As a decade of Dromgoole’s artistic directing comes to a close, so too does the Wanamaker stage Shakespeare’s ‘late plays’ that were written for a space such as this one. Starting with Pericles and ending at The Tempest, we now have reached the halfway point in this winter season with the fairly obscure Shakespeare ‘tragedy’ Cymbeline directed by Sam Yates.
Of course for the winter, the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company have decided to stage one of Shakespeare’s most festive plays (only second to Twelfth Night for seasonal appropriateness). When I first learnt I was going to see their Winter’s Tale in the cinema, I immediately thought about how frequently this Shakespeare play must be put on in winter – the title makes it too tempting not too. But then I also considered how this would be not only the first time I would have gone to a live cinema screening, but also my first viewing of the play.
When reading it, this late work of the Bard’s has always been a particular favourite of mine. Perhaps it’s the fantastical world and stage magic involved; perhaps it’s that doggone bear; but I think most of all it has to do with the themes that orbit a separated family. Starting with the Leontes, the patriarch of the central family and sole cause of his household’s ruin, his descent into frenzied jealousy always struck me as strangely true. While the ‘pestilence’ Iago feeds Othello is dramatically delicious, most critics think Leontes’ suspicions as sudden and unjustified. Yet that is exactly why I think it works – the character of Leontes shows us just how dangerous our thoughts and insecurities be, turning upstanding kings into brief monsters. Then there is Hermione, who despite the trials (quite literally in fact) she goes through always remains this heroic figure to me. Maybe it’s because she never gets intimidated, or her resolution to stand her case through logic and love, either way she is a memorable character. And then there is perhaps one of my favourite final scenes in a play – the reunion. I think out of all Shakespeare’s ‘tragicomedies’, this one finds the sweetest blend of both.
Having finally seen it, I must say how satisfied I am to see such a well-crafted Victorian version of the play. Even with Judi Dench and Kenneth Branagh, I had trepidation that the stage would not live up to script and that’s why it is not a popular play of the Bard’s. Of course it did meet the hype, and I’m all the more chuffed. I won’t go into much detail, but touches such as Hermione and Polixines ice skating were nice additions to the play. I do believe that I will find even better Winter’s Tales in the future (I’ll see how the Sam Wanamaker one is in March first!), but I’m glad I got one final dash of the Shakespearean Christmas spirit before I head back to the books.
Despite two productions of Romeo and Juliet having already been performed at King’s College in under a year, John Moore and Matt Hodson still aim to make their director’s mark (and debut) with the ‘story of more woe’. Yet this time around there’s a clear distinction with the other productions, as their R+J is an abbreviation for Romeo and Julian, not Juliet. This time around, Romeo and Julian serves a homosexual reading of the play that stands it apart from previous productions in its clear message.
Pericles holds a strange place in the Shakespeare canon: it’s one of the only plays not in the First Folio; yet despite its obscurity, it was one of the biggest blockbusters at the Globe back in the day. I must admit that when I first read Pericles I thought it was an odd jumbled mess full of deus ex machinas and dangling plot threads. So why was it so popular? Now that I’ve seen it at the Sam Wanamaker, I can see why!
The staging is as rapid as the Mediterranean Sea it is set on, as the cast manage to whisk through island after island without delay. Meanwhile, Dominic Dromgoole uses giant sails and singing wine glasses to bring the storm scenes alive. And with so many characters, most actors doubled to create some fascinating parallels. Changes like the lascivious King Antiochus to the chuckling King Simonides (Simon Armstrong), or the lords that transform into the comic trio Pandar, Bawd and Bolt (Sam Cox/Kirsty Woodward/Dennis Herdman), are clever insights that shape the world of the play. Of course, the heroes of the play (the ever-reliable Jessica Baglow and James Garnon as Marina and Pericles) fill in for the Ulysses archetype that inspired this story.
While the play has its faults, and the collaboration between Shakespeare and Wilkins pulls the play in different directions (quite literally), I can see exactly why this play appealed to the audiences of the Bard’s day. With a plethora of characters and costume changes, larger-than-life storms, exotic locations, and some romance on the side, Pericles was designed as a spectacle that lends itself far more to the playhouse than the page.
With scandals involving Prime Ministers and Miss Piggies, sex being up for sale, and the rise of the television preacher; it’s no wonder that Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure has crawled from obscurity and resurfaced as a frequently produced play in the last few years. In London alone, three major productions have been put on at the Barbican, Young Vic and Globe, and each one with a starkly different direction from the last. It’s almost impossible not to compare the Measure for Measures of 2015; especially the two at the Young Vic and The Globe which have been put on at the same time. With one critique, I hope to tackle both versions of this problem play and see just how they – pardon the pun – ‘measure’ up.
It is no debate that Justin Kurzel has crafted something wicked in his Macbeth: this is a savage Scotland where Shakespeare’s words flourish under a camera and cast that mingles cinema with sin. If you wish to know my thoughts on this Macbeth solely as a film, I suggest you read Jack Blackwell’s review as I share his opinion. My observation however, was that for a film so loyal to the setting of the Red King, Kurzel is not always faithful to the Bard himself, and is often open to remaking the plot altogether. This sparked a curiosity in me about this bizarre sub-genre that resides in film and has only continued to grow in popularity: The Shakespeare Adaptation.
It’s the end of term for me, and as another year passes by, another barrage of productions emerges about Shakespeare’s most iconic star-crossed lovers. Romeo and Juliet is certainly one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays, and having seen it more than any other play myself, it’s hard not to love the tale as old as time. And so, I watch my second student production of the play done at King’s, though this one is done as an independent student endeavour by Director and Producer Benjaman Lockwood rather than from any theatrical society.