Ruth Wilson is at the forefront of British acting talent. She has compelled audiences on stage and screen leading The Guardian to name her as ‘courageous, edgy and compelling’. Her ability to subvert acting expectations of her has led to imaginative and stunning roles such as Jane Eyre in BBC’s 2006 mini-series of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel Jane Eyre, Stella in the Donmar Warehouse’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire and the darkly humorous and manipulative Alice in BBC’sLuther.
155 years ago today George Bernard Shaw was born. G.B. Shaw wrote over sixty plays in his lifetime as well as being a co-founder of the London School of Economics. The Quote of the Day comes from his most famous play Pygmalion: “Remember that you are a human being with a soul and the divine gift of articulate speech: that your native language is the language of Shakespeare and Milton and The Bible; and don’t sit there crooning like a bilious pigeon”.
If the weather were always so beautiful as it has been recently then the theatre may seem like a strange idea for a sunny afternoon. However English weather, like its people, is known for its eccentricities. Therefore, here is a pick of the best plays to be found in London this summer.
‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at Wyndham’s Theatre (running until 3rd September)
Named as ‘Doctor Who About Nothing’ by its critics, the casting of this production is either genius or gaff. Playing the comic couple Beatrice and Benedict are the gifted actors David Tennant and Catherine Tate famous, of course, for their pairing on BBC’s Doctor Who. David Tennant has already made his name in theatre particularly for his expert portrayal of Hamlet recently at the RSC. This production has been set in 1980s Gibraltar: a time of partying and crisp, white uniforms which will lay the perfect platform for a Shakespearean comedy and a wonderful evening of gaiety.
‘Pygmalion’ at the Garrick Theatre (running until 3rd Spetember)
George Bernard Shaw’s masterpiece play of duelling minds has had confirmed admirers since its first appearance in 1912. This popularity only grew with the emergence of ‘My Fair Lady’ which added a new dimension to Audrey Hepburn’s fame. This latest version at the Garrick stars Rupert Everett and Kara Tointon: a strange mix of respected actor and soap/ reality show star. Whether Miss Tointon will meet the mark is yet to be seen. From the 15th August until the end of the run Alastair McGowan will take over from Rupert Everett, surely adding a more comic side to the sarcastic and arrogant Professor Henry Higgins.
‘The Woman in Black’ at the Fortune Theatre (currently booking until 17th December)
This production has been running at the Fortune Theatre since 1989 and has chilled the bones of thousands. It tells the tale of Arthur Kipps, a junior solicitor who is sent to investigate the estate of a Mrs Alice Drablow, who gets tangled up into a story that very quickly becomes to intrude on his own life. What is particularly remarkable about this production is the way in which two (and a bit) actors and a few sound effects can hold an audience right in the palm of their hand as they are carried along with Kipps’ journey until its fatal conclusion.
‘Doctor Faustus’ at Shakespeare’s Globe (running until 2 October)
Shakespeare’s Globe has taken the dramatic decision to stage the theatrical sparring partner of its namesake in the form of its new production of Christopher Marlowe’s ‘Doctor Faustus’. ‘Doctor Faustus’ is the journey of a man who sells his soul to the Devil for knowledge. Here, the Devil is played by Arthur Darvill whose recent work in Doctor Who as Rory has made him a household name. This tale of fate, hell and humankind seems rightly placed in the Globe in its very nature and therefore this production should be one to watch.
‘The Railway Children’ at the Waterloo Station Theatre (running until 4th September)
Recent winners of the Olivier Award for Best Entertainment and a record-breaking run; this production was always going to be a hit. Its staging is a mark of pure inspiration using the abandoned Waterloo Station to full advantage. Based on E. Nesbit’s well-loved novel ‘The Railway Children’, it is the story of Bobby, Peter and Phyllis who move to the countryside after their father is imprisoned. A favourite for everyone from 9 year olds to 90 year, this truly is family entertainment at its best.
On this day 398 years ago, the Globe Theatre was destroyed by fire. Therefore, the Quote of the Day shall be the Globe’s motto “Totus mundus agit histrionem” or “All the world plays the actor”.
In Elizabethan times two playwrights produced works that unbeknownst to them would change the face of drama and society completely. Christopher Marlowe’s life is shrouded in mystery and doubt and his plays in the occult and tragedy. William Shakespeare was considered the underdog in his own time and was better known for his acting career than any of his literary accomplishments.
This ancient grudge has broken into new mutiny in recent times. In October 2011, the new Marlowe theatre will be unveiled in Marlowe’s birthplace of Canterbury. In Shakespeare’s birthplace of Stratford-upon-Avon a very similar project has lately opened in November 2010 in the form of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. These two households both alike in dignity will be tormented with ten thousand hells if not claimed the victor of this age-old battle of theatricals.
Both Stratford-upon-Avon and Canterbury are beautifully quaint and loved by all who dwell there. They are charming places that make the most of the history that they have been left with and offer much to the tourists who flock to their centres every year. My personal recommendations are the Canterbury Historic River Tours which is run by the happiest and most knowledgeable tour guides I have ever come across and the City Sightseeing bus tour of Stratford-upon-Avon (although if you insist on sitting on the top deck be prepared to duck for some branches!). Canterbury may have a rougher deal in portraying it as Marlowe’s hometown because little of the Elizabethan architecture of the town is left but any sorrow for that is immediately vanquished by the grandeur of Canterbury Cathedral and the appealing shops of Palace Street. Stratford-upon-Avon, otherwise known as Shakespeareville, squeezes every drop of history it can from what it has been given even down to the shop names such as Will’s Shakes and Much Ado about Toys. At first, this may seem hilarious but after a short time becomes rather tedious. For beautiful views over the East Midlands visit the RST Tower which is cheekily priced at £2.50 per person but the views are quite beautiful.
Verdict-For a more realistic and slightly less tourist-driven town visit Canterbury
Being unable to view the Marlowe Theatre as it is currently still under construction it is somewhat difficult to analyse the interiors of that establishment. However the Marlowe Theatre website describes the auditorium as having an increased seating capacity of 1,200 and more importantly, no seat in the house is further than 25 metres away from the stage which is wonderful news for future audiences. The Marlowe Studio, ‘a flexible and multipurpose performance space’ is also an extremely exciting proposition especially for the many students that Canterbury houses. However, the exterior is a brutal and unforgiving structure which does not attempt to blend into its ancient surroundings at all with locals disgruntled at the choice in architecture.
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre seems to have been a lot more thought about. It combines three old theatres that used to be on the current site and all of the history that has gone into these past adventures ranging from the old staging now used in the front of house so that visitors can “tread the boards” to the old 1920s foyer now used as the glamorous champagne bar. The only disappointment is the auditorium itself which is a near-exact replica of the Courtyard Theatre’s auditorium. This auditorium feels simply temporary and bland. Perhaps it feels different when a performance is actually taking place.
Verdict- The Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon blends in much better with its surroundings whilst still being exciting architecturally.
The most important thing to Marlowe, Shakespeare and its audiences is, of course, the drama on the stage. The Marlowe Theatre, whilst providing a range of different spectaculars to amuse a varied audience, only provides what is already currently available at touring theatres around the country.
The Royal Shakespeare Theatre is, of course, inhabited by the Royal Shakespeare Company who is nearing their fiftieth birthday and has been providing exceptional world-class entertainment throughout. The traffic of their stage can evoke any emotion from their audience that they will. The Royal Shakespeare Theatre opened with Macbeth which seems a strange choice for a newly-opened theatre concerning the terrible superstitions that accompany the Scottish play. However , the new season does not disappoint with ‘The Heart of Robin Hood’, ‘Dunsinane’ and the maestro himself William Shakespeare.
The overall verdict has to be that William Shakespeare and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre wins the day with their beautifully crafted theatre and performances.
Thank you for reading. My next article will be a review of Glastonbury Festival 2001 and will be published on Tuesday 21st June.