Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Shakespeare x 2

Long time, no blog. Spent much of the weekend down in the suburbs for my mother’s birthday do (and much of the week beforehand fretting over the details of said do) but it all came together nicely.

Last week was very Shakespeare-heavy. On Monday I went to see the RSC’s Antony and Cleopatra, now at the Novello. It was a gripping production with some strong performances, but the play itself I found problematic. W H Auden said that if he could save just one of Shakespeare's plays, it would be this one, but I really don’t see the appeal. Shakespeare’s Egyptian Queen behaves for the most part like a spoiled teenage girl in the midst of an adolescent passion; this isn’t a woman I understood or cared about, despite Harriet Walter’s best attempt to give her a certain dignity. Patrick Stewart made a highly charismatic Antony, but actually I thought John Hopkins’ Caesar made an equally strong impression. This production came to London trailing glowing reviews; I'm usually wary of buying into such hype, but the critical reception had been so unanimously warm I was rather excited about having secured tickets. And inevitably my expectations were inflated as a result. And while this A & C didn’t exactly leave me reeling, it certainly had its strengths - I could see what all the fuss was about, despite the fact that the play itself is not destined to become one of my favourites.

On Thursday I went back to the Hammersmith Lyric with website Clair to see the new Kneehigh production of Cymbeline. Now, as I may have mentioned once or twice in the past, I absolutely adored their production of Angela Carter’s Nights At The Circus. And this new work proved to be equally dazzling and inventive, if not quite so moving. Scrapping most of Shakespeare’s verse, but retaining the framework of the plot, Emma Rice’s production was overflowing with inspired details. As with Nights, there was much live music coupled with a strong sense of warmth and wonder – plus the sight of the tiny Hayley Carmichael, as the tormented Imogen, disguised as a hoodie called Ian. Her performance was so sweet and endearing - perky without being irritating (not easy to do, I suspect). Given the liberties it takes with the text, I suspect it’s a love it or hate kind of show, but if you know Kneehigh and like what they do you should definitely try and catch it while it's in London. It’s quite brilliant.

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