The Middle Finger

MOUNTAINS of REVIEWS! There’s a lot of Shakespeare here… Please enjoy and take with a pinch of sodium chloride…

– Titus Andronicus at The Assembly, Leamington Spa.

An independent production which formed a creative project that was part of an English and Theatre Studies student’s dissertation, took place in the very rarely frequented Assembly in Leamington. The venue was a bit of a find (although apparently very expensive to hire), despite its lack of stage exits and the rather amusing way that actors had to descend into the pits and stroll through the audience to get offstage. A brave interpretation of the text – the Goths were actually Goths – lent the production more to melodrama than tragedy. Although some moments were genuinely touching – Lavinia spitting blood onto the (beautifully crafted) Venus statue and shooting paper aeroplanes into the castle walls – the merits of the production lay in moments of pure comic gold. As Titus is one of Shakespeare’s more ridiculous plays (cooking people in pies and the such), moments such as “Well, I’ll go and get an axe” (Kieran Lucas as a very comically solemn Lucius) could have been played up to create a more well-rounded, melodramatic farce. Nonetheless, a great evening out.

– The National Theatre (on tour): Hamlet at the Milton Keynes Theatre, Milton Keynes.

Despite mixed reviews (from Warwick peers here and here), I would say that the NT production of Hamlet, seen a couple of weeks ago was just fine. Fine, fine. Expensive tickets, and to be honest, most of my mental capacity that evening was spent attempting to transport the 25 or so members of the Shakespeare Society to and from Milton Keynes (which, by the way, is a petrifying place) without losing anyone or crashing the car. Gertrude and Claudius, however, were appalling, I have literally no idea who thought it a good idea to cast them. From melodramatic stamping, poor elocution and deaths that would rival the performances of primary school children, they were poor from start to finish. Rory Kinnear as Hamlet made a brooding, smoking sort, and Ophelia and Laertes’ dynamic was bold, strong and powerful. The acoustics of the theatre were actually very bad, and hearing some of the actors was difficult. As one of my colleagues pointed out, Rosencrantz and Guildernstern were in a different play – a farce – and Polonius was good as Polonius, but also doubled up as a single gravedigger and stomped all over some of Will’s best comic lines in a way that would have him turning in his… No, wait.

ANYWAY. The set was lovely – contrary to what others have said; I actually liked the rotating walls and the translucent windows. The surveillance cameras were an unnecessary addition to the security/bodyguards who strolled about the place, and it was perhaps a shame that the only time that the musical score or sound choices made sense was in the dumbshow, which was absolutely stunning. So you know, fine. Lots of ramble there, but it was fine.

– WUDS: Antony and Cleopatra at the Warwick Arts Centre Studio, Coventry.

WUDS’ second Studio show this last term was a radical adaptation of William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Antony and Cleopatra. Set in a school playground – with a brilliant set designed by Polly Boon which included a swing, a climbing frame, and a rather infamous ‘Death Slide’ – the play became a game that the school children settled on, after quite a lengthy (hilarious) pre-set of Grandmother’s footsteps and the like. “Let’s play Antony and Cleopatra” was perhaps a little forced, although necessary; the lights went out – Rio West’s “I can’t seeeeee” was a lovely touch at this point – and the play began. What I must say is that the characterisations and the work done on childlike physicalities was amazing, and also the text had been manipulated in such a way (Pardon, pardon!) that fitted the concept down to the last detail, and evidently impressed Carol Rutter, an internationally acclaimed Shakespeare scholar who claimed that the production was better than that of the RSC. I did have reservations as to some of the ins and outs of the application of the concept; it must be noted that for all its merits, some of the tragedy of the play was lost in the lack of deaths – if, for example, the game had gotten out of hand and in a Golding sort of way, the children had actually died as if by accident, the tragedy would have been enhanced and justified the concept a little more. Some of the sexual innuendoes which Shakespeare stretched to their filthiest in this play of older characters had to be brushed over, or were inappropriate. The final scene where Antony (as in the reversal of Romeo) usually ascends to Cleopatra was not played out, and although I appreciate that such a steep slide is insurmountable, ladders or other means of ascent could have been utilised to keep this visual signature of the play in tact. Nonetheless, Joshua Elliott and Clare Byrne’s direction of the piece certainly took Shakespeare to places it had never been before and deserve to be commended for that.

– Fat-Git Theatre Company: When It Was May at the IATL Studio, Coventry.

This new play, written and directed by Warwick’s Josh Roche, was excellent – set in a bucolic and yet unspecified country home, some time in May, some time, six former university students (for very little reason) have a reunion. Casual encounters and sometimes hilarious happenings – Tom Dale’s scene with the gnomes must have a special mention – descended into a somewhat absurd, almost Beckettian stalemate. Stalemate in a good way, if you see what I mean. Rosie Bristow’s set was innovative, surrounding the audience with this perception of a huge house which was fitting to George’s (the house’s owner) chinos, nut-eating-idiosyncracies and VAT politics, portrayed by How to Disappear‘s Edward Davis. The other cast members – Kate Arnau, Immi Calderwood, Tom Syms and Breman Rajkumar – all did sterling work to maintain both the scenes that held no dialogue, and all had comic timing that would squash one of George’s Brazilian bees in an instant. The balance between pause and dialogue needed a little work, as did the progression from naturalism into absurdism, but otherwise a great play, and a great beginning for a new theatre company. ‘Like’ them on Facebook…!

– Warwick students: Theatre Uncut at University of Warwick Campus, Coventry.

In protest to the multiple cuts in Arts funding which have come about as the coalition government make slashes to many public-sector outlets, Warwick students joined in on the nationwide Theatre Uncut scheme (follow them on Twitter here) and performed extracts and shorts by playwrights who had waived the rights to their productions for the purpose of protest. A lovely afternoon was spent in the Piazza on campus, drinking hot chocolate in the first rays of spring sunshine – all of the plays I saw were tight, concise and hard-hitting, although special mention must go to the cast of FatMan who, under the direction of Ali Pidsley, managed to create a swift, innovative and ever-so-snappy theatrical treat which drove the message through in an extremely visual and in places hilarious way. More information on the scheme can be found at the website, and national news coverage can easily be found on the usual websites.

PHEW! Enough for a little while.

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One thought on “The Middle Finger

  1. I agree with your thoughts on Hamlet – on reflection I think Kinnear’s performance tricked me into thinking it was a good interpretation. The Milton Keynes Theatre is enough to make even the best productions bad, though. It’s one of the worst theatres in the country and you’re right, the accoustics are genuinely dreadful. Even McKellen and Stewart had problems in Godot a few years back. You’d expect such a modern theatre would have been more accomplished in its internal sound design.

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