“Aside from a couple of well-intentioned but clunky party scenes, there was no variation in pace from one scene to the next”
Gavin McAlinden’s production of Anthony & Cleopatra at Theatro Technis is the showcase production for the students at his weekly acting workshop, Acting Gymnasium, and this is very obviously a mixed ability student production. Michael Claff (Anthony) is clearly a regular, having frequently taken the lead in other productions, and makes a decent fist of it, but the majority of the other cast members struggled vocally, with diction and clarity, which meant that not only was the poetry lost, but frequently the narrative too. Although Gabriel Puscas (Enobarbus) moved with a certain charismatic ease, for instance, far too many of his lines were rushed, mumbled and impossible to distinguish. Too often, the language was sacrificed in moments of high emotion. This was problematic across the board, and particularly marred Hannah Luna’s performance as Cleopatra. This most tempestuous of Shakespeare’s heroines speaks some of her most extraordinary lines in rage and in grief, and we simply couldn’t make them out. In addition, the decision to dress her in a succession of differently coloured corsets did nothing to lend this performance the strength and sensuality it lacked. Nowhere in this production was there the sense of the enormous power at stake in this relationship, nor was it there in Caesar’s icy machinations.
There were some welcome moments of clarity provided by some of the actors in smaller roles – credit here to Emma Wilkinson Wright (Charmian), Anna Walden (Agrippa) and Ventidius (Brian Easty) – and the sound design (including James Jones’ original music) though occasionally heavy-handed, was pleasingly atmospheric throughout, but overall this was a slow evening, running half an hour over its advertised running time. Aside from a couple of well-intentioned but clunky party scenes, there was no variation in pace from one scene to the next, and the transitions were badly managed throughout, with far too much bare stage on show. The two courts were not sufficiently defined against one another, and the grandeur of Anthony and Cleopatra’s passion was nowhere to be found.
It left this reviewer with big unanswered questions, the dominant one being, ‘why tell this story now?’ Theatre is a scarce commodity at the moment, and every production needs to have something to say. What did the director want to say? What did he want his audience to find? As we stepped out into the night, we remained unenlightened.
Shakespeare in the Garden – The Turk’s Head, Twickenham
Reviewed – 25th September 2020
“The cast is definitely not short of energy and enthusiasm, and, as an audience, that is infectious”
Open Bar have been putting on Shakespeare productions in pub gardens since 2015; their mission statement, clearly set out in the digital programme, is ‘to create fun, clear reinventions of the Bard’s best’ which both ‘Shakespeare aficionados and first timers’ can enjoy. Six actors take on the multiple roles, with all the fast and furious costume changes you’d expect. The text is sprinkled with contemporary references and direct address, and the actors steer the Shakespearian ship with barrels of ‘lets-all-have-a-great-time’ gusto. The cast is definitely not short of energy and enthusiasm, and, as an audience, that is infectious. The problem lies with the fact that frequently the actual play gets lost in the fun.
Given that the rambunctious approach is clearly Open Bar’s brand, The Tempest seems an odd choice. The late plays are all a good deal more cerebral in tone, and The Tempest is no exception, taking on such mighty themes as colonisation and the nature of power and forgiveness; it is also, in many ways, Shakespeare’s examination of his own art, and the power of theatrical magic to transform. Whilst a pub garden on a chilly Autumn night may not be the right place for a deeply political take on the play, there could have been a lot more made of the magic, and, highly skilful though it undoubtedly was, Ariel’s aerial athletics were no substitute for the astonishing conjuring tricks of the language itself. Nicky Diss’s direction relied heavily on Vicky Gaskin’s movement direction, and too often the text was lost in the physicality of the performance. At times, this meant a lack of clarity with regard to plot, and at others, lack of poetry. At no point in the production did ‘the enchanted isle’ genuinely seem a place of wonder.
That said, there were some terrific moments, and some fine performances too. Special mention here to Jessica Alade (Miranda/Antonia) who spoke the verse with subtle poetry and exceptional clarity, and to Adam Courting, who’s Prospero, although perhaps lacking in power, was a highly engaging and charismatic mischief-maker. The Tempest’s comedy duo – Stephano (Thomas Judd) and Trinculo (Nathaniel Curtis) – worked well together, though Trinculo’s mincing campery made somewhat uncomfortable viewing in 2020 and did seem a jarring directorial choice.
Seeing theatre at the moment is a headier and more complex pleasure than in pre-COVID times. The joy of being there at all is, of course, intensified, and it was and is heartening to see so many people swathed in blankets under a September moon to share the experience of live performance. That experience is bitter-sweet however. The Open Bar team worked social distancing and hand sanitising into their production with their trademark rollicking good humour, but there’s no denying that theatre loses an awful lot without touch. Similarly, although we, of course, all need escape and entertainment in these turbulent times, we ignore theatre’s power to help us understand ourselves, and our human predicament, at our peril.
Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw
Photography by Headshot Toby
Fuller’s Shakespeare in the Garden continues at various locations until 1st October. Click on image below for details.