Richard III March ’17

theatre misc

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;
And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover,
To entertain these fair well-spoken days,
I am determined to prove a villain

About a prophecy, which says that ‘G’
Of Edward’s heirs the murderer shall be.
With these words Gloucester introduces himself to his audience, a crippled man, unloved, unsightly and unattractive, yet charming, oh so charming when needs be, and cruel and calculating in order to get what he wants, what he sees as his birthright.

Once again Richard was cast with a woman, the incredibly awesome Kate Mulvany, and once again the audience forgets that a woman is playing a man’s part because as it often is with Shakespeare’s characters, it is the archetype of someone lusting after power, after approval, after recognition that becomes a character – and because Mulvany is just so brilliant in the part. While baring her soul to her opponents, Mulvany literally bares all, standing naked, with just a loincloth like panty, back to the audience, proudly in front of a phalanx of Lords and Ladies, and shocks them into silence. A mesmerising scene.

10 people on stage, waiting in the richly decked out salon, where the play takes place, the men taking on multiple parts, interchangeable just as their hunger for power is. The women play one part each, though, their motivations are allowed to change. Whenever a battle scene is on, we see – in slow motion – a wild almost orgy like festivity play out in this salon. First I didn’t like that, I was too caught up in the “traditional” way of portraying the battles, but in retrospect I think the idea to not move from that salon is genius. The hatred, the scheming and the fights can be identical, no matter what kind of battlefield you choose.

When Richard finally dies because everybody turns against him and his cruel reign (and isn’t it fascinating that hundreds of years after this was written the world waits for exactly this kind of end to yet another nepotistic dictator? nothing changes, it seems), Shakespeare gives him the most pathetic words: A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse. And then Richard is killed.

Not so in this version (and I freely admit I had to look it up and found it in the Sydney Morning Herald – thank you for that!): because Kate Mulvany – who also directed (is there anything this woman can’t do???? she is marvellous!) – gives Richard a final chance to explain himself, to make him understood, even pitied even though pity is probably the last thing he wants. With a monologue plucked from the last act of Henry VI, part III she shows us his warped soul, his defiance, his non-acceptance of his defeat and his final pride:

“I have no brother, I am like no brother;

And this word ‘love,’ which graybeards call divine,

Be resident in men like one another

And not in me: I am myself alone.”

***

standing ovations were had. and rightfully so. Ms Mulvany is incredible, as is her direction. I hope she’s on stage again the next time I’m in Sydney. I will make time for whatever play she’s in.

Pericles Sept.15th, ’15

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Well, it’s an interesting play … and for everyone who doesn’t know me, that means I’m not overly fond of its plot. But thanks to the truly spectacular cast it was a great experience. It’s a “morality play” , putting the participants through the wringer until they finally and after years of being tested can find their happy ending. And as always with plays that span over decades, it’s hard to cast and even harder for the actors to make their life span believable. Thankfully there’s no shortage of great actors in Stratford.

As it’s one of the less often staged plays, here is a short reminder.

Pericles falls in love with the fair daughter of king Antioch who because of his incestuous feelings for her has every suitor solve a riddle whose answer would blame him of being incestuous. Pericles comes too close to solving the riddle and has to flee. On his voyage to escape Antioch’s wrath he saves Tarsus from a famine. But then shipwrecked he lands in pentapolis where the good king and his daughter (the same actors as Antioch and his daughter, thus depicting how very close good and bad exist together) take him in and after winning in a tournament, daughter Thaisa seeks him as husband. Pregnant she accompanies him to his kingdom, but again the ship wrecks and Thasia seems dead after giving birth to a daughter. So Pericles goes back to Tarsus, to hand his daughter over to queen Dionyza (Claire Lautier and fabulous) who initially wants to help but Marina turns out to be prettier than her own daughter and so the queen orders her killed. The assassin backs away from the deed just long enough for pirates to kidnap the young girl and bring her to Mytilene.

Have enough drama already? Well, it carries on…

Mytilene is also the home of the healer who,17 years earlier, had saved Marina’s mother Thaisa, who wasn’t dead after all. She decided to go to Ephesus to become a priestess of Diana to pray for her lost husband and child.

Meanwhile the pirates have sold the virgin Marina into a brothel, where she then proceeds to escape her fate by bettering her clients. When she does this to Lysimachos, the protector of the city (Antoine Yared and very promising, ie. really nice to look at), he falls for her and gets her a position less dangerous to her honour.

Exhausted yet? We still got a while to go.

Now Pericles has fallen into a deep depression when he learned of Marina’s death and not moved nor washed for over a year. To hopefully find help, his chancellor and friend brings him to Ephesus but the ship is stopped near Mytilene, where Lysimachos tries to make sure the ships’ crews come in peace. When learning about pericles’ condition he sends for “that girl whose songs can heal”- you guessed it – Marina. Father and daughter reunite, Lysimachos and Marina declare their love for each other and finally all is well. To celebrate the good news they continue their trip to Ephesus where they are welcomed by Diana’s priestesses. One of them immediately collapses. It is Thaisa of course who recognises her husband despite beard and bad hairdo. The family is reunited, incestuous king Antioch and his daughter long dead and the murderous queen unhappy. All is well.

I do understand that this was written in the light of virgin queen Elizabeth’s reign. So it would be logical that virgin and everyone virtuous would prevail as long as they are true to themselves and their beliefs. It’s also about what makes a good king, a good father – hence the great idea by director Scott Wentworth to cast several characters with the same actors, thus underlining how close good and bad are.

But sooo long. Great cast, wonderful adaption but sooo long.

Oh And we got filmed. One of the five cameras was right across from my seat so prepare for my premiere !! Also I almost got no seat because my seat was taken by a camera. I got reseated right next to where I’d been though, so all was well.

Measure for Measure Sept.11th ’13

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It’s a convoluted story and certainly neither Shakespeare’s best nor my most favorite play. The story of the Duke who is “testing” his subjects while he is gallivanting about in disguise to see what his people think of him and then is surprised when the one man who didn’t even want to be his replacement not only fails to lead – and executes the law by the letter, without compassion – but also gives in to temptation is weak, to say the least.

The story’s set in Vienna shortly after the second world war which is as it may, and young Claudio is set to die because of a draconian law against fornication. (funny, during the time of Empress Maria Theresia, who bore her husband 16 children, such laws were first introduced in reality – a chastity commission was trying to keep a lid on the obvious lust not only for life the Viennese were famous for, Even the empress’ husband, you see, was fornicating left, right and center)

Now Claudio has made his lover pregnant and even though he wants to marry her he is in jail. So his sister, living in a convent and soon to be a nun, is sent to sway governor Angelo (a brilliant Tom Rooney) and have her brother freed. Angelo though falls in love with Isabella and presents her with an ultimatum: She has to sleep with him or Claudio dies.

Desperate, Isabella confides to a monk – who is the duke (wonderful: Geraint Wyn Davies) in disguise – and he comes up with a plan. He substitutes Isabella with Angelo’s ex fiancee who willingly shares his bed. But Angelo has already signed the death warrant and it’s sheer luck or fate that nobody dies that night.

the next morning the duke confronts Angelo: he had fornicated as well, so what would his penance be? But in the end, Angelo will marry his ex, Claudio his lover, and the Duke has eyes on Isabella (one of the lesser believable turns in this play, I have to admit) and nobody dies except a career criminal.

The rather convoluted plot as well as the not very likeable characters make this play neither easy nor does it seem like Shakespeare’s usually very cleverly plotted ones. I appreciated the acting that was really amazing as usual, but all in all the play itself didn’t endear itself to me. oh, well, they can’t all be winners 😉

Merchant of Venice Sept.10th, ’13

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The Stratford Festival has clearly outdone itself with this production. This is one of the most powerful plays I have ever seen staged – they set the story in the 1920s, so the advent of the mass murder of millions of jewish people is already looming and adds another layer to a drama that’s already ripe with prejudice and hate and the casual brush off of anyone not christian.

Add to that the riveting portrayal of Shylock by Scott Wentworth that made my hair stand on end and gave me additional food for thought and you have a perfect evening  in the theatre. To think that Wentworth took on the part from Brian Bedford who fell ill in the last possible minute is just unbelievable. His portrayal of a man who – within the span of a few days – loses everything is heartstoppingly brilliant.

Because he makes us like Shylock. All of a sudden “The Jew” is no longer the hated caricature of a greedy lender. It is a man who in the course of the play not only loses all his money and his family, he also loses his reputation and will therefore very likely be losing his life as well, as the voices of Mussolini and Hitler drone on from the radio.

And all that is down to the acting abilities of Wentworth and the amazing directing of the play, and certainly not just down to Shakespeare’s words. Because Shakespeare, in his time, probably didn’t meet too many jewish people in the first place – they had been banned not only from all possible venues of earning honest money (all but money lending as it is) but also driven out of England at that point. So what was left of them was their unfamiliar beliefs and their bad reputation on which Shakespeare expertly built the story of the merciless rich man who lends money in exchange of a pound of flesh. That Shylock’s determination to get his “pound of flesh” is probably rooted in a life of abuse and prejudice, isn’t made clear in the plays words, but comes to light in Wentworth’s characterisation of the part.

There are many scenes that will stay with me for a long time (of course the court scene immediately springs to mind) but the one moment that still gives me goosebumps is when Jessica, Shylock’s daughter, is trying to enjoy a romantic evening with her husband. The night is pathetically romantic, the two lovers are as well and there’s soft music coming from the radio – they almost kiss when a speech by Mussolini distracts them. they change channels and it’s beautiful how good they are together – until the voice of Hitler rips into the soft mood.

And you just KNOW that those two are not going to survive the horrors that wait for them.

so aside from the brilliance of a Shakespearean play direction and talent worked as one to bring a very current play back onto the festival stage of Stratford,

This is a must-see play for every political person…

King Lear Jan 29th, ’11

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Derek Jacobi now owns this part.

Sorry, everybody else who wants to try out Shakespeare’s masterpiece, you’ll have to wait at least ten years. The part is Jacobi’s for now.

Most readers of any theatre blog will have seen King Lear at least once – Lear is all about love and rejection, greed and wealth,  power and the loss of it as age claims a once great king. And about how one wrong decision can bring kingdoms to their knees and drive men into madness.The Donmar Warehouse theatre has brought Lear to the stage – a stark, empty stage, with whitewashed wooden boards that continue to the walls, naked and nothing more. It is Shakespeare’s story that, as it unfolds, fills the empty space with emotions and pictures and the timeless beauty of the bard’s words. The costumes are vaguely contemporary, with long woollen coats and Lear all decked in pale cream colored linnen (as if his clothes were in anticipation of the plain long shirt the dead were dressed in).  And as the theatre is very small, the audience almost participates, is part of what is going on, is even more involved in the heartbreak of a king who gave away his power not realising that he would give away his sanity and his life, too.

One of the most impressive scenes – to me, at least – was when Lear surrounded by his two daughters, neither of whom wants him in her home and cuts his entourage down to – why not ten, why not 1?? – nothing starts to apologise for being old, and yet still is full of regal power, but now despised by his daughters, with not one person standing by him other than his fool. This is eternal truth, so present-day even more so when brought to life by Derek Jacobi, that it hurts to listen.

And then it’s Lear’s descent into madness, when storm, lightning and thunder seem to obey his wishes – that were negated not so long ago by his own blood – as he curses his offspring, when his slowly vanishing reason seems like a soft blanket that almost gently, mercifully takes him away to a place less cruel.A place that rejects him back into horrible reality when his daughter Cordelia is killed and Jacobi carries her lifeless body onto the bright white stage, and _ a very last curtain to his whole bloodline – follows her into oblivion. Because in death everybody is finally equal – greed, powerlust, rejection, deceit,  petty differences and even murder pales in the face of death.

It is an amazing play even with lesser actors, but with the brilliant cast that will take the play on tour soon it’s absolutely brilliant. Add to that the intimacy of the Donmar theatre and it seemed I was part of the play, enthralled by it to the point of being mesmerised.

And it was only because the audience could barely stand in the small space between the unmarked rows that standing ovations didn’t happen. 😉

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*

Add to that the friendliness of the Donmar crew who graciously let me sneak in upstairs because – ah the joy – fucking easyJet was two hours late and I therefore missed the first 20 minutes or so of the matinee. sigh. It was an absolutely BRILLIANT experience and I am more than grateful to have seen Derek Jacobi live on stage. He is absolutely amazing and I would love to see him in The Tempest sooner rather than later!