Thursday, February 17, 2011

Like Brian Friel, Harold Pinter was a master of unreliable narration. “The past is what you remember, imagine you remember, convince yourself you remember, or pretend to remember,” he once said, and the characters in his short plays Landscape and Monologue in this sense inhabit Faith Healer terrain, though without the same empathy or lyrical elegance. In both these plays, though Landscape is notionally a duologue, there’s a sense of complete and bleak isolation, with speeches so enigmatic it seems superfluous to attempt interpretation in terms of what has actually happened. More significant is that the couple in the second play have no more connection than the unnamed man who talks to an empty chair in the first. The actors were all strong but what is most interesting is why these radio plays were revived at the Ustinov despite – or perhaps because of - the fact that theatre compels an attentive stillness which radio-listeners rarely attempt. Chris Goode's impressive direction brought theatricality to these static pieces, underlining their nonreality by featuring technical set changes, and using lighting to create shadows lurking at the sides of the stage like silent onlookers.

Oddsocks, the company that aims to make Shakespeare accessible, brought their current production Hamlet The Comedy! to Bristol’s QEH Theatre, promising a hologram of Paul Daniels as Hamlet’s father and zany family-friendly hilarity... And yet I went. I’m so glad I did, and I’d happily go to anything else this immensely talented troupe decides to tackle with similar absurd impropriety. Hugely entertaining with wonderful physical sequences, clever set and technical wizardry, yet five charismatic actors managed to convey the lyricism and emotional energy of Shakespeare's language despite the liberties they took with the script. Music by Jamiroquai's Rob Harris – including a rocking version of the famous soliloquy - was the icing on a scrumptious performance cake.

The ever-excellent SATTF team have begun their spring programme with Richard II, considered one of Shakespeare’s ‘histories’ but it could equally be seen as one of his finest tragedies. The fatal flaw of this Plantagenet tragic hero is a strangely innocent one: he believes in his Divine Right to rule, so the morality of his decisions is irrelevant as kings are above conscience. The conflict between Richard and Bullingbrooke goes beyond the justice of the disinherited cousin’s claims, with deep-seated certainties challenged by the volatile energy of opportunism. In this new order you can be who you choose, but what if you are vanquished and unthroned yet still believe you are king? In the current production at the Tobacco Factory, director Andrew Hilton highlights the poignancy of Richard’s struggle to find his identity in a rebellion he can scarcely comprehend, and John Heffernan plays the traumatised king with immense sensitivity and subtlety. In such a strong ensemble piece it’s hard to pick out any individual since all played their roles superbly, with menace, pathos, and humour all there and beautifully dressed.


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