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The Two Noble Kinsmen (RSC) @ The Swan Theatre

Just over a decade since I saw the RSC’s Canterbury Tales company offer a fascinating script-in-hand staging of The Two Noble Kinsmen, it was a pleasure to return to the Swan at last for a full-scale professional production, especially in the hands of Blanche McIntyre, fresh from a superb Noises Off at Nottingham Playhouse. While …

The Alchemist (RSC) @ The Swan Theatre

The RSC’s contribution to the 400th anniversary of Ben Jonson’s 1616 Folio is a Swan production of The Alchemist, occupying the slot that Volpone took last summer. The RSC invested a large, game cast, one of the biggest bands I’ve seen in the Swan for some time, and a production budget that stretched to a …

Doctor Faustus (RSC) @ The Swan Theatre

Watching Maria Aberg’s production of Doctor Faustus in the Swan, I found it hard not to think of A-level drama projects. This isn’t just because I’m speaking at a sixth-form study day at the RSC next month tying in with this production, but because of the deliberately DIY aesthetic of the production, with its gaudy …

The Jew of Malta (RSC) @ The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Seeing The Jew of Malta immediately after seeing Volpone, with both performed by the same ensemble, brings out some surprising similarities between two very different plays. Both feature states with a severe – and arguably corrupt – rule of law; both feature a rich role-player as the morally deficient protagonist who deploys alternative personas as …

Volpone (RSC) @ The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

If Trevor Nunn’s superlative production of Volpone established just one thing, it is that Jonson’s finest play (cue debate) demands a tour de force performance from its lead. In Henry Goodman, Nunn found the perfect shapeshifter. Goodman, a stage stalwart without the celebrity baggage that fixes the persona of some other leading actors, had the …

Love’s Sacrifice (RSC) @ The Swan Theatre, Stratford

It is a little dispiriting to find the first of this summer’s Swan plays is another Caroline revenge tragedy in which women are dragged around by their hair and thrown to the ground. This directorial shorthand for women-being-treated-badly is becoming worryingly de rigueur, and its shock-value diminishes with constant repetition and normalisation, especially at the …

The Shoemaker’s Holiday (Royal Shakespeare Company) @ The Swan, Stratford-upon-Avon

The RSC’s Winter season, coming at the end of a year commemorating the centenary of the start of World War I, has been unified by its engagement with war. From new plays on Oppenheimer and the Christmas 1914 truce to the anchoring of Love’s Labour’s Lost and Love’s Labour’s Won on either side of WW1, …

The Witch of Edmonton (RSC) @ The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

(note – this review is of a preview performance) The Roaring Girls season, discussed in previous posts on this blog, ended with an entirely untypical coda. Directed by a man (Gregory Doran), given an early modern setting and appearing divorced from the statements about feminism and gender roles within the RSC that had characterised the …

The White Devil (Royal Shakespeare Company) @ The Swan, Stratford-upon-Avon

Webster epitomises what critics such as Susan Bennett, Pascale Aebischer and Kathryn Prince have termed ‘the Jacobean’, in the sense that refers not to the literal historical period but the subset of early modern drama which usually commands an aesthetic prioritising sex, violence, spectacle and excess. Maria Aberg, who in her previous shows at the …

The Roaring Girl (RSC) @ The Swan, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Roaring Girl is a much better idea than it is a play. The idea of the ‘Roaring Girl’ (the title, of course, of the current Swan season) is a fantastic crucible for exploring ideas of gender identity and sexual performance, and the involved plot of shopkeepers’ wives and rakes about town taking advantage of …