Tag Archives: Royal Shakespeare Company

Theatre Interlude: Wendy and Peter Pan

12 Jan


Back in the 1990s I enjoyed a couple of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s seasonal productions for family audiences at the Barbican in London. I can remember both Alan Bennett’s adaptation of  ‘Wind in the Willows’ and Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. Just because my youngest son will shortly be 17 doesn’t seem to be any reason for stopping, so yesterday I took the family off to Stratford to watch ‘Wendy and Peter Pan’, a feminist re-telling of J.M. Barrie’s classic story.

Just a couple of years ago said son’s school mounted a remarkably accomplished production of Barrie’s own ‘Peter Pan’ play so I was interested in watching a production which told the same tale from a different perspective. Most blog readers will be aware of the broad Peter Pan storyline which was first told in 1904. I expect that the animated Disney film of  1953 is the best known version – but there’s also the 2004 live action film and several stage versions of which the current telling, by Ella Hickson is the latest.

The main theatre auditorium at Stratford is such a well-designed space that it gives every production a little boost before it even starts and this was no exception. In addition, the RSC’s reliably inventive  set and lighting design (by Colin Richmond and Oliver Fenwick) contributed a lot to the production, not least the aerial work.

Fiona Button (as Wendy) and Sam Swann (Peter) together with Guy Henry as Captain Hook played the lead roles but the performances that impressed most were those of the Lost Boys (especially Josh Williams as Tootles and Dafydd Llyr Williams as Curly), of Arthur Kyeyune (acting a crocodile cannot be easy using only physical theatre and without a crocodile ‘costume’) and of Charlotte Mills (as Tink the fairy). The play is very much an ensemble piece and for me the only weak performance was that of Tiger Lily who too often rushed her lines at the expense of audibility.

Jonathan Munby‘s direction was very good but really the whole play’s success depends on the new insights Ella Hickson brought to the script and her decision to focus on the character of Wendy rather than Peter. This was inspired. Barrie’s original imagining of  Peter as ‘the boy who never grew up’ did mean his character is a little two-dimensional and the original story was very’ male’ with lots of pirates, lost boys and brothers with the few female characters (Wendy, Mrs Darling, Tinkerbell and Toger Lily) confined to almost cameo roles.

In the new version, Hickson’s Wendy is a girl on the the cusp of becoming a young woman and realising that growing up might be more exciting and empowering than simply conforming to stereotypical expectations. And also coming to understand that a role of ‘mothering her brothers, Peter and the Lost Boys’ is both narrower and less fulfilling than finding things for herself.  This is done in a cleverly understated way by Fiona Button, rather than stridently (not least through her costume, which changes from a little-girl’s white nightdress and bare feet to a teenager’s blue dress and ankle boots when she drinks grog and dances with the pirates)! It’s also written in a way that had something to say to the adults in the audience as well as the children.

In contrast to this, Hickson’s Peter is less sympathetic: good-hearted but thoughtless and almost exasperatingly impulsive.  In addition the links to the Pan of Greek mythology are certainly there – with his red quiff suggestive of horns  and qualities more alien than little-boyish, although no suggestion of Pan’s satyr-like qualities.

The other dimension developed in Ella Hickson’s play is that of death: The motive for Wendy’s journey to Neverland is to bring back a brother ‘lost’ to fatal illness. Again this was shown in a gentle, understated way which could speak both to children and to adults.

Of course there was all the action expected of the original narrative with planks being walked and Captain Hook conforming to the role expected of him and suitably villainous pirates.

Overall it was very good. Not great but certainly four out of five stars. And it’s playing until March – so some tickets may be available.


Theatre Interlude: All’s Well That Ends Well

1 Sep


Yesterday saw me enjoying yet another production from the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) – my fifth this year and the fourth at Stratford on Avon – a venue which is, conveniently, just an hour from home!

All’s Well That Ends Well is awkward, problematic and ambiguous as a play – and I rather like it for that. It’s neither a comedy, tragedy nor history – so it forces audiences to think.

Because of this it’s performed far less often than  Shakespeare’s more reliable crowd pleasers (indeed I believe it’s the first time in 25 years that the RSC have done it on the main stage at Stratford).

In the UK press, this production garnered 5 star reviews in the The Guardian and Daily Telegraph but only three stars in The Times and The Independent.  I’d give it four out of five.

My problem with the play is that I don’t warm either to the female lead character (Helena, played by Joanna Horton) or to the male (Bertram, played by Alex Waldmann). Both were enormously accomplished performances but, at the end of the play, audiences are left wondering:

(a) whether things really do end well for either or both characters and

(b) not really caring either way!

Bertram is  undoubtedly immature, shallow and priggish – although perhaps capable of emotional growth while Helena is still a sanctimonious, two-dimensional goody-two-shoes – although perhaps realising, as the evening ends, that this is equally immature!

Despite this formidable challenge I really enjoyed the performance – which showcased the RSC’s sheer strength as a repertory company and, above all Nancy Meckler’s assured direction.

The strongest performances were from Charlotte Cornwell (as Countess Rousillon – one of Shakespeare’s finest roles for a mature woman), David Fielder (as Lord Lafeu)  and Jonathan Slinger who by playing the braggart Parolles as a frustrated homosexual with a crush on Bertram, managed to draw real pathos as well as  comedy from his part.

There are three more plays in the RSC’s autumn repertoire which I’d love to see if I can get tickets – but my next confirmed date isn’t until next year.

Theatre Interlude: A Mad World My Masters

23 Jul


A couple of days ago I went to Stratford (one of my favourite theatres) to see the Thomas Middleton play A Mad World My Masters at the Swan auditorium. It was great!

Written in 1605(ish), it is an immensely bawdy and cynical Restoration Comedy re-imagined into 1950s Soho by Sean Foley and his company. Given that One Man, Two Guv’nors survived such a transposition, I am not complaining!

If I write that in this production, Middleton’s ‘Master Shortrod Harebrain’ becomes ‘Mr Littledick’ and another character is called ‘Peninent Brothel’ you’ll get the picture. It was full of double entendres – indeed triple entendres! Wonderfully filthy! The director has cheerfully acknowledged that this production has sought to preserve the jokes for 21st centrury audiences and focusses on sex and money as prime behavioural drivers – and his team have done well! I never thought that I’d say that I can appreciate the ancestors of the Benny Hill Show and Carry On films but, being honest, I do!

None of this would have worked without a top-notch company of actors. Outstanding were Ian Redford as Sir Bounteous Peersucker, and a strong performance from Sarah Ridgeway as Truly Kidman. Ellie Beaven was a sexy, alluring Mrs Littledick – especially in the succubus scene of Mr Middleton’s original and Richard Goulding was an almost sympathetic (if unreformably stupid) Dick Follywit. Special mention goes also to Linda John-Pierre whose singing made the show.

I’m watching so many Royal Shakespeare Company productions this year – but the RSC seems on a roll at the moment!