“a …piece of work; which … to have been blest withal would have discredited your travel.”

Who: Royal Shakespeare Company

What: Antony and Cleopatra

Where: Royal Shakespeare Theatre

When: 23rd March 2017

This is the first of four reviews that I will deliver over the coming months on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) Rome season. We begin with Antony and Cleopatra and then head through Julius Caesar, Titus Andronicus and Coriolanus. The comfort of this is that it gives the RSC three attempts to improve upon this woeful Antony and Cleopatra.

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A Strange Fish!

Holy Gonzalo (Act V Scene 1), Batman! The RSC may have a hit on their hands.

What: The Tempest by William Shakespeare

Where: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Who: The Royal Shakespeare Company

When: 24th November 2016

This production of the Tempest attempts to break new boundaries in theatre-making with the very first use of “live motion capture” in a major stage production … and it succeeds… just…

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“Nobility enforce a freedom out of Bondage, making misery their Mirth”

What: The Two Noble Kinsmen by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare

Where: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Who: The Royal Shakespeare Company

When: October 2016

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s (RSC) performances are oh-so-relevant. Or at least they think they are.

But are they trying a little too hard?

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“Having been praised for bluntness, (he) doth affect a saucy roughness”

What: King Lear by William Shakespeare

Who: Royal Shakespeare Company

Where: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon, UK

In the recent Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) presentation of Hamlet, a classroom scene is created at the beginning at which the title of the play is spoken to announce young Hamlet’s graduation and then the scene is cleared and the play proper begins. I think it was meant to be clever but really it served no purpose. At the beginning of this performance of Lear a group of maybe 10 actors take the stage shrouded in something like lepers’ attire or flimsy beggar garb as shelter against the cold night. When the actors enter for the first scene proper they leave hastily too – shooed away. But this time the importance of this scene is not lost on the rest of the production. Rather, it adds. And like most everything here, it is solid and meaningful.

Solid.

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Thou basest thing, avoid! hence, from my sight!

What: Cymbeline by William Shakespeare

Who: Royal Shakespeare Company

Where: Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

When: May 26th 2016

Mmm… first of all you’re asked to delay your night at a Shakespeare play then your hotel manager tells you that the play has had somewhat “mixed reviews”. Then you hear the story of how the first night’s audience were given a refund because the play was running well behind in its mad dash to be ready for press night. As you take your seat in the theatre perhaps you’re right in not having too high an expectation of the night’s proceedings.

On the way in you had handed over your £4 for the programme. Back in the day, the programmes were fully of scholarly essays about the play itself. These days, it has become customary for the programme to be full of pieces about the themes that the director and producer have decided to emphasise in this performance. There is an essay about the European Union and the danger of Britain breaking away from it. There is an interview with the director about the gender changes in the Dramatis Personae.

At least you know what’s coming. The married couple next to us who didn’t buy a programme (having paid £110 for a pair of tickets) left at the interval mumbling that “it wasn’t worth watching”.

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“…Your play needs no excuse…”

What: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

When: 25th February 2016

Where: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre

When the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) last staged “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (https://twilightdawning.com/2011/08/09/what-masques-what-dances-shall-we-have-to-wear-away-this-long-age-of-three-hours/) , they achieved a production which gave us a strong and evocative (transformed) Bottom and Titania but a rather forgettable Hermia and Helena. Five years later, I think they have perhaps given us the opposite whilst once again managing to give us an entertaining production which like its predecessor is worthy of accolades.

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Ascend the Bright Heaven of Invention

What: Henry V by William Shakespeare

Who: The Royal Shakespeare Company

Where: The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon

When: October 1st, 2015

Sometimes the Royal Shakespeare Company’s “devices” to make a particular production innovative and relevant to the modern audience don’t work. I’m amongst their sharpest critics when they don’t. Occasionally they do. Now whilst audiences members that I spoke to after the performance and during the interval were divided, I have to say I fall into the positive camp when it comes to this most recent production of Henry the Fifth.

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