Greg Hicks is dream casting for Shakespeare’s villainous monarch. An experienced RSC actor who commands the stage with just a shrug of his shoulder, he delivers every line impeccably, making director Mehmet Ergen’s production unmissable. This Richard carries a chain to pull himself upright but it could clearly be used as a weapon. He’s nasty and thuggish, a bar room brawler not to mess with – there’s no nonsense here about the character’s charisma. Hicks shows the world through a psychopath’s eyes rather than presenting us with a cunning politician, and using the king’s cold logic to create a chilling persuasiveness that leaves you gasping.
A mature cast join Hicks, securing further praise for the production. Peter Guinness is particularly strong as Richard’s partner in crime Buckingham. This is where the politicking comes, with a cloak-and-dagger feel aided by noirish staging, with Ergen using Anthony Lamble’s split-level set boldly. The big news is a superb Catesby, the sinister instigator of Richard’s plans, with Matthew Sim making an elegant assassin out of a usually minor role with super-spooky meticulous gestures. Strong female characters are another reason to love the play: Jane Bertish is an excellent deposed Margaret, her curses on the “bottled spider” Richard containing a sense of the tragedy that motivates her. Sara Powell gives an emotional portrayal of Queen Elizabeth that also impresses.
It’s a grown-up affair all around. Ergen is comfortable with his audience managing to work out contemporary resonances in the play if they wish, but there’s no sense of this being forced on us. Of course, the play isn’t performed in doublet and hose, but there’s no obvious spin or agenda, and this, ironically, feels original. Ergen even credits us with knowledge about the play’s propaganda content. Jamie de Courcey’s Richmond has a dash of the heroic that would have made the Tudors proud. Winning against the tyrant “raised in blood” gives the play a resolution worth suspending cynicism for. A final intelligent touch – one of many – in a strong production with consistently fine acting.
Until 10 June 2017
Photo by Alex Brenner
Having previously worked as a newspaper journalist, Mark Jagasia has the credentials for writing a satire about the media. With direction from Mehmet Ergen, as well as a cast a first-time playwright would kill for, Clarion is a seriously funny play that had the perfect audience at yesterday’s press night – I’ve seldom heard critics laugh so much.
Set over a day in the offices of the titular newspaper, Jagasia’s scoop is two great comic creations, performed to perfection. Claire Higgins is faultless as the indomitable Verity, a former war correspondent and “mother” of the newspaper in the Medea mould. Greg Hicks plays editor Morris, who carries around a Roman centurion’s helmet and delivers an outrageous combination of articulacy and filth that redefines egomania. Depending on whether or not you’ve worked in the media the play delightfully embraces exaggeration or serves as an accurate documentary. Either way you’ll laugh.
You can take the man out of Fleet Street but Jagasia isn’t afraid of a good pun, a cheap gag or a taste for shocking. Clarion isn’t for the sensitive “milquetoasts” Morris so despises. The depiction of a younger generation – a dispirited young journalist who works as immigration editor and a young intern (ably performed by Ryan Wichert and Laura Smithers) – has just as much venom and laughs, but might strike you as a little ungenerous.
The foul-mouthed viciousness offers insights into an industry in decline. Racing to find a celebrity’s missing dog, a disappearance eventually blamed on travellers, Morris describes Hampstead Heath as a “homosexual wilderness surrounded by Keynsians and men hiding in poofta bushes” – and for him that’s pretty mild. And yet the pace isn’t quite maintained. As Jagasia becomes more serious, ironically, the play becomes too fantastical. And the darkening themes of consequences and responsibility, which might have been more fully extended into the private lives of the characters, are slightly overwhelmed by the play’s comedy. But the headline is clear: Racist Red Top Exposed.
Until 16 May 2015
Photo Simon Annand
In a week when political assassination is once more in the news, Julius Caesar might seem more relevant to a contemporary audience than ever. The RSC’s production at The Roundhouse could never presage such current events, but the evening gives us plenty to think about. Director Lucy Bailey thrills by her engagement with history.
Lucy Bailey’s Rome is a bloody place. In the opening scene we see Romulus and Remus wrestling to the death – a bloodlust is the city’s heritage from its founders. Working with designer William Dudley and inspired by the recent Rome TV show, Bailey intelligently toys with our notions of the Romans as civilised. Video projections increase the stage presence of the Plebeians (a character in their own right) to great effect – this is a dangerous mob that rules the Empire on a whim.
Greg Hicks is a natural Caesar. Even eclectically garbed as some kind of generic Barbarian, he is commanding enough to cast a necessary shadow over the play. The evening’s highlight is Darrell D’Silva’s Mark Antony. A “masker and a reveller”, he seems drunk on grief and then violence. Reminiscent of Oliver Reed, it is a captivating performance that will make you want to see him reprise the role in Antony and Cleopatra, also part of this year’s season.
However, Julius Caesar is really the story of Brutus and Cassius. Here Brutus (Sam Troughton) is something like a monk; he is dressed like one and even gestures a benediction in a performance that invokes the play’s religious context. To bring complexity to their coalition, John Mackay attempts to make Cassius more than just a Machiavellian figure. Both are interesting ideas and yet, while there are moments of moving intimacy between the conspirators, both strategies fail to hold interest.
All the cast of Julius Caesar are martial. The characters are at home in Bailey’s world and her direction makes sense of the play’s long combat scenes, invariably presented with clarity and dynamism. Yet they disappoint, and we are hard pushed to share the opinion that Brutus was the “noblest Roman of them all”. What should be his tragedy may interest us but ultimately fails to move us emotionally.
Julius Caesar plays in rep until 5 February 2011
Photo by Ellie Kurttz
Written 11 January 2011 for The London Magazine
The Royal Shakespeare Company’s new London season arrives with the announcement of a five-year partnership with Camden’s Roundhouse. Artistic director Michael Boyd is enamoured of the venue, describing it as both intimate and epic, and the transfer of the Stratford production of The Winter’s Tale helps us to share his excitement.
David Farr’s direction makes the most of the specially constructed thrust stage, which mirrors the company’s current home in Stratford. The format has clearly focused Farr, and his direction is startlingly clear. Jon Bausor’s design takes inspiration from the ballads of Shakespeare’s day, cleverly enforcing the telling of this winter tale and decking Sicilia and Bohemia with so much paper we might feel we are enveloped in the Forest of Arden.
Greg Hicks’ mellifluous voice is always a delight, and he plays the jealous Leontes with a restraint that marks his maturity. Kelly Hunter is his victimised wife Hermione, tackling the role with a moving humility. Also of note in this industrious ensemble are the appealing young lovers who become the focus of the play’s redemptive power: Florizel and Perdita (Tunji Kasim and Samantha Young). It would be refreshing to encounter the role of the Young Shepherd without a Welsh accent, but at least Gruffudd Glyn’s moniker indicates he is entitled to the part, and he puts in a great comic turn.
Farr’s direction enforces the judicial themes within The Winter’s Tale, drawing the audience in to play the role of arbiter. The moving text’s complex moral exploration and emotional impact are developed wonderfully, and the staging makes escaping into the fantasy of The Winter’s Tale easy. It all bodes well for the RSC’s future at The Roundhouse.
The Winter’s Tale plays until 1 January 2011. The RSC’s London season is at The Roundhouse until 4 February 2011.
Photo by Alessandro Evengelista
Written 17 December 2010 for The London Magazine