April 13, 2007, by Peter Kirwan
The Grand Overview
Here’s the thing I’ve been looking forward to writing for quite some time- a final overview of all the productions I’ve had the pleasure of seeing during the Complete Works. They’re given in order of how highly I rate them- enjoyment, quality of production, interpretation etc. all come into it, but mostly it’s just down to how good I think they are overall, along with what was good or bad about each of them.
1. KING LEAR (RSC)
Awe-inspiring performances and an epic scale combined to create a production that fully engaged the heart. Emotionally devastating.
2. A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (Dash Arts)
Aerial acrobatics, three-dimensional use of the space and a visually stimulating performance style made this production stand out.
3. TWELFTH NIGHT (Chekov International Theatre Festival)
A pacey script and fluid direction combined with beautiful music and very funny performances. The all-male ensemble worked tremendously well.
4. HENRY VI PART 2 (RSC)
The best part of an excellent trilogy saw some of the finest individual performances, and Michael Boyd’s ‘ghost’ conceit worked especially well.
5. HENRY VI PART 1 (RSC)
Action-packed and surprisingly funny, yet with moments of shocking horror including the torture of Joan. An excellent introduction.
6. HENRY VI PART 3 (RSC)
An intelligent progression from the other two parts saw this become darker, with characters we already knew becoming fully-fleshed.
7. OTHELLO (Munchner Kamerpiele)
An amazing jazz piano powered this production, which brought out often overlooked themes and ideas. Shocking, provocative and powerful.
8. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (RSC)
Hysterically funny turns from the leads and a fab Cuban band were the highlights. The updated setting worked, and the humour worked well.
9. CYMBELINE (Kneehigh)
An intelligent rewriting of the text, a musical approach and a fascinating design made this stand out. Not to everyone’s taste, but a provocative retelling.
10. ANTONY & CLEOPATRA (RSC)
Four excellent central performances, particularly in the definitive performances of the two leads. Pacey direction and good humour helped.
11. THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (Propeller)
An amazing exercise in audience manipulation, turning the hysterical laughter of Act 1 into the shock of Act 2 as this excellent physical piece showed us why this was NOT a funny story.
12. TIMON OF ATHENS (Cardboard Citizens)
A reclamation of an underrated play by a group who identified with the central story. Innovative use of performance space and personal testimony made this an affecting experience.
13. MACBETH (Teatr Pietr Kozla)
Bitty by design, but the pieces were sublime, with powerful use of the group’s considerable vocal skills and a jaw-dropping style of movement.
14. PERICLES (RSC)
Taking full advantage of the promenade space, this was action-packed, funny and moving, resetting the play to Africa and keeping the audience engrossed throughout.
15. HENRY VIII (AandBC)
Holy Trinity Church was used to great effect in this site-specific piece, but didn’t overwhelm the solid performances. It had a real baby too, who dominated all….
16. HAMLET (Tiny Ninja Theatre)
One man, lots of toys. Funny in itself, but also strangely effective, and a fascinating use of cameras and video direction in live performance.
17. TWELFTH NIGHT (Filter)
An excellent central performance doubling Sebastian and Viola, and a fascinating use of music, sound and effects with no disguises. Very stimulating.
18. VENUS & ADONIS (Little Angel Theatre/RSC)
Beautiful skills with puppetry, a dramatic rewriting of the poem, a well-read narration and the sheer novelty made this enjoyable.
19. TITUS ANDRONICUS (Ninagawa Company)
An epic style, inspiring awe in the audience. High on emotion, if low on humour, this was visually and sonically an amazing experience, and emotionally draining.
20. THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (Theatre For A New Audience)
A powerful central performance by F. Murray Abraham and innovative updating of the play were its strengths, though there were weaknesses in the side-stories.
21. LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST (Shakespeare Theater Company)
An inspired resetting of the play led to some very funny moments, and the rock sonnets were very good. Frothy fun, let down by a poor ending.
22. A WINTER’S TALE (RSC)
An excellent intro was followed by a slow first half, which quickly picked up as the court of Leontes was left behind. Fascinating, and full of amazing moments.
23. RICHARD II (Berliner Ensemble)
A head piece, dominated by a fantastic design that saw a white stage get progressively covered in dirt. The kind of piece that makes you want to go and make theatre.
24. THE TEMPEST (RSC)
Julian Bleach’s Ariel, in one of the performances of the year, elevated tihs production, which had some excellent moments but suffered from a general slowness.
25. RICHARD III (RSC)
An interesting modern telling, with good performances and an inspired ghost scene. Suffered in comparison to the Henries, but still a solid production.
26. MERRY WIVES: THE MUSCIAL (RSC)
Good Christmassy fun, if not high art. Some of the singing was bad, but the company were having a good time and carried the audience along with them.
27. KING JOHN (RSC)
A sparky production with a solid cast. Not an overly memorable telling, but quick, funny and effective, with a good title performance.
28. THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN/THE KNIGHT’S TALE (RSC)
Fascinating juxtaposition of the play and its source and, for a rehearsed reading, a snappy and interesting performance. Almost no production values, though.
29. HAMLET (Baxter Theatre Company)
A couple of performances didn’t come up to scratch, but this was a lively and surprisingly funny Hamlet, that made good use of its diverse cast and setting.
30. ROMEO AND JULIET (RSC)
So many ideas that some were too obscure, but an innovative approach to stage combat and design helped this stand out. Way too long, however.
31. DAYS OF SIGNIFICANCE (RSC)
The best new play, turning the characters of ‘Much Ado’ into an unpleasant group of youths and throwing them into the Iraq war. Fascinating and political.
32. THE COMEDY OF ERRORS (Royal Welsh College Of Music and Drama)
The best of the youth productions- very fast and very funny, both in the subtleties and the slapstick. A clear edit of the story was also impressive.
33. THE TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA (Nos Do Morro and Gallery 37)
The amateurish feel of parts of the production jarred in the huge Courtyard theatre, but the passion and conviction of both casts carried this. Heartfelt and enthusiastic.
34. KING LEAR (Yellow Earth)
An interesting futuristic resetting that occasionally failed but mostly worked, and some good performances made this memorable.
35. AS YOU LIKE IT (Sheffield Theatres)
A bad Orlando and an overload of ideas and stage trickery got a bit wearing, but a good second act redeemed the production and drew laughs.
36. CORIOLANUS (RSC)
William Houston’s title performance was the standout, but poor crowd scenes and a clunky set spoiled the effect. Some excellent ideas though.
37. HENRY IV PART 2 (Chicago Shakespeare Theater)
The darker of the two plays was the better, with two particularly brutal moments and a multi-faceted Falstaff. Suffered from some of the failings of Part 1, though.
38. HENRY IV PART 1 (Chicago Shakespeare Theater)
Both Hal and Hotspur were poor, and parts of the play (including the ‘flashback’ opening) felt like a US TV show. Funny moments, and a good battle scene.
39. REGIME CHANGE (RSC/Radio 3)
The loosest possible connection to Shakespeare didn’t stop this being an enjoyable and thought-provoking piece, and for a radio reading relatively well-staged.
40. THE TEMPEST (Guildhall School Of Music and Drama)
A good central performance and innovative creation of two Ariels were the highlights of a well-crafted youth performance.
41. RICHARD III: AN ARAB TRAGEDY (Al-Bassam Theatre)
A completely fascinating and relevant resetting of the play, particularly in the recasting of Buckingham and Catesby, worked well, but were undercut by sloppy performances.
42. THE PHOENIX AND THE TURTLE (RSC)
The promised ‘torch-lit’ procession was a disappointment, but Michael Wood’s talk was fascinating, the music was beautiful, Holy Trinity was atmospheric and the actors read well. Necessarily slight, however.
43. ONE OF THESE DAYS (RSC)
The links to ‘The Tempest’ were interesting, and the script was intense. As a static rehearsed reading it lacked much, but there was a lot of promise.
44. THE RAPE OF LUCRECE (RSC)
Slow and simple, but this reading of the poem was effective, particularly in the performance of Jane Lapotaire as Lucrece.
45. HENRY V (Compagnia Pippo Delbono)
A mix of beautiful images and excruciating slow pace made this a difficult production to love or hate. An interesting take on the themes of the story.
46. MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (Bristol Old Vic Theatre School)
An enjoyable short production that worked well and served its purpose without doing anything particularly innovative. Funny in itself, though.
47. ROUGH MAGYCK (Forkbeard Fantasy)
At times tiresome and obscure- what WAS going on?! – but full of exciting and powerful moments. The humour was variable, but the finale was pretty special.
48. JULIUS CAESAR (RSC)
Some good effects, a deep stage space and some good work in the closing scenes didn’t detract from a generally dull production, with mediocre performances.
49. NOTHING LIKE THE SUN (RSC/Opera North)
A startling performance from Gavin Friday was a festival highlight, the rest was interesting but nothing more.
50. THE INDIAN BOY (RSC)
An interesting idea didn’t translate to the stage too well, with a bizarre ending and odd character relations. Possibly would have benefitted from repeated viewings.
51. ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL (Royal Scottish Academy of Drama)
Slow and uninventive, despite a manically comic Parolles. A miserable Helena meant we couldn’t care much about the central story.
52. TROILUS AND CRESSIDA (Edinburgh International Festival)
An attempt at the epic was spoiled by an obtrusive set that dwarfed the performances, and the leads weren’t great. Some good work among the other characters though.
53. RICHARD III (Royal Academy Of Dramatic Art)
A badly edited text placed far too much emphasis on the uninteresting and skipped through the action. A good lead performance, but sloppy elsewhere, and the production took itself far too seriously.
54. MEASURE FOR MEASURE (Theatre Royal Bath/Peter Hall Company)
A good Lucio and effective end couldn’t rescue what was beyond doubt the most boring production of the Festival. Uninventive, obvious and just plain bad.
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