The last time I was at Stratford theatre was a school trip to see Macbeth, which we were studying for GCSE - or GCEs as they were then. That was about 40 years ago. It made no great impression on me.
Years later, Kenneth Branagh came along and, for me at least, re-invented Shakespeare. He made the Bard deeply interesting, enjoyable, highly watchable and thoroughly rewarding. He inspired me to delve deeper into the plays and find even richer rewards in the magnificent language. Then I started going to other stage productions including Henry V and Lear at the Globe, Twelfth Night at the Donmar, and Antony Sher's Macbeth at the Young Vic. All vibrant, flowing, highly enjoyable productions, which left one yearning for more.
So it was time to go back to Stratford, the cradle of Shakespearean stagecraft, home of the renowned RSC. A Saturday night hotel bill, tickets for two, a meal and petrol meant a total bill of some £300. I was sure it would be worth it. Sadly, I was so wrong.
Has the RSC learned nothing? Why is it still locked in a mid-20th Century (or earlier) approach to Shakespeare, which involves most of the cast standing stiff as trees on a wide open stage and delivering their lines as though they had just learned them in class and had been told by their teacher to recite them? Why does the rest of the cast just stand there in mute immovable wonder as this process goes on? Where is the fluidity? Where is the movement? Where is the action?
I know the words are mostly magnificent, but they are not all there is. Stagecraft is supposed to add to them, not serve as a stillborn anonymous adjunct.
The exception was Henry Goodman as Richard III. Whilst there may be unease at his presentation of Richard as something of a clown prince rather than an evil manipulating tyrant, still he was never less than interesting, never static, never boring.
And surely it is is time that the wailing and gnashing of teeth approach to Shakespeare, epitomised by the Olivier era, was consigned to the bin? Was it necessary, for example, for Shelia Reed as Queen Margaret to drag out e-v-e-r-e-e-e s-y-l-l-l-l-a-b-l-l-e of e-v-e-r-e-e-e w-o-r-r-r-d as though she was reluctant to let them go?
Overall, a huge and boring disappointment. And the seats were SO uncomfortable with such restricted legroom. Perhaps it IS time to demolish this inferior theatre and start again.
Can I have my money back please?
- USER: Whatsonstage.com (18.104.22.168)
03 Oct 03
Note to the idiot who decided to obscure Goodman's face with a huge birthmark: TRY SITTING IN A BLOODY BALCONY SEAT! It's hard enough to read actors' facial expressions at the best of times! For God's sake demolish this theatre at the earliest opportunity - it must be the least audience-friendly in England. - USER: Whatsonstage.com (22.214.171.124)
21 Aug 03
A wasted opportunity, despite a good cast. The director's decision to update the play to Edwardian times scuppers the entire production, and Henry Goodman's Richard seems to inhabit a different universe to the rest of the cast. On the night I saw the show there were many empty seats and the audience obviously didn't know what the hell to make of it all. Despite some good performances I came away feeling that this show was another nail in the RSC's coffin - although it isn't quite as bad as the same director's "Measure For Measure", also pointlessly updated. - USER: Whatsonstage.com (126.96.36.199)
16 Aug 03
Goodman is mesmeric throughout and it is quite an old fahioned production in that it concentrates very much on the star in the title role. Althought there are very good supporting performances from Maureen Beattie and Malcolm Sinclair. - USER: Whatsonstage.com (188.8.131.52)
12 Aug 03
Oh dear, oh dear. Don't waste the train fare. This one is truly a dud. The director, Sean Holmes - may he never do another one - has insisted on an Edwardian music hall idea and poor Henry Goodman has to do a comic turn while the rest of the cast try to do the play. Towards the end, Goodman shows us a little of the great performance he could have given but by then it is too late. - USER: Whatsonstage.com (184.108.40.206)
06 Aug 03
Sean Holmes has concentrated on the persuasiveness and humour of Richard as opposed to the interpretation that he is pure evil and Goodman is wonderfully able to do this. It brought something new to the play for once. And believe me, it is a far better piece than Holmes's Measure for Measure!
- USER: Whatsonstage.com (220.127.116.11)
06 Aug 03
This is a lot better than some of the reviews suggest. It seems that too many reviewers have based their expectations on Olivier's film Richard where the character was certainly evil personified. However, great as he was, it is almost impossible to see how Olivier's Richard ever wooed not one but two women let alone one on her way to her father in law's funeral. Richard IS evil, but he gets his way by being so personable. This is but one of Shakespeare's characters who are at their most dangerous when they smile. Sadly, in life people who are evil seldom wear a badge proclaiming them so and if they did, they wouldn't get far. It is true that Henry Goodman's character is more biased toward the craft than the evil, and that is a weakness, but not of the performance, but the material. We are expected to believe both aspects of Richard and it simply is not possible - don't forget this was relatively early Shakespeare. Perhaps what critics have labelled the Mr Punch side of Richard could be toned down a little, but this is a very good version of a play that too many people have pre-conceived ideas about. Perhaps the most intelligent critics do not leave the M25, but the reviews of this play strike me as naiive - a play is all the better for challenging our pre-conceptions, not reinforcing them. For me, this is another sign that the RSC is coming out of its coma. Original and entertaining Well done! - USER: Whatsonstage.com (18.104.22.168)
05 Aug 03
Any performance of Richard III inevitably rests on the lead - and Henry Goodman gives an excellent performance, somehow managing to make Richard shift from an opening remisicent of Jim Broadbent in Moulin Rouge to a Leonard Rossiterish character that works well. And while many of the supporting cast are fine (with Edward IV and Richmond better than fine), there are enough weak performances to make this only a middling production. While the play does not offer female roles much sympathy, only Maureen Beattie's Q Elizabeth is really convincing. Worth seeing for Goodman's portrayal, but otherwise a relatively mundane production. - USER: Whatsonstage.com (22.214.171.124)
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