Theatre heavy post ahoy

A day of theatre related wanderings today.

Andrea and I are shortly heading off to that there Lunnon to see the very, very splendid Cillian Murphy in a play called Ballyturk at the National Theatre.

How ‘citin.

It’s also got Stephen Rea in it. An actor I’ve seen on screen but never on stage.

How even more ‘citin.

Plus, we suspect the play may be rather amazing. We saw Cillian Murphy in a play called Misterman, last year at the National, which was written by the same playwright as Ballyturk, Enda Walsh. It was mesmerising. Sad, surreal, funny, shocking, immersive, brilliant.

So, I am predicting a splendid day out in which there will be superb theatre, epic amounts of cake, and lunch.

This will go some way to making me forget that I have had the most evil period for the last two days and am still on industrial quantities of pain killers and hobbling round with a hot water bottle. In fact, I am about to take my hot water bottle with me to London.

It may also make up for a little of the disappointment I felt when we went to see The RSC’s latest incarnation of Love’s Labour’s Lost in Stratford on Wednesday.

It is entirely fair to say that I am spoiled when it comes to theatre. I live an hour away from Stratford, where, over the years I have seen the choicest Shakespearean productions by arguably the most famous troupes of actors, in the birthplace of Shakespeare himself. I live just over an hour away from the National Theatre where there is the chance to see fifty or sixty top class plays every year with very little effort made by me except to turn up and remember to turn my mobile off. I have also travelled the length and breadth of England tracking down fabulous productions and actors to add to my theatre going CV.

It takes a lot to impress me, frankly.

If Wednesday had been my first experience of seeing Shakespeare on a big stage with all the bells and whistles I suspect I would have enjoyed it if I’m being honest.

I think part of the problem was that the last time I saw it, David Tennant was playing the part of Berowne, and the cast worked together tremendously as an ensemble. The play was superb. So if you’re coming on after that, you’ve got a lot to do to beat superb, and they didn’t quite pull it off.

If you like your comedy heavy on the physical side, this play is for you. There was no chance at all of missing any of the jokes as they were very boom boom tish, with pointed looks at the audience. Short of holding a card with the words; ‘Laugh now’ and parading about the back of the stage, nothing more needed doing.

If you love your sets richly dressed with acres of props and fancy, whiz bang technology, this is the play for you. The stage has been mocked up to resemble the nearby National Trust property, Charlecote Park, where it is thought that the young Shakespeare got caught poaching. The fact that I recognised it as Charlecote without having to read the programme notes means you can see the level of detail and skill that went into the set construction.

If you like lots of set changes, things dropping from the sky, coming up from the ceiling etc, you will like this. They had made full use of all the technology they have had installed in the recent refit. We had Elizabethan chimney stacks and widows walks appearing from under the floor. We had whole rooms electronically moving back and forth, up and down the stage. We had studies, and drawing rooms and grassy knolls etc.

If you like rich, beautiful, sumptuous costumes with lots of quick changes, and frankly stunning shoes, then this is for you.

It is a feast for the eye, this production. It has been made to show off the full power and majesty of the RSC in every area they work in. It demands that you pay attention to it.

For me though, all this slightly takes away from what this play, probably more than any other of Shakespeare’s plays, is about. It is all about the words here. The plot is an overindulgent concoction of preposterous events, loosely woven together. What holds it all in place are the words. It is a play about playing with words.

You really got a sense of that in the Tennant production, with great clarity in the delivery and a real sense that the cast are revelling in the overblown wordplay. Here, not every line was delivered crisply. Sometimes it was hard to hear exactly what was being said, and you felt that there was such concentration on getting the timing of the physical stuff right, the words played second fiddle.

I found the sets too fussy for my liking. In the front row of the stalls, which is where we were sitting, the thrust stage is high. Higher than it used to be in the Courtyard theatre, where they put productions while work was in progress rebuilding the main theatre.

The Courtyard was supposed to be a fully working mock up of what you would experience when the revamped theatre was back up and running. I loved it. It was one of my favourite theatre spaces ever. I don’t think it has translated as well into the new space. The thrust is not thrusty enough for me, and the stage is too high for an unimpaired sightline.

When the stage is over full with props, as it was earlier in the week, it can mean serious problems if you want to see anything. In the first scene, for example, set in a fantastic reproduction of an Edwardian library/study, there were globes and astrolabes littered about the place. One particular globe was directly in my eyeline, meaning that instead of seeing the main characters signing the document that will seal their fate for the next three years, I saw a pair of ankles and the bottom of a table.

The director is pairing this play with Much Ado About Nothing, which he has renamed Love’s Labour’s Won. He believes that the plays are meant to be played together, with Love’s Labour’s Lost the prequel to what happens in Much Ado.

I’m not sure I believe him here. I do wonder whether it’s actually more a marketing ploy, given that Shakespeare isn’t about to be writing any new plays, and novelty is always a crowd pleaser.

Anyway, Love’s Labour’s Won is going to be played by the same cast, and judging from what happened at the end of Love’s Labour’s Lost will be heavy with World War I metaphor and an air of post war melancholy. Possibly with heavy portents of World War II to follow.

If he ruins Much Ado About Nothing I may have to have words. It is my favourite of all Shakespeare’s plays and pretty much perfect in my eyes. We are going to see it in a fortnight. I am heavy with portent myself about what will happen.

In the meantime I shall console myself with the belief that Ballyturk will redeem theatre for now.

I will see you on the other side.

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