Breath of Kings – rebellion 30th, ’16

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I’m a little bit at a loss, mostly because I’m still overwhelmed by the sheer brilliance of the production. The play and its second part redemption take Shakespeare’s greatest dramas (Richard II, Henry IV part 1, Henry IV part 2 and Henry V) and weave them together into a vivid, clear and magnificent history lesson – aided of course by the outstanding cast of the Stratford festival and actor/director/ write Graham Abbey who is responsible for the play. This is how it’s done. This is how (and I am tempted to compare it with a historically accurate and better written Game of Thrones but that wouldn’t do it justice at all) you follow the lives of kings, queens, their heirs and enemies and their lives, by allowing their soliloquies and scenes come to life in a way that captures the audience and is riveting and stunning in its complex simplicity. We see Tom Rooney turn from proud hero to lost king, Graham Abbey as Bolingbroke rise from shunned son to newly hailed king Heny, who is a hesitant leader with a hot-headed son Araya Mengesha, who has to grow up in battle to be formed into a worthy successor by steel and blood.

With Graham Abbey’s adaption of the humongous plays they turn into a very intimate chamber play, despite the violence of battles, betrayals and brutalities. This is when history becomes a clear, a clean line of meaning, an interpretation that loses nothing of Shakespeare’s magic, but contributes by focusing on visceral scenes that grab the audience and never let go.

The stage itself is beautifully empty. Just a flat surface filled with wood chips. and yet: the less influential Richard becomes, the less wood chips are on the stage, the smaller the parts of a united Britain are. At last there is everything gone, shoved towards the edges, when Richard gives away his crown to Henry Bolingbroke. And only years, if not decades later , during the battles against Scots and Welsh purpose, the ground is filled again, a country united in a war against each other. Again it’s beautiful in its simplicity and yet powerful and brutal.

Part one ends on a high note: the battle won, Henry saved by his unruly son Hal, and Sir John Falstaff (a brilliant and fat suited, sweaty Geraint Wyn Davies) has the last words … let’s kick up some more dirt tomorrow, or something to that extent.

 

I truly hope we get the textbook and a DVD of both parts soon. This is how theatre is supposed to be. Imagination at its best.

 

And yes, adds the shallow within me with a silent snicker: it doesn’t hurt that Graham Abbey’s Henry gets a huge cross tattooed on his back and then shows off his naked torso while thankfully slowly slipping into his shirt. 😎

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A Streetcar named Desire. May ’16

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Firstly: I really liked the play. Great actors succeeded to bring the story to life and the staging was very well done, if a bit much. Also: this is Portland, a city teeming with creativity and love of life, so that was amazing as well.

You all can taste the huge BUT that’s about to come, can’t you?

Well, streetcar is all about a high-strung teacher, Blanche, who makes up her own reality, lives in her own world and knows only her own rules. She brilliantly manipulates everyone around her – almost on a subconscious level. All she wants is being loved. She loses the family mansion in the American south because she cared for ailing family members … or because she bought jewellery and dresses to look pretty for her admirers. she teaches in a private school… until she is fired because she seduced a boy … and she suffered through a terrible break up with her first love when it turned out he was gay  and hanged himself.

When she doesn’t know where to go, she imposes herself onto her married sister, pointing out just how bad her husband is until he checks out her past and tells his wife about it. When Blanche confronts him, a violent quarrel ensues and he forces himself onto her. Now in light of all her previous lies nobody believes her and a doctor (a new admirer, she thinks) picks her up to admit her into an asylum.

With today’s knowledge about mental illnesses we realise of course that Blanche has schizophrenia and that this affliction is the root of her erratic behaviour. Tennessee Williams knew that as well when he wrote this story about the downfall of the southern nobility as his sister was a sufferer as well. Today I can’t help but feel that the impact of the story is a lot less strong than it was when the play first came out.  Then Blanche was a delicate flower, a crazy woman. Now she could be medicated and live a decent life. add to that a completely black cast (they were marvellous btw) and the story takes a new turn without the power of the one left behind. There is no downfall of southern nobility – to my knowledge there were no ppl of colour who owned a mansion. So to me the story as told on Portland ‘s centre stage didn’t work. Partly because it needed me to suspend my belief that no one would diagnose her as schizophrenic and partly because of the experiment to stage the play colour-blind. Sometimes works. Sometimes it really doesn’t.

That’s one of times…