Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Theatre review – The Comedy of Errors

It’s hard to believe that the same man who wrote the farcical, slapstick The Comedy of Errors also wrote Hamlet, Macbeth and Othello.

 

“Errors” is one of Master Shakespeare’s earliest plays, and it’s also his shortest.

The knock-about tale tells of two sets of identical twins, their father Egeon – a Syracuse merchant on the cusp of being executed for entering Ephesus – and Emilia, Egeon’s long-lost wife, now Abbess at Ephesus.

One set of twins are called Antipholus, the other – the Antipholean bondmen – are both Dromio.

Separated from his wife and one pair of twins during a tempest at sea, Egeon is trying to track them all down. What follows is an exhausting helter-skelter ride, with mistaken identity, wordplay and slapstick comedy providing a farcical theatrical experience of Feydeau and Brian Rix proportions.

The ever brilliant Guildford Shakespeare Company pull it all off in their usual exuberant style, the mobility of the open-air set – at both Guildford Castle Keep and around the Castle grounds by the bandstand – adding to the air of fluid confusion.

The loose ends are all neatly tied up with a bow on top, before Will gets his head down for some serious tragedy.

 

Theatre review – The Winter’s Tale

Tragedy? Comedy? Tragicomedy? History play?

The Winter’s Tale – one of Shakespeare’s final works, first performed in 1610 – is all of these. And more.

We saw a fine production of this intriguing play last night, from the ever brilliant Guildford Shakespeare Company, brought to colourful life in the darkly atmospheric Holy Trinity Church.

Never having seen The Winter’s Tale before, piecing the intricacies of the plot together was a challenge at times, demanding full concentration. But the effort was fully rewarded.

All seems well at first, at the court of Leontes, King of Sicilia. He is surrounded by love, from his childhood friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia, from his own Queen Hermione, his son, faithful retainer Camillo and other loyal courtiers.

But in the blink of a jealous eye, the King’s mood changes and tragedy ensues. Leontes is certain that Hermione is carrying his friend’s baby inside her, and orders the death of Polixenes. But Camillo helps the wronged King to escape.

Leontes initially orders the newly born child to be burned, but Antigonus rescues her and takes her to the safe haven of Bohemia, abandoning Perdita – what an apt name for such a desperate start in life – near the coast.

Back in Sicilia, Queen Hermione and her son Mamillius both die as a result of Leontes’ blind jealousy and rash actions.

For the next 16 years, Perdita is raised in Bohemia by a kindly shepherd, until she falls in love with the disguised Prince Florizel, son of Polixenes.

In the Shakespearian way, a happy ending is somehow conjured out of abject misery. Leontes is granted the good fortune to be reunited with his daughter and – bizarrely – Hermione, when a statue of her is brought back to life.

So is The Winter’s Tale also a morality play?

Perhaps.

But whatever the playwright ultimately intended, this production is a joyful journey through the pages of The Winter’s Tale. From the darkness of the initial misdeeds in Sicilia, to the colourful Bhangra-inspired exotic land of Bohemia, and the ultimately happy denouement back in Sicilia, the GSC use the church setting and their natural theatrical exuberance to tell the story in a wholly compelling way.

Leontes doesn’t deserve a happy ending, but who am I to argue with Master Shakespeare?

Thanks to the GSC for another brilliant performance…and here’s to the next 10 years, whether tragic, comic, historic, romantic, moral. Or wholly immoral.

 

Theatre review – King Charles III

What a brilliantly constructed piece of theatre King Charles III is, written by Mike Bartlett, directed by Rupert Goold, and with Robert Powell playing the eponymous King.

Now on a national tour, the Yvonne Arnaud audience in Guildford was royally entertained last night by the ascension to the throne of Charles on the death of his long-reigning mother. Fictional, yes. But the drama is predicated on what we already know about the heir’s temperament, principles and personal interests.

Could he put those traits aside, when King, to ensure the  country enjoys the same stability and unity provided by Elizabeth II for over 60 years?

No, according to the playwright in this thought-provoking projection into what could be the very near future.

The plot hinges on the new King’s refusal to give royal assent to a new piece of legislation, already approved by both Houses of Parliament. He fears the attempt by law-makers to control the press strikes at the very heart of freedom of expression.

But what are the constitutional implications of such an impasse ‘twixt the democratically elected House of Commons and the monarchy?

The language in this production is as thrilling as the plot. Told in blank verse, there are several nods to our greatest dramatist.

The ghost of Diana, haunting both Charles and William, and cheekily predicting both will be the greatest King to rule the country, echoes the ghost of Hamlet’s dead father.

Catherine is portrayed as having the vaulting ambition of Lady Macbeth. Her hands may not end up spotted with blood, but she has a violent passion to drive William’s direction for her own benefit.

Poor Charles – brooding, intellectual, introspective – is Hamlet, too hesitant to act decisively.

And of course, there’s always a comic character to lighten the theatrical weight of any Shakespearian tragedy. Enter Harry, stage left, the aimless, gormless Prince doomed to being the buffoon, the fun uncle, the sideshow. Until he meets Jessica. In a nightclub. And whose past ends up providing the argument for the worst elements of the British press to be controlled, after all….

The writing, acting, music and staging combine to make this a really entertaining piece of what-if drama.

It’s provocative and subversive. It’s tragic and funny. It’s fictional and couldn’t happen.

Or could it…..?