King Lear, Globe Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I’ve been reluctant to revisit King Lear since seeing the Chichester production (starring Ian McKellen), as it was pretty much the perfect production in the perfect venue, but when Kathryn Hunter was announced as the titular monarch in this Globe season I thought it was about time I gave the play another go. Unfortunately my visit coincided with Hunter’s absence, but I was lucky enough to see the brilliant Helen Schlesinger step in and read the role – and it’s made me cross my fingers that she gets the opportunity to star in her own production of the play one day, as she really put her stamp on it.
I also enjoyed this version deciding to explore the idea of Cordelia as the Fool, though I didn’t feel there was enough in the production to suggest it early on – the main hint was Cordelia reappearing with the Fool’s trousers on under her own clothes – and the Fool faking their death was an odd way of transitioning back to Cordelia. Having said this, it was definitely one of Michelle Terry’s best performances to date.
This production seemed to be slightly cursed, with numerous cancellations & absences – as well as director Helena Kaut-Howson being involved in a car crash during rehearsals, meaning the company had to work together to make the final show. I don’t think this helped the overall focus (for example the Cordelia/Fool plan), and I wonder if it would explain why the massive space of the Globe Theatre wasn’t utilised in any way to make it seem like a battle had actually taken place – it was a bit of a damp squib going straight from pre- to post-battle scenes.
Though the colour scheme was a little predictable (Cordelia in white, Edmund in black, the sisters in red & black), it at least provided some sense of clarity. The highlight of the show had to be an excellently squeamish eye-gouging scene – it really dialled up the theatrical gore.
My verdict? Full of excellent ideas and performances – a run hampered by bad luck.
King Lear ran at Shakespeare’s Globe until 24 July 2022.
Julius Caesar, Globe Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I hadn’t previously seen a full production of Julius Caesar at the Globe before, so was very excited to see it pop up in the 2022 summer season. In some ways I’d have preferred it to be staged in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the candlelight and darkness a perfect setting for the shadowy deeds depicted in the play, but there are also obvious bonuses for using the outdoor Globe Theatre as well.
It’s not quite as rowdy and brutal as the Bridge Theatre production from a few years back, but does make good use of the groundlings when crowds and mobs are required; a highlight is definitely the toppled statue of Caesar being carried out through the yard on two of the plotters’ shoulders.
Having an almost exclusively female group of conspirators adds a different dynamic – and a very relatable one for a modern audience. Not only does the production deal with the threat of tyranny, it allows you to consider how women are held back by men holding most positions of power and influence. It’s also necessary from a practical perspective, as there would ordinarily only be two major female characters (Calpurnia & Portia).
Standout performances come from Samuel Oatley, Charlotte Bate, and Anna Crichlow. Oatley’s loutish, laddish Mark Antony is the definition of “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, as he expertly makes use of his opportunity to speak at Caesar’s funeral, drawing knowing laughter from the audience and gradually moving the crowd over to his side. Bate shows the desperation & frustration of Cassius, and is the frantic opposite to Crichlow’s steady & measured Brutus; there is tension between them at times, but also faith that they are taking this action for the right reasons.
My verdict? A clear and relatable production that makes excellent use of its outdoor setting.
Julius Caesar has toured the UK and is now running at Shakespeare’s Globe until 10 September 2022. Tickets are available online.
Richard III, Royal Shakespeare Theatre ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
This is my favourite of Shakespeare’s histories, and as I’d been to see the two Henry VI productions earlier this year I had to complete the Wars of the Roses cycle with a trip to see the RSC’s new Richard III. Those two plays teed this production up nicely, mostly because it saw the introduction of Arthur Hughes as Richard – you could instantly tell that he understood the balance of humour and malevolence the character needed, and it definitely left me wishing that I could see the whole four-play cycle in a single day.
Stephen Brimson Lewis is also the designer for this production, so it carries on in the same style; the costumes are absolutely beautiful, and the mostly bare stage is a great canvas – the cenotaph stood in front of a red backdrop is an arresting image of the long years of civil war that are about to come to a conclusion.
There is so much about this play that feels extremely relevant now, not least Richard’s singular aim to be the most powerful man in England, willing to go to any lengths to sit on the throne (ranging from dishonesty all the way up to child murder). Admittedly, Richard is funnier, smarter, and more willing to put the work in than Boris Johnson, but both men’s tenures have had devastating consequences.
Kirsty Bushell (Elizabeth), Minnie Gale (Margaret) & Claire Benedict (Duchess of York) make a formidable team when the women band together in opposition to Richard’s increasing tyranny, and Rosie Sheehy shows that Anne is capable of holding her own – until she outlives her usefulness, that is. But this is Arthur Hughes’ show through and through, carving an important mark in the portrayal of this particular Shakespearean character, and doing so with considerable flair.
My verdict? The perfect staging of a Shakespeare favourite – one that is as relevant as ever.
Richard III runs at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre until 8 October 2022 and is will be broadcast in cinemas nationwide from 28 September 2022. Tickets are available online.