The Comedy of Errors (1594): William Shakespeare

Errors keith higinbotham and andrew venning in antic disposition-s the comedy of errors

★★★★

(Antic Disposition, Grays Inn Hall, until 1 September 2016)

A year on from Henry V, Antic Disposition turn their sights on another of Shakespeare’s plays, this time the considerably less familiar Comedy of Errors. As you all know, I do like my Shakespeare, but I’d neither read nor seen this play before and had little idea of what to expect. However, I always know that I’m in for a good show where this company are concerned and they outdid themselves here, turning this zany comedy of mistaken identities into a riotous farce, peppered with sultry musical numbers and with a setting best described as a blend between Some Like It Hot and The Grand Budapest Hotel.

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Romeo and Juliet (1597): William Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet: William Shakespeare

★★★★½

(Garrick Theatre, directed by Kenneth Branagh, 28 July 2016)

In a moment of extreme spontaneity, I decided on Thursday afternoon that I was going to the theatre that evening. The spur to action was the discovery of a cheap seat in the Dress Circle for Romeo and Juliet, which I very much wanted to see as I’ve managed to miss all of the other plays that Kenneth Branagh has directed as part of his artistic residence. This, would you believe it, was the very first time I’ve ever seen Romeo and Juliet on stage and it was an excellent production with which to start. Sophisticated and brooding, firmly anchored in its Italian setting, it was blessed with a host of fine performances.

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Much Ado About Nothing (1598/99): William Shakespeare

Much Ado About Nothing

★★★★

(Iris Theatre, St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden, 9 July 2016)

Summer has come to London (although the British weather hasn’t had the memo). These long, light evenings are the cue for the ever-wonderful Iris Theatre to roll out the red carpet for another of their outdoor Shakespeare plays, performed as promenade productions in and around the Actors’ Church in Covent Garden. This year’s show is Much Ado, probably my favourite play, and as a longstanding fan of the company I just couldn’t resist. Moreover, the play has already enjoyed critical acclaim, with four nominations for the Off West End Awards. It was bound to be a good night out so I marshalled my visiting parents and we set off for an evening of Iris’s very special brand of magic.

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Henry VI: Parts 1, 2 and 3 (1591): William Shakespeare

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses

Shakespeare fans rejoice! As part of the Bard’s 400th birthday celebrations, the BBC have embarked on the second cycle of their dramatisations of the history plays. Back in 2012 we had Henry IV and Henry V with Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston at the helm and now we embark on the most tumultuous and bloody period of British history: the Wars of the Roses. With three parts of the lesser-known Henry VI condensed into two episodes, the present cycle will round off in style with Richard III. As I did last time with Henry IV, I’ll write about both parts of Henry VI here and Richard will get his own post. And so, to steal shamelessly from another play, once more unto the breach…

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1595/96): William Shakespeare

Titania (Meow Meow) on her flowery bed

★★★★

(Shakespeare’s Globe, 30 April-11 September 2016)

This Midsummer Night’s Dream had its work cut out to create the appropriate ambiance. The skies of London were weighed down with white clouds, biting winds swept down the streets and, all in all, the mood was more fit for Twelfth Night. Wrapped up against the cold, I came with some trepidation, and not only because of the weather. I’d been wondering what Emma Rice’s tenure as Globe Director would bring.

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Macbeth (c1606): William Shakespeare

Macbeth

★★★★ ½

(directed by Justin Kurzel, 2015)

When enthusing about Dorothy Dunnett’s superlative novel King Hereafter, or Kurosawa’s gripping Throne of Blood, I’d always felt a secret shame that I hadn’t actually ever seen the source material: the Scottish play itself. But now I can hold my head high thanks to Justin Kurzel’s new film, which sounded so promising that it persuaded me to go to the cinema for the first time since March 2014; and, with a couple of friends, I descended on Covent Garden Odeon for opening night.

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Hamlet (c1600): William Shakespeare

Hamlet

★★★★ ½

(Barbican Theatre, London, 5 September 2015)

Whatever your feelings about celebrity casting or, indeed, Benedict Cumberbatch, there’s no doubt that the Barbican’s Hamlet is the hottest ticket of the year here in London. I failed to get a ticket when they initially went on sale. The only reason I managed to get there at all is because a friend won two tickets in a lottery: a lottery I’d also entered, and in which I lost out. To my enormous gratitude, she invited me to come with her (as far as I recall there was no sustained guilt-tripping involved).

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Henry V (1599): William Shakespeare

Henry V

★★★★★

(Antic Disposition at Temple Church, 25 August 2015)

One of the great things about living in London is the chance to see smaller theatre companies putting on plays in unusual spaces, and this was a great example. I’ve been on Antic Disposition’s mailing list since I was bowled over by their magnificent Tempest in Middle Temple Hall some years ago, and when I heard they were taking on Henry V in the evocative spaces of Temple Church, I couldn’t resist.

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Research in Action: Performing Gender on the Indoor Stage

Performing Gender: Shakespeare's Globe

(Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 7 May 2015)

We all know that in Shakespeare’s day women weren’t allowed on the stage. Recently several productions have tried to recreate the flavour of those original performances: Mark Rylance’s Twelfth Night and Richard III productions come to mind. But even these don’t give an accurate flavour of what Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences would have seen. Female roles were played by young boys aged between 12 and 22 years old, highly skilled actors who would specialise in playing women until at a certain stage they were no longer able to convince with the illusion (many ended up transitioning across the gender divide and took on male roles within the company).

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Shakespeare in Love (2014): Tom Stoppard

Shakespeare in Love

★★★★★

(Noël Coward Theatre, London, 16 July 2014)

For the feel-good romantic comedy hit of the summer, head down to the Noël Coward Theatre on St Martin’s Lane in London, where the stage production of Shakespeare in Love has just opened for previews. It’s only been running for a few days but a friend and I went along to see it tonight and it is genuinely one of the most delightful plays I’ve ever seen. At the end we tumbled out in the London night so stuffed full of joy that we were fit to burst: comedy, love, and a bit with a dog. What more could you desire?

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