Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Don Quixote - Review

Garrick Theatre, London


Adapted by James Fenton from the novel by Miguel de Cervantes
Directed by Angus Jackson

David Threlfall

In James Fenton’s adaptation of Cervantes’ 17th Century classic, the fabled antics of Knight Errant Don Quixote are given a contemporary understanding that still preserves the original’s richness. 

David Threlfall is the aged Quixote, climbing onto the Garrick stage from the stalls in the first of the show’s many “Fourth Wall” breaches and is, quite simply, magnificent. Robed and biblically bearded, there is something of the Billy Connolly in Threlfall’s appearance which only underlines the tragi-comedy that driving this curious yet also intuitive take on ageing and fantasy. Threlfall captures the essence of Quixote - driven by proud self belief, and yet slowly being deprived of his mental faculties. His is a performance of the utmost sensitivity, perfectly nuanced in both physical presence and emotional magic.

Of course the relationship between Quixote and his manservant Sancho Panza is one of the oldest double-acts in literature, a pairing that might well have inspired the latter day genius of Blackadder and Baldrick.  Rufus Hound plays Panza and his casting is perfect. Amidst scripted and (when the fire alarm sounded on press night following mismanaged onstage pyro effects) ad-libbed audience interactions, Hound provides the perfectly tipped foil to Threlfall’s straight-guy, his common touch bouncing off the elderly would-be patrician. And whilst Panza’s coarseness contrasts with Quixote’s chivalry, Hound skilfully demonstrates that both men share a resolute moral code. Cynical, corpulent and always caring even if often underpaid, Hound’s Panza remains as lovingly loyal, as he is perceptive - with his devotion proving a bittersweet background to the play’s final act.

There is lovely work all round from Jackson’s company. Richard Dempsey’s Duke captures the mildly cruel foppishness of Spain’s aristocracy, while Natasha Magigi as Sancho Panza’s wife Teresa, surrounded by a bevy of wailing (marionette) infants puts in a neatly detailed, even if caricatured, glimpse of the manservant’s background.

Robert Innes Hopkins’ design is unpretentiously clever, with state of the art stagecraft mixed in with deliciously simple, centuries old puppetry. Windmills are cleverly tilted at and sheep are brilliantly battled, and when Quixote finally ascends to the heavens, the charm of his flight lies not in the obviously visible harness - but rather in the simplicity of its gorgeous imagery. The music is delicious too, with Grant Olding’s Latin and flamenco themed compositions (under Tarek Merchant’s baton) only adding to the tapas-like spread of treats that the evening offers.

If the moments of excessive boisterousness make for minor occasional distractions, they are trifling. The RSC’s Don Quixote has well deserved its transfer to the West End - it is poignant, funny, and perfectly played. Brilliant theatre!

Runs until 2nd February 2019
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Romeo and Juliet - Review

Barbican Centre, London


Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Erica Whyman

Karen Fishwick and Bally Gill

Romeo and Juliet arrives at the Barbican as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s London residency. Directed by Erica Whyman, Shakespeare’s classic story of love and rivalry is given a contemporary makeover that results in an energetic and urgent adaptation.

Although written over four centuries ago, this production feels chillingly relevant, with members of rival families brandish knives and fight on the streets, the bloody consequences of gang warfare brutally highlighted. The tale of the warring Montagues and Capulets is set in Verona, but it is easy to translate this culture to Sadiq Khan’s contemporary London. And yet, despite the tragedy, there proves a surprising amount of comedy interwoven within the drama and heartbreak that makes for an engaging evening.  

The production’s highlight is the host of standout performances drawn from a talented and diverse cast. Whyman elects to have the Prince of Verona and Mercutio played by women (Beth Cordingly and Charlotte Josephine respectively) and for the most part this works. Though a little over-exaggerated at times, Josephine puts in a fine performance as the spirited Mercutio, who is just as tough and brash as any of the boys and, tragically isn’t afraid to back down from a challenge. 

Elsewhere Andrew French provides a calming presence as Friar Laurence, keen to help the teenage couple but unwittingly setting in motion a wave of calamitous events. Ishia Bennison threatens to steal each scene she’s in as the cheeky, no-nonsense Nurse, a mother figure for Juliet, and at times it feels as if she wouldn’t be out of place in a Victoria Wood sketch, providing most of the comic relief. 

At the heart of the play of course are the star-crossed lovers, played by Bally Gill and Karen Fishwick, exuding chemistry. Gill shines as the lovesick Romeo, trying to keep the peace with his new wife’s family at first, then quick to turn with a dark, underlying temper. Fishwick’s Juliet is endearing, playful and passionate as the teenager struggles with the conflict of her heart’s desire and parental pressures, and it very much becomes her play. Though she is a joy to watch throughout, it is a particularly unnerving scene between Juliet and her bullying father, played by Michael Hodgson, as both actors thrillingly convince. 

Tom Piper’s minimalist urban design, centred by a rotating cube, takes some getting used to but is surprisingly versatile. There is a poignancy in it providing both the setting for Romeo and Juliet’s marital bed and their final resting place. Sophie Cotton’s music highlights the contemporary feel and boundless energy of the play, notably during the Capulets’ masked ball, now a rave. 

While the play isn’t perfect – the opening scene feels out of place, the production drags at times and purists may wish to look away – it is undoubtably a fresh and accessible take on an age-old tale. And much like Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 movie, this inspiring, compelling and youthful adaptation is sure to open Shakespeare’s most famous love story to new audiences.

Runs until 19th January 2019
Reviewed by Kirsty Herrington
Photo credit: Topher McGrillis