Tag Archives: Iris Theatre

“Macbeth” at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden

Iris Theatre is celebrating its ten year anniversary, at the so-called ‘Actors’ Church’, with a production of Shakespeare’s Scottish play that is ambitious, adventurous and immersive. Director Daniel Winder shows an energetic appetite for the play that is infectious and gets the most out of his talented team.

The production goes all out for the supernatural, with creepy costumes by Anna Sances and a satanic angle that gains potency from being performed in a church. And there’s no shortage of gore either: the Macduff family massacre comes with a PG warning. Having Macbeth attend is a great idea and his frenzied attack a shocker.

David Hywel Baynes, making a welcome return to both the company and the UK, takes the title role and is joined by Iris Theatre stalwart Nick Howard-Brown as Banquo. The two command the various spaces, of church and gardens, that the audience travel around scene by scene.

As well as displaying technical prowess, Hywel Baynes’ interpretation of the murdering monarch is also strong. Joined by Mogali Masuku as his wife – making a professional debut that’s a resounding success – we see Macbeth manipulated, then degenerate into a man drunk and dribbling with blood lust. Masuku’s Lady Macbeth is frightening and sexy (look out for Stephen Boyce’s roving eye when playing Duncan) but then scared by her spouse. It’s an emotional journey from both performers that is well delivered.

There’s good supporting work from the whole cast, but sometimes a danger of distraction in how many roles just six performers tackle. Matt Stubbs is a convincingly virile Macduff and transforms into a hired assassin superbly, and some of the doubling is interesting (Masuku also plays ones of the witches), but focus can be lost with all the changes – the production feels trapped by its small headcount.

The biggest commendation goes to set designer Alice Channon – despite the fact that her ideas cause problems. The outdoor spaces are strictly sectioned off – a bold move with a promenade performance since an audience is seldom as nimble as hoped. The start of too many scenes might be missed. But the idea is great: slowly filing past a tableau of the Macbeths’ bedroom on the way to the interval and the audience rushing into the church for the finale are electric moments.

Taking Hieronymus Bosch as inspiration is a brilliant move – providing an intelligent period aura and surreal chills. The subsequent Bosch-Banquo-banquet makes less sense than it should (more a psychological crisis than a point about Macbeth’s leadership) but it looks stunning. Amorphous sculptures, with a touch of Eva Hesse, contain loud speakers playing composer Filipe Gomes’ impressive contribution to the evening – indicative of designers taking any opportunity to make a mark. There are flaws, yes, but also exciting work.

Until 29 July 2017

www.iristheatre.com

Photo by Nick Rutter

“Treasure Island” at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden

A little damp weather can’t harm Iris Theatre’s ship-shape and extremely jolly adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic adventure story. Ambitious sets by Valentina Turtur have taken over St Paul’s church and grounds, while a score from Candida Caldicot breathes further life into this fine children’s show. Eight and above is the recommendation, but parents have a strong chance of enjoying it just as much as their kids.

Director and adapter Daniel Winder’s clever move is to split the audience into privateers and pirates. A brave number of scenes feel like private affairs. While some of the audience battle it out on the good ship Hispaniola, another group mutinies by ambushing the Admiral (a superb Nick Howard-Brown). You’re either in or outside the stockade for a parlay, then you’re solving clues to find treasure or plotting to petrify the pirates. The gardens buzz and I wouldn’t be surprised at demands for return visits to see the other side of the story.

Harold Addo
Harold Addo

With this clever structure, it’s plain sailing for such a talented ensemble. Dominic Garfield is a suitably hirsute and downright dastardly Black Dog. Dafydd Gwyn Howells a swivel-eyed Long John Silver who’s as camp as you could wish. There’s a strong professional debut from Harold Addo as our hero, Jim. Anne-Marie Piazza wows for a second time this season as the indestructible Isabella Hands, an updated nod to the tradition of female pirates.

There’s just enough humour for the grownups and a big dose of audience participation for the kids, handled perfectly by the cast. Winder makes light of the “ticklish work” of finding treasure, steering clear of Disney by highlighting superstition on the high seas, pointing out just how much grog was swilling around and doing justice to Stevenson’s cynical look at class structure on board the ship, all the while expanding everyone’s pirate-related vocabulary with great skill. Yo-ho-ho and huzzah!

Until 28 August 2016

www.iristheatre.com

Photos by Hannah Barton

“Much Ado About Nothing” at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden

Damp weather did nothing to deter the Iris Theatre Company last night at the opening of its summer season. Comfortably resident at ‘The Actors’ Church’, it always expertly navigates the grounds and building for its promenade performances. Director Amy Draper’s production of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy is no exception, and proves funny and heart-warming, whatever the weather.

The best thing about Iris Theatre’s shows sounds boring – that you can hear every word. This is no small achievement when actors are unmiked, outdoors and competing with all and sundry in the Piazza. While the declamatory acting style can be off-putting, Draper’s performers make exaggeration work for them, emphasising the tricks and tales, including nasty plots, our four lovers have to endure.

This is a stripped-back show, with only seven in the cast, and you might wish for more, even though the ensemble delivers. Jennifer Clement is particularly hard working: despite plenty of costume changes, she’s never breathless and has terrific comedy skills. Emma McDonald benefits from the economy, performing as a sweet Hero, and then ordering the audience about as a belligerent Dogberry, the “ass” heading up the Prince’s Watch. Abbreviating this sometimes-tiresome bunch into a Keystone Cops couple really works, and their marshalling the audience around the grounds is clever stuff.

Anne-Marie Piazza is a brilliant police officer alongside McDonald, climbing lampposts and stealing snacks from the crowd. Yet this isn’t her main achievement – her Beatrice is top notch. Funny, bike riding, accordion playing… is there nothing the woman cannot do? Joined by Nick Howard-Brown (another natural comedian) as a charming Benedick, the querulous couple’s bickering and courtship is the highlight of this speedy, accomplished and appealing show.

Until 22 July 2016

www.iristheatre.com

Photo by Hannah Barton

“Twelfth Night” at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden

Now in its seventh year at ‘The Actors Church’, Iris Theatre has struck gold with Vik Sivalingam’s Twelfth Night. Using the gardens, making the church itself look divine and including the audience in a good-natured fashion, this show is promenade performance at its best. Crammed with comedy, the play’s contrivances, of separated twins and cross-dressed courtship, are funnier than ever.

Sivalingam’s aim is to entertain – such clarity imbues the cast with purpose. Pepter Lunkuse is a believable Viola – it’s easy to predict she’s an actress with a bright future. Nick Howard-Brown’s Feste and Julian Moore-Cook’s Orsino are commanding presences. Tony Bell and Robert Maskell, both experienced performers, play a dour Malvolio and carousing Sir Toby with vigour. Act two, scene five, with the fantasising Malvolio duped by Anne-Marie Piazza’s delicious Maria, is the best I’ve seen performed.

A wonderful sense of intimacy is created in the flower-filled gardens. Entreated to follow the actors to different scenes becomes a playful treat – it’s a great game to go wooing Olivia with Viola. And Olivia’s pursuit, when she falls for the twin dressed as a man, is full of complicit cheekiness, embodied by Olivia Onyehara. A duel between characters is conducted with an umbrella and a mop. Even the shrubbery is used as a prop.

The production’s small cast impresses, performing Harry Blake’s music, which subtly infuses the show, as well as by taking on multiple roles. None more so than Henry Wyrley-Birch, whose Sebastian is heroic, while his Andrew Aguecheek elevates a sometimes tiresome role into a central figure – seldom has so much comedy come from a cape. The brief moment when Sebastian and Aguecheek meet is something to look forward to – it’s handled with an endearing humour that’s indicative of how light, lithe and easy to love this show is.

Until 24 July 2015

www.iristheatre.com

Photo by Hannah Barton

“Richard III” at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden

With many theatregoers anticipating Martin Freeman’s forthcoming turn as Richard III, Iris Theatre have stolen a lead by presenting their own version, which opened last night. Based at St Paul’s Church in Covent Garden, the promenade production uses both the grounds and the building’s acoustics superbly. As an audience member you will bustle around, and even be asked to march, as part of an engaging and intimate show that’s carefully directed by Daniel Winder.

The actors have to deal with a lot of background noise at St Paul’s, and it leads to a rather declamatory style. It becomes a little tiresome, but it’s churlish to complain since you can hear every word, and that’s the important thing. The scene-setting prelude from Henry IV Part III also adds clarity. If the play becomes overblown, with Richard’s villainous plotting increasingly elaborate, then Winder embraces this well: there’s plenty of blood, an eye for the supernatural and a gruesome final tableaux that’s simply spectacular.

The small cast of eight works incredibly hard. There are the inevitable moments of confusion when cast members reappear as different characters and some of the changes are unfortunate. Sam Donnelly and Laura Wickham do well to establish Edward VI and Elizabeth as a loving couple and Mark Hawkins gives a brave performance as the deposed Queen Margaret. Much stress is placed on the fruition of Margaret’s curses by Winder; it’s an insightful perspective which could stand to be explored further.

David Hywel Baynes takes the lead role. His is a traditionally ‘misshapen’ Richard, complete with an old-fashioned hump. What marks out his portrayal is the interactive element. Addressing the audience, helping them to move around and even sitting with them, his contact with the crowd is masterfully done and makes us complicit in his ‘secret mischiefs’. This Richard is a cheeky, cheerful conspirator – a clever way to show us the bad guy’s charisma. Even better is the way he develops the character when he becomes king; his increased menace and mania adds to the drama. Hywel Baynes is head and shoulders (or should that be hump?) above some members of the cast. His performance alone makes the production an easy one to recommend.

Until 25 July 2014

www.iristheatre.com

Written 1 July 2014 for The London Magazine

“Julius Caesar” at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden

For their fifth year of summer residence at St Paul’s Covent Garden, appropriately enough ‘The Actors’ Church’, Iris Theatre presents Julius Caesar. Shakespeare’s political thriller is given a contemporary touch, these Romans are riot police rather than Republicans, but the exciting thing is the collusion of two theatrical treats – outdoor theatre and a promenade performance – that make a winning combination.

Unlike some open-air venues, St Paul’s Church is surprisingly quiet, the acoustics are lovely, so it seems a shame that the acting is often too declamatory. But there are fine performances here: from Matthew Mellalieu, whose Tudor-inspired Caesar is a joy to watch (anyone looking for a Henry ?), Daniel Hanna’s streetwise Casca and Matt Wilman’s virile Mark Antony. Not forgetting Laura Wickham who has a busy night doubling up as two wives and also playing Cinna the Poet – acquitting herself admirably in all three parts.

This is a hard-working show all round. With only seven in the cast there are occasions when members of the audience take on non-speaking parts and all of us are cast as the Roman “rabble”. I am no fan of audience participation but can’t remember seeing it done this well before; director Daniel Winder shows intelligent restraint, creating complicity as we move around to characters’ homes or the steps of the senate.

Taking you through the church’s charming gardens proves ambitious and moving the audience around takes time, this short Shakespeare becomes a long evening, but it’s worth every minute. While the sound design from Filipe Gomes is effective, the actual music accompanying the show is its biggest problem, an inappropriate mismatch of styles, cinematic in inspiration and far too intrusive. It’s a rare bum note in this fine production. The intimacy created is remarkable – at times it’s difficult to work out how big the audience is – and the moments we enter the church itself, with scenes aided by Stephanie Bradbury’s movement direction and Benjamin Polya’s lighting, are coups de theatre you won’t forget in a hurry.

Until 26 July 2013

www.iristheatre.com

Photo by Phil Miler

Written 2 July 2013 for The London Magazine