Theatre in Wales

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Things That Begin with M

101 Nights to Remember

Thirteen Years a Reviewer , Theatre of Wales , May 6, 2020
101 Nights to Remember by Thirteen Years a Reviewer Three of these share a theme. Shakespeare and Sondheim both depict love spurned. “Not a Single Day”, sung by Mary and Beth in reprise towards the end of “Merrily We Roll Along”, is the most heart-wrenching of songs about love unfulfilled.

“Not a day goes by,
Not a single day
But you're somewhere a part of my life
And it looks like you'll stay.

But I just go on
Thinking and sweating
And cursing and crying
And turning and reaching
And waking and dying”

As for the first I have seen three productions directed by Robert Icke. The “Oresteia” was extraordinary, worthy of the accolade of production of the year that it was given in the critical round-up for 2015.

In 2017 I compared “Uncle Vanya” in Mold with the production in the Almeida in 2016. “Icke is Icke”, I wrote then “and Harvey is Harvey. Art is not a competition.”

But with “Mary Stuart” it was different. Icke did it well but Terry Hands dug deeper and got it better.

From “Mary Stuart”, Theatr Clwyd Cymru, Mold, 2009

“A government minister warns that a hidden army of young men is primed for violence under the inspiration of a foreign religious power. Paradise is promised as the reward for martyrdom. Dubious statements extracted under torture are paraded as grounds for state action. The legitimacy of a British court to pass judgement on a foreign national is questioned. The civil power stands aside and lets the mob burn down the house of a foreign Ambassador. Mike Poulton’s adaptation milks as much contemporaneity from Schiller’s 1800 tragedy as Terry Hands’ direction avoids any heavy-handed obvious references. The text breathes through the cast. “What has been retained is every twist of Schiller's artfully designed plot, the depth of character and the pungency of the politics....Terry Hands’ direction is burnished steel. The play opens and closes with a driving drum beat. A largely unadorned stage lets the actors act. Lee Haven-Jones’ leather-clad Mortimer makes an upward curl of his lip as he unveils a conspiratorial plan. The tapping of fingers betrays the inner agitation of courtiers.

“When Claire Price’s Elizabeth hears mention of “women are not weak” she makes a rapid sideway movement of her head... Her stillness contrasts with Mary's rapidity of movement. Once relieved of public performance the facade of authority diminishes. There is a trembling spasm of the lip. Power is both relish and evasion. At one point she turns her back on her ministers’ argument. Claire Price’s eyes move upwards and leftwards with the glint of watchful intelligence. It is not just liberty that requires eternal vigilance but the retention of authority. Owen Teale’s reading of Burghley is intriguing, less the aristocratic master of sumptuous Hatfield than the dispassionate, relentlessly purposeful civil servant... With a voice that ranges from the breathy to the deep Marina Hands’ Mary moves beautifully from passion, emotion and logic to a state of grace and transcendence. As usual Terry Hands is his own lighting designer. Fotheringhay is a black interior with a high-up jail window. Westminster is represented as a Gothic door and high perpendicular window bathed in golden light.”

From “Merrily We Roll Along”, Clwyd Theatr Cymru, Mold, 2012

“Director Nikolai Foster opens his large-stage production of Sondheim's 1981 musical on a sober note. Half the cast, in academic gowns, are on stage. The remainder are scattered among the audience. Simon Thomas' Franklin Shepard lopes on stage to address the pupils of the school he has left twenty-five years before. His speech sags and the action switches back in time. The black gowns and mortar boards vanish and underneath- the scene is a hot shot party- the dress is all “Boogie Nights”, floral shirts and long pointy collars. The production flies. It is intricate in form. The structural depth of the book, George Furth from Kaufmann and Hart, reveals itself only in the closing twenty minutes. A caustic misanthropy stalks the first act. A leading lady, Rebecca Lock's black-clothed Mary Flynn, makes her first appearance as a socially excruciating, rolling alcoholic.

“Thematically its tale of friendship lost for brief passion, artistic integrity traded for gold, is more pertinent than ever. The book has wit. Of the composer turned Hollywood player: “the only work he does is working the room.” “Which comes first?” asks Amira Matthews' oleaginous TV anchor “the words or the music?” “Generally, the contract” drawls Matt Cross' Charley Kringas. His big solo number- spurred on by Shaun Lock and Fraiser Patterson on saxophones- earns applause mid-scene. Sondheim’s score also has one of the best love songs ever. The action is nearly all played out in the public zone, at parties, a TV studio, a nightclub, a court. The price of celebrity is the sacrifice of privacy. Eyes are always watching. A desperate inventor pleads for money. A stranger thrusts a script at star Gussie. Lucy Williamson starts, or ends in this chronology, as plain Shirley Malinski, a tight-suited typist on the make. By the nineteen-eighties she is lynx-eyed, seductive, venomous Gussie Carnegie with Medusa ringlets and a squirrel's twitch. The young Frank tries to articulate his art. Music, for him is sound and feeling. The last scenes attain a depth of emotional impact. Verity Rushworth's Beth has already sung “Not a Single Day”. Sondheim cleverly brings it back for the wedding scene. But this time Rebecca Lock joins in. Frank's back is turned against her, a poignant image of a love that is never to be fulfilled.”

From “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Mappa Mundi, the Torch & Theatr Mwldan, Aberystwyth, 2012

“Cousins Hermia and Helena are a study in contrasts in Peter Doran’s vivid production for this now well-established tripartite production team. Lisa Zahra, in shapeless WW2 agricultural dungarees, is radiant in romance. Joanna Simpkins, in a tight tailored army uniform, is all strained sadness for a love that is unreturned...The magic woodland breathes whispers of sound, courtesy of composer Peter Knight. The production team includes designer Sean Crowley, lighting by Ceri James, video by Lloyd Grayshon. Other members are Jacob Hughes, Rebecca Long and Bethany Seddon. Beautiful projections include a side elevation of a Somerset-Avon country house- it resembles Brympton D’Evercy- that turns to a night scene of moon and stars. The cumulative design effect from Peter Doran’s team is outstanding...Matthew Bulgo is an authoritative Egeus, in wing collar and frock coat, and an entertainingly actorly Quince. Lynne Seymour is a sleekly elegant Hippolyta in shimmering white and a sensuous, balletic Titania, right down to her black ankle bracelet- movement advisor Kylie Smith.

Llinos Mai is a Snout with romance on her mind. James Peake moves from a sad-eyed Flute, in tin helmet and stripey pullover, to a Thisbe of squealing falsetto and tortuous arm gestures. Francois Pandolfo is a Puck like no other, a darting, epicene, teasing presence in Chaplin suit and cane. Liam Tobin’s Bottom is the bustling, bossing extrovert who conveys a surprised innocence in his line on “Hay: good hay, sweet hay hath no fellow.” Richard Nichols is the quiet commanding lord who holds sway in both the real and the enchanted worlds.”

From “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Ballet Cymru, Newport, 2013

“Their balletic impact is enhanced by the beauty of Yvonne Greenleaf’s costume design. The most aptly named designer in ballet’s history she has hand painted her costumes of sheer white with flowers, tendrils and greenery. The cluster of fairies in wigs of silvery-white are support for their queen. Iselin Eie Bowen, a regular lead with Ballet Cymru, is a mesmerising Titania...The forest of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, in its variations of play, opera and ballet, has in its time taken on every shape and colour possible. One memorable production even had its actors sloshing in real, wet mud. Ballet Cymru’s version is one of subtle autumn russets and lavender. The forest floor is lit in chequer board blues and yellows. The dancers play and hide behind coloured umbrellas. A final visual motif has them all closely clustered in front of a giant full moon.

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” has been a regular in the company’s repertoire for some years and has allowed choreographer-artistic director Darius James to develop and finesse the characterisation. Lydia Arnoux’s Peaseblossum is a gamin in blue and Daisuke Miura’s Puck a muscular figure with a lion’s mane of hair. Emily Pimm Edwards’ Hermia is so exasperated in love that she is not afraid to land a punch on her pursuer...The Mechanicals come in baggy tweeds, bowler hats and woolly caps. Nicolas Capelle is a tall dancer but his Peter Quince seems to be endowed with comically wonderful seven-foot limbs. Mandev Sokhi’s Bottom in his state of enchantment becomes a buck-toothed, lolloping creature with a touch of the satyr to him. After the celebratory and joyous scenes of marriage the Mechanicals’ play-within-a-play is orchestrated with raucous whistles and kazoos, in a long sustained scene of delight.”

Picture: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, Torch & Mappa Mundi

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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