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Tag Archive | "Jude Law"

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Review: Henry V, Milton Court Studio Theatre

Posted on 13 February 2014 by Veronica Aloess

Henry V GSMD

Henry V is performed by final year students at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, yet it’s safe to say that the quality rivals that of a professional production. It’s a brave play to stage, since I can’t help but want to compare it to Grandage’s recent incarnation at the Noel Coward Theatre, starring Jude Law. Aware of this, the creative team behind Henry V have put together a production which successfully stands apart.

To begin with, the casting is unlikely. This heavily male play has been cast with women taking on some of those roles: furthermore, the part of Henry is split between three different actors, one of which is also a woman. The part of Henry appears to undergo an interesting transformation from boy to man in the process of the battle. The crossovers between Ceri-Lyn Cissone, Jordan Renzo and Ben Hall’s different Henrys are smooth, and Hall’s rendition of the famous St. Crispin’s Day speech is powerfully delivered.

The rough and readiness of the aesthetics has me in two minds. This version of Henry V is cut down, so the necessary exposition that this complex play requires is occasionally confused by the multi-role-ing of the actors. In short, King of England, Henry V, makes claim to some land in France, leading to the Battle of Agincourt, in which the French outnumber the English five to one. The actors themselves differentiate between their parts capably, but it’s arguably a design fault that there aren’t any major costume changes, which mark a change in character (most likely because the cast remain on stage at all times). On the other hand, one of the biggest problems I think this play always encounters is staging the Battle of Agincourt. Here, designer Tom Oldham and director Martin Hutson have collaborated brilliantly. The simplistic use of tables and chairs as weapons in some back-and-forth choreography instantly gives the impression that numbers have doubled on stage, and even more so when they are used percussively to create a general atmosphere of menace. Indeed, the use of piano music throughout brings the many strands of this production together and punctuates the scenes with delicacy.

When the actors aren’t within a scene, they retreat to the sides of the stage. This combined with the multi-role-ing has a sense of Brecht about it, which doesn’t seem to have anything to say in terms of subtext, but does make for dynamic watching and exemplifies the cast’s focus and precision. Amongst the cast, everybody seems at home with the language but there are some performers who are particularly expressive, including Florence Roberts as Chorus and Tanya Lattul as The Boy. Added to this, Dominic Spillane successfully brings the humour out of Fluellen’s character, while the merry band Pistol (Kaffe Keating), Bardolph (Alexander Bhat) and Nym (Andre Flynn) have boisterous camaraderie. Furthermore, Andre Flynn’s foppish and foolish Dauphin, the French prince, is both hilarious and ferocious. I’ll admit this is the first production of Henry V I’ve seen in which I’ve been compelled to feel a sense of compassion for the Dauphin, rather than purely caricaturing him as a villain.

This is a sophisticated production from these Guildhall students, who obviously feel at home with Shakespeare’s challenging text. Hutson’s direction deftly manages to show off the dexterity of his actors whilst producing a well-known story with fresh ideas.

Henry V is playing at the Milton Court Studio Theatre until 15 February 2014. For more information and tickets, see the Guildhall School of Music and Drama website.

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess

Veronica Aloess is an aspiring arts journalist and playwright, who trained at Arts Educational School London and is currently studying towards a BA in English with Creative Writing at Brunel University. She is co-founder of Don't Make Me Angry Productions which is dedicated to original writing and innovative performance.

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Review: Hamlet, New Diorama Theatre

Posted on 16 January 2014 by Hannah Elsy

Sitting in the audience with a large school group for a production of Hamlet is always a trying experience. However, artistic pretensions aside, their reactions to the show (vocal and organic) provide an interesting benchmark through which to measure whether a show is ‘good’ or not. The production of Hamlet by the award-winning theatre company The Faction at the New Diorama was certainly well received by the school group, who were engaged in the action throughout: as Simon Russell Beale’s voice as the ghost booms “swear!” through the speakers, a girl behind whispered to her friend “that’s well scary!”

The Faction’s Artistic Director Mark Leipacher has combined modern technology with traditional staging and has worked his cast hard as an ensemble in order to reimagine the classical text. Some elements of these efforts have really paid off to make a show that is visually stimulating, creative and fresh. The creation of a moving screen, made from orange circles held up by the ensemble in order to follow the projection of Simon Russell Beale as the ghost, is genuinely exciting. The sense that ‘Denmark’s a prison’ is created with a plain black wall covering the back of the stage, a third of this taken up by a Big Brother-style omnipresent projection of Claudius, and is matched by a ‘box’ of lighting on the stage defining the ensemble’s playing space.

It’s just a shame that these visuals are not matched with strong performances from all ensemble members. Damien Lynch’s Claudius, although holding great physical gravitas, cannot fully deal with articulation of the language, occasionally stumbling over his lines. Derval Mellett’s Ophelia is believably vulnerable but doesn’t quite know her lines, crucially messing up the word order of some key speeches (maybe such mishaps were thought to be excusable on a night mostly filled by a school group…!).

Jonny McPherson’s Hamlet is sardonic, grinning in his ‘antic disposition’ with a goon face to match Jim Carrey’s. He plays up to the character’s reputation as overly verbose and a procrastinator, standing oppressively in front of the audience in his long soliloquies makes you feel genuinely uncomfortable, particularly because his eyes – caffeinated and beady- scan right into the retinas of every member of the audience in the 80-seat theatre. He is not a likeable figure, but this is somewhat refreshing after a string of well-known actors playing Hamlet (David Tennant, Jude Law) who have woven into their performances hints of their personas as celebrities in order to win the allegiance of their audiences.

The school group found it very entertaining, as did I: not a bad introduction for them to Shakespeare from an exciting theatre company that promises to produce a bundle more of entertaining adaptations.

Hamlet is running at the New Diorama Theatre until 22 February. For more information and tickets, please visit the New Diorama website

Hannah Elsy

Hannah Elsy

Alongside reading English at King's College London, Hannah runs around the capital watching and performing in as much theatre as physically possible. She enjoys creating new work, and is currently workshopping new ideas with the National Theatre's Young Studio. Hannah has worked as an arts journalist for the Fierce Festival of live art and Bristol's In Between Time Festival.

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Review: Henry V, Noel Coward Theatre, Michael Grandage Company

Posted on 05 December 2013 by Rebecca Pinnington

HENRY V

In the final production of his season of five plays, Michael Grandage brings a gripping and exciting rendition of Henry V to the stage, with an excellent lead performance from Jude Law.

Opening the show, Ashley Zhanghaza is suitably dynamic as the Chorus, delivering his speeches with a lively energy which engages his audience from the off. Zhanghaza’s costume of a modern Union Flag t-shirt is a particularly interesting device, which reminds us to compare the glory and valour portrayed in Shakespeare’s play to representations of war today. Grandage’s merging of this character with the Boy who is seen with Nym, Bardolph and Pistol gives the Chorus a feeling of greater insight into the action, rather than simply taking the role of an onlooker.

In the title role, Jude Law shows great depth of character and versatility, in one moment imposing and authoritative with all the grandeur of a great king, and softer and kinder in the next. Captivating throughout, he is especially brilliant when musing on the burdens of being king on the eve of battle, and delivers his speeches to troops in a way that made me feel strangely patriotic. The wooing scene in the second act is also charming and provides a nice relief from Law’s previous stoicism, showing a more tender side to the character. Law’s performance is perfectly nuanced and completely enthralling.

Grandage’s show is carried by great acting performances, and the supporting cast are very strong. Ron Cook is on superb form as Pistol, dominating the stage as the funny, irritable rogue; Matt Ryan is magnetic as the forthcoming and amusingly patriotic Welshman Fluellen; James Laurenson is the picture of the stiff upper lip as Exeter; and Jessie Buckley is graceful, elegant and endearing as Princess Katharine. It is, however, rather difficult to pick out individual players as exceptionally good when the whole cast works so well together.

The set is bleak and imposing, and functions very well to convey the harshness of battle – although it is actually appropriate for every mood and scene, from the dark battlefields of Agincourt to the grandiose French court. The lack of complex set is also effective in letting the acting tell the story. Sudden changes from dark to bright lighting were occasionally close to blinding me, but clearly demonstrate the introduction of new moods and locations.

This is an exciting and well-staged play which finishes a very strong season for the Michael Grandage Company: a Shakespearean adaptation of exceptional standard which really merits seeing.

Henry V is playing at the Noel Coward Theatre until 15 February 2014. For more information and tickets, see the Michael Grandage Company website.

Photo by Johan Persson

Rebecca Pinnington

Rebecca Pinnington

Rebecca is a second year modern languages student at University College London. In between reading French philosophy and conjugating irregular verbs, she watches and performs in as much theatre as possible, especially musicals, which are one of her two greatest passions (the other is cats). As well as AYT, she has written for Broadway Baby at the Edinburgh Fringe and her university newspaper.

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Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Posted on 18 September 2013 by Daniel Harrison

A Midsummer Night's Dream Sheridan Smith

I’ve never really been all that enthralled by Shakespeare’s comedies. Give me a meaty King Lear or Macbeth any day, dripping with blood and venom, than the lighter stuff, which I’ve always been quick to dismiss as, quite frankly, irrelevant to contemporary audiences. How refreshing it was therefore, to be proved so spectacularly wrong by Michael Grandage’s production, which displayed with relish just how joyous, how funny and how downright wacky A Midsummer Night’s Dream really can be.

The plot, as if you need it, is as follows: Demetrius loves Hermia, who in turn loves Lysander. The jealous Helena, herself in love with Demetrius, watches on.  In the forest we meet a band of fairies, and a group of actors in rehearsal (that Shakespeare staple of a play-within-a-play). The Fairy King’s servant, Puck, infects both Lysander and Demetrius with a potion which will make them fall madly in love with the first person they set eyes on: Helena. Much confusion and stamping about ensues before Puck remedies the situation, and all sit down to enjoy the actor’s hammed-up production. I am, of course, paraphrasing slightly.

It may be lazy to describe David Walliams as camp, but he is and delightfully so. He prowls, nay minces, about the space, sensing when to dominate scenes (which he does with ease), and when to step back, allowing other, sweeter, softer, comic moments to shine. Walliams gives the occasional knowing nod and wink to the audience, and leads with aplomb the play-within-a-play scenes, which lovingly send-up ego-driven rehearsal processes across theatre-land.

Alongside Walliams, Sheridan Smith glimmers as Fairy Queen Titania, but it is important to recognise that hidden behind the star names are some other excellent and riveting performances. Katherine Kingsley as downtrodden Helena provides a thoroughly gutsy and feisty turn. Whilst other Shakespeare play may well be misogynistic (think The Taming of the Shrew) Kingsley’s Helena is empowered. Likewise, Gavin Fowler displays a sleek and mischievous charm as Puck; he skips about the space with a frantic energy which more than carries the audience along with him. Fine performances are to be found across the board in fact.

Christopher Oram’s set and costume design also help to revitalise a play now 418 years old. We are greeted by psychedelic fairies, akin to the chorus line of Hair, complete with Acid House smiley face belts. Elsewhere, we are confronted by a massive full moon, haunting and whimsical at the same time. This is perhaps let down slightly by baffling musical accompaniment: snippets of songs, such as Paul Simon’s The Sound of Silence, felt a little surplus to requirements.

It’s been quite a season already for Michael Grandage. Privates on Parade was one of the shows to see last Christmas. The Cripple of Inishmaan by my favourite contemporary playwright Martin McDonagh continued to prove that Daniel Radcliffe is far more than the Harry Potter franchise, and Henry V with Jude Law is still yet to come. A Midsummer Night’s Dream more than holds its own amongst this prestigious line-up.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is at the Noel Coward Theatre until 16 November. For more information and tickets, see the Michael Grandage Company website.

Daniel Harrison

Daniel Harrison

A graduate of Theatre Studies, Daniel has worked in a number of different areas within theatre, most recently cutting his teeth with the Communications team at BAC. He is currently Project Assistant for the Young Vic's upcoming Schools Theatre Festival, and is a champion of the power of theatre as a force for good within society.

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