Tag Archives: Amanda Wilkin

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Shakespeare’s Globe

When Shakespeare makes reference to the theatre, as he regularly does in this romantic comedy favourite, then the venue that bears his name has a head start. The welcoming vibe on Bankside is enhanced by the text, and director Sean Holmes takes full advantage of that. Theatregoers are embraced at every opportunity: a ramp to the stage breaks boundaries and one audience member a night is recruited to play a part (a nightmare for some, but there are few better ways to get a crowd clapping). It’s never nice to be a party pooper but, while the atmosphere is great, the production itself is uneven.

We’re off to a stilted start with Theseus and Hippolita, with an unfruitful take on their strange courtship. Doubling as the also battling fairy King and Queen doesn’t prove much happier for Peter Bourke and Victoria Elliott, who seem hampered by Jean Chan’s costumes (they are not the only ones). Bourke and Elliott work hard but their roles – and the questions of power that surround them – could be questioned more by Holmes. The characters end up lost.

The quartet of Athenian lovers who we follow also fail to excite. Despite command of the stage, from Amanda Wilkin in particular, their adventures in the woods fall flat. There are too many thrusts of the hips to get cheap laughs and too many lines lost in song. Overall, there’s little romance, sex or chemistry among any of the couples. Compared to Emma Rice’s production at the Globe in 2016, it all feels rather tame.

Still, there are plenty of ideas to enjoy. Some touches are neat – like the blowguns that send people to sleep. Some are sweet – they have a piñata! And some ideas are quite brilliant: having Puck played by the whole cast isn’t just practical, it makes for a brilliant final speech that pokes fun at actors fighting for lines. And I trust Puck’s T-shirt will be on sale soon. But other concepts feel misguided. This theatre hardly needs to emphasise Shakespeare’s globe-to-globe appeal (by the way, check out the forthcoming Shakespeare in Poland festival). But having cast members deliver some speeches in foreign languages doesn’t work, however admirable the motivation. While it’s intriguing to wonder what tongue is being spoken and why, it fights with accessibility – what if you’ve never seen the play before?

Rachel Hannah Clarke

All questions are forgotten with the troop of tradesmen who put on their play-within-a-play at the finale. This is the funniest am-dram I’ve seen in a long while – full of spirit and superbly skilled at corralling the fun, including their conscript from the crowd. There’s the sweetest Snug you could wish for in Rachel Hannah Clarke – that she finds her roar is a delight. Nadine Higgin makes a Quince very much in control, to great comic effect, and her delivery of the prologue is fantastic.

Jocelyn Jee Esien

Leading the crew is Jocelyn Jee Esien as Bottom, with a performance of such confidence it comes as a relief. This is the only role allowed to calm down at all, resulting in a character who is appealing as well as funny. It’s a shame that the show is only half a success, but it’s saved by the “rude mechanicals” who add real joy to the production.

Until 13 October 2019

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Tristam Kenton

“The Grinning Man” at the Trafalgar Studios

The theatre world often fantasises about the next big British musical, and a home-grown piece is always something to celebrate, so this work, spearheaded by composer and lyricist team Tim Phillips and Marc Teitler, has arrived from Bristol to the West End like a dream. The Grinning Man is original, polished and has a sense of integrity that, while making its success cultish rather than mainstream, wins respect.

The story is a fairy tale, heavy on the Gothic, but for grownups. Set in a familiar work, although with surprisingly little satire, our eponymous hero was disfigured as a child and is now a circus freak show. It’s a star role that Louis Maskell delivers with conviction. With a blind girlfriend and sinister adopted father in tow (Sanne Den Besten and Sean Kingsley), the much sung about “ugly beautiful” appearance of this charismatic changeling alters society for the better. The colourful royal family, with a strong quartet of performances from Julie Atherton, David Bardsley, Amanda Wilkin and Mark Anderson, all fall under his (inexplicable) spell. The only one on stage who seems immune is a villainous jester, for my money the lead of the show, brilliantly portrayed by Julian Bleach and winning most of the laughs.

The tale is as good as any by the Grimms. It’s based on a novel by Victor Hugo, and writer Carl Grose tackles it well. But the swearing, nymphomania and a bizarre incest plot make it adults only. It’s something of a puzzle – the temptation to appeal to a larger audience must have been great. A bigger problem is that the score only interests by including some bizarre electronic sounds and the songs aren’t catchy enough. While the dialogue is good, the lyrics, from Phillips, Teitler, Grose and also the show’s director Tom Morris, are too often uninspired.

Yet the production itself is an unreserved triumph. There’s fascinating movement and choreography from Jane Gibson and Lynne Page, accompanying Morris’s strong direction. And when it comes to portraying the worlds of circus and court, Jon Bausor’s design is magnificent. There’s a lot of puppetry, superb in design and execution, complemented by sets that are like a trip to Pollock’s toy shop. Topping it all, with a range of influences from steam punk to Gormenghast, are terrific costumes by Jean Chan. It’s the attention to detail, the look of the show, that puts smiles on faces.

Until 5 May 2018

www.thegrinningmanmusical.com

Photo by Helen Maybanks