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Friday, 20 November 2015

Amy Wilcockson is a 19 year old English student at The University of Nottingham, who is a frequent visitor to the RSC and regularly uses the RSC Key scheme to attend productions, the most recent being Shakespeare’s Henry V.

After studying Shakespeare’s History plays last year, it seemed too good of an opportunity to miss seeing (in my opinion!) the most powerful of the Histories performed in the home of Shakespeare himself. Directed by the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Artistic Director, Gregory Doran, and starring Alex Hassell in a reprise of his role as Hal/King Henry V, the production was truly a timeless and stunning experience.

The character of King Henry V has traditionally been seen as an immensely conflicted character; Shakespeare’s characterisation altering seamlessly from a murderous beast threatening the citizens of Harfleur, and committing atrocious war crimes, to the picture of an angelic prince wooing his love the next. Alex Hassell, last seen at the RSC as Biff Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, here gave an immensely powerful performance as the young king, and the famous speeches were delivered with true feeling and heart. Yet, Hassell also successfully managed to create a mysterious, brooding king, only occasionally revealing the flashes of hot-tempered Prince Hal he epitomised so well in the RSC’s previous productions of Henry IV Parts 1 & 2.

The character of the Chorus, so central to the play, was played with gusto and humour by Oliver Ford Davies. The Chorus’ opening monologue, made it explicitly clear that the world of this production was indeed played out on a stage, ‘within this wooden O’. This was made explicitly clear through the initial layout of the set, designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis, as if halfway through a changeover or rehearsal, which added a further sense of metatheatricality to the performance. Later on in the production, the lighting and set showed their further diversity; as the thrust stage appeared at one moment tilled like earth, and the next flaming like lava with the intensity of battle and the power of Henry’s speeches.

It is well worth noting the hilarious performances of Joshua Richards (Bardolph), Christopher Middleton (Nym) and Anthony Byrne (Pistol), as the reluctant soldiers entering into war. Their low antics added a sense of light relief to the sometimes brutal reality of the war raging around them.

The contrast between the primping Dauphin, played by Robert Gilbert, and the rest of the French Court, compared to the mighty English, was also played to the maximum through the wonderfully anachronistic costumes. From punk rock warriors with crested helmets to aviator jackets and medieval armour, the costumes were a joy to behold. A range of fabrics and styles all combined through the innovative use of blue for the French, versus a deep blood red worn by the English, creating a sense of unity, yet individuality and timelessness for each character.

Henry V was indeed an immensely powerful performance, culminating in the comedic wooing of Princess Katherine to be Henry’s Queen, thus uniting the warring kingdoms. Staggering from her kiss, Hassell’s Henry is simultaneously detached yet comical, striking yet compelling in his portrayal of this mysterious king. Given five stars by The Telegraph and described as ‘the Shakespearean event of the autumn’, this play is certainly a must-see. For those of you aged 16-25, take advantage of the RSC Key – when world class theatre is available for only £5, it’d be rude to say no!

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Volpone Review

Elliott Wallis is a drama student who lives in Stratford. He attends the RSC regularly taking full advantage of the RSC Key. 

Sir Trevor Nunn returns to the Royal Shakespeare Company with a stunning production of Ben Jonson’s satirical comedy, Volpone. Putting the play in a modern context, with iPhones, iPads and LED screens (in Stephen Brimson Lewis’s sleek, stylish, and minimalist set), shows so obviously how relevant the play is to today.
Henry Goodman is outstanding in the title role. His performance is like a masterclass in acting,
switching so effortlessly from the supposedly dying Volpone, to an Italian salesman, or cockney guard. He has a talent and onstage energy that very few actors have and this production gives him a chance to really impress.

Plotting with Volpone throughout the play is his assistant, Mosca. Orion Lee’s slightly wooden and awkward performance at times feels forced and unnatural, though there are moments later on in the play where the robotic nature of his performance fits with the character and the situation. He shines most during the scenes in the court, but during his scenes with Volpone he is overshadowed by the overwhelming nature of Goodman’s performance, and it feels like he is trying too hard.

There are lots of strong performances from this very talented Company. Annette McLaughlin’s self-obsessed Lady Politic Would-Be (followed around by a small team of assistants and a camera man), and Colin Ryan’s American traveller, Peregrine, are both genius character inventions, and superbly executed. I must also mention the comic performances of Voltore (Miles Richardson), Corbaccio (Geoffrey Freshwater) and Corvino (Matthew Kelly), the three gullible businessmen whom Volpone and Mosca trick into thinking are each Volpone’s heir.

This production shines as the best of the current RSC season, throwing Jonson’s play into the 21st century. With two of Britain’s best, directing and starring in the title role, it couldn’t possibly be anything but brilliant.

There are a limited number of BP £5 tickets left for Volpone. Make sure you grab them before they are gone!  

Friday, 24 July 2015

The Jew of Malta Review

Amy Wilcockson is a 19 year old English student at The University of Nottingham, who took advantage of the RSC Key scheme to attend a performance of Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta in the Swan Theatre.

Having used the RSC Key scheme to see Henry IV Parts I & II and Wendy and Peter Pan, all of which were performed in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, I recently decided it was time to watch a production in the neighbouring Swan Theatre. After much deliberation, due to the strength of this season’s exploration of Shakespeare’s contemporaries, Christopher Marlowe’s A Jew of Malta caught my eye. As a fan of Doctor Faustus, I could not wait to see another of Marlowe’s works – and I was certainly not disappointed.
The Jew of Malta is a comic tragedy and a tragic comedy, a mix of religious hypocrisy, treachery and revenge, assisted by the talented cast, all of which gave immensely strong performances. The Machiavellian Barabas (the Jew of the title), played by Jasper Britton, had the audience in the palm of his hand with his wit and trickery, despite his treacherous actions and eventual sticky end! Lanre Malaolu’s performance as Barabas’ murderous slave Ithamore was similarly a devilish and fiery performance, only equalled by that of Catrin Stewart in the role of Barabas’ daughter Abigail, who finds herself betrayed and revenged upon by her unrepentant, unforgiving father who ultimately causes her – and many other’s – deaths.

Stand-out scenes included the shocking mockery made of Barabas by the Christian rulers of Malta; seizing his wealth, beating him and spitting on him – a condemnation that continued throughout the play, and that undoubtedly provoked the Jew of Malta’s terrible vengeance. The reality of Barabas’ evil nature came with the contest between Don Lodowick and Don Mathias, duelling for Abigail’s hand, ultimately causing both their deaths and beginning the chain reaction of murder and revenge prevalent throughout the rest of the play.

The unforgiving stark set, designed by Lily Arnold, emphasised the play’s harsh messages of racism and revenge, whilst it was simple enough to convey a variety of settings, including a courtesan’s boudoir and a nunnery through the innovative use of props. The trapdoors, pool of water and gangways into the audience from which the actors entered, were all used to create a sense of intimacy and confidence between the actors and onlookers, and indeed I found myself caught up in the tale and wishing the play had lasted for longer! Live music, including the haunting vocals of Anna Bolton and the cast created a sinister and religious atmosphere, aided by the period costumes and religious attire of many of the supporting cast.

Director Justin Audibert, in his debut directorial role at the RSC has overall created an intense and thought-provoking piece of theatre, which retains its relevance today, due to the rise in religious-motivated crimes worldwide, despite it being written over 400 years ago. The RSC strives to bring theatre to new audiences whilst emphasising the relevance of these performances to contemporary play-goers. The Jew of Malta, complete with its puns, asides and dramatic irony, certainly shows Audibert and the RSC have succeeded in this aim. Bringing world-class theatre of this high standard to 16-25 year olds for a minimal price is an incredible idea, and I cannot wait to visit the RSC again. My only problem is deciding which play I want to watch next!

BP £5 tickets are available for The Jew of Malta - book your ticket today.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Othello at the RSC, 8/6/15

Hannah Piercy has just completed her degree in English Literature at Cambridge University. An avid theatre-goer and member of the RSC key scheme, Hannah has written theatre reviews for The Public Reviews, as well as written for and edited the Theatre section of Cambridge’s student newspaper Varsity.

Iqbal Khan’s production of Othello is a delight to watch. To begin a review by commenting on the set might be unusual, but Ciaran Bagnall’s innovative and beautiful design instantly stands out as exceptional. Ciaran Bagnall manages to create both a sparsity and a grandeur appropriate to the physical and emotional qualities of the Venetian setting. There was a visible stir among the audience as Iago (Lucian Msamati) and Roderigo (James Corrigan) stepped onto what appeared to be a rather small, unimpressive gondola, only for the iron grating of the floor to sink several inches, filling with water and bringing the set to life. Ciaran Bagnall’s design is beautiful, with its grand stone arches framing the stage, but it is also flexible and dynamic, and this potential is fully realised by Iqbal Khan’s production. From the Upper Circle, what was particularly impressive was how well Ciaran Bagnall and Iqbal Khan had harnessed the potential beauty the production might have when viewed from above.
Iqbal Khan’s production of Othello is also a delight to watch in a perhaps more surprising sense: it is incredibly funny. Not only Iago and Roderigo’s comic interactions, but Desdemona’s (Joanna Vanderham) witty speeches received peals of laughter. The lively response of the audience matched the liveliness of the performance onstage: a rap battle staged between the Cyprian and Venetian soldiers was particularly memorable, encapsulating the contemporary vivacity the company lend to Shakespeare’s play. Yet, while comic, the rap battle also brought out one of the crucial thematic interests: race.

The decision to cast Lucian Msamati as a black Iago might be expected to diminish Othello’s (Hugh Quarshie) racial isolation, but Iqbal Khan’s production brought this out in other ways. The explicitly racial terms of the rap battle brought the play into vivid proximity with contemporary racial issues. This topical engagement was extended by the emphasis on war. Othello might not be thought of as one of Shakespeare’s most military plays (like, for instance, Coriolanus), but Iqbal Khan thoroughly draws out its potential violence. The inclusion of torture, inflicted first upon a character whose face was hidden, then played out with Othello torturing Iago (another interesting complication to a relationship where Othello is normally the victim), brought a sharp end to the laughter of the first half and made for uncomfortable but powerful viewing. The second half, indeed, developed the tension of the play as both comedy and tragedy: the transition from laughter into psychological disturbance was brought out perfectly by Akintayo Akinbode’s expressive score. Sound is woven into the torture scenes too, as the clicking of a staple gun and the whirring of a drill send shivers down the spine. Iqbal Khan’s production draws out a sense that the horror of the play is not just the corruption of Othello, but the corruption of society in the face of war: a stark and a vital message for today’s audiences to consider.

The subtlety and complexity Iqbal Khan brings to bear upon Othello are fulfilled by wonderful performances throughout the cast. Joanna Vanderham makes an arresting Desdemona: devoted and innocent, yet also witty, lively and strong. Lucian Msamati and Hugh Quarshie were perfect as Iago and Othello, the bond of their shared race complicating the manipulative sway Iago holds over Othello to lend a new dynamic to a pairing well-explored in theatrical history. This version of Othello is simply not to be missed, developing a well-known and well-loved Shakespearean tragedy in a new, sharply contemporary light.

BP £5 tickets are available for Othello. Book your tickets now.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Rebecca Goldsmith is a 16 year old student and member of RSC Key, currently studying for her GCSEs, who recently attended the RSC performance of Death of a Salesman at Stratford-upon-Avon. 

Gregory Doran’s production of Death of a Salesman was stunningly tragic, doing justice to Arthur Miller’s original screenplay through its depiction of the emotional and mental toil of the Great Depression. A flawless cast perfectly delivered their roles, including Antony Sher as father Willy Loman and Alex Hassell as eldest son Biff who previously acted together last year in Henry IV Parts I and II.

As portrayed in this production Willy Loman’s character acted as a personification of the lost American Dream, as he sought to achieve accomplishment, renown and significance to the point of futility, in an era chocked by unemployment and poverty. The final words of the play ‘we’re free’, spoken by Willy’s wife Linda played by Harriet Walter, reflect the imprisonment many felt inside the 1930’s society due to the impossibility of defying insignificance. In the land of the free, ‘freedom’ was redefined as death and escaping the chains of their society where hard work amounted to no real reward.

What particularly struck me whilst watching the play was the astounding visual symbolism achieved by the production. A poignant example of this was during the second act when Willy, entranced in his dream that eldest son Biff will fulfill his aspirations of greatness following Willy’s own firing, sows seeds in the small garden patch outside their house. This sowing of seeds acts as a representation of Willy’s desperate attempts to create prosperity, and despite his careful reading of the instructions nothing grows: reflecting how in the Great Depression, as Willy’s life encapsulates, despite obeying the rules of society and dedicating your life to working, there are no rewards to be reaped and no achievements to be claimed. In addition to this, the barren patch of earth is used later as Willy’s grave revealing how the delusion of his ability to control his fate and achieve greatness lead to his mental deterioration and death.

Having never studied the play before, this production has sparked a new interest in the literature created during the post-Depression era and an irony has occurred to me throughout my research: that a decade so poor and full of disposability and impermanence has produced such rich and powerful texts, many of which have connected with multiple generations and will continue to do so for years to come. 

 Death of a Salesman will be transferring to London to play from the 9 May. If you're aged 16-25 you can get BP £5 tickets for the performance. Follow the link for more information

Monday, 9 February 2015

The RSC Key interviewed Alexander Lass, the Assistant Director of the five star production Oppenheimer, with some questions asked by our RSC Key members. Oppenheimer is playing in the Swan Theatre until 7 March with BP £5 tickets still available. 

What do you enjoy most about being an Assistant Director?Collaborating with the Director I’m assisting, supporting and getting to know talented actors, fulfilling specific responsibilities such as rehearsing the younger actors in an ensemble  - those are some of the potential highlights of the role. On this production, I particularly enjoyed running lines with leading actor John Heffernan who plays Oppenheimer. One afternoon in the RSC's Clapham rehearsal rooms, we went through the entire play, with John as Oppie and me reading all the other parts: quite a marathon. I have also had a whale of a time casting and rehearsing the understudies, a key part of being and Assistant Director here at the RSC. We're looking forward to presenting our work to an audience at the upcoming public understudy run.

What’s the most important role as an Assistant Director in a production?
An Assistant Director needs to adapt to the particular requirements of each production on which he or she works. So the role will vary depending on the Director and the demands of the show. It can involve helping with casting, taking parallel rehearsals, supporting individual actors, being a sounding-board for ideas in and out of the rehearsal room, communicating regularly with other creative and technical departments, attending production meetings, watching performances and feeding back to the director. Assistant Directors often need to tone down their more creative impulses in favour of the logistical, administrative, and strategic. Crucially, an Assistant Director should be a positive presence at all times, displaying a willingness to participate while remaining patient and good-humoured at all times. They should be everywhere and nowhere; prepared for anything but relatively invisible. The ability to make a good brew should not be underestimated, either.

How does one apply for Assistant Director Jobs? Where do you look to find them?
The best place is the Young Vic directors’ network. It is free to join, and they send out regular emails about assisting opportunities, at the Young Vic itself, and at theatres all over the country. It is also good practice to regularly visit the websites of theatres where you might like to assist: Assistant Director Vacancies are often posted on the individual theatre's website, but not widely disseminated elsewhere. Writing speculative letters to theatres and directors is not particularly productive in my experience. That said it was fun to get an email from Sir Richard Eyre a few months ago, even if it was to politely decline my offer to assist him on an upcoming project.

How did you start getting into directing what was the process to get to where you are today?
I've loved theatre since I was a kid, starting off as an actor at school and university, and with the National Youth Theatre in the holidays. I tried out directing at school and really enjoyed it - my production of Dealer’s Choice won a prize adjudicated by Phyllida Lloyd. Then at university I acted in a bunch of plays and began to realise I loved discovering plays through rehearsal was what excited me the most about making theatre. I directed two plays - The Relapse and Donkey’s Years - and wanted to keep going so I applied to drama school. I was offered a place at LAMDA, and had an inspiring year on the directing course under the tutelage of Stephen Jameson. Towards the end of the course, we came up to the RSC here in Stratford for a weekend of workshops on rhetoric, text, voice, movement, and music. We were also invited to keep the company informed about our work if we were interest in being considered for assistant director opportunities in the future. After LAMDA, I was a trainee director at the Orange Tree Theatre in Sam Walter’s penultimate year. I learned about the joys of making theatre in-the-round by assisting a variety of directors, and I got involved in all departments of the building including education, literary, and youth theatre. The year culminated in a festival of new plays - unrivalled landscape - which I co-directed and developed with the Orange Tree’s Writers Group. Next, I was associate director on Threeway and Holes for the invisible dot ltd at the Edinburgh Fringe. I spent the first part of last year in New York City (my mother is American and I am a UK/US dual national) assisting Davis McCallum on London Wall for the Mint Theater, a production which was nominated for a Drama Desk and a Lucile Lortel award. It was also broadcast on American television as the inaugural “theatre close-up” programme for PBS. I returned from New York to be Associate Director on the London revival of Holes at the Arcola Theatre tent, and during the run I commissioned, developed, cast and directed Scenes on the Sand, six new one act plays presented at three late night performances on the Holes set. Shortly thereafter, I was invited to interview for the upcoming round of Assistant Director positions at the RSC, and after meeting with Angus Jackson, was asked to be his assistant on Oppenheimer.

Friday, 30 January 2015

One of our Oxford University Student Ambassadors, Chloe Cheung, has written a a review on our current five star, Swan Theatre production of Oppenheimer
BP £5 tickets are available for all performances. Oxford University students can get £17 coach trip tickets on the 18 February.

‘Destroyer of worlds’: Oppenheimer at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon
 by Chloe Cheung

Readers are advised that this review makes details of the plot explicit. 

The threat of nuclear war between the Cold War superpowers plunged the latter half of the Twentieth Century into some of its darkest days.  Tom Morton-Smith’s gripping new play Oppenheimer now brings the man behind the atomic bomb to the stage. 

Immediately, we are plunged into the zeitgeist: at a Communist fundraiser party, concerned guests decry the spread of fascism in Europe.  We hear how German chemists have discovered the processes of atomic fission, with possibly devastating consequences for the Allies.

At Einstein’s recommendation, the US government decides to take action. J Robert Oppenheimer is picked to lead the top-secret weapons development programme: Project Manhattan is born.  

The production is filled with striking moments; credit is due to director Angus Jackson.  Oppenheimer succinctly explains the basics of the theoretical physics involved through clear, lecture-style explanations scrawled on blackboards, so even non-scientists will be able to follow the physics that underpins the play. Most memorably, cleverly utilised projections onto the stage floor demonstrate how added neutrons destabilise uranium to the point of explosion. 

Against the backdrop of rising global political turmoil, Oppenheimer is in the ascendant, rising rapidly to the top ranks of the military.  John Heffernan’s performance as J Robert Oppenheimer is the most compelling, as befits the most complex character in the play. Heffernan encapsulates the contradictions within Oppenheimer’s self: his arrogance, optimism, ambition, weakness and, ultimately, his self-loathing at what he has created. 

In the play, Oppenheimer boldly states that the existence of nuclear weapons would eradicate all future wars.  With hindsight, though, the audience is all too aware of the horrific consequences of nuclear war.

Oppenheimer raises some of the most fundamental questions in our society today about science: the limits of ethics, the justification (if any) for use of nuclear weapons in wartime, how we exploit scientific advances for destructive and dangerous purposes.  The nuclear question is still brutally relevant in our post-Cold War world.  

Oppenheimer is now playing in the Swan Theatre until 7 March.