Jesus Christ Superstar (Barbican)

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s clever rock opera is now approaching its fiftieth birthday, and yet has lost none of its power as it depicts the last few days in the life of Jesus.

Ricardo Afonso as Judas
Ricardo Afonso as Judas

This production was first seen at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park a couple of years ago, and has now come indoors with a new principal cast at the Barbican Theatre.

I’m very familiar with the 1973 film, the original concept recording, the 90s stage version (later filmed), and most recently, the arena version.

A pulsing score and thoughtful – if occasionally dated – lyrics bring the story to life, especially the tense relationship between a Jesus who loses confidence as the cult around him grows and a Judas who watches with concern and incredulity until he is compelled to betrayal for thirty pieces of silver.

Robert Tripolino as Jesus, Sallay Garnett as Mary
Robert Tripolino as Jesus, Sallay Garnett as Mary

You know the plot. This production opens with a dancer who almost conjures a feel of black magic, before she is joined by the fervent followers. Judas and Jesus have to have the charisma and powerhouse vocals to carry both the drama and the music, and in Ricardo Afonso and Robert Tripolino those roles are more than adequately filled.

Utilising hand-held microphones which are sometimes passed from one character to another, sometimes used as plot props (bound in the hands of Jesus at trial, thrown down by Pilate, dropped with a long trail of red wire at the death of Judas), sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, but it is a different approach to shackling main characters with radio mikes.

Ensemble of Jesus Christ Superstar
Ensemble of Jesus Christ Superstar

Sallay Garnett’s Mary is the strong prostitute you would expect her to be, but I didn’t feel her vulnerability until the trial scenes. Matt Cardle’s Pilate,first seen smoking and crushing a beer can, exudes Roman bravado, but completely breaks under the realisation he’s been used just as much as Judas: his vocals are absolutely fine, too, especially in his final couple of lines.

Samuel Buttery as Herod
Samuel Buttery as Herod

Also of note are Cavin Cornwall’s menacing and deep-voiced Caiaphas, Samuel Buttery’s drag queen Herod with his long eyelashes, gold cape, and air of genial menace, and Tim Newman’s Simon.

Tom Scutt’s design is deceptively simple – a platform, some arches, galleries for the band to play in and characters to observe from, some trees, and recurring cross motifs which are particularly effective in the temple scene.

Ensemble of Jesus Christ Superstar
Ensemble of Jesus Christ Superstar

Timothy Sheader’s direction and Drew McOnie’s choreography perfectly complement the score, and although I missed the hand-held cameras that used to bring us close to the cruxifiction, there are new innovations I do like, and moments of closeness, clarity and even humour (the freeze frame of the Last Supper) that make this show as relevant as it has ever been.

Two images that stood out for me: Judas with silver paint on his hands after the betrayal, and Jesus being taken from the cross and removing his crown of thorns in a kind of tired and resigned resurrection.

This is an important revival of a modern classic. Jesus Christ Superstar continues at the Barbican until 24 August, and if you’re so inclined, you can see the other Lloyd Webber/Rice musicals in London this summer, with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the London Palladium, and Evita opening soon in Regent’s Park.

Photo credits Johan Persson.


Grief is the Thing with Feathers (Barbican)

Cillian Murphy in Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Photo credit Mark Douet.
Cillian Murphy in Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Photo credit Tim Walker.

This is the fourth collaboration between director Enda Walsh and actor Cillian Murphy, and after seeing Ballyturk a few years ago I knew this play would be a “must-see”, despite knowing little about the book it is based on, Max Porter’s debut novel of the same name.

We meet Dad and his two young sons (all are nameless) in the flat which is now somehow too big and sparsely furnished for them. Every step, every surface speaks of the loss of Mum, who has died and left them bereft. People call with sympathy, but nothing concrete, nothing useful. “They say we need time but what we need is nit cream and batteries.”

Cillian Murphy in Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Photo credit Colm Hogan.
Cillian Murphy in Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Photo credit Colm Hogan.

Then one day the doorbell rings and there is Crow, a monstrous, visceral, all consuming being who is terrifyingly dark, coating the stage walls with words and inky blackness. Dad and Crow become one, obsessional, the yin and the yang, the Jekyll and the Hyde, the introvert and the extrovert, the inward cry and the primal scream of grief.

Murphy plays both Dad and Crow, shape-shifting into the protective yet destructive bird by pulling up the hood of his dressing gown, tucking his elbows out and hands in to form wings, standing spread-eagled to form webbed feet. Crow’s vocals are rough, deep, primeval, utilising different microphones and voice gymnastics. He drinks from a straw in a rabbit’s head, roughly masturbates against Dad’s writing desk, rips out the bloody heart of “I miss my wife” and tosses it into the void.

Cillian Murphy in Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Photo credit Colm Hogan.
Cillian Murphy in Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Photo credit Colm Hogan.

Dad is consumed by thoughts of Crow. He draws him, inhales him, rages against the dying of the light. Yet for all Crow’s bombast and power, there are the small moments too – Crow becomes Dad on a tumble down the stairs, with the boys asking “Dad, are you dead?” as he lays supine on the floor; a recording of Mum recounting a pilgrimage by Dad to see his hero, Ted Hughes, in Oxford.

Hattie Morahan in Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Photo credit Colm Hogan.
Hattie Morahan in Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Photo credit Colm Hogan.

The boys are mostly mute, not quite sure what to say to Dad, blinded by Crow, missing Mum, staying in the routine of loss. Their TV surrogates are evoked by projections of entertainers, presenters, newsreaders and mums in adverts; home movies of Mum project in huge height over the tiny Dad and boys who remain without her.

Taighen O'Callaghan, David Evans and Cillian Murphy in Grief is the Thing with Feathers.  Photo credit Colm Hogan.
Taighen O’Callaghan, David Evans and Cillian Murphy in Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Photo credit Colm Hogan.

This is mainly a one-man performance, and Murphy is staggeringly good. A fearless actor who engages completely with both the grieving Irish widower and father and the gigantic, overbearing presence of Crow. He leaps and bounds around the stage, spits and snarls, stomps and watches. A dynamic and physical performance which is as scary to watch as it must be exhausting to do, night after night.

Dad won’t find one of Mum’s hairs around again. She’ll never finish that Patricia Highsmith novel. He’ll engage with other bodies which are not like hers, on the sofa she bought, in the flat where she died. He’ll finish his critical opus on the work of Ted Hughes, bluff and huge Yorkshire poet, when not doodling or daydreaming, or trying not to wake the boys.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Photo credit Colm Hogan.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Photo credit Colm Hogan.

In one scene Dad and boys go to a bird sanctuary where crows and eagles fly while the sons eat chips from packets which fall down to them. The boys will grow, and teach their children to shout “Crow”, and feel protected by the feathers which enveloped them in the wings of sorrow and pain.

Hattie Morahan, in film and audio form, plays the memory of Mum, and four boys share the role of the two sons (David Evans and Taighen O’Callaghan, Leo Hart and Adam Pemberton). Although on the periphery, the boys are ever present, and their performances must be commended – but this is Murphy’s show, and he’s magnificent.

Do not miss this – you’ll shudder, you might have to duck projectile props if you’re near the front, and you will most definitely have a tear in your eye when Dad and his sons walk away, hand in hand.

Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Photo credit Colm Hogan.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Photo credit Colm Hogan.

The Tempest (RSC at the Barbican)

I’ve seen Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ on at least six occasions (including Ian McKellen at Leeds, Derek Jacobi at Sheffield, and London appearances from Patrick Stewart, Antony Sher and Roger Allam at The Globe).


It’s a magical romance which concerns the deposed Duke of Milan (here played by the reliable Simon Russell Beale, himself a former stage Ariel), who is shipwrecked on an island ‘full of noises’ with his daughter Miranda; here they live with his library of books, a monstrous creature named Caliban who they keep as servant, and an airy sprite called Ariel who gives service to his master in anticipation of gaining his freedom.


Gregory Doran’s production is one of flashy technical and digital effects, in collaboration with Intel and The Imaginarium Studios, including a 3D representation of Ariel – although I found this more distracting than anything else, as the actor playing the part (and causing the body movements of the character) was on stage in all his scenes. However, the technical effects ranging from the light and sound giving the impression of a moving ship at the beginning of act one, a huge depiction of slavering dogs, and the memory of Ariel’s imprisonment in the cloven pine, were impressive.


Joe Dixon’s Caliban and Mark Quartley’s Ariel were very memorable and touching, balanced out well by the comedy of Simon Trinder’s sinister Trinculo and James Hayes’ Stephano (although the ‘two-legged monster’ routine could have been funnier than it was).  For me, Jenny Rainsford took a while to come into her own as Miranda, and I didn’t feel connected to her until the ‘brave new world’ speech near the end, and Daniel Easton’s Ferdinand was bland and uninteresting.


Simon Russell Beale’s Prospero is the highlight of this production, his small, stocky statute mirrored by that of Jonathan Broadbent’s little ball of hatred as his brother Antonio.  What this Prospero brings to the text is sometimes missed by his colleagues, and the final speech is truly touching as the audience is released (‘let your indulgence set me free’) – if this was Shakespeare’s way of saying goodbye to his beloved theatre, it is an effective one.


Katherine Jenkins (Barbican Centre)

This was the last date of Katherine Jenkins’ ‘Celebration’ tour, but with the Christmas carols dropped and a new guest performer in John Owen-Jones.

I am not much of a fan of Jenkins and her light classical crossover warbling, although taken purely as an entertainment her show certainly seems to please her hardcore fans of men of a certain age and their wives.

‘Santa Baby’ added a sprinkle of fun, and three dress changes and a crystal encrusted microphone gave a dash of glamour: there was strong accompaniment from the London Concert Orchestra conducted by Anthony Inglis (Die Fledermaus and Sleigh Bells opening both halves of the show).

In anticipation of the upcoming ENO production of ‘Carousel’ in which Jenkins makes her musical theatre debut in April, she treated us to a stirring ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, while more traditional repertoire included an Italian translation of Dolly Parton’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ and ‘Sanctus’ (to the melody of Elgar’s Nimrod).

John Owen-Jones is always a solid proposition, having served long stints in the musicals ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Les Miserables’, and we heard a song from each plus one from the underrated ‘Love Never Dies’, the lovely ‘Maria’ from ‘West Side Story’, one from ‘Miss Saigon’ (with a slight lyric fluff), and even the Eurovision winner from Conchita Wurst a couple of years ago, ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’.  

A duet of ‘Barcelona’ with Jenkins didn’t really work though, and she shone most convincingly in anthems like ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘How Great Thou Art’.

King Lear (Barbican)

My second Lear of this month is rather more traditional and definitely much safer than the one over at the Old Vic.

Another collaboration from RSC power couple Antony Sher and Gregory Doran, this Lear is opulent, regal, but, except for David Troughton’s magnificent Gloucester and Natalie Simpson’s sweet Cordelia, the play is strangely unmoving.

A very lengthy opening scene has the displaced and homeless sitting on the stage until they are rudely scattered ready for the entrance of the king, a Sher hunched up and swathed in furs, with a rasping voice.  He appears behind glass which is slowly lowered to reveal the full majesty.

He gives away his kingdom to the empty flattery of his daughters, who clearly loathe him (later, each will recoil from his offered embrace), and in a first display of a mind in disorder, disowns his ‘joy’, Cordelia, cast adrift in her bridal gown to be taken up by a sympathetic King of France.

Antony Byrne portrays Kent and in disguise, particularly, as a tattooed skinhead, he excels, and his final scene is well played.  Graham Turner plays a Fool first confident, funny and chatty, but eventually bewildered in the eye of the storm.  We do not see him in the second half, as is usual, but we are concerned for his survival.

As the brothers who war due to the one’s legitimacy and the other’s bastardy, Paapa Essiedu was not convincing for me due to his total sarcasm for all around him and his throwaway asides; better was Oliver Johnstone’s Edgar who went from a bookish fop through impersonation as Poor Tom to sword-wielding champion with ease.

The relationship between Regan (Kelly Williams) and Cornwall (James Clyde) is presented very much as one orchestrated by her (when he is mortally wounded and asks for her hand, she coldly walks away without a glance).  I much preferred Nia Gwynne’s Goneril, a lady with pure ice in her veins.

The eye-gouging scene may be misjudged – I had trouble hearing lines spoken within the perspex box from the stalls, so I feel for the gallery – but the effect is probably on a par with the thrown eyeball over at the Old Vic.

Where this production misses for me is the final mental disintegration of Lear.  I was not moved either by his recognition of Cordelia or his ‘howl, howl’ at her death.  And I know Sher has the emotional pull in other roles (his superb Willy Loman, for example, so this was a surprise).

I am glad to have had the opportunity to see both London Lears at such close proximity, and both have much to recommend them.  So see both if you can, but you have to move quick to see Glenda Jackson in the role (to December 3rd).

The RSC King Lear continues at the Barbican until December 23rd.

Michael Clark Company (Barbican Centre)

Michael Clark used to be the enfant terrible of modern dance, whether dancing with The Fall in trousers with the seat missing, cavorting around with Leigh Bowery, or producing, now and again, really superior pieces of work such as ‘O’, ‘Mmm’, and fun pieces such as ‘Because We Must’.


Now, at 54 years of age, his company returns to the Barbican with a new show called to a simple, rock ‘n’ roll … song.    These days Clark is much more mainstream, settled with a partner who is as much part of the establishment as he is (Stefan Kalmar, who runs the ICA), and with this show, he offers a sad but powerful goodbye to David Bowie – even appearing briefly himself (knowingly, ending prone on the floor) during a routine set to ‘Blackstar’, a fun piece with Patti Smith music, and a fusion of sound and movement to the music of Erik Satie.

It’s good to see him back and at the top of his artistic powers, creating something which is still sexy, still punchy, still just a little bit subversive.  Although age and injury has stopped him dancing into his later years, he still has a stage presence which draws the eye, and in his company he has a number of performers we can watch for the future, especially Harry Alexander, tall, lithe and graceful.

Henry V (RSC at the Barbican)

The final play in the Shakespeare Tetralogy which has now evolved into ‘King and Country’, so from next month, if you missed the first three plays, ‘Richard II’ and ‘Henry IV parts 1 and 2’, go forth to the Barbican and make good that omission.

This is, surprisingly, the very first ‘Henry V’ I have seen on stage.  Of course I have seen the Olivier and Branagh films, with their rousing St Crispin’s Day speeches, and the BBC Shakespeare and Hollow Crown versions, but have missed out on real life versions.  So even if I hadn’t seen the preceding plays, I would have hot-footed it to this one.

Alex Hassell returns as the king he became at the end of ‘Henry IV part 2’, and he is still not quite the regal or commanding monarch: he had doubts, he shows some emotion at the losses of battle and the tough decisions he has to make to maintain army discipline.  It is an excellent performance, and I believed in him completely.

Also good in this cast are Oliver Ford Davies as a beautifully enunciated Chorus in a cardigan, the ever-reliable Jim Hooper in two roles and two beards (an early scene as the Polonius-like Archbishop of Canterbury pulls the humour out of an Act One scene), a delicate Jane Lapotaire as the Queen of France, and Joshua Richards in a brace of roles as boozy Bardolph and fiery Welshman Fluellen.  The set is rather good, too, with golden beads hanging in chains at each side of the stage, clouds, rain, and, as the Chorus asks us, a set of imaginary horses.

Gregory Doran’s productions often put humour ahead of the more serious aspects of the play, and here there was a bit of what can only be called ‘audience participation’ in Henry’s wooing scene with Katherine (Jennifer Kirby, who runs with both her scenes, playing broken English for fun) which didn’t quite work.  However, post-battle, there was a moment when the balconies and stage filled with mournful singing for the dead which was very moving.

I should also mention Sarah Parks’ Mistress Quickly, and her account of the last moments of the life of the (unseen) Sir John Falstaff, who died ‘babbling o’ green fields’, and Simon Yadoo’s impenetrable Scottish soldier, who offered comic relief in the calm before the storm of Agincourt.

Waiting for Godot (Barbican Centre)

The International Beckett Season at the Barbican showcases a range of productions of the plays of Samuel Beckett, the centrepiece being this revival of the 2013 version by the Sydney Theatre Company.

In the roles of Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo) are a pair of actors best known on these shores for their screen credits: Hugo Weaving, who was Elrond in the ‘Lord of the Rings Trilogy’ and Mitzi in ‘The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’; and Richard Roxburgh, who was The Duke in ‘Moulin Rouge’ and Sherlock Holmes in ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’.  Not looking remotely film-starish here, both men effortlessly inhabit their roles and are clearly at ease with working together.

Playing broadly in the vaudevillian style, Weaving is clearly the posher of the two, with decayed dignity (note the way he puts on his new hat and tosses his greasy hair), while Roxburgh is lower class, with comic expressions, sleepy resignation, and more accepting of the plodding boredom of their daily lives as tramps, eating carrots and radishes, suffering from tight boots and urinary problems, and waiting for the ever-elusive Godot.

Each day in this bleak landscape with one stick-like tree and a derelict black building facing back-on to nothingness is clearly much the same, where the two friends pass the time in idle chit-chat, attempts to entertain each other, and thoughts of suicide which they can never follow through.  Into this limited world wander two men who impact on the story in different ways in each of the two halves – the blustering, charming and faintly ridiculous Pozzo, who is all bombast in his first appearance and vaguely pathetic in his second one; and witch-like Lucky, panting and slavering with the bags he can only briefly put down.

As Pozzo, Philip Quast impacts both as the cruel slavemaster and the blackly humorous bon viveur who clearly loves the fine things in life with his wine, pipe and fur-trimmed coat.  Starkly bullet-headed and neatly-bearded, he resembles a carnival barker who is slightly corrupt – and in the second half there is a fair amount of physical comedy which is well performed with Weaving in particular.  Lucky has wild white hair and a ghostly, sickly pallor, as if a gust of wind would finish him off – Luke Mullins catches the sense of the absurd in his demeanor and monologue, but he didn’t quite pack the emotional punch or the virtuosity of delivery I saw in a previous Lucky (Richard Dormer in 2006).

For the first UK production in the 1950s, director Peter Hall stated he did not understand the play and did not need to to make it a success: for the Sydney production, Andrew Upton explains in the programme that this version is a group collaboration using Beckett’s detailed stage directions as a starting point.  Certainly the cast work well together in a play which must be physically and mentally draining to perform, and there are several lovely moments between Weaving, Roxburgh and Quast in particular, causing some genuine audience laughter as well as a reflection of the emotional starkness of this prime example of Theatre of the Absurd.

Henry IV parts 1 and 2 (RSC at the Barbican)

Making its home for Christmas at the Barbican Centre (one-time London home of the Royal Shakespeare Company), these productions of the two Henry IV plays have been heavily trailed with Sir Antony Sher’s return to the Company in the role of Falstaff, collaborating professionally once more with his off-stage partner of twenty-seven years, the RSC’s Artistic Director Gregory Doran.

The two plays are very different in tone – Part 1 is a mix of battles and comedy, while Part 2 is more reflective on the passing of time and the onset of maturity on the part of Prince Hal (Alex Hassell, who is very good indeed and a potential rising star for the RSC).

henry iv i

The scene which opens Part 1 may be a trifle bewildering for those who were not present at Doran’s earlier production of Richard II, as the ghost of that deposed and murdered king appears to watch over the scene where Henry IV (Jasper Britton) puts on the crown you see center stage.

Britton portrays the anger and doubt of the King, but misses the depth of feeling required to portray such scenes as the character’s exchanges with his dissolute son in both parts, especially those which should be moving to watch in Part 2.  The son of veteran actor Tony Britton, he also resembles his father at times but does not achieve the majesty or power of an anointed monarch.  I found myself thinking back to David Troughton’s portrayal of Henry IV (also for the RSC) back in 2000, in which he was convincing as both dangerous warrior and sick man losing his grasp on power and life.

The scene which introduces both Hassell’s Hal and Sher’s Falstaff here involves a couple of good-time ladies frolicking with the Prince, and a comic reveal to find a Falstaff shaking with DT’s and asking ‘the time of day’ under the sheets at the bottom of the same bed in which the Prince and his ladies had just enjoyed themselves.   It makes clear at once the unhealthy closeness and influence the fat dissolute man has over the heir to the throne.

I felt the scenes in the Tavern were a little muted, perhaps because of the staging, which kept events confined in the middle of the stage.  The battle scenes, though, were excellent, with a backdrop of scenery torn asunder and illuminated in orange light.  But casting went awry with Trevor White’s Hotspur, who came across as part ranting child with ADHD and part tiresome nitwit, and it was a relief to see his demise at the close of part 1.

Strong scenes in part 1 included the memorable segment where Falstaff plays the king interrogating his son about his followers, and Hal then taking on the persona of his father to say he can, and will, ‘banish plump Jack, and banish all the world’.  There is also the amusing scene with Francis the waiter ‘anon, anon, sir’, and the majesty of Owen Glendower (played by Joshua Richards, who is also a rouge-faced Bardolph, and who played Richard Burton in a solo show not so long ago for stage and screen).

henry iv 2

On to the reflectiveness of part 2, in which Oliver Ford Davies and Jim Hooper (trivia fans may note that he was the former long-term partner of Antony Sher, pre-Doran) are a joy to watch as Justices Shallow and Silence, the perfect essayists of vacant ageing and lost opportunity.  Their early scene together, lamenting their friends who are now dead and old, moves into an amusing scene where Falstaff searches for men to join him in battle, and finds a rag-bag of unsuitables similar to the ‘rude mechanicals’ of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The man called ‘Wart’ in particular causes amusement when he cannot even lift a rifle.

Meanwhile, Henry IV is ailing, and sad, and beginning to realise he will never make that promised pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Hal continues to frequent Eastcheap with Poins and to neglect his destiny as leader, until the turning point when he finds his father sleeping and thinks him dead, taking the Crown and reflecting on the grave responsibility which comes with becoming King.  Although this scene is not as powerful as it should be, the ending scene where Hal rejects his former life, and his former friend, with ‘I know thee not, old man’ does pack a punch (especially coming so soon after the amusing drinking scene with Falstaff and the Justices, in which even the reticent Silence finds liquor makes him sing).

This pair of plays is skewed towards Sher’s Falstaff, and he does show a gift for comedy we haven’t often seen before (although in Cyrano de Bergerac in the 1990s he did show signs of a range which included playing for laughs), as well as portraying the increased infirmity which comes of drinking too much sack and being too dissolute – whether wriggling on the ground like a beetle trying to get up at the end of the Shrewsbury battle in which he plays dead, exolting the virtues of drinking sack, or exchanging a rather tender moment with his whore Doll Tearsheet when he is about to leave for the wars.

Elsewhere in the cast memorable turns come from Robert Gilbert as Mortimer in part 1, Jennifer Kirby as Lady Percy, Nia Gwynne as the Welsh singing Lady Mortimer in part 1 and Doll Tearsheet in part 2, Antony Byrne as a wild-haired Pistol, Sam Marks as an excellent Poins, and Paola Dionisotti as a memorable Mistress Quickly.

Richard II (Barbican Centre), review

This new production of ‘Richard II’ is the first in a new, three-year partnership between the Royal Shakespeare Company and its old London base, the Barbican Centre, and if it suffers a bit from ‘show casting’ with David Tennant in the lead, it actually acquits itself fairly well by the final curtain call.

Edmund Wiseman played the part of Bolingbroke at both shows yesterday in place of Nigel Lindsay, and he was absolutely excellent, displaying a certain amount of chemistry between himself and Tennant.  Reviews of Lindsay’s performance have compared him to Rory Kinnear’s Iago in the National Theatre’s recent ‘Othello’, and if this is so, Wiseman is quite a different type of Bolingbroke, young and hungry for power but no thug on the make.

Tennant’s Richard has been publicised heavily as the main draw here, and he is very good in places, although for me he didn’t quite convince as either the vain and arrogant king led on by flatterers in the first half, or the pathetic man stripped of his power and the divine right of kings after the interval.  His fans have a habit of laughing at moments which should be serious and affecting, and although this is probably not Tennant’s fault, it does harm his performance a little bit.  The choice of a long wig as well has perhaps given his Richard a touch of effeminacy which colours his depiction of the king deposed in the second half (and his white smock and bare feet emphasise a link with God/Christ in a rather heavy-handed way).

The sets are superb, although on the surface, minimalist.  A chapel setting which opens the play with a choir and the grieving Duchess of Gloucester (Jane Lapotaire) with the coffin of her murdered husband gives way to open ground, castles, courts, and halls with a clever use of lighting, music, video projection and a few stage tricks.  This is a Richard with spectacle, where something is always going on and even the smaller roles and walk-ons are in the thick of the action (Elliot Barnes-Worrell stepping up to play Harry Percy, Keith Osborn as Scroop, Joshua Richards in a number of roles including the palace gardener, Jim Hooper as the Bishop of Carlisle, Oliver Rix, impressive as Aumerle).

In supporting players, we have a quartet of senior actors (Lapotaire already mentioned – her grief stricken Duchess may be a little over the top for this production but it is good to see her fighting fit again following her stroke and rehabilitation; Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt, his ‘Methinks I am a prophet’ speech beginning in an almost conversational way rather than the speech with gravitas some of his predecessors such as Gielgud have chosen to interpret this dying Royal princes final words of blessing for his country; Oliver Ford-Davies, superb as York, playing at times for comedy and at times for tragedy, as all gifted actors do, keeping their performance balanced; and Marty Cruickshank as the Duchess of York, bringing a touch of light relief after the deposition scene).

Gregory Doran’s production takes a couple of liberties with the plot, notably near the end where the ‘reveal’ of Richard’s murderer is distracting, and a weird addition to the original play.  His adaptations have often been described as ‘safe’ and I think I would agree that this Richard takes no real risks, but it is a good evening out, and although I would still not describe David Tennant as an accomplished Shakespeare actor (he plays to the gallery, as they say, as his old ‘Doctor Who’ role a bit too much), he’s improved markedly from the days I saw him at Stratford in The Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night.

While watching this Richard I was thinking of the production I saw at the RSC some years ago, with Samuel West in the lead and David Troughton as Bolingbroke – very much a case of the delicate, spoiled prince opposite the rough warrior duke – and noting that this new production is much more traditional, opulent and showy.  It isn’t as emotionally engaging, though, although there are moments I’ll remember – the queen and her king’s last farewell, Richard’s descent in full regalia despite the knowledge he has lost his support and his kingdom, the soundless depiction of father/son dynamics (Gaunt and Bolingbroke, York and Aumerle), the nuggets of comedy where they are required.

A quick London round-up …

At London’s Transport Museum, Covent Garden, you can see the exhibition of posters brought together under the umbrella title ‘Poster Art 150’.  It’s on until January 5th – more details at

The Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington, has acquired Vivien Leigh’s archive and will display a selection of items from it in their Theatre & Performance galleries.  More details here –

In its last week at the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank is the World Press Photo Exhibition –

The Royal Festival Hall’s Spirit Level gallery is also the venue for the Koestler Trust’s 2013 exhibition of art by prisoners, offenders on community sentences, secure psychiatric patients and immigration detainees.  As in previous years this is touching, surprising, and well worth a look.  It runs until the 1st December.

Staying on the South Bank, the National Theatre is celebrating its 50th birthday and has a small exhibition of images in the Lyttelton Gallery of Oliver’s first company amongst other celebrations –

At the BFI Southbank, we are halfway through the Gothic season of films (, and there is currently a Vivien Leigh retrospective which runs to the end of the year *, including a new restoration of ‘Gone With The Wind’.

From tiny musical boxes to the Mighty Wurlitzer, pay a visit to the Musical Museum in Brentford (, while at the Watermans just up the road the annual showcase of digital art, enter13, is running until 5th January (

At Pimlico, the Tate Britain has had a revamp and has an exhibition on until February of ‘Five Contemporary Artists’.  For more details, see

The Design Museum (at Butler’s Wharf) recreates Paul Smith’s chaotic office with its collection of miscellaneous objects until the 9th March –

Finally, over at the Barbican in the City of London, the Pop Art Movement is being celebrated at the Gallery –

NaBloPoMo November 2013

Michael Clark Dance Group: New Work (Barbican, London)

Michael Clark remains an associate artist at the Barbican Centre and as part of that association, has created a new double bill of work, entitled ‘New Work’, with music in the first half by Scritti Politti, and in the second by Pulp/Relaxed Muscle (who appeared live at the London dates).

Clark’s choreography has matured over the years from his initial shock tactics and freak performers (like Leigh Bowery) to fluid movements, emotionless trust between his performers (including Kate Coyne and Jonathan Olliver, formerly of the Northern Ballet Theatre), and a slightly naughty vibe, underpinned by his own bemusing cameos. I remember his leading roles and can see his influence directly in a couple of his younger male dancers – however, in this show there may be a little too much going on at times, notably a scrolling set of texts which eventually spell the sentence ‘I’m thinking of opening a zoo’, and the aforementioned live band performance which is rather intrusive when singer Jarvis Cocker blocks the audience view of the dancers.

Costumes have always played a big part in this group’s performances, often being a draw in their own right. Here the focus moves from men in short dresses through to two tone skin tight bodysuits. The opening of the show, too, is novel – a dancer slowly descends to the stage, suspended by a very flimsy looking wire.

‘New Work’ showcases mesmerising movement with pulsating music beats in the second half, and sweet mellow vibes in the first. This group does not disappoint, and long may Clark continue to make his brief showcase appearances alongside his talented performers.

South Pacific (Barbican Centre)

Originally published on my LiveJournal blog on 20 August 2011.

The production from the Lincoln Center Theater of ‘South Pacific’ which received such rave reviews in New York has landed in the UK to run for seven weeks at the Barbican Centre before it tours the country. The last full production of this Rodgers and Hammerstein show was in 2001 at the National Theatre, starring Lauren Kennedy as Nellie and Philip Quast as Emile – enjoyable though that show was, for me there was little visible chemistry between the leads in the central love story.

Samantha Womack "washing that man out of her hair".
Samantha Womack “washing that man out of her hair”.

Fast forward to now. In the transfer from US to UK some key roles have been recast, notably Samantha Womack as Nellie and Daniel Koek as Joe Cable, as well as Alex Ferns as Luther Billis. Coming over from the US are Paulo Szot as Emile (but note he is not in the whole run at the Barbican – Jason Howard plays the role from 29th August to 21st September), and Loretta Ables Sayre as Bloody Mary.

Szot is a superb Emile, with a wonderfully rangy bass voice – he makes the most of his two showpieces, rightfully receiving prolonged applause for ‘This Nearly Was Mine’. He is a very good actor, too, and gives what could be quite a dry role some humanity. Womack is far better than I expected – she has played Miss Adelaide in ‘Guys and Dolls’ but doesn’t really have a musicals pedigree. On this evidence she should/will have. Her joy in her ‘Wonderful Guy’ is infectious to watch and her struggle with prejudice and love is touching.

Although Cable is a thankless part in many ways, Koek has a pleasant voice and the right level of bitterness in ‘Carefully Taught’. Ferns makes the most of Billis’ twists and turns, and Sayre has comedy mixed with a beautiful voice which is shown well in ‘Bali Ha’i.’

I really like this production, which has feet tapping, and brings both smiles and a lump in the throat. In actual fact, it is superb, giving full throttle to those marvellous songs while still making matters of prejudice relevant today.

However a note to the Barbican – your air conditioning is too cold 🙂 That aside, a wonderful, no, an ‘enchanted’ evening.