All entries for October 2008

October 30, 2008

Love's Labour's Lost @ The Rose Theatre Kingston

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The opportunity to see two different productions of Love's Labour's Lost in close proximity of each other doesn't come around very often, yet October has offered this in the shape of Greg Doran's production for the RSC and Peter Hall's new production for the Rose Theatre Kingston, which also happens to be that theatre's first in-house production. The Rose has been waiting for Shakespeare. An exciting hybrid of reconstruction and modern theatre, it combines a single-room space, allowing proximity to the actors, with an apron stage that keeps the audience on one side. This enormous stage, based on the dimensions of the excavated foundations of the original Rose, takes up half of the circular space with the remainder of the floor filled with audience members sitting on cushions. Acoustically and visually it's a lovely space.

Hall's production was a world away from Doran's, particularly in its relative sobriety. A completely bare stage (save for some drapes lowered for the final pageant) focussed all attention on the actors, dressed in beautifully individual Renaissance costume. Hall's measured approach eschewed silliness for silliness' sake, playing the text straight and placing entire faith in the words to draw laughs, where Doran's production seemed scared of the text and relied entirely on added business.

One unfortunate effect of this approach was to render the play rather dull, and this was felt most severely in the four male courtiers. Finbar Lynch's Berowne was a particular disappointment in this regard. Speaking with a slow drawl that came out of the side of his mouth in a near-sneer, Berowne became disinterested and a bore, never invested in the stage action. There were moments when this approach worked well, particularly in his cynical observations on his fellow lovers and his withering attacks on Boyet, but any energy or sparkle of wit were lost in transmission. The overhearing scene was also disappointing; played entirely straight, with no imagination used in the deployment of the lovers in their various hiding places, it became a dull and dramatically uninteresting scene that made nothing of the situation's obvious ridiculousness. Thankfully, the appearance of the men as Russians did embrace a bit of silliness, with beards, busbies and suitably funny accents.

What the play lacked in simple humour or visual flair, however, it more than made up elsewhere. Hall is a master of Shakespearean language, and this was one of the most beautifully spoken productions of Shakespeare I've ever had the fortune to see. With nothing to distract us from the words, the actors drew out the nuances in the lyrics of the play and turned them to fantastic effect in an evening that demanded attention but richly rewarded it.

The approach to language was probably best exemplified in William Chubb's phenomenal performance as Holofernes. Played younger than usual, Holofernes was infused with nervous energy and a charmingly bookish desire to entertain. Shaking his finger and feeling his way through the words of his extemporaneous lyrics, his Holofernes achieved the marvellous feat of simultaneously sending up the academically pretentious world Shakespeare mocks and endearing himself to the audience as a very human and recognisable character. He was accompanied by a sycophantic Nathaniel played by Paul Bentall, who gazed in open-mouthed wonder at Holofernes' ingenuity and egged him on.

Peter Bowles effected another verbal coup as Don Adriano de Armado by forgoing the usual comedy Spanish accent. Bowles instead presented us with a theatrically-minded gallant; self-consciously melodramatic in both voice and gesture, his proclamations of love saw him get down on one knee, place his hand palm-outwards on his head and raise the pitch in his voice as he cried "Oh, oh!" Always on command on stage, he was (like Holofernes) given able support in Kevin Trainor's wonderful Moth, a camp and slight page. The homosocial bond between the two was brought to the fore, the two frequently embracing in their platonic love for one another. Trainor's verbal dexterity was fully utilised in his mocking impersonations of both his master and the other men around him, and verbally he ran circles around both master and pedant. The scene in which the comic characters first all came together thus became an absolute joy to watch and listen to; Holofernes and Bowles engaged in one-up-manship in their use of Latin (a friendly competition, both applauding each other's use) while Moth and Greg Haiste's lovably roguish Costard (here imagined as good friends and equals, waving to each other childishly as they parted) put arms around each other and laughed at their betters.

The ladies were solid, playing to an older and more serious end of the scale than is perhaps usual. Rachel Pickup's Princess was particularly strong, proving a good match for Dan Fredenburgh's awkward King of Navarre. The strength of the girls was in their subtlety; never breaking decorum apart from when alone with Boyet and Costard, their side glances and giggles to each other as the Princess mocked the King gave them a sense of unity and companionship. However, with the boys also playing things down, the scenes between the two sets of lovers never sparkled as much as they might, and it was always a relief when the comic characters appeared again. The main dramatic problem this led to is that Mercade's ominous arrival at the end of the play didn't have anywhere neary as much impact as usual. While it interrupted the momentary silliness of the group as they tossed around Armado's favour, the grief and sobriety which followed didn't offer enough contrast to what had come before.

The final pageant of the Worthies, again played fairly straight with simple costumes (apart from Moth's oversized snake, which he amusingly pinioned in a series of wrestling moves), was pleasingly entertaining and saw the male lovers come into their own as they mocked the actors with a quick wit, leaving Holofernes physically reeling as the onslaught came from different directions (Michael Mears' Boyet was another good combatant in the verbal sparring). The dismissal of Holofernes, and his condemnation of the lords as "not gentle", in contrast, was perhaps the most moving moment of the play as he trudged to the back of the stage, utterly deflated.

This production perhaps didn't offer much for a casual audience, demanding a great deal in terms of listening, but was academically fascinating for the clarity with which it presented obscure verbal tics and jokes in an accessible and genuinely entertaining way. If nothing else, this production stands as proof that Love's Labour's Lost can be extremely funny on its own terms, and with a bit more energy and sparkle this could be a truly great revival.

This review originally appeared at the Shakespeare Revue.

October 18, 2008

Love's Labour's Lost @ The Courtyard Theatre

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Love's Labour's Lost is often regarded as a difficult play to stage, and in many cases can be a difficult play to watch. There are many good reasons for its long absence from the British stage, and modern revivals have to tread a fine line between clarity and dumbing down, between humour and the elements of darkness. When successful, it can be great. Unhappily, Gregory Doran's new production for the RSC represents a failure, albeit not a total one, to balance the elements or find a heart to the play.

A big part of the problem appears to be a fear of the audience not understanding the play's complex language. Many of the jokes are obscure, antiquated, near-impenetrable to modern audiences. This doesn't, however, excuse not trying. This production wanted laughs, and went for the quickest and easiest route by adding mountains of extra visual stage business in order to provoke the required response. A key example came early on, as Joe Dixon's Don Armado clumsily attempted to woo Riann Steele's Jaquenetta. Rather than trust the text's quick and amusing exchange, Doran had Jaquenetta bring on a butter-churner, working the pole suggestively with her hands and speeding Armado to a empathic climax. It was funny, but represented the production's basic lack of faith in the play itself. Obscure verbal joke? Make a rude gesture and the audience will be laughing so hard they won't even notice. Effectively, the production copped out.

This isn't to say it didn't have its redeeming features. The design (set by Francis O'Connor, 'environment' by Robert Jones, the latter of which I am guessing refers to the mirrored wall and floor left over from the same ensemble's Hamlet) was extremely pretty, a large tree with loping branches and stained-glass vertical hanging branches descending from the ceiling, and located the action in a single field, while Tim Mitchell's lights advanced the production from the dazzling midday of the opening to the gloomy night of the final moments, pale blue beams catching the glass and creating fantastic shadows over the stage. The problem with the set, however, is that it encouraged an end-on viewing of the action that seemed to trick the actors into thinking they were in a proscenium arch theatre rather than on the thrust stage of the Courtyard. An inexcusable majority of the play was performed directly out to the front, while we on the sides were only really played to during Berowne's soliloquies.

Berowne and the rest of the male lovers were another of the key highlights of the production. David Tennant, in the lead role, was charismatic and surprisingly powerful; in particular, his expert delivery of the speech in IV.iii where he excuses the men breaking their vows was played straight down the line, the flimsy excuses becoming eloquent and convincing as he injected a combination of pleading and urgency into his voice (after the speech, the men were rather more fired up than was perhaps good for them). The famous over-hearing sequence was also well-pitched, reaching only just as far into silliness as could be tolerated (Edward Bennet's excellent King hiding himself behind some wafer thin glass branches, for example). Dumaine's final ode borrowed from the Shakespeare Theater Company's 2006 production in making it a song which his hidden fellows joined in with, but Sam Alexander made it his own, pulling a ukulele out of an enormous book and singing the song beautifully.

The girls were less impressive, simpering and giggly rather than independent, particularly Kathryn Drysdale's Katherine and Natalie Walter's Helena who gave performances rather more modern and active than the Renaissance setting required. Nina Sosanya was better as Rosaline, with excellent poise and a quick rapport with Berowne, but failed to balance the wit and sparkle of the men. The performances weren't bad, but the production failed to give them much personality beyond what was needed to react to the men, while the men had ample space and time to develop and indulge in extra-textual material. Mariah Gale's Princess, however, was more interesting; her subservience and repeated bowing to Navarre a rare reminder that, in fact, the two are not equal in rank and that Navarre's subsequent humbling of himself through his bumbling attempts at wooing represents a fascinating and funny reversal of power. Still, the girls overall were under-developed, which also led to a waste of the excellent Mark Hadfield as a snickering Boyet who was particularly smug at his outwitting of Berowne.

The main plot provided most of the interest; the subplots, however, were where the production failed. Most unhappy to watch was the gradual decline of Ricky Champ's Costard. In his first appearances he was perfectly good and funny, exchanging snappy back-and-forth with the lords and providing a nice comic underscore to the slightly pompous lords. However, the production very quickly ran out of ideas of what to do with him, which was horribly realised in a 'rap' version of his "l'envoi" (III.i) which marked the beginning of the end of any intelligent approach to the comedy. Don Armado fared well for most of the play, relying on a comedy Spanish accent and exaggerated mannerisms, but by V.i he was relying on the cheapest of devices to get laughs, to the point of inexplicably pausing on the first syllable of the word "assistance", simply so that the audience could get kicks out of him saying "crave your ass" to Holofernes. Moments such as these were painfully reductive and unnecessary, giving the lie to the intelligence that the production showed elsewhere. Zoe Thorne's Moth, meanwhile, was artificially spoken and rather annoying; the main laughs came from seeing the tiny Thorne dressed identically to the enormous Dixon.

Oliver Ford Davies struggled with the play's dullest material as Holofernes, again having to add business to get the laughs (he lusted impotently after Jaquenetta whenever they shared the stage). However, both he and Jim Hooper's Nathaniel drew some sympathy out of their righteously hurt reactions to the scoffing of the nobles during the play's final pageant. This was interestingly performed, the Worthies appearing one by one wearing ships or horses underneath them to give the impression of their mode of transport. Interestingly, Costard's 'ship' had a leopard as its figurehead which he drew attention to on the line "I hope I was purrrrfect", at which the entire on-stage cast appeared to corpse, pausing the scene for a moment - I'd be interested to know if this was an adlib or rehearsed, as it was one of the few moments where there was a sense of real warmth on the stage.

The play's other two internal performances were also well realised. Towards the end of the interval, a group of rustics appeared in the Courtyard's foyer and performed a song and dance in the bar for the benefit of those still lingering over their drinks, which was an effective and engaging introduction to the second half of the play, even if it had no apparent point. They then relocated to the stage where they gave a very effective song and clog dance routine, after which they promptly left. Other than to establish a rustic mood(?) I couldn't place a reason for this interlude, but it was one of the few additions that I couldn't object to. More overblown was the presentation of the male lovers as Russians, for which they appeared in full busby hats and beards and danced a Cossack dance. They then were joined by a bear on a chain which proceeded to dance in formation with the men. The audience loved it, but by this point it was simply one interpolation too many.

The ending, with the thoroughly sober and black-clad Monsieur Marcade interrupting the party, began effectively. The mood was instantly killed and Gale came into her own as the grieving Princess. Yet here, too, the production finally copped out. Even as the lovers parted, they went to talk aside and held hands, coupling off in a manner that hinted far too strongly at their future reconciliation. The return of the rustics and clowns to sing the song of the Owl and Cuckoo, while lanterns were hung behind, saw everyone singing in chorus with an air of unification, and there was no sense of the lovers parting after Armado's "You that way, we this way". This culminated in the final image, as Berowne and Rosaline remained alone on stage, gazing at each other from a short distance, while another actor flew a puppet owl over the heads of the audience, making a cry that the programme described as "a male answering a female". It may be a difficult ending, but the production seemed to work against the mood of the text, attempting to recover a happier end.

Despite often being amusing, this was a disappointing conclusion to a relatively disappointing RSC season. Flashes of inspiration were thwarted by an overall attempt to simplify and make crude a complicated and lyrical play. More labour needed.

This review was originally written for Shakespeare Revue.

October 17, 2008

Spectacular @ Warwick Arts Centre

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I didn't stay for the post-show talk after last night's performance of Spectacular by Forced Entertainment. Increasingly, when it comes to productions so fascinating and unpinnable, I don't want my own reading affected by the creators' explanation of their motives and ideas. Forced Entertainment's new show is a brave and difficult piece of work, subtle in its impact and extremely clever.

The basic premise saw a performer in a skeleton costume stroll onto a bare stage and spend the next eighty minutes explaining to us what would usually happen during a performance; what the set is usually like, how the band sound, where the dancers come in, where the pot plants stand, how the lights change etc., while also giving us his own insights into what goes through a performer's mind while on stage, the doubts and fears, the worries about reactions, the loss of focus and so on. Despite being hidden behind his mask for the whole performance, Robin Arthur made for an engaging and entertaining host, often extremely funny in his insecurities and doubts.

After a while, he was joined onstage by Claire Marshall, who politely asked if she could begin her dying now. For most of the rest of the play, then, Arthur's commentary was underscored by Marshall enacting an epic dying scene; flicking from histrionics to sobbing, melodramatic thrashing to complete stillness. This led to a gradually rising conflict between the two, as Arthur struggled to be heard and to focus over her acting, and he repeatedly gave her 'advice' on her performance in order to encourage her to be as quiet as possible.

Effectively, this was it, a simple two-person piece. The power of the production, however, came from its handling of the audience and the openness of its themes. Rather than confront its audience, Arthur's conversational dialogue coaxed the audience into imaginative co-operation. As he created an invisible world of an imagined performance, the audience's attention and engagement became split between the world that wasn't and the world that was, the images of winding staircases and pot plants contrasting with the bare stage on which a women moaned and clutched her stomach. The effort required by the audience to create this effect wasn't inconsiderable, and I was aware of a couple of walk-outs; in some ways, the format was excruciating, yet in my mind it always avoided dullness. The work of Arthur in keeping an audience of 400 people engaged with something they couldn't see is not to be underestimated.

We were dealing with death, as was obvious both from the skeleton costume and Marshall's ongoing death throes. Yet the most powerful evocation of death came from Arthur's lonely description of a dazzling and exciting stage performance which was manifestly not going to happen. It was the speech of an old person, reliving days which will never come again. The spectre of nothingness hovered over the play at all times; yet the skeleton's denial of the inevitable conclusion was obvious. His continual 'shushing' of the death scene became a more active avoidance of death itself, a way of shying away from the subject matter to which his conversation kept threatening to take him. While the production kept a light and funny tone for much of its running time, the loneliness was always there, and made explicit in the final five minutes after Marshall thanked him and left the stage. Left alone, ruminating on the end of the imagined performance in which he left the stage as the lights went down, his solitude evoked death even more powerfully than the dramatised version of his colleague.

While I spent much of the play laughing at Arthur's isolated banter, I found myself feeling oddly upset and frustrated at the play. At the time, this feeling prompted me to question whether or not I'd actually liked it. In retrospect, I think I was more troubled by the subject matter than I realised. The performers were incredibly skillful in drawing the audience into a world where we laughed at death when immediately confronted with it, but ran away from it when it actually threatened. It asked the audience, ever so subtly, to question their own attitudes, and I would hesitatingly suggest that the most important point of the show was to show that it is not the act of dying that should be our primary cause of fear, but death itself, the quiet, loneliness and bareness of the end. Giggles aside, this was a show with a bleak heart.

October 07, 2008

Mirren and Brand

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I can get on board with Russell Brand playing Trinculo in a new film version of The Tempest. In many ways I think he might actually be a revelation in the role, though equally he might unbalance the film. Still, one to keep an eye on.

But who is Helen Mirren playing?! Of all the Shakespeare productions she could be starring in, The Tempest is perhaps the oddest - there is only one female character (not counting the sexless Ariel), and she's a teenager, which Mirren would struggle to perform. Here, then, are my guesses:

  • Prospero him/herself? Vanessa Redgrave proved (to, if I remember rightly, slightly mixed responses) that the part can be played by an older woman in a production at the Globe.
  • Gonzalo, aka Gonzala, as was seen in the Guildhall production at the Complete Works Festival?
  • Ariel? This is possibly the most likely, as the part which is easiest to reinterpret according to your actor. I've never heard of an older Ariel, but it could be an extremely interesting decision.
  • Miranda, in a radical re-writing of the role?
  • And the mind only boggles at the thought of Helen Mirren's Caliban.......

October 06, 2008

Play Without a Title @ The CAPITAL Centre: Responses

Despite having worked alongside the Artistic Director of Fail Better productions for about a year, it's perhaps surprising that this is the first production I've seen by that company. Play Without a Title, however, is special for a number of reasons. It combines the professional experience of the company with an all-student acting company (as well as students filling various creative and technical roles). It's the world premiere of a new translation of Lorca's play by academic David Johnston. And, it's a rare performance of an unfinished play, the first act of an experimental and exciting piece by the Spanish master. It's also tremendous.

Clocking in at about fifty minutes, Play Without a Title was an intense experience. Nomi Everall's spectacular set filled the tiny studio space of the CAPITAL Centre, an impressive self-contained set that created a theatre auditorium on one side, a backstage area on the other and a grey 'stage' separating the two. Each space had its own distinct atmosphere, carefully separated from the others. The auditorium gradually filled with formally dressed couples, tapping their feet, finding their seats, hanging their coats up, all in a highly comedic fashion. The backstage area, meanwhile, was an Aladdin's Cave of props and costumes, in which two actors appeared moving in slow-motion, tentatively trying on costumes and transforming themselves into the characters of A Midsummer Night's Dream whom they were playing. The stage, meanwhile, was plain and bare (a grey area, if you will), a place of pronouncements, or 'sermons'. Perhaps paradoxically, this space was dominated by the Director, the central 'actor' of Lorca's play, who took to the stage in an effort to subvert the usual expectations of the theatre's set-up. Bridging the two worlds on either side of him, the Director's rhetoric and force drove the play's action as he called for a rethink about the essence of what we call 'theatre'.

The play's most rivetting aspects turned on the debate of what constituted theatre and real life, and the differences between them. In this debate, no-one could ever be 'right'. The Director used horrific examples from real life to illustrate what he considered to be 'truth', but yet recoiled from other examples when used against him. One audience member announced he was leaving the theatre at the mention of the concept of a 'real' 'truth', but his wife only joined him when forced to confront a specific example. In a lovely piece of doubling (though whether it is called for by the script I don't know), the two who left reappeared as actors in the backstage area, making themselves up and changing into theatrical characters. This corresponded effectively with the comments of the Leading Lady to the Director, in which she cried out against the ugliness of real life, the inability of man to deal with it for more than a moment before having to hide again; the reappearance of audience members who had run back to the 'safety' of real life in the backstage world of the theatre provided an apt visual metaphor.

Play Without a Title flyer

The confrontation between on- and off-stage allowed for some startling moments of drama. The Director directly challenged his audience members, and part of the fascination came from watching how they responded and the points at which they were finally provoked into responding. The forces which held them in their seats even as they were being told to leave where almost tangible, with Lorca's text bringing to life the unwritten rules of the theatre, exploiting the attitude of passive activity (or active passivity) in which audiences expect to enjoy the theatre. The two couples - one of whom reacted and left, the other of whom stayed to watch in quiet amusement - demonstrated two very different approaches to theatregoing that enraged the Director in different ways.

In contrast, the Leading Lady spoke for the virtues of disguise in theatre as an actress who was permanently in one character or another. Despite the Director's initial disdain for her, her power was overwhelming, unbalancing his arguments and throwing him into confusion with her near-unshakable confidence. It was this confidence, and this obstinant reliance on the worlds she created for herself rather than the real world, that led to the play's funniest and most moving moment - as the theatre began to burn and an audience member cried for her children, the Leading Lady scolded her for 'saying it so badly', instructing her on how to enact her grief more effectively. Her outlook was simultaneously repulsive and sorely tempting, a complete and total retreat from the banality/security of real life.

As the play drew to its climax, and rebellion outside the theatre threatened the safety of all inside, the two worlds collapsed together. The two halves of the stage slid together in a crash, eliminating the 'stage' and merging the backstage world with the auditorium. Actresses dressed as fairies spilled into the aisles where a shot revolutionary was dying, addressing each other by their fairy names. With both worlds threatened at the same time, the debates about the danger and fears of real life took on an urgent dimension, with the Director calling for the revolutionaries to be welcomed into the theatre while an audience member took matters into his own hands and shot the first man through the door. As fear and flames engulfed the stage, the play crashed to its end, the Leading Lady still calling for "My Lorenzo..."

Jonathan Heron's production urgently calls for reappraisal of this buried gem, an important and vital treatise on the dynamics between theatre and life, stage and auditorium, perrformer and audience. Thought-provoking, moving and in places extremely funny, the play demands to be almost immediately watched again, and the publication of Johnston's translation next month will hopefully invite further productions. For now, though, this is an excellent and evocative piece that showcases a superb student cast and pushes the technical boundaries of the CAPITAL Centre's space. Don't even bother trying for tickets, the run is booked solid.

October 03, 2008

Mine @ Warwick Arts Centre

After a month off from the theatre, I'm back, and straight away at a world premiere. Last night was the first night of Shared Experience's new play, Mine, at Warwick Arts Centre. As ever when seeing a preview, I'll offer a disclaimer straight away - the press night isn't for another week, the company were presumably only just out of the rehearsal room, the play was bound to be a little rough around the edges. If you want an opinion on the play after it's settled, wait for the London reviews after next week's official opening.

The play, a new piece by co-Artistic Director Polly Teale, was a contemporary drama. A well-off Woman and Man are given the long-awaited opportunity to adopt a child, whose mother is a drug user and prostitute. They look after the child, with the hope and expectation that the birth mother will eventually be ruled ineligible to have custody of or access to the child. However, as the Mother struggles to bond with the baby, she becomes consumed by feelings of guilt at 'stealing' the real mother's child, and at her own privileged position in the world as compared to the unfortunate circumstances from which the child has been 'rescued'. Gradually, the Woman's world crumbles around her.

The play itself was patchy. There were extremely powerful scenes, particularly in the first act. One stand-out came between the Woman and her Mother, as the two argued over the Mother's own parenting skills and their respective attitude to and grudges against each other. Ideas of 'ownership', of mother-daughter bonds and the right of a human being to have control over another (which worked both ways, daughter-over-mother as well as mother-over-daughter) were insightful and well-realised. In particular, watching the Woman try to come to terms with seeing the birth-mother (one of the only two named characters, Rose) easily stop her child from crying during a visit - a feat the Woman never manages to achieve.

The Woman, played by Katy Stephens (excellent in the RSC Histories Cycle), carried the whole production. We followed her from one obsession (the yearning for a child) through her guilt to another obsession, which culminated in her practically stalking the birth mother, watching her on the streets and trying to get closer to an understanding of her life. Stephens, however, wasn't great in the role. Her intensity was excellent, her creepiness and increasing instability well realised physically and in expression, but her voice - so powerful when uttering the rhetoric of Shakespeare's early histories - struggled with contemporary dialogue, her words sounding artificial and declaimed. While this served to differentiate her from those around her, it made her a difficult central character. What Stephens did bring out effectively was the plight of the modern working mother, with one particularly terrifying scene as she juggled a conference call on her mobile with attempts to stop the baby in her arms crying, leading to her shaking the (scarily realistic) baby rather violently and continually threatening to drop it.

In the second act, we encountered more problems. As the Woman's conscience pricked her during a break-up scene with her husband, she suddenly went off on a rant about global injustice, crying out against Eastern villages clogged up with Marks & Spencers shopping bags and the environmental impact of our own consumer-driven existence. It came out of nowhere, a token rant about the world that tried to find a wider impact to the story but actually diminished it. The power in this play came out of the extremely personal confrontations between the Woman and Rose, about the immediate social difference - attempting to globalise their situation felt contrived and an unnecessary diversion. Likewise, the break-up with the Man (played effectively by Alistair Petrie), felt like a strand too many, particularly when it wasn't developed any further than their sort-of reconciliation.

However, there were strong supporting performances. Lorraine Stanley was tremendous as Rose, giving a nervy and disturbing performance as the birth-mother of the child. Besotted by her baby, but unhinged to the point of being unable to stand still, her performance was both realistic and touching, a glimpse into a horrible situation where a mother is consumed by guilt and love simultaneously, both wanting a thing and knowing that she is the last person in the world who should have that thing. As much as anything else, this was an excellent insight into modern class difference, with the Man taking a strong stance against Rose while the Woman struggled with an awkward social awareness and attempts at empathy that only drove Rose further away.

The other solid performance came from Clare Lawrence Moody, doubling as the Woman's Sister and Katya, the Woman's Russian cleaner. These two acted as representations of other aspects of womanhood - the Sister a committed mother who resents having nothing else to show for her life, and Katya as the fully working mother who sees her children once a year but yet dispenses words of wisdom that have kept her family working. Moody was particularly funny as both, giving a natural and affecting performance as the Sister and having comically OTT fun with the terrifying Russian (when mugged at the couple's front door, she responded by kneeing her attackers in the groin).

This being a Shared Experience production, we were also treated to expansive back-projection and dream sequences. Very similarly to their production of Bronte a few years back, the dream sequences featured a near-mute fantasy character who re-appeared constantly, moving in a stylised way and taunting/pleading to the 'real' characters. Here, the character represented the child - at first, reaching out to the Woman for rescue and then, gradually, pulling away from the Woman and hiding from her. Into these dream sequences crept other figures; in the most extreme, Rose appeared with a gun, hunting the Woman down, and the Woman was forced to kill Rose violently out of protection while the Child screamed. These sequences represented the Woman's hopes and fears, symptoms of her gradual collapse. Some of these moments were beautiful, particularly in one sequence where the Child took refuge in an over-sized doll's house.

This was a mixed bag of a play, and it will hopefully become stronger as the run progresses. The dialogue was the main let-down, often sounding forced, particularly in the Woman's case. However, there is strong material there and a powerful story of parenthood and love which I imagine will strike chords far and wide - it's one which I believe would have an extremely powerful impact in deprived areas, and I hope that less privileged audiences get to see it. However, it's also messy - the central message is strong enough, and particularly in the second half there are too many distractions from the genuinely powerful material. I didn't hugely enjoy the play in the state it's currently in, there was simply too much that was awkward and derivative, but the subject matter is important and I hope it does well.

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Peter Kirwan is Teaching Associate in Shakespeare and Early Modern Drama at the University of Nottingham and a reviewer of Shakespearean theatre for several academic journals.

The Bardathon is his experimental review blog, covering productions of (or based on) all early modern plays. The aim is to combine immediate reactions with the detail and analysis of the academic review.

Theatre criticism always needs more voices. Please comment with your own views and contributions!

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