Theatre Review: Richard II by Bronzehead Theatre

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Richard II by William Shakespeare, produced by Bronzehead Theatre
Wed 8th July 2015, Stained Glass Centre, St. Martin-cum-Gregory, York

Director Tom Straszewski pays apt homage to the garden of England so worshipped in this underperformed historical play by decking out a fully committed site-sensitive performance with vines, flowers, ladders and live turf lining the aisle of his actors’ traverse stage.

The concept really sings, not only providing the cast with a rich, live environment to interact with but also immersing the audience in the nostalgic musk of British camping holidays (it was a wet night on Wednesday), evoking an apropos sense of longing for a happier past; the days before Richard’s realm began to rot.

Live music is provided by one-woman-band Stephanie Hill, and at one point a capella by the entire cast, augmenting the driving motivations behind various powerful moments in the action. Lighting is also effectively, and sparingly, deployed: Richard’s lamp-lit musing in the darkness of his cell is incredibly intimate and commanding, and Bolingbroke’s closing speech, perched above green spotlights, is equally affecting.

Mark Burghagen plays a cream-suited Richard, sharp-eyed and feline, while Amy Millns is a pumped-up, righteous Bolingbroke. They are accompanied by a multi-roling ensemble: Geraldine Bell (Duchess of York/Salisbury/Bushy/Hotspur), Mick Liversidge (John of Gaunt/Green/Northumberland), Richard Easterbrook (Duke of York/Mowbray) and Elizabeth Cook (Aumerle/Willoughby).

Burghagen’s performance is truly delectable. Poetic speeches are elucidated with humanity, making this unusual hero entirely relatable. He is captivated, and thus captivating, in every moment.

The exposed nature of the production feeds the essence of humanity that runs ripe through its veins. The cast tread tenderly through their live set, forming a tight-knit collective to execute stunts and fights right under the audience’s noses. Though there is a tendency to drop into caricature to differentiate between roles, poignant and stirring speeches are delivered by both Liversidge and Easterbrook, and one cannot help but will on every character toward their disparate destinies.

This is a measured, thoughtful, inspiring take on a story that one could be forgiven for forgetting is an old one. It is fresh, alive and exciting.

Having now completed their York run, Bronzehead are now touring to:

Wednesday 15th July, 7.30pm
Richmond Friary Gardens
Tickets: £12, £10 concessions (U16/OAP/JSA)

Thursday 16th July, 7.30pm
Helmsley Walled Garden
Tickets: £12, £8 concessions (U16/OAP/JSA), available via Helmsley Arts Centre

Friday 17th July, 7.30pm
The Tudor Garden, Poppleton Tithe Barn
Tickets: £14 adults, £10 concessions (U16/OAP/JSA)

Saturday 18th July, 7pm
Pontefract Castle
Advance tickets: £10 adults, £5 children, £25 family (2 adults and 2 children)
On the gate: £12.50 adults, £6 children, £30 family

Sunday 19th July, 7pm
Harrogate Valley Gardens
Tickets: £14 adults, £10 concessions (U16/OAP/JSA)

Theatre Review: The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde by Theatre Mill

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6th February – 22nd March 2015, The Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, York

“Man is not truly one, but truly two.”

Theatre Mill deliver as promised an engaging site-specific experience beginning before the venue doors even open, and carrying the audience through the lobby – now a period pub complete with warming fire, period-style drinks and posters, and committed supporting cast creating an atmosphere from the off.

“Is there a Ladies’?”
“Of course, Madam, indoors as well!”

A brief encounter with an effusive, wary character called Rosie made me feel welcome and drawn in, though I was happy to leave her working on the macabre drawings of her visions that she had showed me when the time came to pass through to the auditorium.

The medieval guildhall is converted to Victorian London with disconcerting ease, foreboding fog creeping from crates in corners and footlights dimming under a green haze. Maids, bartenders and staff of the house of Dr Jekyll flutter through the auditorium, whispering their worries over the master’s recent habits.

Adam David Elms takes on narrator Gabriel John Utterson, David Chafer plays Dr Hastings Lanyon, and Viktoria Kay is Eleanor Lanyon, with James Weaver in the titular role.

Each of the cast save Weaver play a variety of roles, appearing from dark corners and behind pillars in an all-new guise, giving the performance a rich flavour of London society of the time. All are impressive and winning. A favourite of mine was Chafer’s patient, weary-looking butler, providing a touching, unspoken level of knowing and support for Jekyll that perhaps he did not even realise was there.

Weaver brings a worn, desperate quality to Robert Louis Stevenson’s driven doctor that tells from the first of tragedy and compromise. Indeed, the action begins with a sequence that is later revisited, instating the ominous tone and highlighting the precious value of hindsight in this particular ‘strange case’.

The design is incredibly effective; colourful, simple, versatile, smoothly adjusted. Hanging lights become streetlamps, laboratory surfaces become beds with neat theatrical trickery that calls on years of discourse between actors and audience to continue a willing suspension of disbelief.

The soundtrack is also notable; a continuous, fluid soundscape that efficiently serves to amplify the feelings on stage. It works in seamless conjunction with the narrative-driven lighting design.

Violent scenes are slick and, dare I say, enjoyable, and handled as tastefully as gothic should be.

Theatre Mill are a company to keep your eye on for an exciting, satisfying storytelling experience.

Find out more about the company and their productions here.

Cleo the Cat

Every writer needs a cat friend. Cleo is a four-ish-year-old rescue cat who came to live with us a few weeks ago. She’s unusually (adorably) small, which makes me think she may, far-back, be some kind of pygmy blend. She likes company, being sung/hummed to, and treading cautiously outside while you supervise. She’s a bit like a dog; she sniffs loudly, snores and farts, and drags her favourite toy around, making a scraping noise (that absolutely kills me) as she goes, because it’s a scarily-realistic mouse on the end of some elastic attached to a tube of paper. She is also obsessed with a paper KFC bag, and not the book-page-covered cardboard box that we lovingly prepared and filled with a fleecey tiger onesy before she got here.

You can follow Cleo’s more high-brow movements and musings on Twitter at @mycatissmart

Back in the Habit #6 : Embedded

Today's inspiration

Today’s inspiration

They remain. They stayed behind after the busyness. The louder times. They are here, ‘embedded’, as a stranger might say, but not quite, as a native would know. Too gentle a word for the result of natural, unavoidable processes. A kindly word to nature for its noble choice. Art through entrapment. The hills clasping in the product, engulfing its desperate arms until all is quiet.

But this was their choice. They chose to live adventure.

Standing on the horizon, feeling impossible, and feeling the presence of the truly impossible, anyone could tell you they are there. The mountain face looks altered because of their energy, like a dream full of clenched-fists, a replay of a conversation as yet unspoken. There is only purple sky and green mountain, unreal saturation and stillness lurking openly underneath and all around.

Tidiness. Not emptiness, but tidiness. Everything has been shuffled away into its place. Tucked into corners in the rocks, bedded down in moss, invisible. Care is being taken.

One can only wonder what brought them here. There is only a vast unreality. Perhaps this is the reward for real adventurers. It is terrifying to think of what might have become of them, in all this time. How altered they might be.

This space always belonged to others. And it will again. Each of them may leave their signature on it, lifetimes reduced to remnants. They will not all be seen. We can never truly know our predecessors, their dreams or intentions.

Your beginning is a remnant itself now. The only path is the unknown. There is some comfort in the limitation, and yet the purple looks flat, rejecting, like a mental blockade. It is not present. Not like them. Surrounding this spot is the air of neglect, turned backs. Nature has departed to something more important. In stifling solitude you see only yourself. Your own smell, your lonely breathing sounds, your wide eyes bereft of kindly cues from predators.

The wind is silent, yet tempts one to call out. Though you are blind to all but your very self; urge on, adventurer.

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Back in the Habit #4 : Knocking

The room stops. Time is a pair of twins speaking to each other telepathically, secretively concocting new history beyond the control of others.

She looks at you, stock still. She scratches her right cheek, which sags worryingly, as if it might come away, like wet cake.

She looks through you. She knocks on the air as if there were a window between you, and you realise the idea has come to you because the sound was made. The sound of knocking on glass.

She continues to stare. She looks down, sodden and downtrodden; sighs. She looks out of the window, emanating a long-lived disappointment. The street activity is reflected in her glassy eyes under raised eyebrows.

She looks into you, challenging, waiting. The moment is important, and you are incredibly capable of failure. The air is thick and absent. She knocks again.

The starch-stiff waves of her hair, frozen in a long-dead moment of stress unimaginable to your generation, captures your attention long enough to remind you that you are supposed to be looking at her face. Anticipating. Seeing her. She is already looking at you. You are late.

The twins continue to look, to communicate. They are reviewing. A pause in the process of creation. Your decision is paramount. It is urgent.