Friday, 30 April 2010

Ticket Offer: Antony and Cleopatra, Courtyard Theatre Stratford

Another Facebook offer! £5 tickets available for the RSC's Antony and Cleopatra on Monday 10 May, 7.15pm, at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford. Buy your tickets online with the link below, using the promotional code 2040.

Terms and conditions:
Offer is subject to availability and only applies to the 7.15pm performance on Monday 10 May 2010. It does not apply to tickets already purchased and cannot be combined with any other offers or discounts.

Review: Macbeth, Shakespeare’s Globe

Full disclosure: I am currently employed by Shakespeare’s Globe, although am not involved in any of the productions. Please read my thoughts on this in my introductory blog post.

Confession time: as I had the chance to see this production on opening night, I began drafting my thoughts for this review. Nothing concrete, as I knew I would be going on press night as well, but I figured that I might as well begin articulating some of my responses to the production. It couldn’t change that much surely? Right? Wrong. Never has the case for blog reviewers respecting the preview period been made so evident to me as in this production. From an opening night that was “weighed down by the sheer mass of fabric so that the action drags along” (yup, that’s one of my original jottings), the performance last night had developed significantly in less than a week. Not that it was without problems, but we shall come to those in a minute.

Katrina Lindsay’s design sees the Globe reimagined as the circles of Hell. A black membrane extends out over most of the yard with slits for the disembodied heads of groundlings to poke through, a visual nod (pun perhaps intended) to the frozen lake of Cocytus in Dante’s Inferno. Discordant bagpipes fill the air with Orlando Gough’s music, and a didgeridoo and muted trombone fill out the score nicely. This is the domain of the play’s witches, a terrifying trio whose custodianship of this Hell is underlined by having them wear the tatters of the standard Globe stewards’ tabards. For director Lucy Bailey, it is clear that the witches are central to her hellish vision, and they appear with greater frequency throughout the play to drag the dead into the underworld.

And what a lot of bodies there are to drag. This production is the antithesis of Cheek By Jowl’s austere production at the Barbican earlier this year. Where that was purged of gore, this is a production that is steeped in blood. Every single corpse that is mentioned in the script, even if killed offstage, appears: the treacherous Cawdor; Duncan; his scapegoat chamberlains; Banquo; and the Macduff family, now expanded to include a daughter, nanny and serving boy; and Macbeth and his wife. By the end you are somewhat deadened to all this, but then, one wonders if that’s the entire point?

With Elliot Cowan and Laura Rogers, Bailey has cast her Macbeths as young, sexy and energetic. Their relationship is passionate, violent even, tearing the clothes off one another when he returns from war. Initially, Rogers, something of an old hand at the Globe, seemed less confident in her move from the arboreal comedies of As You Like and A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the dark world inhabited by Lady Macbeth. It was only on a second viewing that I realised her performance is heartbreakingly subtle, almost too subtle for the Globe stage. Gone is the typical “fiend-like queen”, handsome, dominating and shrieking like a banshee. In its place is an understated interpretation of a febrile woman, abandoned for long periods by her soldier husband, broken by the loss of their child, and perhaps, just a little more naïve in life and love than we tend to assume. Her motivation for the murders seems an attempt to restore something to her relationship with Macbeth, with no awareness that his legally sanctioned murders on the battlefield do not equate with regicide. She uses her sexuality as the only weapon available to her, she can barely convince herself to return the bloody daggers to Duncan’s chamber, and her handwashing begins early at the banquet scene, before culminating in a sleepwalking scene that is sublime.

Elliot Cowan is the most vigorously handsome Macbeth you are ever likely to see. At his physical peak (and exploited to the full by Bailey with regular toplessness – no objections from me), his attractiveness seduces the audience into feeling that he might look rather good as king. However, I wonder to what extent Bailey’s hell concept undermined the drama of this role. Shakespeare’s play moves away from a Catholic theology that envisaged hell as a terrifying real and physically torturous collective experience, and towards an internalised Protestant doctrine that reinvented eternal damnation as individual psychological anguish. Bailey’s vision of a literal Hell therefore works at cross-purposes to the text. If Hell is real, and the witches are indeed agents of Satan, then the question of Macbeth’s guilt, and even his agency, becomes somewhat moot. (It is interesting to note that a similar issue raised itself in Bailey’s last production at the Globe, Timon of Athens, where an overly stylistic emphasis on the parasitic carrion feeders removed any sense of responsibility from the profligate Timon).

Indeed, the set at times seems to overwhelm the action. Two motorised rings suspended over the stage which were used to move curtains and chains created an unnecessary distraction. And at 3 hours or so, this is a long version of Shakespeare’s second shortest play. I have reservations about the fourth act generally as it often tends to slump in Macbeth. Here, the apparition scene is gimmicky, while the England scene drags. Making his professional debut, James McArdle misses the pleasure that Malcolm needs to take in his list of imagined crimes in order to make it believable, and Keith Dunphy’s Macduff seemed to be in another production altogether. But Julius D’Silva’s Ross injected some much-needed energy and his voice resonated beautifully. And special mention must be made of Frank Scantori’s disgustingly hilarious Porter who managed the unthinkable and actually made us queasy amongst all the bloodshed. It’s forgetting, not remembering the Porter, which seems like it might be the challenge from this production.

£5 groundling ticket. Seats in the front row don’t come much cheaper than at Shakespeare’s Globe. Except for the fact that they aren’t, strictly speaking, seats, but one of 700 standing places in the yard, where (if you are prepared to queue for up to an hour in advance) you can stand within inches of the action. Having watched the whole production from within the canopy - I wonder how many other critics ventured down from the middle gallery? – I can vouch that it is not invasive or distracting. You actually have quite a lot more room around than you than you ordinarily would. I do worry that a hot summer matinee is going to send the number of Globe fainters through the roof although …


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plays at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre until 27 June. Tickets from £5 to £35. Visit or call 020 7401 9919 for more information.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Ticket Offer: I Went To The House But Did Not Enter, Barbican

Just got word of this offer through Facebook:

Exclusive Heiner Goebbels I Went To The House But Did Not Enter ticket offer for Barbican Theatre (bite) Facebook fans!

We are offering you the chance to see it for just £6 tonight (29th April)!

For more info visit the Barbican website, choose your seats for 29 April and enter the promotional code 29410.

This offer is limited and subject to availability. Bookable online only.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Review: Women Beware Women, National Theatre

The view of Women Beware Women as an alternative ending to Romeo and Juliet is borne out in the opening scenes of this production at the National Theatre. But the dangers in this play are not parental ire and family feuds, but the boredom of routine and, with it, the temptations of power, wealth and lust. Or as Livia suggests to her niece, “To take, or to reject, or to do both”. Ultimately, this is a play about having your cake and eating it too.

Leantio, a poor clerk, arrives home to his mother in Florence, bringing with him his still-veiled bride Bianca, freshly stolen from Venice and her parents. Called away on business, his pent-up wife quickly catches the eye of the Duke of Florence, who sets about claiming her for his own. Meanwhile, at court, Isabella is being forced by her father into marrying a foolish but wealthy ward, unaware that her uncle is incestuously in love with her. It is the central figure of Livia, a role Middleton seems to have written with relish, who unites these two plot strands by becoming a female Pandarus to these transgressive relationships.

Twice-widowed and “all of 39” (deliciously played for laughs at the improbability of this being true), Livia ensnares Bianca and Isabella with all the tools at her disposal – wealth, power, social connections, and the sheer force of her charisma. Harriet Walter is more than capable of the last, delivering a beautifully nuanced portrait of Livia, blending pleasure at her own virtuoso meddling with a subtle self-awareness of the perverted position she occupies. Her view on how Bianca will cope with her rape, that “Sin tastes at the first draught like wormwood water, / But drunk again, ‘tis nectar ever after” is as much a comment on her own actions as Bianca’s. Indeed, incorporated into Olly Fox’s (at times incongruous) jazzy score, these lines come to act as a refrain for the corruption of the play as a whole.

This corruption is evident in Marianne Elliott’s vision of Florence, which is dominated by a crumbling monument to “Cosmos Medice”, all reflective black surfaces and snaking stairways. Lez Brotherston’s multi-level staging is used to great effect, particularly in the infamous scene where Bianca is raped in the picture gallery, while her mother-in-law and supposed protector is distracted by a game of chess with Livia. The National’s reliance on the revolve, however, is much less successful, culminating in a dizzying dénouement, reminiscent of the opening scene of The Revenger’s Tragedy at the same theatre in 2008 (knowing homage to another Middleton production, or shameless rip-off?). The set spins relentlessly, confusingly so, and excised of most of the dialogue, one is left with no sense of who killed whom or why.

It is this attempt at finding believable motivation in the ridiculous satire that ultimately is the play’s undoing. Middleton’s strength is his irony-laced satire, cruel and sardonic, and although Elliott seems to want to explore just how black the comedy can get before becoming tragic, most of the production is never fast or slick enough to tread that line. Although the ward is meant to provoke the most (in every sense) explicit laughter, Harry Melling’s fool rings the painful one-note of misogyny a bit too eagerly. Vanessa Kirby as Isabella and Lauren O’Neil as Bianca offer solid performances, and Samuel Barnett‘s Leantio is a sympathetic cuckold.

But it is Walter’s already-praised Livia who manages to plumb the lines for their simultaneous humour and gravitas, resulting in a bittersweet guilt on our part for becoming complicit in her machinations, and who would easily convince us to drink again of the wormwood in the hope of nectar.

£10, Circle C section, left hand side. This offered a great view of the whole stage, as well as a glance into the huge open backstage area behind the revolve. Given the production, I was more than happy with a £10 Travelex seat.


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Women Beware Women is booking at the National Theatre until 4 July. Tickets from £10. Visit for more info.