Tag Archives: Sean Holmes

“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 Seagull” at the Lyric Hammersmith

Simon Stephens is a busy man. This week his play Heisenberg received its UK premiere and his new version of Anton Chekhov’s classic has opened. Dauntlessly tackling the 1895 piece, full of unrequited love triangles, the passion and depression in the original comes into focus. There’s no period frippery – not a samovar in sight – no agendas and the sometimes ponderous discussions of Art (capital A) feel unforced. The language is efficiently modern and startlingly down to earth: “get a grip,” says one character. Stephens has grabbed Chekhov ferociously.

There’s plenty of fresh insight and energy all around, abetted by Sean Holmes’ direction and a strong cast. The production is marked by direct addresses, admittedly not all successful, that illustrate a determination to engage the audience. Brian Vernel’s Konstantin has an indie rock star vibe (despite the classical mix in the show’s excellent soundtrack) that makes him feel modern. His unrequited love, Nina, gains a similarly contemporary touch from Adelayo Adedayo’s performance. The character is desperate for fame, fame, fatal fame. But when that dead seagull is presented by Konstantin in a plastic bag she wallops him with it: good girl! Getting in the way of their love, Nicholas Gleaves plays the writer Trigorin with a dash of aloof celebrity that aids the coherence and relevance of Stephens’ approach.

Cherrelle Skeete as Marcia
Cherrelle Skeete as Marcia

The real star of The Seagull is the actress Irina, and Lesley Sharp grasps this part magnificently. While her desperate love for Trigorin is clear, and explicitly depicted, the production calls for her comic skills and Sharp delivers. This snobby Sloane gets laughs for every “darhling” she utters. There are a lot of laughs all around in this production, with the play’s many characters each getting a turn, as desires battle with a cynical cruelty that’s surprisingly funny. Stephens has a great eye for eccentricity and the crazy things this boho crowd gets up to. As the depressed Masha, renamed Marcia with an impressive performance from Cherrelle Skeete, observes: “People are just odd.”

Humour is maintained for a long time. I suspect it might annoy some people. But we know The Seagull is a tragedy and changing key is Holmes’ biggest achievement. For the final scene, mental health issues come to the fore. We see how obsessive, in their own ways, all these characters are. A lot of anger is revealed and not just in the case of our young lovers. The delusions and detachments we’ve been laughing at become dangerous amongst such fragility and an acute sense of the toll time has taken on all. Stephens appreciates the complexity of Chekhov’s vision and has orchestrated it in a new and exciting manner.

Until 4 November 2017

www.lyric.co.uk

Photos by Tristram Kenton

“Herons” at the Lyric Hammersmith

Featuring yet more troubled youths, playwright Simon Stephens’ 2001 play has been revised under the direction of Sean Holmes. Set one year on from a murder (details are deliberately vague) – there are bullies, broken homes and lots of lies. This is a frustratingly slippery, provocatively outrageous play. But by carefully playing with naturalism, Stephens’ unsettling world of disturbing imagery and ambiguity is brought to life.

The direction emphasises Stephens’ oddities too emphatically: think gnomic pauses and sudden shouting. But Holmes has a crisp hold on the play’s tension and it’s exciting even while you scratch your head. Hyemi Shin’s ambitious design, with its flooded stage looking great during fight scenes, is fussy, if impressive. But with the heavyhanded symbolism of a dam wall threatening to burst at a pivotal moment, the set assaults us with metaphor.

The production has, appropriately, a fledgling cast. At times all the strangeness causes problems. The school uniforms are bizarre, the behaviour outlandish. And who on earth walks around with an inflatable doll? The point is that these teenagers frequently behave like infants. Face painting and blowing bubbles one minute, swearing enough to make a sailor blush the next. Do the characters even understand how offensive they are? The play’s most troublesome scene – an anal rape with a golf club handle that’s difficult to justify – leaves the protagonists themselves in shock.
A scene from Herons by Simon Stephens @ Lyric Theatre Hammersmith. Directed by Sean Holmes. (Opening 21-01-16) ©Tristram Kenton 01/16 (3 Raveley Street, LONDON NW5 2HX TEL 0207 267 5550 Mob 07973 617 355)email: tristram@tristramkenton.com
Moses Adejimi, Ella McLoughlin and Billy Matthews (above) make a tight trio of bully boys, creating a choral round out of Stephens’ expletive-obsessed script. It’s a shame more wasn’t made of the writer’s lyricism. Matthews takes the lead, reminiscent of Pinkie in Brighton Rock. But, like his nature-loving victim, performed valiantly by Max Gill, extreme reactions place a barrier between characters and the audience; maybe it’s best to think of this as a fence through which we watch a human zoo?

Another bludgeoning simile – films of primates distractingly projected throughout the play – confirms the production as a nature study rather than anthropology. There’s the observation (twice) that the youngsters aren’t allowed to be children anymore but Holmes moves us a long way from social comment: the focus is that “in nature terrible things happen all the time”. It’s a questionable exercise of dubious appeal.

Until 13 February 2016

www.lyric.co.uk

Photos by Tristram Kenton