Thursday, 28 October 2010

My first negative review for ages....

It was only a week ago that I was chatting to my parents about how I often end up only going to see what the majority consider to be "good" productions, usually due to limited amounts of time and money. I even went as far as saying: "I want to see something truly horrific once in a while". Whilst it was not truly horrific, it was definitely not good. Here is my review, which you may observe is a lot shorter and (hopefully) more proffesional than usual:

“Tell Me on a Sunday” was a title that I had heard a lot, but did not really know much about. When the current UK tour, starring Claire Sweeney, rolled into town, I decided to give it a go. If I’m honest, I was a little disappointed. Having adored the intimacies of C Soco’s production of “The Last Five Years” in Edinburgh, I was expecting a similar experience. However, the show seemed lost on the stage, and the set seemed too overcrowded. Sadly, this resulted in me feeling as though I was a mere onlooker.

I have never understood Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s appeal as a composer, and the score only confirmed this for me. The lyrics by Don Black were alright, but lacked the subtle wit and ambiguity that could have really set the piece on fire.

I knew little of Claire Sweeney’s career before, other than re-runs of “60 Minute Makeover”, so I had no idea what to expect. She did a good job, with fairly consistent vocals and believable acting. At times, thpigh, she seemed to lack energy and was drowned out by the (excellent, if a little loud) band on several occasions.

Overall, I am rather indifferent to the production, although I did rather enjoy Tamara Harvey’s inventive direction...


Oh dear, I hope I haven't been too harsh...

Sunday, 24 October 2010

A very modern Hamlet

At what point is one able to consider themselves to be a Shakespearean? Going to see this production of “Hamlet” has marked an exciting new era in my theatregoing life. Instead of choosing to go and see a Shakespeare because I thought I should, as was the case with “Macbeth” way back in May, I actually went to see “Hamlet” because I really wanted to. I even read the play by myself prior to attending, which could be considered insignificant, for I read plays all the time. However, for me, this is extraordinarily significant because, up until now, I had put off reading Shakespeare, mainly because of the way it’s always been read at school. Now, though, I am a true Shakespeare convert. That rather expensive copy of “King Lear” I purchased almost a year ago may finally get read now.

Anyway, I had never seen a production of a Shakespeare play outside of the Globe or another open air venue until yesterday. Strangely, I managed to forget it was Shakespeare as I watched. Considering that the play was written to be performed on an almost bare stage with no artificial lighting or sound design, the production seemed to fit the piece remarkably well. What helped was that it was not done in period dress – it was also the first time that I had ever seen one of Shakespeare’s plays lifted out of the Jacobean era. This just goes to show how any piece of literature, provided it is about people, can be relevant to life in the twenty first century. In fact, any piece of literature is relevant, because ever piece of literature is about people. Even if a story is not about human beings, it must have character and relationships in some way. All stories are written by humans, therefore these characters will have the characteristics of humans, because we know of nothing else. I am not sure this really makes sense, but just recently I have become fairly interested in philosophy.

I think I will now start the actual review, after that rather peculiar interlude. The production was sold out, which shows the true selling power of Shakespeare, even in today’s financial climate. As previously mentioned, the first thing that struck me about the production was the lighting and sound design; many of the scene changes were punctuated by loud blasts of music, and the ghost of Hamlet’s father looked eerily realistic, thanks to the lighting design. The set was simple, it did not remain static, but the same pieces were moved throughout the show, if that makes sense. I am not sure what I think about the set, in some ways I liked the way it visually represented changes of scene, but at the same time part of me couldn’t help feeling as though it was not really necessary, for at points some of the action seemed to become lost.

The production was directed by Nicholas Hytner, who is also artistic director of the National. I really am starting to love his work, and thought that the staging was perfect. What I have noticed, both in this and in “The Habit of Art”, is that he has a really good way of making you care about as many characters as possible.

I had only read the play once and not in great depth, but now, after seeing the play, I want to read it and analyse it again and again. This is partly due to the interpretations of the characters by the cast, which helped make the play interesting throughout. At three hours and forty five minutes, it was probably the longest play that I have ever sat through, but I did not become bored or even look at my watch once.

I enjoyed Rory Kinnear’s portrayal of Hamlet. Having heard his name a lot, but never actually seen him in anything, my expectations were not disappointed. He portrayed the vulnerable side of the character very well, which evoked much empathy in me.

Ruth Negga brought an excellent energy to Ophelia, and stole the stage each time she was on it, making me wish that Ophelia had more lines. I had not really noticed her character through reading the play, but now I feel like I understand it a lot more.

Overall, the whole cast gave very enjoyable performances, working well as an ensemble whilst standing out as individuals. If I were not gradually trying to cut down the length of my reviews, I would write more. Seeing this production makes me wish that I had seen more Hamlets and knew the play in greater detail, because only then would I be able to make truly informed comments concerning interpretation. I am really looking forward to seeing another production of “Hamlet”, and possibly studying it in my second year of A Level studies.

Friday, 15 October 2010

An update

The other day, I suddenly realised that I had not posted a single word since seeing "Into the Woods". Since then, you will be pleased to hear that my love of Sondheim has managed to grow even more, if that were possible.

The neutral title of this post is mainly because it will be about a number of things, although I could of course write a whole book on why I love Sondheim. The first exciting thing that I have to write about is that I received a personal letter from Jenna Russell, just days after "Into the Woods" played its final performance and closed the season at the Open Air Theatre. In case you did not know, Jenna played the Baker's Wife in the production, although she had also played Cinderella in the Donmar's production a number of years ago. Her performance was the highlight of the evening for me, so I decided to write her a letter. You can not imagine how overjoyed I was when I received a two page, handwritten reply. I don't really want to share the contents of the letter on here, but I will say that she took the time to answer every question that I asked. I am now an even bigger fan, and am looking forward to seeing her in "Season's Greetings" at the National, which will also be the first play by Alan Ayckbourn that I will have seen.

Speaking of the Donmar, I still haven't been there, but I am eagerly anticipating the day that I finally go. By the time I am in the position to buy tickets, they are always sold out. Hopefully in the near future I will be able to try for dayseats. The next production, King Lear with Derek Jacobi in the title role, is looking more and more apealing, especially after my experience at "Shakespeare for Breakfast".

A few weeks ago, news about Michael Grandage's departure as artistic director of the venue broke. I can not really formulate an opinion about this, having never been to the Donmar myself, but it is clearly one of the most important theatrical venues in the world, and it will be interesting to see how his succesor performs.

Finally, I went to see the Icelandic production of "Faust" at the Young Vic. This was almost two weeks ago now, so the moment has really passed for me to write a proper review. However, I do have some thoughts, which I thought I would post directly onto my blog.

I was not paticularly looking forward to it, having tried to read the play in its English translation and failing miserably. It was the longest and most complicated play that I have ever attempted to read, so in the end I just gave up, for I was almost oblivious to what was going on.

My hopes of one day reading the play in its original language gone, I decided to go with an open mind, and actually had such an enjoyable afternoon. It was unlike anything that I had ever seen before. The plot was stripped to its bare minimum, and used the "play within a play" concept that I had so enjoyed in "The Habit of Art". The production was set to rock music, as well as a psychedelic set and lighting. The main unique feature was the large net, suspended above the heads of the audience, which was often used by the actors. There were several loud shocks, as well as visual ones, which kept me on the edge of my seat at all times.

Whilst the performance was visually spectacular and a lovely way to spend an afternoon, I did not really feel anything for any of the characters, although it's worth noting that Faust's lovely closing monologue was ruined by someone's mobile phone going off. Overall, I think I would recommend the production to other people for the sheer originality of the staging and adaptation. I would be interested in seeing other shows of this genre, to see how they compare.

In the future, I really will try and keep my blog updated on a more regular basis. I really do enjoy writing, it's just that sometimes school and work gets in the way....