Tag Archives: Stratford

On Midsummer Mischief, Part Three – Places Other

*Published on Exeunt*

I miss The Other Place.

Now, that’s a strange thing to say considering I have never actually set foot in any building called The Other Place, in Stratford or otherwise. But, like everyone who has any sort of connection with the RSC, its presence has always been keenly felt during my years visiting the company.

First, a bit of history. Continue reading On Midsummer Mischief, Part Three – Places Other

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“Boris Godunov” by Alexander Pushkin (translated by Adrian Mitchell)

at the Swan Theatre, Wednesday 28th November 2012

Originally written for Exeunt.

After a slow-burning first hour, Michael Boyd’s production of Boris Godunov comes into its own in the final sixty minutes, as he throws Alexander Pushin’s drama about autocracy and rebellion into fifth gear, hurtling towards a powerful conclusion. And though it’s not Boyd’s most inventive, exciting or powerful production, it makes some nods towards his style as Artistic Director and is a fitting end to his tenure.

The story of Boris Godunov is similar to many of Shakespeare’s kings. A Russian Tsar who came to power in 1598 through questionable circumstances, popular opinion of him soured during his seven years in office before he died of a heart attack as rebel forces, led by the pretender Grigory Otrepiev (a young monk), began chipping away at his regime in the guise of Prince Dmitry, the dead heir. In 1825, Pushkin mythologized and distorted the story somewhat to make the narrative one of power and revolution, though it was banned by censors and never really given a proper staging until the 1980s.

Michael Boyd’s production (utilising a poetic translation by Adrian Mitchell) moves through eras smoothly, opening with actors dressed in sixteenth century garments and moving steadily through the ages to Stalinistic furs and, finally, simple business wear complete with iPhones and microphones. It’s a simple idea, and is done with a light enough touch that we don’t really notice until key points that the tone has changed. The point it makes, however – that Russia has been ruled by tyrants for as long as anyone can remember – is hardly subtle, and I question somewhat the hope this gives for any stable future in Russia it’s suggested that the country is basically ungovernable.

Boyd’s trademark during his time at the RSC has become the singular, striking image, and there is no shortage of them here. From the loud opening montage of moments which we will see over the next two hours to the disconcerting levels present in the final tableau, this is a production which works through a conversation with aesthetics. The climactic battle scenes are as good as any in the Histories cycle, complete with semi-gymnastic movement and a constant stream of actors. At another point, a fountain is beautifully and simply evoked using bowls and jugs.

Tom Piper’s simple set consists of a brushed wood floor and a gold scaffold with hanging costumes (another charming nod to the design of the Histories), and allows breathing space for some charming performances. Though he takes a while to warm up, Gethin Anthony as Grigory presents himself as a man of the people and a more worthy leader than Boris; his wooing scene with Lucy Briggs-Owen’s Princess Maryna is delightfully balanced, as she offers the perfect foil to his presumptuous advances. Lloyd Hutchison’s Boris is the opposite of Grigory, portraying a strong, sturdy man who achieves his goals through talking rather than action and gets rid of his opponents with knowing hints to Prince Shuiskii (played by the brilliant James Tucker who, quite frankly, steals every scene he’s in).

But for all it’s strengths, Boris Godunov fails to really capture the imagination or probe deeply into the question at hand. By having the mob commit violent acts towards the end of the play, Pushkin clearly attempts to make some point about the dangerous nature of revolution and its relationship with tyranny, but all these interesting ideas feel hidden at the end of Boyd’s production. Then again, this sums up what Boyd’s best at; making the personal political and vice versa, drawing on a range of influences to get the widest possible scope. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t expecting something a little more exciting for Boyd’s final show, but it’s nonetheless a production with the detail, power and humour which has defined his Artistic Directorship.

 

“Antony and Cleopatra” by William Shakespeare

at the Courtyard Theatre, Tuesday 13th April 2010

Firstly, a disclaimer; the production which is being reviewed was the first preview performance and so should not be taken as true to the rest of the run. That said, however, the cast and creative team will surely not be angered when it is said that the RSC have done it again. Michael Boyd’s modern dress production is at once engaging and exciting and the ensemble once again pull off superb performances.

Boyd has chosen to set the play in the modern age, making allusions to war in the middle east and the petty rivalry between various countries. The soldiers wear khaki whilst Cleopatra and her handmaids a wardrobe ranging from trench coats to embroidered gowns. It is clear the allusions that Boyd is trying to make to modern warfare, a fact which is reinforced by a picture of Brown and Obama in the programme, but it seems this concept just falls short. The war is fought over people and relationships, not land and oil. Much of the fighting takes place at sea also, which is not true of modern warfare in the middle east. The concept should work in theory, but ends up asking more questions than it answers.

A theme which is encapsulated beautifully is the camaraderie and brutality of men when together. At Antony’s ‘stag’ party, the men act without thought to those around them and engage in competitions to see who can hold the most drink. Perhaps the fastest paced scene in the play, it is punctuated by a beautiful moment of stillness as the men sway slowly from left to right, mirroring perfectly the feeling of being intoxicated by alcohol.

What the play seems to lack, however, is a sense of tragedy. Kathryn Hunter’s Cleopatra and Darrel D’Silva’s Antony are perfectly matched and both inhabit their roles with finesse, but the high stakes of their relationship and a feeling of impending doom do not come across. The last few scenes are not fraught with tension or danger and just plod along to their inevitable conclusion.

The design of the production is beautifully simple and yet creates a vast array of different layers. Tom Piper’s set, a semi-circular rusted wall at the back reminiscent of the set used for the Histories Cycle can one minute be the sand dunes of Egypt and the forum in Rome with tweaks in Wolfgang Goebbel’s superb lighting design. James Jones and John Woolf’s music and Andrew Franks’ sound are layered sublimely, supporting changes in mood and peaks in tension throughout the play.

Although there are weak points to this production, they will no doubt be ironed out by the time it opens officially. What is clear, however, is that Michael Boyd has well and truly settled into his role as artistic director of the Royal Shakespeare Company. His approach to ensemble acting and new spaces is nothing short of revolutionary. The repertoire of plays he has built up along with the help of David Farr, Lucy Bailey and Rupert Goold is inspiring. Let’s hope this carries on long into the future.