Review: Game of Thrones: The Exhibition

Last week I travelled to Belfast, Northern Ireland, to visit the touring exhibit celebrating HBO series Game of Thrones. The exhibition was free of charge and featured many costumes and props from the show, and a few nice extras to please fans.

Ascend the Wall

Ascend the Wall

We picked the first time slot for our timed entry, which meant we were in nice and early.

The Iron Throne

The Iron Throne

There were two areas for which you had to queue, those being the Oculus Rift: Ascend the Wall experience, and the Iron Throne. The Ascend the Wall experience was great; I was just wearing glasses and headphones, but it felt pretty realistic, and it was a lot of fun, if short. And it was fantastic to get the chance to have my photo taken on the Iron Throne.

The exhibition itself wasn’t too busy; there were lots of people but it was quite easy to get around and get up close to the costumes and props. I never felt rushed, and went round the exhibition three times. I enjoyed seeing costumes from the show and seeing all the detail which isn’t so obvious on screen, and just simple things like seeing the size of items like swords and dragon eggs made it more interesting, I think. There was also a lot to read, and videos to watch, which gave a lot of further information about the show and the items on display.

I think that the Oculus Rift Experience was my favourite part of the Exhibition, so definitely try to do that if you get a chance (unless you have severe vertigo) and my favourite costumes were those from King’s Landing, they were just so colourful and extravagant. I also loved seeing Jaime Lannister’s severed hand, which looked pretty realistic, and his new gold hand, which was wonderfully detailed.

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The main downside was the lighting, which was pretty dark and didn’t put the costumes in their best, well, light. It was also a little inconvenient for photography (especially for the Iron Throne bit), although I was very glad to be able to take photos throughout the experience. I also would have liked to have seen costumes for Petyr Baelish and Jorah Mormont; they were both such big parts of Season Four that their absence seemed glaring (we did have Littlefinger’s mockingbird pin, and Mormont’s sword, however).

Overall it was a great day, and I really recommend a visit. I will definitely go back if I get the chance.

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Review: The Duchess of Malfi at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Last night I visited the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse (the new indoor theatre at Shakespeare’s Globe) for the first time, to see The Duchess of Malfi.

First, the theatre. The playhouse felt very different to the Globe. For a start, it is tiny; it had one of the smallest stages I’ve ever seen in a professional theatre. The audience are very close to the action, and very close to each other. It has bench seating; I was in the Pit, the little area right in front of the stage, and our seats were carpeted, which helped a lot and meant that for me, at least, the actual seat wasn’t terribly uncomfortable, it was just the lack of back rests which will cause a lot of people problems. But then, like the Globe, you don’t really come to this theatre for comfort, you come for the experience, and to see a great play.

The odd thing about the Pit is that the seats are perpendicular to the stage, which took me a while to get used to. At the start it felt like the production was happening near me, but not for me. I got over that pretty quickly, and I did really enjoy being that close to the stage. I’ll go for Pit seats again I think.

The main difference to the Globe is the atmosphere. The Globe is kind of unruly and relaxed, whereas here the audience has to be on their best behaviour. More like a normal theatre. No sweet paper rustling. No wandering around the Yard when your back gives up. And the actors don’t need to battle against the element and the helicopters, which encourages a different style of performance.

The theatre is lit entirely by candles; there are large chandeliers suspended from the ceiling, which give about as much light as day, but when the chandeliers are raised to the roof (as far from the action as possible), or extinguished, and the main light source is a candle held by an actor, or a candelabra placed on the side of the stage, the difference is really interesting, and it was fascinating to watch a production lit in such a way. There is one scene which takes place in complete darkness, which I found utterly disorienting, and pretty unique. I hope to see many, many more candle-lit productions at this Playhouse in coming years.

Anyway, onto the show. I did The Duchess of Malfi for A Level, and, like with anything you have had to study for a long time, it spoils it a little. Too much revision. Too many essays. But I was excited to see the play performed, since there hadn’t been a production on at the time (in fact I have had to wait nine years).

The cast were great; I’d seen most of them before at the Globe, and it was fun watching them explore the new space. Gemma Arterton plays the Duchess; she is one of my favourite actresses but she doesn’t often get the chance to really show what she can do; it was great to see her in a big, meaty role. David Dawson was Ferdinand; I’d never seen him on stage before. He was fantastic, very creepy and unstable. James Garnon played the Cardinal; as we know from previous experience, given the chance he will steal the show. He had many chances in the second half. And took them. Plus, I think this is the only time I have ever seen a character die with their eyes open; I don’t think he blinked for like two minutes. That’s maybe an odd thing to mention, but when you’re three feet away it sticks in the memory.

Sean Gilder played Bosola. Bosola is one of my favourite things about The Duchess of Malfi; he’s just such an interesting character. Gilder played him really well. I found him quite understated a lot of the time, (I want to say more TV acting than theatre acting, although it’s not exactly what I mean). I found a similar thing with Denise Gough as Julia, and Alex Waldmann as Antonio; they were pretty natural. Their performances might have got a bit lost in a large space (the Globe, for example), but they suited the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse really well. Interesting. And exciting, I think.

The costumes were fantastic, especially those worn by the Duchess. There was one particular dress, which I want to call the salmon dress, which glittered spectacularly in the candlelight. Good work by the costume department with that one. The music was also great; in such a small space acoustics must be interesting to work with (a drum, for instance, would drown out everything, and I don’t even want to think about what a trumpet could do), but the use of string instruments and the cast’s voices worked really well, and added to the atmosphere.

Overall, I think this was a really good production. There was plenty of humour, which balanced out all the violence (this is a revenge tragedy; I don’t think it is too much of a spoiler to say there is quite a lot of death). The cast coped well with the new space, and the play was a great introduction to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. I am excited to see what Shakespeare’s Globe does with their new theatre in the future.

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Review: Warner Bros. Studio Tour

This week I visited the Warner Bros Studio Tour in Leavesden, Hertfordshire. As a big Harry Potter fan, I had been looking forward to this for a long time, and it did not disappoint.

Firstly, if you don’t want to know what happens on the studio tour, then don’t read on, as I’m about to inundate you with spoilers.

Secondly, here is a two minute review I made for my YouTube channel, in case this kind of thing is of interest to you.

Okay, on to the review.

The Warner Bros Studio Tour consists of two studios with a little outside area between them. When you first go into the building there is a cafe (and Starbucks) on your left, and the shop on your right.

We visited the shop at the start of our day, at 10am, when it was pretty empty, and at the end of our day, at 3pm, when it was pretty full. So this is worth bearing in mind if you have some kind of aversion to/phobia of busy places. If you know what you want to get, and you don’t mind carting it around all day, then it’s not a bad idea to visit the shop first. Or if you’re not planning on buying anything at all and just want a bit of a look.

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Great Hall

At the allocated time on your ticket you go through into a little cinema (first passing Harry’s cupboard under the stairs), where you sit on comfy chairs and watch a short film where Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson welcome you to the tour. After that you go through into the Great Hall, where a guide shows you around and you can take photos. It’s a pretty great set, and the only part of the tour that is guided; you don’t have as much time there as everywhere else, so make the most of it. You are then let loose into the first studio, where you can run wild and spend as much time as you like looking at the sets, props, and costumes, read the information, and take photos.

The first studio contains many iconic sets from the Harry Potter film series, including the Gryffindor common room and boys’ dormitories, Dumbledore’s office, Hagrid’s hut, the Potions classroom, and the Burrow. There is also lots of Ministry of Magic stuff, including Umbridge’s bright pink office. The sets are very detailed and have lots of things in them for you to look at, many of which you will have noticed from the films, but many more that you never would have been able to catch on screen. You could visit the tour many times and still notice new things.

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Some stuff moves, especially in the Burrow set (which is great for kids), and there is often information for you to read, and little films for you to watch, where people who worked on the films talk about the sets and what they did to them.

In addition to the sets, there are also many props and costumes hanging about the place. On the walls, above the sets, hanging from the ceiling, anywhere there is a free space, really. You can see Golden Snitches, the Mirror of Erised, the Goblet of Fire, the Triwizard Cup, and lots of Yule Ball stuff. Don’t just leave a little area out because you think it’s just a fire exit; there may be a telescope or a golden Ministry of Magic elevator waiting to surprise you. And sometimes if you go round the side of the sets there’ll be a window where you can see a different angle into the room. There is so much to look at, it’s ridiculous.

The first studio is also the place where you can have photos taken of you flying a broom. This seemed a lot of fun, and the price starts at £12 for one photo.

Just before the exit to this studio, there is a large display case where you can have a close look at some of the props from the films; I loved this bit, and spent about half an hour there. It surprised me how many people walked straight past it. There are examples of Daily Prophets and Quibblers; there’s Weasley products and Hogwarts textbooks; you can read Dumbledore’s will and Lily’s last letter to Sirius. Don’t miss that.

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You then go outside, where some of the more weather-resistant sets and props live. You can see two Privet Drive houses (including Number 4, of course), the Potter’s Godric’s Hollow cottage, the Knight Bus, some chess pieces, a Hogwarts bridge, and have your photo taken on Hagrid’s motorbike and the Weasley’s Ford Anglia. It was raining when we visited, but there is a canopy around two sides of the area and you can see all but the three houses, and get from one studio to the next, without getting wet. (You can’t go on the Knight Bus or the Hogwarts bridge without getting wet, but you can at least see them, after all, they are what is blocking the view of the houses.)

There is also a cafe to get drinks, sandwiches and hotdogs, and if you are there at around lunchtime I recommend eating there, as it’s a long time before you will be finished with the second studio.

You can also buy Butterbeer here, and I recommend that too. It’s ¬£2.95 for Butterbeer in a plastic cup, and ¬£6.95 for it in a tankard you can take home with you. I thought Butterbeer was really nice; it reminded me of an ice cream soda, and I think if you put butterscotch ice cream in a slightly fizzy lemonade, you’d get a pretty good approximation of the drink.

When you go into the second studio, the first thing you have is creature effects. If you’re interested in prosthetics and animatronics then this is the place for you. There is plenty to look at, unsurprisingly, including some goblin heads, Lupin’s werewolf self, a Grawp head, Buckbeak, the Monster Book of Monsters, and Lord Voldemort’s, er, form before he becomes Ralph Fiennes.

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Then you move onto the Diagon Alley set. This was my favourite set, because it’s the only one that you really step into, and the only one where you don’t turn round and see another set behind you; wherever you look it is still Diagon Alley. You can look into the shop windows, and the shop facades are pretty special as well. I loved Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes.

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Hogwarts

After this you go into the art department. There are technical drawings of sets, and white card models of them. I found these so beautiful, and very interesting. And then it is the finale: a scale model of Hogwarts used for exterior shots. This is pretty breathtaking, and you can walk all around it. A really great end to the tour.

You then walk through a room full of wands, one for every person who worked on the film, and exit into the shop.

I have read a lot about the shop being overpriced, and although there are expensive items, there are also plenty for those on a budget. For less than ¬£10 you can get magnets, badges and sweets, and t-shirts are mostly less than ¬£20. There is a collectibles area, where super expensive stuff can be bought, for example replica broomsticks, and Time Turners, and chess sets, and Hogwarts robes. Wands can be bought for ¬£24.95 (I got Dumbledore’s). There are also cuddly toys, jumpers, scarfs and other clothes, and books.

In addition to the wand, I bought a phoenix t-shirt for ¬£19.95, Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans for ¬£8.95, and a Chocolate Frog for ¬£7.95. I also got some Fizzing Whizzbees as they were 50% off due to their best before date coming up (I got them for ¬£3.98). I can’t comment on the flavour of the Beans or the Frog because I haven’t eaten them yet, but the packaging is of a high quality, and the Frog is solid chocolate. I got a Helga Hufflepuff Chocolate Frog card in mine, and as a proud Hufflepuff I was very happy with that. I have eaten most of the Fizzing Whizzbees, and they are of a really good quality chocolate.

The tour costs ¬£29 but I think it is worth every penny. For a start, you can spend as much time there as you like; you never feel pressured into moving on. The staff are all really friendly, helpful and knowledgeable. You can take as many photos as you like, so you get to take your memories home with you (and if you have a good quality camera you can take great close-up pictures of textbooks and newspapers and read them when you get home). It was a really great day, and I’d go back there tomorrow if I could. If you are a fan of the films, then this is the place you should be.

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Review: A Doll’s House (Young Vic Production)

I have been pretty absent from my blog recently, because I have been distracted by YouTube, sorry.

Anyway, last week I went to see A Doll’s House in its West End transfer from the Young Vic. I missed this production during its first run last year, so I was really happy I got to see it at last.

This production stars Hattie Morahan as Nora, and she plays her as impulsive and naive; the character’s actions and motives are made really clear to the audience in her interpretation, and the role (and the play) is most definitely hers. She is well-deserving of her Evening Standard Best Actress Award last year.

Dominic Rowan plays Torvald, and is great also. He is played as pretty serious and short-tempered, often well-meaning but stifling. Torvald is pretty set in his ways and Rowan is great as him. In the second half Torvald gets drunk (reminding me a hell of a lot of Dominic Rowan’s Touchstone in As You Like It a few years ago; it was like saying hello to an old friend) and the audience gets a bit of light relief before the finale. His drunken state also helps to explain Torvald’s actions and abrupt changes of mind in that final scene, which I suspect was the point.

The supporting characters were ably played by a few actors including Steve Toussaint, Caroline Martin and Nick Fletcher, although this production felt more to me like a two-hander than an ensemble piece. I really loved the set design, with it’s revolving apartment, allowing the audience to see into all the rooms and get a glimpse of what characters were doing when they were not in the main scene. I enjoyed being able to see characters entering and leaving the apartment.

The play is a long one, with a running time of two hours and forty-five minutes, and with lots of long scenes, but it kept my attention throughout; I really enjoyed this production. It is the best production of A Doll’s House I have seen; it felt pretty definitive to me so I suspect it will remain so.

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Review: Titus Andronicus (RSC)

This weekend I visited Stratford-Upon-Avon for the first time, to see Titus Andronicus at the Swan Theatre. This is an extremely violent play, and the only time I’ve seen it was for Globe to Globe at Shakespeare’s Globe last year, when, although good, it was all style and no gore, so I was excited to see this production, as I’d heard it was, er, more bloody. I wasn’t disappointed.

The production had a real ensemble feel, with everything (cast, music, set, costumes) coming together to build a pretty spectacular atmosphere that I don’t remember ever having in a theatre before. It was tense, and exciting, and dramatic, and I thought it walked the thin line between disgusting and funny exceptionally well throughout.

Stephen Boxer was a believable and understandable Titus, Katy Stephens a sexy and vengeful Tamora. Rose Reynolds was heartbreaking as the abused and mutilated Lavinia, and John Hopkins played quite a comedic Saturninus. Kevin Harvey was superbly villainous as Aaron; with his beautiful voice and amazing hair, he was very striking, and he was totally believable when he said ‘If one good deed in all my life I did, I do repent it from my very soul.’ He was bloody brilliant. Matthew Needham was similarly scene-stealy as Lucius; I didn’t notice him so much in the first half but in the second he really came into his own, especially in the final scenes.

The first onstage death was when Titus killed his son, Mutius, (excellent Harry McEntire), and a better neck-breaking I have never seen. I think that set the tone for the whole production: violent, shocking, disturbing and a little bit gross. I quite often saw audience members flinching and looking away, but also laughing. Because this production was pretty funny. The humour was very black, but it was to be found everywhere.

I loved the device of suspending characters by their ankles from the roof; this was used quite often throughout as a way of disposing of dead bodies, but was also used to great effect in the scene where Titus and Lavinia finally get their revenge on Demetrius and Chiron.

The ‘everyone kills everyone’ scene near the end was perhaps a tad too farcical, and after the events of the previous couple of hours it broke the tension perhaps too early, but it was superbly orchestrated and the attention to detail was outstanding. I especially loved it when Lucius touched the dead Saturninus’ shoulder and he fell off his chair.

In fact the attention to detail throughout this production was outstanding. You could tell that everything had been thought through and analysed, and with a play like this one I think that was crucial. It was a brilliant afternoon, and one I’m not going to forget in a hurry.

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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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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.

Review: The Taming of the Shrew at Shakespeare’s Globe

Crikey, I have been pretty much absent from my blog for a month now. In my defence, I have been making a short film, which has been taking up ALL OF THE TIME.

Anyway, last night I was at The Globe (no surprises there; my blog suggests that I am always at The Globe) to see the touring production of The Taming of the Shrew. This is an all female production, and is a great play to be an all female production, as it adds a different angle on the themes and feel of the thing. There was a cast of eight in multiple roles, as usual for these touring ones, and I think Shrew is a play that works really well like this; I never got confused about who was playing who, as is sometimes the case. The set and costumes were great (it was a modern dress production); I especially loved the wedding dresses.

The talented cast were led by Kate Lamb as Katherina and Leah Whitaker as Petruchio, both of whom were entertaining and dependable in their roles; they were ably supported by Olivia Morgan, Becci Gemmell, Remy Beasley, Kathryn Hunt, Joy Richardson and Nicola Sangster. The production was overall competent, funny and fun, although I can’t say it ever truly ignited for me. The Urdu Taming of the Shrew I saw last year at The Globe, had, perhaps, more to say, and had a clearer relationship between Petruchio and Katherina (they were a team, a partnership, and the difficult ‘Taming’ scenes were played like it was a joke that Katherina was in on).

There were, however, many wonderful touches, and many opportunities for the whole cast to shine. Kathryn Hunt was great as Katherina and Bianca’s father, and Remy Beasley shone whenever she was on the stage. The music was the best thing about the production, and is, in my opinion, the best of any Globe production (so Venus and Adonis, which would otherwise win, doesn’t count). The cast were just ridiculously talented, playing guitars and saxophones and all sorts, and I loved the folky feel it gave to the whole show. The voices were really beautiful, and Beasley’s solos were especially brilliant.

So overall, not a definitive or particularly innovative production, but lots of fun, and chock full of great performances.

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