Advert
Advert

Tag Archive | "Tom Morris"

Tags: , , , ,

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Barbican Centre

Posted on 13 February 2014 by Daniel Harrison

A Midsummer Night's Dream Barbican Centre
Sometimes taking your seat as an audience member can be a bit of a turgid affair: the inevitable apologising as you crunch onto someone’s toe, or give your neighbour a sharp elbow to the ribs as you attempt to take some layers off. Not so at Tom Morris’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which sees the Barbican’s auditorium become a bustling hive of activity, as cast feed lines to the audience and exchange banter and quips. Even the poor usher forced to wave the laminated ‘No Photography’ sign is in on the action. This beginning should be read as a sign for things to come, of a performance throbbing with energy, wit and exuberance.

This is a Bristol Old Vic and Handspring Puppet Company production, and the puppetry is very much at the heart of the performance. It is a vital element of the show’s ecosystem. Old paraphernalia from a garden shed are thrust together in a flurry to create movement, life and narrative. Oberon and Titania dominate the space, formed by a giant head and hand, and a sort of peacock tail respectively. The puppetry succeeds in being both haunting and playful, and maintains the whimsy and mysticism of the piece that I believe Shakespeare intended. The puppetry is complemented delightfully with the multi-functional planks, which create a variety of sensations and sounds: raindrops, feelings of intimacy and separation, as well as a fun use of the Greek Chorus. Impressive also is how they are used to form a rising sun, thus signalling the end of this particular midsummer night.

Full credit to the creative team therefore? Well, almost. I couldn’t help feeling that this mesmerising aesthetic was undermined slightly by costume choices that made the cast resemble a cross between an episode of Balamory and the opening of the grouse shooting season. Twee and a little irritating if truth be told, but there to prop up the folksy, acoustic feel I guess.

The performances are also very strong. There is highly efficient work from the ensemble, and both pairs of loved-up couples are likeable and engaging. The night belongs to Miltos Yerolemou however. Yerolemou provides a unique representation of Bottom. His Greek heritage is milked for ultimate comic effect, and he deliberately performs the role to delicious levels of hamminess. In this production, Bottom more than lives up to his name, and an inspired transformation into an ass is as funny as it is unexpected – not easy to achieve, bearing in mind the play is so well-known.

At almost three hours, A Midsummer Night’s Dream does feel a little overdrawn for a modern audience, and risks becoming self-indulgent. A bit of ruthless cutting (including in the players’ scene at the end) would have homed in on the comedy and spectacle created – and almost sustained – throughout. Didn’t someone once say that brevity is the soul of wit? That said, a highly charged and remarkably fresh production. A treat.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is playing at the Barbican Centre until 15 February. For more information and tickets, see the Barbican Centre 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.

More Posts

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Posted on 08 March 2013 by Eleanor Turney

DreamThere’s an awful lot to like about Tom Morris’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and a fair amount that doesn’t quite work. On balance, the show is a great one, with enough beautiful moments and clever devices to invoke the magic of the fairy world that impinges on the lives of us mortals. And yet, it feels rather as though Morris has thrown all his thoughts at the show and then not stripped any away again – it’s a slightly messy set of ideas, some of which are not seen through or allowed to reach their potential.

Some of this mess is glorious – witty, visually spectacular and often laugh-out-loud funny. Bottom (Miltos Yerolemou) is one of the funniest – and most literal – I’ve seen. Yerolemou plays the part with gusto and, along with the other mechanicals, is extremely funny. However, there are other bits of the show that I really didn’t like. The verse-speaking often feels overblown and heavy, frequently prone to unnecessary stresses and odd pauses; it is jarring to hear and feels as though some odd directorial decisions have been made.

And then we come to the puppets. This production is Morris’s first collaboration with Handspring Puppet Company since War Horse, and the puppets are an integral part of the show. Some of them are, predictably, wonderful. The fairies are particularly lovely, a nice mixture of malevolence and mischief, and make perfect sense as other-worldly beings. The giant heads used to portray Titania (Saskia Portway) and Oberon (David Ricardo Pearce) don’t always work for me; you can see the human manipulators throughout, which I found rather distracting. Perhaps operators who fade into the background, foregrounding the puppets themselves, would have allowed them to truly shine. Here, we get both human actors and the puppets, which is slightly confusing. They are effective as representations of the power that the fairies exert over the humans, but this idea is not really developed. It does resurface right at the end when the gorgeous, giant wooden figures turn the lovers into their puppets where it is a striking visual image, for sure, but not necessarily one that adds anything to the play.

Nowhere is this sense of confusion clearer than in the decision to have the four lovers also each have a miniature puppet-version of themselves. Again, one doesn’t know where to look: are we supposed to be watching the (fantastic) human actors interacting with each other, or to block out their acting and only use their voices to give life to the puppets? It was not at all clear why these puppets were onstage. Were they supposed to represent the inner life selves of the lovers? Perhaps. But why, then, are they completely dispensed with in the second half? Often cradled like children or dolls by the actors in question, it is then weirdly creepy when Hermia (a stormingly fierce Akiya Henry) and Lysander (a pleasingly louche Alexander Felton) swap puppets when they settle down to sleep. In fact, there are parts where plain planks of wood are used to rather more effect than some of the puppets. This is not to disparage the puppets, which were beautiful objects, but rather to praise Vicki Mortimer’s design, which uses planks of varying sizes to become trees, musical instruments and hounds.

The cast not only interact fabulously well with their wooden cast members but are also  uniformly brilliant actors. Henry’s Hermia is the standout for me, particularly during the fight scene, but Naomi Cranston’s Helena charts an impressive course from weedy to powerful, too. All of the Mechanicals play their parts with gleeful abandon; they are ridiculously over the top and all the funnier for it. Colin Micheal’s put-upon Quince is a delight, and Saikat Ahamed gets a lot of laughs as a non-English-speaking Snug. Stealing the Mechanicals’ show, though, is David Emmings’s Snout: his lop-sided Wall is utterly brilliant. The human-human interactions are beautifully played and excellently directed.

The second half is much punchier than the first, which occasionally feels baggy. As the madness of the woods takes hold of the characters, the play comes into its own: the magic begins to come alive properly and it becomes uproariously funny. Overall, it’s a very funny Dream, and one that will stick in the mind. I spent most of the second half giggling and left thoroughly contented. It’s a visually gorgeous production, with perhaps a few too many puppets. There were times (mainly when jellyfish appeared, for no discernible reason) when this Dream really was beyond the wit of man to tell what dream it was, and others when it was tender, clever and hilarious. A production that touches on the good, the bad and the odd.

A Misdummer Night’s Dream is at Bristol Old Vic until 4 May. For more information and tickets please visit BOV’s website.

Photo: Simon Annand.

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney is the Managing Editor of A Younger Theatre, as well as a freelance journalist, writer and editor. She has written for The Guardian, The Stage, The FT and Ideas Tap, and worked for the Poetry Society and the British Council.

More Posts - Website

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Bristol

Posted on 25 February 2013 by Eleanor Turney

Tom Morris’s new production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream marks his first collaboration with Handspring puppet company since War Horse. Eleanor Turney caught up with Akiya Henry (Hermia) and Alex Felton (Lysander) to find out what audiences can expect from the show.

MSND photo 1

Think of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and what comes to mind? Fairies, love and happy endings, probably. It is one of the less ambiguous of Shakespeare’s comedies, and potentially one of the filthiest. Actors Akiya Henry and Alex Felton, tell me that this production is going to be “a magical, sexual joyride, with puppets”. Henry is clear that Dream is described as “a sexually charged comedy”, which explains its 12+ recommendation. Felton tells me that it was “great to dig up the filthy stuff, it makes it immediate – everyone can relate to love and sex”. That’s not to say that Henry and Felton don’t see the more serious side to the play, too. Felton continues: “This stuff is part of why it’s so popular – it touches on such eloquent stuff about love as well as the silly stuff”. Henry concurs: “It’s a magical adventure that really focuses on the relationship of the human condition and love”.

I speak to the two actors in their lunch break in the last week of rehearsals before A Midsummer Night’s Dream opens, and it sounds as though they are having a wonderful time. “Tom [Morris, Artistic Director of Bristol Old Vic] allows us to just create things,” continues Henry. “He makes a very safe place to play – the creative team is very brave and fearless, and makes you try things you’d never normally consider. He lets you jump in at the deep end. It’s like coming in every day to an adventure playground.” They may be having fun now, but Henry and Felton both stress that learning to work with puppets has been a steep learning curve. “It was,” says Henry, “entirely new! Thank goodness we had a really invaluable week solely on the puppetry – the guys working with us, from Handspring, have dedicated their whole lives to this and have so much expertise to pass on – we’re trying to learn enough of a thing that takes a lifetime to master to do their puppets justice on stage.” Felton describes it as “a crazy, lovely journey to discover your relationship to the puppet and to animate it, and to see how it connects to the audience or to another actor”.

Both actors namecheck Little Angel’s A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings as showing them what can be done with puppets. “to see [the show] in action was a huge learning curve – it’s such a humble way of storytelling; you put yourself into something else purely to tell the story,” says Felton. Henry agrees: “One of the lessons you learn is just basic trust – as an actor you come into the rehearsal room and you have to trust the director and your fellow actors, that’s a given. To then have to really think about trusting this object, too… you look at it and it looks like a piece of wood, and you have to make it come to life and the only way that happens is if you really believe it. A Very Old Man highlighted how much you have to invest and trust in it.”

It helps, of course, that this is not Director Tom Morris’s first collaboration with Handspring: he directed War Horse at the National Theatre, which has since gone on to storm the West End and Broadway. However, both actors are keen to point out that Morris’s approach as a director is to start from scratch every time. “The great thing about working with Tom is that everything he works on, even a revival, he starts as if it’s a brand new piece. He sees it as a new piece, new people, new projects, so there is no pressure to compare to a previous production,” says Henry. She is full of praise for how Morris works, too: “He really works had to make sure that everyone has a brilliant experience. What’s been really lovely in the rehearsal room is that he has a way of making you feel like it’s a complete collaboration – he uses the word ‘ensemble’ a lot and makes everyone feel part of putting the show together. You can really tell when you see a show that everyone is connected, everyone is important.” Felton is equally enthusiastic: “He’s a dream. We all adore him. He’s very nurturing. God knows how, but he’s got this production out of us without us really noticing! It never felt like an effort, really, which takes a huge amount of skill from the director.”

Both actors seems very at home in Bristol, too. Bristol Old Vic is very much a theatre on the up at the moment, re-establishing itself firmly on the theatre scene after its refurb and a rocky few years, before Morris and Executive Director Emma Stenning took the helm. Felton has preformed all over the country recently, and says “Bristol has been my favourite city. It’s got such a buzz, a bit like Berlin, like Britain’s Berlin. There is such a creative vibe, so many creative people and artists.” Henry, who is an associate artists of BOV, describes the city as “a place that nurtures new talent, that allows you to adventure into the unknown. Bristol, like Germany and some other European places, has a fearlessness in the presentation of storytelling. Working here, you just feel like you’re at home. It’s a joyous place to be.”

As a fairly new resident of this part of the world, I have to agree: Bristol is a city with more creative things going on that you would think possible in a city of 500,000 people. Both actors refer to its “buzz”, and Bristol Old Vic with its imaginative programme of work plays a large part in creating and sustaining that vibe. A Midsummer Night’s Dream sounds like another reason to keep Bristol firmly on the cultural map. Leave your under-12s behind and get your tickets.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be at Bristol Old Vic from 28 February until 4 May. For more information and tickets visit the BOV’s website.

 

 

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney

Eleanor Turney is the Managing Editor of A Younger Theatre, as well as a freelance journalist, writer and editor. She has written for The Guardian, The Stage, The FT and Ideas Tap, and worked for the Poetry Society and the British Council.

More Posts - Website

Comments (0)

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Review: War Horse

Posted on 17 January 2013 by Jake Orr

War Horse New London Theatre

There is no denying that War Horse has found a place within the hearts of the British people. Now in its sixth year, including a worldwide tour, this National Theatre production shows the possibilities when hard work and love is put to the test. Set during the First World War, War Horse sees Joey, a strong and beautiful riding horse being reared by Albert (Luke Jerdy) until he is volunteered for the war effort. Joey finds himself serving England before being caught by the Germans and put to work. Albert meanwhile pines for his beloved horse and runs away from home in a quest to be reunited on the front line. Michael Morpurgo’s novel has been adapted well for the stage, although it can’t be said it was always the case.

For this reviewer it is not the first time that Joey has appeared on the New London Theatre stage. Back in 2009, I reviewed War Horse and found the script weak. Nick Stafford’s adaption was, and in many ways still is, thin, with the story stretched out. It’s a story of companionship and of crossing boundaries within the war, but once again I’ve left the theatre feeling a coldness. This indifference stems from Morpurgo’s story, one that I struggle to relate to, and even if I look at the themes of the piece: love, hope, resilience and struggle. I still find little room for the piece in my theatrical memory. Something doesn’t stick, the story doesn’t move me or give me a sense of the journey that the characters are meant to have gone on.

In many ways the production is charming, especially the first half which has a gentle and rural quality to it. The opening is particularly striking, not for its dramatic power but rather for its subtly and care. As for the puppetry work, there is no faulting Handspring Puppet Company for their craft at bringing alive the dynamics of these creatures. Naturally, the puppeteers are to be championed as the stars of the shows. After a second watch, perhaps my disengagement with War Horse comes from not connecting to this central character of a horse. Joey is used as a form of marketing for the National Theatre, attending events, staging mini spectacles on the roof of the National Theatre, and in television commercials, that instead of a spectacle of craft, I see money and marketing. If this is the case, then it is sad for me that I can’t sink into the magic of the production without seeing the profitability of this central character.

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with War Horse being a success at the box office. Funding for the arts is entering yet again another perilous moment under the current government, and whilst the Arts Council England might continuously put the National Theatre onto the pedestal for its entrepreneurship and business sense, War Horse has allowed for other works to find their feet through its subsidy. There certainly is nothing wrong with that! I just wish that the joy of seeing a live stage production with realistic and beautiful puppets would linger longer than the short walk to the exit of the theatre.

As for the cast, they are all suitably talented. Jerdy makes a fine Albert, and is supported by the ensemble considerably well. Yet again I find myself frustrated at the role of Friedrich Müller (Richard Cant) whose shift from stern German officer to realising the affects of war and attempting to save the horses, rambles and leaves the second half lacking in dynamic. The constant switching of languages, whilst reflecting those caught in this war, does become tiresome. It feels very heavy, and I’d even been inclined to say it becomes a tad trite and boring. However all is not lost. As a whole, a second viewing of War Horse does reveal the extensive work that has gone into tightening the script and to refining the staging. Directors Tom Morris and Marianne Elliott have created a performance that captures the hearts of those who flock to see the show, and whilst it doesn’t completely break through my stoney heart, it clearly affected the rest of the audience.

Theatre should do its best to offer its audience a gift, something to captivate them during the show and last for days afterwards. War Horse clearly has a mass-market appeal, and with the increasing number of tours around the world it is clear that Joey will keep on galloping for many years to come. It might leave me cold, but the piece has certainly evolved and grown since 2009. It doesn’t leave me a parting gift of wonder, but other audiences have found much within Morris and Elliott’s direction and the work of Handspring Puppet Company. It clearly has captured British hearts, and who am I to get in the way of such a force? If I liked all I saw I’d feel dejected by the very thing I love – the magic of theatre. So War Horse, may you continue to gallop, but don’t expect me to spectate again. We’re just not meant to be together (unlike Albert and Joey, clearly).

War Horse continues its run at the New London Theatre in the West End. For more information and tickets, see the official stage show website of War Horse.

 

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
Pinterest

Comments (0)

Advertise Here
Advertise Here

Join our E-Newsletter

---
Exclusive offers, opportunities and updates from AYT.

---


Supporting: