For many dull and generally uninteresting reasons I’ve not been writing about the theatre productions that I’ve enjoyed for a while. Inevitably that means that I can’t actually remember everything I’ve seen! That was one of the main aims of writing these posts, as well as a well established tendency to pick over, analyse and otherwise over think anything I enjoy…
Time to restart methinks, particularly as I’ve just seen an excellent production which I do want to try to sort through my thoughts about. (Watch this space!)
Thinking back over the various productions I’ve seen in the lengthy writing free gap there are a few that stand out. It’s a little too daunting to think about writing at length about them all but as an aide memoir to my aging memory bank a few thoughts on the ones that made an impression.
Hamlet at Manchester’s Royal Exchange
It wasn’t perfect. It was a little uneven and I did have some concerns about the Primark stocked graveyard – and more about the piles of clothes left for the rest of the scenes. The gender changes worked well and became largely irrelevant once the play began – although I couldn’t help wondering if a male Ophelia could make such a terminally unlikable character any better! It didn’t seem in the slightest bit important that a woman played Hamlet, it is the character we’re watching after all and this Hamlet was wary and watchful, cutting and direct and gained in power the longer we watched. It was a mesmerising performance. The staging was sparse but the lighting design was fabulous and the forest of flickering lamps that descended to show the approach of the ghost was a beautiful image that still lingers.
The Crucible at the Old Vic
The Crucible was originally about McCarthy’s paranoia about communism but it seems to me it’s shifted to warn against the extremes of belief in its tale of a mostly good man damned by the god-fearing. (Yes, I know that’s an oversimplification.) The staging was deceptively simple, the lighting and sound designs both impeccable and in an ensemble cast no one put a foot wrong. Sitting in the round, and we were very close to the performance area, you feel as if you are sitting in judgement and it adds to the intensity. The tension is ratcheted up and up, reaching a peak in three and a half hours. It just didn’t let up.
And neither did Richard Armitage – and let’s be honest, a fair proportion of the audience did buy their tickets to see him! He gave us a John Proctor of essential decency overlain with guilt pushed into growing and righteous anger and it was a performance of incredible intensity. I have no idea how he managed to do this day in day out, never mind twice a day!
The Elephant Man at the Haymarket, London
The Elephant Man is really quite a slight play which relies heavily on good performances. Luckily this one came up trumps on that. Bradley Cooper delivered a reminder – often necessary – that some of those labelled with stunt casting of ‘Top TV Totty’ to lead shows (and ticket sales) can actually act.
The lasting memory of this show though was “Bleedin’ ‘ell, it’s high up here!” Front row, upper circle and yes, the view was excellent – especially of the ceiling. The steep walk down to the seat was rather less than excellent and I could have done with roping myself to an usher! That seemed a little forward so I’ll just put the momentary vertigo down to age and pack crampons for m y next visit…
Farinelli and the King at the Duke of Yorks
This was one of the most gorgeous looking productions I’ve seen in a long time – and made me wish I;d managed to see it at the Wanamaker Theatre lit entirely by candles. Mark Rylance seems incapable of being less than excellent and he duly delivered here in a show that was rather funnier than I’d expected. Starting with the King fishing in a goldfish bowl on the end of his bed and providing the memorable image of a castrato singer flying across the stage sprinkling glitter on the cheap seats. It also included a lot of thought-provoking issues about sanity, loneliness, the healing power of music – and the less than healing effects of other people.
The Skriker at Manchester’s Royal Exchange
Top of the list for impact, enjoyment and sheer audacity was The Skriker with Maxine Peake. One of my favourite performers I’d watch her in anything but this freewheeling avalanche of sound and fury and pathos was amazing. The Skriker – a shape-shifting malevolent spirit – is in the centre of everything, constantly drawn to humans but why? To torment, to own, to punish? Nothing is clear. The language is dense, pun filled and as fast moving as the way Maxine Peake shifts the Skriker from ageless faerie to bag woman to child to glossy corporate. The mix of the language and the stunning visuals – especially the Skiriker’s underworld banquet – were almost overwhelming and the experience teetered on the edge of overtaking the ultimately bleak message.
Truly immersive theatre, the stage level of the Royal Exchange was filled with long tables, benches and chairs where the watchers were seated to see the drama played out around and about and above them. At one point there was an unexpected shower of water when a fountain sprayed up from the table, at others you worried an actor would end up on your lap.
An incredible performance from Maxine Peake – making the alliterative avalanche of words as accessible as it could be and bringing a physicality to a role that veered across the emotional range but never for a moment let you forget that the Skriker is evil; ancient, formidable evil. Utterly marvelous.
Oh, and for those who say that I’ve missed Doctor Faustus, I can only say that I rather wish I had…