had made us decide against driving or cabbing and sure enough the tube was much busier than a standard Saturday evening and by the fact that they meandered rather than strode with purpose, we could tell most people weren’t Londoners .

The sun was shining and we found a table in the theatre tavern where we gorged ourselves on a three course pre-theatre menu whilst I looked across at Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece and the Millenium bridge. This was a vista of content, made glorious by the summer sun and talk.

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Entering the Globe theatre

And so then we made our way to the open air theatre  – looking marvellous with the crowds packing every bench and standing in the centre. An American woman was so enthused as she felt she really was stepping in to the set of Shakespeare in Love. And the minstrels played from the balcony as we awaited the entrance of Richard, brother of the King to deliver those infamous lines -Now is the winter etc.

And there he was. Mark Rylance, who I have raved about before and repeat it now. He is so easy in his role, so at home with it he plays with the words, the intonation, the impediments and of course the audience so that we understand his motivations, his plotting, his conniving and his anger. We laugh with him as his lightness of touch relaxes us and we are in on his jokes. He is brilliant. He plays the physical disability down – there is a hump of sorts, a withered forearm and slight limp, but he plays his twisted bitterness, resentment and anger in a way that lays it open for us.

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Mark Rylance as Richard III

The play is cast using only men – as it would have been originally – and  it is the female parts that also shine as brightly. Particularly the incredibly moving exchange between Richard and Elizabeth (the mother of the two young princes he has had killed) as he tries to persuade her to arrange for him to marry her daughter. She is a wounded tigress fighting in defence of her offspring, as quick witted and sharp as Richard himself. Marvellous.

The first and final thirds are the most riveting, with a dip pre and post interval, but as a fan of the comedies and tragedies rather than the histories, I found this surprisingly enjoyable – and with the whole Globe experience adding to it. An easy four stars.

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