Tag Archive | "The Comedy of Errors"

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Review: Fences

Posted on 29 June 2013 by Camilla Gurtler

Fences Duchess Theatre

Set in 1950s Pittsburgh, Fences is one of August Wilson’s plays about the African-American experience of a divided America. Officially the country was “separate but equal”, but under the surface it was a well-known fact that rules were different for those whose skin was black.

Troy Maxson was once a talented athlete with the hopes and dreams of making it big in a world that couldn’t see past the colour of his skin. Having been robbed of his dreams, he works as a rubbish collector, trying to fulfil his duty as a man, husband and father. But broken dreams taint and eat away at the joy of family life, and Troy finds himself clinging unto memories and old grudges. He desperately tries to maintain and protect the few pieces of himself and his domestic life that he cherishes, but ends up suffocating the people around him. The pressure to fulfil his duty and fight against the feeling of being a failure causes him to violate the family bond by cheating on his wife, neglecting his war-damaged brother and driving away his son. Building a fence around the house suddenly symbolises his desperate attempt to keep his loved ones inside, ending in shutting them out and isolating himself from them.

Lenny Henry, known for his Othello and The Comedy of Errors, inhabits Troy’s colourful personality, and delivers a vibrant and edgy performance that’s always one step ahead of his fellow cast and audience. He is without a doubt a charismatic actor and absorbs the whole theatre with his stillness and inner life. Troy is dark, complicated and violent but also humorous, playful and a dreamer, and Henry manages to create a believable man whose life has run away from him, in the wrong direction.

Paulette Randall’s production is real, touching and hard to swallow. It has beautiful moments of sincerity and lightness, which are then knocked over by emotional weights that burden the whole theatre. The cast is superb,  especially Tanya Moodie who is a great accessory to Henry’s troubled Troy.

Fences is drama at its highest – fantastic set, cast and creative. But it is very heavy and with its nearly three hours of lost hope and broken dreams it can feel long and depressing. However the emotional weight of the piece is touching, raw and well worth the ride.

Fences is playing at the Duchess Theatre until 14 September. For more information and tickets see the ATG website.

Camilla Gurtler

Camilla Gurtler

Camilla is currently training as a director on the Young Directors’ Programme with StoneCrabs Theatre Company. Camilla has worked as a director, actress and writer in Denmark and London, and loves Shakespeare, greek tragedies and children’s theatre. She’s obsessed with coffee, dislikes ranting on stage and hates the colour yellow. Especially mustard-yellow.

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Review: Othello

Posted on 25 April 2013 by Hannah Elsy

Othello National Theatre - Adrian Lester

In Hytner’s modern production of Othello, it is only Brabantio, Desdemona’s father (played by William Chubb) who is racist and any jibe made at Othello’s skin colour causes a flinch to ripple across the stage. By making it clear that this Othello is not set in a racist society, Hytner  removes one of the barriers that have, all too often,  produced unsatisfactory, and over- simplified productions of this play. This gives the excellent cast greater freedom to unlock the more emotionally complex layers within the piece.

Two stunning performances from Adrian Lester as Othello and Rory Kinnear as Iago provide the emotional centre which helps drive the show. Initially, it seems that Lester’s Othello will be too charming as we are introduced to him polished in a smart suit and flawlessly calm as Brabantio accuses him of ‘bewitching’ his daughter Desdemona (Olivia Vinall) into marriage. However, the true strength of Lester’s performance is not revealed until the second act, once Iago has convinced him that Desdemona has slept with his Lieutenant Michael Cassio (Jonathan Bailey) and, driven mad by jealousy, Lester uses his imposing physique to brawl, fit on the floor, spit and vomit; a broken man who we cannot help but pity.

Kinnear’s soliloquies are compelling, eloquently using Shakespearean English with the ease and familiarity of a first language. Iago uses the façade of ‘the- good- bloke- down- the- pub’ to conceal his devious scheming, thus allowing him to build a hilarious repartee with the audience. He makes us laugh and therefore we like him, thus twisting our sense of morality because we are egging him on to destroy Othello. He switches rapidly from joker to madman and in the final scene, his wide- eyed and open-mouthed stare onto the bed and the three deaths he has caused sends shivers down the spine. This is a chilling portrait of a man who is fascinated by his own capabilities of evil.

Other notable performances include Tom Robertson’s wonderfully posh, stupid Roderigo and Lyndsey Marshall’s hardened Emilia. Vinall’s Desdemona is eager to please, but flits about the stage without any sense of direction. The portrayal of her as naïve and childish doesn’t sit well with the Desdemona written in the text, who has natural purpose, drive and integrity.

The Oliver Theatre is enormous. The last Shakespeare play held here, 2012’s The Comedy of Errors failed to fill the space, trying to make up what it lacked in humour with an overly elaborate set. This is not an issue with Othello. The communication of the language is simple and effective, and therefore easy to understand by all of the audience members. Vicki Mortimer’s design plays with the vastness of the stage, as pokey box- rooms lit with nasty strip lighting are wheeled on, thus narrowing the audience’s focus into a tiny area of the space and creating a heightened sense of claustrophobia that fits with the play’s impossibly narrow time-frame. At times all of the set is removed, leaving you staggered at the true depth of the space, symbolic of the scope of the military operation that Othello is managing.

This Othello is another example of what will be Hytner’s legacy: making theatre accessible to all and is an example of the most effective type of Shakespeare production; one in which you forget the actors are speaking a four hundred year old language. Hytner currently has a track record of directing excellent productions, and it looks like he will leave the National Theatre in 2015 on an all- time- high.

Othello will be broadcast live to two hundred and fifty UK cinemas and many more worldwide on 26September 2013. For more information, visit www.ntlive.comOthello is running at the Olivier Theatre until 18August 2013. For more information and tickets, see the National Theatre’s 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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Shipwrecked: Emily Taaffe takes on a Shakespeare trilogy

Posted on 27 June 2012 by Marése O'Sullivan

With only five years having passed since her professional stage début at the Liverpool Everyman, Irish actress Emily Taaffe has since taken the acting world by storm. She has performed as Irina in Three Sisters at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, as Daphne in the National Theatre’s adaptation of Terry Pratchett’s Nation and as Abigail in The Crucible at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. But treading the boards as three of the Bard’s lead characters in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Shipwrecked Trilogy, she thinks, will be the most challenging of all.

It all began at the age of 13 when Taaffe joined her local youth theatre. She went on to study drama and theatre at Trinity College Dublin. Her involvement with her university’s drama society, Players, encouraged her to firmly set her sights on an acting career, and she had soon secured a place at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art.

“I applied to [postgraduate] drama school and was lucky enough to get in,” she smiles. “I’m really glad I chose to go to LAMDA. I had a lot of instincts and quite a bit of experience from being at Trinity. What was nice about Trinity was that I worked on all the aspects of theatre: I’d done stage management, as well as a bit of writing and directing, so I’d seen how everything worked. But LAMDA gave me technique, I would say, and the tools to be able to approach different parts. It kind of broadened my range in that way.”

Taaffe is now starring as Luciana in The Comedy of Errors, Miranda in The Tempest and Viola in Twelfth Night, at the Roundhouse Theatre. She laughs at the suggestion that there may be a well-kept secret to landing such amazing roles. “I think I’ve been very lucky in the parts that I’ve got. I’ve tried to work as hard as I can and I’m always prepared. You never know when you’re going to get a good audition. I think it’s your job to go in as well prepared as you can, because if you don’t get the job, at least you know you’ve tried your best and you’ve done as much as you can. There could be so many mitigating factors as to whether or not you get a job, so at least give yourself the best odds.”

Her three characters each have their own personal appeal: “Luciana doesn’t want to push her own interests. She’s always worried about other people. So what takes her by surprise is falling in love with, as she thinks, the wrong man – her brother-in-law – and it gives her a moral dilemma. Also, she’s quite prim and proper and that’s always fun to play. With Miranda, it’s a fascinating idea to play someone who hasn’t lived in the world as we know it – she’s never been culturally influenced like we have. Her relationship with [both] her father and Caliban was a really interesting starting point. I think she feels very conflicted between being loyal to her father, but at the same time missing Caliban. Then she starts to rebel. Playing that was great: wondering where that comes from, and how suddenly someone can just go from being very obedient to finding her own voice and her own desires, and following them through. Finally, there’s Viola, who is – for me – the most fascinating. She decides she’s going to disguise herself as a boy, so I had the challenge of playing somebody who’s playing somebody else. It was also interesting for me to think about the reasons why she chooses to keep that pretense up all the way through the play. They’re three very different characters, but they’re all great girls.”

Taaffe first auditioned for director David Farr to get the role of Viola, before meeting Comedy of Errors director Amir Nizar Zuabi to be seen for Luciana, followed by meeting them both for the Trilogy. The most difficult part about bringing each character to life was doing them all at once, the actress says. “I’d never done that before. Normally, when you’re rehearsing a play, you get to focus so completely on one character and one world that you can really immerse yourself in it, whereas we didn’t have that luxury with our three plays. I could have been rehearsing Twelfth Night in the morning and then Comedy of Errors in the afternoon, or a bit of Comedy and then some Tempest. Having to learn to switch between them was quite difficult, because like I said they’re very different. [The entire company] works hard though and we’re all in it together. There’s a great ensemble feel because everybody’s having a very similar experience; we can all support each other.”

Having never performed Shakespeare in front of a live audience before, Taaffe’s priority was to not be daunted by the Bard’s reputation. “I’m just trying to make it sound fresh and natural, sort of like it’s just coming from me rather than from something that’s been learned off.” Exactly how pressured does she feel, acting in some of the most renowned plays ever written, with all the audience’s expectation, particularly during the World Shakespeare Festival? “We began the show in Stratford,” says Taaffe, “and initially I was really intimidated. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t. It’s the Royal Shakespeare Company. You look at the women who’ve played these parts before and you pale a bit, because you just think, ‘Oh my God, how have I sneaked in here?’ That’s really when you sit back and think about it, though, or when you’re talking to your friends, and suddenly you look up and see the RSC’s logo. But, actually, when you’re doing it – the show is a great company of 18 people – it’s just like doing any other play. You’re just always trying to do your best to tell the story and hopefully the audience is enjoying it. That’s really all you can do: try and do justice to the text, and be in [the zone] every night. I think that’s the challenge no matter where you’re doing a play; that’s always the aim.”

She remarks that while the plays may be centuries old, the characters’ emotions are timeless. Her favourite line of her character Viola’s is when she is confessing her true feelings for Duke Orsino, while still dressed as a man:

She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i’ the bud,
Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy,
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief. Was not this love indeed?

“That bit’s just so beautiful,” grins Taaffe. “She’s concealing [herself] and at the same time telling him that she’s totally in love with him.”

Taaffe has several other Shakespearean characters that she’d love to tackle one day, namely Rosalind in As You Like It, Goneril or Regan in King Lear, and Lady Macbeth. “I’d really love to do Juliet too, before I get too old! Although the parts for women in Shakespeare are fewer and they might not necessarily always have as many lines, I think they’re incredibly powerful characters and brilliant to play, because they’re so complex – which, when you consider how long ago they were written, is really amazing.”

The actress says one of the best aspects about working in the theatre is the fact that she gets to collaborate with a team. “The designers, the director, the other cast members and stage management [all come together] to create a show. I just absolutely love this world, so I’d be delighted to carry on doing great theatre. I’ll mix in some film and television; hopefully, I’ll just keep doing interesting and good work. That’s my aim.”

The best advice Taaffe can offer any aspiring actors is to not compare themselves to others and to love what they do. “Remember, everybody’s experience and journey is different, so do what interests you.” She also points out that your passion will shine through during a performance. “Enjoy acting, it’s a great job, and I think if you’re enjoying yourself on stage, it makes it a lot easier for the audience to enjoy themselves. Personally, I really notice when I’m watching a show if someone’s having a good time. So if you work hard and have fun, hopefully a little piece of luck will fall into your lap.”

You can see Emily Taaffe perform in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s What Country Friends Is This? Shipwrecked Trilogy (The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night and The Tempest) at the Roundhouse Theatre, London, until 5 July. The shows will then return to Stratford until 7 October. Tickets are available on the Roundhouse website.

Image credit: Simon Annand

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The Play’s the Thing: Shakespeare for young people

Posted on 12 March 2012 by Jude Evans

If Shakespeare has always been considered an integral part of young people’s learning, then the past few years have seen an even greater push towards a creative approach to Shakespeare, arguably how his work should be known and taught. This is most evident in theatres and their efforts to create productions specifically for younger audiences, for example the Royal Shakespeare Company, Little Angel Theatre, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and the work of Tim Crouch.

Theatre critics and public audiences, especially young people, seem to be acclaiming theatres’ productions as worthwhile and necessary efforts. Michael Billington’s comment that the Young People’s Shakespeare The Comedy of Errors is for everyone “aged 9 to 99″ emphasises this point nicely. But in gearing these productions towards young people, breaking down the script and shortening the play, is there a danger that Shakespeare becomes too simplified? Do we need separate Shakespeares? Or are these productions an integral part of young people’s relationship with the bard?

By condensing Shakespeare’s plays for young people, there is inevitably the charge of stripping the works of their subtleties and nuances – much of what makes Shakespeare Shakespeare. Taking the most famous of the soliloquies as an example, do young people not lose the essence of craft, creativity and the sheer power of dramatic language by stripping “To be, or not to be” to its bare bones? In making the plays more accessible and watchable, perhaps we are doing a disservice to young people. Why does there need to be a division between Shakespeare productions for young people and a theatre’s usual output? Surely there are lots of ways to make the latter exist for the consumption of both younger and older audience members. Indeed, many theatres already make this possible.

Then what about the flipside of the coin? Perhaps it is necessary to break down the plays to a point which is seemingly on a level with young people. Rather than seeing the productions as simplifying or stripping the plays of their subtleties, they serve to draw out themes, emphasise key lines and ultimately make them understandable and accessible, and provide their audiences with a window into the world of Shakespeare.

The most prominent and striking elements of these productions are the playful, creative and physical devices, among which are tap dancing (Comedy), puppetry (The Tempest), and music devised and played by the acting company. Their function is, usually, two-fold: an entertainment device, and a means by which character and language can be conveyed. Through these elements, Shakespeare productions for young people demonstrate how Shakespeare can be played with, presented and thought about imaginatively, and offer ways in which young people might creatively approach Shakespeare themselves.

I have asked more questions than I have answered, precisely because I am undecided on this matter. With the tragedies and late plays, the most complex and nuanced of all, often taking centre stage, I am left with the question: what can these productions really do for young people which others can’t?

Image credit: Marie Il

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