Last night saw the opening of David Tennant’s latest play! I make no secret of the fact he has been my favourite stage actor ever since 2008’s Hamlet and I’d been looking forward to finally seeing him live on stage in a non-Shakespeare role. This was my second trip to the play (having been to the first preview on 17th March), allowing me to see how the production has settled over the preview run.
Don Juan in Soho is the latest incarnation in a long line of Don Juan stories, some better known than others and Patrick Marber’s play draws on one of these classics, Moliere’s 1665 Don Juan. Whether you’ve ever seen the opera Don Giovanni, a film or play, the character is someone most people know – Don Juan, the Casanova of his time, sleeping his way through the ladies thanks to his wit and charm and that’s exactly what you get at the Wyndham’s Theatre.
Tennant is “DJ”, whose aristocratic family is hugely wealthy. He has lived a privileged life during which he has never had to work or think about anything other than satisfying his own primal needs. Set in modern day London and Soho in particular, DJ gallivants around the city, flirting and seducing every woman he passes (he is after all “magnificently fu*kable” if he does say so himself!), while his long-suffering servant Stan (the brilliant Adrian Scaborough) follows dutifully behind, clearing up his mess and acting as commentator for the audience. Whether he does it because he cares about DJ after all their years together or simply to get his much sought after pay, you’re never quite sure!
When we meet them, DJ has just returned from his honeymoon with Elvira and yet, to him, she is already a memory; she’s a woman he pursued so fiercely, simply to sleep with and take her innocence. His absolute lack of regret or sorrow at how he has hurt her, by immediately deserting her, infuriates her two brothers, who swear that one day he will pay for his actions. Then at the height of his frivolous behaviour, he receives a stark message from a stone statue of Charles II!
Put simply, this production is bonkers; absolutely, utterly bonkers and because of that I did enjoy it, but at the same time, I can see its weaknesses.
First and foremost, the greatest strength of the production is the relationship between its two main characters, DJ and Stan and the fact that they are played superbly by Tennant and Scarborough, who have a wonderful chemistry on stage. Both individually and together they bring an energy to the stage that you cannot help but enjoy. Scarborough’s Stan is funny, sarcastic and tragic. You like him immediately and cannot help but feel sorry for him as he grows ever more fed up with his life, as simply the servant to a man who never shows him appreciation in a meaningful way (or indeed even pays him)! His asides to the audience are also a great way of setting the tone for the character of DJ before we even meet him and add wonderful moments of humour throughout, as he implores us not to be taken in by DJ in the same way his many women are.
Tennant is of course the big draw to this production and when the play itself is so strange, it needs an actor of his calibre in the lead. DJ is not a likeable character and yet through Tennant, you can’t help but warm to him despite his actions. For fans of the actor, you’ll be able to spot glimpses of previous roles (especially the playfulness of Casanova and the dark depravity of Killgrave), as he bounds about the stage.
Throughout the first half, we follow him on his mission to bed whatever woman crosses his path and while you despair at his nerve, he makes you laugh too, as Marber’s dialogue trips off his tongue. Perhaps part of DJ’s appeal is because of the very point he makes in his rant in the second half – that although he is viewed to be a disgusting, dishonest human being, he may be more honest than any of us. He doesn’t pretend to be something he isn’t and he refuses to apologise for who he is and how he lives his life, whereas the rest of the world around him seems, to him, to be desperately trying to please, to be approved of, or is indeed putting on an act to hide something darker (“the priests prey, with an e” being a particularly bold line). I did enjoy his speech as he rails against modern society’s need for validation in the most superficial of ways – “Like me, friend me, follow me” and “Welcome to my vlog, today I bought a plum!” I couldn’t help thinking that maybe the man had a point!
However, as much as I love seeing Tennant on stage and as much fun as his and Scarborough’s scenes in this play are, everything else is rather average. All the other characters are two-dimensional, the result being that all the other performances feel weak and irrelevant. I didn’t even feel particularly sorry for Elvira, the character supposedly representing good. In fact, I didn’t really care about her at all.
I also felt there was too much padding of scenes in this play for the sake of it. It’s already a fairly short production (2 hours including a 20 minute interval) and yet it could easily be cut down further, for example, the dance sequences, which add nothing to the story and feel unnecessary (yes, I see the link to opera, but they still felt a bit pointless). In fact, I’m not sure why there even needs to be an interval at all. The preview run has however resulted in some tweaks to the scenes involving the statue, which thankfully make this less cheesy than my first visit. Its later appearances are swathed in smoke now, a very wise choice, especially in the scene in which it arrives to take DJ on a journey, which now looks much less ridiculous than it did (it’s still a statue driving a pedicab though, so it’s never not going to be nuts)!
Overall, I had a good time at Don Juan in Soho. Fans of David Tennant will love it, as he flirts his way across the stage, with a sly smile here and a dirty sentence there (he’s the Ghandi of gang bangs didn’t you know?). There is a magic he brings to his performances that will always thrill me in a way few actors can achieve. It was also fun to see him away from Shakespeare for a change and Adrian Scarborough is a joy to watch. However, I’m not sure whether it’ll appeal to a wider audience. Don’t go expecting a serious, substantial play or you’ll be disappointed, but if a couple of hours of innuendo and silliness appeals to you, then this may be for you!
Don Juan in Soho continues its run at the Wyndham’s Theatre until 10th June 2017. For more information and availability, visit the website here. You can also enter the daily TodayTix online lottery for £20 front row day seats via the TodayTix app. See here for further details.
I’ve recently been rewatching a few old television favourites and it’s become clear to me that the shows I tend to invest in usually have a strong couple at their heart. Some of these are friendships, some are more than that and others morph over time from one to the other. I’m still considering my list of ultimate TV friendships (watch this space), but in the spirit of it being Valentine’s Day, I’m starting with my favourite television couples.
Of course, everyone’s list will be personal, so I’m sure there will be couples I’ve missed who you would choose, so feel free to let me know your choices in the comments! It also goes without saying that this post will contain spoilers for the shows referenced.
Fox Mulder & Dana Scully (The X-Files)
To me, Mulder and Scully will always be the ultimate television couple. It was a relationship that grew from their strong friendship and over the years of the series I loved seeing how much respect and love these two amazing characters had for each other. It bubbled under the surface, but never detracted from the series itself and even 20 years later, the incredible chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson remains as powerful as ever. The magic the two of them share does not come around very often and as yet, has not been beaten. You can read more of my thoughts on these two here.
Harvey Specter & Donna Paulsen (Suits)
I know some people may argue against the inclusion of Harvey and Donna in a couples list, but their relationship has developed so much recently, that I find it impossible not to see them as meant to be, even if they are not quite there yet! Over the last six seasons we have seen their deeply-rooted friendship grow. Yes, they’ve already been lovers once, but they share so much more than that. Sarah Rafferty and Gabriel Macht have a chemistry that is rare on television and I’m sure their long-standing friendship has added to the fabric of Harvey and Donna’s relationship. These characters wouldn’t be so wonderful on screen were they portrayed by anyone else. As with Mulder and Scully, this is certainly a slow burn, but surely these two have to end up together?!
Josh Lyman & Donna Moss (The West Wing)
I clearly enjoy the slow burn relationships don’t I, as here is yet another one! From the start of Aaron Sorkin’s political drama I always loved the banter between the Deputy Chief of Staff and his assistant and as the series progressed, their wonderful bond became more apparent. Thanks to Bradley Whitford and Janel Moloney’s on screen connection, any other relationships each character had just never seemed quite as special as the one they shared together. Josh may have been the political player, but it became clear how much he relied on Donna and when she left to pursue her own ambitions, it gave him the push to pursue his new path and when they did finally get together it didn’t overshadow the series, as by then it was the logical and natural next step.
Alicia Florrick & Will Gardner (The Good Wife)
I still feel incredibly sad when I think about this ill-fated pair, but there was no way they wouldn’t feature on my list, as they are probably the hottest and most moving couple on TV. The attraction between Will and Alicia was clear from the very beginning (in no large part down to the chemistry between Josh Charles and Julianna Margulies) and along with many fans of the series, I had my fingers crossed for their future. They clearly loved one another and Alicia should probably have picked Will before she ever married her dreadful husband. The time they were together treated us to some of the steamiest scenes on television (here’s one for the uninitiated) as well as some of the most emotional, but sadly it wasn’t to be, with Will being tragically killed in series five (something I still wish the internet hadn’t ruined for me in advance). It was an event I never expected, which still makes me reach for the tissues. The fact their love was cut short in such an cruel way makes their whole story all the more powerful and is probably the couple that has moved me the most on television.
Temperance Brennan & Seeley Booth (Bones)
Bones is a series I’ve missed over the last few years and I’m slowly playing catch up, but what was clear from day one was the chemistry between David Boreanaz’s Booth and Emily Deschanel’s Brennan. I have only reached series eight (the final season 12 is airing now), but what I enjoy most about this series is how the writers were able to transition the characters from friends, to lovers, to marriage and children. It has enabled fans to see their relationship grow in a more mature and realistic way, which is something other shows could learn from.
The Doctor & Rose Tyler (Doctor Who)
Since it’s return in 2005 Doctor Who has seen some wonderful partnerships on board the TARDIS. However, there is one that touched the hearts of many fans of the series and that was the love between David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor and Billie Piper’s Rose Tyler. Yes, nothing ever happened between them, but their bond was never in doubt and their heartbreaking farewell on Bad Wolf Bay was a classic moment that certainly made me shed some tears.
Kevin Walker & Scotty Wandell (Brothers & Sisters)
There were many relationships within Brothers & Sisters, but for me the most heartfelt and believable one was that between Kevin and Scotty (played brilliantly by Matthew Rhys and Luke MacFarlane). Through all the Walker family turmoil, they were a breath of fresh air with their loving relationship. They weren’t free from problems (most notably Scotty’s affair), but loved each other enough not to throw their relationship away.
Buffy Summers & Spike (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
Some may be surprised that the relationship on my list from Buffy is not the one between Buffy and Angel! Yes, theirs was one of the core elements of the series in the early years, but Buffy and Spike’s short-lived relationship was the one that has always interested me the most. When you think about it (and leave aside the undead aspect!), they were a far better match for each other. Perhaps it was the fact Buffy was older than the teenager who fell for Angel, but her connection with Spike came across as a more mature one. They knew each other’s faults and accepted them anyway and some of the scenes between James Marsters and Sarah Michelle Geller in those later episodes remain some of my favourites.
Doug Ross & Carol Hathaway (E.R)
E.R remains my favourite medical series (more on that here) and although it had some lovely relationships during its 15 years, one always stood above the rest and that was the love affair between Doug and Carol. The fact it became so iconic in the 90s (and was the first big break for each of George Clooney and Julianna Margulies) is more impressive when you think that Carol wasn’t even meant to survive the pilot episode. They went through ups and downs, split up and got back together more than once, but you couldn’t help but root for them and the icing on the cake was Clooney’s surprise return for the last few moments of the episode which saw Carol leave Chicago behind for the love of her life.
Chuck Bass & Blaire Waldorf (Gossip Girl)
Chuck and Blaire were the best schemers in Gossip Girl, manipulating situations and characters to their advantage and there were many times when I really couldn’t stand them! However, the writers created something very clever in their relationship. Despite their underhanded behaviour, they seemed to bring out the best in each other, which in turn changed my perception of them and thanks to the acting talents of Ed Westwick and Leighton Meester they became my favourite characters in the show. Had they not ended up together I’d have been thoroughly disappointed.
Carrie Bradshaw & Mr. Big (Sex And The City)
The Mr.Big debate was a big one during Sex And The City’s run, with fans divided as to whether Carrie should end up with him or not. He may have been an idiot for the majority of the show, but I was always of the view that deep down they were soul mates. Despite all the pain and hurt, they always seemed to come back to one another and he would do anything for her. I also loved the fun they seemed to have and Chris Noth and Sarah Jessica Parker sparkled in their scenes together.
Sydney Bristow & Michael Vaughn (Alias)
J.J Abrams’s spy drama was a highlight of American television at the time of its original run and the will they won’t they dynamic of Sydney and Vaughn captured the hearts of its fans (including me). Yes, there were some utterly bonkers plot developments along the way, including Vaughn’s faked death, but Jennifer Garner and Michael Vartan always ensured the relationship between Sydney and Vaughn was genuinely lovely to watch right until the end.
Ross Poldark & Demelza (Poldark)
Yes, Aidan Turner’s torso has generated a great deal of attention since Poldark was brought back to our screens in 2015, but the best character in my view is the fiery Demelza, superbly played by Eleanor Tomlinson and their romance is what keeps me tuning in each week. They may be from different backgrounds, but they are undoubtably stronger together and do truly belong together. I’m looking forward to seeing what lies ahead in series three after the ups and downs of the last series.
Lizzie Bennet & Mr Darcy (BBC, Pride & Prejudice)
Colin Firth may be a successful Oscar-winning actor, but he’ll always be best known for his iconic portrayal of Mr Darcy in the BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice. The British public fell under his spell and that of his counterpart Jennifer Ehle. In my opinion, they created the definitive Lizzie and Darcy and every scene they had together sparkled, making them one of the TV couples of the 90s in Britain.
Ianto Jones and Captain Jack Harkness (Torchwood)
The relationship between Captain Jack (John Barrowman) and Ianto Jones (Gareth David-Lloyd) in Torchwood was hugely important for British television and remains one of my favourites of recent years. What was lovely about the pairing was that they may have been very different personalities, but were in fact perfectly suited. They were playful, affectionate and stood by each other through all the crazy happenings in their lives and Ianto’s emotional death in Children Of Earth was heartbreaking for fans of the show. We felt his loss as much as Captain Jack. Heck, does any other fictional character have a shrine like Ianto’s in Cardiff?!
So, those are my top fifteen television couples. I look forward to hearing about who you would choose!
Happy New Year!
I’ve looked back on my year of theatre in 2016, which means it’s now time to focus on what lies in store over the next twelve months. The good news is that there is already quite a lot to be excited about and below are 17 shows I’d put on your list for the new year!
1. Hamlet (Almeida Theatre, 17th February – 8th April)
There is so much I’m excited about regarding the forthcoming Almeida production of Hamlet. It’s my favourite Shakespeare play, directed by probably my favourite director at the moment, Robert Icke, whose Oresteia and current Mary Stuart productions are some of the finest plays I’ve seen and it will see Andrew Scott take the title role. He may be best known for playing Moriarty in Sherlock, but he is also a superbly versatile stage actor and I cannot wait to see what he and Icke come up with for this production. All it needs is a strong ensemble cast, which it is well on the way to having wth Juliet Stevenson and Jessica Brown Findlay and this has the potential to challenge the RSC’s 2008 production as my favourite. Can you tell I’m excited?!
2. Angels In America (National Theatre, from 11th April)
Ever since the National’s 50th anniversary celebration featured a scene from this play, I’ve been hoping it would return to the London stage and 2017 sees that happen. It’s such an iconic award-winning play, which made such an impact originally in the 90s and this revival promises to be very special with actors including Denise Gough, Andrew Garfield, James McArdle, Nathan Lane and Russell Tovey announced and directed by Marianne Elliot. Tickets will go quickly for this. You have been warned!
3. Don Juan In Soho (Wyndham’s Theatre, 17th March – 10th June)
2017 also sees David Tennant return to the stage and this time it’s not Shakespeare. For me, he is one of the finest stage actors we have in the UK and I’m very excited to finally see him live on stage performing a non-Shakespeare role. Patrick Marber’s play is described as a savagely funny and filthy play, which has me intrigued to say the least! Directed by Marber and also starring the brilliant Adrian Scarborough, the only question for me is just how many times I’ll see this show over its run!
4. Hamilton (Victoria Palace Theatre, from November)
The juggernaut that is Hamilton finally arrives in London late this year at the Victoria Palace (which is undergoing refurbishment in advance of becoming the hottest theatre spot in town). I have heard so much about this show, but have resisted the urge to listen to any music from it before I see it. With crazily expensive tickets for the New York run, hopefully the London production will be a little easier to get in to!
5. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Harold Pinter Theatre, 22nd February – 27th May)
After her performances in Sweeney Todd in 2012 and Gypsy in 2015, I’d go and see the incredible Imelda Staunton in anything! Next on her list before Gypsy heads to Broadway is this production of Edward Albee’s play. Also starring Conleth Hill (now better known as Varys in Game of Thrones), this promises to be another gem in the 2017 calendar.
6. the ferryman (Royal Court Theatre, 24th April – 20th May)
The Ferryman makes the list even though it is technically already sold out. This does not mean it should be ruled out however (I for one will be queuing as long as it takes for returns after failing to book this fast enough)! Jez Butterworth’s reputation for brilliant and exciting theatre was established with Jerusalem, but I also loved The River and I’m intrigued to see what is next. The production will also mark the Royal Court directorial debut of Sam Mendes.
7. Obsession (Barbican Theatre, 19th April – 20th May)
This year also sees Ivo Van Hove, whose recent productions of A View From A Bridge and The Crucible both made quite an impression on anyone who saw them (including me) directing one of three Toneelgroep Amsterdam productions at the Barbican. Jude Law leads a cast of Dutch and British actors in Visconti’s drama where two people’s attraction to each other leads them to plot murder. This season as a whole is on my must-see list, but I’m rather intrigued by this one in particular.
8. The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (Theatre Royal Haymarket, 24th March – 24th June)
Spring also sees two of Britain’s finest actors, Damian Lewis and Sophie Okonedo together on stage in Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? Described as a dark comedy, I am rather excited about seeing these two together and directed by Ian Rickson too!
9. Woyzeck (Old Vic, 6th May – 24th June)
Woyzeck isn’t a play I’ve seen before and therefore I’m thrilled to be able to have a chance to tick this highly regarded piece of literature off my list. Set in 1980s Berlin, John Boyega (now of Star Wars fame) tackles the story of a young soldier on the border of East and West trying to build a better life for his family. This new version of Georg Buchner’s classic has been written by Jack Thorne, whose recent hits include This Is England for the screen and the Harry Potter play.
10. Speech & Debate (Trafalgar Studios, 22nd February – 1st April)
Stephen Karam’s play The Humans was one I’d hoped to see next time I was in NYC (sadly I’ll miss it), but I will at least be able to see Speech & Debate when it arrives in London in February. Billed as the story of three misfits, brought together at school by a sex scandal, with hilarious consequences, I’m looking forward to seeing Douglas Booth and Tony Revolori (Zero in The Grand Budapest Hotel) tackle this play.
11. 42nd Street (Theatre Royal Drury Lane, 20th March – 22nd July)
I can tick another classic musical off my list this year with the arrival of 42nd Street, the story of a young woman who, after joining the chorus line of a musical, may get her chance of stardom when the leading lady lady suffers an injury. Starring Sheena Easton as Dorothy Brock, this production will also be directed by Mark Bramble, the co-author of the original book of the production. I’ll be curious to see where this ranks in my list of musicals.
12. The Glass Menagerie (Duke of York’s Theatre, 26th January – 29th April)
I’ve still yet to see The Glass Menagerie on stage and so I’m pleased this version of Tennessee Williams’s play is transferring from Broadway at the end of this month. Director John Tiffany’s (also director of Harry Potter & The Cursed Child) production was highly regarded in New York and will again star Cherry Jones as the matriarch Belle Amanda Wingfield.
13. Paul Auster’s City of Glass (Lyric Hammersmith, 20th April – 13th May)
Regarded as a seminal American novel, I’m looking forward to a trip to the Lyric to see this new adaptation, which is billed as using ground-breaking stagecraft, projection, magic and illusion to tell the story of a reclusive crime writer who becomes drawn in to a thriller after receiving a call in the middle of the night from someone in need of a private detective.
14. Touch (Soho Theatre, 6th July – 26th August)
I didn’t get to see Fleabag last year, but after the acclaim it received, as well as for the BBC series based on the play, I’m certainly adding Touch to my 2017 list, as it is by the same creative team. Starring Amy Morgan, it’s the story of a 33 year old woman trying to find her way in London.
15. Tribes (Crucible Studio, Sheffield, 30th June – 22nd July)
I thoroughly enjoyed the original run of Nina Raines’s play at the Royal Court in 2010 and so I am looking forward to seeing this new regional premiere in Sheffield over the summer. The story of family life, where the son is deaf is very funny, but also incredibly moving and explores perfectly the desire we all have to be heard and understood.
16. Antony & Cleopatra (RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon, 11th March – 7th September)
I’ve always struggled a bit with this play, but I’ll certainly be heading to Stratford-Upon-Avon for this production, which will see one of my favourite RSC actors, Antony Byrne take on Marc Antony. Byrne was wonderful in the original Richard II in 2013 (and very much missed by me in its revival this year) and also in Henry IV and V and it’ll be fantastic to see him again performing Shakespeare.
17. Sex With Strangers (Hampstead Theatre, 27th January – 4th March)
The Hampstead Theatre has certainly come a long way since Edward Hall took the helm in 2010 and I’m very much looking forward to seeing its first production of the new year. Laura Eason’s comedy sees two people, very much opposites of each other, stuck together in a B&B in the snow, who find themselves undeniably drawn to each other. I enjoyed Emilia Fox’s performance in Rapture, Blister, Burn at this theatre in 2015 and so it’ll be lovely to see her back, in a production that also stars Theo James.
So, those are some of my suggestions for this year on stage. I could have picked so much more, with theatres including the Bush Theatre and the Young Vic already setting out exciting seasons. Then of course there are all the shows yet to be announced! Finally, there are some shows that opened last year, but which are well worth a trip if you can see them before they close. A few examples are:
- Love’s Labour’s Lost & Much Ado About Nothing (Theatre Royal Haymarket) until 18th March – the London transfer of the RSC’s gorgeous double-bill is not to be missed. With a lot of the cast returning, including Edward Bennett and Sam Alexander, they are perfect at this time of year. Go, go, go!
- This House (Garrick Theatre) until 25th February – This superb National Theatre production sees a new run in the West End. Set in the 70s as Labour cling on to power before Thatcher, it’s a brilliantly sharp and funny glimpse in to Westminster. Having seen the current cast in Chichester over the autumn, I can say it’s just as strong as it was originally. Review here.
- Hedda Gabler (National Theatre) until 21st March – My review will be up laster this month for this exciting modernisation of Ibsen’s play. Ruth Wilson is yet again superb and there are also wonderful performances from Rafe Spall and Kyle Soller. This was so close to being in my top 10 of 2016, so I urge you to go. Yes, it’s sold out, but there is the option of Rush tickets on sale on Fridays for the following week’s shows and returns will pop up, so keep checking.
- Mary Stuart (Almeida Theatre) until 21st January – One of my highlights of last year was this play which sees Lia Williams and Juliet Stevenson swap roles as Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I. It’s an exciting production from director Robert Icke and is another must-see. Again, it’s sold out, but there are day seats of every performance and I’ve usually been successful in the returns queue at this theatre in the past.
Hopefully there is something on the list that you are interested in. As always, I’ll be adding reviews of shows as I see them and so please do pop back any time!
Although there are a few days of 2016 left, I’ve very likely been to the theatre for the last time this year and so it’s time for one of my favourite posts – my theatre review. It’s always lovely to reflect on another year of theatregoing and all the wonderful productions I’ve been lucky enough to see over the previous 12 months.
Due to a few weeks with a bad cough during which I didn’t go to the theatre (I refuse to be that person coughing through a show!), 2016’s final tally was just 70 different productions; 12 of which were musicals (a record I think for me), with the rest being plays. As with any year there are always some repeat visits and in 2016 I saw 11 shows more than once. Although this year saw me take a long overdue trips to New York for 11 days of theatre (that seems to be the magic number for me this year doesn’t it?), I’ve actually been to very little regional theatre in 2016 and I’m determined to improve this over the next twelve months.
2016 has been a very strong year of theatre for me, with those containing a strong female performance particularly standing out. I’ve seen very little that has truly disappointed and nothing that will be added to my all-time worst production list. So, below is my top ten productions of the year. Before the year is out, I’ll also be posting my list of 17 shows to see in 2017 so please do pop back to have a look and let me know what your theatre highlights have been this year!
Productions of the Year – My Top 10!
1. Groundhog Day (Old Vic)
There could only be one show at the top of my 2016 list and that’s Groundhog Day, the new musical based on the film, which premiered this year in London, before departing after only its ten week run to prepare for Broadway (previews start in March). I had been sceptical about a musical of this 1993 film (one that I’d not been a huge fan of to begin with). On seeing it for the first time however, I knew this was something very special indeed and I loved it every time I went (well if any show warrants repeat trips it’s this one). The colourful sets helped bring the community of Punxsutawney to life, and the book by Danny Rubin with Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics were a joy. It managed to be both very very funny and deeply moving over the course of the show, as Phil Connors gradually becomes a better man. Of course, the show needed a strong lead to anchor it and Andy Karl was utterly superb as Connors. He was able to portray a man who was both irritating, but still likeable and someone you were rooting for by the end. Yes, I intend to go to NYC to see it, but in the meantime, Mr. Minchin, please release a cast recording! You can read my full reviews here and here.
2. People, Places & Things (Wyndham’s)
I missed this play during its original run at the National Theatre, but was able to see it when it reached the West End earlier this year. It certainly lived up to the hype, with Denise Gough giving one of the finest stage performances I’ve ever witnessed. As Emma, the young woman dealing with a drug and alcohol addiction, Gough pulled you in to her world and didn’t let go until the end. Very few theatre performances have as strong an emotional impact as this one and her Olivier win in April was truly deserved. I know this will be a performance I talk about for years to come. Full review here.
3. Sunset Boulevard (London Coliseum)
This time last year, one of the most anticipated events of the 2016 theatre calendar was Glenn Close’s return to the role of Norma Desmond, one she performed on Broadway over 20 years ago (and one she will take back to NYC in 2017). I’d never been to the Coliseum, but it was the ideal venue for this unique staging of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical. “Semi-staged”, there was very little set; instead the focus was on the performances and the full ENO orchestra on stage. Fred Johanson was excellent as Norma’s loyal butler, as was Michael Xavier as Joe Gillis. However, this was always going to be Close’s show and she was superb. In fact I loved it so much I had to go again and being on the front row that second time is an experience I will never forget. Full review here.
4. Eclipsed (John Golden, NYC)
My trip to NYC this year was designed to be a theatre-fuelled holiday and it certainly was! I saw some excellent productions during my time there, but the one that stands out and makes this top ten is Danai Gurira’s play Eclipsed, which centres on the lives on five women during the Second Liberian Civil War. The play was able to capture the perfect balance of serious hard-hitting material and humour. For a play that has some moments that are quite difficult to watch, it was also remarkably funny too. On top of that, all five women in this play were superb (made clear by the raft of nominations it received). Lupita Nyong’a seemed so much younger in her role, which commanded your attention until the final moments, while Pascale Armand made me laugh with her witty remarks. I’m so pleased I was able to see this. Full review here.
5. Mary Stuart (Almeida)
Last weekend I was at the Almeida for a double day of Mary Stuart. Seeing this new show twice in one day was the only way to guarantee I’d see both actresses in each of the lead roles of Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart. I’m still writing up my review (watch this space), but needless to say that it’s inclusion on this list tells you exactly what I thought of it! The Almeida has such a unique atmosphere and you can feel the energy in the room as the coin spin takes place to determine who will play each part. On seeing both versions, I was thoroughly impressed by both actresses, although Lia Williams brought something extra to the stage whether as Mary or Elizabeth. It’s an exciting, powerful and absorbing production that you should see if you can.
6. Unreachable (Royal Court)
After having to return a ticket for earlier in the run, I’m so pleased I managed to see the final performance of this brilliant new play by writer and director Anthony Neilson, although due to the unique structure of the creative process, it would have been great to have seen it more than once, as Neilson uses the rehearsal process to mould the story and relies on improv from the cast. Story-wise, it’s about a group of creative people coming together to make a film, with the director intent on capturing the right light (played by Matt Smith) and one of the actors, Ivan the Brute, an unpredictable lunatic (Jonjo O’Neil)! All the actors were excellent, but special credit must go to these two, who had me in stitches throughout, particularly Jonjo. It’s a character and performance I won’t forget in a hurry!
7. Harry Potter & The Cursed Child (Palace)
2016 also saw the arrival of the juggernaut that is the new Harry Potter play and I feel very lucky to have already been able to see it, knowing that some people have tickets for 2018! Set 18 years after the end of the seventh book in the series, we get to see Harry, Hermione and Ron as adults with children of their own off to Hogwart’s and the story focuses on the friendship of Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy. It’s a superb show, with magical trickery, lovely sets, a story with a positive message for us all and some brilliant actors. Special mention to Jamie Parker (one of my favourites on stage who really does bring something new to Harry) and Anthony Boyle who deserves as much recognition as possible for stealing the show as Scorpius. Review here.
8. Yerma (Young Vic)
Billie Piper has established herself in recent years as a fine stage actress and her lead role in the Young Vic’s modern interpretation of Lorca’s Yerma is the best I’ve ever seen her. In a one act play, she simply left me speechless and a bit of a wreck through her portrayal of a young woman driven to despair by her inability to conceive a child. In this modern world where people like to think we can have it all and where woman are putting off having children until later, this play has an added emotional resonance. Brendan Cowell was also fantastic as her husband, struggling to keep their marriage together as his wife slowly breaks down. It was an emotionally draining experience, but a theatrical tour de force that I wouldn’t have missed for anything. Full review here.
9. Richard II (RSC, Barbican, London & BAM, NYC)
Okay, okay, anyone who reads this blog may notice that this production has been on this list before, but technically the 2016 version did have a largely different cast and therefore I think I cab get away with it! David Tennant remains one of my favourite actors and a brilliant Shakespearean actor. Returning to Richard after a break of almost two years meant he was able to bring much more weight to it than he did originally. This was a stronger, more confident performance. Add to that the inspired addition of Jasper Britton as Bolingbroke, a role he made his own and a performance I preferred to Nigel Lindsay. Top marks also need to go to Sam Marks, who stepped in to Oliver Rix’s shoes as Aumerle and brought even more emotional depth than I could have hoped for. I was also lucky enough to travel to NYC to see the final two performances of Richard, meaning that I was able to see not only the first preview, but the very last show. Full review here and reflection on the full King and Country cycle here.
10. The Dazzle (FOUND111)
Picking a tenth production for this list has been quite difficult and has left me torn, but in the end I had to choose a production I first saw last December and returned to in January of this year and that’s The Dazzle. With only a cast of three and staged in the intimate setting of FOUND111 (one of the venues of the year in my view), this was a show that was both humorous and deeply moving, as we see the bond between the Collyer brothers. Andrew Scott is mesmerising as Langley, whose strange ways are an increasing strain on his brother. However, it was David Dawson’s performance as Homer that floored me and by the final scene I was a wreck. Full review here.
So, that’s my top 10 from another year of theatre. That was quite tough! Had I had more space, other productions I loved this year included Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Donmar), The Encounter (Barbican) and the returns of the RSC’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much About About Nothing (at Chichester, but which are now currently finally in London) and This House (also now in London).
It always frustrates me that there are things I miss, but ultimately you can’t see everything. That being said, I’m determined to go to more regional theatre, but also more new venues next year. It’s a little exciting to wonder what memories I’ll be looking back on this time next year! After a suggestion from a friend, my picks for top performances of the theatre year are in a separate post here, as are my most memorable moments of the year in theatre here.
Thanks for reading!
It’s taken me a couple of weeks to write this reflection on the final King and Country cycle. Previously I have reviewed all of the individual plays since they began with Richard II in 2013, as well as reflecting on the cycle at the Barbican this January. However, as my recent New York trip was largely scheduled around seeing the last dates of these Histories, it seemed fitting to look back one last time and also comment on the differences, both in my experience and in the performances, when seeing them during the New York run.
I find it thrilling that despite so many performances under their belts (the final King and Country tally was 505), the company was still trying new things and for anyone who’s sen them a few times it’s a wonderful added extra. It’s also fascinating to experience the plays with an audience who have much less opportunity to see live Shakespeare than we do here in the UK and to see first hand how this affects their reactions to the material.
From my time at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s (BAM) Harvey Theatre, I’d safely say that the largely American audiences loved these productions and having the RSC come to them. In fact there was a buzz that I didn’t feel at the Barbican or to some extent even at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. This is perhaps largely due to the RSC in New York being more of an event, seeing as they haven’t been regularly and the audiences were excited to see this famous theatre company bringing Shakespeare overseas. Thinking about it logically, these were the perfect plays to succeed there. The more traditional rather than modern settings and the English history (albeit Shakespeare’s version) seemed, from the people we spoke with, to be exactly what they imagined the Royal Shakespeare Company to be doing.
BAM was an ideal theatre for the plays too. Built in 1904 as the Majestic Theatre, the BAM Harvey Theatre’s auditorium is weathered and has a old-age feel; paint flaked walls and ceilings really added to the sense that a little bit of English history had come back to life in a venue of the past. I also really liked the rake of BAM, with a great view from every seat I had (it’s a bit like the Trafalgar Studios rake for those that know it). This again meant a slightly different viewing experience than I’d had in Stratford-Upon-Avon or London.
The plays themselves were just a strong as they had been and as far as Henry IV is concerned, this was my favourite time watching it (having seen it once in Stratford in 2014 and then once during each of the two Barbican runs). At a book event earlier in the week, Antony Sher had commented how he felt the US audiences were listening and reacting better to the plays and on experiencing them for myself, I have to agree with him. Lines which I’ve not heard get a reaction before in all four of the plays (but especially Henry IV) found one at BAM. I heard quite a few people there saying how they had read the plays before coming and perhaps we are so used to Shakespeare in the UK that we aren’t as focussed as an audience who has less chance to see them live. In turn, this clearly had an effect on the performances, especially Mr Sher, who seemed happier and more at ease at BAM. Perhaps coming to the end of the run played a part, but you could see that he was enjoying and feeding off the audience reactions.
I’m sure it’s no surprise to regular readers that I saw Richard II the most since 2013. I’d been at the first preview in October 2013 and I loved the idea of seeing the very last performance, especially as in my view, this is a production which has only gone from strength to strength over time. It was in Richard II where I picked up on little changes, the most obvious being in my favourite scene – Flint Castle. Having seen David Tennant play the scene with both Oliver Rix and now Sam Marks (as well as Oli and Sam together during the understudy performance), it was wonderful that they were still experimenting even at the end of the run. I saw Richard II twice at BAM and both times, instead of dodging the crown when Richard moves to place it on his head, Sam Marks stayed still and Richard II did indeed crown Aumerle. Once Tennant then removed it with a sigh (it’s Richard’s burden, not his cousin’s) and the second time Marks removed it and with sadness gave it back to Richard. It wasn’t a big change, but it was something subtle and lovely to see played in a slightly different way after all this time.
All the company were on fine form in New York and special mention to Evelyn Miller going on in place of Jennifer Kirby for the final Henry IV Part 2 and Henry V. They should all be hugely proud of the King and Country cycle and it was very special to be at the final Henry V to see the 505th and final performance. I’m sure after such a welcome, it won’t be long before the RSC is back in New York and you never know, I may just have to tag along too!
You can purchase the RSC’s King and Country plays on DVD from all the usual stockists. As the DVDs are region free, it’s worth considering buying them from US Amazon where the 4 play set is only $40!
So, tonight marked 11 years since Doctor Who returned to our television screens in the UK with a new Doctor at the helm and a whole new look. I wasn’t a fan back then. Sure I’d enjoyed the Paul McGann special, but that was all really. Yet, the iconic status of Doctor Who in this country meant that on 26th March 2005 I was sitting down with my family to watch its relaunch on BBC One.
Rose may not have been the best episode (it still feels incredibly cheesy to me whenever I watch it), but it was perfect for re-launching the series. The plot was bonkers, but what lifted it to a different level was the performance of its central character – Christopher Eccleston was a superb Doctor from the start. He carried a weight to him that made it plausible that he was hundreds of years old and had suffered a painful past, one which had left him scarred and angry. He held my attention from the beginning. Throw in to the mix a surprisingly (back then anyway) good performance by Billie Piper as Rose, some jokes and some glorious shots of London (I still love the Westminster Bridge moment) and the series was well and truly back.
I admit that I never expected it to do as well as it did and the fact it’s still going strong is wonderful, as it continues to excite and inspire young children. Personally, I’m still not a classic Who fan, but I enjoy “New Who” and have it to thank for introducing me to some of the closest friends I now have and that’s priceless.
So, to mark this 11th birthday (bizarre for a show that has already celebrated its 50th!), here are my favourite 11 moments from New Who. I have to say it’s taken a lot of discipline to keep to just 11! Let me know yours in the comments.
1. The Doctor sees Rose again (The Stolen Earth, series 4)
This moment has been my favourite of New Who ever since I first saw it and nothing has quite matched it since. It’s just so perfectly executed by the cast and crew. There is no dialogue – it doesn’t need it. It just needs Murray’s music and three great performances from Catherine, David and Billie. You don’t need to have seen any of the series before to understand just what seeing Rose again means to the Doctor. It’s all right there on David’s face. Gorgeous.
2. Vincent Van Gogh sees how loved his work is (Vincent & The Doctor, series 5)
Oh I do love Vincent and the Doctor. People may criticise Richard Curtis but he did a superb job with this episode, tackling the subject of depression with such sensitivity, while still bringing a story full of fun and humour, as well as poignancy to the screen. The moment Vincent (played to perfection by Tony Curran) sees his exhibition in Paris and hears how cherished his work is, makes me well up every time. For anyone who thinks Doctor Who doesn’t carry real weight and emotion, you need to see this episode.
3. The Doctor has dinner with Margaret Slitheen (Boom Town, series 1)
Boom Town is a lovely, silly story from the first series and enabled Eccleston to show his ability to play comedy more than perhaps any other episode. The scene in which he and Margaret Slitheen go out to dinner and exchange threats is wonderful, as she tries in vain to kill him, foiled each time by The Doctor being three steps ahead of her! Plus the fact I’ve been able to go to Cardiff Bay and eat in that very restaurant makes it quite fun too!
4. The wall / the beach farewell (Doomsday, series 2)
I think this moment was when Doctor Wo gained so many more loyal fans (and perhaps David Tennant too!). The story of the Doctor and Rose had been a lovely one and their deep affection for each other was always obvious and with the arrival of David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor became something more of a love story. These two people who could never really be together, who were then separated by a dimension, prevented even from finally saying how they truly feel for each other. Doctor Who’s female fanbase is very strong now and I think in part it’s due to David and Billie opening out the universe of the series with this very human relationship. Admit it, you cried at this moment too right?
5. When The Doctor finally has enough of the laws of time (Waters of Mars, series 4 specials)
Waters of Mars was such a superb episode; so much darker in tone and allowing David Tennant to show another side of the Tenth Doctor. I could have chosen so many moments of this show, but I particularly loved the powerful moments as the Doctor walks away from the base, with the sounds of fear and dying of the crew in his ears, to then turn back. He has had enough of the laws of time and is going to finally say enough is enough. Although it’s a path we know he shouldn’t be on, you cannot help but admire the Doctor is this moment as he chooses to go back to help.
6. Fear Is A Superpower (Listen, series 8)
As someone who always liked Jenna Coleman and Clara, the end of Listen remains a highlight of New Who for me. Hearing her gently talking to the young Doctor, to give him strength and comfort, which in turn he will give to the young Danny years later is lovely. It’s also added to by the beautiful score from Murray Gold and is a truly moving and powerful scene from the series.
7. Reunited with Donna Noble (Partners In Crime, series 4)
Ahh Donna Noble, how we all loved her! Seeing her return in series 4 was a true treat and nothing could have been more perfect for her reunion with the Doctor than this wonderfully funny mime scene from Partners In Crime. Both David and Catherine are superb comic actors and this scene kicked off the start of the wonderful thread of comedy and fun that ran throughout this series and is something I still miss.
8. Never trust a hug (Death In Heaven, series 8)
Peter Capaldi’s first series as the Doctor was a very strong one indeed (better than series 9 in my view). After such a brilliant series, this scene towards the end of Death In Heaven was played so perfectly by Peter and Jenna. Each character is so much like the other by this time and so good at hiding their pain from the other, pretending everything is fine. In this one moment the audience was able to see how sad and lonely each one was and how their love for the other meant that they were determined to hide it from them so that they could be happy. “Never trust a hug. It’s just a way of hiding your face.”
9. Rory’s impossible choice (The Girl Who Waited, series 6)
Oh how I loved Rory. He was a character who came such a long way over his time in Doctor Who and at times brought a level of emotion to the episodes that would otherwise have been lacking. The moment he is faced with the choice of which Amy to save in The Girl Who Waited was one of Arthur Darvill’s best moments. Whether to save his young Amy, or the Amy she would have become had she had the time to be lost there for decades as this old Amy had, is an impossible decision. Seeing him cry with confusion and desperation as older Amy begs to be let in to the TARDIS was heartbreaking to watch.
10. Four knocks (The End of Time, series 4 specials)
The End of Time may have been a bit bonkers in places, but the Four Knock scene was a highlight of New Who. The sheer joy and relief on the Doctor’s face as he thinks it’s over, to be replaced so suddenly by utter horror and sadness when Wilf knocks on that door is beautifully played, accompanied by some subtle, but equally powerful music from Murray Gold. It had me in tears the first time I watched it and even now is an emotional piece of drama that the series and the actors should be proud of.
11. A hologram farewell (The Parting of The Ways, series 1)
My final moment to mark this 11th birthday goes to the Doctor who started it all – the Ninth Doctor, Christopher Eccleston. He has been through so much with Rose and in order to save her he does what he thinks is the right thing for her – to send her home, with this final message sent via his hologram. It’s a lovely gesture and shows a real depth to his character. It’s still a shame we didn’t get him in this role for a little longer.
So those are my favourite 11 moments over the last 11 years of this iconic British series, one which has brought so much joy and fun to so many for over 50 years now. Thanks very much Doctor Who – long may you continue to let us travel through time and space with you!
Saturday morning saw me back at the Barbican. Not for a play this time, but for the last of the RSC’s King & Country talks in the Frobisher Auditorium, to listen to David Tennant and Jonathan Slinger talk about their experiences playing Richard II for the RSC. It was a truly insightful and thoroughly interesting hour, which could have gone on much longer as these fine actors talked about this particular role.
I’ve tried to capture in this post the questions and answers given during the discussion, for those unable to attend. Moderator Emma Smith did mention that the event was being recorded for the RSC’s archive. If I can find out any more details of that I’ll update this post.
Richard II in the context of the other History plays?
Jonathan Slinger (“JS”), played Richard II for the RSC during Michael Boyd’s Histories Cycle in 2007/2008. He spoke of approaching the role, with the knowledge that the company were going to do all eight Histories together and that he would be book ending them, playing both Richard II and Richard III. For him the play works as a standalone, as do most of the Histories, but that there is a narrative running through them all as well and by doing them all they were able to draw out the echoes and narratives of the whole piece.
David Tennant (“DT”) has had the opposite experience, as he approached Richard II as very much a standalone piece. It was Greg Doran’s first production as Artistic Director and had been mounted as a standalone, so he didn’t have to get in to the greater context too much. He spoke of returning to the role now, two years later, remounting it so that it fits in to the other plays of the cycle and how he is now more aware of the moments where Richard II casts forward to the other plays, such as the moment Richard speaks to Northumberland, foreshadowing the events of Henry IV Part One.
Working with the play’s reliance on the history that has come before it?
DT said how he had always loved the play, but that he’d never really understood the beginning – who was dead? why? what are the undercurrents at work? He agreed that it is not set out, so it’s tricky to understand and also hard to help the audience understand what’s going on and the political world they are in.
The lightbulb moment for the current RSC production, he said, was deciding to put the dead body of Gloucester in the centre of the opening scene and have that happen at his funeral. This also highlights the inappropriateness of Richard’s behaviour, thinking that they should sort out this disagreement at the funeral speaking to his personality!
JS described their staging of the opening in his production. They too had the body on stage, but the actual body, which he (as Richard) steps over to get to the throne. Mowbray and Bolingbroke then entered the stage and the “ghost” of Gloucester stood up and eyeballed Mowbray. He said this was perhaps more subtle than the current production (which he admitted he hadn’t seen).
Both actors also spoke about the earlier play Thomas of Woodstock, which it’s believed the people at the time were very much aware of and therefore knew the backstory without it being in Shakespeare’s play, although DT thought it was an odd omission by Shakespeare, who doesn’t normally make the context so obscure.
Costumes and how they helped get in to character?
JS explained that his Histories cycle was done in full Elizabethan costume, in reference to the fact that Elizabeth I is known to have recognised herself in the character of Richard II. He also thought that the vain, superficial image of Richard fitted that costume and described how the costume and makeup were gradually stripped away, as Richard goes from a lack of self awareness to full self knowledge, as he loses all material wealth and possessions.
DT said he found the fact that Richard had been born to be King and been crowned when still a boy interesting. Richard has never been in a world where he has had to conform. Therefore the way he acts is always correct as no one will challenge him, for example no one would ever say to him “Cut your bloody hair!”. So he can have long hair, have gold gilded on his fingernails etc. as that sets him apart from everyone else. He also spoke about how the long hair was also useful to play on the Christ-like image later (“in his white nightie”!).
Richard as a tragic character?
Emma Smith posed the question to DT and JS as to whether Richard is like an actor, playing a part all the time. Both actors didn’t think this was the case, not believing that Richard thinks he is performing.
JS spoke of Richard’s chronic insecurity, resulting in him perhaps creating a persona and that you could argue that that persona runs skin deep. He did also refer to Richard’s belief in his divine right to rule, but how once pricked in the beach scene, this so quickly collapses, making you wonder just how much Richard did really believe this!
He agreed with DT that Richard doesn’t think he is performing, although queried whether by the end of the play he realises this, as he speaks the line “Thus play I in one prison many people”. JS was able to brilliantly recite the speech from the prison, earning a round of applause. As Richard II is his favourite play he said that it had stayed with him.
DT commented on Richard being forced in to a realisation once God doesn’t turn up to fight for him. He said it must have been terrible to realise this when you have always thought the angels would literally come down from on high and then they don’t. The deposition scene in DT’s view is where Richard knows he has to fight his own battle- he has complete control of the room and there is a tragedy in that. He only realises how powerful he is when he has lost it all and that scene for DT is an example of great leadership.
The actors also spoke about Richard’s lineage, being the son of the Black Prince, who was the Henry V of his day. He was a warrior and it made JS wonder to what extent did Richard grow up with an impossible father to follow and that he comes up short because he cannot live up to him. He spoke about Richard going for the superficial aspects of being King, but not the substance as that wasn’t really who he was. DT also referred to it being Richard who had come up with the title of “Highness”, literally elevating himself above others.
They also both spoke about the deposition scene and how in it Richard is showing them all what they are choosing over him – choosing Bolingbroke over a true King and how in that scene Richard realises that he is losing everything, not just the crown, highlighted by the line “I have no name.” He is literally nothing if not King.
Relationships with other characters?
DT spoke about Richard’s relationship with Aumerle (my favourite aspect of the current production). He said how this seems to be the only real human relationship he has ever had and that it is this that gives him the strength to surrender at Flint Castle. With that strength he is able to undermine Bolingbroke and shame his court, which lays the basis for the troubles he experiences in the next play of the cycle.
They also discussed the possible similarities between Richard and Bolingbroke and spoke of the 1973 RSC production in which Ian Richardson and Richard Pasco alternated the roles to draw out similarities between them. In their current production, DT said they had chosen the opposite – Richard and Bolingbroke are very much opposites – like fire and water (referenced in Bolingbroke’s speech at Flint Castle). For DT, it makes more sense this way. JS said he’d never seen a production staged like that 1973 one, but could see how it would be effective in emphasising the acuteness of betrayal if such a closeness had been set up.
One of the saddest scenes for JS was the scene in which Richard says farewell to his Queen. He’d always had the sense that she had been shunted around in favour of Richard’s yes-men, when actually she was the only person determined to wait for him on his way to prison. You see her loyalty and her deep affection for him and he thought this played in to Richard’s growing realisations as he sees how important she was on the way to his death. She was another thing he had wasted – the line “I wasted time” in the prison represents so much – people he should have been intimate with, things he should have done. For JS it was always a very sad scene.
DT commented on the fact that in reality Richard’s Queen at that time had been a child, being a marriage very much for political advantage, but that it’s believed that Richard’s first marriage was one of great love (the two are in fact buried next to each other). DT spoke of the difficulties of playing this relationship, as Shakespeare makes the Queen an adult, includes her in the play, but then doesn’t really utilise her. He found it the hardest scene in rehearsals, as the company tried to understand why the Queen was there and what the purpose of the scene was and that he liked JS’s view on it. DT also said how he felt sorry for both actresses who had played the Queen in this production (Emma Hamilton and now Leigh Quinn), as he spends hours ignoring her and then about 10:30 p.m, just goes “Oh go to France!”. He finds it sad that Richard can’t quite connect with her.
The politics of the play today, when there isn’t a belief in the divine right?
JS commented that the play introduces the idea that deposition is something that can happen and that such an idea is still current in our daily lives and therefore this makes Richard II as a play very relevant.
DT referred to how the play is about the delusions of power and how that can fall apart, which is still something in today’s world. He used the example of North Korea, which though not a divine right is still an example of someone ruling without challenge. JS also jokingly referred to Simon Cowell (who, DT joked could never be deposed!).
Did Shakespeare have to write Henry IV and Henry V afterwards to get back in to favour?
Both actors agreed that it was impossible to know as these events happened hundreds of years ago. DT did comment on how great Henry V is and said he was uncertain that Richard II was actually written by Shakespeare to be a critique of Elizabeth I. That was certainly how it was taken at the time, but he was not convinced that that was Shakespeare’s actual intention when writing it.
Emma Smith commented on how the Histories are about the anxieties of regime change, written at a time when it was uncertain who would follow Elizabeth I / what would happen on her death. She noted how there were no more such plays once the new monarch took the throne.
How much of their performance was influenced by Shakespeare’s interpretation of history and by their own understanding of it?
JS talked about having researched the backstory of Richard and the Black Prince, which he used to assist with his interpretation, for example how Richard handled the peasant’s revolt. He said however that if you stuck too rigidly to history you would go mad!
DT agreed that, as with anything based on real people, you have to respect the topic enough, but have to also respect the script and the story you are telling.
As Richard II was written before most of the tragedies, how much do they think it informed Shakespeare’s later writing of tragedies?
DT said that that was a very difficult question to answer. He did say that he thought Shakespeare enjoyed writing Richard and seems energised by the character.
JS’s view was that Shakespeare reached the pinnacle in writing a tragic character with Richard, using the example of Richard III, which he said, although a great character to play, is someone with nowhere near as much complexity.
DT’s favourite scene is the deposition scene, as it is where Richard finally finds himself and gets to own them all for a few moments. He compared it to an aria, with Richard showing them exactly what they’ve lost.
JS also enjoyed the deposition scene, but his favourite is the prison scene, particularly Richard’s monologue in it, which he thinks is arguably Shakespeare’s greatest monologue.
The question had also asked whether they preferred playing Richard or Hamlet (as both actors have played both parts for the RSC), but neither answered this.
Do they think Richard is afraid during the play?
JS thought that Richard is actually most afraid at the start of the play when he is trying to keep all the plates spinning. Yes, he is scared as he loses everything, but in that he also finds strength.
DT referred to the moment in the first scene when people don’t do as Richard tells them. He thinks he will tell Bolingbroke and Mowbray to make peace and then that will be that. When they don’t choose to throw down their gage’s and want to defend their honour instead of obeying his command it all starts to go wrong for Richard. In DT’s view, after that there is a mounting fear for Richard, as once God’s deputy on earth stops being treated as such, then it’s only really a matter of time until it ends.
Sadly that was all there was time for during this event. I think everyone attending the talk could have happily stayed there and listened to these actors’s thoughts on the play and these characters all day!
I certainly hope the RSC continues to hold these talks and if possible schedules even more of them, as they are a superb way for you to really have the chance to dig deeper in to these plays, with the help of the actors who so skilfully bring them to life on stage.