Theatre Review: William Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens by York Shakespeare Project

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Photography by Dan Cashdan and Andrew Dyer

Thursday 14th May 2015, De Grey Ballroom, York

This challenging, lesser-known text of the Bard’s follows the fall of Timon (played by John Hoyland), a popular Athenian socialite whose unlimited generosity ultimately undoes him.

York Shakespeare Project and Director Ruby Clarke take on the text in an unforgiving performance space. The De Grey Ballrooms’ acoustics and seating arrangements are pretty poor, but the performance is enjoyable and winning enough to distract from these minor misgivings.

The inbuilt scenery of the ballroom is actually wonderfully fitting for the first act of the play which centres around Timon’s lavish parties. Crisp silk drapes, colourful bows and sashes, and paper birds dripping like jewels from the chandeliers provide a subtle, stylish setting for a production that brings out the tenderness and beauty of a story that is also fraught and tragic. Later these tensions are wrought out in the upturned furniture and darker fabrics that create Timon’s home in the wilderness.

Costumes are similarly reduced but garnished – household staff wear green silk waistcoats, artists don berets and lords flaunt silken sashes. The colour palette is as refined as the verse and the characters.

Choreographed dance and movement sequences showcase lubricated socialites, and sultry, sensual parades bring the ensemble cast together and give the show a real flavour of the focus on society, so that Timon’s break from the community is more weighty and stark.

The ensemble form a Greek chorus of distinguishable characters; in turn sleek, poised, fluid, and thoughtful. Rachel Price and Nick Jones are animated leaders of a loveable, supportive and entertaining energy that spreads throughout the cast.

Apemantus the philosopher (Cat Hall) appears in the hippy garb of 1980s white-African London, standing out from the crowd visually and vocally. An interesting choice for a fierce misanthrope. Hall’s performance is infused with knowing and spark to match.

“It grieves me to see so many dip their meat in one man’s blood”

Lucy Simpson is a perfectly effusive match for the loyal steward Flavius, sharing a moving, almost romantic connection with Hoyland’s Timon and conveying a torch of her master’s old benevolence in her interactions with others. Shakespeare loved to write opposites, contrasts and complements, and Flavius is arguably a more consistent, stable version of the love and generosity that burnt too brightly in Timon.

Hoyland himself brings strength, passion and warmth to both the open-hearted optimist and the wounded misanthrope that the title role contains. He expresses articulately a man in the height of blissful naivety, in a shocked rage, and in a disillusioned retirement.

A modern mix-tape of songs with disconcertingly meaningful lyrics feed these sequences with a flare of fun and thoughtfulness, including The Beatles’ ‘Money’, Simian’s ‘We Are Your Friends’ and a sedate cover of Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’. The timeless, poignant message of the play is illuminated in this non-specific time setting apt for philosophical pondering. Clarke brings a definitively compassionate touch to this beautiful production that seeks the balance between surviving with and without others.

Photography by Dan Cashdan and Andrew Dyer

Photography by Dan Cashdan and Andrew Dyer

Check out some beautiful production shots by Greg Veit here.

Follow the York Shakespeare Project’s updates here.

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Theatre Review: Babe, The Sheep-Pig & Animal Farm by Upstage Centre Youth Theatre

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Friday 8th May 2015, 41 Monkgate

Matt Harper directs Upstage’s Junior Team in a heartwarming production of the well-loved story Babe, adapted by David Wood from the book by Dick King Smith. Joshua Goodman leads the older group in a chilling retelling of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, adapted by Peter Hall.

A dirty wooden-fenced balcony doubles as Farms Hoggett and Manor to set the scene for these two very different stories. The audience walk in among checkered-shirt farm-hands sweeping the yard, and later, past a sullen, solitary Mr Jones nursing a pint of beer.

Upstage’s signature Greek chorus and physical choreography deployed throughout is adept, affecting and powerful. Every actor shines in these slick, thoughtful shows on thrust staging where characters frequently confront the audience, making them complicit in the fun, the tragedy and the horror of these stories.

The multi-roling ensemble includes Poppy Hargreaves (Babe), Lucy Horner (Fly), Georgia Gray, Verity Harris, Millie Hughes, Julia Morgan, Ella Smith and Nancy Wright; Will Gibbon, (Mr Jones / Napoleon), Katie Harrison (Clover), Cari Hughes (Old Major / Muriel), Naomi Jeffries (Squealer), Charlie Kirkpatrick (Snowball), Robin Morgan (Boxer) and Juliette Risingham (Mollie / Benjamin).

Harvey Carass’s stoic Farmer Hoggett, and Debbie Phillips’s sincere, eloquent Narrator stand out from the crowd.

Slow-motion sequences add gravitas and poignancy to violence in both plays, performed impressively by the cast.

Both shows sensitively question what it means to be human; where human ends and animal begins.

Another moving, exciting production from Upstage.

Find out more about the company here.

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Theatre Review: Bertolt Brecht’s Drums in the Night by York Settlement Community Players

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Thursday 30th April, Friargate Theatre

Translated by John Willett

As wars still rage and politics hold us hostage, this election term seems the perfect setting for Bertolt Brecht’s early play about passion, revolution, grief and action. YSCP bring an unusual choice of text to York’s attention to tie in with the centenary of World War One, which surrounded the birth of the script itself. And what could be more fitting than for twenty-four-year-old director Claire Morley to take on the play Brecht crafted at the same age; raw with response to the world he found himself in, and raring to share it.

Drums in the Night sees the return of war-changed soldier Andreas Kragler (George Stagnell) to his hometown and sweetheart Anna Balicke (Emma Dubruel) – now betrothed to war profiteer Friedrich Murk (James Witchwood) with the firm and watchful backing of her parents (Ian Giles and Beryl Nairn). The ensemble is made up by Andy Love, Sonia Di Lorenzo, Tim Holman and Mark Simmonds, with all but Stagnell playing multiple roles.

A traverse stage sat strictly laid out with minimal box furniture plastered in German newspaper pages and lit by a paper lantern red moon, transmitting from the first the ominous, oppressive, rousing tone of the story.

“Every man’s a hero in his own skin.”

Translated by John Willett, the text is at times clinical and at others poetic, and steeped in passionate feeling. There are moments of clunkiness, though this is well-handled by a tight-knit ensemble who comfortably and naturally deliver a convincing, moving performance full of weight.

“He feels like he’s dead but he won’t lie down.”

Notable performances are delivered by the two young lovers vying for Anna’s attention. Stagnell’s Kragler is desperate, fiery, emotional and torn, starkly set apart from the cynical, smug Murk that Witchwood presents. Kragler’s abrupt, unwelcome, stomach-churning first appearance reeks of the nightmare flashes of An American Werewolf in London, and Nairn, Giles and Dubruel are tangibly perturbed.

Dubruel brings grace and fragility to a heroine who is largely relegated to submission and victimhood, while Love provides the relief of a tender, paternal figure speaking spiritual sense under the din of drunken hysteria protracted by the Balickes.

Giles owns the stage in the opening, and rides a repetitive dialogue to raise the brimming tension in the first act. “What do you want?”

Smart, vogue costumes and impressive, disconcerting war wounds are provided by Helen Taylor and Natalie Heijm respectively, and Morley’s direction involves natural, flowing choreography that serves to keep the momentum in the roof throughout. A rushing sequence of identical long black coats makes for a chilling turning point.

“Stop that romantic staring.”

For all the uprising and overturning in this play, it remains a product of its time in that there isn’t much feminism to be seen. Female roles are stereotypical submissive heroines and plot points. Men clink glasses while women are noticeably uninvolved, and argue over their fates as if they are property. It would be interesting to see a production in which Anna has more chemistry and investment in her relationship with Murk, in order that we might see more of an internal struggle of two conflicting desires within her, rather than a play of misguided loyalty first to her parents and then to her lover.

Follow the York Settlement Community Players’ next moves here.