Tag Archives: Dominic Rowan

“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

“A Doll’s House” at the Duke of York’s Theatre

The Young Vic’s widely acclaimed production of A Doll’s House opened its West End transfer this week at the Duke of York’s theatre. Directed by Carrie Cracknell, Ibsen’s classic story of Nora, a housewife and mother in 19th century Norway, and the breakdown of her seemingly perfect marriage, is tackled with great verve and features a superb spinning set by designer Ian Macneil. The show deserves all its many critics’ stars and is not to be missed – it only runs until 26 October.

The star draw is Hattie Morahan in the lead role. She picked up both the Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle awards last year, and it’s easy to see why. She plays Nora as naïve – but only because of the society she was born into. Morahan makes the limitations women experienced at the time seem normal, no matter how bitter. Nora’s flashes of brilliance, as she comes to understand and rebel against constraints, are believable and moving.

Morahan is joined by a cast that is close to faultless. Caroline Martin (pictured above with Morhan) gives depth to the role of her old school friend, whose marriage of convenience has been a more obvious failure, and Nick Fletcher gives a magnificently understated performance as the money lender who wreaks havoc on Nora’s ideal home. Hiding her debts from her bank manager husband is only one of the lies her marriage is based on. As her partner Torvald, Dominic Rowan has to tackle sexist remarks it’s to be hoped make most people blush. The commodification of his wife may seem incredible, but Rowan manages to bring Cracknell’s pointed production home – Torvald’s fantasies about his wife raise uncomfortable questions relevant to men and women today.

This marital master and his slave are fantastic creations and with Simon Stephens’ adaptation of Ibsen’s text they breath anew. Injecting a strain of ‘Englishness’ into the play makes it recognisable, and there’s a cleverly suggested Pre-War feel to much of the language. Even better, ironic touches (again praise for Morahan here – her delivery is perfection) elaborate Ibsen’s dark humour and there’s even a sexiness here that has a disturbing edge. Stephens’ script is the key to this doll’s house being such a big success.

Until 26 October 2013

Photo by Richard Hubert Smith

Written 16 August 2013 for The London Magazine