Review: Henry VI Parts 1, 2 and 3 at Shakespeare’s Globe

GUESS WHERE I WAS YESTERDAY! Aren’t I hilarious.

Yesterday I saw the three Henry VI plays in a lllloooonnnngggg but excellent day of theatre. I actually saw these plays in the same way for Globe to Globe last year, when they were in Serbian, Albanian and Macedonian, so I was really excited to see them in English, and performed by the same company (the Globe to Globe Henry VIs were some of the best of the season, but continuity went out the window when you had to get used to a new Henry, Margaret and York every couple of hours). This production is a touring one, so around seven hours of drama rested on the shoulders of just 14 actors. Quite a spectacular achievement, I think.

The set consisted of two scaffolding towers with a throne between them. Unfortunately, from where I was standing in the Yard a pillar was completely obscuring the throne so I had to guess what was happening more than I would have liked. Actually not too bad a problem, except in Part 1, as I suspect Henry VI was sitting on the throne for most of the play. I didn’t see him for a quite a while. My greatest ambition is now to see the productions again in a position where I can see the throne; it’s good to have ambition. Apart from that minor fault which is entirely of my own making, I really loved the set. Touring productions usually have pretty interesting staging, due to everything having to be both practical and portable, and this is a new favourite of mine. Seeing the actors climbing around and doing scenes at the top of ladders was pretty special, and also quite useful for a short person standing in a weird place in the Yard.

The cast were excellent, taking on many characters and also the roles of musicians, just in case you thought they were going to be able to have a bit of a rest when they weren’t needed in the scene. They were led by Graham Butler as King Henry VI, who started off young, naive, timid, and, yes, a bit adorable, and grew into his responsibilities as the plays progressed. One of the best things about seeing all the plays at once was that we really got to see his character age. Butler handled that really well, and was quite moving in Part 3 when his claim to the throne was being questioned left, right and centre.

Mary Doherty was mainly playing Queen Margaret, apart from in Part 1 when she was mainly playing all sorts of minor characters. I don’t think anyone is ever going to beat the Macedonian Margaret from last year for me (her performance was like being hit over the head with a large wooden bat every couple of minutes, but in a good way), but I thought Doherty played her really well, very strong and brave, and a bit bloodthirsty. I loved her costumes, and I loved the opening to Part 1 as well, with her alone on the stage, singing.

Brendan O’Hea played several characters, including York and the King of France, and was outstanding as all of them. His camp and melodramatic French King especially brought the house down, and York’s long-winded explanation of why exactly he should have the throne of England got much applause. Roger Evans was Suffolk and Jack Cade (yes, he also played other parts as well) and the latter was especially brilliant; he built a great rapport with the audience. Andrew Sheridan played Talbot in Part 1, and Warwick throughout. I love Warwick as a character, with his grudges and switching allegiances, and was really happy with how Sheridan handled him.

Beatriz Romilly played Joan of Arc in Part 1, and I really loved her performance; she was quite authoritative, but also pretty vulnerable. She then transformed (transformed is the word, I think) into the Duchess of Gloucester and Lady Elizabeth Grey for the other two plays, and was great as both. I did enjoy the scene when King Edward tries to woo Elizabeth in Part 3, with Patrick Myles as a really good Edward.

Simon Harrison played the Dauphin in Part 1, and then Richard in Parts 2 and 3. He was quietly good as the former and then got better and better as the day went on. His Richard really grew on me; I started off a bit bemused by his gait (it was less ‘I have a limp’ and more ‘My legs are completely mangled’ and it took me a while to get used to it). But by the end of Part 3 I was like ‘Where is Richard?’, and ‘When will Richard be back?’, and ‘Don’t talk to me, Richard is here.’ Richard IIIs are really tricky at the moment I think. He’s very popular right now, what with all the bones in car parks and documentaries and theatrical productions and Horrible Histories sketches and appearances in TV series, and it’s common knowledge now that Shakespeare’s Richard III and actual Richard III are very different people. Harrison’s Richard was a pretty Shakespearean one, with a hunchback and withered arm and the aforementioned limp, and he was spectacularly villainous. He was also very funny, and charismatic, and it was completely believable that he’d be King in the future. His monologues were especially brilliant, and his murder of Henry VI at the end was brutal and shocking. I’m not sure how Harrison’s Richard would do in a production of Richard III, but I’d be VERY INTERESTED to see it.

The three productions were entertaining and exciting throughout, and sporadically really caught fire. My favourite catching fire moments were Henry VI’s awkward attempts to be kingly in Part 1 (‘Crikey, sorry!’), Jack Cade’s introduction at the start of the second half of Part 2, when we all seemed to end up joining him in a football chant, the hilarity of the French court and Brendan O’Hea’s completely mental King of France, and Richard III’s monologues in Part 3. The bit that sticks with me, though, is a bit random, and it is when York introduced us to his three sons (I think he was introducing them to Somerset?) near the end of Part 2. They sort of appeared round the pillar and it looked really striking. Bit weird, but there you go.

I would really recommend seeing this production, either at the Globe or on tour; as well as the usual theatres it’s being performed at four of the battlefields from the War of the Roses, which has to be a pretty fantastic experience. The first play seemed separate to the other two, which more obviously ran together, although given how the plays were written this perhaps isn’t surprising. But there seemed some artistic differences between them as well; in Part 1 most of the actors seemed to be onstage throughout, sitting or standing watching at the back, but in the others there seemed to be more actors going offstage for a while. Also, Part 1 seemed to have more singing, and Henry V’s coffin was onstage and used as a prop and important visual tool, but then disappeared later (I didn’t mind it going, to be honest, it obscured part of the action and it looked odd when the cast extracted swords from it, although I did love how they used the red and white roses). So if you’re just going to see one of the plays Part 1 may be the one to go for, although, I think Part 3 is the best play, and definitely the most exciting. Although maybe more exciting due to the fantastic building of excitement in Part 2.

I think it really advisable to see all three, though, and if possible in one day. The one thing I didn’t like about the three-in-a-day thing at the Globe was there wasn’t quite enough time between shows for us Groundlings. You had to go straight from one show into the queue for the next, and there would inevitably be far too many people there already when you arrived, unless you were standing right by the door when the show ended. So if you are a Groundling you’ll have to accept the fact that you’re not going to be able to get a great place in the Yard for all the shows. It is a long day though so I can understand why the Globe wouldn’t want to elongate it even more. And it’s not so much a factor if you have seated tickets, or if you’re in another venue, I imagine.

I had a great day, and it was completely worth all that time queuing and standing. Henry VI Parts 1, 2 and 3 aren’t the most popular of Shakespeare’s plays, and many people I know are put off by the amount of time you need to give to it; that’s a real shame when a production is as good as this one.

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UPDATE: All three parts of this production of Henry VI are now available to watch on The Space.

Review: Gabriel at Shakespeare’s Globe

Back at the Globe yesterday to see Gabriel, a new play by Samuel Adamson starring trumpeter Alison Balsom. I have never seen a ‘new’ play at the Globe, so I was a bit apprehensive, but I really like Balsom so I was intrigued.

The play is actually a series of little playlets, some based on true events, all linked together (I really enjoyed finding out how all the stories and characters connected up). The whole thing was given more structure by Richard Riddell as narrator-and-also-character John, and the excellent musicians led by Balsom, who flitted in and out of scenes with her trumpet. There was great music throughout, (almost exclusively by Henry Purcell), and I enjoyed seeing the musicians as part of the cast, especially in the bows at the end, instead of being almost invisible above the stage.

Understandably, the production was a little fragmented and uneven, with the first half seeming a bit long and the second half flying by. There were some really sad, and really funny scenes, though, and the cast, many of whom are also in The Tempest, were uniformly great (one of the things I did love about this production was that it gave an awful lot of people a chance to shine). James Garnon was his usual excellent self, Trevor Fox was playing a drunk again (he does it so well, though) but he got a pretty fantastic scene near the end, and William Mannering, Sarah Sweeney and Amanda Wilkin got far more to do than they get to do in The Tempest. Jessie Buckley pretty much stole it though. Her speech as Cold Arabella almost made me cry, and her Kate had me dying of laughter. And she is one of the few people who I have ever seen successfully cry (twice!) on the Globe stage. Seriously, as an actress, and a singer, she has come so far since her I’d Do Anything days (and she was pretty good then, too). One. To. Watch.

There is some nudity and pretty foul language in this production, so maybe not one for the very young or easily offended, but overall I liked this play; it was entertaining, interesting and lively, and I willingly could waste my time in it.

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Half Full (a short film)

Here is the second video on my YouTube channel, a short film I made last week. It’s a very, very short film, and it’s a LITTLE bit silly. It was a lot of fun to make but I think it has made my neighbours believe that I am a crazy person. Fun fact: this is my second ‘short film’, but the first I have made available online (Short Film #1 will be going up on my channel at a later date. Gosh, the excitement!).

Another fun fact: I don’t drink coke, so I had to buy it specially for the film (it was the only drink that would show through the cup). It is still sitting in the kitchen. I suspect I’m never going to drink it. It’ll just get flatter and flatter until I decide that what I really need in a film is some coke, and then it will make a triumphant return to the film industry. Anyway, I should stop typing now; hope you like the film! Bye!

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Review: Macbeth at Shakespeare’s Globe

Last night I was back at the Globe for some more queuing, after which I got to see the new Eve Best-directed Macbeth, starring Joseph Millson. This production was a lot more Globe-y than the Elliot Cowan Macbeth from a couple of years ago, and although that was very entertaining and different, I think I preferred this one.

For a start, Philip Cumbus was in it. This may seem like a bit of a random statement but hear me out. The first couple of years I came to the Globe, Cumbus was in every production I saw, so now I feel like the theatre season isn’t complete until he appears in it. I think last year he wasn’t at the Globe; that was a WEIRD time. Anyway, he was such a great Malcolm; his interpretation was really clear and his character’s actions were always easy to understand.

Other cast members to single out are Billy Boyd as Banquo, who sang a beautiful folk song at the start of the second half (and was also, y’know, BILLY BOYD, so my inner LOTR fangirl was pretty happy), Samantha Spiro as a believable Lady Macbeth and, or course, Millson, who I thought was a really dependable Macbeth. He definitely knew how to play at the Globe, working really hard to draw the whole audience in to his performance, from the Yard to the Upper Gallery. He got quite a lot of comedy out of his lines as well, and his acting style was sort of effortless, underplaying instead of overplaying, which I imagine is difficult to pull off in a space like this one.

Overall, this was a pretty subtle production, and I really enjoyed it, although it is perhaps more forgettable than a lot of Macbeths I’ve seen. One thing that was unforgettable, however, was the end. One of the witches played a beautiful piece on the violin while the rest of the cast did this sort of slow interpretive dance thing (sorry, not good at the describing). But it was pretty moving. Then it moved on to the traditional jovial Globe jig and the audience left clapping and cheering.

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Review: Doctor Who Prom (BBC Proms)

Henry Wood and the TARDIS

Yesterday I queued for 14 hours for standing tickets to the Arena at the Royal Albert Hall, to see the Doctor Who Prom. I’ve queued for the Proms before (for this and this), but never for so long. I was in the front row, so totally worth it.

This Prom was pretty similar to the other Doctor Who Proms, in that it had music from the show, with a few other classical pieces thrown in, and lots of surprise appearances from Doctor Who monsters, both in the audience and on the stage. The main difference was that, because it was a 50th Anniversary celebration, there was a very nostalgic feel, and a lot of great special guests.

The show started with Murray Gold’s  The Mad Man With a Box, and I Am The Doctor, with Ben Foster conducting the wonderful BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and Elin Manahan Thomas as the soloist. She had a really beautiful clear voice, especially in the higher notes. Great soprano. There was then a pre-recorded segment filmed outside the Royal Albert Hall with the Doctor and Clara, who then appeared in the Hall to, er, QUITE A LOT of cheers. They remained in character, were awesome for a bit, and then introduced the next piece: Carmen (Suite No. 2) – Habanera, which was used in Asylum of the Daleks.

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Neve McIntosh as Madame Vastra and Dan Starkey as Strax introduced a lot of the music in the first half; their costumes looked amazing up close and I thought they were really great. I do love Strax. Most of the pieces, including The Companions (a suite of Rose, Martha Donna and Amy’s themes) and The Final Chapter of Amelia Pond, had clips from the show shown on big screens, and the audience would scream when certain characters appeared. I think the biggest screams I heard on the night were when Elisabeth Sladen came on screen.

One of my highlights of the first half was The Rings of Akhaten, the song sung by the Queen of Years and her father. It didn’t really have much of an effect on me when I watched the episode, but when it was sung by Kerry Ingram and Allan Clayton in front of that orchestra and with the London Philharmonic Choir, the sound was pretty breathtaking. I’m really glad I got to hear that; I think that is a song which is meant to be heard live.

The first half of the show was pretty 2005+ centric, but after the interval it definitely got more nostalgic and celebratory of the 50 years the show has been on the air. Matt Smith and Jenna Coleman did some presenting as themselves this time (standing right in front of me) and were pretty wonderful. Also we had the wonderful surprise appearances of Peter Davison, Fifth Doctor, and Carole Ann Ford, First Companion. We had a fantastic ‘Classic’ Doctor Who Medley, featuring sound effects from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and the premiere of two pieces created by teenagers for a ‘Create a Soundtrack’ competition.

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There were obviously a lot of monsters around the Hall; from right at the front I couldn’t see much of what was going on in the audience behind me, but on the stage, I saw Cybermen, Vampire Girls, Daleks, a Judoon, an Ice Warrier, two Whispermen, and my favourite, one of the Silence. So amazing to see them all up close.

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We ended first with The Name of The Doctor, when we got to see THAT CLIFFHANGER again on the big screen, and finally with the premiere of Song for Fifty, a special song composed by Murray Gold for the 50th Anniversary of the show. This featured Elin Manahan Thomas and Allan Clayton, and was a pretty fitting end to what was a great day.

This was a really wonderful Prom, and was worth all that time queuing and standing. It was a spectacular tribute to the show, and a wonderful celebration of what has been and what is to come. Here’s to another fifty years.

The cast take their bows. Blurrily.

The cast take their bows. Blurrily.

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* The radio broadcast is available here for the next seven days (until Saturday 20th July 2013). The Prom will be shown on TV in the Autumn.

Unemployment

I recently started a YouTube channel, and today I made my first video. It is a vlog about unemployment, and I hope you like it. I am going to make more videos in the future, probably more vlogs, short films, music videos and the like, so if this is of interest to you then feel free to like and subscribe!

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