Review: Julius Caesar – National Theatre Live

The National Theatre’s Julius Caesar, screened in cinemas around Ireland on March 22nd, opened with the usual live screening announcements. Microphone in hand, the announcer informed us of the running time, advertised upcoming NT events, and cautioned us about the show’s use of strobe lighting. Rather than being bland or routine however, these pronouncements were presented in the manner of a roving reporter caught in the middle of Caesar’s raucous political rally. Standing amongst the audience, and almost drowned out by the rock band playing in the background, the announcer even signed off by declaring that she was “off to join the rabble. Hail Caesar!” With the camera moving amongst the audience, the action seemed immediate and pointedly familiar. From the get go then, this production of Julius Caesar was captivating and creative.

The early scenes smoothly introduced the main players. A triumphant Caesar entered surrounded by flags and banners espousing his campaign slogan “Do this!”. Sporting a leather jacket and baseball cap, and assuredly pressing the flesh, Caesar resembled the American presidential candidates we’ve seen on our screen in recent years. Wearing a “Do this!” t-shirt, Marc Antony was clearly in Caesar’s camp and had a strong filial bond with the elder statesman. Brutus, ever the intellectual, signed copies of his book, worked late in his study, and emphasised his thoughts on tyranny by gesticulating with his spectacles.

Michelle Fairley as Cassius - Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre - Photo Credit Manuel Harlan

Michelle Fairley as Cassius – Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre – Photo Credit Manuel Harlan

As strong as these performances were, by David Calder, David Morrissey, and Ben Whishaw respectively, Michelle Fairley’s Cassius was an absolute revelation. Fairley will be familiar to many as Catelyn Stark in Game of Thrones, and her performance as Cassius was no less compelling and formidable. On several occasions, Cassius’ scenes were the stand out moments of the production. The gender switch enabled Caesar’s complaints about Cassius in 1.2 to assume new significance. Cassius rolled her eyes as Caesar, for the umpteenth time we imagine, commented openly on her appearance and qualities, begging to have “men about me that are fat” rather than slim women who think too much and are hungry for freedom. Meeting the sardonic Casca, played by Adjoa Andoh, the conspiring pair seemed to channel both the femme fatales and hard-bitten heroes of film noir to produce a scene heavy with gloom and menace. When Cassius and Brutus squabbled after the assassination, they recalled the Macbeths, dismayed at the turn of events and unable to wash the blood from their hands. (In the squalor of their ruined shelter, Brutus still found time to apply some hand-sanitiser!) In her suicide, Cassius was as proud, defiant, and pitiable as Cleopatra in her death.

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David Morrissey as Antony – Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre – Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

As Brutus ascended the stage of the Forum to explain the conspirators’ actions, it seemed his work would be cut out for him. Citizens – co-opted members of the audience and stagehands – waved posters of Caesar and shouted their displeasure. Gradually though, as Brutus’ speech continued, the posters were lowered as if the protesting citizens were won over or, more likely, the audience was simply tired holding the images aloft. Whereas Brutus had gripped his microphone like a TV evangelist, Antony quickly discarded it, preferring to speak his eulogy directly to the audience. In his pose as a simple man reluctantly moved to defend Caesar, Antony was wholly convincing. Only later, when he was pleased at the citizens’ planned “mischief” and when he swaggered in his combat gear with Octavius, did Antony suddenly seem two-faced. With deafening gunfire, the debris of urban warfare, and the uniforms and weapons of modern armies, the production’s battle scenes recalled those of Fiennes’ Coriolanus (2011). These action scenes came to a swift end as Antony and Octavius discovered the bodies of Cassius and Brutus. With victory secured, Octavius showed himself to be every inch the arrogant commander. Standing at the stage’s highest point, he stripped off some of his combat gear and, Nixon-like, gave peace signs to his people as celebratory balloons fell. The production ended as it began, with a PR exercise by a savvy politician and Rome’s fate standing on shaky ground.

It was evident that the NT Julius Caesar gripped the theatre and the cinema audience from beginning to end. With superb performances from the main players, supporting cast, and the co-opted audience members (volunteers? victims?) and with a running time of just over 2 hours, this is a pacey and timely production certain to entertain.

There will be encore screenings of the National Theatre’s Julius Caesar at:

Light House Cinema, Dublin, on Tuesday 27 March.

Cork Opera House on Wednesday 28 March.

For tickets here and in other locations, see the NT Live website here.

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Theatre: “Macbeth” by Icarus Theatre Collective – touring now

[From Icarus Theatre’s Macbeth press release]

The vicious, barbaric undercurrent in Shakespeare’s fear-filled tragedy erupts in Icarus Theatre’s kinetic and blood-thirsty production. Unrivalled on the battlefield, Macbeth is rewarded with rank and favour by a grateful king but the war has left its scars. With each enemy Macbeth butchers, his lust for power takes a more menacing grip. Spectres slaughtered on the battlefield drip poison in his ear, and passions erupt as he ferociously seizes the throne. But, violence breeds violence, and a reign born in blood quickly spirals out of control as Macbeth’s demons return to destroy him.

Set in the 11th century and culminating in an epic battle filled with revenge, justice, and beheadings, Icarus Theatre blends the traditional and the physical to bring to life some of literature’s most vibrant language and characters.

This production centres around the idea that Macbeth himself is suffering from PTSD. Director Max Lewendel comments:

“War is hell, and medieval warfare even more so. There is something in the psychology of PTSD that resonates here in a very Hitchcockian kind of way. This world is a supernatural nightmare for Macbeth and I wanted to explore the idea that the horrors of what he has done and seen lurk in every shadow, in every corner.”

In addition to this new psychological element, many of the traditional male roles are here cast as female characters, stressing the importance of gender parity on stage. This is a patriarchal world, but one that is being challenged by powerful women pushing forward change.

For more information and to book tickets, see the Icarus Theatre Collective website here.

Lawrence Stubbings (Macbeth), James Heatlie (Banquo)

Lawrence Stubbings as Macbeth and James Heatlie as Banquo  [Image credit: George Riddell and Icarus Theatre]

“The Winter’s Tale” at the Lir, Dublin

Performances at the Lir on Pearse Street, Dublin, from Friday 1st December until Thursday 7th December, at 7.30pm. Matinee: Monday 4th December, 1pm.
Tickets: €15 and €10 concession

The dark dramas of violent jealousy, sexual slander and death at the court of Sicilia, lead to a small baby girl being abandoned in the wild reaches of rural Bohemia. There, sixteen years later, the hot midsummer festivities are the background for delight, disguise and denunciation, which in turn carry the tale, replete with runaway lovers, a scalliwag, an old shepherd and his clown son back to Sicilia. The icy mourning of King Leontes begins to thaw as these two contrasting worlds meld, and in a magical finale full of revelations,  Shakespeare shows us his delight in such a vivid, motley collection of characters and his ultimate belief in forgiveness and redemption.

For more information on the production and to book tickets, see the Lir website here.

 

Gaiety School of Acting Shakespeare Schools Programme: King Lear (Cork and Dublin)

The Gaiety School of Acting Shakespeare Schools Programme presents King Lear. A run at Dean Crowe theatre in Athlone has already been completed, with dates remaining in Cork and Dublin cities at Firkin Crane and Smock Alley theatres respectively.

King Lear

The Gaiety School of Acting – The National Theatre School of Ireland is offering Leaving Cert. students a unique opportunity.

The Gaiety School of Acting is delighted to launch our 2017 production of King Lear. This production will travel to Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, Firkin Crane, Cork and The Dean Crowe Theatre, Athlone from the 23rd of October to the 1st December.

This is the 5th year of our Shakespeare Schools programme and in 2016 we performed Hamlet for almost 6500 students from 130 schools. This means that almost 1 in every 9 students sitting their leaving Certificate English exams in June will have seen our production. We are excited to once again provide students with the opportunity to see Shakespeare’s work live.

Student tickets are €17 with all teachers tickets complimentary. Included in the ticket price is the following:

  • Traditional Production of King Lear (1.5 Hours).
  • Workshop (1 Hour) with a chance to engage with some of the cast about questions on the Leaving Cert, including relationships, characters and themes
  • Student Workbook with information on General Vision and Viewpoint, Social Settings, Characters and Theatrical information.
  • Pre show video for your students which will introduce them to the play, its literary genre and the cultural context.

Dates

Dean CroweAthlone24th-27th October 2017

Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin6th-10th November 2017

Firkin Crane, Cork City13th-17th November 2017

Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin: 27th November – 1st December 2017

Tickets: € 17 (Teachers complimentary)

Booking info: shakespeare@gaietyschool.com

For programme queries or to speak directly to the Programme Coordinator contact The Gaiety School of Acting on 01 6799277

Review: King Lear at dlr Mill Theatre, Dundrum

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King Lear, Mill Productions, dlr Mill Theatre, directed by Geoff O’Keeffe

This production opens with pulsating music, flashes of light, and three gyrating figures moving under the sway of some mesmeric force, so that for a few startling moments you might be at a production of Macbeth rather than King Lear. These are not the weird sisters, however, but Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia who face away from the audience towards a large structure upstage while human actors transformed into wolves snarl and weave around them. Suddenly the stage lights are reversed, dazzling the audience, and the actors’ faces turn to the back of the auditorium: the King is entering.

The large structure ­– half set and half stage property – resembles part of a huge crown with three spikes each jutting in a separate direction, the whole piece off-centre and its balance slightly off-kilter. In the centre is a throne, empty at first, then occupied by Lear, and later hovered over, circled, and sat on by various other characters. This is clearly a disturbed kingdom where powerful forces have gone askew, where there is splintering rather than unity, and where a sense of preternatural menace hums beneath the institutions of state, family, and marriage. It is quickly understood, then, that the sisters’ dance is not an expression of communion but of compulsion and disharmony.

Mill Productions is the production wing of dlr Mill Theatre and this production of King Lear is part of their “education outreach”. When I attended on opening night last Wednesday, about half the audience were a school group who seemed engaged in the performance throughout. The production does a good job of communicating the plot and character relationships clearly without condescending to the viewer at any point, and of showing how the visual and aural language of theatre generate the play’s meaning as it is lifted off the page. A number of characters are played by the same actor, as they would have been in Shakespeare’s time, but this doubling was never confusing.

It was also made use of artistically in the case of the choice to double the parts of Cordelia and the Fool, played by Clodagh Mooney Duggan. There has been speculation since the nineteenth century about whether the roles – which are never simultaneously on stage – might originally have been doubled. This production seemed to encourage us to consider in parallel how Cordelia and the Fool relate to Lear, challenging but loving him, and the first half ends with the Fool in tears and alone taking off his coxcomb hat to reveal more clearly that this was also Cordelia’s face. Such a choice does pose certain obstacles, however, and perhaps hampered the development of both characters.

I enjoyed the cool malice of Sharon McCoy’s multifaceted Goneril who managed to be both fragile and terrible. Philip Judge succeeded in presenting a Lear who was clearly deeply flawed at the same time as sympathetic. When he laid his head in the Fool’s lap and implored “O let me not be mad, not mad”, his desperation and vulnerability were heartrending. So too was his later admission to Cordelia that “to deal plainly / I fear I am not in my perfect mind”, where the gentle cautiousness of the delivery alongside the situation’s absurdity made it truly moving. It was these moments of pathos for humanity as the trappings of civility are eroded, even as we recognise human culpability, that stayed with me after I left the theatre.

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King Lear runs at dlr Mill Theatre until 28 October with nearly daily matinée performances at 10am and 1.30pm. Contact the Box Office for 10am and 1.30pm performances please – info@milltheatre.ie / 01-2969340. There will be evening performances at 7.30pm on Wednesday 25th October and Thursday 26th October.

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Review: Venus and Adonis at Civic Theatre, Tallaght

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This exciting, moving, and thought-provoking adaptation of Shakespeare’s narrative poem opens with a theatre within a theatre, the ornate gilt proscenium in miniature glowing in the blackness of the Civic Theatre. The puppets are about a third life size, according to Gregory Doran’s programme notes, and their smallness and that of the set contributes to a feeling of a magical vignette into the otherworldly that persists for the duration of the production.

Most astonishing is the aliveness of the Bunraku puppets representing Venus and Adonis. The play also includes marionettes (puppets with strings) and shadow puppets, seen swooping behind a screen upstage, but it is the main characters’ expressive and fluent movements that imbue them with personalities of their own – one might even imagine changing facial expressions ­– as they are manipulated by a black-clad team.

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In Japan, the home of Bunraku puppetry, the manipulators cover their heads and faces in black as well as the rest of their body, but in this production the manipulators’ faces are visible throughout. Their faces seem to channel the emotions the puppets are feeling and they also vocalise for the characters (human and animal) at points throughout the performance, sighing or crying out alongside the narration.

It is in the intimacy between puppet, manipulator, and narrator that the play is most compelling. The puppets’ liveliness and seeming humanity, on the one hand, and the manipulators’ large dark presence behind them directing their actions, on the other hand, suggest the poignancy of human desire and our striving for self-determination amidst external forces so integral we don’t even notice them. Such forces are sometimes mysterious as in the second part of the performance when – to the collective gasp of the audience – the stage set itself transforms and takes up an uncomprehending Venus. When Adonis’s immobile dead body is tenderly picked up by his manipulator and carried away, there is a true feeling of loss and mortality.

Towards the end of the play Venus searches in the woodland for Adonis and the narrator describes her worried cries resounding in a “choir of echoes”: “’Ay me!’ she cries, and twenty times ‘Woe, woe!’ / And twenty echoes twenty times cry so”. In a fundamental sense, it is a production characterised by echoes, multiplication, and layers. This unfurls on the level of the performance, with the accompanying guitarist to one side of the stage and the narrator to the other, looking the part of a storyteller with her stack of books and comfortable chair, the proscenium structure in the centre with its elevated stage and a kind of detached thrust stage behind which the manipulators stand and move, and the use of a range of puppet technologies – as well as an introductory frame showing Shakespeare writing a dedication to his patron, Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton, as the narrator voices the words and marionettes move upstage.

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The narrative structure also layers and reflects, with the key scenes between Venus and Adonis paralleled by wonderful scenes from the natural world involving lovelorn horses, hares and boars, and with Venus’s examination of Adonis’s corpse being prefigured in Adonis’s tending to Venus in her swoon. But the overall effect of the production is not one of fracturing but of fluidity and expansiveness, reflecting the exquisite orchestration of the manipulators seamlessly working together on the puppets, and suggesting the multiplicity of life.

Venus and Adonis was hugely popular when it was first published in 1593 and remained Shakespeare’s most popular printed work in his lifetime. On its opening night at Civic Theatre, this “puppet masque” version of the poem engaged, delighted, and surprised its audience, who entered fully into the performance, laughing freely, gasping, and finally offering a standing ovation.


Venus and Adonis is a Royal Shakespeare Company production in association with Little Angel Theatre, and is presented by Civic Theatre in association with Dublin Theatre Festival. It runs at Civic Theatre as part of the festival until Saturday 7 October with performances at 8pm, and additional matinées on Friday at 5pm and Saturday at 3pm. You can buy tickets here.

  • DATE & TIME: Tues 3 – Sat 7 October // 8pm // Matinees on Wed 4 at 3pm, Fri 6 at 5pm, Sat 7 at 3pm
  • TICKETS: €25 & €23 concession
  • DEALS: STUDENTS: €10 – matinees only | MEAL DEAL: €36 ticket + 2 course meal | GROUPS – €20

Civic Theatre are also offering a Joy of Shakespeare workshop on Saturday 7 October from 10.30am to 1.30pm, free when you buy a ticket to the play. Call 01 4627477 to book.

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