Wednesday, March 20, 2019

'The Taming of The Shrew' by William Shakespeare

20 March 2019

On Tuesday we were at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon to see Justin Audibert’s new RSC production of ‘The Taming of The Shrew’. This misogynistic play is particularly difficult to carry off: previously the most successful version I had seen was the Shakespeare’s Globe On Tour open air production, directed by Joe Murphy (reviewed here in July 2013), which showed the relationships in a new light by having all the parts played by women. Justin Audibert has created something even more interesting by reversing the gender of every character, setting the pay in a matriarchal society where Baptista Minola wants to marry off her sons to the highest bidder. Her older son, still called ‘Katherine’ (played by Joseph Arkley), is the sharp-tongued shrew who meets his match in the swaggering Petruchia (Claire Price) – determined to woo a rich husband. It’s a very funny production: the gender reversal allows us to enjoy the comedy of the play without it being quite so uncomfortable. Hannah Clark’s amazing costumes give the women enormous dresses that dominate each scene, emphasising their power in this society and allowing them (literally in one case!) to glide across the stage. There are brilliant comic performances from Sophie Stanton as Gremia, Laura Elsworthy as Trania and Amy Trigg as Biondella. I felt we didn’t see enough of Joseph Arkley’s Katherine in the early part of the play: we needed more evidence of his shrewishness before he is tamed. But this is clearly Petruchia’s play and Claire Price is wonderful – a bird’s nest of red hair, a wicked grin and a physical dominance of the stage (and of Katherine) creating a fascinating and compelling character.

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Friday, March 15, 2019

'Changeable Heart' by Ruth Notman and Sam Kelly

15 March 2019

Long-time readers may remember my enthusiasm for the young Nottingham folk singer Ruth Notman, who was one of my favourite discoveries of 2008 (reviewed here in February 2008, April 2009, August 2009 and January 2010). Ruth took a break from music over the past few years to study to be a doctor but I’m delighted to be listening to her new album of duets with Sam Kelly, ‘Changeable Heart’, which is released today. It’s a mix of traditional songs and some original compositions by Notman and Kelly – a gentle, thoughtful, acoustic collection, beautifully sung by both singers. The album is produced by Irish folk singer, banjo player and guitarist Damien O'Kane (whose own excellent album ‘Areas of High Traffic’ I reviewed here in February 2016). There’s lots to enjoy about ‘Changeable Heart’ but it’s particularly lovely to hear Ruth Notman’s distinctively beautiful quivering voice again after a gap of several years. See:

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Friday, March 08, 2019

'Abigail's Party' by Mike Leigh

8 March 2018

On Thursday we were at the Derngate in Northampton to see Sarah Esdaile’s revival of ‘Abigail’s Party’. Mike Leigh’s 1977 play – and particularly the television version with Alison Steadman and the rest of the original stage cast – is so familiar I could have chanted along with much of the dialogue. It formed the template for the comedies of social embarrassment that are now such a familiar part of British culture – such as ‘The Office’, ‘The Thick of It’ and Alan Partridge. This production was excellently cast with Jodie Prenger making Beverley simultaneously monstrous, hilarious and sympathetic and perfectly capturing those nasal Essex vowels. And Rose Keegan was wonderful as Sue, the middle class neighbour (and mother of Abigail) who feels increasingly like a hostage, albeit an incredibly polite prisoner. On the 40th anniversary of ‘Abigail’s Party’, in February 2017, Mike Leigh wrote a great piece for The Guardian, reflecting on the origins of the play, which explains how the TV version replaced Elvis with Tom Jones, and José Feliciano with Demis Roussos. See:

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Wednesday, March 06, 2019

'The Remains of the Day' by Kazuo Ishiguro, adapted by Barney Norris

6 March 2019

On Tuesday we were at the Royal Theatre in Northampton to see a new dramatisation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel ‘The Remains of the Day’ - a Royal & Derngate joint production with Out of Joint, in association with Oxford Playhouse. Stephen Boxer gave a brilliant performance as Stevens, a constant presence, never leaving the stage. He perfectly maintained the butler’s stiff-upper-lip stoicism – the mask that never drops – whilst also managing to convey the simmering volcano of emotions that can never be expressed. Niamh Cusack was great as Miss Kenton, the housekeeper, determined to show she can match Stevens’ attention to detail but achingly frustrated by her inability to break through his over-formality. Adaptor Barney Norris finds a way of telling the story that is faithful to the book (and James Ivory’s 1993 film) but is distinctly theatrical, with Stevens’ post-war visit to the West Country sharing the stage with his memories of the pre-war Darlington House. It is a tribute to Christopher Haydon’s direction and Stephen Boxer’s performance that Stevens switches seamlessly between conversations with characters in the two time frames while the distinction is always perfectly clear to the audience. Lily Arnold’s wonderful set simply and effectively evokes the grand but decaying Darlington Hall, with incredibly realistic projected rain streaming down the windows and an enormous mirror at the back of the stage revealing unguarded reflections of characters trying to remain in the background. ‘The Remains of the Day’ examines the mid-twentieth century shifts in politics, class, gender and national identity – showing the refusal to acknowledge the end of an era. It’s an incredibly powerful, subtle and sad story and this stage version captures all its nuances brilliantly: one of the best things we have seen in the theatre for ages.

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