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Monthly Archives: June 2014

The Merry Wives of Windsor

2014 06 21_0864aSo of course I couldn’t come to England without making a pilgrimage to the Bard’s hometown. Of course the lure of Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Holy Trinity Church and a clever little exhibition of props from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s collection were too much to resist, but with the throng of tourists getting in the way of the atmosphere, the most pleasant part of our afternoon was definitely plonking ourselves down in The Dell with a pint of cider for a lively performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The company, Greater Fool, was formed specifcally to perform for the Royal Shakespeare Company at The Dell in Stratford Upon Avon, and they certainly deliver. Lewis Allcock worked up a sweat playing four different characters, and David Rankine’s brilliantly angsty Mister Ford had the eager audience in stitches.

Possibly the only decision that left me wondering whether it was a good one was the decision to utilise the fame of Modern Family to improve accessibility. Taya De La Cruz‘s Mistress Page was highly amusing as a Mexican housewife, but the reference was heavy-handed and I just wondered if there was a more nuanced way to achieve the same effect. My twelve-year-old daughter has never seen much Modern Family, so the references went over her head, but she still engaged with the story well, despite having had no exposure to this play before either.

Whether this was too much or not was neither here nor there in the end, as the performance was light, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining. Falstaff (Adam Diggle) was suitably depicted as a football-obsessed larrikin, and his engagement with the audience flowed into the atmosphere of the outdoor space, punctuated, as it was, during the performance we attended, by loud speaker announcements from across the river and actual real-life larrikins who had already removed their jerseys to soak up the sunshine and talk on their phones behind the stage. The cast, however, were impressive in their determination to hold our attention, and their toil paid off. These are perhaps the most undervalued performers in England (it was free, though they do pass a basket around afterwards).

2014 06 21_0861aI did consider swapping our days so we could be at Stonehenge for the solstice, but I actually think this was the best activity for summer’s longest day ever devised. And to enjoy a play is a much more suitable activity for a visit to Stratford than battling to catch a glimpse of the bed in Shakespeare’s parents’ room over the shoulders of other pilgrims.

 

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 21 June 2014 in British Theatre, Theatre

 

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Sandel

sandelIt is always refreshing to see a new take on an old theme, especially when the characters involved manage to shine through more clearly because of that new take. So with Sandel, I was impressed to find a play that told a story about three people’s love in circumstances where politics would normally get in the way, but are surprisingly held at bay.

Sandel is a stage adaptation of a 1960s novel by Angus Stewart that tells the story of a love affair between an Oxford college undergraduate, David Rogers, and a choirboy, Antony Sandel, with an intriguing subplot featuring Rogers’ friend Bruce, who is also in love with Rogers.

I suspect this script skims over some of the novel’s more intriguing moments, and while this treatment might be fine for film, I think there are some elements of the relationship between Rogers and Sandel that warranted a deeper exploration for the stage (by which I am suggesting a more courageous departure from the novel might have better represented the characters’ experiences). However, the performances delivered by Ashley Cousins and Joseph Lindoe certainly make the most of a solid script with witty dialogue.

Ashley Cousins’ voice was entirely appropriate for Sandel, though its high-pitched demands did start to grate by the end of the play. This, though, added to the climax that developed gently as the play progressed. This voice not only demanded the attention of Rogers; accompanied by the very rich characters drawn by all three performers, it held me in its grip and gave me that experience that makes theatre worthwhile; I had to know what was going to happen.

Sandel is a noteworthy play, mostly, I think, because it focuses solidly on the human experiences of its protagonists without excessive moralising or even legitimising. The legal and moral circumstances, though considered, are almost a side note to the depth of empathy the story elicits for its protagonists, and this is where it really stands out. I was enthralled throughout.

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 12 June 2014 in British Theatre, Theatre

 

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Artists, prams and halls

It has felt like something of a whirlwind for me, being caught up in a production pretty much as soon as I arrived in London. When I saw an ad on Arts Jobs at the end of April for actors with Prams in the Hall, I was immediately struck by the aims of the company and how necessary this kind of opportunity is for parents. Of course at that stage I wasn’t familiar with Roisin Rae’s play, and how much the story resonated with both the aims of the company, and my own experience as a father who, by necessity, has needed to treat his greatest passion, playwriting, as a hobby for so long.

For my friends back in Canberra, who were all too lazy to come to the antipodes to see the play, The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor presents the story of an artist who has put her career on hold to raise children. A new opportunity draws out her inner, artistic life, and shakes up this lifestyle. So the play explores how she pursues this opportunity and the impact that pursuit has on her and her family.
Sound familiar? Those who know me know that I’ve had to deal with similar challenges, just like many of the creatives I’ve worked with over my years in Canberra.

For me, the production wasn’t an easy one. Two of the four characters I played presented substantial challenges. Andrew, husband to Sophie, had to be presented in a way that made him neither guilty nor innocent in the difficulties Sophie faced, and his similarity to my own circumstances often made it difficult for me to allow for a reading of the script hat wandered from my own experience.

And the other challenging character, their son, was five! While I had thought it would be fun to play a child since seeing a documentary about Company B’s London run of Cloudstreet over a decade ago, I hadn’t expected I would actually do so. It was, of course, a lot of fun. And a number of rehearsals were genuinely cathartic, as Karin Fisher-Potisk, our movement director, helped us discover our children by taking us back to childhood memories. I found myself quite wistful following one rehearsal in particular, due to the vividness with with I was able to remember my father, who I lost almost a decade ago now.

The Space

The Space

The performance venue was likewise both challenging and exciting. The Space is a performance venue on London’s Isle of Dogs, a former Presbyterian church repurposed as a theatre. It is full of character and has a quaint little stage with a marvellous proscenium. In the week before our performance I came with my daughter to see a production of Romeo and Juliet where the space was used in reverse, with the audience crossing the stage to enter it; it really is a nice performance space, even if you need to put up with the noise of a busy cafe kitchen in the wings!

I certainly didn’t expect that I would be treading the boards during my short stint in London, but I’m glad I did. This experience introduced me to some great creatives and the production was a blast from start to end.

Cast plus director for The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor.

Cast plus director for The Inner Life of Sophie Taylor.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 8 June 2014 in British Theatre, Prams in the Hall, Theatre

 

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