EIF 2016 – Measure For Measure

Ruling Heads, Naples

Ruling Heads, Naples

 

MEASURE FOR MEASURE  presented by Cheek by Jowl and the Pushkin Theatre is a masterly production of a seriously unpleasant play. Why choose this one?

The excellent programme notes provided in part by Cheek by Jowl, in part by James Shapiro and finally Peter Kirwan are full and informative. The play, Measure For Measure, is reckoned to be Shakespeare‘s first Jacobean one, but the text used today is also thought to have been updated by Thomas Middleton. Shakespeare’s play may well have been set in Italy, Ferrara, but the one we now see performed is in Vienna.

James 6th and 1st was obsessed with how his subjects thought and what they did. The Duke, in M for M is likewise interested in how nobly his subjects would behave without his guiding hand. So off he goes, but not far. Disguised as a friar, he lurks in the dark corners of the big city and is soon hearing people’s confessions as they await an illegitimate birth or their own execution. The play covers moral breakdown, personal and political, the over-zealous enforcement of laws and inflexible good as epitomised by the doomed man’s sister, Isabella.

It’s one of the mysteries of the play that one is unable to warm to Isabella until her final few scenes when she is left aghast by the Duke’s decision to marry her (without asking and in the face of the implacable godliness referred to above). I suppose the traditions of the time meant all available child-bearing women needed a husband and this match rounded the numbers off nicely.

Despite the handicap of the story, the production by Declan Donellan and Nick Ormerod with a cast from the Pushkin Theatre, is full of wonderful, quirky beats and an excellent staging. Short scenes and multiple exits and entrances can be an issue with Shakespearean performance, but this production answers the problem by keeping the cast on stage and revolving them as a silent chorus from which the central performers peel off. Three large red boxes provide ample cover for costume changes, although there is a moment of fleeting male nudity.

The play runs at the Lyceum Theatre until Saturday 20th when there’s also a matinée. Tickets are here

EIF 2016 SHAKE -adapted by Dan Jemmett from 12th Night by William Shakespeare

Singers, Bengal

Singers, Bengal

SHAKE is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. Dan Jemmett and the Eat a Crocodile company have crafted a delightful show full of cultural nods – music hall, end of pier theatricals, cross-dressing set-piece humour, filmic song and dance routines – in French with side-titles.

Identical twins Sebastian and Viola are ship-wrecked and each thinks the other perished. Viola dresses as a man and seeks work as page to Orsini with whom she falls in love. Sebastian is looked after by Antonio, who harbours a hopeless love for him, and eventually Sebastian is married by the beautiful Olivia – who is the object of Orsini’s desire. Okay, still with it? Into the mix, we have Feste, yesterday’s jester, who tells jokes in American English, and Malvolio, the buttoned up steward and perhaps one of Shakespeare’s most well-defined character studies. Not forgetting Sir Toby and Sir Andrew – one of them is a music/pier show dummy and one a drunk.

The Eat a Crocodile company deliver a touching, humorous and polished show from a set of seaside bathing cabins. They sashay through two wonderful hours of acting, singing, dancing, costume changes, a ventriloquist’s dummy and more……….

Tickets for the two remaining performances Sat 13th  2.30 and Sat 13th 7.30 are here

The Iliad – Mark Thomson- Chris Hannan – Homer

The Iliad in a new version by Chris Hannan rounds off Mark Thomson’s remarkable tenure at the Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh and is directed by Mark.

This work is based on the poem by Greek writer Homer and covers part of the Trojan Wars (they went on a long time, don’t worry about it). My companion settled happily back when the lights were dimming and the wind rose onstage. Anyone who knows the work must feel that thrill. When we visited the site of Troy, our tour guide of the 21st century advised us to take our jackets because it was a windy place.

It’s really hard for twenty-first century minds to enter into belief systems that juxtapose Gods, half-Gods and humans. It’s even harder for twenty-first century women to embrace a time when winner took all and understand that meant the armour of the defeated, but also their women – after killing their children.

Or is it? When we read the reports of war in our life-time, there’s still so much of that going on. Old men flexing waning muscles while the young men tone theirs.

Philosophy aside, Hannan and Thomson make an entertaining and dramatic stab at the text. The audience enters into the long periods of sustained effort and also the long periods of ennui while behind the scenes diplomacy goes on. The Greek singing was quite lovely in parts. Ably led by Emanuella Cole, the Goddess Hera,  as one of Paris’s rejects for that golden apple, the Gods and Goddesses fight among themselves with huge repercussions for the mortals beneath. Richard Conlon as Zeus plays out the bitter infighting of marriage, but never quite pacifies Hera. Peter Bray and Amiera Darwish give us an interesting take on Paris and Helen – ostensibly the cause of the launching of those 1,000 ships. Paris is accused of being not quite ‘all there’ and displays an alarming tendency to wander off when he loses interest.

A towering production to mark the end of Thomson’s hand on the helm.

Run continues 20 April – 14 May. Tickets here

I AM THOMAS Royal Lyceum Edinburgh and touring

I AM THOMAS is described by the company, Told By An Idiot, as  brutal comedy with songs. More than a nod in the direction of Brecht, then. The question for the audience is whether it works.

I Am Thomas is written by the company. Music is by Iain Johnstone and lyrics by Simon Armitage. Collaboration is the underpinning philosophy and it’s not the way I find the most satisfactory theatre is created. This audience member likes a clear vision – from both the script (writer) and the performance (director). Collaboration to my eye allows for too much dilution and perhaps distraction.

There are a lot of people around in this university town who know far more about blasphemy trials, appeals and the general reluctance of the Establishment to allow anything approaching common sense to rear its head in a courtroom, than I do. They will tell you about what the play missed and missed out on. I, knowing nothing about Thomas Aitkenhead before I went along, enjoyed a lot of what I did find. There were huge positives to I Am Thomas.

I enjoyed the lively music, the way the main character moved around the cast and the sheer contrast to Arthur Miller’s towering achievement so recently seen here, The Crucible. Not all of the population find their religion in Godliness. For some the definition of truth is out there in the skies, yes, but it’s physical not theological.

I still don’t understand the single white shoes and if anyone reading this can help me, please leave your comment, but I so enjoyed the pseudo sports’ commentaries. Having been along to South Morningside School’s great Shakespeare evening, I was receptive to them and might even have recognised the trench coats.

It was great to meet Hannah McPake, Edinburgh born actor returning to her roots.

Run in Edinburgfh now finished, Touring to Inverness Eden Court 12-16th April and Wilton’s theatre, London 20-30 April

The Weir by Conor McPherson

THE WEIR by CONOR McPHERSON, playing at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre, is a tantalising web of ghost stories, Irish faery-tales and real-life misery.

In this production directed by Amanda Gaughan, a quintet of Irish actors use their soft voices to tell a series of stories that have impacted on their lives to huge effect. There’s no plot as such, but there’s a wealth of story-telling to hold the audience attentive throughout the 100 minute straight-through performance.

Jack, the died in the wool local man, tells a tale involving Faeries. Like elephants, only smaller, they have their historic routes. If you build your house on one of them then it’s the house that’s in the wrong place not the faery traveller. Finbar, who saw the gaps and made money knows that  some people, often teenagers with their overly sensitive, hormone flushed perception, can see the dead. Call it coincidence to help you sleep, but it may drive the hardest headed man out of his habitat in search of company.

Jim, the odd job labourer met a ghost who would have been buried in a particular grave for a particular reason (I won’t give the spoiler). Jim had flu and a high temperature so maybe there was no ghost. And Valerie, the blow-in with her air of rigid control, has a human story unequalled in its horror by any of the supernatural ones.

And that brings us full circle to hear just why Jack never left the country-side. Presided over by the young barman, Brendan, the group bat their stories and memories to and fro. It’s a huge pleasure to listen to. Difficult human frailty wrapped in myth without the need for protagonist and antagonist. It’s a gem of a play. I recommend it.

Box Office 0131 248 4848

The Weir Run continues till 6th February

The Crucible 18/02 – 19/03

FAITH HEALER by Brian Friel Royal Lyceum Edinburgh

Faith Healer by Irish playwright, Brian Friel is coming to the end of its run at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum theatre. Three performances left, folks. Get Going.

Structured in four scenes and performed by a cast of three, Faith Healer is about that mountebank performer who preyed on the sick, the halt and the lame. Occasionally – how? no one knows – he would have a resounding success. Success that meant financial security for four days!

The play is about Faith Healing, memory, luck, the nature of illness and the human condition. Three strong performances from Sean O’Callaghan, Niamh McCann and Patrick Driver explore the strengths and weaknesses of each character. The narratives are marked by agreed ‘facts’ and differentiated by the interpretation of those ‘facts’. As always with Friel’s writing, the subtext is rich and its effect goes on working in our understanding long after the lights go down.

A gripe: if the programme costs me £2.50, I want to be able to read it in the theatre. White lettering on black does not suit my middle-aged eyes and I don’t think I’m the only one. Designers design, but those of us paying for the product want it fit for purpose – please.