Tag Archives: Kate Duchêne

“Henry V” at the Donmar Warehouse

A lot of people like to see a star on stage. The attraction for Max Webster’s new production of Shakespeare’s history play is Kit Harington. And the Game of Thrones actor more than earns his presumably vastly reduced wage. Although the production has its moments, Harington is the focus of these in what is an uneven affair that’s too stop-and-start to call it a success.

The large cast takes on multiple roles – which is, normally, sure to impress. And all the more so when the cast is bilingual. For Webster’s version of the play has French characters speaking French. Which makes sense – and makes a point – but creates mixed results.

The scenes in French prove a distraction, as you can’t help wondering if the performer is a native speaker. And when it comes to the different roles, it is all too obvious which one each cast member prefers. Efforts to distinguish the different parts (through accents or body language) are often poor. Kate Duchêne is a notable exception but, overall, there’s a lot of talent for little result.

The language isn’t the only distraction. Andrzej Goulding’s video work is good, but it is too big for the stage. As with Fly Davis’ impressive design, the Donmar’s intimacy is negated. Is a transfer so badly desired? A stage this small feels crowded very easily, yet Webster ignores this. He clearly just wants a bigger space. At one point we even have some marching on the spot… yuk.

Henry V is famous for Shakespeare’s appeals to our imagination. The chorus’ speeches can be inspiring, but here they are lacklustre – Millicent Wong’s delivery is strangely petulant. In attempting moments of realism, the show doesn’t deliver. I don’t think using guns helps, but fight scenes frequently look clumsy. Their direction, by Kate Waters, is, again, really for a different venue.

The production is not a failure. The addition of strong singing is revelatory – there are powerful voices in the cast that gave me goosebumps. It’s a shame that additional music (including, sigh, some Handel) is all over the place. Several scenes have a rawness which is striking (the final scene for Danny Kirrane’s particularly unappealing Pistol is notable).

Above all, Harington’s Harry is a great. The anxiety of ruling and war are etched on this king’s face, and the play between politician and regular guy is riveting. Star appeal saves the show. Which is good, but a little disappointing.

Until 9 April 2022


Photo by Helen Murray

“Suzy Storck” from the Gate Theatre

It’s never comfortable to fall back on critical clichés, especially when a show is kindly offered during current circumstances, but one is applicable to this production. Although its merits are clear, Magali Mougel’s play, rendered into English by Chris Campbell, is surely lost in translation.

As the titular character struggles with her claustrophobic life – and three children she never wanted to have – there’s a strong tension between post-natal depression and, well, depression full stop. Such a bold look at the expectations and “obligations” women face is bracing. The outcome is not for the faint of heart. And, if the plot is simple, the play’s structure enlivens it enough.

The title role provides a strong part for Caoilfhionn Dunne, who grabs it for its considerable worth and doesn’t allow excuses for her character’s actions. While the role of her husband is less well written, Jonah Russell makes him intriguing. Director Jean-Pierre Baro has clearly worked hard on the scenes of the couple together and these provide highlights.

It’s with two accompanying characters that cracks start to show. Kate Duchêne gets the chance to shine when she performs as Suzy’s infuriated and vicious mother, Madame Storck. But when Duchêne also narrates, and is joined in this task by Theo Solomon, the play’s style starts to grate. Although both Duchêne and Solomon have a strong stage presence, it isn’t clear what these roles add.

Baro’s production has atmosphere (aided by some strong lighting design from Christopher Nairne) and there’s a great moment where the audience helps clear up kids’ toys. But Mougel’s obsession with routine, reflected in quantifying action and an interesting take on muscle memory, leads to too much repetition. The only scene with any humour is of a job interview (another small role that Duchêne does well with), and the constant use of the characters’ full names seems a puzzling affectation. The strange staccato delivery of some lines, presumably also linked to an obsession with repetition, is arresting but again overused and effortful. Suzie Storck ends up intense but also, painfully, self-conscious.

Until 30 June 2020


“Everyman” at the National Theatre

Chiwetel Ejiofor returns to the National Theatre, after 15 years, with a spectacular aerial descent onto the Olivier stage. This casting coup sets the tone for Rufus Norris’ first show as the National’s new boss: gritty, garish, Everyman aims for a broad audience.

Having debuted at the Olivier with Market Boy back in 2006, Norris knows how to use this space: the show is energetic and extravagant at every turn. It’s on trend, too, with Tal Rosner’s arty video design and William Lyons’ fusion score of club anthems and medieval instruments.

High-profile collaborations boost credibility, namely Javier De Frutos’ macabre choreography and Carol Ann Duffy’s new text, which is crammed with cursing and recasts Everyman as a City slicker for our secular times.

Strong acting from Kate Duchêne, as a downbeat God, and Dermot Crowley, as an enthusiastic Death, head up a hard-working ensemble, while Sharon D Clarke bolsters the singing formidably as Everyman’s mother.

The final guarantor of the show’s success is, of course, Ejiofor, whose performance embodies the immediacy that’s Norris’ hallmark style. The attempt to reinvigorate a medieval morality play, Britain’s earliest theatrical form, inevitably suggests Norris’ wish to start afresh, promising exciting times to come.

Until 30 August 2015


Photo by Richard Hubert Smith