Seen Any Good Plays Recently?

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Re: Seen Any Good Plays Recently?

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Sat Apr 25, 2020 11:10 am

Watched the 2010 Globe Theatre Romeo and Juliet which I have seen before and is probably my second favourite adaptation of the iconic play, Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 film better in my view. I had seen this before so knew something of what to expect though I'm wondering if some parents might regret using this one for literature education and I will always have fondness for this, if I recall rightly this and Henry IV part 1 opened my eyes to what Shakespeare could be.

It has good production values, uses the stage well, good costumes, ye medieval sounding music (though it's drum for action veers towards the too loud). It knows the tone it wants, this are youngsters, full of passion of both the loving and the temperamental kind but they are also prone to bawdy jokes and lust. They avoid the trap of trying too hard with the ribald humour, they feel in character and even if not always executed right, it feels natural for such jokes. The leading couple are youngsters, giving free reign to their passions and emotions, changeable, this is true love (with good cynicism from those around Romeo as he switches from Rosalind to Juliet with such ease), all is great joy or great woe, there is great lust but also moments of shyness (particularly from Juliet).

For me this production has a very good first two thirds but flags in the tragic phase, would say after the famous duel. In the first two phases, it's cast mostly do a good job, even if not every line quite flows smoothly they get the emotional heart from it. Characters feel like friends, hot tempered foes and of course, in one case two struck lovers, they dance and they duel. It's comedy and romance drive it on well. Philip Cumbus was a charismatic but haunted Mercutio, Ukweli Roach gently charasmatic but with a temper as Tybalt while Tom Stuart doing decent ineptness as Paris

The comedy is hit and miss, Fergal Mcelherron’s jokes didn’t work for me at all, attempted word play from all characters tended to fall flat. A lot of the jokes by everyone had an edge of "could have been funnier" yet they still got good laughs and plenty of variety. Some of it having fun with ribald and innuendo, the wink wink of a sexy line or a well timed lewd hand-gesture, some of it is figures like the Nurse (Penny Layden with good tenderness at times) having to pull back from a line, figures like Paris and Nurse failing to interpret a leave or failing to shut up and the reactions of those around him or Lady Capulet (a good Miranda Foster) uncertain how to deal with her daughter and wearily trying to handle her husband.

Then the big romance, Tomiwa Edun and Ellie Kendrick have a good chemistry from their moment their eyes meet, carried by their passions between the agony (of which Romeo had plenty about Rosalind) to the great joy, delivering some great lines on the balcony, bouncing off each other well. The romance draws you in as they flirt and woo, the little nervous glances, the passionate embrace as the characters fall heads over heel. The play never lets you forgot Romeo has felt such things before but that, in those moments, their belief that this is true love is true.

Then you get to the tragedy, a well done duel after heated exchanges and the play does less well. There are good scenes, the last goodbye, the father's anger but the scenes as a whole do not have the same punch as the first two thirds. What had worked for the first two thirds has to go: the couple parted well but that is a loss of a key pairing, their friends are gone or in a reduced role now, the humour rightly has to go bar the odd flash here or there.

Some of the cast for the adults do less well, Andrew Vincent's delivery is off as the prince, Ian Redford is slightly erratic as the father, it was unfortunate that I was not a fan of Rawiri Paratene’s performance as the priest, the delivery felt one note, given how key the role is. Kendrick is a talented actress from what I have seen of her but she couldn't quite bring that same emotional pull to her end phase then she had with the romance and the humour. I wasn't pulled in by many of the scenes and when the big ending scene occurs, I did not feel any emotional punch in either case, the tragedy just passed me by on this one and the three hours (or near enough) had begun to take it's toll.

Still, a very enjoyable production for most of it and I will happily watch it again someday.
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Re: Seen Any Good Plays Recently?

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Sun May 03, 2020 4:45 pm

Watched National Theatre's 2017 production of The 12th Night with Tamsin Greig being the headliner as Malvolia while Tamara Lawrance and Daniel Ezra are the siblings for this romantic comedy of confusion, set in modern day in terms of costume and props. It isn't a play I have greatly enjoyed down the years but, while this production has its own flaws, this was a great comedy that got stronger by the minute.

Simon Godwin and his team's production is impressive, the stairs that can split off into three or more help frame every changing set and have many hidden surprises. They have songs however don't think they added anything as they didn't have strong singers with the fool Festa's Doon Mackichan doing most of the singing, they did have a decent sax player and drag cabaret version of 2be or not to be was fun. Costumes, props and stage direction all seem to be lined up to make as funny a comedy as possible, Malvolia's outfit for her master for example really raised a laugh while plenty of good costume and prop comedy to be had.

The cast were, with some exceptions (the headline three and Daniel Rigby) erratic, some like Oliver Chris as Orsino and Phoebe Fox's Olivia grew stronger over time, others remained erratic while Niky Wardley was flat as Maria. The production didn't always get the choices right, there was no hint of Maria's love for Sir Toby (Tim McMullan) until they play mentions it, some things like the Sir Toby's party watching the steward didn't work (I was hoping they would get out of the way as Grieg was bringing a fair bit of amusement without them), there is a fine balance between Olivia's pursuit of Cesario's being funny and being uneasy and it went on one scene too many before recovering.

The "Sir Toby" party is a bit of a weak point, McMullan's style isn't to my taste, the Maria issue, the "one too many servants" but they get in great situations like the steward prank, which Tasmin Grieg and the costume/prop designers really pull off, or the duel. They also have an absolutely brilliant performance by Daniel Rigby as the foolish Sir Andrew Aguecheek, again greatly helped by choice of costumes and even hair style for extra comedy, he is hilarious be it his timing, the deliberate ineptness, even his movement is made with comedy in mind.

As a romance, this is alright but not going to punch the air at the endings with couples. Violet and Orsino's suppressed desires are more used for comedy but there are nice if rare scenes between them, there is a sweet but underwritten romance involving Sebastian, Olivia's desires for Cesario is always meant to comic and it is generally amusing as Olivia from the moment she realizes her desires and goes for him by hook and by crook.

As a comedy, the use of Latin phrases was beyond me, some comedy moments didn't work for various reasons but everything in the production was built towards getting the laughs. Location props like a drinking fountain with unreliable sprays, the costumes like the choices for Sir Aquecheek or how much further they go then yellow stockings for the steward prank, the performances tending towards the comic were appropriate, be in the ineptness of Aguecheek or the mistaken seductions, the confusions. The longer the play went on, the funnier it got as performances got stronger and had a great time.

The end phase has two very different goings on and doesn't quite meld, there is the reveals which are done to great comic effect, had me laughing a lot as the plot is wrapped up. Mixing with that is the tragedy and horror Malvolia has gone through, Grieg and the production go fully for how horrible that would have been so one passage your laughing and then you have the stark bleakness. Both brilliant but huge tonal shifts. At the last, uses the stage well for flashes of an epilogue which I liked, had a mix of the happy and the sad.

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Watched Cheek by Jowl's production of The Winter's Tale, a work I have never seen before and group I hadn't seen before. Very much a play/production divided into two acts, the first act very much stronger then the second, really engaged for the first half but the second part was a bit flat. Production was "simple", modern clothing, a wooden box that could be dismantled and was used well sometimes as background and sometimes to open up to show something.

The first act of the two is about Sicilian King Leontes with his family and the King’s descent: Extremely well done, particularly around the family dynamics. A tender love between king (Orlando James) and wife Hermonie (Natalie Radmall-Quirke), a strong bond between king and best friend Polixenes (Edward Sayer), a loving if... petulant son Mamillius (Tom Cawte). Each of the four has their own interaction and sense of long standing personal relationship with each other. Hermonie understanding of the bond between friends and knowing how to handle the strops of her son, the childhood friends memories of a shared youth and most eager playfighting. The son’s behaviour is very much modelled on the father and there is amusement as the mother and the maids try to handle him.

When Leontes begins ranting about his family, the rest of the action pauses and they use that well as he moves their bodies to represent what he thinks is happening. It carefully times between paused rants and unpause where another family scene goes on, it is sometimes comic and sometimes (and increasingly) dark. The descent is well done, there is tension as the accusations come to light, there is pain (and just the right amount of comedy when needed), the trial is well delivered as the two sides row, Hermonie's desperation and the King's confidence.

The King's circle reaction to the accusations and the events that unfold is pretty good, a mixture of old guard defending the Queen and some being worried about opposing the King, cast do a good job all round and Joy Richardson’s Paulina has quite the firm tongue which she uses in amusing fashion against the king.

Because one cares for the family thanks to the strong opening, it makes the events tearing apart those dynamics and their lives even more tragic, I was really pulled in for this first act. Then we jump forward in time to Bohemia where the characters' children have grown up, switches to a mixture of romance and comedy, comic narrator for the second act Autolycus (Ryan Donaldson) humorously acknowledging the switch in tone. The first act was gripping, the second act has its moment here and there but it is alright at best.

Autolycus is involved in a lot of the best scenes, mostly comedy though one very effective dark scene
as guard at border, sadly going to be very brutal
. As a comic, Donaldson does raise a chuckle a fair few times and plays with the audience a little, tries to add to jokes with sense of being pleased which has mixed effects. Acts as a minstrel but the songs are forgettable.

I didn't warm to the set of the characters in Bohemia family, Sayer seemed to find it harder to click here then he did with the Sicily family and his performance seemed off, things like the sheep shearing party... has its moments particularly when the minstrel turns up (the TV show nods was funny) but there was real lack of spark. The big romance between Florizel (Sam Woolf) and Perdita (Eleanor McLoughlin) lacked chemistry between the two characters and I struggled to warm to them or their cause.

When they got to Sicily, the pacing seemed to be off, the scenes felt like vignettes strung together as if the scenes were suddenly going at a quicker pace. It was good to see the King again and the sharp tongue of Pauline provided some humour but the moments felt rushed rather then given time to breathe, the two sets of cast didn't have time to gel or explore things, ending felt slightly weird.
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Re: Seen Any Good Plays Recently?

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Sat May 09, 2020 5:51 pm

Tried National Theatre's Anthony and Cleopatra with Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo as the leads, stopped after half an hour or so. The word play remains strong and I wish there were more productions but was not impressed by Okonedo's performance while I could see what Fiennes was doing but it never quite landed. I wasn't sinking in at all.

Watched Cheek by Jowls' Measure for Measure, Russian production, modern costumes, three red boxes for backdrop and the odd prop, opens with an odd scene of the Duke (Alexander Arsentyev) being chased around in silence. The idea’s and the performances behind this are good but there are production issues, the camera is bad with jerky movement at times (one can feel it zoom in) and really badly timed shots undermining the comedy. The sound is good until end phase where attempt to mimic a public gathering ends up with erratic sound (there is also a sentence in prison where sound dropped off completely but only for one sentence) as sound goes quiet or blares out.

On the “they speak Russian”, I’m fairly used to subtitled drama’s. Maybe something gets a little lost in the bigger speeches and subtitle pacing (plus differentiation between characters in conversation) wasn’t quite up to it, sometimes not always clear who was speaking what sentence or a sentence appear for five seconds, but the cast and the subtitles got what was needed. It is a good cast, Anna Vardevanian makes a good and passionate Isabella facing up to horrors of this world, Alexander Matrosov does very good expression work as the Provost, Alexander Feklistov has a good knack for comedy as Lucio and sells his character well, Elmira Mirel gives passion and desperate love to Marina. Others are somewhat erratic but it is more “good performance with some flat bits” then a negative, Alexander Arsentyev as the Duke or Andrei Kuzichev as a bureaucratic Angelo.

The play, despite the camera problems, has a nice comic touch, examples being the Duke trying to somewhat ineptly hide as a monk, Lucio trying to gee up Isabella for the meeting with Angelo, the stares of the Provost. It also refuses to hide the horrors of what is going on particularly to Isabella who is betrayed by those around her, the abuse of power, about what exactly is being asked is a a horrible thing. It can’t build on those moments as it soon moves on but it ensures those moments hit home, Isabella speaking of how nobody would believe her for example is well done.

When it moves into the prison, it is a bit weird. One wonders what the point of Bernandie (Igor Teplov) is as introduced then gets replaced, some odd stuff happens (the cello scene comes to mind), it can’t build on the themes of the past as goes down other routes, pacing of some of the strands feels a bit rushed. It isn’t bad but it lacks some of the power of the scenes outside it. Ending is deliberately mixed rather then cheerful, one suspects the play is meant to be happy ever after but the production does differently, the one "happy" one has so little time it doesn't have pull but the other two, the actors showing this is a mixed thing for some of the characters rather then going to be happy ever after.

Enjoyed the production despite the flaws due to cast, comedy and the darker elements.

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Globe Theatre's Two Noble Kinsman, a Shakespeare and John Fletcher play, not one that often gets done or is remembered. Production does an unusual amount of songs but they make the music work for them, ye olde costumes and good use of props.

First scene a bit erratic, I enjoyed Thesus frustration as wedding interrupted and it provided a bit of humour, Jude Akuwudike was a good performer throughout as a paitent king who was dealing with some “what the” moment. However others in the cast had initial struggles including the three Queens (who I kept thinking as the three witches thanks the black), I liked the king's best friend Pirithous with a good performance by Matt Henry but found the Queen Hippolyta (Moyo Akandé) a commanding if erratic presence. Once the two kinsman, loving cousins Arcite (Bryan Dick) and Palamon (Paul Stocker) appear, it does kick up a gear. The two have great chemistry as fond cousins with a sense of honor and passion, willing to brave anything together. Even more so when seeing Emila (Ellora Torchia) drives them apart, the two actors drive great comedy out of their hatred and their splits, their schemes and passions.

One recurring strand has the court that manages to drift across other strands, good scenes and nice sense of "what the" about the craziness they come across, also a sense of joy during happy times. Akuwudike strong presence throughout and a pleasure to watch but some erratic performances like Akade or Torchia, the latter has some great facial work during moments of surprise or amusement, some well delivered passages about her fate and love but line delivery could also be stiff.

There was the two brothers as their own strands but also interacting with the others, sometimes together with honour constraining their anger and bitter (and petulant words) but sometimes apart, moaning their fate or in love with Emila that they forget about everyone else. They are an absorbing amusing duo, providing plenty of the heart and the comedy. Once Palamon escapes, there are a series of escapades with the jailor’s daughter (Francesca Mills) often at their heart for the third strand. Not great first scene from Mills but she got stronger, used songs and dances well, got some good laughs out of scenes though the descent into madness is a bit sudden. Gerald (Jos Vantyler who really pulls off the thicket costume with his attitude) and his Morris troop provide great amusement and a well done dance scene while the jailer father (Andrew Cryer) and his scenes tended to be fun, he came across as an amiable fellow dealing with a lot of amusing scenes.

The end phase doesn’t land, the jailer strand is done in good comic fashion but the play itself hasn’t aged well on a certain bit
cure the lady via having sex till the madness goes, some amusing at the father's reaction but there implications there linger
. The fates of the cousins and the court, doesn’t quite land with tone I think they were hoping for, there is something a little muddled about the play in terms of jumping from farce to farce and I’m not sure it knits the ending together.
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Re: Seen Any Good Plays Recently?

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Sun May 17, 2020 7:33 am

As part of BBC's Culture in Quarantine set Midsummer Night Dream, Emma Rice’s first production as Artistic Director and the final night of the show. Has a preamble and an interview during interview with the director, includes a comic version of fire warnings and there there aren’t seats at the pit.

This is very much a go big, go bold, go ribald version. A great comedy, plenty of laughs and had a wonderful time watching this. This tends to be one of my favourite plays of Shakespeare and this is a wonderful, full of life production. It has plenty of humour, it is a bawdy show from even the early warnings, possibly even more so then usual. It finds humour from playing with the crowd, from the play within a play, from the fights, from lust (and frustrated lust), from the situations and the lines. It retains the “this is alive” energy and cheer that I like about the Globe productions.

Production is… I’m more used to more scaled back, ye olde clothes. This seems to have had more of a budget, good use of the harnesses for flying, costumes modern by Mortiz Jung and suit the characters (some very bold if perhaps a little too bold for my tastes, some casual, some suited), very good make up work to make Puck look more fairy in facial features. Plenty of songs, slight alterations to the wording to suit the situation while as far as I can tell retaining the large majority of the original text. Using Globe added some poignancy to some of the lines about all the world and so forth.

The romantic foursome, Anjana Vasan is superb as Hermia, the sensible, modest one, utterly in love, knowing when to restrain the passions, finding plenty of humour. Has a good chemistry with her co-stars and when it comes to into the fight, she really lets rip, a ball of fury but with a comic edge. Edmund Derrington is a good Lysander, passionate and devoted, accepting the restraints that she asks.

Initially wasn’t sure about Ankur Bahl’s performance as Helena, he had a certain style that initially made me fear Helena (I did feel script could have done more to press that Helena had been dumped) was going to be over the top but really grew into his performance. His style made for great comedy and great hurt+tragedy when the other males tried to woo him, a good cutting line delivery and a brilliant reactor to events. Ncuti Gatwa was fine as a somewhat forgettable Demetrius, got some laughs and sweet enough towards Helena at the end.

In terms of the fairies, Meow Meow as Titania has a good lounge singer voice which helped with the songs and a decent comic touch, Zubin Varla grew into it, linking up well with Puck and a a good comic touch when involved with the lovers. As a pairing (either as the King and Queen of humans or the fairy couple), that was never really built into. Katy Owen’s Puck was a star figure, she gave a very energetic performance, gave the sense of a young figure who desperately wished to please Oberon enjoying pranks and games. Felt like she commanded the audience with her jokes and her antics, first half her brand of humour was varying between hilarious and pushing it slightly for my tastes for me but had less issue in second half and it was sweet seeing her puck trying to please and even copy Oberon.

Usually a weakness is Bottom and his team, in my few viewings of other adaptations, this strand tends to fall flat or be neglected but not here. Ewan Wardrop plays Bottom with Lucy Thackeray as the leader of the troop. The two of them provided the comic opening, Thackeray as the eager and slightly officious figure who remarks of what things from Shakespeare’s time they don’t want the audience and Wardrop advice perhaps more intended for the actors then for public safety.

Within the play, Wardrop like Owen plays off the audience and is a fine comic, providing quite a few laughs when with the a fairies but it is as a group they shine. Provincial players, eager, flawed and with an female group bar the arrogant Bottom, that shapes the dynamics well. They bounce off each other to good comical effect. That play within the play reminds me somewhat of “play gone wrong” and it was amusing. Fluffed lines, props not going as well as they should, costume issue, unaware of inappropriateness, the reactions from those watching. Add the eagerness of the troupe to do well beneath their leaders to give a bit of hearth beneath the laughter.

Had a wonderful time watching this production! A 9 out of 10!
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Re: Seen Any Good Plays Recently?

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Mon May 25, 2020 11:05 am

Watched Globe Theatre 2018 production of The Winter's Tale, a good if weaker first half then Cheek by Jowl's production but a more consistent, stronger second half. I was surprised this was one was only two years old as unusually bad TV work for a globe production, the camera was not good at finding the right angles and undercut some of the comedy with bad shots while sound quality was prone to dipping and quite poor.

Priyanga Burford was a very good Hermoine and provided the early spark with her husband then as things turned against her, Rose Wardlaw did well as the son with good sense of childishness even if delivery was erratic and with moments of humour from Oliver Ryan as Bohemia's King. Will Keen as the troubled king and husband of Hermoine was pretty good at descent into troubles and with bits of humour for the audience with the odd line here and there, the monologues were done reasonably well. They were well supported by those around them like Adrian Bower's straight laced and honest Camillo, Howard Ward was amusing as Antigonus, Sirine Saba as Paulina gave her own stamp on it with a big performance (wasn't always 100% to my taste but my sister liked it) that provided humour and ensured she stood out as a forceful sharp tongued figure. The trial is well done with fine speeches and comedy around the oracle of Delphi while nicely done tragedy follows.

Act 1 had gone along nicely thanks to comedy and some good individual performances that held the attention, the tragedy of the situation was well done. Cheek by Jowl made more of this (they also had better camera while this goes for more conventional handling of the king's speech of his suspicions) thanks to a strong family dynamic that this one lacks, this production does well on individual performances but doesn't build that sense of family bond so the tragedy is about poor Hermoine rather then the sense of a family shattered.

Act 2 was enjoyable and consistent, made the most of "tell now show" with a sense of humour, Norah Lopez Holden and Luke MacGregor made a likeable pairing as the young lovers upon which the second act depends. They clicked individually (though MacGregor wasn't good at anger) and as a pairing, the passions running as a couple then when it goes wrong with wild plans and how Perdita was hurt as her partner's foolishness seemed set to cost them everything. The shepherd's feast went along nicely, some well placed comedy (again somewhat undermined by camera) at Perdita's inadvertent insults of the guest and the father's frustration with his wayward son.

The play has a good supporting cast that again help here with the comedy and reacting to events that go on around them, an argument here, a comic line there. In terms of the main three comedy support, Jordan Metcalfe is fine enough as Perdita's brother, Annette Badland as the mother had some good comic movement but comic delivery fell flat for me. Becci Gemmell as the roguish Autolycus was decent enough when bouncing off the others, didn't pull off the monologues but she was excellent playing off the crowd with some fun touches.

When it comes to the end phase, Will Keen gives a very good sense of a haunted and saddened man while Saba's performance felt better in these scenes. There is comedy with the lovers (and the production dealing with the rushed element of the play), joy at people reunited after so long and warm heart. The end scene is well pulled off, mixing sadness, love and comedy well, when the big moment comes, it is a sweet and sad moment well pulled off.

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Watched Royal Shakespeare Company 2015 production of Much Ado About Nothing/Love's Labour's Won as part of BBC's Culture in Quarantine. Good production values, the set with many props and settings comes across as expensive, sets their play in WW1 with the costumes and music of such, has a few songs and done well either as a group (like Deepest Winter) or Edward Bennett's capable singing at the piano. The time setting is good, people returning from war with new eyes, the sense of class and honour that drives much of the story, the sense of natural authority and time for games.

I tend to enjoy this play and this adaptation was well done with plenty of fun, cast were generally good like Flora Spencer-Longhurst and Tunji Kasim as the "main" romance, Sam Alexander as the villainous Don Juan and so on. Felt David Horovitch and John Hodgkinson delivered their lines well as the elder statesmen (Leonato and Don Pedro respectively), capturing the sense of old English gentlemen, slightly bumbling for comedy but with something more behind them. Horovitch is devastatingly cutting in the polite English way when it calls for it in the calmly angry confrontation with Don Pedro and Claudio. The cast generally seem to be having fun with the humour scenes and get the language right.

For the more popular romance, Edward Bennett is very good as Benedict, mostly lands the humour though a bit erratic during the "overhearing friends tell of Beatrice love", able to play off crowd (and at one point has to stop to compose himself), sweet and firm at the right times. Has a good chemistry with Michelle Terry, she is good but her Hamlet was better and lacked that bit of cutting edge to the humour that she brought to that play, without quite that cut she gets a little outshone by Benedict. Not helped by Benedict getting a big "finds out about the other loving them" scene and she doesn't. Terry has a good fierceness as things go wrong for her household and good sadness when something cuts Beatrice inside. One does warm to the attempts from friends to get them together due to the flashes of pain both characters show, the real and humorous pleasure the friends seem to take in trying to wrangle them together and the sweet scenes in the end phase.

This was a production with humour be it battles of wit or use of prop comedy (though the Benedict overhearing one was erratic in delivery), likeable romances that you root for and sense of place. Made a decent fist of the watchmen, I never find the watch funny, I can see the comedy of Malapropisms and those out of place but I have never ever seen it land in a production of Much Ado. It doesn't here but the watch stuff goes along nicely rather then the usual boredom, Nick Haverson and an elderly figure who I can't seem to find played his assistant, bounced off each other well, there was good haplessness, a great piece of prop comedy and a moment of sadness. I'm not usually a fan of elements of the ending (mainly Hero and Claudio reuniting, made sense for time it was written but I struggle to forgive Claudio) but they pulled it off by trying to give some nuance and good performances without trying to make it happy happy.

Handles the switch from romantic comedy to tragedy well, partly by always having glimpses of sadness, partly as comedy and romance never completely goes but it is used at the right times. The cast carry off the cruelty, the fury, the pain well, it holds the attention well and there are some very well done moments like Leonato's putdown of his guests or the remorse from Claudio when his foolishness is revealed. Having built the circle of friendship and laughter, it is effective when all that collapses so quickly and so bitterly.

Great last image to finish with.
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Re: Seen Any Good Plays Recently?

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Fri Jun 05, 2020 5:05 pm

Watched James Graham 2012 play This House at the National Theatre. Set during the minority and hung government of Labour from 74 election under Harold Wilson to the end of James Callaghan's leadership, this concentrates not on the big names of the time but on the two whips offices under Labour's Bob Mellish (Phil Daniels) and Humphrey Atkins (Julian Wadham), grinding desperately to win votes as tensions rise and numbers are thin (though concentration did feel more on Labour's ranks). This got some more attention in Westminster during the desperate fights of May's tenure and generally got good reviews

I wasn't around in the 1970's but as someone who follows politics, I was aware of most of the stories they touched on like John Stonehouse (Andrew Havill) faking his own death, others I was not aware of but they aren't the core of the story and they seem to set out enough for people to follow if they don't know the story or the character (most non-whips are called by their constituency rather then their name). I felt the play also explained issues like pairing well as to why they exist, why they matter and how a technocratic gentlemen's agreement it can matter

What it focuses on are the whips, it touches on stories that would have troubled and shows trends like the changing make up of both parties or events to foreshadow Labour's civil war strewn 80's, it touches on big themes of the time like devolution. Mostly it concentrates on the whips, good people (mostly men bar Lauren O'Neil's Ann Taylor) with sense of humour, a sense of honour yet as tensions build, they go down desperate paths, taking huge costs to themselves and others as they battle to either keep their party in power or to get their party in power, to keep the MP's onside. The Labour whips particularly have a strong sense of personality (Tory whips, only the main and deputy Jack Weatherill by Philip Glenister) and it makes their decisions, their errors, their moments of greatness amidst the ugly grind more powerful for it, it acknowledges politics comes at a cost for such figures.

The play has some songs, cast do a very good job, it has a good sense of humour as the whips insult each other or have play on words (or football) and farce politics sometimes bring, it carries a strong sense of tragedy (it handles death fairly well) and the pain politics sometimes brings including the mistakes of even the wisest. It doesn't seem to mock politics or Westminster, the characters have a complicated relationship with politics and it's traditions, it matters, they are pulled to it, they use the honour and there is real sense of anger if that is defiled but there is also frustration at failures to reform, they know things could be done so much better and they know the costs.

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Watched Globe Theatres 2019 adaptation of The Merry Wives of Windsor, costumes and setting has a feeling of say the 1930's with dancing and music also set in such era (Forbes Masson as Mr Page has a nice jazz singer voice), works with the sense of Windsor gentry and their friends having time for parties and pranks, focusing on marriages. A production where the cast very happy to use the crowd, to an extent during one scene there was laughter as one corner backed away for fear of potential splashing.

This is a play with too many characters, the strand of those seeking the hand of Anne Page (Boadicea Ricketts) suffers from this as the likes of Anne don't get the focus to make the romance really sing. There are sweet moments, humour though Doctor Caius (Richard Katz) not quite fully mastering the English language gets tired after a spell, the cast is good and it does enough to give a sense of personality. However even by the end, the main romance hasn't had enough time, despite good performances from Ricketts and Zach Wyatt, to really care if they get together or not nor to care about the other suitors and the family.

When the play focuses on Falstaff (Pearce Quigley) and his wooing of the two wives, Mistress Page (Sarah Finigan) and Mistress Ford (Bryony Hannah), it really shines. Quigley is a very good Falstaff, seedy and overweight but still with something of the old wit and arrogance, Quigley gives a good comic performance with not just Shakespeare's jokes but adding some of his own to follow on, he is able to also give a more serious display when required to good effect. Finigan and Hannah bounce off each other well and off Quigley, good comic timing as their characters plot and scheme, a sense of confidence and control throughout. All three use props and the crowd to amusing effect as the ladies use Falstaff's attempts to seduce and his personal flaws against him. Jude Owusu as the jealous Mr Ford is very good, giving a well done sense of anger and wild jealously and able to twist that for comedy as he pretends to befriend Falstaff and hears shocking news, some great reactions to events.

The four click well, they and the play know how to use things for comedy, be it props or a quip or a sound off stage or an exaggerated expression. The set up then the three encounters were the best stands of the play, focusing on the four characters (for most part), each prank building well off what had come before be it the initial amorous stages, then the crises, then Falstaff's troubles, Mr Ford's bungled interactions then the debrief from both sides (and Mr Ford's agony as he hears of Falstaff's adventures from Falstaff) before the next encounter. I would have loved to have seen Mistress Page have a seduction and prank scene of her own, rather then it being around Ford, to see what Fingan would have done with it.
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Re: Seen Any Good Plays Recently?

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Fri Jun 12, 2020 4:16 pm

Tried Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2016 adaptation of Hamlet with an all black cast. The production work is very good, the use of drums and shadow, modern costume and settings used nicely, they make an ethereal quality (thanks to smoke and sound) of Ewart James Walters‘s commanding ghost.

Clarence Smith was impressive as Claudius, able to shift tone in a moment, sometimes smoothly spouting propaganda, sometimes orders, sometimes charm and in seeming control. They landed the comedy of Laertes (Marcus Griffiths) goodbye and departure, the “birds and the Hamlet” talk with Ophleia (Natalie Simpson), the loving goodbye and warning from Polonius (a charming Cyril Nri). The three had a nice bond, got the humour right and good use of props like Hamlet’s gifts.

However I wasn’t a fan of Paapa Essiedu’s performance as Hamlet and any time he was a focus, my attention dipped. Hamlet has never been my favourite play, saw another version not that long ago and at three hours, a play heavily focused on a character whose actor struggled to hold my interest, decided to pull out.

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Tried National Theatre's Madness of George III but pulled out. Good set set design and costumes, sets change quickly and smoothly so credit for those behind the scenes. On one hand meant to be a comedy (apparently), one or two decent jokes but the delivery wasn’t quite there, even Gatiss comedy didn’t land, the doctor felt tiresome. As a political drama, the characters felt broad-brush in the opening stages and even when subtleties come in, it still feels a bit too broad and one got a sense of who the play doesn’t like.

I did like the moment of tension between the Queen (Debra Gillett) and Lady Pembrooke (Sara Powell), a moment of very polite tension and unease as they try to soothe damage between them. Gatiss does a decent job as the King’s health takes a turn for the worst but it wasn’t enough to keep me there for over two hours.

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Saw National Theatre's 2014 production of Coriolanus which got headlines at the time for managing to have Tom Hiddleston as the lead. Seen play once or twice and it is a good play when done right, this was a production that thankfully did it right.

Mostly modern costume and very good make up work for the scars, good lighting and prop work for effects, sound could be iffy with the tribunes (Elliot Levey and Helen Schlesinger) sometimes sounding like their microphones weren't working while other times, the play was too loud. The production was very good at the sense of little circles like Corilanus little circle of friends vs the tribunes, good "for the people" vs a man who sees giving an inch to be a dangerous move (though play does feel more in favour towards Coriolanus wariness of the masses), it gives the sense of the flaws in the lead character that lead to his troubles and how senate and the people react to him. Ending feels abrupt, it makes sense with what had built up before but I something to do with the pacing left a "wait, it's over".

Hiddleston is a fairly good lead, very good amusing petulance and flashes of humour, at times gives the sense of the character's rage and dynamic with his mother, some strong speeches but also times where a speech didn't quite click and he didn't bring the emotion to them, flashes of where Hiddleston didn't quite vanish into the role. This was by no means a bad performance but it was those around him that really shone in this production.

Deborah Findlay is the star player as the mother, really sells how her personality and ambitions shape the dynamics around her, the way her son has become, the way the wife gets pushed aside. Delivers her speeches very well, finding the right tone in both delivery and in the look of the face, doesn't quite land the final speech but really delivers on her expressions in the end phase. Birgitte Hjort Sørensen as the wife has a fairly small role but she makes the most of it, helping build the dynamic with the powerful mother-in-law, the strained politeness when pressed to do things she doesn't want, the looks when shut out, the love for the husband. Mark Gatiss as close friend Menenius delivers the seemingly easy going humour and fondness very well, kind of character I have seen him play a few times, but lifts his performance to a even higher standard when it gets serious for his character, one feels his pain.

The tribunes Levey and Schlesinger quietly manoeuvred and they combine well as a duo as they face off the others in senate, knowing how to get under the skin of others and battling wits, nicely done anger against the rich and good stirring up of the crowd. The crowd are down well by Rochenda Sandall, Mark Stanley, Dwane Walcott and Jacqueline Boatswain, one can see the fandom of the crowd to celebrity of conquering hero and then the anger when feeling let down, changing quickly and good humour at that fickle. Hadley Frasier was fine as opposing general, some good moments when face to face with counterpart but didn't stand out.
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Re: Seen Any Good Plays Recently?

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Fri Jun 26, 2020 3:51 pm

Tried BBC Culture in Quarantine/Royal Shakespeare's 2018 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet but left it after the balcony scene. Possibly seen another version too recently and preferred that but felt much of it didn't click. Modern clothing and music, simple setting but plenty of ideas of their own and sense of humour like Benvolio's (Josh Finan) feelings towards Romeo (Bally Gill).

I felt the cast performances were a bit erratic, some good moments like Finan when bouncing off Gill, the frustration of Lady Capulet (Mariam Haque), some moments of humour from the nurse (Ishia Bennison) but Charlotte Josephine's Mercutio went big in style and that was a style that didn't work for me. A lot of humour didn't quite land as much as should have and with the two leads, they lacked chemistry as a pairing. Gill certainly went with swagger but didn't feel he landed the poetry of Romeo, Karen Fishwick did some good stuff on the muddled thinking on the balcony but I didn't feel there was a strong pull of two lovers.

Tried Globe Theatre's 2014 adaptation of Midsummer Night's Dream, gave it till had seen all the factors (the lovers, the fairies, the players) then pulled out. Fine costumes, camera seems to miss several jokes made. The King's and Queen's (human and fairy) played by John Light and Michelle Terry have good sense of simmering anger and pain (some decent comedy as human kings) though Oberon really comes across as a jerk. Was not drawn to Puck (Matthew Tennyson) which was a concern given how much he is in the play, didn't capture the whimsy or make the words come alive.

The players were quite fun (unless your French), again some jokes seemed to be out of view of the camera, but what shone was the tensions between a flamboyant Peter and his star player Bottom (Pearce Quigley) over who played what and fighting over getting to speak. The four lovers did not click either as potential romances, in the sweet words or the attempts at humour with jokes often falling flat.

It wasn't clicking for me on too many fronts, particularly characters that were going to dominate the rest of the play so decided to leave.
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Re: Seen Any Good Plays Recently?

Unread postby Dong Zhou » Sat Jul 04, 2020 7:15 am

Watched National Theatre and the Bridge Theatre's 2019 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Overall, its first half is a little shaky, my sister left but it did enough to keep me going, the cast not yet fully firing and the ideas (like swapping Oberon and Titania's positions) that really come into play have yet to fully emerge. Second half, plenty of laughs, clever ideas to freshen things up while keeping very much within the spirit and words of the play, a lot production gets right with cast getting stronger and stronger, had a nice time. Due to my enjoyment and the sound of my laughter, my sister watched the second half and enjoyed it so perhaps patience required.

The stage at first glance is remarkably small but they use it fully to add to a dream like feeling as it slowly expands, that they have to get through watching crowds sometimes they use for comedy and to hide performers who can then pop up somewhere unexpected, use beds and the air for travel to good effect. The ability of the fairies and some of the more main cast is impressive in the aerial acrobatics! Good costumes, props used effectively and clear sound, music fits the mood+scenes to enjoyable impact. The production has ideas that provide nice surprises and little twists to the tale to keep it fresh.

On the strands

1) The fairies:

The King (Oliver Chris) and Queen (Gwendoline Christie) have a nice dynamic in opening scene, as the fairies the big switch up of their roles does play well off in giving another angle to events. Chris delivery style doesn't always work in opening stages but gets stronger, he bounces well off others and does great work with his eyes like the fierce authority in the opening scene, the hurt as pressed for his servant or the looks of desire towards Bottom, nice comic touch and some skilled acrobatics. Play did enough to make the relationship healing not feel weird.

Christie has a good air as authority and resentment as a defeated queen, as Titania Christie really tries to put her own touch and expressive style into the role, doesn't always work but overall she gives the impression of both a fierce figure but also a whimsical one with a nice comic touch. She squeals, she laughs, she has great joy and goes for expressive style, her character as a prankster causing chaos is very believable. Good dynamics with Puck, shifting between maternal authority and gentle calmness when he needs it and her anger with Oberon, struggles a bit to insert herself as a watcher of events.

David Moorst is a good Puck, fun exchanges with the crowd, a good comic touch, incredible acrobatic work. Makes his Puck very much a teenage prankster figure, can be prone to sulks, getting distracted and errors, loves a prank and to have a fun, a sweet heart beneath the silliness. Does well with knowing when to insert himself into a scene he is watching and when to leave out.

Shout to the faeries (Chipo Kureya, Jay Webb, Charlotte Atkinson, Lennin Nelson-McClure and singer Rachel Tolzman) who reacted well to events on stage and whose excellent acrobatics were worth watching just for itself.

2) The Lovers. This was a weak point, there was a lack of romantic chemistry and wasn't a strong sense of character, the fights felt weak. There were good scenes with humour (like the four way fight scene or Hermia turning down Lysander's eagerness) or the play does something (twists to the fighting scene), good use of props but overall it didn't live up to the other two strands.

Isis Hainsworth as Hermia delivery didn't click for me too often, she did good reactions, some scenes where her dialogue clicked as a gentle figure and during the fight her absolute fury was a lot of fun. Kit Young as Lysander had a sense of easy charm (though my sister felt it was the sort that makes one wary), Paul Adeyefa was fine as Demitrus but couldn't make him stand out, the two males did bounce off each other. Tessa Bonham Jones as Helena did her spaniel scene very well, she had a good line in sarcasm and strong fury but relied on that too much, Helena rarely showed the other sides to her and Jones did it well when she got the chance but constant anger loses impact over time.

3) The players including Hammed Animashaun as Bottom. They group has a good dynamic, their reactions to Bottom and his ego, the sense of groups within the group, confrontations played for comedy, a really good scene as they check for calendar. With team around him, it seems to lift Bottom onto better performances, they provide a nice sense of amusement. When Bottom wanders off into fairy land, Animashaun does a fine job, bounces off Oliver and the fairies, gives a good sense of the character in this strange situation in how he reacts and how he talks to others in a way that works well, a nice comic touch as he is drawn into Oberon's... care

For the play within the play aka "end of fairy time, a bit of built up to wedding, play within play" it ensured the fairy world/the dreams had not been for nought, the vague memories of the night had an impact on the characters, sometimes for humour and sometimes for something a bit more, it shaped them. The moment the lovers embrace and kiss is sweet, I felt warmth for them, the king and the queen gel well together. The play is nicely done, some nice use of props and deliberately inept acting, it avoids feeling like the weak point while it uses some of the watchers (the king and queen particularly) to add to the play's comedy and it is done in a good spirit.
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