The weird, the wonderful and the violent

The weird

Golem (theguardian.com)

               Golem (theguardian.com)

1927 are weird, there is no other theatre company like them. They mix animation with live action and music, with a tinge of silent movie and clowning. Their latest, Golem, features various versions of the eponymous (and animated) central character who transforms himself from benign slave to controller, and turns the initially shy and harmless Robert into an aggressive, ambitious fashion slave. So yes it is a swipe at modern technology and some people have remarked on the heavy-handedness of the message, or even, with the students I was with recently, the rather tired subject matter. But to me 1927 are less about subject matter and more about visual invention, and nothing comes more visually inventive than 1927. The current show isn’t as tight as their previous one, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets – which was, in my view, perfect. But a slightly overlong production from 1927 is still a memorable experience.

Only one of them is live (telegraph.co.uk)

Only one of them is live (telegraph.co.uk)

Golem runs at the Young Vic Theatre until 31 January 2015.

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The wonderful

Tim Piggott-Smith (theguardian)

Tim Piggott-Smith (theguardian)

King Charles III is simply wonderful, no less so on second viewing. The power of the Shakespearean language, jarring to begin with perhaps until you get used to it, adds to this big play a totally appropriate feeling of grandeur. It is an important play, it dares to question the purpose and the existence of the monarchy. It reminds us how our reigning monarch, the only monarch most of us have ever known, has kept herself and her opinions so completely under wraps: never uttering a controversial opinion (or any kind of opinion) on anything; never interfering in government, never attracting a moment’s scandal; arguably the most inscrutable public figure in history. So it is not far-fetched to assume that her successor, who’s not so averse to expressing his feelings in public, will not be so prepared to simply sign off on every parliamentary Act that is presented to him.

It is a bold, theatrical, thought-provoking and funny play, with resonances of Hamlet, King Lear and Macbeth. Definitely one for our times.

King Charles III is at Wyndham’s Theatre, also until 31 January.

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The violent

(franticassembly.co.uk)

(franticassembly.co.uk)

Frantic Assembly’s Othello, at the Lyric Hammersmith, is nasty, brutish and short. There’s been some heavy editing here as not only does it run straight through for 100 minutes without an interval, for the first ten or so minutes we get no words at all. Rather we get Frantic’s familiarly physical scene- and character-setting, accompanied on this occasion by loud rock music (Hybrid). The set is a north country pub where a pool table represents everything from a battlefield (resonances of Black Watch) to the marital bed of Othello and Desdemona. The walls of the set bend and reshape themselves at will, or when someone – usually a pumped-up Iago or a drunk Cassio – bumps into them. The words, when they do come, are Shakespeare’s, spoken in dialect. It is a production for young people and young people comprised I’d say 98% of the audience on the night we saw it. They were quiet throughout and enthusiastically noisy at the end, so it worked for them.

Steven Miller (Iago), Leila Crerar (Emilia) and the Handkerchief (oxfordtimes.co.uk)

Steven Miller (Iago), Leila Crerar (Emilia) and The Handkerchief (oxfordtimes.co.uk)

Personally speaking I’ve always had problems with this play. Why is Iago so obsessively jealous of Othello? Why does Othello believe him so easily when he slanders Desdemona?  This production doesn’t solve those problems, in fact what it gains in furious, brutal  physicality – and shortness – it loses in character development, so that Othello himself, despite an affecting performance by Mark Ebulue, seems almost peripheral. But there are moments of pure Shakespeare, especially in Emilia’s powerful condemnation of Othello, delivered with heartbreaking passion by the track-suited Leila Crerar.

Othello is on at the Lyric Hammersmith until 7 February 2015.

King Charles the Third

Production poster (almeida.co.uk)

Production poster (almeida.co.uk)

Mike Bartlett has stepped into the future and produced a remarkable play about what might happen when the Queen dies and Charles becomes King. He has invented what on paper may seem a slightly implausible premise but which on stage appears utterly credible, and given it in scope, reach and language the full Shakespeare treatment.

The play begins with the Agnus Dei and the death of the Queen, and before he’s even managed to get himself crowned Charles is refusing to sign off on a Bill restricting the freedom of the press, on grounds of principle. The result is a constitutional crisis, a tank outside Buckingham Palace and threatened civil war, not to mention tension and treachery within the Firm itself.

It’s a bold, brave and beautiful play, cast, directed and acted to perfection. I’m not kidding. Each member of the Firm is instantly recognisable the moment he or she steps onto the stage – Charles, Camilla, William, Kate and a wonderfully tousled Harry – yet while none of the actors attempts anything like an impression of the famous character they are playing they are all utterly believable. The heightened language could so easily have sounded portentous, yet it doesn’t, it adds grandeur and stature to a play that, though speculative, makes a lot of sense and with great intelligence and integrity throws a light on the whole purpose of the Royal Family and the fact that, ironically, the only person not allowed to voice his political opinions in public is the monarch. At one point Charles, in anguish, cries ‘Who am I?’ – if he is not allowed to act on his principles, what is the point of him?

Kate and William - Lydia Wilson and Oliver Chris (almedia.co.uk)

Kate and William: Lydia Wilson and Oliver Chris (almedia.co.uk)

There are echoes of Hamlet and Macbeth, with the ghostly appearance of Diana, and Henry IV, with the heartbreakingly lost Harry trying so hard to extricate himself from the constraints of the family he is born into, and yet… but I don’t want to give that away. There’s even a touch of Richard II about a desperate, thwarted Charles poring over books in search of royal precedent and and declaring ‘the king is ordained by God’.

Above all else is a towering performance by the great Tim Piggott-Smith, a humane, sympathetic yet finally out of control Charles (who in reality I suspect would not find it so easy to express his genuine love for his sons). The director is Rupert Goold. A great play for our times.

Tim Piggott-Smith (guardian)

Tim Piggott-Smith (guardian.co.uk)