Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Tragedy of Hamlet, 2002 – ★★★★

Peter Brook adapted two Shakespeare plays for the screen, and both are very interesting experiments. The 1971 ‘King Lear’ with Paul Scofield is perhaps the best known, but this version of ‘Hamlet’ is my favourite of the two.

Pared down to two and a quarter hours, with a third of the text removed and other passages moved around, characters cut, and with a multi-ethnic cast (black Hamlet and Ghost/Claudius, Indian Laertes/Ophelia, Oriental Player King, white Polonius/Horatio), this is a minimal production, sparsely staged, but with weight on the words without distraction.

Adrian Lester plays the Dane, and he is every inch the bleakly indecisive student. This was an early role for him but he ranks with the best of interpreters of this greatest of Shakespeare leads. Natasha Parry (Brook’s wife) makes a stately Gertrude, but without the artifice or middle-aged lust other actresses have given her. She is a tragic by-product of the dark court of Denmark.

Scott Handy is Horatio, and his verse-speaking is excellent, as befits a regular cast member of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Last seen in the TV series ‘Hunted’ and ‘The Village’ he is the blank canvas on to which Hamlet can project his angst and dissatisfaction; he is the devoted friend who will not question even the madness that seems to afflict the Prince, causing his cruelest actions and thoughts.

This is not a starter Hamlet for those new to the play; rather one for those who are familiar with the piece and open to see it tweaked and explored for a new audience.

Vía Letterboxd – loureviews


She Loves Me (Menier Chocolate Factory)

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A delightful revival of the Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock musical is running on London’s fringe right now, and I heartily recommend it.

You might have come across this story before, in the films ‘The Shop Around The Corner’, ‘In The Good Old Summertime’ or ‘You’ve Got Mail’.  You might have seen the versions shown on television in 1978 and on digital live-streaming last year.

Georg Nowack (played at the performance I saw by understudy Peter Dukes, who was rather good, if a little plain) is an awkward bachelor who serves as one of the sales clerks in the perfumery of Mr Maraczek (Les Dennis, whose decision to use a truly awful accent colours his role) in 1930s Budapest.  He’s been corresponding with an unknown lady after placing an ad in the lonely hearts column, and he’s going to meet her soon for the first time.

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Amalia Balash (a perky Scarlett Strallen, who steals the show with her “Vanilla Ice Cream”) comes to the shop for a job and instantly finds herself at odds with Nowack, and she is also corresponding with a ‘Dear Friend’ which we quickly find out, is her nemesis himself.  In the meantime, Ilona Ritter, a vision of bad hair dye and thick make-up (played with scene-stealing effervescence by Katherine Kingsley, who has a whole library of comic expressions and barely disguised malice) is dating smarmy cad and fellow shop-worker Steven Kodaly (Kingsley’s real-life spouse, Dominic Tighe, who is perfectly hissable) and watching her life slowly slip away.

The main cast is rounded out by Ladislav Sipos (Alastair Brookshaw, playing the twitchy family man who ‘never disagrees’, with aplomb) and a new discovery, Callum Howells as delivery boy Arpad Lazslow, whose “Try Me” is an Act 2 delight.  Norman Pace has joined the cast as Head Waiter, and he’s lots of fun in the restaurant scene, and surprisingly strong-voiced.  I also liked the couple who found romance through reading: “Victor!”  “Hugo!”

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For a fringe production in a small venue, a lot of thought has gone into the revolving sets and production design, and Paul Farnsworth definitely deserves praise for his sparkles, bright colours, and leaf/snow combination indicators of the change of the seasons.  Fine choreography too, and a more-than-decent house band give the fifty-something songs life and breadth (although the repetitive ‘Thank you madam’ refrains could easily be chopped after the first couple of times).  If only the wigs had looked a little more realistic, it would have been quite perfect; but this is a fun little confection that certainly raises a smile in this winter season.

‘She Loves Me’ continues at the Menier until the 4th March 2017.


Hedda Gabler (National Theatre)

Ibsen’s difficult late play comes to the National Theatre in a new version by Patrick Marber, directed by Ivo van Hove.  In a modern production, set in one white box, minimally furnished, and airless except for one window (adding to the oppression of the story), it begins with two figures already on stage, one sitting motionless on a chair to the side, and one playing the piano, occasionally flinging themselves forward on to the keys in frustration or despair.

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The former is the maid, Berte (Éva Magyar), who throughout the play is present, seeing everything along with the audience, but ignoring all just as she is largely ignored.  The latter is the titular Hedda Gabler (Ruth Wilson), newly married to academic Dr Tesman (Kyle Soller, here using his American accent rather than the one we have grown used to in his appearances as the doomed Francis Poldark on television) but bored and without purpose.

“Academics are no fun!” she whines, and even stapleguns flowers to the walls when she is particularly fed up.  Not for this new bride the glow of happiness – even the expensive house she now lives in is theirs purely through a quirk of fate, a caprice that made Tesman think she had “set her heart on it.”  She is trapped in circumstances she is powerless to change, in a cage from which she can not break free.

For Tesman’s part he can’t believe his luck, not just that the General’s daughter has chosen him, but that he has “special access” to her body.  This makes him just as unsympathetic a character as their supposed friend, Brack (Rafe Spall) who is a smooth but repellent sexual predator who, in the final few scenes of the play, defiles and abuses Hedda in a most appalling and shocking way, helped by an inspired use of prop design to provide the gore often missing from this play.

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Hedda Gabler is a proud woman, but not in any way a nice one.  She torments her school friend, Mrs Elsted (Sinéad Matthews) and ruins her life, under the cloak of supposed kindness.  She goads the weak-willed career rival of her husband’s, Lovborg, her former lover, into desolation and destruction while fantasizing of the beauty of his “wearing vine leaves in his hair”.  She lies, cheats, manipulates, and destroys.  She is a viper in her words, too, hurting the kindly but interfering Tesman aunt (Kate Duchêne), and pushing away her devoted husband.

This production may rely too much on musical interludes (‘Blue’ by Joni Mitchell appears several times, and ‘Hallelujah’ the Leonard Cohen song, as rendered by Jeff Buckley – but clumsily edited – cuts into one scene), but its sparseness and the decision to stage much of the action on the fringes of the stage worked well for me, as it forces the eye to follow the characters as they separate or interact.  Entrances and exits are blurred, so we end up unsure as to the proportions of the room(s) we are viewing.  A video entry phone is the only concession to technology.

Marber’s adaptation may bring more laughs to the fore than the piece requires, but there is no denying the cumulative power of script, direction, and performance.  Wilson, Soller, Spall and Matthews are all excellent, with only Chukwudi Iwuji’s Lovborg missing that final note of mental disintegration that his fate would seemingly require.   Hedda’s final act may shock some, “People do not do such things”, but at least the events of this production are delivered in such a way that she clearly does not have a choice if she is not to spend her days in a living hell.

Image credit: Jan Versweyveld.


A Christmas Carol (Arts Theatre)

Just outside of the festive season a trip to see a retelling of the Dickens classic was in order, although when I say ‘classic’ I was amused to hear one person behind me having the whole story explained to them before the show started.

A one-man show, with Simon Callow in fine feckle as the grumpy and avericious old Scrooge, also essaying at various points the entire Cratchit family, the old Fezziwigs dancing, the jovial nephew Fred, the fat merchants, the spirits, and more.

The story may be familiar but this version has humour and effective simplicity in its sets (a solitary candle, some chairs, clever lighting, a screen, and a handful of props and ideas from a snowy street to an open window).  The power of suggestion comes from Callow’s gift as a storyteller, and this is a lovely festive piece of theatre.

Last performances today.


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