Tag Archives: Max Webster

“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

www.donmarwarehouse.com

Photo by Helen Murray

“The Lorax” at the Old Vic

Legendary children’s author Dr Seuss’s environmental fable, of the titular forest creature who tries but fails to save trees from a fanatical businessman called The Once-ler, is a surprisingly joyous and thought-provoking piece. With inventive theatricality, director Max Webster’s production should please the widest of audiences with puppetry, songs and spectacle, all in rhyme, with both laughs and tears along with way.

If there’s a fault, you wouldn’t describe Charlie Fink’s effective and eclectic songs as quite top notch. But The Lorax isn’t quite a musical. And it would be hard not to focus on David Greig’s adaptation for the stage. The expanded script is in the Seuss spirit – you can feel the great man smiling down on Greig – with lovely modern twists. The inventive and intricate language keeps your attention, with smogulous smog-polluting factories replacing the truffula trees – felled to produce useless thneeds – this show is biggerer than Christmas.

Comfortably short of preachy, the important message is delivered intelligently. Greig’s masterstroke, aided by Simon Paisley Day’s energetic performance, is to show The Once-ler’s argument. Progress has a point and though The Once-ler brings disaster, his motivations aren’t all bad. We get to see how he is corrupted, and the show’s best number is with his lawyers, McCann, McGee and Von Goo. As for wider complicity, there’s the media and consumers who become distracted from The Lorax’s protest by a pop-fuelled fashion show.

Of course it’s The Lorax who is the star and guaranteed to win hearts. Performed by Laura Cubitt, Ben Thompson and Simon Lipkin, who also voices the character, this is a hero remarkable for his sensitivity and simplicity, as well as (hurrah), age and moustache. The puppetry in the show, masterminded by Finn Caldwell, is superb, perfectly matching Rob Howell’s clever design. The Lorax speaks loud and proud to all and it is to be hoped that many get to hear him.

Until 16 January 2016

www.oldvictheatre.com

Photo by Manuel Harlan