Shadowlands: William Nicholson (1989)

Shadowlands

★★★★★

(Chichester Festival Theatre, until 25 May 2019, directed by Rachel Kavanaugh)

C.S. ‘Jack’ Lewis is a confirmed bachelor. He and his big brother Warnie, a retired army major, live in comfortable companionship in a cottage in Headington near Oxford. Jack teaches English Literature at the University, at Magdalen, and gives popular lectures on how to square a profound Christian faith with the pain and suffering in the world. These are intellectual discussions – despite losing his mother at a young age, Jack has enjoyed an adult life which has protected him from the extremes of emotion. He lives in a world of scholarly, dusty bachelors; he enjoys intellectual sparring matches with his colleagues over sherry before Hall; and, to his academic friends’ amusement, he writes a series of popular children’s stories in his spare time. But Jack’s quiet, reserved existence undergoes profound change when he strikes up a correspondence with the spirited American writer Joy Gresham. English reserve, love and tragedy, faith, hope and loss come together in a gut-wrenching modern classic, currently showing at Chichester Festival Theatre with a magnificent central performance from Hugh Bonneville.

Continue reading

Tamburlaine: Christopher Marlowe (1587)

tamburlaine_production_photographs__2018_2018_photo_by_ellie_kurttz__c__rsc_258815-1.tmb-img-1824 (2)

★★★★

(Royal Shakespeare Company at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 25 August 2018)

Something is brewing in the Scythian steppes. As the power of once-mighty Persia begins to wane under the rule of foolish Mycetes, rumours reach the court of a new leader rising in the north: a former shepherd, who has gathered a band of thugs and thieves and believes he is destined to rule the world. His name is Tamburlaine. Christopher Marlowe’s play is rarely performed, which is a pity because it has powerful resonance in the modern world. The RSC’s production, directed by Michael Boyd and designed by Tom Piper, was first staged in New York in 2014 and boils down Parts 1 and 2 into a single three-and-a-half-hour behemoth of death and ambition. (Imagine seven seasons of Game of Thrones condensed into 180 minutes and you have some idea of the amount of blood involved.) These cuts emphasise Tamburlaine’s dizzying rise to power, and the whole play is anchored by a magnificently charismatic performance by Jude Owusu.

Continue reading

The Merchant of Venice: William Shakespeare

Shakespeare: Merchant of Venice

★★★★

(Illyria Theatre at Arundel Castle, 18 August 2018)

Riotous isn’t usually a word that I associate with The Merchant of Venice, but it’s really the only word that does justice to Illyria’s madcap outdoor production currently touring around the UK. Performed by a band of only five actors, who don a breathless variety of roles by running round the back of the stage and reappearing with a new coat or hat (leaving us in tears of laughter while doing so), it was perfect summer Shakespeare. Plus, before I get going, here’s a funny story: we’d also meant to see an outdoor Merchant at Westminster Abbey earlier this month, but as the day moved into evening and the sullen rain strengthened, we decided to chicken out. Imagine our amusement when we arrived at Arundel Castle for our Illyria expedition, and realised that the Westminster show had been Illyria too! We could well have ended up seeing the same show twice. Not that this would have been any great hardship, I hasten to add.

Continue reading

Much Ado About Nothing: William Shakespeare

Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing

★★★★

(Antic Disposition at Gray’s Inn Hall, 21 August 2018)

There will be a number of theatrical posts over the next few days, for two reasons: first, I have seen an awful lot of plays recently and, secondly, I still have to catch up with some plays I saw earlier in the summer. Fortunately, they’re all terribly good. This is one post, however, that’s pretty quick off the mark: it was only this week that I went to Gray’s Inn Hall to see the ever-brilliant Antic Disposition and their current production of Much Ado About Nothing. The company always performs their plays in France over the summer before coming to London and that’s had two important influences on their reading of Shakespeare’s delicious romantic comedy. They’ve adopted a mixed French and English cast for Much Ado, with some familiar faces from the blended cast of their magnificent Henry Vand Messina moves from Sicily to become a small French village, just after the end of the Second World War. The stage is set for love, longing and a merry entente cordiale, as romance blossoms over a lazy postwar summer.

Continue reading

Describe the Night: Rajiv Joseph

Describe the Night

★★★★

(Hampstead Theatre, 2 June 2018)

What is truth? Who decides what truth is? Does truth change depending on who is speaking? Can the truth be remade? Can we remake our own truths? And what happens if you dare to articulate a truth that the authorities would prefer not to acknowledge? These are all very timely questions, in a world where truth seems more flexible than ever before, and certain high-profile political figures seem to be confusing ‘true’ with ‘convenient’. Our relationship with the truth is constantly in flux, but this daring and sweeping play by Rajiv Joseph (directed for Hampstead Theatre by Lisa Spirling) points out that it’s far from a contemporary phenomenon. Set in three different periods of modern Russian history, linked by a common thread, Describe the Night focuses on questions of truth, lies, reality, fiction and integrity, and centres on an unexpected figure whose words resonate through history: the writer Isaac Babel.

Continue reading

The Way of the World: William Congreve

The Way of the World

★★★★

(Donmar Warehouse, 25 May 2018)

Midway through last week, I saw that Kerstin had posted on Facebook about William Congreve’s The Way of the World, first performed in 1700 and now playing in Covent Garden once again, this time in the cosy Donmar Warehouse. I was sorely tempted, as I hadn’t seen a Restoration comedy for years. By chance there was a single seat left on Friday night; and so off I went, for a thoroughly self-indulgent evening of belles, beaux, dastardly rakes, romantic dowagers, wicked stratagems and – I devoutly hoped – virtue rewarded. Although it sometimes proved difficult to fathom exactly who was gulling whom at any given moment, I had a wonderful time, savouring the dazzling costumes and the accomplished cast, who brought out all the sparkle of Congreve’s elegant wit.

Continue reading

Swan Lake: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky

swan-lake-1.jpg

★★★★½

(Royal Opera House, 22 May 2018)

As most of you will be aware, I approach ballet with caution; but the one score I know better than any other is Swan Lake, partly because I’ve watched the Matthew Bourne version on DVD more times than I care to remember, and partly because Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous music has provided the motivational soundtrack for many revision periods and work deadlines over the last fifteen years. So, when I was lucky enough to be invited to the sold-out new production at Covent Garden – the first new staging for thirty years, devised by Liam Scarlett – I leapt at the chance. And, by heaven, it was a joy. Sumptuous staging, fabulous costumes and breathtaking skill all came together to create three hours of utter magic – a ballet with heart as well as visual splendour. Thank you E!

Continue reading

Elizabeth

Elizabeth

★★★★

(Royal Ballet at the Barbican Theatre, 16 May 2018)

This fascinating chamber-piece is a revival of a production performed in the Linbury Studio at the Royal Opera House in 2016. Choreographed and directed by Will Tuckett, with text by Alasdair Middleton, music by Martin Yates and dazzling costumes by Fay Fullerton, it’s a feast for the eyes and the mind. Combining dance, music, spoken word and song, it’s the closest thing to an Elizabethan court masque that you’ll see on the London stage, and its ambitious structure is uniquely appropriate. For it tells the story of Elizabeth I herself, from romantic young princess, to shrewd strategic queen, to lonely old woman, all brought to life with astonishing conviction by Zenaida Yanowsky.

Continue reading

Beginning: David Eldridge

Beginning

★★★★½

(National Theatre at the Ambassador’s Theatre, 30 January 2018)

When I go to the theatre, more often than not I see something classical: a play where the characters speak poetry rather than prose, usually in iambic pentameter. There is a clear division between the real world and the fictional world on stage, no matter how good the actors are. Not so here. For my birthday, J nudged me out of my comfort zone by taking me to David Eldridge’s play, which has already enjoyed great critical success at the National Theatre, and made its West End transfer to the Ambassador’s Theatre in mid-January. Wow. This wasn’t theatre: this was life, flayed and placed under the microscope. With no interval and only two actors, it’s probing, insightful and frequently excruciating: a merciless, yet strangely tender exposé of modern romance.

Continue reading

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk: Daniel Jamieson

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk

★★★★½

(Kneehigh Theatre at Wilton’s Music Hall, 18 January 2018)

On 6 July 1915, a few weeks before their wedding, Bella Rosenfeld arrived at Marc Chagall’s house in Vitebsk, carrying a bouquet of flowers wrapped in several colourful shawls. It was his birthday – not a day he’d ever particularly celebrated – but she was determined to make it special, not least because her wealthy family had been grumbling about the match between a master jeweller’s daughter and a penniless artist. This moment – a gesture of love and acceptance; an offering – would resonate throughout both their lives and it forms one of the key scenes in Daniel Jamieson’s colourful, playful, poignant, meltingly romantic play, which is currently on tour. J and I saw it in the faded glory of Wilton’s, where it seems to fit perfectly: a magical glimpse of a lost age, a two-man show dominated by splendid performances and simplicity.

Continue reading