Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Winter Season

I saw my first ever Royal Shakespeare Company production in Edinburgh for my birthday earlier this year– my first ever live Shakespeare. And. I. Loved it. Jade wasn't so keen, but it was her first too. I think I've just got that gene or something, like Shakespeare always makes sense, or it's easy to make sense of it. But after seeing The Winter's Tale I knew I'd be pre-booking and hunting down the first show to arrive in Newcastle, so I prepared myself mentally for a long long loooong wait. But fear not!! To my utter amazement and ridiculous (-ly childish) joy, what did I see on the metro on my way to college? A whole winter season at the Theatre Royal? In Newcastle? This year? Nooooooo! 
Can you understand how extactic I was? My fellow metro-users couldn't. I suppose having a mini panic attack over a few Shakespeare shows didnt exactly pluck their heart strings. Fair do's. It's not for everyone. But it soooooo is! That's what people don't realise– Shakespeare is so accessible and if you just watch, listen and observe I bet you any money, with or without having any knowledge on it, you will get the jist. Maybe not ALL of the jist, but who the hell knows what a "vile standing-tuck" is anyway? Leave analysing to the English students and the actors. A play (for an audience) should be seen and heard, take from your 'seeing & hearing' what you will. Because I know for a fact that I only find real love for a classical play, or any play really, when I watch it. 

For instance I haven't yet read The Taming of the Shrew. But it's my favourite Shakespeare. Why, you might ask? I saw it done by Propeller in July and it blew my mind, that's why. An all male cast of brilliance that made me laugh, cry and want to watch it a hundred times. I discovered that they release their own editions of the Shakespeare's they adapt (thank you thank you thank you) so I bought The Shrew a few weeks ago and have been practising Katherina's monologue for my drama school auditions ever since. All from watching it at the theatre over 6 months ago. 'Because it's worth it' as they say. 

Back to the RSC though, Propeller will have their time again. Our stupendous Theatre Royal stage has been graced (some more gracefully than others) by Hamlet, As you like it and All's Well that Ends Well. In that precise order. I've seen the film version of David Tennant as Hamlet, but haven't read it and literally knew nothing about the other two plays other than a few quotes and the odd monologue so I was very excited to see all three! 

One thing I have to say about all of the plays as a whole first, is that the sets were genius (again some more than others). But I'll get back to the individual plays. 

My lovely theatre-liking and acting buddy Katie and I grabbed some scrumptious nosh at Alvinos on Pilgrim Street before dashing off to le théâtre itself.

This little place is an absolute gem.

Halloween was approaching!

Definitely a scary place...

The barmen are cocktail connoisseurs and are the perfect companions to keep you company whilst waiting for your drinks to be made. It seems I was in the right place at the right time too as I got to be the first to try their latest concoction – the Ryan Gosling. I know who what I'm ordering the next time I go for a bevvie.

Do cocktails taste better when the menu is in a tape box? Yes!

Food apparently tastes so much better when the menu is on a record cover too. You should try it some time!

Pulled pork nachos with plenty of guacamole and sour cream.

Chunky sweet potato fries with lashings of salt – who wants normal fries when you can have sweet ones?

Nearly forgetting we had a show to get to we had to make a mad dash to make it on time. Food glorious food!

Now down to business. Hamlet took me a while to warm to– as in the character and the play itself. I mean it barely stood a chance really seeming as the only other version I'm familiar with has the lovely David Tennant as the man himself, and that version is good. But I was intrigued by the set which reminded me of my old primary school main hall with the same parquet flooring and gymnasium wall bars, but much more haggard and not quite so child-friendly.

It was with Hamlet becoming more detached and incensed that I think Jonathan Slinger really took hold of the role, especially in the second half, though I wasn't completely convinced by the relationship between him and Pippa Nixon's Ophelia– having said that however, Nixon was definitely my favourite actor of the three plays, mostly because of As you like it!

Another thing that annoyed me – not just in Hamlet – that annoys me with an awful lot of classical plays is the use of RP (received pronunciation, 'posh' or 'proper' to you and I) for everyone bar the 'paupers' or 'plebs' who, in my experience, pretty much always have a Yorkshire accent. I mean correct me if I'm wrong, but I was taught that Shakespeare's actors wouldn't have spoken with anything close to an RP accent, so why is it so important today? I'd really love to see something like Romeo & Juliet or whatever done by the RSC with not a single RP accent used. I'm not asking for an all out Newcastle vs. Sunderland Capulet and Montague situation, just a Geordie here or a Scouser there, you know? We can still speak clearly even though we have a regional accent! Then again, is the underlying moral that the most honest characters are the gravediggers, jokers and servants? Who knows. Maybe I just haven't seen enough productions to comment, but my first impressions are as above.

By the end of the play I was very much on the edge of my seat, had a tear in my eye and what have you and was well impressed by the removable floorboards and strong fencing theme throughout. David Fielder, I reckon, is the unsung hero of the company. He played one of the Yorkshire gravediggers and had something wonderful to say at every post-show chat. I'd love to sit and talk to him about Shakespeare and acting.
The after show talk was well worth staying back for and it was great to hear the actors thoughts and witty comebacks to some rude questions asked by the audience. Note to Shakespeare boffins – no one likes a smart-arse. And furthermore there is a very fine line between personal opinion and out-right rudeness, yes he may not have played Hamlet exactly how you wanted him to but he worked very hard to make the role his own, which is pretty hard going considering this is one of Shakesy's most famous plays. 

Brining me to my next point – why are people so overly critical about theatre? I am perfectly capable of liking or disliking a performance and knowing why I like or don't like it and on occasion I may slate and debate about what I've seen..... but being appreciative of the effort that's gone into something I think is far more important. Pat on the back, good effort, well done for trying. Back to the drawing board.

And whoever was in charge of the drawings on the boards of As you like it deserves a rather firm handshake and a pint and/or large glass of something bubbly. That set was just brilliant. 

As was the physical theatre element at the very beginning, the boxing ring and the transformation of the set from stark court to forrest den had such an intricate effect on the lighting all over the stage and theatre that I just couldn't help but grin. To my absolute delight too they used live music and set the musicians up at the back of the forrest as part of the ensemble, as well as having an actor or two play sumtin to lighten the mood or serenade a sweetheart. Nothing better than incorporating live music and the use of instruments by actors to a play, classical or not. After seeing Propeller do it so hauntingly I was dying to see if one of these shows would jump to the challenge and was not disappointed!

I feel like my fondness of the production is biased because it's just such a happy play. But I don't care. I. Loved. It. And Pippa Nixon had me absolutely in awe of her Rosalind; her Epilogue was something else. Honourable mentions must also go out to Touchstone (Nicolas Tennant), Orlando (Alex Waldmann) – safe to say my theatre buddy was in love with this one – and Celia (Joanna Horton) who are all down as pretty darn good in my books. Not that that means anything whatsoever in the world of acting. 

After my raised hand going completely unnoticed at the Hamlet post-show natter I made sure it was clear as day after As you like it – without having to wave it around, luckily. My emphatically deep and literary question of "Did you find owt new in the text?" I joke: "Did this particular production and modernisation bring out anything in the text that you hadn't seen before, or that surprised you?" quoth I, "[the relationship between Adam [servant] and I [Orlando], especially when he offered me all of his life savings didn't make a real impact until we performed it and I saw this man who'd I'd known for years offering me all he had – that was when it really hit me how much that gesture meant]" something-along-the-lines-of and something-hopefully-similar-to that, quoted he whilst looking directly at me and not addressing his answer to anyone else. Not that I teased Katie with that AT all. I liked him for his acting, she for his looks! Believe what you will... 

Before the show, as me and KT are complete foodies, we tried another Pilgrim Street establishment. Popolo's is like an American dinner with an Italian twist. And the food is GOOD. 

We both opted for the special flat breads which were full of lovely stuff, but maybes a tad dry. We finished the lot though so mustn't of been that bad eh!

Though I have plenty of opinions to keep filling this never ending page, I feel that for the last play of the season, all that needs to be said is All's Well that Ends Well. And don't excuse my pun, because I quite liked it.

And because I just can't help myself:

+ Natalie Klamar  (Diana) was fantastic
+ As were Joanna Horton (Helena) and Alex Waldmann (Bertram) – and no not just for his flaming good looks! Sheesh what do you take me for?
+ Jonathan Slinger (Parolles) was very good but his accent confused me: was it Yorkshire, or was it not?

Aside from the RSC, please watch and share this video:


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