Kingdom Come

The last time I visited The Other Place was nearly a decade ago, when it was the Courtyard Theatre and David Tennant was playing Hamlet. A couple of years ago it was revived as a studio theatre with a number of Mischief Festivals, filled with experimental new work. The latest one sees a new play take over the theatre for the duration of September.

Kingdom Come is the work of Gemma Brockis and Wendy Hubbard, featuring a company of actors and devisers including Tom Lyall and Emmanuella Cole. It seeks to explore the English Civil War, the fall of King Charles I and the rise of Cromwell, mostly from the conflicted perspective of a group of actors. The conflict here is while the Puritans preached democracy and fairness and the end of tyranny, they also pursued draconian measures of their own – including closing the theatres.

All this in under two hours; and it’s mostly successful. We begin by witnessing a masque, performed in 1740, featuring King Charles himself and employing all the theatrical tricks and costumes possible, beneath a glorious proscenium arch. We then witness the downfall of the monarchy and are invited through the arch ‘backstage’ to witness the King’s execution and the efforts of Puritans to establish a true republic. Finally we are shown back into the auditorium where we witness a state in the throes of uncertainty and a group of actors struggling to survive.

The piece suffers from the problem many devised pieces have, in that it’s a bit fragmented and doesn’t always seem to form a coherent whole. However, I still think it’s an impressive achievement, making use of masque, tableau, movement and speeches to convey the corrupt glamour of Charles’s court and the repressive uncertainty of the Cromwellian epoch. Overall it was memorable and fascinating, and I hope to return to The Other Place soon if this is the sort of intriguing work they put on.


Dido, Queen of Carthage

I thought Dido, Queen of Carthage was a strong choice for the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of their autumn season. Directed by Kimberley Sykes, Christopher Marlowe’s 1587 play fits in well with the ‘Rome’ season in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, concerning as it does the legendary founder of Rome, Aeneas. Fleeing from the conquered Troy with his young son Ascanius and a small band of fellow survivors, he washes up on the shores of Libya, to the delight of his mother Venus who has anxiously been observing his journey. Venus employs Cupid to ensure that Queen Dido falls in love with Aeneas, surmising that she will then want to help him, but Hermes sends Aeneas a message from Jupiter demanding that he go and seek Rome. Aeneas must decide between seeking his goal or staying with the woman he loves.

In this production, Marlowe’s play is brought to vivid life, with rich language and cast of interesting characters. As Aeneas, Sandy Grierson powerfully conveys the feelings of a man still horrorstruck by the atrocities he has witnessed in Troy, while Chipo Chung is convincing as the regal and beautiful Queen and conveys the pain of a woman spurned by the man she loves. The gods appear as a sort of comic relief, and yet what happens is all their fault, really: trying to manipulate the humans like puppets. I liked how the human characters were clothed in outfits of ancient time while the gods wore modern garb, as if they were supposed to be outside time altogether.

The only thing I wasn’t sure about in this play was the ending, which I thought lacked impact after all that had gone before. Overall, though, I thought it was a strong production.

NT Live (Encore): Yerma

When Billie Piper appeared in Yerma last year, I tried to get a ticket and failed.

This year, the production returned to the Young Vic. Again, I tried to get a ticket, and failed.

It was announced that the production would be screened to cinemas via NTLive, but all the cinema screenings I found were sold out.

Finally, some Encore screenings were announced and I was at last able to get a ticket. I ended up seeing it at the Tricycle Cinema in North London.

So, was it worth all the effort? Basically, yes. Billie Piper gives an outstanding performance. Her character, Yerma, is desperate for a baby and while she starts out as a confident woman with a loving partner and a challenging career, as time goes on her obsession takes over and starts to come between her and her eventual husband (a superb Brendan Cowell), while her relationship with her sister (Charlotte Randle), who is able to get pregnant without problems, is also strained. The production jumps quickly from one moment to the next, sometimes moving months, sometimes years ahead, emphasising how the desire for a child is the common thread overriding every other wish in Yerma’s life.

The production is a modern-day adaptation by Simon Stone, set in modern-day London, of Federico García Lorca’s original 1934 play. As such it doesn’t capture Lorca’s intention of seeing Yerma’s story as symbolic of contemporary Spain. However, as an examination of one woman’s mind and desires it can hardly be bettered, drawing sympathy even from audience members like me who don’t share that desire. Stone’s language manages to retain a certain poetic power even as it reflects modern day speech.

I’m so glad I managed to see Yerma at last. Even though nothing can really replace seeing a play live, the cinema version is a pretty good second best, and when the play is as good as this, I’ll take whatever I can get.

La Bohème

I was excited about seeing La Bohème. I’ve seen it before, but this is a new production, directed by Richard Jones, so I was curious to check it out.

Based on Henri Murger’s novel, it follows a group of bohemians in Paris, primarily on one couple: Rodolfo and Mimi. The performances were superb, and it was interesting to see Michael Fabiano as Rodolfo after hearing him speak about the role on Wednesday. Completing the group were Nicole Car as Mimi, Simona Mihai as Musetta and Mariusz Kwiecień as Marcello.

I loved the music and the singing and despite initial nervous thoughts I was impressed with the set, especially the arcades, which evoked nineteenth-century Paris while remaining simple. This La Bohème remains a world-class production.

Terror on the Tracks

I’ve seen shows by the Don’t Go Into The Cellar! Theatre company before, and they’re very enjoyable, so I was happy to attend another. Terror on the Tracks presents adaptations of Charles Dickens’ The Signalman and other chilling tales from the Victorian era, all with a railway theme.

The tales are adapted and performed by Jonathan Goodwin, who takes on the persona of an amiable pub landlord regaling his audience of drinkers with a number of stories from his own past as well as tales he has heard. Directed by Gary Archer, it’s an absorbing, often amusing and frequently creepy show that’s well worth seeing.

Insights: City of Song – A Night in Paris

In preparation for seeing the new production of La Bohème, I attended an Insights event at Hoxton Hall, which proved an atmospheric and highly suitable setting.

Introduced by members of ROH Reimagined, the evening was presented by Flora Wilson, Lecturer in Music at KCL, who gave an entertaining introduction to Puccini and his work. We heard from Julia Burbach, the Assistant Director on the production, and Michael Fabiano, who sings the role of Rodolfo. We also heard renditions from young performers Konu Kim and Francesca Chiejina, who sang accompanied by James Hendry.

I think this event would have been particularly suitable for those who had never seen La Bohème before and knew nothing about the story, but even though I have seen it before (and I’ve also read Henri Murger’s novel on which it was based), I still got a lot out of it.

Jesus Christ Superstar

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s 1977 musical Jesus Christ Superstar has come back to the Open Air Theatre at Regent’s Park to round off the season, after an initial successful run last year. I tend to try and limit my theatregoing to things I haven’t seen before, so I wasn’t originally going to see this production, but it got such good reviews that I gave it a go anyway. I’m really glad I did.

The score sounds marvellous out here in the park – you could almost be attending a rock gig. The production, directed by Timothy Sheader, emphasises the show’s rock concert roots, as the characters use handheld microphones and sometimes stand and perform to the audience. The other musicians are visible on stage, at the back of designer Tom Scutt’s set, which works well with the production and incorporates a large cross.

Declan Bennett is a superb Jesus, and he conveys the character’s conflict really well, at times seeming almost tired of his followers, and desirous of a bit of peace and quiet. Tyrone Huntley returns as Judas and all the positive things I’ve heard about him are true: he’s marvellous, in both singing and acting.

I was impressed, too, with Maimuna Memon’s Mary Magdalene and the assorted supporting cast. Peter Caulfield’s Herod was hugely entertaining but his over-the-top performance seemed a tad out of place during the tense second half: a flaw of the show itself, rather than this production.

The strength of the show – and as a non-believer I’m aware there will be many who disagree – is that you can get a lot out of it whether you are religious or not. The ending is genuinely moving and this production makes the most of it. It also asks important questions about the nature of power and authority, and the role of belief.