Tag Archives: Eve Best

“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

 

 

“Antony and Cleopatra” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Eve Best has made a triumphant return to Shakespeare’s Globe. Following her fine directorial debut in 2013, she now takes the lead in Antony and Cleopatra. This accessible production, directed by Jonathan Munby, tells Shakespeare’s tale of love and war with the utmost clarity.

A pirate queen, full of fight, with a wicked sense of humour, Best’s Cleopatra displays the character’s fabled “infinite variety” and knows how to play the crowd in all moods. She is joined by Clive Wood, who makes the perfect “old ruffian” Antony, giving a studied performance that’s crafted to fill you with unease – he’s both too much the politician and too passionate to trust, degenerating into little more than a bully.

The air of luxury Munby establishes makes for a slow start, and the production has moments that might be speedier. Much time, for example, is given to Phil Daniels’ Enobarbus, though it has to be admitted he gives a remarkably subtle performance. The battle scenes are handled efficiently, though, and transitions between scenes, with characters overlapping each other, create some intriguing resonances.

There’s some great use of music and the humour in the text is sustained throughout. Several smaller roles are given their due, creating a world that feels populous and convincing. Jolyon Coy stands out as the “boy Caesar” and Sirine Saba works hard as Cleopatra’s attendant. The finale is testament to how captivating Best’s performance becomes, particularly in her poignant appeals to the women in the audience.

All this for a production dogged by troubles. Christopher Saul is a last-minute substitute who bravely performed with the text last night. Wood has been ill, missing several preview shows, while Best sports a bandaged ankle. But I couldn’t see their performances marred in the slightest. Let’s be thankful for the old adage that the show must go on. This is an evening full of affirmation for the theatre generally and this cast in particular, with a show that, like its star, is “a wonderful piece of work”.

Until 24 August 2014

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 30 May 2014 for The London Magazine

“Macbeth” at Shakespeare’s Globe

Olivier-Award-winning actress Eve Best makes her directorial debut at Shakespeare’s Globe this summer with an accessible and exhilarating production of Macbeth. It’s an assured first time effort that sends a chill down the spine even on a hot summer’s day.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given Best’s background, her version of the supernatural thriller puts the performers to the fore. Joseph Millson does a great job in the title role, his Macbeth’s fiery temper increasing the drama and sense of instability. Clearly at home in the Globe – like many of the cast, Millson’s direct addresses to the crowd create a sense of startling immediacy.

Best’s attention to her troupe only has one indulgence – an unnecessarily prolonged scene with the Porter. This aside, with such an excellent cast, giving every role its due is clever. Duncan’s court, at first sight, an array of powdered fops, develop their roles wonderfully and the short scene with Lady Macduff (Finty Williams) is superb.

Full of prophecy and portents rather than politics, Best downplays militaristic bravado, and the female roles in the play benefit from this. The witches, for example, are a beguiling bunch, ironically harmonious, using movement and music to cast a spell. Their fright-factor is all the greater for its understated spookiness.

Samantha Spiro is the star of the show. Her Lady Macbeth is dynamic, her transformation into a Queen astounding, and her performance one of great depth. Macbeth clearly blames her for the path he sets foot on and an alarming scene of domestic abuse is a brave and electrifying take on their famous conjugal complicity.

Until 13 October 2013

www.shakespearesglobe.com

Photo by Ellie Kurttz

Written 7 July 2013 for The London Magazine

“The Duchess of Malfi” at The Old Vic

The stage is set for high drama at The Old Vic with Jamie Lloyd’s new production of The Duchess of Malfi. Soutra Gilmour’s set excites at first, with accomplished lighting from James Farncombe, but it quickly tires. This gothic fantasia lacks subtlety and isn’t versatile enough – at one point it seems to snow inside a palace and, worse still, it has a cardboard cut-out feel that is unfortunately reflected in some of the performances.

Placing the focus on John Webster’s text, shouting the play’s complexity and trying to challenge our ideas about Jacobean revenge stories, Lloyd creates an exceptionally clear production. Clarity isn’t usually a fault but you can take anything to an extreme: much of the cast’s delivery becomes heavy and laboured. Lloyd is too good a director to make The Duchess of Malfi tedious but what should be a gut-wrenching ride of a play is too often halting.

There are important exceptions. Mark Bonnar plays the villainous Basola with great complexity. His treachery towards the Duchess and her steward (a fine performance from Tom Bateman), whom she has secretly married, is multilayered.

In the title role, Eve Best’s performance is never less than superb. It’s clear that for Lloyd her character is more than the victim of gruesome torture – she is a shinning light of humanity. Best is impressively natural, given the difficulty of the part. Believable as a real woman as well as a symbol of dignity, her performance saves the play.

Until 9 June 2012

www.oldvictheatre.com

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 29 March 2012 for The London Magazine