Tag Archives: Dominic Dromgoole

“A Woman of No Importance” at the Vaudeville Theatre

Dominic Dromgoole’s latest project, with his new company, Classic Spring, is a year of Oscar Wilde plays. It’s off to a fantastic start with this story of adultery and sexual inequality. Wilde, the Victorian radical, has a sharp eye on masculine privilege that feels depressingly topical.

Providing effective pathos is Eve Best as the wronged woman, Mrs Arbuthnot. It’s hard for modern ears to hear her self-excoriation. But Best sets up an underlying anger towards her reencountered seducer (impressively performed by Dominic Rowan) that thrills. Best and the whole company’s handling of the play’s plentiful melodrama is masterful – a few well-placed laughs help us over some crippling sincerity.

This play is serious. But this is Wilde, so the comedy is as good as any you could find – in his day or now. Leading the epigrams alongside Rowan is Emma Fielding as the archly aesthetic Mrs Allonby. And there’s a great little performance from Phoebe Fildes as a sophisticate in training. Leading the way are Eleanor Bron and Anne Reid as two aristocratic dowagers giving top-class performances. It takes a lot not to be controlled by Wilde’s comedy; both make the lines natural, while Reid’s suggestion of a little too much digestif in the third act is a cheeky move that gets a laugh with every line.

So far, this is strong actors making the most of a genius. More than enough reason to see the show. But Dromgoole has a programme of ideas driving his production that elevates this to one of the finest of revivals.

First is the idea of exploring the proscenium theatre that Wilde’s plays were written for and that the Vaudeville is such a gorgeous example of. Let’s celebrate this wonderful format. It leads to fantastic sets and costumes from Jonathan Fensom and sensitive lighting from Ben Ormerod. Scene changes include some songs and period numbers arranged by Jason Carr – now that’s entertainment. After years at Shakespeare’s Globe, Dromgoole is an expert at the potential of a period.

Dromgoole also knows how to make sure a play doesn’t get stuck in the past. In a revelatory move, he’s utilised a study of the play’s previous drafts. The assumption that Wilde would have been bolder had the theatre of his day allowed it is a point for discussion. But it’s a fun debate, and all-too- suitable for a figure whose legacy has been so often used (and abused). You have to know the text well to work out what’s gone on, and plenty of lines still feel old-fashioned, but the idea is brave and effective. Classic Spring has a winning formula set up for an exciting year. Get booking.

Until 30 December 2017

www.nimaxtheatres.com

Photo by Marc Brenner

 

 

“Measure For Measure” at Shakespeare’s Globe

For all its charms, the Globe is not a comfortable theatre and at Wednesday’s press night of Measure for Measure it was pretty much like an oven. It’s testament to Dominic Dromgoole’s new production that the audience adored the show under such conditions. Exploiting the play’s bawdy background, the cast creates such riotous fun I am surprised they didn’t pass out. Every performer won my admiration.

His last turn as director in charge of the theatre, Dromgoole goes all out with the ‘groundlings’ standing in the pit; they are pushed around by pimps and prostitutes before the play’s even begun. And although there is a close-up branding of one prostitute, emblematic of the puritanical theme of justice, the overall tone is fun. Led by a boisterous Mistress Overdone (Petra Massey), with a great comic turn from Brendan O’Hea’s Lucio – and plenty of ad-libbing – the licentious lord it over this play.

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Mariah Gale and Kurt Egyiawan

The bawds make a strong contrast with what is the main thrust of the story: Angelo’s condemnation, then blackmail, of Claudio (Joel MacCormack) and his sister Isabella – offering to save him in return for sex with her. All three deliver powerfully understated performances. Kurt Egyiawan’s Angelo gave me a chill, despite that weather. He’s wonderful at suggesting anguish behind his evil impulses – the uselessness of Isabella trying to defend herself when his “false o’erweighs your true” is delivered with near resignation. Mariah Gale gives an eloquent and credible portrayal of as Isabella, making the character’s religion and integrity central.

Despite the excellent performances, Dromgoole doesn’t manage that precarious balance between scenes of comedy and tension. There’s a lack of subtlety, shown best in Dominic Rowan’s absconding Duke: a powerful actor, with first class delivery, he rattles through plot points for laughs and abandons ambiguity about his motives. But Dromgoole knows the venue better than anyone and, while the tactic is vaguely disappointing, it’s in keeping with a crowd-pleasing blockbuster of a show.

Until 17 October 2015

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photos by Marc Brenner

“The Duchess of Malfi” at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

2014 is off to a great start for lovers of the stage, as the late Sam Wanamaker’s visionary plan for an indoor theatre, next to Shakespeare’s Globe, is now open. Deservedly taking Wanamaker’s name, this reimagining of a Jacobean indoor theatre is an exciting opportunity to see plays of the period in an authentic context.

So what’s it like? In a word: fascinating. The tiny space is instantly appealing. Candlelit, it is full of charm and even smells wonderful. The acoustics are shockingly good; this will surely be its major contribution to our understanding of Renaissance theatre. That it’s lit so differently to the theatres we are used to, and you can hear a pin drop, makes for a very different interaction between the audience and the play – one that, for me anyway, felt heightened and cerebral. It is also, it has to be admitted, rather uncomfortable. Bench seating is never luxurious and the theatre is crowded, potentially hot, with some awful sightlines. Go, but avoid the restricted view seats.

The first production is John Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi. The gore filled revenge story unexpectedly benefits from being staged in this space. It all seems much quieter than we are used to. Much more about listening to the horrors inflicted on a widowed Duchess who dares to marry again than seeing blood splattered everywhere. First directorial honours go to the Globe’s boss Dominic Dromgoole, who does a superb job embracing the new theatre. The famous scene where the Duchess is visited in the dark, which here really is pitch black, is thrilling.

Inevitably there’s the sense of a company still finding its feet. Gemma Arterton’s performance as the Duchess is understated and seems spot on as a result. But her wicked brothers, played by David Dawson and James Garnon, who oppose her marriage and then torture her when they discover it, seem overplayed as the play progresses.

Webster’s exuberant language often raises a smile nowadays but playing it for laughs (a common way of dealing with his wild metaphors) seems a missed opportunity here. Duke Ferdinand’s insanity certainly isn’t supposed to be funny nor, I am sure, are the mad people sent to live with the Duchess as part of her punishment. Just possibly, this is the place to play the text straight.

But these reservations only serve to support what is so exciting about this new old theatre. The chances it offers to explore well-known plays, and hopefully soon to rediscover lost works, make the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse brim with potential. London has a new star venue.

Until 16 February 2014

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Written 17 January 2014 for The London Magazine

“Henry V” at Shakespeare’s Globe

The Globe has a special relationship with Henry V: the play opened the new theatre and any bardophile is sure to thrill at the lines referring to “this wooden O” when they hear them in situ. With the bunting still out on the streets, Shakespeare’s most patriotic king is in tune with this summer. Henry’s rallying “once more unto the breach” is addressed so directly to the audience that it receives spontaneous applause. And it is richly deserved: Dominic Dromgoole’s new production is a triumph.

Droomgoole is too intelligent a director to reduce Henry V to jingoism. Fully at home in The Globe, he brings out the nuances in the play with all its bittersweet humour. There’s a tremendous performance from Brendan O’Hea as the leek-loving Welshman Fluellen, providing a cynical twist on patriotism. Leading the low life is the superb Sam Cox as Pistol, getting the laughs while reminding us that those who suffer most in war are often the poor.

The production is aided immeasurably by a wonderful performance from Brid Brennan in the role of the chorus. She sets the scenes, urging us to “work our thoughts” with beautiful clarity, perfectly reflecting Droomgoole’s simple, no-nonsense approach. This Henry V is full of confidence, it has faith in the play, and the production’s achievement is to show off Shakespeare at his very best.

The jewel in the crown of Droomgoole’s Henry V is Jamie Parker in the title role. Martial certainly, blood curdling when he has to be, but also full of charm, Parker’s frequently understated performance shows total control (he’s even better than Branagh), and you want to back him and even fight for him. This is a truly glorious reign, certain to make any theatre lover happy.

Until 26 August 2012

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by John Haynes

Written 14 June 2012 for The London Magazine

“Henry IV Parts 1 and 2” at Shakespeare’s Globe

This year’s terrific Kings and Rogues season at Shakespeare’s Globe gives us the theatre’s first production of Henry IV Parts 1 and 2. Under the direction of Dominic Dromgoole, the plays thrive on the clarity and immediacy of the venue. With the cast Dromgoole has assembled the plays receive the complex subtlety they deserve.

First for the king. Suitably careworn from the start, Oliver Cotton’s Henry IV has a fiery temper that encompasses both the passionate young man he once was and the disgruntled father he has become. In plays so concerned with the theme of age, he manages to convey the journey of a life time.

Then there are those who would be kings. Jamie Parker (fittingly, a member of the original History Boys cast) plays Prince Hal with an eye on the time. He has huge fun with the low-life company he keeps but also shows a cold edge that, for all Parker’s charm, is unsettling.

Sam Crane’s Hotspur also plays it for laughs, which makes him less of a foil to the dissolute Prince. His performance has perhaps too much of the puff-chested schoolboy about it to create the required tension as he leads his men into rebellion and bloodshed.

And now to the rogue – Falstaff, that “villainous, abominable misleader of youth”. Like Elizabeth I, we all fall in love with Sir John. Especially this one. Shakespeare gives him a lot to work with, but Roger Allam doesn’t miss a trick – he squeezes every last drop of comedy out of the text and adds some of his own. His Falstaff is urbane, fey and philosophical. He is also crude, reckless and (unusually) sexy. With impeccable timing and joyous physicality he is, oh, such good company.

Allam’s genius is to embrace the theatricality of the character – Falstaff loves being on show and Allam uses the particular intimacy of The Globe to great effect. The character doesn’t just perform in those famous tavern scenes. He also gets turns as wrestler Giant Haystacks in a Pythonesque moment where a superb Mistress Quickly (Barbara Marten) threatens him with a dead fish. And he is a passable Barry White figure, with Jade Williams’ fantastic Doll Tearsheet swooning at his charms. And who could blame her? With Allam in total, joyous control, we are all a little heady from the performance. This Falstaff is faultless.

But Falstaff isn’t irresistible to all. The fun cannot last and in Part 2 we see that the piper, in the form of the recorder-playing Hal, has to be paid. Solemnity sets in as the kingdom in turmoil takes its toll. There are still laughs but they start to sound hollow as the characters succumb to fatigue and stress.

Allam injects an escalating unease. Increasingly sordid and diseased, Falstaff is compelled to continue his charade as a soldier and this is one spotlight he isn’t comfortable in. Estranged from Hal, he is forced into plotting a poor joke against the charmingly doddery Shallow (William Gaunt). He never gets to tell the punchline. Appearing as an exhausted Bacchus, the energy passes to Jamie Parker who returns as a demented Pistol. Behind the euphoria at Hal’s ascendency we sense fear.

Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 are epic plays. The history they write takes in the whole of the country and also the span of man’s life. It is to Dromgoole’s credit that this twin focus is never lost. Lording it over all is the epitome of life itself – Falstaff. In all of his joy and his pain Allam’s rogue is truly magisterial.

Until 9 October 2010

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by John Haynes

Written 15 July 2010 for The London Magazine