Theatre at Home

Theatre

As theatres are closed across the UK during this time many theatres are facing potential closure and are screening past plays and performances online with the hope of keeping Londons theatre scene alive for the future. Some of the plays being broadcasted are free, with an option to donate, and others are screening them as though you are going to the theatre. Here are my reviews of some of the ones I have managed to watch so far. Some of the plays I am mentioning are no longer available as, the national theatre screen their plays for a week only, whilst others also put time constraints on the availability to watch.

The importance of Theatre

Theatres are places for storytelling and there is nothing like being sat with other theatre-goers watching a story unfold live. Unfortunately, during this time we cannot have that collective experience but thanks to companies like National Theatre Live and the passion of independent theatres we are able to enjoy theatre from the comfort of our homes. Being able to portray a story and make it captivating on a stage seems so difficult, yet when its done right it can really add to the story. Theatre, as it is live, involves so much symbolism and creativity with regard to the set or the body language used, to portray a story. And storytelling is so important, particularly in times like these where we might want escapism or reminders of past crises or comfort or a few laughs. These are a few productions I have watched at home that I loved…

Coriolanus

Tonight, the national theatre are screening Shakespeares Coriolanus directed by Josie Rourke (former artistic director of the Donmar and directer of films like Mary Queen off Scots) and starring Tom Hiddleston as the title role.

I was fortunate enough to be able to watch this prior to lockdown and it is an incredibly compelling, modern-feeling take on the play, they really try and quite successfully, make a claim for this being one of Shakespeares best plays. Coriolanus is the hero and defender of Rome but his time of glory may be at an end when there is unrest within its walls. Its a tragedy of political manipulation and revenge, putting into question the purposes and successes of democracy and war. Many find it an unaccessible play as the title character is headstrong and for the most part appears devoid of emotions, however in this adaptation this element is what makes the play so captivating and relevant. They frame this practicality as a man working out his identity as a man, paralleling the personal and the political worlds of the play.

The staging is stripped back, fully focusing on the inspection into human nature and politics of the day. I always think that Shakespeare on stage works best when stripped back – taking away the pomposity, the costume, and all that seem inaccessible to a modern audience – when Shakespeare plays are acted well, then the body language and facial expression speak the words into timelessness. I highly recommend it. Coriolanus is available to stream on the national theatres YouTube channel for 7 days.

The Tempest

Continuing with Shakespeare… The Globes ‘The Tempest’, available on BBC iplayer as part of the ‘Culture in Quarantine’ series, is one of the best adaptations of this comedy that I’ve seen plus you feel transported back to Shakespeare’s day as it is filmed at the globe. The Tempest is centred around Prospero, the wrongly exiled duke of Milan. He is in command of the spirit Ariel (played by Colin Morgan) and has enslaved the native to the island, Caliban. Using magic, he causes the king of Milans ship to be wrecked and all on board are forced onto the island.

Prospero was exiled with his daughter who has never seen another person other than her father and caliban. The play is about family, power and love, and in true shakespearean fashion, these three overlap – there are comic misunderstandings, fools and manipulations. Its a really enjoyable production perfect for when you need an immersive, escapist theatre experience.

There are other Shakespeare performances on Iplayer too, including Izbul Khan’s production of Othello which I equally recommend. It was the first time that a black actor was cast as Iago, shedding a completely different light on the plot and making it more about Iago’s ambition rather than race.

This House

Unfortunately this is no longer available but I thought its worth a mention because of its genius, and hopefully it might come available again at some point. The ‘this’ is ‘This House‘; a political drama written by James Graham (who also wrote ITV’s Quiz) . ‘This House’ is the houses of parliament, and the play is set during the 1970’s period of hung parliament. Written in response to the hung parliament in 2013, Graham has written a timely, moving, at times funny and suspenseful political play to examine the politics of the time with that of the past. In looking to the past we are more able to understand our present and see its parallels. it was incredibly gripping to watch, and it was made to not look like ‘a stuffy Westminster drama’ but rather to be modern, relevant and exciting. This was achieved by involving the audience, having them sit as the government and the opposition on the benches as the play took place in front and within them. The music also complemented the 70’s era with the music of David Bowie complementing the personal and political crises on stage.

The Goes Wrong Show

To get the feel for being in the theatre, the series ‘The goes wrong show’ is very funny and captivating to watch. The whole premise is that the actors are playing characters playing characters in shows that, well, go wrong. It is written and performed by the same people who do the West End shows; the play that goes wrong, the comedy about a bank robbery etc. I first watched this, after many people recommending it, after I watched the play ‘Uncle Vanya’ at the Harold pinter theatre earlier this year on its opening night and during the play one of the characters was using a bell to get the other characters attention. The inner part of the bell fell out as he was ringing it and so the actor had to improvise a different noise to work in the scene. These are the kinds of moment that this show parodies, and I think after seeing a show ‘go wrong’ slightly the series became a whole lot funnier. As the series goes on though, the reasons why the show ‘goes wrong’ gets even more absurd.

Places to watch theatre at home:

Youtube – The Globe and National Theatre at home

BBC Iplayer – culture in quarantine

The Old Vic are streaming Lungs starring Claire Foy and Matt Smith. Its ticketed and the performances are streamed at set times as if you were going to the theatre in person. Tickets go on sale on the 10th June. In the meantime, to hear people talk about their favourite plays, the Old Vic have also started a podcast, called play crush, which you can listen to for free.

If you are a poetry or Shakespeare fan you might also enjoy Patrick Stewarts renditions of The Sonnets that he is broadcasting from home on his instagram. Shakespeares Globe is also doing something similar with a ‘Love in Isolation series’ that you can watch on their social media platforms or on their YouTube channel.

Theatre at home is a great way to feel a reminder of normality; a time when we were able to, without fear, sit next to people and enjoy storytelling and creative performances together. Its truly inspiring seeing people continue to create and share even when the traditional platforms are no longer available to us. I can’t wait to be back in a theatre or a cinema again, enjoying watching something as a collective experience. What plays have you enjoyed watching during lockdown?

THEATRE REVIEW: Cyrano De Bergerac

Reviews, Theatre

The Jamie Lloyd Theatre company production of Cyrano De Bergerac has just finished in the West End but it is going to New York soon. I saw the play for the dress rehearsal when the company were doing a pay-as-much-as-you-can showing as part of their ‘theatre is for all’ campaign. As a student it can be difficult to afford theatre and I think it’s such a great idea to get more young people or people who can’t afford it to go and see a play. Often theatre is regarded as this portentous thing for the wealthy so I think it is so great that the company are trying to make it as accessible as possible.

The play Cyrano De Bergerac follows ‘Cyrano, a talented 17th-century playwright [and soldier] who pursues a woman named Roxane. While he may seem to have a glittering career, his outlook on life is plagued by narcissistic views around him, as Cyrano uses language in order to allure his lover.’ It’s a heartbreaking love story focusing on Cyrano, Roxane and Christian (a new fellow soldier who is more physically attractive than Cyrano but does not have his mind for words and language).

The play itself completely blew me away – I knew it was gong to be a reboot of the classic play (written by Edmund Rostand in 1897) with a modern spin and probably quite paired back as it was directed by Jamie Lloyd. But it completely brought the story into the modern day – making the poetry seem more like rap, giving poetry this ‘cool’ spin and injecting some youth back into it.

The staging was paired back, just concrete walls and floor laid bare except from a few microphones and stands and some stairs when it came to the battle scene. The microphones on stage really emphasised the themes of the importance of having a voice and the power of the spoken word. To me the play really encapsulated the phrase-

“The pen is mightier than the sword” – that words can wield just as much, if not more, power and importance.

This is a message really relevant today, in our world of questioning authority- asking the questions of who should have power and why. And showing the importance of welding the power of words whilst also being wary of them as they may not be the speakers own.

James McAvoy plays the titular role of Cyrano. They have chosen to have this character without the traditional over the top large nose, choosing instead to draw attention to the other more important themes in the play; from unrequited love, to vanity, to what manliness looks like, to the power that words can wield.

The character of Roxane, played by Anita-joy Uwajeh, is given a modern day reboot as well giving her much more prominence and a voice in the play. Roxane is Cyrano’s love interest in the play, but this adaptation makes her less passive.

Overall, this play was breathtaking, completely transforming a classic into the modern day reminding us of how important words are. All performances by the actors were phenomenal, using staging like above to emphasise some of the plays most important themes. If you are heading to New York, or live there, and looking for something to see I would really recommend checking this play out – it will blow you away.

THEATRE REVIEW: Uncle Vanya (2020)

Reviews, Theatre
At the Harold Pinter Theatre

A few weeks ago I saw Uncle Vanya, it is a Chekov play about a crumbling family, described on their website –

“In the heat of summer, Sonya (Aimee Lou Wood) and her Uncle Vanya (Toby Jones) while away their days on a crumbling estate deep in the countryside, visited occasionally by only the local doctor Astrov (Richard Armitage).
However, when Sonya’s father Professor Serebryakov (Ciarán Hinds) suddenly returns with his restless, alluring, new wife (Rosalind Eleazar) declaring his intention to sell the house, the polite facades crumble and long repressed feelings start to emerge with devastating consequences.”

In Conor McPherson’s new adaptation of the play, directed by Ian Rickson, Chekov’s story gets a more modern reboot despite being set in the 18th/19th century. The two ‘big names’ in it are Toby Jones who plays Uncle Vanya and Richard Armitage (The Hobbit, North and South, The Stranger etc.) plays Astrov, the doctor. Both performances are brilliant and Toby Jones portrayal of a man in bottled up anger, madness and betrayal is very moving. Armitage’s character in comparison is very surgical and precise in expressing his emotions, but the suppression of the feelings of pain at seeing so much suffering (a little like PTSD) is profound. Aimie Lou Wood, for me, however was the star of the show, her portrayal of Sonya is truly tragic – the character ends up much in the position as Uncle Vanya yet she is the one that bottles up her emotions and helps him to get on with life.

The concept of the play is a bit like a tornado has hit, it begins and ends almost the same way with the action stemming from the arrival of the professor and his wife. Then the action disappears when they leave but the family still have to deal with the repercussions and the effect these two people have had upon them. The tone is definitely a tragic one, but there are moments of comedy especially at the beginning through Uncle Vanya’s character who attempts to bring some lightheartedness to the situation.

The staging is beautiful, it looks like something out of a renaissance painting with plants and chandeliers hanging. The way they have used lighting as well was genius, using the weather to reflect the mood of the scene. In times of joy, the set was illuminated with a warm light whereas in times of pain and sorrow, the stage is dimly lit and cold.

In terms of price it wasn’t too costly. We got the cheapest tickets at £15 so we were right at the back but the view wasn’t that restricted. It is quite steep seating in the Harold Pinter Theatre though, so if you’re not a fan of heights I would probably recommend going for seats closer to the stage although they are more expensive. We went on opening night too so I was surprised we managed to find tickets that cheap, when we arrived they had the red carpet rolled out with people having champagne and press photos taken of the celebrity guests who were there.

Overall, everything about this play is so beautifully set out and it had been given a very modern reboot although set in an 18th century style. The play itself is thought provoking but if you like stories to have more movement with characters going on more of a journey arriving at a different destination, so to speak, this might not be for you.

THEATRE REVIEW: Upstart Crow

Reviews, Theatre

Last Wednesday I saw Upstart Crow at the Gielgud theatre in London. It is an adaptation of the tv sitcom of the same name. Inspired by the critique by Robert Green in his pamphlet ‘Groatsworth of Wit’, The play as with the series was written by Ben Elton and so it very much had the same tone as the series if not a little more political and more energetic in the play version. The play is packed with references to William Shakespeare’s plays* however you don’t need to be a Shakespeare fanatic to enjoy the play. There are many Shakespeare ‘inside jokes’ so some knowledge might heighten your experience but mainly the comedy is aimed at ridiculing general views of Shakespeare and of the politics in Shakespeare’s time and of ours. So if you are a huge fan of Shakespeare and his plays I would urge you to check it out as it looks at some real events of his life and suggests ways in which these events may have inspired his plays.

Ben Elton also wrote the 2018 film All is True starring (Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench and Ian Mckellan) which is based on the final years of Shakespeare life. The film has a much darker, sadder tone to the series and to this play which is much more lighthearted but this interrogation of Shakespeare’s life and the way his life events influenced him really seeps into the play in a way that I don’t think that the series does quite as often. Set after the death of Shakespeare’s only son Hamnet, the play still focuses a little on the impact this tragic life event had on him and his writing.

The play was performed by the original cast of the BBC television series featuring David Mitchell in the role of William Shakespeare who completely embodies the bard with his high forehead and indulging in all of the stereotypes and assumptions of the playwright. Gemma Whelan was also incredible in her role as Kate, bringing awareness to the harsh reality of the position that women had in the Elizabethan/ Jacobean era with comic flare. She acts as Shakespeare’s confidante and as the source of Shakespeare’s genius, almost adhering to the saying that ‘behind every great man is a great woman’ which adds to the plays political underbelly.

If you are a fan of the series and expect to see Ann Shakespeare though you may be disappointed as she doesn’t make an appearance as with the series – Elton has chosen to write her as avoiding Will Shakespeare because of the poems. Other than that though, the play really is mostly a longer (100 minutes) version of an episode in the series which means that Elton has been able to explore in more depth more of Shakespeare’s plays and the influences for it. The play is written so that audience members of any age should be able to enjoy it or at least find certain moments comical.

Directed by Sean Foley, the staging also sets out to ridicule the limitations of realism on stage choosing to use a similar set up to the set design of the series. But because there are no cuts or edits that can be made with a play Foley uses the staging to add an extra comic element almost similar, although much more subtle, to that of The Play that goes Wrong.


“Theatre goers can look forward to a comedy steeped in authentic shakespearean ambience in every way apart from the smell”

David Mitchell, UpstartCrowComedy.com

One question many people have asked me is if you can enjoy it without liking Shakespeare that much and I would say that as David Mitchell has said that it very Shakespearean and it is about his life and his work. However, many of the jokes come from general fairly well known assumptions about Shakespeare so I do think it would still be enjoyable if you are not Shakespeare’s number one fan.

Overall it was a really enjoyable night at the theatre, producing many genuine belly laughs from the audience. But it’s not only funny, Elton really pushes to expose some issues in our society and to make you think about representation in the entertainment industry by making us look at the past, the play makes us look at our present. The play is only on for a short run ending on the 25th of April 2020 at the Gielgud Theatre in the West End.

At the Gielgud Theatre

SPOILERS:

*Mainly Othello, Twelfth night and King Lear with a little bit of Hamlet and reference to the histories.