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Review Round-up: Projection Hampers Bridge

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The second season of Sam Mendes’ three-year Bridge Project got underway at the Old Vic last week (23 June 2010, previews from 12 June), with the opening of As You Like and {The Tempest::L01157819038}, with an acting company led by Stephen Dillane (who had to withdraw from the 2008 Bridge company due to family reasons).

Dillane plays sorcerer Prospero in The Tempest and the world-weary Jacques in As You Like. He’s joined in the cross-cast, Anglo-American company by Britons Juliet Rylance (Miranda in The Tempest, Rosalind in As You Like), and David Tennant’s Hamlet understudy-turned-leading man Edward Bennett (Ferdinand/Oliver) and Americans Christian Camargo (Ariel/Orlando), Ron Cephas Jones (Caliban/Charles the Wrestler), Thomas Sadoski (Stephano/Touchstone) and Michelle Beck (Ceres/Celia).

As You Like and {The Tempest::L01157819038} continue in rep until 31 August 2010.

  • Maxwell Cooter on Whatsonstage.com (AYLI = five stars, Tempest = three stars) - “Of the two productions, As You Like is by far the better, not least thanks to the excellent Juliet Rylance as Rosalind, smitten with love from the first and seemingly perpetually on the brink of revealing her deception as Ganymede … There's also a genuinely funny Jacques from Stephen Dillane - rather than sucking melancholy from song, he finds humour in everything and even finds time to deliver a Bob Dylan impersonation … The Tempest has an altogether darker hue. Dillane retains the same crumpled academic-gone-to-seed look that he adopted for Jacques but his quietly spoken charms were difficult to pick out from the front of the stalls, nevermind the back row of the circle … It doesn’t really catch fire though. Dillane’s understated Prospero is a bit too peripheral to the action and while there’s much to admire in the ensemble playing, Tom Piper’s set design and Mark Bennett’s percussive music, it’s rather in the shade of As You Like."
  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph (Tempest = 2 stars, ALYI = 4 stars) - “The Tempest in particular was almost entirely scuppered by a vocally underpowered performance from the usually excellent Stephen Dillane as Prospero in which for long stretches his absent-minded muttering was barely audible even from the sixth row of the stalls where I was sitting… Almost everything about this Tempest is disappointing, with none of the vitality and invention that Mendes brought to this most mysterious of dramas for the RSC more than a decade ago… Only Anthony O’Donnell who plays Trinculo like a depressive, down-at-heel music hall comedian, and Juliet Rylance as a touching, radiant Miranda really shine. Mercifully As You Like proves stronger, though the mixture of British and American accents doesn’t strike me as helpful in this most English of comedies ... Once again Rylance shines as a fervent, tender Rosalind, whose wooing scenes (disguised as a boy) with her real-life husband, Christian Carmargo, as Orlando, have a lovely mixture of comedy, eroticism and rapt wonder about them. For all its merits, however, even this production strikes me as inferior to Mendes’ best work when he was director of Donmar Warehouse.”
  • Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard (three stars) - “Mendes interprets As You Like - sometimes treated as if it’s a fairy-free A Midsummer Night’s Dream - as a wintry tale. He suggests that the journey towards love is arduous; while its rewards are apparent, they feel uncertain… Orlando, played with brooding astringency by Christian Camargo, flees persecution at court and is followed by Rosalind, a quavery and at times eagerly kooky Juliet Rylance. Mendes’s take on The Tempest is restrained, even anaemic. It begins in a deliberately listless fashion, and seldom lives up to the romance and poetry of this tragicomedy of lost illusions. Musically the production is satisfying. Yet for all the moments of ethereal dreaminess it suffers from a lack of power. It’s a thoughtful staging, bucking fashion in its lack of colonial symbolism, but there’s not enough heart and certainly not enough magic. Dillane is the magus Prospero, pensive on his desert island… His observations are dry. There’s intelligence here, but it’s hard to believe this shabby loafer could summon storm clouds or enact a grand scheme of re-conciliation, and when he turns up the volume his passion fails to convince.”
  • Paul Taylor in the Independent - "In practice ... these hit-and-miss productions do little to substantiate Mendes' claim that they form 'a single gesture, a single journey'. Handsomely designed and engagingly acted, they don't emerge as a joint revelation and fail to add up to more than the sum of their parts. Stephen Dillane is in his element as a wittily world-weary Jaques in the lively, modern dress As You Like... In The Tempest, the production finds many striking ways of highlighting Prospero's control of events… The inwardness and privacy of this Prospero is taken, at times, to the extreme of muttering near-inaudibility. For all its pleasures, though, the production feels faintly underpowered; you don't sense that Mendes was bursting to direct the play. At the end of the matinee-and-evening marathon on Thursday, the applause was warm and respectful but stopped short of the standing ovation customary at such events.”
  • Michael Billington in the Guardian (Tempest = 2 stars, AYLI = 3 stars) - “Aside from the fact they both deal with exile, usurpation and sibling hostility, there is little obvious link between these two Shakespeare plays… The best thing about The Tempest is its visual coherence. Eschewing the fashionable colonial reading, Mendes presents the play as a piece of meta-theatre with Prospero an all-controlling director-playwright… Fortunately, there is some admirably clear speaking from Edward Bennett's Ferdinand and Ron Cephas Jones' Caliban to reinforce what might have been a valid directorial concept… With As You Like, we are on much safer ground. Mendes' modern-dress production starts grippingly with Christian Camargo's Orlando virtually throttling his saturnine brother. Duke Frederick's court is also a darkly tyrannical place with the wrestling-bout staged under a sinisterly swinging overhead lamp… When Edward Bennett's Oliver announces that kindness is 'nobler ever than revenge' it is even possible to detect a hidden, if unexplored link, with The Tempest.
  • Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail (Tempest = 1 star, AYLI = 4 stars) - “Mr Dillane strives for something laid-back and introspective. That is why he delivers his lines so softly. But I looked down my row quite near the front of the stalls at The Tempest and saw at least four people cupping their ears … We will deal briefly with The Tempest. This is a fey interpretation of the irritating old fairy yarn … The reconciliation scene is quite affecting, but apart from that I'm afraid this production did nothing to reduce my resistance to The Tempest. The As You Like is far better. Juliet Rylance is a beautiful , throaty, funny Rosalind. She performs with winning conf idence and completely rules the show … The play does not really take off until we reach the forest where 'Dook' Senior (Michael Thomas) lives in exile. Mr Dillane is again hard to hear, but his Jaques i s sardonic and indisputably English and, for me, a success … The music features acoustic drumming and some lovely on-stage violin work. Sturdy folk songs, competent yokelling led by Anthony O'Donnell, comical country copulatives starring Jenni Barber as busty Audrey and Ashlie Atkinson as a hefty Phoebe: there is plenty to enjoy here.”
  • Libby Purves in The Times (AYLI = 3 stars, Tempest = 4 stars) - "I always find As You Like tricky. The insouciant rejection of naturalism in the plot takes it to the extreme edge even of Shakespeare comedies ... Juliet Rylance is a bravely larky, puppyish Rosalind, and the American Michelle Beck her foxy foil. But not all the cast are at ease with the verse: there is a touch of rote-speaking Shakespeareitis, where word-by-word significance is mislaid in a quest for character. A few cuts in the word-play would have helped ... But it is the second production by director Sam Mendes and his US/UK cast that quickens the breath. If As You Like is full of poetically inauthentic behaviour in a fantasy forest, The Tempest, for all its magic, is deeply human. The cast also finds that joyful alliance of transatlantic talent which is the aim of the Bridge project, notably in the comedic pairing of Trinculo (Anthony O’Donnell of the RSC) and Stephano (Thomas Sadoski from Broadway) who clearly spark one another off beautifully ... Dillane gives us rare grace and nobility as he evolves from initial vengefulness into weary forgiveness."

    - Ellie Pullen & Theo Bosanquet

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