Lazarus Theatre Company is known for its imaginative and visually stunning interpretations of classical texts, involving music and movement and a strong sense of ensemble. Returning to Tristan Bates Theatre with a rep of Shakespeare’s Troilus & Cressida and Coriolanus, the company respond to the WW1 centenary by exploring how people inhabit a world at war. Using very different stylistic approaches we are shown both sides of the coin, a world of innocence and love, and a world of brutality and risk.
Troilus & Cressida shows a playful Troy celebrating Paris’ birthday and the wealth and fortune of a country feeling superior and untouchable. Set as a loud, colourful party Lazarus explores a very different stylistic choice which is incredibly exciting and supports the different notes and colours of the text. It’s visually stimulating and imaginative and some scenic images are hauntingly interesting to watch. It resonates Greek drama and the strong ensemble work supports Troilus and Cressida’s tragic love and the build up to war and disaster that evidently destroys the party fun and set.
Coriolanus shows a world of honour and destruction, power and manipulation. Rome is at the end of war and war hero Coriolanus returns to receive honour and glory, but instead mutiny fires and the once beloved hero is exiled, only to join the enemy’s forces to destroy Rome. The play explores the dark nature of man and how power pollutes and leads us to do unspeakable crimes. Using masking tape on the floor the play is stripped of any unnecessary design and reflects the rawness of the Rome Coriolanus inhabits.
As a company Lazarus has created a sense of ensemble that isn’t often mastered and the actors are constantly supporting each other throughout, driving the story as a unity, creating beautiful stylistic imagery. The design in both productions not only offers a clear and provocative touch to the text, it also sparks a whole reign of associations and imagery that makes the at times very simple staging extremely powerful to watch. It is an ensemble piece, and we sometimes lose deeper character work as both plays have been cut to the core, stripping both of a sense of character journey, and relationships are lost at times. That said, Nicholas Farr has an infectious charm and presence, and Prince Plockey plays Coriolanus with fiery intensity and a strong rooting in both character and story. Matt Butcher shows great range and his Pandarus is always fresh and impulsive, not afraid of playing many different notes in text and tone.
Director Ricky Dukes masters a grip on the role of ensemble as well as a rare playfulness that opens up often stiff classical texts and shines a colourful new light on what then is transformed to something very exciting. The choices are clear and thought-provoking and the two plays provide an interesting rep for a year where war is at the height of every theatre programme. Stuart Glover’s light design is atmospheric and with Neil McKeown’s sound the imagery is striking and transports us to two very different worlds and experiences. It’s a shame that the big cuts result in a rushed storyline – we lose details that ultimately create the characters’ and stories’ finesse, and at times it’s hard to connect with them because of this. It feels slightly like a summary of what can be detailed and very rich plays, but that said Lazarus has created a very exciting night of re-imagined classical theatre that provides superb visual art and a brilliant taste of the genius of Shakespeare. It’s a company worth following as they never cease to surprise with bold choices, bravery and an ensemble believing in the importance of collaboration.
Our World at War is playing at Tristan Bates Theatre until 6 September. For more information and tickets, see the Tristan Bates Theatre website.