Tag Archives: Clare Dunne

“Henry IV” at the Donmar Warehouse

The Donmar’s all-female production of Julius Caesar was one of the theatrical highlights of last year. Now director Phyllida Lloyd returns with Henry IV, set once again in a women’s prison. An amalgam of Henry IV Parts I and II, the text is performed by the ‘inmates’, making this two plays in one in more than one sense, since we have Shakespeare and also the staging of Shakespeare. It’s layered, obviously, but what makes the production fascinating is the weight given to the prisoners’ own staging – is it the focus or just an addition? The question is open for the audience.

Henry IV is a riveting evening, not least because you want to know what has been done to the text. But it starts out dreadfully. With a nod to the trend for immersive theatre, the audience waits over the road in the Seven Dials Club, where you can use the bar and the loo (don’t forget this – there’s no interval and the show is two hours plus) before walking over the road and entering via the back stairs. Punch Drunk it ain’t. Although a few prison posters threaten punishment for those using phones – incarceration is too good for them after all – the whole effort seems feeble.

Once the acting starts, Henry IV is magnificent. Clare Dunne plays Prince Hal, the hero of both plays, with startling energy. Caught between the responsibilities inheritance brings, embodied by the superb Harriet Walter in the title role, and another father figure – Falstaff. As the rogue knight, Ashley McGuire gives a tremendous performance, fully embodying the ambiguities this production offers – it’s a great Falstaff but the sense of a disturbed woman in prison who is taking on the role is tangible. This triangle of ‘men’ is the focus of the production and the ramifications, when performed by female characters in a jail, positively outshine any episode of cult women’s prison drama Orange is the New Black.

When Shakespeare and the performance being staged by the prisoners intersect, Henry IV is electric. Some adlibbing results in an emotional break to the action, highlighting the sexism of the original text along with the cruelty of prison life. And the whole evening is abruptly cut short by the prison guards – leaving you feeling somewhat shell-shocked. The lives of the characters performing these famous roles provoke speculation; ‘Hal’ reveals she is to be released soon, and the whole cast have worked to create back stories. The prisoners’ own production is deliberately lo-fi – their props have to be improvised and costumes are minimal, adding to a sense of raw immediacy. What shines through is the strength of Shakespeare’s story, magnified by these imagined lives and made all the more powerful for it.

Until 29 November 2014


Photo by Helen Maybanks

Written 15 October 2014 for The London Magazine

“Juno and the Paycock”at the National Theatre

This new production of Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock is the first collaboration between the National and Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. It’s the quality affair you might expect – a classic play with an impressive cast that is scrupulously directed.

It is the story of the Boyle family, poverty stricken, living in an Ireland divided by political turmoil. O’Casey’s husband and wife team, known by their mythically inspired nicknames, are such charismatic characters that their plight packs a real punch. Their children, Mary and Jerry, also have demons to battle with, fighting for independence in very different ways and subtly conveying problems O’Casey’s society faced. The family’s troubles seem about to be ended by an unexpected financial windfall – but circumstances and politics catch up with them.

The strongest aspect of the production is the performances on offer. Ciaran Hinds’ Jack Boyle really is the magnificent peacock-like character his appellation claims – strutting around the stage and fooling nobody except himself. Ronan Raftery’s excellent portrayal of his son, broken physically and emotionally, couldn’t be a stronger counterpoint. O’Casey’s female roles are cherished amongst actresses and both Sinéad Cusack and Clare Dunne are superb. Dunne plays the daughter, bringing out the beauty in O’Casey’s language. With Cusack, this poetry becomes a prayer as the family disintegrates around her.

Bob Crowley’s design reflects the squalor Dublin’s magnificent Georgian terraces were reduced to in the 1920s, but we have little sense of the overcrowding suffered from. The set seems overblown and the same could be said for the humour; there are moments in Juno and the Paycock where conditions don’t seem that bad – the camaraderie O’Casey hints at is occasionally overplayed. But, for the most part Howard Davies direction is assured – the plot speeds along, embracing the thrilling story line, and the tragedy of the play is deeply moving. If Davies’ impeccably careful work disappoints it is really because it contains no surprises. This is a conservative affair that is easy to respect but difficult to fall in love with.

Until 26 February 2012


Photo by Mark Douet

Written 18 November 2011 for The London Magazine