August 20, 2006, by Peter Kirwan

Top Ten Performances

Just as some fun before I go to sleep, thinking about my favourite ten individual performances of the festival so far. In order, then, that I saw them in…..

Harriet Walter as Cleopatra

There’s always something wonderful about seeing one of the genuine greats, and Harriet Walter gave an absolutely rivetting performance as the Egyptian queen. It seems unfair not to mention Patrick Stewart, as the two held the stage together, but Walter’s Cleopatra had a vulnerability and peevishness about her that made the performance unforgettable.

Julia Jentsch as Desdemona

The most daring Desdemona I’ve ever seen– a young girl in pumps and short skirts who was discovering her sexuality for the first time, and clung to Othello as both daughter and lover. Even though in German, this performance spoke volumes about a character often written off as a type, and her final moments where she found the resolve to threaten to leave Othello and even swear at him made the character new and vital.

Morven Christie as Hero

‘Much Ado’ was full of wonderful performances, and credit must go to Tamsin Greig and Joseph Millson as a fantastic Beatrice and Benedick, but Morven Christie was the revelation to me– her Hero was knowing and sassy, batting her eyelids to manipulate the men around her and showing a level of self–possession not normally associated with the relatively mute heroine. Lively and entertaining, you even got the impression she might be a match for her more formidable cousin.

Jonny Weir as Don John

A small role, but sometimes these can be the best. Weir’s Don John was a classic Latin melancholic, skulking in the shadows and striking despairing poses, holding a cigarette as if it was the only thing left in his world. His presence was tremendous, and his final appearance heading over the hills, holding a rifle high, at once disturbing and uplifting.

Shun Oguri as Aaron

In a stylised production, Oguri looked like he’d stepped straight out of an anime cartoon, with bare tattooed chest and feral leaps giving him an atmosphere of surreality. His eyes spoke of evil, and his restraint amidst the histrionics was mesmerising– this was a man of real power.

Evgeny Pisarev as Feste

At once gloriously camp and strangely sad, Pisarev’s Feste was a singer and entertainer first and foremost. Deeply lonely, he tried to form bonds with other characters but found himself naturally drawn to the end in a position of commentary. A joyful sadness followed him around, and his final dance with Antonio seemed a fitting end to his story.

Jonathan Slinger as Hume

Simply one of the best actors currently at the RSC– but while his Bastard of Orleans was great, and his Richard of Gloucester promises wonderful things for ‘Richard III‘, it was his brief appearance as Hume that hit home. Shaking slightly, fingering his payment and hesitating as his mind worked overtime, his single soliloquy was utterly gripping and a phenomenal piece of acting, giving a minor character an entire story through a few simple mannerisms.

John Mackay as Jack Cade

Bendy, agile, flexible and lively, Mackay’s Jack Cade fused athleticism, campness and a veiled air of menace, becoming both a wonderful comic character and a threatening rebel. His almost lazy way of speaking resounded brilliantly, and his holding of court from a swinging trapeze was inspired. Mackay is a fantastic swaggerer, and he used it to great effect here.

Julian Bleach as Ariel

Utterly terrifying, this Ariel wandered the stage slowly in black robes and whitened face, holding an hourglass as his hours counted down. Full of power, and a real threat to Prospero, even just his head peeping over a bin could change the entire mood of a scene. A performance of powerful restraint and incredible self–control, the explosion at his departure showed the unleashed power of this Ariel.

Michael Milligan as Costard

A comic role, and mostly defined by the concept of Costard as a 60s hippy, but absolutely inspired. Milligan’s ‘duuuude’ performance with shades, long hair, beard and CND shirt was a well–thought take on the character, and he interspersed it with asides, snatches of pop music and a great sense of humour. To hear him admit after his bravado, “Dude, I’m scared to go to jail, man”, was brilliant.

And there you have it, my favourite performances of the festival so far. Any more nominations, send them to the usual address!

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