Macbeth, Swan Theatre, 2011.
(This is possibly a very self-indulgent post normal service will resume again very soon!)
This is going to be more of a list, and maybe a chance for me to catalogue a promise I made to myself sitting on a coach on a Saturday morning many years ago, on my very first trip to the RSC, to see my first Shakespeare play.
I probably vowed many things when I was 17, not to have kids, not even get married, and to be a millionaire all seem quite likely at that age. But this is the only one that has stuck. The vow was to see all of Shakespeare’s plays performed as I had been captivated by them since school. I loved that over 500 years human nature had not changed, plus I adored the challenge of puzzling out the meanings of those beautiful words and expressions.
So far I have achieved (and it’s not a very long list, to my shame!)
Comedy of Errors – RSC Stratford 1984
I must confess I had no idea what was going on. There was case of mistaken identity and things descended from the sky which I thought was very exciting. Not having experienced anything other than very regional theatre at that point. But it looked beautiful and it obviously didn’t put me off.
Macbeth – Riverside Studios Hammersmith
Helen Mccrory was one of the witches, it must have been one of her first roles. Macbeth was a tv detective, Roy Marsden? I just remember quite a lot of scaffolding and a very red set.
The Merchant of Venice. Phoenix Theatre 1990 – dir: Peter Hall
Dustin Hoffman was Shylock, Geraldine James was Portia. Dustin Hoffman’s Shylock was definitely more New York hustler than 17th century Venetian. And, as Barry Norman used to say, why not?
There was then a massive hiatus where I think I was more interested in dance rhythms than iambic pentameter. Although I did sneak in some Wilde, but back to the count.
Hamlet – West Yorkshire Playhouse 2002
Christopher Ecclestone as Hamlet and Maxine Peake as Ophelia. My husband, Paul, loves to remind me that I was befriended by Chris’s drama teacher from Salford University at the start and interval, only for her to shun me at the end, after my eyes closed momentarily during the penultimate scene. It had been a very long day and it was extremely hot, that is my only excuse!
Richard II – Old Vic November 2005 – Trevor Nunn
Kevin Spacey. A modern-day Richard II, very new labour and Tony Blairesque. Sadly this was my first experience of people coming to the theatre to cough. Why spend all that money and then hack your way through a sublime performance? Ben Miles (Coupling) surprised and impressed me also as a very strong Bolingbroke.
Much Ado About Nothing – RSC London Season January 2007
Set in 1930s Cuba and Tamsin Greig was an extremely witty and clever Beatrice. The music from the Cuban band was divine.
Hamlet – RSC London Season Boxing Day 2008 – Gregory Doran
Yes this was the night of the understudy, David Tennant’s hurt back meant we saw Edward Bennett’s Hamlet instead. The moments before his first soliloquy were the most intense experience. Your chest felt compressed by the weight of expectation in the room, it was so heavy it was enough to give you the bends. Patrick Stewart was also excellent as Claudius, as was Mariah Gale as Ophelia. A beautiful polished, mirrored set cleverly doubled as both the castle ramparts and the Palace interior. It was modern dress, except the play within in a play which had the most sumptuous Elizabethan costumes. Even minus Tennant I left on a high.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream. RSC London Season Jan 2009 – Gregory Doran
Edward Bennett and Mariah Gale both very good again, and that gorgeous polished, mirrored set this time created a magical forest with a very low hanging moon.
The Tempest – The Grand Theatre Leeds October 2009
The RSC collaboration with Baxter Theatre, Cape Town. With Anthony Sher as Prospero and John Kani as Caliban. It was big, bold, beautiful. The South African puppets and music added so much, it was easy to make parallels to apartheid. It was also a very short play at just over 2 hours, and The Grand is just over the road from my favourite bar, Mojos. Cue a fabulous impromptu night with a wonderful friend and a few too many Cuba Libras. Magnificent.
Hamlet – Crucible 2 October 2010
John Simm’s turn as the Dane and my first experience of actors speaking directly to the audience
Act One, S III
Horatio “Aren’t you going to turn that off?” (me: mmmm don’t remember this from school)
Hamlet “Your phone?”
Yes a numpty in the front row had left their phone on and it was ringing repeatedly. To add insult to injury phone man couldn’t fish it out from the bottom of his very large shopper until the ansaphone ring back. He then fell soundly asleep in the second half. Again, Paul, I reiterate my eyes closed for just a second 8 years ago.
As You Like it – West Yorkshire Playhouse October 2010 – Ian Brown
A sparkling version of As You Like It. Vanessa Kirby (one to watch) was a captivating and engaging Rosalind in a very strong, funny production. Again the set deserves a mention, the trees in the forest were beautiful.
Much Ado About Nothing – Wyndhams Theatre 18 June 2011
My chance to see David Tennant and Catherine Tate together as the bickering duo. Set in 1980s Gibraltar it was a cross between ‘An Officer and A Gentleman’ and Wham’s Club Tropicana. David Tennant was incredible at Benedick, it was an absolute joy to watch someone so comfortable on the stage, so absolutely enjoying entertaining us. I thought Catherine Tate was excellent at the slapstick, but I was disappointed by her performance, rather one-dimensional.
And so this leads to this weekend.
Richard III – Old Vic – 12 August 2011 Sam Mendes
Oh my goodness. There are not words to express what I saw. Possibly the best piece of theatre ever. Kevin Spacey was magnificent. Twisted body, villanous mind. A poisonous bunch-backed toad indeed. Chuk Iwuji was also fantastic as Buckingham. He is definitely one to watch in the future.
Macbeth RSC – 13 August 2011 – Stratford
Fantastic to see the first play of the first season of the new Swan Theatre. The stage has two walkways reaching out into the audience. There isn’t a bad seat in the house. No witches in this performance, instead very unsettling children. It was a good solid production and very enjoyable but it missed the flourishes of the previous night’s play.
So in conclusion, after over 20 years I have not yet seen a third of Shakespeare’s oeuvre. I had some near misses too. We had tickets for King Lear with Ian McKellen (and another Doctor Who reference, Sylvester McCoy as the Fool – I am not doing this on purpose I promise) and Romola Garai as Cordelia. But my daughter was sick and we couldn’t go. I still think about those empty seats at that performance.
And the future? Well coming up later this year is Othello, played by Lester and McNulty from the Wire. Again in Sheffield. Hopefully that man leaves his phone at home this time. And after that who knows what productions are being planned or which actors being cast, but I do know “I have deserved no better entertainment” and that is enough for me.