Comus – A Masque in Honour Of Chastity

I decided last minute to see this unique play at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe. Comus – A Masque in Honour Of Chastity was written by poet John Milton in 1634, supposedly commissioned to clear the family name of the Earl of Bridgewater after his brother-in-law was executed following a sodomy trial. It follows the story of a Lady lost in the woods, who meets Comus, the God of Revelry, who promises refuge but offers something darker.

The whole concept of a masque is probably alien to most modern audiences, so I appreciated the efforts made by director Lucy Bailey and writer Patrick Barlow, who has added a prologue and epilogue, to put things in context and set the scene for contemporary viewers. The performance spilled over into the crowd, a novel adaptation of the space by designer William Dudley. Performances were strong, including Emma Curtis as the central character Lady Alice. Overall, despite the rather odd subject matter I rather enjoyed this production.

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The Importance of Being Earnest

I was excited about seeing this version of The Importance of Being Earnest, as I had heard that it came with a new twist: the play would be adapted with a framework in which an amateur dramatics group (The Bunbury Company of Players) perform the show – allowing an older generation to take on the key roles. Sadly, Simon Brett’s new material doesn’t make the most of the concept.

I was hoping for something like Noises Off from this piece, directed by Lucy Bailey. But although there are some funny moments, the extra bits seem rather pointless. Indeed, the framework is hardly mentioned at all during the second half.

That said, when it comes to the play proper, the actors involved – even though they are older than their characters – do full justice to their roles. Siân Phillips is particularly good as Lady Bracknell, while Martin Jarvis and Nigel Havers display boyish charm and considerable appeal as Jack Worthing and his friend Algernon.

However, for someone looking to see this play for the first time, this is not the production I’d recommend.

Titus Andronicus

Titus Andronicus is one of Shakespeare’s least-performed and least-known plays, but it got an acclaimed production at the Globe back in 2006 – so much so that it has returned for the 2014 season. Titus was the first play I saw at the Globe this year, as part of the new season entitled ‘Arms and the Man’.

Lucy Bailey’s production is slick, stylish and physical, with the groundlings frequently having to move out of the way to allow the actors – and their giant metal structures – to move within the crowd. It is lively and gory, with great performances from William Houston as Titus and Indira Varma as Tamora, and another notable performance from Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, This fast-paced revival wasn’t as good as the recent RSC version, but it does an excellent job at bringing a lesser-known work by Shakespeare to a wider audience.

Dial M For Murder

Lucy Bailey’s new version of Frederick Knott’s Dial M For Murder, famously adapted for the screen by Alfred Hitchcock, is incredibly stylish, with red curtains and a subtle revolving stage. It pays homage to Hitchcock’s classic thriller, but doesn’t overly rely on it, and is gripping throughout, thanks to a talented bunch of actors.

I saw this touring production at Richmond, a theatre well suited for the piece. It’s old-fashioned now, perhaps, but still worth watching.

Fortune’s Fool

I will see any Russian play I can, and was very excited at the prospect of catching this rarely-performed piece from Ivan Turgenev at the Old Vic. Unfortunately, Fortune’s Fool has been dogged by the illness of one of the lead actors, the talented Iain Glen, something which the Old Vic have not been particularly communicative about. Still, I did enjoy the play very much, and the production, directed by Lucy Bailey, is a fine one.

Originally written in 1848, the play anticipates Chekhov with its mix of comedy, tragedy and irony and the portrayal of a country family. It focuses on the ‘fool’ of the title, the impoverished Kuzovkin, who sleeps in the linen cupboard of the recently married Olga’s country house. When Olga returns with her new husband, Kuzovkin’s role in the household is thrown into question, until he makes a shocking revelation.

I was sorry to miss Iain Glen’s performance, which I am sure, based on past experience, would have been excellent. Patrick Cremin, however, does give a strong, subtle and nuanced performance as the put-upon, world-weary Kuzovkin. An even better performance comes from Richard McCabe as local landowner Tropatchov: his character is singularly unpleasant and repulsive, but is extremely entertaining. Through him, Turgenev satirises the corruption and greed of wealthy rural landowners in nineteenth-century Russia.

Lucy Briggs-Owen plays the innocent, newly-married Olga with sensitivity, while Alexander Vlahos portrays her husband. The play is no masterpiece, but it is a thoughtful piece which is well worth seeing.