So, tonight saw the airing of the BBC’s adaptation of 2014’s critically acclaimed stage play, King Charles III. It was one of my theatre highlights of that year (you’ll find my original review here) and I was thrilled to hear that such a daring and though-provoking drama was to be brought to the screen, particularly with most of the original main cast.
Now it has aired and after reading such diverse comments about the programme on Twitter, it seemed only right to review this new version and compare it to my experience of Mike Bartlett’s original material.
On seeing it for the first time in the theatre, I imagine I had the same thoughts many tuning in to BBC Two had; starting off with unease and discomfort at what I was watching. These are after all, some of the most familiar people in our lives in Britain. However, the cleverness of the style, structured as if a History play by Shakespeare, in verse, means that although real people, the drama is a step removed from reality, allowing the audience to be absorbed by the characters in front of them, rather than focussing on who they were based on.
Many are also saying that it is disrespectful, but I disagree. I support the Royal Family by and large (especially the Queen and the younger members) and yet I loved this play and equally enjoyed the screen version. It isn’t autobiographical – after all it’s set in the future! Like any good drama, it causes its audience to discuss and debate its content. It requires you to focus and engage with the questions it raises. None of us know what will happen when the Queen passes away and the crown moves to Charles and yes, this is a heightened reality, which I doubt would ever come to pass. However, as a drama, it asks some intriguing questions – Would Charles, who we know has given his political views in the past, resist giving his assent to a law he personally disagreed with? If he did, what would William do? Would he say nothing, or would he in fact do what was necessary in order to preserve the future of the Monarchy if it was put at risk by his father’s actions? Should we even still have a Monarchy, or does the stability of the Monarch actually hold Britain together?
Ultimately these are simply people, just like the rest of us and King Charles III treats them as such, as people with flaws, weaknesses, ambitions and desires. Yes, there are aspects I remain uncomfortable with (in particular, putting words in to the mouths of William and Harry about their mother), but I cannot take offence at something that isn’t claiming to be anything but fiction. In fact, I find myself thinking about the actual Royal Family and their lives in a whole new light.
As for the transition from stage to screen, overall, Mike Bartlett has done a great job in adapting his play for television. There have of course been cuts, mainly to long soliloquies to save time and certain scenes have changed locations (Jess no longer comes to the Palace after her first night on the town with Harry, which I actually think makes much more sense), but on the whole the text and the spirit of the play remains the same, something that I was a little worried may not translate from the stage. Director Rupert Goold (who also directed the play) is perfectly placed to ensure the Shakespearian tone of the piece remains – dramatic in places, mildly comedic in others. I also loved the moments in which characters spoke to camera, preserving the sense of theatre (which is becoming more common on television, with dramas such as House of Cards) and the use of the original music from the play, particularly the haunting Latin singing during the Coronation (which in the theatre gave me goosebumps).
Although, I did prefer the stage play due to my love of theatre and the powerful atmosphere the play brought to the stage, there are elements that, in my opinion, work better, or are improved by this adaptation. The biggest example is the ghostly presence of Diana. I never enjoyed this on stage, finding it rather cheesy and uncomfortable (even though I understood that a Shakespearean History play needs a ghost to steer the fates of the characters). Rather than a woman walking across a stage, here through the use of lighting and echoing voices, these moments actually work much better. Also, the inclusion of scenes showing the rest of the family’s reactions to Charles’ dissolution of Parliament were also welcome television additions, raising the stakes of the unfolding drama.
The acting remains strong in this 90 minute drama, with the key players from the stage stepping back in to their roles (Charles, William, Harry, Camilla and the Prime Minister all the same). I’ve seen a fair amount of comments on social media criticising the acting, but, in my opinion, to think that is to miss the complexity of this piece. This is after all a fictional story, depicting a family we all know incredibly well. Therefore the actors had to find a balance between conveying a realistic portrayal of those we know, but without becoming caricatures of them. This isn’t after all Spitting Image, which would indeed have been cheesy!
Central to this is the incredible performance by Tim Pigott-Smith, whose recent death makes watching this even more poignant. He brings to the screen a man whose whole life has been geared towards this one job and on finally getting it, he faces choices which affect the stability of the whole country. It’s interesting that the law he opposes is one restricting freedom of the press, which may be seen by some as admirable. Yet, the monarch’s role is not to stop laws, but to give their ceremonial assent and it is this decision, followed by his dissolution of a Parliament that he feels opposes him, that results in civil unrest. Over the course of the story, you move from admiration, to frustration and then to deep sympathy for Charles and this is thanks to the rich depth of Pigott-Smith’s performance. The last few scenes are heartbreaking and remind me how much he will be missed.
My favourite role on stage was that of Kate and she is just as strong here (with Charlotte Riley replacing Lydia Wilson). Kate is strong and an equal partner to her husband and her soliloquy to camera captures that strength of resolve. I’m not sure I agree with the Lady Macbeth comparisons, but every Shakespearean History needs an expert manipulator! Oliver Chris also does a fantastic job at playing a conflicted William. He loves his father and yet, ultimately has no choice but to effectively betray him, in order to restore stability. I’ve never seen them as evil as many are saying tonight, as although cruel to Charles, their actions seem necessary to preserve the monarchy that the current Queen has worked decades to protect above all else. This drama now includes their two children and by having William hug his son, as he is faced with the such a hard choice, added an extra layer of emotion to the story. Crucially, the final confrontation between William and Charles was just as powerful to watch on screen, which is all due to the work of the actors.
Adam James (a favourite of mine for years), is back as the Prime Minister, placed in an impossible situation and privy to the later emotional scenes. His interactions with Pigott-Smith and Oliver Chris remain very believable. Margot Leicester provides strong support as Camilla, while Richard Goulding returns to the role of Harry. His was a difficult role on stage, as Harry’s plot line acts as the less weighty aspect of the drama and because of that, comes across as weaker and a bit farfetched. However, the more you think about it, the more sad it is, to see someone adrift and ultimately forced to give up what may have made him happy. It’s a performance that I think you have greater appreciation for the more you watch it. The newcomers to the main cast, Tamara Lawrence as Jess and Priyanga Burford as the Opposition leader were also very good too and I particularly liked the gender switch, meaning the Conservative leader here was also a woman!
Clearly, this drama won’t have appealed to everyone and will have its critics, which is fine by me, provided all those criticising it have actually watched it. It’s also true that theatre will never have the same impact on screen as it does live. However, I applaud the decision of Mike Bartlett, Rupert Goold and the BBC to be bold enough to take such a daring piece of theatre and make it available to a wider audience, while ensuring that those of us who loved the play get to see it again in a new form, for which personally, I’m extremely grateful!
King Charles III is now available in the UK on BBC iPlayer. It will also air in the USA on Sunday 14th May on Masterpiece on PBS. The text of the play is available from Nick Hern Books here.
It’s been a few years since I last made it to Chichester’s theatre festival and so it was lovely to go for my first visit of the year this weekend. With only one week left to run, you still have time to see An Enemy of the People, currently playing in the larger Festival Theatre. Having never seen the play on stage before, I was interested in adding another Ibsen to my list.
Set in a quiet Nordic spa town, the story revolves around Dr. Stockmann, the Bath’s medical officer and pillar of the community. Taking pride in doing his job properly, when his tests of the water and soil prove his suspicions – that the baths are a health risk, he is pleased to have made such a discovery, particularly as this proves him right and his brother the Mayor wrong with regards to how the Baths were constructed. With the help of the local liberal newspaper, whose editor Hovstad is more than a little happy about the idea of bringing upset to the wealthy owners and investors of the Baths, Stockmann is determined to bring his findings and the risks the Baths pose, to the public’s attention. He sees himself of the hero of the people by doing so.
However, Ibsen’s play highlights how quickly opinions can change and the risk of speaking out. Indeed, a play concerning the suppression of corruption by those with power and influence, the instinct for self-interest and the idea of whistle-blowing are all incredibly current issues in the world we live in.
The play itself involves a great deal of talk and could have been quite dry to watch. However, Christopher Hampton’s translation and the production itself were very engaging, with some strong performances. I was also surprised how much humour was within the show, much more than any other Ibsen I’ve seen (I go to his plays aware that they are never going to be the happiest!). As this is the only production of this play that I’ve seen, whether this was down to the original text or Hampton’s translation I’m not sure, but it was a very welcome element, which was no doubt enhanced by the actors themselves.
Howard Davies’s production is also perfectly suited to the Festival Theatre’s space, particularly for the later public meeting scene. The decision to stage this within the auditorium, with the majority of the cast within the audience and only the speakers on the stage, added to the atmosphere. The shouts and sense of a whole community turning on one man felt far more authentic than had we the audience simply been observers.
It was also fascinating in that the motivations of Stockmann did not always appear to be clear-cut. He did have a desire to take the moral ground and expose the truths others were trying to suppress. However, when you see the animosity and deep-rooted rivalry between him and his brother, the Mayor and the person leading the opposition to his cause, his motivations could be seen in a different light. Is an element of his motivation to highlight that he was right and his brother wrong? His cause does pose a risk of personal loss to his whole family (his father-in-law’s tannery being a large part of the pollution problem, but also the source of future financial stability for his wife and children), which makes such petty rivalries unlikely to be his sole reason. However it was still an interesting aspect of the production that, for me, added to the complexity of Stockmann’s character.
Now more famous for playing a wealthy aristocrat, it was satisfying to see Hugh Bonneville in a different role. He is very good as Stockmann (his first stage role since 2004). He is the man you see as the champion of the truth, who begins to lose his credibility (and indeed his good name) in his community when his public pleas become an attack on the rights of the unintelligent majority and the intellectually weak. He decision to make such declarations showed his naivety – surely anyone would see that insulting the public’s intelligence and threatening the source of the whole town’s income (the tourism from the Baths) would not be the root to success?
Surrounding Bonneville’s central performance, Adam James (a favourite actor of mine since 2010’s Blood & Gifts) is on fine form as usual as the side-changing newspaper editor, who is swift to drop his support of Stockmann the moment he realizes what he has to lose. William Gaminara is wonderful as Stockmann’s pompous brother, who as Mayor, is smart enough to know how to appeal to the community’s sense of self-interest in order to keep his failings hidden and Alice Orr-Ewing’s portrayal of Stockmann’s daughter is lovely, whose outspoken and independent spirit shines through, as does her admiration of her father’s cause.
It’s unexpected humour and ability to bring Ibsen’s ideas to a modern audience in such an engaging and relevant way meant that this was an enjoyable evening at the theatre for me, but if you were planning to see it, you only have until Saturday to buy a ticket!
An Enemy of the People continues at the Festival Theatre in Chichester until Saturday 21st May 2016. Running-time is 2 hours 30 minutes (including one interval). For more information visit the website.
As my theatre going has increased over the last few years, one of the playwrights whose work has stood out has been Mike Bartlett, ever since Earthquakes In London in 2010 (more recently known through the success of his brilliant play King Charles III). I was therefore not going to miss the premiere of his new play, Bull, in Sheffield in February 2013, especially as one of my favourite actors was in the cast! Bull became a highlight of my theatre year and following a run in New York in 2014, I had to see it again during its first London run at the Young Vic (a theatre on a roll at the moment).
Little has changed since Sheffield and Bull remains a fantastic piece of theatre, which truly gets under your skin. Tony, Isabelle and Thomas are in a fight to keep their jobs in a time of cutbacks – one must go, the question is which one? Over the 50-55 minutes, we witness the cruel tormenting of Thomas by the other two and what’s most effective and also affecting about Bartlett’s writing here for me is how the discomfort builds for the audience. It all seems to be silly banter at first, but grows more and more uncomfortable, forcing you to think about where the line is between banter and bullying.
The staging is perfectly designed for the play, as we see events unfold within a boxing ring-shaped office, enhancing the animalistic fight taking place, as the stronger turn on the weaker to survive. It was also wonderful to see the Young Vic’s Maria full, including the standing audience around the ringside itself, which certainly added to the atmosphere. Having seen it before, it was interesting for me to observe other audience members and watch as their reactions / responses to the play altered as it unfolded, resulting in a much quieter room by the end, as you feel almost duplicitous with Tony and Isabelle simply by being there.
The cast remains fantastic. Adam James (on my must see actor list since Blood and Gifts in 2010) plays Tony so well – charming yet devious, playful yet cruel, as he has his fun at the expense of Thomas. The sad truth is you know people like him really do exist! Eleanor Matsuura has the tough task of playing a truly horrid character as Isabelle’s tormenting of Thomas intensifies. For me, it seemed all the more dreadful because she was a woman acting this way and their two-hander scene is a true highlight of the play.
Sam Troughton, also reprising his role, is wonderful as Thomas and carries much of the emotional pull of the hour and by the end you really do feel sadness for him, as you imagine yourself in the same position. Neil Stuke’s role as their boss (replacing Adrian Lukis from the original cast) may be brief, but it still carries weight and is very believable. I imagine there are many bosses throughout the country (and the City in particular) who would share his attitude.
Bull is not an easy play to watch, but it remains a short but incredibly powerful piece of theatre. If you have an hour to spare and can get a ticket to see this at the Young Vic, then don’t hesitate.
Bull continues its run at the Young Vic’s Maria theatre until 14th February 2015. More information can be found here or by calling the box office for ticket availability on 020 7922 2922.
With a new year almost here, it’s that time of year for theatregoers to start looking forward to all the exciting and intriguing prospects announced, as well as planning strategies to nab tickets for those sold out or hot tickets! After four months out of the theatre loop, I’ve needed to do my research this year more than ever to make sure I know what’s coming in 2015. This year has been very strong and it looks like 2015 is shaping up to be just as thrilling, in London and the regions.
So, here are the productions I’m most looking forward to in 2015.
15 to see in 2015
1. Hamlet (Barbican, 5th August – 31st October)
There couldn’t really be anything else at number one for me than the upcoming Hamlet at the Barbican starring Benedict Cumberbatch. As one of my favourite stage actors, ever since I saw After The Dance in 2010, it seemed only a matter of time before such a brilliant actor would want to take on Shakespeare’s most challenging role and I admit my expectations are already rather high! He’s now had a good amount of time to contemplate his Hamlet and I’m intrigued to see the choices he and Lyndsey Turner make as to setting and staging. With the run of 89 performances selling out as soon as public booking opened, this is certain to be the theatre event of the summer. I just hope that, as David Tennnat did with me in 2008, Benedict brings a whole new audience to Shakesepeare, who then become addicted to it! If you didn’t succeed in acquiring tickets earlier this year, then 100 £10 seats will be released for each performance nearer the time. Now to find out who else will be in this production. I’ve chosen my fantasy cast here and I really hope at least one of them could happen. Time will tell.
2. Oppenheimer (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon, 15th January – 7th March)
Another actor who I would watch in absolutely anything and who I also first saw on stage in After The Dance is the brilliant John Heffernan, whose stage work just seems to get more and more exciting (with recent success in The Hot House and Edward II to name just two). This play centres around the development of atomic fission in 1939, as J Robert Oppenheimer (Heffernan) races to win the battle to create the first nuclear bomb as World War II continues across Europe. It may sound a bit heavy for some people, but with such a talented lead actor, I’m certain this will be a highlight of 2015.
3. Closer (Donmar Warehouse, 12th February – 4th April)
Although I’ve still never watched the 2004 film version of Patrick Marber’s play Closer, whose star-studded cast of Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, Julia Roberts and Jude Law had lots of people talking before its release, it was still the film I was aware of raher than the 1997 play and so I’m thrilled it is being revived by the Donmar. For theatre fans the cast for the upcoming production is even more thrilling: Nancy Carroll (yet another After The Dance cast member!), Oliver Chris (fresh from his success in King Charles III) and Rufus Sewell (most recently seen in Old Times) are joined by recent RADA graduate Rachel Redford. Due to the Donmar’s size, the only ticket availability is now through the Barclays Front Row Scheme or returns, but this is certainly promising enough to make it worth the effort if you have yet to nab a ticket.
4. Bull (Young Vic, 8th January – 7th February)
This year has been a great one for Mike Bartlett and 2015 could be just as successful, with two productions included in this list. I first saw Bull during its premiere run in Sheffield in 2013 and I’m thrilled it’s finally getting a London run at the Young Vic, with three of the four original cast (Neil Stuke replaced Adrian Lukis for the Broadway run and continues in the role in London). It’s short and sharp at only 50 minutes long, but its powerful office dynamics certainly pack a punch and Adam James, Sam Troughton and Eleanor Matsuura are bound to bring the same quality as I saw at the Crucible. One not to miss.
5. Tree (Old Vic, 5th – 31st January)
My first experience of a Kitson production was this year’s unique and moving Analog.ue, which has left me very excited to see his next idea brought to life at the Old Vic for its London premiere (following a staging at the Manchester Royal Exchange). The overview simply says this is about dissent, commitment, two people and a tree. I’m sufficiently intrigued and after finding the simple beauty of Analog.ue, both in terms of story and how it was told, incredibly moving, there is no way I can miss this.
6. Game (Almeida, 23rd February – 4th April)
It’s another entry for Mike Bartlett, as he brings his latest play to the Almeida. The simple summary on the Almeida’s website gives very little away. We know this is a play about the current housing crisis and what price people are willing to pay to have a home of their own. Even more intriguing is the staging, with four different zones offering “equal, yet subtly different” perspectives on the action. The Almeida is certainly incredibly versatile for such a small theatre and this is shaping up to be yet another exciting viewing experience. Now to wait and see who will be in it – yes I admit I’m hoping for Adam James (who seems to be a staple part of Bartlett’s shows)!
7. The Ruling Class (Trafalgar Studios, 16th January – 11th April)
Jamie Lloyd’s Trafalgar Transformed season at the Trafalgar Studios has, in such a short time, established itself as must-see theatre after so many brilliant productions since it began with McAvoy’s Macbeth last year. Coming next is a play I’m not very familiar with – The Ruling Class, a satire which looks at the foibles of English nobility after a possible paranoid schizophrenic with a Messiah complex, inherits the title of the 14th Earl of Gurney when his father passes away in a bizarre accident. Directed by Lloyd and starring James McAvoy, tickets are selling fast for this production, which sounds perfect for such a skilled actor. If you want a bargain, hold off for the £15 Mondays (the tickets for the Mondays of each month are released on the second day of each month at just £15 each).
8. The Hard Problem (Dorfman, National Theatre, 21st January – 16th April)
Its been nine years since Tom Stoppard wrote a new play and this one arrives at the National Theatre’s newly refurbished Dorfman (it’ll still be the Cottesloe to me) in time to be the last production to be directed by Nicholas Hytner before he steps down as Artistic Director. All we know is that it centres on Hilary, a young psychology researcher at a brain-science institute, who is asking herself the “hard problem” – if there is nothing but matter, what is consciousness? With a cast that includes Olivia Vinnell (whose work in the NT’s Othello and King Lear have proven she is someone to watch) and Anthony Calf, I’m very much looking forward to this one.
9. The Vote (Donmar Warehouse, 24th April – 7th May and live on More 4 on 7th May)
I’ve included this production here despite the fact I hold out little hope of seeing it in the theatre itself! James Graham has earned a great deal of praise with the political drama This House and this year’s Privacy, which shone a spotlight on technology and online security. The Vote could possibly combine the two, set in a fictional polling station during the last 90 minutes of polling day for 2015’s General Election. Will it be the same each show? Who knows, but what makes this even more thrilling and unique is that it will also be shown live on television (on More 4) on election night, so we can see it play out in real time on 7th May! You can’t get much more current than that! Tickets for the rest of the run will be available via a ballot, but at least we’ll all get to see it from the comfort of our sofas on 7th May!
10. Carmen Disruption (Almeida, 10th April – 23rd May)
Another playwright whose work always impresses and excites me is Simon Stephens (whose Birdland made this year’s top ten for me and whose other recent work includes Seawall and the adaptation of The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night Time). This could be a thrilling run for the Almeida, as this UK premiere follows Mike Bartlett’s latest offering and is said to be a reimagining of Bizet’s opera Carmen. From rock and roll in Birdland to opera? If anyone can do it, Simon Stephens can – I don’t suppose Andrew Scott can be in it can he?!
11. American Buffalo (Wyndam’s, 16th April – 27th June)
I first heard that this production would be arriving in the spring of 2015 from the lead actor himself, when Damian Lewis excitedly announced it at the Times Talks interview earlier this year. Now more famous for his television success in Homeland (and soon to be seen in the BBC’s Wolf Hall as King Henry VIII), Lewis has not been on stage since 2009 and as I was unable to get to The Misanthrope, I won’t want to miss American Buffalo, a play about a pair of junk-shop workers plotting to steal a valuable coin collection. Directed by Daniel Evans, who has done such wonderful work in recent years as Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres, I’m very excited to see this production.
12. Bugsy Malone (Lyric Hammersmith, 11th April – 1st August)
Just when I thought a musical wouldn’t make the list, I hear about the Lyric Hammersmith’s production of Bugsy Malone! What a fantastic way to reopen the theatre after its redevelopment! The Jodie Foster film from 1976 is certainly very well known and it will be thrilling to see this gangster musical set in the Prohibition era of the 1920s brought to life with, as the theatre says, “a cast of exciting young talent.” 2014 has been a tough year for musicals, so I hope this one proves to be a success.
13. Death of a Salesman (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon, 26th March – 2nd May)
2014 has seen me tick off two more Arthur Miller classics from my list of plays to see and thanks to the RSC next year, I’ll also be able to add Death of a Salesman to that list. To be directed by the brilliant Greg Doran (whose plays seem to be brought to life in such an accessible and clear way) and with a cast that includes well established stars Antony Sher and Harriet Walter alongside younger RSC talent such as Alex Hassell (currently Prince Hal in Henry IV) and Sam Marks, I’m looking forward to planning a trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon for this.
14. A View From A Bridge (Wyndam’s transfer, 10th February – 11th April)
It would have been criminal not to include the transfer of the Young Vic’s utterly incredible production of another Arthur Miller classic. Mark Strong was one of the best performances of 2014 as Eddie, whose complex relationship with his family, particularly his niece drives the play. You cannot take your eyes off him and I have no doubt it will be the same when this production begins at the Wyndam’s in February. The main cast are all back for its West End transfer, including Nicola Walker and Phoebe Fox as his wife and niece. Get your tickets fast!
15. My Night With Reg (Apollo transfer, 17th January – 11th April)
Another West End transfer coming soon is the transfer of the recent Donmar production of Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg. Set in a flat in 1985, everyone I know who saw this funny, yet bittersweet play loved it and so I’m so pleased I have another chance to catch it.
Sold out shows to keep an eye on
There are also a couple of exciting prospects which are already sold out, but I’ll be trying to get a return or day seat for if I can (the things you miss booking when in hospital!). So if you’re willing to not let the words “sold out” get in your way, keep these productions on your radar!
Man and Superman (Lyttelton, National Theatre, 17th February – 17th May)
I’m not familiar with this Bernard Shaw play, but the description sounds very unusual and interesting and it marks the return to the stage of Ralph Fiennes as Jack Tanner, together with Faye Castelow (yet another After The Dance alumni!) and Nick Hendrix (last at the NT in The Light Princess).
Farinelli & the King (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 11th February – 8th March)
Another production I’m wishing I’d booked, especially due to its short run, is Farinelli and the King at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. A true story about the world’s most famous castrato Farinelli, who is sent for to sing to the King of Spain to help his insomnia and depression, this production sees the return to the stage of Mark Rylance. I’m really going to need a strategy to get to see this now. Wish me luck!
Catch them before they close!
Of course there are also some productions that are already running and continue in to next year and which deserve a mention here too.
King Charles III (Wyndam’s, until 31st January) – My top production of 2014 by Mike Bartlett is worth catching if you can.
The Scottsboro Boys (Garrick, until 21st February) – I saw this at the Young Vic before its transfer and loved it. It is full of wonderful songs and dancing, while managing to movingly convey this true story of injustice in 1930s America.
Cats (until 28th February) – I still need to grab a ticket to this revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s feline musical. I saw it years ago and loved it and it’s certainly getting praise this time too. Former Pussy Cat Doll, Nicole Scherzinger, appears until 7th February.
Once (Phoenix, until 21st March) – Another one of this year’s top ten for me. If you have yet to see this utterly beautiful musical, you have until 21st March before it leaves London. I’m no Boyzone fan, but even I plan on going while Ronan Keating is in it in order to see it once again while I can.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Gielgud) – As long as this play runs in London, it will always make my theatre recommendations list. It’s just that good. I’ve seen it in every theatre so far in London, so I’ll have to add the Gielgud to my list in 2015.
So, hopefully this list will include something for everyone, whether Shakespeare, or a short 50 minute show. There is already so much to look forward to and who knows what other productions will be announced as we start the year. Happy theatre-filled New Year everyone!!!
As 2014 is almost over, it’s time for my look back at my theatregoing year. I’ll start by saying it’s been far shorter than I’d have liked, as due to breaking my ankle, I’ve not been able to get to a theatre since August. As I try not to think about the productions I had to miss, I can at least look back at a nine months filled with some truly superb shows. In 2014, I managed to make it to 38 live productions, of which I returned to see 7 productions more than once, giving a total of 58 theatre trips. I also managed to tick another two productions off my archive list, by visiting the V&A archive to see the RSC’s 2011 production of Cardenio and the Royal Court’s 2007 production of Rhinoceros.
After much thought and in no particular order (apart from my number one, as ranking them further would be too big a challenge!), my top ten is below.
Top 10 Favourites
1. King Charles III (Almeida Theatre)
Top of my list this year is the superb King Charles III, which I saw during its original run at the Almeida. I’m a big fan of both Mike Bartlett’s work (his recent play Bull made it on to last year’s list!) and Rupert Goold and found this to be a refreshingly new and exciting play (see my full review here). A bit of a slow burner, but as the story progressed I became absorbed by it, wondering what direction Bartlett had chosen to take in this alternate United Kingdom. The brilliance here is also structuring it in the style of a Shakespearian History play! Filled with fantastic performances, particularly Tim Pigott-Smith, Oliver Chris, Adam James and Lydia Wilson, I loved that it dared to do something different and the ending was incredibly powerful. I must try and see the current cast at the Wyndams Theatre before it ends in January if I can.
2. The Pass (Royal Court Theatre)
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I headed to the Royal Court Upstairs in February for The Pass. However, it didn’t take long for me to know that this was something very special indeed. The Pass centres on two friends at the early start of their professional football careers and follows their different paths, while also superbly raising the issue of what it would be like to be in such a world and perhaps by unsure as to what you really wanted in life and what really will make you happy, sexually or otherwise. Russell Tovey was truly incredible as Jason and commanded the stage throughout.
3. Birdland (Royal Court Theatre)
More from the Royal Court, this time downstairs for Simon Stephens’s (whose Seawall topped last year’s list) new play Birdland. We are drawn in to the world of Paul, an international rock star whose 15 month world tour is reaching its conclusion. He can have anything or anyone he desires, but is that really enough anymore? Andrew Scott is always mesmerising on stage and he gave an absolutely phenomenal performance as Paul, tackling every imaginable emotion over the course of the play. He effortlessly moved from lighter moments to those which suggest a dangerous, darker side to Paul lurks just below the surface. It takes great skill to be able to be both emotional and emotionless in so short a time and Andrew Scott was more than up to the task. The set was also very clever and I left the theatre feeling very excited at seeing something new and powerful (feel free to read my full review here).
4. Once (Phoenix Theatre)
I’d always quite liked the sweet indie film Once and had been meaning to go and see the stage version. Unbelievably it took me over a year but I’m so pleased I made it this year, especially during the time of Zrinka Vitesic and Arthur Darvill. They were both utterly superb. Zrinka had been in Once in London since it opened and this year justifiably won the Olivier award for her portrayal of this heart-warming character. She brought a perfect blend of playful humour, bossiness and tender emotion to the role and you instantly connect with her as soon as she steps foot on the stage. Arthur was also excellent as the Guy, who is at first bewildered by this whirlwind of a woman who has entered his life. After playing the same role on Broadway for a number of months he clearly understood the soul of the character and his chemistry with Zrinka was beautifully tender and romantic. Its warmth and magical spirit will make you laugh, smile and cry and will leave you feeling deeply moved. Try and see it if you can (my full review is here).
5. A Streetcar Named Desire (Young Vic)
It’s been a fantastic year at the Young Vic and the two standout productions for me both make my top ten. First is Tennessee Williams’s classic production starring Gillian Anderson and Vanessa Kirby. I’d never seen Streetcar before and this was certainly a superb production to start with. I loved the staging. As an audience member you can’t help but feel as if you are intruding on the innermost lives of the characters and there is a wonderfully effective, voyeuristic quality too, due to the rotating stage. I’ve admired Gillian Anderson for years and she was absolutely incredible. She drew the audience in so much to Blanche’s disintegration that by the end of the production I certainly felt exhausted and incredibly moved after having watched such a powerful and emotional performance (my full review is here).
6. A View From A Bridge (Young Vic)
Another incredibly powerful night at the Young Vic this year was for the stunning production of Arthur Miller’s A View From A Bridge. Everything about this production was superb – the claustrophobic box set, the lighting, but above all the performances of the cast. Nicola Walker does a fantastic job as Eddie’s wife, who is growing ever more concerned about his attachment to their niece (also wonderfully played by Phoebe Fox). However, the standout performance is by Mark Strong, who is breathtakingly intense as Eddie. It is such a nuanced performance, through which we really see the depths of his character and he is certainly one of the finest actors I have seen on stage. This production is transferring in to the West End next year, so make sure to grab a ticket fast.
7. The Crucible (Old Vic)
From the Young Vic, to the Old Vic up the road for another Arthur Miller classic (and another first for me – my full review is here). This superb production also stands out for me as it was the last production I was able to see before breaking my ankle! South African Director Yael Farber’s powerful production particularly benefited from the current configuration of the Old Vic stage. Playing such an intense story on a smaller stage, surrounded by the audience was an inspired decision. Its deeply atmospheric, sparse staging by Soutra Gilmour, the effective use of light and shadow by Tim Lutkin, mist-covered entrances and terrifyingly eerie music score by Richard Hammarton, are all enhanced greatly by the almost claustrophobic atmosphere created by having faces gathered all around the stage. Richard Armitage has an incredibly powerful presence on stage and you could not fail to be moved by his portrayal of Proctor, as he moves from moments of sorrow, to weakness, intense anger, rage and delicate emotional vulnerability.
8. Rapture, Blister, Burn (Hampstead Theatre)
I thoroughly enjoyed Gina Giofriddo’s latest play, focusing on the choices available to women today – career or family? marry or remain single? – and whether any of these possible choices will make you feel fulfilled or whether the grass is always greener. I found the scenes in which the history of feminism, the role of women and their relationships with men are debated incredibly absorbing and thought provoking and the performances of all five actors were excellent. However it was Shannon Tarbet as Avery who stole the show with some truly sharp and witty one-liners and who you couldn’t fail to like. A highlight I wasn’t expecting too much from before I went (my review is here).
9. Wolf Hall (RSC, Swan Theatre)
I have owned Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels for a few years now and have never had time to read them. However I was thrilled to hear that Mantel herself was to adapt them, together with Mike Poulton for the RSC and what a brilliant production it was. I preferred Wolf Hall out of the two, but both this and Bring Up The Bodies were excellently acted, directed and conceived for the stage. On the smaller stage of the Swan, the plays seemed even grander, almost too big for the space, while keeping a wonderfully intimate feel. Ben Miles was utterly superb as Cromwell, who for each 3 hour production barely leaves the stage. I hope this finds just as much success on Broadway next year.
10. Analog.ue (National Theatre, Lyttelton)
Choosing a final production has proved quite difficult, with so much I’d enjoyed this year. In the end the top ten had to include Daniel Kitson’s latest part theatrical, part art installation show at the National Theatre as it was certainly a highlight for me and one which has stayed with me ever since. It was a unique story, which weaved together memories from the past with the present. It was incredibly moving and beautifully reminded me of the power of memory and how important memories of our past will be to us as we grow older or to those who come after us, offering them a glimpse in to a time long past. I even dug out an old recording of my grandparents, which I hadn’t listened to for years after seeing this. My full review is here.
Narrowly missing out on the Top 10
These are the productions that almost made it in to the top ten.
- The Knight of the Burning Pestle (The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse) – A quirky, comic and fun production from the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Having the grocer and his wife within the audience throughout is such a brilliant device, especially in such an intimate setting and truly engages the audience in a whole new way. You can read my full review here.
- Richard III (Trafalgar Studios) – Martin Freeman’s intelligent Richard simmered with menace in another great Shakespeare adaptation from Jamie Lloyd.
- Clarence Darrow (Old Vic) – Kevin Spacey was superb yet again as human rights lawyer Darrow in this impressive one-man show (see my review here)
- 1984 (Almeida Theatre) – Another brilliant production for Rupert Goold’s theatre, as Headlong perfectly brought such an atmospheric and iconic book to the stage.
- Coriolanus (Donmar Warehouse) – Another of the Bard’s plays ticked off my list in an engaging production with a strong cast led confidently by Tom Hiddleston.
- Red Velvet (Tricycle Theatre) – After missing it the first time around, I loved Adrian Lester’s passionate performance as Ira Aldridge (see my review here).
Wonderful repeats from previous years
There are always productions I can’t help but see again another year, although this year there were only two, both of which were on last year’s top ten:
- American Psycho (Almeida Theatre) – Rupert Goold’s first production in charge of the Almeida was a gloriously refreshing and exciting production, brilliantly led by Matt Smith. I still wish there had been a cast recording!
- Richard II (RSC at Barbican Theatre) – This was certainly a production that grew over its run and by the time it reached London the cast were on fine form. David Tennant may not have been as strong as he was in Hamlet, but his Richard II was still wonderful to watch. Although for me, the stand out performance remains that of Oliver Rix as Aumerle.
Disappointments of the Year
- A Small Family Business (Olivier, National Theatre) – Although there were some good performances, this play was too dated and dull for me and far too long.
- Mr Burns (Almeida Theatre) – Although I enjoy seeing something that dares to be different, the third Act of Mr Burns was just too weird for me, making me wish I’d left after Act 2.
- Slava’s Snowshow (Royal Festival Hall) – I was simply bored by this. Perhaps it’s more for kids.
- The Mistress Contract (Royal Court Theatre) – Another production that was just a bit dull for me, despite two good performances.
Memorable moments in Theatre
There have been some wonderful moments that I’ve witnessed or experienced at the theatre during 2014, which included:
– A West End return – Seeing Angela Lansbury’s return to the West End stage at the age of 88 in Blithe Spirit and from the front row for only a tenner too!
– Martin Freeman commits brutal murder – Just when Martin Freeman’s Richard III didn’t seem that frightening, he kills his wife by strangling her over a desk with a telephone cord! After watching him cruelly stalk her around the room, watching him finally kill her was very chilling (especially from my stage seat).
– Kevin Spacey captivating an audience – Watching how at home Kevin Spacey looked, sitting in an armchair, at the centre of the Old Vic, surrounded by a rapt audience.
– The thrill of a first preview – Attending the first performance of Birdland and being reminded yet again how incredible Andrew Scott is on stage.
– Discovering a new young talent – Discovering Shannon Tarbet in Rapture, Blister, Burn, who I’m excited to watch in lots more to come.
– Site specific theatre in gorgeous surroundings – Experiencing voyeuristic theatre at the Langham Hotel for The Hotel Plays.
– The thrill of knowing you’ve seen something new and utterly brilliant – By the end of my first trip to King Charles III (on the second preview), it was thrilling to feel the excitement of seeing a superb new play, especially by the time it reached the glorious last scene.
– Visiting a new, fantastic theatre – My first trip to the Park Theatre, a theatre I’m sure I’ll be visiting a great deal in the years to come.
– Saying an emotional farewell – Joining in the emotional applause at the final performance of Once for Arthur Darvill and Zrinka Vitesic from the front row.
– Enjoying phones being used in a theatre – Enjoying the quirk of actually using your mobile phone during a production at the Donmar for Privacy. I doubt I’ll ever think that again!
All in all it’s been a fantastic, if somewhat curtailed year of theatre for me, in which I’ve seen some wonderful moments on stage by some of the finest actors working today. I am thoroughly looking forward to what surprises 2015 will bring (and I’ll post my top choices for 2015 soon)!
(Image edit by Vineeta via the Shakespeare In Action blog)
Wednesday 23rd April 2014 marks the 450th birthday of England’s most famous playwright William Shakespeare. It is incredible to see how important his work remains today and I wanted to mark his birthday by looking back at my own Shakespearean theatre highlights. I admit up front that I have yet to see them all (I have nine left on my list) and I have only the last few years to draw from, but the wonder of Shakespeare is that there is something in his work for everyone and you are never to old or too young to start. So many themes in his work are relevant today and it is crucial that we continue to encourage children to experience Shakespeare (through for example the RSC’s Stand Up For Shakespeare campaign) and learn by doing rather than simply reading. Far too many adults feel Shakespeare is off limits as they view it as too difficult or dry. For those of us who are already passionate about his work, we need to encourage those people to give it a try – a well directed and performed production can change your whole attitude to the Bard if you are open to the possibilities.
I am also a firm believer that anything theatre companies can do to draw new audiences to Shakespeare can only be a positive step. I am always disappointed when, on the announcement of a famous TV/film actor, it is criticised by some as stunt casting. This frustrates me for many reasons but principally – most such actors have long theatrical backgrounds and the fact they are now known more widely for film or TV does not and should not belittle their casting or subsequent performance. Plus if such casting brings a fan base to Shakespeare not usually there then surely that is something we should applaud?! It’s incredibly insulting to suggest that all such people will never see anything else. I say this as one of them! Although I enjoyed the theatre and saw a few shows a year, it was David Tennant as Hamlet that prompted me to return to Stratford-Upon-Avon for the first time since school and reacquaint myself with Shakespeare’s work. Six years later and I am a passionate theatregoer and proud supporter of various theatres. I also know so many people whose love of Shakespeare grew from such a start and I think that’s fantastic!
So, as his birthday slips away (being out for World Book Night means this post is a little delayed!), here are my special Shakespearean moments so far. I have no doubt that there will be plenty more to come!
My first live Shakespeare – Romeo & Juliet (RSC, 2000)
It’s only right I start with my first live Shakespeare, which was Michael Boyd’s 2000 production starring David Tennant and Alexandra Gilbreath (isn’t that a coincidence?!). As an A-Level English trip, it was fantastic to visit his birthplace and see his work live for the first time.
The closet scene – Hamlet (RSC, 2008)
It took me eight years before the next Shakespeare play, which brought me back to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see a familiar face as Hamlet. This will always be a special production to me. It reignited my love of theatre and led me to meet so many wonderful friends. Directed by Greg Doran, it was a wonderful ensemble of actors, each perfect in their roles. Every Hamlet I’ve seen since there has always been something I’ve not liked, whether a performance or setting and that’s why this remains the benchmark for me. It was also clear and accessible and funny (something I never realised about Hamlet). I could have picked many moments but I’ve gone with the scene that I always looked forward to on each visit to the show and that’s the closet scene. I found it thrilling each time and the power, pace and emotion invested by David Tennant and Penny Downie was superb.
The female Bastard – King John (RSC, 2012)
I wasn’t familiar with King John before my visit to the Swan and had no idea what to expect. This production was simply fantastic and was like no other History play I have ever seen (and with a soundtrack like no other either!). Set in a world I wouldn’t have expected, it was fun and exciting to watch. Alex Waldmann was excellent as John but it was Pippa Nixon as the Bastard who impressed me the most. Her performance in a traditionally male role was incredible and planted her firmly on my “must see” list.
Pizza and shots anyone? – Twelfth Night (Filter Theatre Company, Tricycle Theatre, 2010)
The Filter theatre company has a unique way of presenting its work, whether for example, Shakespeare or the use of sound or water, to introduce its audience to ideas they may not have explored before. My first Filter production was their unique interpretation of Twelfth Night. It was modern, quirky, dared to be different and made its audience sit up and pay attention and opened Shakespeare up to a whole new audience. Plus the inclusion of pizza for the audience seemed to go down very well indeed!
Mercutio dazzles – Romeo & Juliet (RSC, 2010)
After studying this play at school and then seeing it performed often, as well as screen outings, I’d started to become a little bored of it. Then along came Rupert Goold’s production to remind me how a production can make all the difference as to how we view a play! From the opening scene in which Benvolio is doused in petrol and almost set alight, this was clearly going to be something special. Sam Troughton and Mariah Gale’s relationship as the tragic lovers was a wonderful and modern interpretation. For me however, the shining star was Jonjo O’Neil’s bleach blonde Mercutio. He was magnetic on stage and burned so brightly I couldn’t take my focus from him.
Mark Rylance returns to the Globe – Twelfth Night (The Globe, 2013)
After missing it the first time around it was fantastic to see Mark Rylance’s revival of his all male Twelfth Night at the Globe last year. Although I enjoy trips to the Globe, I always find myself getting distracted by other audience members and my own fidgeting on the bench seating. This is still the only production during which I have been totally absorbed. Ryalnce’s Olivia, gliding around the stage was a joy, as was all the cast, but especially Johnny Flynn as Viola and Stephen Fry as Malvolio. It had a genuine magic in the Globe’s setting that I won’t forget in a hurry.
Loyalty and loss for Aumerle – Richard II (RSC, 2013)
As the production marking his tenure as Artistic Director of the RSC, Greg Doran should be proud of this production. I don’t think it was David Tennant’s finest work on stage (it’s still Hamlet for me), but this version of Richard II was brilliantly conceived and performed by everyone involved. As I find with most of Greg’s productions it was clear to understand and all the friends I took to see it had no problem following the story. As well as bringing another opportunity for me to see one of my favourites on stage, this production also included the Shakespeare master Oliver Ford Davies, a superb Michael Pennington and lots of new faces. The standout performance for me though was that of Oliver Rix, whose Aumerle was beautifully realised, and developed in depth and character over the course of the run. Oliver’s own understudy performance as King Richard was also a privilege to see and highlighted to me once again the importance of the role of understudy (see my previous post for more on this).
The power of evil Spacey – Richard III (Old Vic, 2011)
From one Richard to another, I was very excited at the time to see Kevin Spacey’s interpretation of evil Richard and although some aspects of this production disappointed me, his performance was not to be missed. He was a convincing Richard (although I admit to thinking about The Usual Suspects every so often when watching him!). It was a dramatic production with some interesting artistic choices. I loved the use of the projection screen for a scene and also the simple turning off of a bare lightbulb when someone was killed.
The partnership of Rory Kinnear & Adrian Lester – Othello (NT, 2013)
This was my first Othello and I think I’ve been spoilt! The relationship built between Kinnear’s Iago and Lester’s Othello was thrilling to watch and the whole production had an energy about it that drew me in from the start. I was very pleased Rory Kinnear was recognised for this performance at this year’s Olivier Awards.
Never has paint been used better! – Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndams, 2011)
Yes it’s another Tennant one (so what?!) and yes this was all a bit silly, but it was a production filled with fun and memorable moments. I thought the Gibraltar setting during the 80s was perfect for the style and tone chosen for this version and due to their already strong friendship, David Tennant and Catherine Tate were able to create a sparkling dynamic between as Benedict and Beatrice. I also loved the addition of Adam James to the cast as Don Pedro. He was younger an more playful than others I’d seen, but still carried an air of loneliness that, although subtle, was I thought clear to all. The moment has to be the paint scene. It still makes me laugh every time. David Tennant has excellent comic timing, which is on full display here and Adam, Tom Bateman (soon to be the Bard himself in Shakespeare In Love) and Jonathan Coy did fantastic jobs enhancing the utter farce of the moment.
A beautiful friendship – Henry IV (The Globe, 2010)
I will always be sad that I missed this production live, but thanks to The Globe’s DVD releases I was at least able to catch up and soon understood why everyone I knew who had seen them talked about them so much. There isn’t enough praise for Roger Allam’s Falstaff – funny and tragic, the loyal friend who is left behind for the greater good and every emotion felt genuine. The relationship with Jamie Parker’s Prince Hal was lovely and made the end so much more powerful. Although I enjoyed the current RSC Henry IV, this version is still the best for me so far.
Derek Jacobi as Lear – King Lear (Donmar, 2010)
The title says it all really! I’m not a huge fan of this play (I know I know that’s bad right?) as it’s always such an emotional slog for me, but I couldn’t miss Derek Jacobi in the role and this will no doubt be my favourite production of this play for some time. It was clear he was giving everything he had to the role and in such a small place like the Donmar, the power and emotion of the story seemed all the more vivid.
Corporate greed and excess as written 400 years ago! – Timon of Athens (NT, 2012)
Simon Russell Beale is a master of Shakespeare and is currently doing a brilliant job as Lear at the NT. The performance that makes my list though is this 2012 production. Set in a very modern world of corporate excess and greed, the play felt as if it could have been written in the modern day. This highlighted again how Shakespeare is not meant for a world of the past but will continue to be relevant for any age.
Berowne and a tree! – Love’s Labour’s Lost (RSC, 2008)
It may have been Hamlet that drew me to the RSC in 2008, but Love’s Labour’s Lost was perhaps the bigger surprise for me. Another unfamiliar play at the time, the ensemble created a vivid, colourful world on stage and the scene in which David Tennant’s Berowne eavesdrops on the other men whilst sitting above in a tree was a definite highlight. I’ll always remember Sam Alexander’s huge book from within which he produced his musical instrument and began to sing! Priceless!
Flying books – The Winter’s Tale (RSC, 2009)
My highlight of the RSC’s 2009 season was this production of The Winter’s Tale. I loved the staging with its polished wood floor and towering bookshelves and Greg Hick’s performance as Leontes was excellent (my favourite of all the ones he did at the RSC that season). The moments before the interval as the books fly from the shelves and the bookshelves themselves start to crash down was something I’ll always remember.
Glastonbury-style fun – As You Like It (RSC, 2013)
I always think this is a strange play as there really isn’t much plot in the second half (Greg Doran made this point at a talk last year too!). Therefore for me to enjoy it, it has to be a strong production and my favourite so far is last year’s RSC one starring Alex Waldmann as Orlando and Pippa Nixon as Rosalind. It was engaging and entertaining and the strength of the two leads was clear, whose chemistry shone. The Glastonbury-style woodland setting was quite beautiful, adding to the fun and magic of the dancing at the end.
So those are my Shakespearean highlights. Not bad for only a few years of theatre trips! I’d be interested to hear about the productions you’ve loved over the years and I sincerely hope that people are still enjoying Shakespeare’s wonderful work in another 450 years time!
Rupert Goold kicked off his tenure as Artisitic Director of the Almeida with a bang with American Psycho and his next production King Charles III, which has its press night this Thursday, had me equally intrigued and excited when it was announced. Not only was it an interesting concept, directed by Goold but it was to be written by one of my favourite playwrights Mike Bartlett, whose work always gives me food for thought and plenty to discuss long after I have left the theatre and this is no exception.
Billed as a future history play, it chronicles our country’s potential future once the Queen is no longer here and the crown passes to Prince Charles. Already a subject which is ripe with possibilities and opinions on those possibilities (Should Camilla be Queen? Should Charles step aside for William and Kate?) and at a time when Australia and New Zealand are welcoming the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their Royal tour, this production couldn’t be more perfectly timed.
Beginning in the immediate wake of the Queen’s death, Prince Charles is finally King after decades waiting in the wings and he wants to be remembered as more than a Spitting Image puppet. In reality we are very much aware that Prince Charles has been known to involve himself in politics and Bartlett builds on this from the outset. A new Bill has been passed on privacy and control of the press – it simply requires Royal Assent. However when the Prime Minister arrives for his first weekly audience it becomes clear that obtaining this ceremonial seal of approval may not be quite as easy as he thought it would be. What follows is an interesting glance in to one possible future for a country less certain of its identity after the loss of the only ruler most of its citizens have ever known.
It is a bit of a slow burner as the scene is set and the audience adjusts to seeing the Royal Family on stage (some of the similarities in looks alone is a little surreal!). However as the story progressed I became absorbed by it, wondering what direction Bartlett has chosen to take in this alternate United Kingdom. The brilliance here is also his chosen writing style for the play – it is structured in the style of a Shakespearian History play! There is a mix of modern and more Jacobean prose and also verse. It may sound off putting to some but it works superbly, adding an extra dimension to the production. This could have been just a comical look at the Royals, but it feels oddly authentic by being structured in a style through which the stories of so many other famous monarchs have been told. For me the second half was much stronger, building the drama and culminating in some superbly powerful scenes and its final moments (complete with glorious Latin singing) gave me goosebumps.
There are some excellent performances too, especially Tim Pigott-Smith who plays Charles as a man daunted by the role he now has to play. As he himself says, everyone expected him to already have fully formed opinions ready to go, but instead he is uncertain and fearful of simply being a ceremonial relic. There were moments I felt sympathy for him and others where he led me to incredible frustration at his inability to see the damage his actions were causing around him. Adam James (a regular in Bartlett’s work) is another strong member of the cast, as the Prime Minister struggling to know how to walk the fine line between respecting his King and standing up for the democratic system of government on which our political system is based. I found his scenes with Pigott-Smith to be some of the most dramatic of the play, particularly when he reminds Charles about how the Queen carried out what was expected of her. The other strong performance for me was that of Lydia Wilson as Kate. She makes it clear to the audience in her soliloquy-style speech that she does not intend to play merely a supporting role to William, but will stand as an equal partner in both marriage and as Queen whenever the time comes.
Oliver Chris’s William begins quietly but steadily grows in strength and character and over the course of the previews so far Oliver has grown in confidence in the role. His scenes with his father in the second half are brilliantly acted by them both and you could have heard a pin drop in the audience. Richard Goulding has already come a long way as Harry. Last week he seemed far too much of a characterure and although this is still a little true, he is already brining far more depth to the role. His subplot carries the humour of the play, as we see him questioning his future and a scene in which he receives sage advice in a kebab shop was a favourite of mine. Tafline Steen is good as Jess, the normal girl with a unique opportunity to observe this famous family’s internal dynamic, Nicholas Rowe skilfully portrays the opposition leader, stirring the pot all the time in the background and I liked Nick Sampson’s portrayal of the weary press secretary.
There is little set but this is absolutely the right choice and I was reminded just how small a performance space the Almeida is when the brickwork drum of the walls are exposed. A simple faded painting lines the central part of the back wall, which when subtly lit gave a sense of the watchful public and mood lighting and sound set the tones of the various moments very well. I also loved the singing, particularly for the wonderfully powerful final moments. My only slight grumble is the brief appearances of a certain ghost. I understand the reason behind its inclusion – this is after all a Shakespearian-style History play and where would one of those be without a ghostly encounter, but it did make me cringe and caused awkward laughter amongst some of the audience both times I’ve seen it.
Overall I think this is a fantastic new play. It is already so much stronger than after its second preview and I’m sure it will continue to develop. King Charles III is not going to appeal to everyone, but it is different and daring as it makes us consider the future of our country as we may not have done before. If Rupert Goold’s seasons continue to be this varied and exciting, I imagine I’ll be visiting the Almeida quite a lot over the coming years!
King Charles III runs at the Almeida Theatre until 31 May 2014. Tickets are available from the theatre’s website: