I had high expectations when I entered the Noel Coward theatre to see Shakespeare in Love. Not only do I love the 1998 film, starring Joseph Fiennes and Gwyneth Paltrow, I had read this review which suggests the play ‘makes you feel grateful to be alive’. Happily I did not leave the theatre disappointed. This is a play I could watch more than once and probably laugh more each time.
The play opens with Will Shakespeare (Tom Bateman) overwhelmed with writer’s block and the weight of his audience’s expectations. He cannot write a word without the suggestions of Kit Marlowe, confidently played by David Oakes. The plot continues frantically on, with seamless scene changes due to the clever device of a moving balcony, to show Henslowe (Paul Chahidi) at the mercy of Fennyman (Ferdy Roberts) the money-lender and Viola (Lucy Briggs-Owen)as her impending marriage is about to be discussed. Throughout the rest of the play the audience is carried along on this constant motion until it is left to consider the final moments of calm.
The play captures the vitality which makes the film such a pleasure to watch and adds to it. Jokes are piled on top of one another as characters verbally spar but this does not prevent serious notes entering the plot. Inevitably Will and Viola’s love will not remain untouched by its Elizabethan surroundings.Their audience is constantly aware of this, particularly due to the mentions of Anne Hathaway throughout. Nevertheless, the comical aspects allow some hope to remain.
Despite the absence of costumes as impressive as Martin Clunes’ outfit in the film I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. Tickets are currently being sold until 25th October 2014 so I’d definitely recommend booking some soon if you intend to go. They’ll be selling like hot cakes and this is not a play you want to miss!
The Crucible directed by Yaël Farber at the Old Vic is performed in the Round and really focuses on the dark, difficult and small lives that the inhabitants of Salem would have led. As soon as the news of the young girl’s seizures spreads through the town neighbours begin to pour through the hatch in the stage as they air grievances which have clearly festered for years under the pretence of concern. John Proctor’s entrance (played by Richard Armitage) brings a stubborn force to the room which refuses to bow to common opinion. He continues to hold this stance even as events escalate and the whole village first fears witchcraft and then the witch trials.
The ensemble performance of the village girls, led by Abigail Williams (played by Samantha Colley), was mesmerising. The effect of their fits and screaming made the village’s witch hunting hysteria understandable even if it remained repulsive. As each girl’s hair fell free from the previous constraints of headscarves during these moments the puritanical uniformity of the dark set provided the perfect contrast for the sudden array of colour on display. This attempted suppression of creativity and life is reminiscent of the anti-communist circumstances which led Arthur Miller to write The Crucible.
If you’re looking for a thoughtful play full of emotion then The Crucible is definitely worth a visit. It runs until 13th September so there’s still time… http://www.oldvictheatre.com/whats-on/2014/the-crucible/
Although I had heard much about A Streetcar Named Desire before through snippets and references I had never seen the whole play before and therefore never truly experienced how raw the play can be. Benedict Andrews has moved the setting of the play to the present day in his new production at the Young Vic, ensuring that no emotions are ascribed to period detail or quirks. The audience sits in the round and the stage itself constantly revolves slowly so that the Blanche, Stanley and Stella all seem trapped in the small apartment. The claustrophobia created draws the audience into the evolving and inevitable drama on stage. Even when a character is silent their presence is emphasised through the mundane actions that place them in the way even as they try to lead their lives.
However, this focus on the reality of such cramped living quarters does not diminish the ethereal qualities of the text where Blanche and Stella reminisce of ‘Belle Reve’ and now live at ‘Elysian Fields’. Blanche’s final exit is chilling in the emphasis on its simplicity. Those left behind in the small flat may remain tied up in life’s struggle but this is clearly a world where Blanche could never have belonged.
Gillian Anderson has been rightly applauded for her role as Blanche – she disintegrates before the audience’s eyes as she remains on stage for the majority of the evening. Her Blanche is both terrifying and fragile as well as flamboyant and scared. The suitcase she arrives with continues to lavishly overflow with furs, jewellery and ballgowns but Blanche has clearly not gained much from these material riches as she stares out frightened past the audience.
The play’s run continues until 19th September and it will be broadcast in many cinemas live on 16th September, both options are definitely worth considering.