Sunday, June 07, 2009

Two theatre reviews: 'An Inspector Calls' - Tuesday 2 June, 2009, Nottingham Theatre Royal; 'Julius Caesar' - Saturday 6 June 2009, RSC Stratford

Busy cultural week this week with TWO theatre visits for Cloud and I.

First up, 'An Inspector Calls' by JB Priestley, currently on tour in the Stephen Daldry production (due in London in the autumn of 2009 at - interestingly, given my last post - the Novello Theatre).

We saw this at Nottingham's lovely Theatre Royal, about as typical a manifestation of a theatre as you can get with its balconies, boxes, chandelier and the lush Victorian decoration. Our last experience there was the vibrant African inflected RSC Tempest (with Sir Anthony Sher), but it demonstrates the skillful diversity of Nottingham's longest established theatre that Priestley's tale of the monied middle classes confronted by how other lives interact and are affected by their actions seems marvellously apt here.

The production, for those who haven't seen it in the 17 years since it first hit the National Theatre in 1992, is incredibly expressionistic, with a set (and set-piece 'action' sequence) that reinforces the audience's way of relating and interpreting the action. I confess that although I had vague memories of the Bernard Hepton version on TV many years ago, I had little memory of the narrative and kept it that way (so I won't be 'spoiling' it here folks). Suffice to say that the production reinforces the play's politics with some neat touches and we found its continued relevance on that level engaging.

However. It was a shame that the audience were, to put it mildly, a tad disruptive. Being a study text meant several came in ready to take notes (loudly), whilst others happily yaddered and ate through much of the performance (which quite reasonably has no interval). *sigh* We were then treated to lots of noisy complaints at the end of the show about the noise which I could equally have done without. A slightly less than perfect experience overall then, which was a shame because we did enjoy the play.

Two personal notes: thanks to H for organisation of our visit AND to the set/prop crew, whose work between performances is considerable. Kudos to you all.

Second play: 'Julius Caesar' by that bloke shaking his spear.

We went to it not having read any reviews (most of which seem at best divided if not dismissive), but that seems a real shame. I'm pretty sure I've seen the play live more than once, though only the Compass Theatre production of JC at Nottingham's Theatre Royal many years ago with Tim Piggott-Smith as Brutus seems to have stayed with me.

In contrast, the RSC's current production makes much of its very alternative staging. Director Lucy Bailey opens with Romulus and Remus, bloodied, dirty and feral, fighting it out on the reddened ground. Projection shows the famous Capitoline Wolf sculpture above them and the rest of the production makes considerable use of the projections to add a sense of population and context to the scenes - whether a cheering multitude, advancing armies, or the horrific vision of burning strung up corpses (though they're probably only readable as such from seeing one hapless figure dragged across the stage to their doom). There is a definite sense of violence to the staging, though (thankfully) it doesn't make you gag - shuddering being what I felt in response to its horror (I don't really want theatre to make me ill, no matter how much it may need violence on occasion).

In terms of acting, Sam Troughton as Brutus is by turns cautious, baffled, and beguiled as he tries to deal with the leadership thrust upon him by the traitors to Caesar's power. Despite being the titular character, our relationship to Caesar suffers from his being removed from the action so early but nevertheless Greg Hicks makes for a remarkably self-absorbed Caesar, and I mean that as a compliment to his portrayal. Still, it is on Mark Anthony that much of the play rests - especially in the second half. Played as a gruff soldier, Darrell D’Silva has a tough job to do to keep all the momentum of the play, though I think he just succeeds.

Interestingly, some of the key performances come from the slightly more marginal characters: Brian Doherty as the manipulative Decius Brutus is positively gleeful as he reinterprets Calphurnia's prophetic dream to lead Caesar to to his doom at the hands of the traitors; and John Mackay and Oliver Ryan as Cassius and Casca respectively are especially venal in their shift towards and handling of power with and over Brutus.

But what made this production especially appealing was simply its circumstance: watching this play about political power-plays as the ruins of the current New Labour party turns on itself amidst a general atmosphere of distrust by the mob of politics gave me a mighty tingle. Relevance in Shakespeare? It's an old line, but remains true.

Again, worth seeing - despite the monsoon we drove through to get to Stratford!

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