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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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The Wicked Stage: “Happy talk, keep talkin’ happy talk” – My excitement at a musical theatre chat show

Posted on 13 February 2014 by Sarah Green

6872146757_d6be0d3371_nOne of the week’s biggest musical theatre news items is that Sky Arts has commissioned a musical theatre chat show with Elaine Paige as its host. I was super excited when this news broke because I am a total geek and I love hearing professionals talk about their start in the profession and how they see their art etc. has a similar idea with Show People with Paul Wontorek, where he has different guests come in to discuss shows they are doing or just generally talk about their career, which I have often been fascinated by. The format of The Elaine Paige Show will include performances, by Paige herself as well as by guests. Apparently she will also mentor a performer in training as part of the programme, making this whole series an invaluable document on musical theatre for young people considering it as their profession, or as an academic resource. Some of the guests that are lined up include John Owen-Jones, Trevor Nunn and Herbert Kretzmer.

Here are five people I would like to see pop up:

1. Dame Judi Dench – I know I have written a whole blog post on why I love her in musicals, but it would be interesting to hear first-hand on how she got into musicals and what her approach is ,and if there are any lessons she brings from Shakespeare to musical theatre. And if they want to get her to sing ‘Send In The Clowns’ then I won’t complain.

2. Julie Atherton – I have never seen her live but I have a few recordings of her, and she often seems to be connected to new work and she seems highly regarded by a lot of people, so she would be an interesting person to see interviewed.

3. Michael Moor – Michael is Deputy Director of Studies and Head of Musical Theatre at Guildford School of Acting and has been tweeting tips for drama school auditions. I think a teacher would be interesting to have on the show, especially as it appears to want to give a detailed look at the profession therefore getting teacher’s stories and their approaches for training could be interesting.

4. Mark Shenton – Theatre and especially musical theatre is known for reviews and critics so it would be interesting to find out how people become critics and their opinions on musical theatre.

5. A stage door keeper – This is more of a curveball but I think it would be fascinating to talk to someone who looks after theatres and sees so many shows and faces come through and to hear their anecdotes. If not the stage door keeper then a DSM or anyone behind the scenes.

My enthusiasm for this show is quite clear and by sounds of the format they are going with my excitement seems well placed. My only niggle is that whilst I benefit from my parent’s Sky subscription not everyone does, so I hope they might truncate sections for online viewing similar to Show People or make it available on iTunes so more people can view the show. Regardless, bring on May 2014 when the six episodes air!

Photo by The Drama League on Flickr under a Creative Commons Licence. 


Sarah Green

Sarah Green

Sarah is a musical theatre graduate now studying for her Masters in theatre practice with hopes of going onto a PHD. She has been writing for A Younger Theatre since September 2011 on all things musical theatre related.

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Review: Twelfth Night or What You Will, The Bussey Building

Posted on 09 February 2014 by Amy Merrigan

I am a frequent visitor to Peckham but I never realised it had a theatre in in, and certainly not one so vast – but here I am at The Bussey Building, and right now it is housing the Whistlestop Theatre company’s production of Twelfth Night, or What You Will.

In case you are not familiar with the plot, this play centres around the mistaken identity of Viola (Cam Spence), who disguises herself as a man after being washed ashore in an unknown land  following a shipwreck which (supposedly) killed her twin brother, Sebastian (Jack Finch). Confusion and hilarity ensues. It’s one of those Shakespeare plays that is essentially the blueprint for every romantic comedy ever.

This production is a huge amount of fun. As I was ushered in by a heavily eyeliner-ed Sir Toby, and introduced to a nerdy Sir Andrew and a fur coat-clad Olivia, I couldn’t but smile. Improvising, the cast all set the scene convincingly in a London bar, where the rest of the action will take place, with beers and vodka shots all round.

I am a great believer in modern dress Shakespeare, and this re-imagining works well in the main, particularly in regard to the Sir Toby/Sir Andrew group of characters and the subplot involving Malvolio (James Taylor Thomas). When Malvolio appears in the second half as the victim of a practical joke, with ‘DICK’ written across his forehead,  it is easy to imagine the perpetrators – Sir Toby and co – as any drunken group of friends today.

The whole business of the Viola/Olivia/Orsino plot is however a little confusing and has flaws. This whole play hinges on our belief that Olivia really thinks Viola is male, yet Viola just doesn’t look – or act – like a man. Although the language is clear, there are serious lacks in subtext, in my opinion. In a world where women actually do fall in love with women, and men with men, the whole gender confusion is less immediately funny. You lean towards thinking that perhaps Olivia is merely bi-curious.

The dialogue is generally very well delivered, with particularly good performances from Niall Rooney (Sir Toby) and Emma Richardson (Maria), but there are also moments which lack clear diction. My favourite part of this play has always been the ‘willow cabin’ speech, but here this didn’t pass muster for me. I just didn’t see, with any clarity, what Viola’s true feelings were. There are some other minor language points too – Feste the fool is a woman, which works well, but I don’t understand why the pronouns haven’t been changed to ‘she’.

However, that aside the play is very smoothly cut down to just 90 minutes and is delightedly fast-paced. The adaptation keeps the essence of the story very well, although I think we need to see more of Orsino, who is rather under-developed. All in all, it is fresh and clear and above all fun, which is really what Twelfth Night should be all about.

Twelfth Night is playing at The Bussey Building until 22 February. For more information and tickets, see the Whistle Stop Tour website.

Amy Merrigan

Amy Merrigan

Amy is a 17 year old Londoner who has just finished her A-levels. She is looking forward to a gap year of theatre trips, some teaching in Malawi and trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life.

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Feature: Q&A with Michael Fentiman

Posted on 03 February 2014 by Freya Smith


Michael Fentiman is currently directing an RSC First Encounter production of The Taming of the Shrew, with the male and female roles reversed. Aimed at 8-13 year olds, the production will open in February at  The Courtyard Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon before embarking on a six week tour of UK schools and regional theatres, then travelling to the US to play at The Ohio State University.  Freya Smith caught up with Fentiman to find out more.

How did you get into directing?
Initially, I trained as an actor and went to Bretton Hall for three years. We did all of our training by a practical approach. We learnt a lot about different kinds of theatre and how you make theatre, which inspired me to set up a theatre company while I was there. I directed a play and then just sort of fell into directing. I didn’t have the financial support to work on the Fringe, so I did a host of jobs: directing pantomimes, shows on cruise ships, professional wrestling, as well as doing plays and tours. After about two or three years I thought I should train so studied the one year postgraduate directing course at Mountview, and I’ve been directing pretty much non stop since then!

You’ve done a lot of work with the RSC. Were you always drawn to Shakespeare?
When I was at school I didn’t really like Shakespeare; I found it quite boring. When I first started directing I probably felt more that I should direct a Shakespeare play than I necessarily wanted to. I was a little bit scared, as I’d assumed that directing Shakespeare was for people smarter than I am. I’d stuck to new plays, which of course you need to be equally as clever for. I’d directed two Steven Berkoff plays: East and Messiah. In East I kept finding lots of brilliant phrases, and I really loved the language. I realised that a lot of this language was taken from Shakespeare plays, which made me think I could direct one.

How did you begin working with the RSC?
When I finished at Mountview my mentor recommended working with Michael Boyd at the RSC. After about nine rounds of interviews, I became part of the long ensemble. At the time, I didn’t really know what it meant – I just knew the RSC was very important! I assisted Michael Boyd and Rupert Goold. Now whenever I come back I can’t imagine starting out anywhere else; it feels very much like a family.

What excites you about First Encounter and performing Shakespeare in schools?
I’m excited about giving young people the opportunity to see it live. The texts weren’t designed to be sat down and read, they were designed to be performed and heard. I’m excited about young people seeing Shakespeare of this standard: we’re touring in schools with a cast of nine, a musician and a full set, all supported by the RSC. It’s quite a significant touring schools project; not a lot of companies could afford to go into schools at this scale.

You’re directing a gender-swapped production of The Taming of the Shrew. Where did that idea come from, and what motivated it?
With The Taming of the Shrew, Greg [Doran, Artistic Director of the RSC] came to me and said, we’re looking to do a season of work featuring strong female protagonists – e.g. The Roaring Girl and The White Devil, which are written by Shakespeare’s contemporaries. Greg wanted to carry that thrust into the touring Shakespeare work. He came up with The Taming of the Shrew and reversing genders which really excited me; we’re doing a gender swap in a production that’s normally seen as a comment on gender. I took it further and said I wanted the female characters to be played by men in Elizabethan dress but with skinheads and beards, and that they shouldn’t attempt to act like women. So straight away you go, we’ve swapped the costumes and now we play the roles; we’re not trying to comment on how women or men behave.

Playing to young people, we carry a responsibility with what kind of production we bring. We wouldn’t want something which glorified the idea of making a woman submit to a man, but we also wouldn’t want to watch a play where a woman accepts that that’s the case. What we feel we’re doing is looking less at a man and a woman than two people fighting their way into a relationship.

How have you made The Taming of the Shrew accessible to a young audience?
I’m not really worried about making it accessible, because when you do that you try to make the language “cool”, you put people in “cool” clothes. But the truth is, people have imaginations – they can make the imaginative leap and make the things being said relatable to their own lives.

What advice do you have for young directors?
Go to see lots of other people’s work. Go to see work you disagree with, because often your work is informed by what you don’t like, as well as what you do. Always have a classic revival and at least two new plays sitting in your back pocket at any one time. Assist people that are at the top of their game, but in assisting them, don’t lose a sense of your own voice. As a young director, you assume that because you’re inexperienced, you’re almost always in the wrong, and the truth is that your first instinct is probably always right, regardless of your experience. You then learn to make that instinct practical. Trust in your own instincts even when listening to wonderful advice; you can only be yourself.

To find out more about Michael Fentiman’s production of The Taming of the Shrew, visit the RSC education team’s website.

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