Tag Archives: Emma Rice

Romantics Anonymous at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

With her last show in charge at Shakespeare’s Globe, Emma Rice is going out in style with a musical romantic comedy that showcases her talents. This adaptation of the French film Les Émotifs Anonymes, is hilarious and heart-warming with a sense of wonder – at stories and making theatre – that is Rice’s trademark appeal.

The story of two chocolate makers falling in love sounds sickly sweet but a big dose of humour prevents any cloying aftertaste. Angélique and Jean-René are pathologically shy – émotif as the French say – and that’s the obstacle they have to overcome to find love. It’s great material for a musical: when the tongue-tied characters can’t speak, they can sing. And the scenario allows the lead performers, Carly Bawden and Dominic Marsh, to win hearts, as we fear and hope alongside them.

You’d be cold indeed not to fall for this fumbling pair. But to cater for cynics, Rice’s book for the show has a cool edge. The therapies tried (including the film’s titular support group) are viciously funny. As is pointed out, the secret of chocolate is a touch of bitterness. So, alongside all the Gallic sensitivity, we have old-fashioned English wit. Even the self-help tape Jean-René listens to loses patience with him! Great jokes and a sense of playfulness mean laughs throughout.

While Bawden and Marsh are brilliant as our emotionally challenged couple, this is the kind of ensemble piece Rice excels with. The often Breton-topped troupe takes on a range of delightful roles. Take your pick: Joanna Riding as Angélique’s uncouth mother, or Gareth Snook as two chocolate shop owners, both male and female. When the cast assemble as the misfit support group, each and every characterisation gets a laugh.

Although the comedy numbers are superb from the start, Michael Kooman’s sophisticated score gets off to a slow start and the lyrics by Christopher Dimond seem serviceable rather than inspired. But, like another description of chocolate from Angélique and Jean-René, the music has a complexity and power that builds.

Despite its everyday story, and a score of satisfying references, Romantics Anonymous is an original. It’s the first new musical at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse for a start. It glorifies in lo-fi touches, often Rice’s forte, that show each moment approached with fresh intelligence. It revels in the mechanics of theatre, creating complicity with the audience, with a novel self-deprecation. But the underlying, unabashed aim here is to create theatrical magic. And Rice succeeds so well, you feel gratitude for experiencing this great show.

Until 6 January 2018

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Steve Tanner

“Twelfth Night” at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Emma Rice has chosen well for her last show as director of the Globe, with a cross-dressing comedy that updates the Bard for our gender-fluid times. If you don’t think Shakespeare and Sister Sledge mix, then be warned – Rice’s energy, sensitivity and sense of irreverence are bountiful. The disco lights are on and it’s time to celebrate her reign at The Globe.

Let’s not forget that organising a good party is hard work and can call for tough decisions. There are moments of forced jollity – musical chairs proves messy – and a close reading of the text isn’t invited. But the passion in Twelfth Night is frenzied and Rice’s insight is to allow this. Nasty edges have poignancy, fate is presented as a choreographed natural phenomenon (cleverly mocked as a touch of “community theatre”) and the laughs are manic.

The twins, Sebastian and Viola, whose adventures we follow, are used to anchor the show. In these roles Anita-Joy Uwajeh and John Pfumojena impress, respectively showing a touching vulnerability and sounding particular gorgeous. The confused suitors who fall for the ship-wrecked siblings are played by Annette McLaughlin, who makes for a joyous Olivia, and Joshua Lacey, whose river-dancing-mullet-sporting-lothario Duke is the funniest I’ve seen.

Marc Antolin
Marc Antolin

The trio of pranksters in Olivia’s house continue the strong comedy. Sir Toby, Fabian and Maria, played by Tony Jayawardena, Nandi Bhebhe and the super-talented Carly Bawden (another strong voice) really go for it. The revelation is Marc Antolin as Aguecheek, transforming the role with physical comedy, ad-libs and fluorescent Y-fronts. And a lisp… sorry, but lisps are funny.

Katy Owen
Katy Owen

What the production takes seriously is drag, spoiling us with cabaret star Le Gateau Chocolat, whose Feste steers the tempestuous proceedings like a glittering, magical MC. It’s impossible to steal a show from six feet of sequins, but Katy Owen’s Malvolio holds his/her moustachioed own. Funny again (well, most jokes are better with a Welsh accent), Owen tackles bullying intelligently, tempting us to join in, then allowing the character to retain some dignity. Role-play can be dangerous.

All good parties depend on their soundtrack. Rice’s secret weapon is Ian Ross, whose compositions dominate the show: driving plots, aiding comedy, interacting with the text – check them out online. Using so many lines as lyrics enforces how productive treating the text loosely can be. It annoys purists when Shakespeare is tampered with, but Rice does so intelligently, aided by additional lyrics and lines from Carl Grose. The revisions sustain her imaginative interpretation, making the play both accessible and stimulating and her the sadly departing hostess with the mostess.

Until 5 August 2017

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photos by Hugo Glendinning

“Romeo and Juliet” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Emma Rice’s second, and sadly final, season as creative director on the South Bank opened last night with a bold, experimental show directed by Daniel Kramer. Not for all tastes, and far from flawless, the production brims with intelligence as well as tricks – if originality is what you seek, it is plentiful.

The Montagues and Capulets are made up like clowns – “alike in dignity” indeed. Missiles hang in the sky and coffins abound as doom and death pervade the arena. Subtle it ain’t. Nearly every line is wrung for all its worth, with exaggerated delivery or incidental action. Even Romeo changing his trousers can mean missing a plot point. It’s exhausting, but always engaging. And such bombast makes the masque scene unmissable: karaoke ‘Y.M.C.A’? Why not? And Mrs C’s Fay Wray fancy dress is to die for.

Some of Kramer’s ideas are a puzzle. Why does Lady Capulet double as the apothecary? And why are there so many guns when knives and poison are specified? Other ideas have unfortunate consequences: the make-up and incredible costumes, a cohesive part of Soutra Gilmour’s design, make it difficult to differentiate characters. Which leads to the production’s biggest fault – a sense of performers struggling to stand out, leading to a kind of hyperinflation.

The notable exception is Golda Rosheuvel’s Mercutio, whose recasting as a woman adds tension to her friendship with Romeo. Rosheuvel embodies Queen Mab in unforgettable fashion and her death scene is shocking. In the title roles, Edward Hogg energetically follows Kramer’s strategy, using every inch of the stage. Kirsty Bushell’s Juliet is more captivating. The lovers present some of their venerated lines as hackneyed – a startling move that accentuates the often ridiculous and embarrassing nature of teenage love.

Kramer’s vision of the play is bleak right to the end –it’s about dying kids, after all. Anger fills the show, with a lot of running around. There’s a fantasy execution of parents and in-laws by Romeo, and Juliet’s lust is violent, too. Both scenes are riveting. The only quiet moment is the marriage night, during which Bushell and Hogg magically introduce a sombre tone. These lovers are more star defying than star crossed, leaving little room for any other emotion.

Kramer’s most exciting idea is conflating scenes. Joining Romeo and Juliet’s marriage with Mercutio’s fatal encounter with Tybalt adds poignancy. Playing scenes two and three of Act III simultaneously creates a riff on the theme of banishment and death that is inspired. It’s a shame these interpretations are more successful than the production’s emotional impact. Yet they are brilliant insights, shaping the way we see the play and, in my eyes, redeeming many of its faults.

Until 9 July 2017

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Robert Workman

“Imogen” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Matthew Dunster’s new production of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline is bravely “renamed and reclaimed”. Focusing on the female lead – after all, she has the majority of the lines – is enlightening and provides a star role for Maddy Hill that she proves commanding in. This new take on Shakespeare fits well with artistic director Emma Rice’s vision for the Globe.

Praise first: Dunter’s ability to tell the story is superb. Cymbeline has a complicated plot with plenty of disguises but this production is a model of clarity. The idea of updating the play, with contemporary gang culture and the drug trade is good. The use of voiceovers is inspired. Likewise, casting a deaf actor (William Grint), signing his role as one of Imogen’s long-lost brothers, brings out raw emotions marvellously. There’s a declaratory style that some performers struggle with, and ironically feels old fashioned, but the physicality of this show is commendable.

The biggest coup comes from the work of designer Jon Bausor and choreographer Christopher Akrill. Bausor uses a giant plastic curtain and strip lights to set the scene. Purists won’t like the fact that the theatre’s charm isn’t taken into account, but the cinematic feel of the design is visually arresting and in keeping with the whole. Akrill’s dance adds poetic moments and makes the fight scenes stunning, so much so that bursts of aerial acrobatics seem unnecessary.

But while it all looks great, there’s a flaw here. Cymbeline is a notoriously difficult play, with a plot defying credulity and a final scene so full of revelations it is difficult not to laugh. Unfortunately, Dunster seems determined to play the whole thing for comedy.

Attempts to reflect the violence of this society are unsuccessful. Only Jonathan McGuinness in the title role manages to be frightening. The rest of the cast are hampered by too many interjections just for laughs. Matthew Needham’s Giacomo is a case in point; the disturbing scene where he spies on Imogen in bed becomes a lark. Suffering most is Cloten, played with conviction by Joshua Lacey: the role is reduced to a strutting cock (yes, we get the joke) and a character that should be terrifying becomes a lame joke.

Time after time humour deflates tension, leaving the text flat. There seems little faith in the play’s power to move an audience and the outcome is monotone if not monotonous. Dunster plays out his strategy boldly – credit to him – I just happen to disagree with it.

Until 16 October 2016

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Tristram Kenton

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Emma Rice’s first production as artistic director at the Globe has provided controversy for the much-loved venue and tourist hotspot. Fans of Rice’s work with her previous company, Kneehigh, will recognise some techniques here. But applied to Shakespeare, her irreverence and inventiveness proves invigorating.

First a caution – for some odd folk – this approaches Dream: The Musical. No excuse necessary, but it is striking how much of the play is sung. Stu Barker’s score is accomplished, dramaturg Tanika Gupta’s lyrics (drawing on the Sonnets and John Donne) are exciting and the singing West End standard. There’s a clever Indian twist and an electric sitar, so let’s describe the sound as Bollywood Rock. Is Rice being provoking? I do hope so.

Raucous is de rigueur at the Globe but, for good or ill, Rice has upped the stakes. If it weren’t for fear of sounding hopelessly out of touch I’d suggest some age advisory warning. There were squeals of horror in the crowd at some pretty full-on audience participation.

midsummer 1
Zubin Varla and Meow Meow

The show is sexy – many clothes are shed – and the polymorphous sexuality in Shakespeare is emboldened. Most impressively, with the King and Queen roles played by Zubin Varla and cabaret star Meow Meow – both intense performers –their chemistry is captivating. We’re reminded how creepy Titania being “enamoured of an ass” really is and both stars hold the stage, despite too much going on.

There are reservations. When Beyoncé is first quoted, your heart might sink at such an easy appeal to a younger audience. There’s a great deal of movement and some of it is messy. With water pistols, crazy costumes and a lot of accents, it’s anything for a lark. And the problem? Too many lines are difficult to hear, even lost. Rice lands the laughs, but they often fall at the expense of Shakespeare or, more generously, use the play as merely a springboard.

The hyped gender-bending casting (which is hardly new) may have been seen before, but not with the bite that Rice manages. Katy Owen does a superb job as Puck, working the crowd brilliantly, despite that water pistol. The rude mechanicals are recast as women. Only Bottom remains male – Ewan Wardrop doing the guys proud. Updating the wannabe theatricals into Globe volunteers is sweet and leads to excellent cameos, especially for Lucy Thackeray, whose calm ad lib, “my nephew’s gay”, tickled me pink.

midsummer 3
Ncuti Gatwa and Ankur Bahl

But it’s most with the Athenian lovers that Rice’s indiscretions are forgiven. Updating the couples into Hoxton hipsters is very funny. Ncuti Gatwa and Edmund Derrington make an energetic Demetrius and Lysander. Anjana Vasan gets roars of approval for her very modern Hermia. Ankur Bahl plays –hold on – Helenus, with wit and courage. There’s more to this decision than giving the line “ugly as a bear” a new twist. An uncomfortable response from some, admittedly young, audience members gives pause for thought. The Globe is a global institution (listen to how many visitors are from abroad). To see love between two men portrayed with complexity on such a stage is remarkable. There may be touches of over enthusiasm here but Rice balances public appeal with a radical streak that makes this show, and her direction, one of the most exciting things around.

Until 11 September 2016

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photos by Steve Tanner