“Shall I compare thee to a summer day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate…”

Sonnet 18, Line 1-2

William Shakespeare

To be honest, I can’t actually believe it’s taken me this long to see the stageblog 6 production of Shakespeare in Love, considering my ridiculous obsession with both theatre and the Bard. And I loved the film (who didn’t?!)

Anyway, I finally made it to the Gallery last week to enjoy a romp through Elizabethan stage life and to bore my friend with ‘fun facts’ about how accurate the script actually was, which I’m sure she was also absolutely thrilled by…

But seriously, the great thing about this show, and the film, is how historically accurate it is, without being the slightest bit boring. The stage is filled with constant action, toing and froing from the large cast; it’s interesting that director Declan Donellan has clearly decided never to leave his characters alone on stage.blog 1 The set is basically like an Elizabethan theatre, with a large open space at the bottom, and three tiers of wooden levelling that the cast can scamper all about, or observe the real action from. The Shakespearean idea of life as a theatre definitely comes across, but no too obviously, which I appreciated. I hate it when a good idea is forced down your throat; subtlety is always better.

Orlando James as Shakespeare himself was very impressive – full of energy and life, likeable and believable – what more can you ask?! I thought Eve Posonby as Viola, the heroine,blog 4 was equally energetic. In a way, this was great – it’s always nice to see such a strong, spirited female character, yet someone who is also sympathetic and sensitive – but I also found her a little over hearty for my liking at some points, especially when she was playing Viola playing Juliet. Yes, Juliet is madly in teenage love, but at the same time, she’s also a woman who knows her new husband is about to be exiled after killing her beloved cousin. A personal view I know, but I just don’t think she’d be bounding around the stage at that time; Juliet’s quite thoughtful, and it made all of Shakespeare’s compliments to Viola on her ‘natural’ acting style seem confusing. A little too boisterous for my liking anyway.

blog 5Apart from that, however, the cast were brilliant. Particular highlights were Edward Franklin as Kit Marlowe, Ryan Donaldson as Ned Alleyn and Suzanne Burden as a haughty but just Queen Elizabeth I. I also loved Paul Brennan as Hugh Fennyman, or rather, a very eager Apothecary, he provided some of the best silly light relief in the play – combined with, of course, the obligatory adorable dog. Gregg Lowe was actually equally endearing as Sam, the ‘boy’ of the company, whose voice unfortunately breaks just before the performance. Talking of voices, the singing and music is absolutely gorgeous – props to countertenor Charlie Highe for some soaring descants, and to Paddy Cuneen as music director.

Overall, this is a lovely show – with elements of great slapstick, and silly humour which anyone will be entertainedblog 2 by, but also sophisticated, witty jokes for the Bard Nerds in the audience. There are countess references to some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines, but you don’t have to pick up on all of these to enjoy the play. It stands alone, a riot of music and action and passion, recreating Elizabethan London and the way they felt about life brilliantly. Some of the acting was a little over the top for my liking, and I found some of the references just a little clunky. I’m not awarding it five stars because I never quite felt moved by it. But really, I can’t think of a reason why someone wouldn’t enjoy this show, so definitely highly recommended.

Shakespeare in Love at Noel Coward Theatre: 4/5 stars

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“Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”

Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 1

William Shakespeare

I’ve been wanting to see the Young Vic’s A View From The Bridge blog 3ever since my theatre-loving mum and more apathetic brother went to see it late last year and loved it. On Thursday I finally got to see the much-lauded production of Arthur Miller’s famous play in its new West End home of Wyndham’s Theatre – the same night that NT Live was broadcasting, although happily this made no impact on our experience at all (in case you’re wondering whether to book for a broadcast night).

A quick synopsis: Eddie Carbone (a caring, strong Longshoreman) lives in Brooklyn with his wife Bea and their orphaned niece Catherine, who’s 18 but still acts around Eddie like she’s twelve. There is clear unresolved sexual tension between Eddie and Catherine, but the family still seems to function reasonably well. Crisis is brought about when Bea’s cousins arrive, smuggled abroad from Italy to provide for their starving family, and have to live with the Carbones to avoid being discovered as illegal immigrants. Catherine and the younger cousin, Rodolpho, fall in love, leaving Eddie outraged that this singing, cooking, blonde, dressmaking boy could steal away his niece for what he thinks are the wrong reasons. I won’t give away the ending, but things only escalate from here…

blog 2           Mark Strong (famous for being the evil guy in tons of movies, like Kick Ass, and the spymaster in The Imitation Game) plays the lead role, Eddie, here with great quiet strength, which slowly gets more and more menacing as the two-hour play goes on. When I first heard there was no interval I was a little nervous; I tend to think anything over about 100 minutes should really have a break – if only to prevent your bum getting numb! However, the director Ivo van Hove gets away with it this time. The play absolutely would have suffered from a break in the tension, and really the only reason I sometimes wanted a break was because the seats, as theatre seats often are, were not the comfiest of chairs.

Strong is really the centre of this piece, exuding a silent energy even when not actually speaking. As the ‘villain’ of the piece, I suppose, he manages to show what Miller often demonstrates in his plays – the understandable reasons behind his eventual descent, making the audience sympathise with him, whilst also being conscious of how wrong his feelings and decisions are.  However, that’s not to say the other actors don’t hold their own next to him. Phoebe Fox, in the difficult role of Catherine, strikes a good balance between innocence and maturity, between girl and women – and it’s interesting that she played Cordelia in the Almeida’s King Lear (review here), another production in which the father figure sexualised the daughter in a disturbing way.blog I appreciated Fox making it clear that Catherine didn’t really realise the effect her clingy actions were having on Eddie and Bea and their relationship, because otherwise she can seem a manipulative character, and the key thing in this play is that there is really no categorically ‘evil’ or ‘bad’ character.

Even America and Italy, compared so often they become almost like characters, show this duality; America is where the Italians come for vital work, whilst in Sicily their family is starving to death, and yet an impassioned speech, powerfully delivered by Luke Norris as Rodolpho, shows that it really isn’t that one-sided. Italy for the immigrants has everything America has, everything except work, and they can’t understand a legal system in the US that forces family honour to go undefended. I loved the way Emun Elliott showed this contrast in the character of Mario – really the most likeable character in the play (for me at least!), together with Nicola Walker’s torn Bea.

I felt like, although Michael Gould did a fine job as the narrator of the tale, the lawyer Alfieri, I didn’t completely see his relevance to the story, except perhaps to help the audience along and to provide a voice of reason? I don’t know, it just seemed odd that he was onstage most of the time, a silent presence watching on with us. It probably would have felt weirder, though, if he’d just appeared to quickly foresee terrible consequences and then vanished. Hmmm… I don’t know the script so not sure how I would have directed it, but I just didn’t really get his character.

A scene from A View from the Bridge              The set also left me confused – good confused, but confused nonetheless. A quick summary – a rectangle onstage, with audience seated either side, as well as in the auditorium. At first it appeared to be a black box, but then the sides and roof lifted off, and a white floor was revealed, edged with black and transparent rectangular seating (if that makes sense).  All the actors wore bare feet on this floor throughout, and only Alfieri ever moved outside of the box space. It was so beautifully streamlined and clean and so pleasing to the eye, and yet… for me it seemed like the clutter and claustrophobia of a small Brooklyn house is surely a key reason behind the painful tension between the relatives, and, although there was a brilliant scene with intensely strained pauses between each individual line, sometimes this chaos and resulting tension was missing for me, and that was a result of the clean, boxy set (whereas in the Young Vic’s A Streetcar Named Desire review here – the claustrophobia and lack of privacy came across much more clearly). Perhaps the space seemed much smaller closer up – Wyndham’s is a very different theatre to the Young Vic, so it’s hard to see the original intentions sometimes.

However, the final dramatic piece of setting was absolutely awe-inspiring. *SPOILER ALERT* blog 4The actors, tightly huddled in together like two rugby teams were suddenly, dramatically showered with pints and pints of blood or red rain, soaking through their hair, costumes, pooling across the stage, turning from dark pink to scarlet to almost blue, there was so much. As Strong crawled painfully across the floor, the blood would move with him, creating colours that were gone in a second. I have to say, apart from being very dramatic, it also looked so much fun. I’d love to have a go in that.

This ending brings an intense and tightly focused play to a striking conclusion. The cast are adept at bringing out the complexities in Miller’s multifaceted characters, and the set – whilst not perhaps how I would stage it – is still very impressive. However, it is Strong who is absolutely the main reason to see this production, with a powerful performance as “purely” Eddie.

A View From The Bridge at Wyndham’s Theatre (transfer from Young Vic): 4/5 stars