Tag Archive | Olly Rix

Theatre Reflections – The RSC’s King and Country cycle at the Barbican

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Last weekend saw me back at the Barbican to enjoy the final cycle of the RSC’s tetralogy of History plays, which began life in October 2013 with Richard II. Although this was the culmination of the London run, I couldn’t ignore such an achievement on this blog and have reviewed both Henry IV and Henry V separately to accompany this reflection on the spectacle as a whole.

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The beginning of the cycle at Gloucester’s funeral in Richard II. Photo: Keith Pattison

The King and Country cycle gave audiences the opportunity to delve deeper in to the fabric of four of Shakespeare’s Histories, by seeing them back to back over three days. Although each works as a standalone, seeing them performed as one, with the same actors, set and wonderful musicians added so much more to the viewing experience, perhaps more than I anticipated. This unique way of watching these plays was thrilling, as the pieces slotted together and the wider picture became clear.

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Alex Hassell as Prince Hal, whose development is so much clearer during the cycle experience. Photo: 

The development of characters was more profound, particularly Bolingbroke through to King Henry IV and his son Prince Hal, who grows so much to become the King he is by the end of Henry V. The political intrigues and manoeuvres are more obvious and easier to follow; you see Northumberland aid Bolingbroke, Richard predict how he will later turn against his new king, only for this to occur in Henry IV and with Sean Chapman in the role across all the plays, the character had a depth to him which would not have been as evident to the audience on viewing just one instalment.

Characters you have heard referred to in one play appear later, making your understanding of their role in the larger picture so much clearer, for example Worcester, who we hear Harry Percy speak of in Richard II and then meet in Henry IV as he takes his place in rebellion with his nephew. In the case of Aumerle (who became the Duke of York on the death of his father), he disappears from the story, but the moment the Duke of Exeter describes his death on the battlefield at Agincourt in Henry V has an extra level of poignancy when only two days before you saw the tragic arc of his character in Richard II.

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This powerful image from Richard II is mirrored later in Henry IV. Photo: Elliot Franks

The use of imagery across the cycle is also very clever, with the audience spotting echoes of earlier moments in the history in later plays. One example that stood out for me was when Falstaff and Shadow in Henry IV mirrored the image of Bolingbroke and Richard holding either side of the crown. Then there is the simple image of each new king seated on the same throne, which when watched in so short a space of time highlights the transient nature of the crown during this period in our history. Some of the casting choices also resulted in wonderful imagery, such as Matthew Needham in Henry IV Part II playing Mowbray, who is standing next to the Archbishop of York as he reflects on the death of their brave Hotspur. It seems to emphasise the spirit of Harry Percy having Needham in that role. It’s also lovely to bookend the cycle with Jane Lapotaire on the stage – at the start in mourning, all in black and at the end as Queen Isobel in a light grey gown in happier times. Then of course there are the recurring references to the death of Richard, with Henry V still trying to atone for his father’s earlier actions years later. So many of these moments resonated much more when seeing the whole story told as one.

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Jane Lapotaire bookends the cycle. Here as Queen Isobel with Simon Thorp & Alex Hassell.

One of the other thrilling aspects of the King and Country cycle for me was watching all the hard work and dedication of the ensemble come together. Having seen all of the plays in their original stand-alone runs, you see how much they have all developed their performances, but also their confidence as actors, particularly the younger members of the company. This was one of the highlights of the 2008/2009 RSC ensemble and is something I haven’t been as excited about since then. When you also remember that most of the company is playing at least one understudy role in each play, the level of their skill and commitment to the project is even more incredible.

It’s fantastic to see such young talents at the early stage of their careers and imagine all the roles that you may see them perform in the future. Olly Rix stood out in the original Richard II run (in fact he impressed me much more than David Tennant during those early performances of that production in Stratford-Upon-Avon). Matthew Needham has joined in these later stages of the cycle and commanded his scenes as Hotspur in Henry IV, as well as making that character much more of a presence in Richard II. The first trio of Bushey, Bagot and Greene (Sam Marks, Jake Mann and Marcus Griffiths) had a whole run to finesse their roles and it’s a shame Martin Bassindale, Nichols Gerard-Martin, and Robert Gilbert don’t have as long. However, each of these actors gives strong performances across the cycle as a whole and I particularly enjoyed Gilbert’s Greene in Richard II and Bassindale’s Boy and Gerard-Martin’s Orleans in Henry V.

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One of the ensemble’s strongest members throughout the cycle. Sam Marks as Aumerle. Photo: Keith Pattison

Of the original trio of Richard’s flatterers only Sam Marks remains and he became a firm favourite for me from this company. Sam has grown so much over the last two and a half years at the RSC, resulting in confident, developed, nuanced performances in every role he has in the cycle. His Aumerle is a match for Olly’s, bringing his sense of conflict to the fore much more and creating with Tennant an even more emotional connection between their two characters (something I really didn’t think was possible). Poins remains a lovely sidekick to the partying Prince Hal and their friendship feels genuine and warm and his Constable of France is also a strong presence, who you feel sorry didn’t survive the battle (or I did anyway)! I genuinely cannot wait to see what projects these actors move on to next, but I’ll certainly be buying tickets. It is a unique aspect of the RSC’s company approach that has helped foster such talent with Ed Bennett, Sam Alexander, Mariah Gale, Jonjo O’Neill, Alex Waldmann and Pippa Nixon being actors I now make a concerted effort to see in every role after watching them on stage in Stratford-Upon-Avon.

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Director Greg Doran with David Tennant

I realise that people who didn’t experience the King and Country cycle, or who perhaps haven’t yet appreciated how special Shakespeare can be, will find the idea of four plays in three days an effort. For me however, I loved every moment of this very special project and would have happily stayed on for The War of the Roses tetralogy had that been an option. I’ll have to make do with series two of the BBC’s Hollow Crown for this in April!

Although the UK run of the cycle is over now, the plays are off on an international tour. Henry IV and V can be seen next (albeit with some slight shuffling of the cast for this leg of the tour) in China, first in Beijing, then Shanghai and then Hong Kong. They will then be joined by Richard II in New York at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. I am thrilled to be going to the final New York cycle in April to enjoy them all one last time and if you are able to go yourself, I would certainly recommend you buying tickets for the tour too!

For further information on the international King and Country tour visit the website here. Richard II and Henry IV, as filmed in Stratford-Upon-Avon, are available on DVD from the RSC shop and the usual stockists. Henry V will be available in due course. 

 

My Top Television Choices for 2016!

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After looking back at my television highlights of 2015, it’s time to look at what television treats we can expect in 2016. There are exciting dramas returning to the screen, as well as some new offerings which I’m curious to try. So, here are my top choices of programmes to tune in to this year. As I’m in the UK, this list refers to dates and channels on which the shows will be aired here (if known).

The X-Files (Channel 5 – early February)

Anyone who knows me will have expected nothing else to be top of my teleevision choices list for 2016! The X-Files was my first addiction and would probably still be my category if I were ever to go on Mastermind. Therefore, it’s fantastic that it is returning to our screens, albeit for only six episodes. With David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson back in such iconic roles, Chris Carter back at the helm and stories also from Glen Morgan, James Wong and Darin Morgan, this is already very promising. I sincrely hope this delivers for all the fans, but also pulls some new viewers in too. Remember, The Truth is Still Out There!

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses (BBC Two)

untitledIn the hope this would air in 2015, this was also on last year’s list, but we can expect the second series of the BBC’s Hollow Crown some time in the next few months. Entitled The Wars of the Roses, this captures Henry VI and Richard III, with some of Britain’s brightest acting talent involved. Alongside Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard, there’s Dame Judi Dench, Sophie Okenedo, Andrew Scott, Tom Sturridge and Michael Gambon to name but a few. If the quality is as high as the first series (recommended if you missed it), then we are in for a treat.

Happy Valley (BBC One)

timthumbI came late to Happy Valley in 2014, but it impressed me almost immediately, with Sarah Lancashire playing such a strong and complicated character as Catherine Cawood. After the traumatic events of the first series, it will be interesting to see what writer Sally Wainwright has in mind for her next. I’m sure it will prove to be just as exciting and engaging as before and especially when the teaser trailer just released includes James Norton as the awful Tommy Lee Royce!

Line of Duty (BBC One)

Broadchurch__Ripper_Street_and_The_Missing_stars_to_play__pivotal_roles__in_Line_of_Duty_series_3Line of Duty quickly became a success (with help from social media fuelling interest) and with two strong series, both with separate stories, the possibilities are endless of Jed Mercurio’s drama. After focussing on Lennie James’s Tony Gates in series one and Keeley Hawes’s superb multi-faceted performance as Lindsay Denton in series two, the bar has been set very high for the next instalment. With Vicky McClure and Martin Compton being joined by Daniel Mays and Will Mellor, I’m already very excited to see this and will be going to a BAFTA preview screening of episode one on 8th February, so we can expect this some time in the near future.

Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic, 25th April)

Game_of_Thrones_Season_6Although the last series was a bit of a mixed bag (but made up for with Hardhome!), I’ll always look forward to my return to Westeros. Now that we are in uncharted territory, with the majority of characters past book positions, anything could happen in series six and in a show where no one is safe, that is very exciting indeed. Filming photos suggest there will be some wonderful sequences in the new series and I’m looking forward to finally moving forward with the story (seeing as who knows when we’ll get book six from Mr Martin)!

Grantchester (ITV)

Grantchester-1920X1080James Norton will be back on our screens again for the second series of Grantchester, in which he plays the lovely vicar, turned detective Sydney Chambers, in stories based on the novels by James Runcie (the opposite end of the spectrum to his character in Happy Valley thank goodness). This was a lovely drama when it aired in 2014, with some interesting charcater relationships and a great partnership in James Norton and Robson Green. Anyone mourning the end of Lewis can take comfort in this series as a worthy replacement.

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix, 15th April)

12137941I admit to being a person who prefers dramas to comedies, on both film and television, but after two friends raved about this Netflix series last year, curiosity got the better of me and I’m so pleased that it did. You cannot fail to warm to the ever optimistic, innocently naive Kimmy Schmidt, as she adjust to life in the real world after 15 years spent in an underground bunker. The scripts are witty and sharp, the characters are fun (who doesn’t love Tituss Burgess’s loveable Titus Andromedon!) and the acting is very good indeed. If you haven’t been tempted yet, give it a go – I guarantee you’ll be humming the theme tune all day.

The Crown (Netflix)

“Two houses, two courts, one Crown.” The first trailer for this upcoming, ambitious new Netflix series has just been released (see above) and it looks very promising. The Crown will chart the two key istitutions of Britain – the monarchy and the government, from the 1950s onwards. Written by Stephen Daldry (writer of the acclaimed play The Audience), with a huge £100 million budget and starring some excellent actors, particularly Claire Foy as the young Elizabeth II (last seen playing Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall), Matt Smith as Prince Philip, Alex Jennings as Prince Edward, Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret and John Lithgow as Churchill, this could be a historical drama to rival the BBC if the quality is there.

Queen Victoria (ITV)

victoria_itvStaying on the historical theme, ITV will later this year be casting a light on the young Queen Victoria in their new eight part drama series. Fresh from her time on Doctor Who, Jenna Coleman is the young Victoria, as the series charts her life from accession at 18, through to her marriage to Prince Albert. It has a fantastic cast including Tom Hughes (as Prince Albert), Rufus Sewell, Peter Firth, Eve Myles and Nigel Lindsay. I still really only know about Queen Victoria’s later life and reign and therefore I’m looking forward to seeing a new aspect of her story.

House of Cards (Netflix, 4th March)

House-Of-Cards-Season-4Everyone loves Frank Underwood right? Or is too scared not to?! In the series which undoubtedly helped Netflix become the success it is now, Kevin Spacey has become so iconic in this role and his partnership with Robyn Wright is always glorious to watch. Now occupying the Oval Office, it will be interesting exactly what lies in store for them in the next series.

Death in Paradise (BBC One –  started Thursday 7th January)

Death_in_Paradise_s_sun_soaked_crime_solving_is_the_perfect_cure_for_a_case_of_the_January_bluesAnother heart-warming and fun series that blows away the winter blues is Death In Paradise, which returned this week. I didn’t see the first two series, but as a fan of the lovely Kris Marshall, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching Humphrey settle in to island life. How can anyone not love him?! It’s fun, entertaining and is Sherlock Holmes on a tropical island, as Humphrey seemingly solves murders using clues that no one else can see. Yes, your parents may watch it, but so what? This is a brilliant winter tonic!

The Night Manager (BBC One)

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Coming soon in 2016 is this six-part adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel, in which a former British soldier (Tom Hiddleston) is recruited by intelligence agent Burr (Olivia Colman) to infiltrate the arms trade being run by Richard Onslow Roper (Hugh Laurie).  I haven’t read the book, but I love a good spy thriller and with such a strong British cast I have high hopes for this series.

Undercover (BBC One)

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As a fan of the BBC’s legal drama Silk, it’s wonderful that its creator Peter Moffat has a new series coming this year. Sophie Okenedo leads the show as the first black Director of Public Prosecutions, who discovers her husband (Adrian Lester) has been lying to her for years. I’m intrigued enough to tune in!

In the Pipeline / Awaiting a UK network…..

Prison Break

3d5de4f061d24b32cb8feecb460374a5I always enjoyed Prison Break, although admittedly the first series was certainly the best. News that it is the next show to be revived is a bit of a surprise, but I’ll tune in to see what direction the story takes next. I believe it will be set as though the finale (in which we said farewell to one character for good) didn’t occur. After watching them act together in The Flash it’ll be great to see Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell back in the roles they are most famous for.

Of Kings & Prophets (starts in the US on 8th March on ABC)


I imagine the makers of this new biblical series are hoping it’ll attract the same audience as Game of Thrones. Its success will depend on whether it’s decent and can attract an audience fast enough. The pilot has already been partly recast and reshot, but the trailer looks promising. With established actors including Ray Winstone (as Saul, King of Israel) and Nathaniel Parker, hopefully the acting quality will be strong. For me though the biggest attraction is its young, male lead, playing David (as in David vs. Goliath, future King of Israel) Oliver Rix. He was Aumerle to David Tennant’s Richard II in 2013 for the RSC and proved what a fantatstic actor he is. I hope this does well (but doesn’t keep Oli away from the stage for too long)!

Billions 

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Photo: James Minchin/SHOWTIME

Damian Lewis is back on television is this new US series, playing hedge fund king Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, who is trying to be brought down by US Attorney Chuck Rhoades (played by Paul Giamatti). Having just started in the US on Showtime, I’ll be keeping an eye how this series is received. Given the pull of the two stars, if it is successful hopefully it’ll soon appear here in the UK.

His Dark Materials (BBC One)

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I’m quite excited by the prospect of the BBC adapting Philip Pullman’s popular trilogy of books in to a series, especially after the success of last year’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Admittedly, this may not make it on to our screens until next year, but just in case, I wanted to include it here, as I’m sure it will prove to be a wonderful series for all the family, whether a fan of the books or not.

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So those are the shows I’m most excited about watching in 2016 from the ones we know about this early on in the year. Who knows what else could be coming to our screens over the next 12 months! Feel free to let me know what you will be watching. I’m always looking for recommendations!

 

The Name’s Bond…..My Top Choices for the next 007

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With the release of Daniel Craig’s fourth Bond film Spectre inching ever nearer, along with the hype and expectation, speculation is also growing as to the future of this very British screen icon. It’s currently not certain whether Daniel Craig will remain with the franchise and reported interviews with him this week suggest that perhaps he’s ready to move on from James Bond.

With that in mind, I’ve been considering who I would most like replace Daniel in the role. It’s certainly not going to be an easy task for whoever it is, with Daniel revamping the world of Bond over the last decade for a new generation, which was certainly needed. As much as I enjoyed the Pierce Brosnan films, they had become rather silly and in a world of Jason Bourne and more serious spy thrillers, Daniel’s rougher, harder, more damaged Bond was very welcome. I’m hoping he’ll stay for one last film, but perhaps, if as successful as Skyfall, he’ll see this as a good time to pass the baton on to someone new.

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Spectre is coming soon, but who will be next?

So, below are the candidates from within which I hope the next man to step in to that dinner jacket comes from. Yes, I did say man. I’ll start by saying, personally, I think James Bond must be two things – Male and British. The character created by Ian Fleming was a man and it’s a very masculine role. I don’t believe I’m doing a disservice to my gender to say I think the character should remain a man. I also firmly believe the role should be played by a British actor. Yes, we Brits are taking more and more American roles in Hollywood, but Bond is very much linked to the culture of the country (he took part in the Olympic opening ceremony alongside the Queen for goodness sake!) and with such a strong pool of homegrown talent available, I’d be frustrated if the role was played by anyone else.

With those disclaimers out of the way, here are my top choices. Time will tell if any of them go on to put on a tux and enjoy their martini, shaken not stirred.

Idris Elba

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Not very original I know, but Idris Elba has been on my list for years. He has all the attributes for Bond. He’s a brilliant actor, who has a big enough profile thanks to The Wire, Luther and his film work (following his role of Mandela, he is receiving strong praise for the forthcoming Netflix feature Beasts of No Nation). He is full of charisma, and has the physicality to convincingly portray the action man side of the character. We’ve also already seen he can play a slightly troubled, tormented soul in Luther and he’d certainly charm the ladies. After all the hoo-ha around him, perhaps this ship has now sailed, but he’s certainly still high up on my list.

Damian Lewis

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The latest rumour mill suggests Damian Lewis is now the frontrunner to take over from Daniel Craig and that wouldn’t be a bad choice at all. He clearly has the British suave looks and he’s proven himself capable of leading a franchise (let’s face it Homeland isn’t the same without him is it?). His recent television roles also highlighted his versatility as an actor, not just capable of British period dramas. Homeland means seeing him with a licence to kill would not seem farfetched and the wonderful series Life (still my favourite of his) demonstrated his ability for humour, which every Bond also needs to have.

Tom Hardy

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A little younger than Damian Lewis and so possibly a stronger contender when considering longevity in the role is Mr Hardy, whose star is certainly well on the rise. After recent successes in the Dark Knight Rises, Mad Max and Legend, he has shown he has the talent needed to inhabit the role of 007 and is quite an exciting choice, which would be a bit less predictable than Damian Lewis.

Tom Hiddleston

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I admit I had been sceptical about the idea of Tom Hiddleston stepping in to 007’s shoes. He’s a great actor, but could I really see him as Bond? While sitting in the UK premiere of High-Rise tonight (review here), I suddenly could – seeing him in a sharp suit, sipping champagne from a martini glass, it was a perfect Bond image! He’d need to work on the physicality of the role, but he’s young (an advantage over Damian Lewis), he’s popular internationally thanks to his role as Loki and he’d bring something different to follow after Daniel Craig. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea!

Rupert Penry-Jones

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I admit this pick may be fuelled a little by the fact Rupert Penry-Jones was my favourite of the Spooks team, but that’s certainly no bad reason. Across four years of the BBC’s spy drama, he displayed all the personality traits for a great Bond – charm, intelligence, vulnerability and a damaged past (and yes he’s rather attractive too). I can however see that he may be getting a bit too old now, especially if Daniel sticks around for a fifth film and looks-wise may be too similar to Daniel Craig to follow in his footsteps, but it would be an interesting choice to consider.

Tom Hughes

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If the producers were willing to look at taking the character of Bond slightly younger, then I’d hope Tom Hughes would be on the list of possibilities. Admittedly still rather unknown, he’d bring a fresh new Bond for a new generation. Plus not everyone (especially those who hadn’t seen films such as Layer Cake) knew Daniel Craig when he took over. Still best known for his roles in the BBC’s Silk and the recent Cold War espionage drama The Game, he would be a refreshing Bond.

Aidan Turner

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From Poldark to Bond? Why not? Aidan Turner is growing in popularity since leaving Being Human. He’s been in The Hobbit and of course is now generating excitement across the country in the BBC’s revival of Poldark (series 2 is currently filming). I have yet to watch Poldark and catch Aidan Turner fever, but I can already imagine him in MI-6. He’s young, charming, would clearly have no problem with the pace and fitness levels needed for the role and would look great in a dinner jacket.

Oliver Rix

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As this is my wish list to choose from I can’t leave off one of my favourite actors at the moment. Oliver Rix is still better known for his theatre work, most notably playing Aumerle alongside David Tennant in the RSC’s Richard II. Currently involved in the new American television series Of Kings and Prophets, perhaps his profile is about to grow if it’s successful. He’s certainly got the looks for Bond as well as the charisma, but as with Tom Hughes, he may be a little too young, but you never know!

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So those are my top choices. If one of these goes on to be the next 007, I’ll be more than happy. Time will tell!

Spectre opens in the UK on 26th October 2015 (6th Novmeber in the USA).

My 2014 Theatre Review

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)

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Photo: Johan Persson

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)

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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)

A scene from Birdland

Photo: Tristram Kenton

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)

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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)

Gillian Anderson is superb as Blanche

Photo: Johan Persson

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)

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Photo: Jan Versweyveld

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)

Richard Armitage's Proctor confronted by the sinister children of Salem.

Photo: Tristram Kenton

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)

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Photo: Alastair Muir

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)

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Photo: Alastair Muir

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) 

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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)!

450 Years & Still Going Strong! My special Shakespearean moments.

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(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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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.

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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!

To Be Or Not To Be? – My fantasy cast for Benedict Cumberbatch’s Barbican Hamlet!

Ever since the rumours began about the prospect of Benedict Cumberbatch taking on Hamlet under the direction of Lyndsey Turner I have been trying to picture the cast as a whole. For me, the strength of a production of Hamlet rests on the ensemble of actors and if something doesn’t quite work it takes away from the overall piece. This was never made more clear to me than the RSC’s superb 2008 Hamlet, which not only starred another of my favourite actors David Tennant, but ensured he was surrounded by talented actors in every role. I have yet to see a finer Polonius than Oliver Ford Davies, or a Horatio that has moved me as much as Peter De Jersey as he held his dying friend.

So whilst the speculation continues as to who will be joining Benedict on the Barbican stage next August, here is my wish list of actors that I think could work well as talented individuals but also as a group (I have included photo credits where possible). I’m also hugely curious to hear who you would pick so please feel free to leave your choices in the comments. Maybe we can get an interesting debate going!

So, starting with the obvious…

Hamlet – Benedict Cumberbatch!

I think Benedict truly shines on stage and remains an actor I can never miss at the theatre. I adored After The Dance (see my earlier blog post) and since then have been lucky enough to see his impressive range (from Frankenstein, to a rehearsed reading of Look Back in Anger and a touching scene at The Children’s Monlogues charity gala). I am sure he will bring us a very powerful Hamlet, that I hope will draw a wider audience to Shakespeare.

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Photo courtesy of What’s On Stage

Claudius – Charles Dance  OR Colin Salmon

For me this role needs a strong actor, capable of commanding the stage and conveying the very real sense that this is a dangerous man not to be taken lightly and who is a match for Hamlet. I would find Charles Dance to be an exciting choice.

UPDATE – Another thought came to me today that I was also quite excited by and so this cast needed to be updated. How about Colin Salmon? He would certainly bring a gravitas to the role and it would be great to see him in something else with Benedict after their short film Little Favour (available on iTunes if you missed it).

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Gertrude – Lindsay Duncan OR Kristin Scott Thomas

My first thought was Lindsay Duncan, as she is a brilliant actress who I can envisage in the demanding scenes with Hamlet. Then @shaksper on Twitter mentioned Kristin Scott Thomas, which would also be fantastic so I’ve included both here.

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Ophelia – Jessica Raine

I first saw Jessica in Earthquakes in London in 2010 and have seen almost all her plays since. Now best known for Call The Midwife, she is a fantastic actress who I think could bring all the emotions needed for Ophelia, as well as being a great match for Benedict’s Hamlet.

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Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

Polonius – Roger Allam

It took me a while to decide on a Polonius (my mind is very attached to Mr Ford Davies). Roger Allam is a superb actor and always brings Shakespeare to life so clearly and I’d love to see his portrayal of this character (and anyone who knows the BBC radio comedy Cabin Pressure knows he has a great relationship with Benedict).

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Photo by Chris McAndrew

Laertes – Tom Burke

Another of my top stage actors, I think Tom would be able to convey both the gentle brotherly side of Laertes towards his sister as well as the anger and distress needed for the powerful scenes with Hamlet later on (plus after the BBC’s The Musketeers we know he is good with a sword!).

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Photo by Keith Pattison (I think!)

Horatio – John Heffernan

I struggled with choosing this part as I believe that the friendship between Hamlet and Horatio needs to feel genuine, in order to add an emotional strength to the end of the play and I think that this is possible between John and Benedict. Quite simply I think John Heffernan is a stunning actor and he would always have to be included in any dream cast list of mine and reuniting two actors from After The Dance was too tempting for me to ignore (I also think he’ll make a fantastic Hamlet too one day)!

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Rosencrantz & Guildenstern – Hugh Skinner & Harry Melling

I have seen some interesting pairings for this duo and very nearly chose Sam Alexander and Tom Davey as they will always be these characters to me, but I thought I’d pick two talented actors that could work well together and add the comic touches that often come to the fore in their scenes.

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Photo by Pal Hansen

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Osric – Oliver Rix

In reality I think this is too small a role for Oliver Rix, whose stunning Aumerle in the RSC’s recent Richard II will no doubt see him becoming more prominent on stage and screen. However, as this is my dream cast list he had to feature somewhere and is a little too young for the larger male roles.

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The Gravedigger – Nicholas Lumley

This isn’t a huge role but is one which has scope to be incredibly memorable. I have seen Nicholas Lumley in a number of productions and I think he’d be perfect for the comedy needed in these moments with Hamlet.

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Photo courtesy of Diamond Management website

So what do you think? I cannot decide whether the Ghost of Hamlet’s father should be played by a different actor or Claudius so I’m going to leave that question for the moment.

Feel free to share your own suggestions. It can keep us all busy until further information is released in the months ahead!

Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch is scheduled to run from 5 August – 31 October 2015 at the Barbican Theatre in London.

My 2013 Theatre Review

So another year filled with theatre has come to an end and it’s time to reflect on all the wonderful productions and moments I’ve enjoyed this year. After a personal record of 90 productions in 2012, last year returned to around my usual annual average, with a total of 53 separate live theatre productions, of which I returned to see six on more than one occasion giving a total of 72 theatre trips in 2013 (plus an additional five were seen via archive recording, NT Live Encore, RSC Live or Digital Theatre). It has been quite difficult to compile my ten favourite productions but after much thought and in no particular order (as ranking them further would be too big a challenge!), my top ten is below.

 Top 10 Favourites:

  • Seawall (NT Shed) – at only 30 minutes, this beautiful monologue written by Simon Stephens a few years ago was revived at the National Theatre’s temporary theatre The Shed. Andrew Scott’s performance was utterly incredible and moved me to tears, making this one of the finest productions I have ever seen on stage. Such a pity a woman’s phone rang with just one line left to go, although Andrew is to be commended for keeping his focus and delivering the line with such power despite this interruption. Seawall is available to download for £3.50 and I recommend you do so as soon as you can (go to http://www.seawallandrewscott.com ).

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Photo for Paines Plough/National Theatre

  • Richard II (RSC – RST & Barbican) – Greg Doran’s time in charge at the RSC was off to a superb start with this brilliant production. Incredibly clear, wonderfully staged and finely acted by a strong ensemble, I loved this production and David’s interpretation of Richard’s unlikeable character, before generating true sympathy from me. Special mention to the superb Oliver Ford Davies as York and Oliver Rix, whose Aumerle is one of the stand out performances for me and whose scene at Flint Castle with David Tennant was played in a deeply moving way. If you can acquire a ticket before it finishes at the Barbican on 25th January I urge you to do so.

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Photo by Kwame Lestrade

  •  Bull (Sheffield Crucible Studio) – My first trip to the Studio at the Crucible is another highlight for me. At a mere 50 minutes Bull is a powerful play, highlighting the bullying power struggles that take place in the workplace. Adam James and Eleanor Matsuura brilliantly play two colleagues determined to be on top, whilst Sam Troughton’s portrayal of the team member caught in their sights was excellent. The tension builds throughout in the bull ring setting, until the explosive ending, which became almost too uncomfortable to watch. I hope this Mike Bartlett  play (which also transferred to New York in 2013) gains a new lease of life soon.

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Photo for Sheffield Theatres

  •  Untold Stories (Duchess) A gem of a production, which I missed at the National Theatre, where it was staged as two separate pieces prior to performances of Alan Bennett’s People. I had no idea what to expect and was surprised by how wonderful and indeed moving the two pieces were. I especially enjoyed Cocktail Sticks, in which Alex Jennings (a superb Bennett) describes his childhood life, in both humorous and tender anecdotes.

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  •  Macbeth (Manchester International Festival) – I found this production of Macbeth truly impressive. The setting of Shakespeare’s Scottish play in a deconsecrated church in central Manchester was an inspired decision, as the setting certainly added significantly to the evocative atmosphere of the play. Kenneth Branagh was very good as Macbeth, although it was Ray Fearon’s Macduff that really captured my attention, through his strong performance. I have never fully engaged with Macbeth until I saw this production and I think it will be a hard act to follow. No doubt it will be very popular when it transfers to New York.

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Photo by Johan Persson

  •  Edward II (NT, Olivier) – This production of Christopher Marlowe’s play didn’t appeal to everyone, but it certainly appealed to me (I saw it  twice). I found the staging to be exciting and something daring to be different, mixing live action, with scenes only visible through footage from hand held cameras, not to mention a brilliant scene incorporating  characters arriving at the theatre and proceeding to follow them on their route to the stage. As someone who thinks John Heffernen is a superb actor, it was wonderful to see him in the title role and I thought his portrayal of this unfortunate King who is ultimately deposed and his chemistry with Kyle Soller’s Gaveston was wonderful. I hope to see more productions taking such a daring approach in the future.

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Photo by Johan Persson

  •  A Doll’s House (Duke of York’s) – It took me far longer than I intended, but I finally saw the Yong Vic’s production when it transferred to the West End. I had heard nothing but praise for the production and so I had high hopes. I was not disappointed. The staging was wonderfully effective, with the revolving set letting the audience in to the lives of the family and Hattie Morahan’s portrayal of Nora was simply stunning. Every line spoken and every movement of her body captured the essence of the character beautifully and I think it will be a long time before I see anyone perform this role better. The production is available to buy from Digital Theatre if you missed it – http://www.digitaltheatre.com

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Photo by Richard Hubert Smith

  •  The Scottsboro Boys (Young Vic) – Of the musicals I have seen this year (which also included The Light Princess and the much-hyped Book of Mormon) the one that stood out for me was The Scottsboro Boys. I was not familiar with the tragic story it tells of the nine men wrongly accused of assault in Southern America. The structure of the musical, conveying such disturbing events in the form  of a minstrel show was very effective is highlighting the cruel treatment of the men. It was also performed by a magnificent cast whose singing and dancing were impressive to witness. I couldn’t fail to be moved by the end of this story and it was certainly a production that stayed with me for longer than any other musical I saw last year.

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Photo: Tristram Kenton

  •  Othello (NT, Olivier) – After a couple of cancelled trips, I finally saw the National’s acclaimed production starring Rory Kinnear and Adrian Lester in the last few weeks of its run and it was just as wonderful as I’d hoped. The military setting was realised perfectly for me and the interplay between Lester’s Othello and Kinnear’s Iago was electric. I was particularly excited by Kinnear’s performance as this was a very different role to any other I have seen him do on stage. I also enjoyed Olivia Vinnall’s Desdemona and I look forward to seeing her again later this month in King Lear with Simon Russell Beale.

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Photo by Johan Persson

  •  American Psycho (Almeida) – Not everyone’s cup of tea perhaps but I thoroughly enjoyed this production and it has only grown stronger since it began (I saw it again this weekend). Yes the vocal ability of some of the cast may not be perfect, but then this is not your typical big West  End-style musical. I found it to be inventive, creative and I was excited to see something daring to be a little different. I had been sceptical of Matt Smith’s casting in the main role, but he is fantastic. He plays detached and emotionless superbly, giving his Patrick Bateman an underlying creepiness, but is also able to convincingly convey the emotional moments as well. It is also exciting to see he is growing in confidence in the role and when he is on stage I just couldn’t take my eyes from him. It is worth trying to get a ticket before it finishes on 1st February is you can.

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Photo by Manuel Harlan

Narrowly missing out on the top 10:

As it was so difficult to choose ten, these are the productions that could easily have been included.

  •  The Full Monty (Sheffield Lyceum)
  • Old Times (Harold Pinter)
  • Proof (Menier Chocolate Factory)
  • The Audience (Gielgud)
  • Peter & Alice (Noel Coward)
  • The Hothouse (Trafalgar Studios)
  • The American Plan (St James Theatre)
  • The Pride (Trafalgar Studios)

Wonderful repeats from previous years:

There are always productions I can’t help but see again another year and the highlights this year were:

  • After The Dance (NT Archive) – after over three years since I saw it live at the National Theatre, it was wonderful to see this beautiful production again. I love everything about it (see my earlier blog post about it!) and it remains my favourite production to date.
  •  Private Lives (Duchess from Chichester) – This was second on my list of 2012 when I visited Chichester and its transfer to London was just as wonderful. Superb casting and staging made this a joy to see again.
  • Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Apollo Theatre) – My favourite production from 2012 is just as wonderful in its West End home. A wonderful adaptation by Simon Stephens, astonishing staging and beautifully performed. I cannot recommend this enough if you have yet to see it.
  • Frankenstein (Cumber Creature, NT Live Encore) – A Halloween trip to the cinema to relive the      National’s 2011 Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Johnny Lee Miller was very enjoyable, particularly with Cumberbatch playing the  Creature (my preference for the alternate roles). The only time I saw this version on stage was the very first preview and it was lovely to see how the production had grown over the run prior to this recording. I had also  forgotten just how incredible the first 20 minutes was when Cumberbatch’s Creature is learning how to take its first steps in life.
  • The Pitman Painters (Sheffield Lyceum) – After missing this at the National, I adored it at the Duchess Theatre in 2012 and it was lovely to see it on tour again in 2013. So funny and also heartfelt.
  • The Effect (NT, Cottesloe) – Had I not already seen it in 2012 this production would have been a contender for my top 10 this year. Billie Piper and Jonjo O’Neill’s performance, particularly at the end were wonderful.

 Disappointments of the Year:

Thankfully there haven’t been many of these this year and in fact the only ones that deserve a mention here are Viva Forever (so bad it was funny) and Afraid of the Dark (in short no I wasn’t and I can’t imagine anyone else ever would be).

Memorable Moments in Theatre:

There have been some wonderful moments that I’ve witnessed or experienced at the theatre during 2013, which included:

–  My first experience of the incredible staging by Punchdrunk – entering the woodland level at The Drowned Man was quite incredible;

–  The lovely fold up style sets created for the National’s The Magistrate;

–  Experiencing the fantastic The Full Monty production for the first time in its rightful home of Sheffield;

–   Finally seeing The Mousetrap (performance 25,134 no less!);

–   The wonderful interplay between Judi Dench & Ben Whishaw in Peter & Alice (the end of which I found particularly moving);

–  Seeing Andrew Scott’s wide range of acting ability in the Pinter Shorts and his stunning monologue in Seawall;

–  A fascinating and hilarious reading of Death in Whitbridge at the Finborough;

–  The atmospheric setting of Macbeth in the Manchester church, the heat and smell of which I will never forget;

–  An incredible costume change in the Book of Mormon, carried out in a blink of an eye!

–  John Heffernen’s skill to consume half a fruit cake in The Hothouse!

–  The impressive vocal and movement skills of Rosalie Craig in The Light Princess;

–   An original take on the 12 Days of Christmas during Protest Song; and

–   A fascinating reading of Thomas of Woodstock by the Richard II ensemble.

All in all it’s been a fantastic year, 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 2014 will bring (and I’ll post my top 10 for 2014 shortly)!

Solochocolatee

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