Thursday, 24 April 2014

Mini Stage Reviews (Mojo, Richard II, Coriolanus)

Somehow I've set a new record for myself. Since October I've managed to see about six different stage productions but I haven't got round to reviewing any of them. There's no way I can write detailed, full-length reviews for all of them now so I've decided to do mini-reviews for most of these stage productions. I've tackled three of them in this post. I will be writing a longer review for the most recent stage production I've seen though so you might want to keep your eyes peeled for that :)

Mojo (Harold Pinter Theatre)
Mojo is a black comedy that was written by Jez Butterworth (who was only 25 at the time). It originally debuted at the Royal Court Theatre in 1995 and it went on to win the Olivier Award for Best Comedy. The original production starred Andy Serkis, Tom Hollander and Aidan Gillen. The play was directed by Ian Rickson who also directed the revival production I saw. Mojo is set in Soho, London in the year 1958. It starts off with a 17 year old rock and roll singer called Silver Johnny practising some dance moves backstage at a nightclub called Ezra's Atlantic. The next day we discover that the owner of the nightclub has been murdered and that Johnny has been kidnapped by a rival nightclub owner and gangster. A group of nightclub workers are all scared that they might be next. They hide out at the nightclub over the weekend so they can wait for the situation to blow over. However, tensions within the group are running very high and accusations soon start flying around. This creates a strained atmosphere and things don't end well.

To be honest I went into this play "blind". I knew nothing about it and I only wanted to see it because it was starring Ben Whishaw and Colin Morgan. Now that I've seen Mojo I wouldn't say I became a fan of the play itself. The story wasn't really my cup of tea. It reminded me of Quentin Tarantino's films and I'm not a Tarantino fan. There was too much bad language for my liking as well. I can get past some bad language in stories but not when every other word seems to be a swear! But I still managed to enjoy Mojo because of its cast. Its characters would all be really unlikeable on paper but the actors were great and they all brought a lot of humour to their roles. Ben Whishaw was my favourite in the cast. His character was creepy, mentally unstable and violent but Whishaw still managed to make him sympathetic. He even got to sing in this play and I was hugely impressed with his voice! I can completely understand why they've cast him as Freddie Mercury in that upcoming Queen biopic!

There were quite a few big names in Mojo. I've seen Colin Morgan do stage work before (The Tempest) but I think he was even better in this play. His character was twitchy, dim, awkward and absolutely nothing like Merlin. I enjoyed his interactions with Ben Whishaw and Brendan Coyle - and his final scene was quite sad. Rupert Grint made his stage debut in this play and I was really surprised at how good he was. He was really funny. I'd never seen Daniel Mays act in anything before Mojo but I'd heard really good things about his acting and I really liked his performance in the play. He was really flamboyant and energetic. I seem to remember him getting all of the funniest lines and he had great chemistry with Rupert Grint. Brendan Coyle was in this play and is probably most famous for playing Mr Bates in Downton Abbey although to me he'll always be Nicholas Higgins from North and South (2004). Coyle brought a lot of gravitas to his role and was slightly sinister. As Tom Rhys Harries plays Silver Johnny he's off-stage for most of the play and he doesn't get anywhere near as much to do as the others. He was still very good in the few scenes that he was in though and hopefully he'll go on to do bigger things.

Rating: 4/5
*If the cast hadn't been so good it would have probably gotten a 3/5 or mabe even a 2/5 rating.*

Richard II (Barbican Theatre)
Richard II is the first in a cycle of history plays by William Shakespeare. The play covers the final two years of King Richard II's life. Richard isn't a very popular king. He's weak, vain and indecisive. When a feud between his cousin Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray leads to a duel, Richard impulsively interrupts it and banishes them both. When Bolingbroke's father John of Gaunt then dies of grief, Richard takes his cousin's inheritance and uses it to help fund his war in Ireland. This deeply angers the English nobility. Several noblemen then smuggle Bolingbroke back into the country, execute some of Richard's courtiers, and build an army to overthrow Richard while he's away in Ireland. Richard is then overthrown and his family is torn apart by treachery and murder. This production of Richard II was directed by Gregory Doran for the RSC. It was performed in Stratford-upon-Avon before it transferred to London (which is where I got to see it).

I didn't go into this play "blind" like I did with Mojo. I was already familiar with Richard II thanks to the BBC's The Hollow Crown. I wouldn't say that Richard II is one of my absolute favourite Shakespeare plays but I like it very much indeed and The Hollow Crown's version of it is spectacular. Ben Whishaw is magnificent as Richard II. *Is this turning into a Ben Whishaw appreciation post?* I love David Tennant as well and when I heard that he was doing Richard II I of course wanted to see him do the role. I'm surprised I even managed to get tickets for it because the production apparently sold out really quickly!

With this play I was really impressed with its overall production. It had medieval-looking costumes and sets which I definitely appreciated. I'm open-minded enough to enjoy more modern interpretations of Shakespeare's work but I do have a preference for historically accurate settings. The production was quite modern in one respect though because the action took place on different levels (e.g. balconies). I loved the costumes and the use of lighting in the play. I loved the live singing. They had three sopranos sing at various points in the play and the choral music gave it a lot of atmosphere.

Even though I rushed to buy tickets for this production I had a hard time picturing David Tennant as Richard II. I was sure that he'd be excellent but I had a harder time picturing him as Richard II than I did for Hamlet and Benedick from Much Ado About Nothing. Tennant really did turn out to be a great Richard though. He's such a versatile actor! In many ways Tennant's portrayal was very similar to Ben Whishaw's. Their Richards are both effeminate, arrogant and impulsive. Whishaw's Richard is more vulnerable and child-like than Tennant's though and I remember Tennant's Richard being funnier and more aggressive. I have to say that Tennant's portrayal didn't leave me as powerfully affected as Whishaw's but I still really loved him in the role and I had a great night. Of the supporting cast I really loved the actors who played the Duke and Duchess of York (Oliver Ford Davies and Marty Cruickshank). They were really funny and entertaining. This production emphasised the humour of the play in general which was nice.

This might not be very relevant but I have to say I loved the Barbican venue! It's quite modern but it has the most comfortable seats out of any of the West End theatres that I've been to. And the seats are staggered so you'll have a good view wherever you sit :)

Rating: 5/5

Coriolanus (Donmar Warehouse) - National Theatre Live
Coriolanus is one of Shakespeare's historical tragedies and is set just before the establishment of the Roman republic. It tells the story of Caius Martius who is a brilliant Roman soldier. He then goes into battle and almost single-handedly captures the town of Corioles. To honour his achievement Martius is given the official name of Coriolanus. The people of Rome rejoice and he's given a hero's welcome when he returns. Coriolanus then decides to use his new-found popularity to enter into the field of politics. However his enemies, Sisinia and Brutus, use his temper and anti-democratic views to their advantage and manipulate the public into turning against him. He's branded a traitor and cast out of the city. This leaves Coriolanus feeling bitter and completely betrayed. He teams up with his former arch-nemesis Tullus Aufidius and plots a vicious assault upon Rome.

This stage production of Coriolanus was directed by Josie Rourke who also directed the David Tennant-Catherine Tate production of Much Ado About Nothing back in 2011. This production of Coriolanus starred Tom Hiddleston, Mark Gatiss and Hadley Fraser. I'm a huge fan of all of these men so as soon as I found about this production of Coriolanus I was dying to see it :D I wasn't able to get tickets for the live production in the end. The Donmar is a famously small venue and its tickets can be extremely hard to come by. In fact this entire production of Coriolanus was sold out in just under 20 minutes! But thankfully I was able to see the live broadcast of this production at my local cinema and I loved it. Tom Hiddleston was magnificent in the title role. I really do think that his performance is going to go down in theatre history. He was clearly giving it his everything in the role: both physically and emotionally. Hiddleston played Coriolanus exactly as the character should be played. I could buy him as a soldier and he made the character sympathetic whilst still portraying all of Coriolanus's negative traits. He gave an extremely layered and intelligent performance. Also, the scene where Coriolanus cries when his family are pleading with him to save Rome was beautifully-acted and deeply moving. He was amazing in the role.

Mark Gatiss played Menenius in Coriolanus. Meninius is probably the most sympathetic character in Coriolanus and Gatiss played him really well. He brought a lot of humour to the role and his sadness at Coriolanus's behaviour towards the end was quite sad to see. There was this one aspect of Gatiss's performance that I did find unintentionally amusing though. At one point Gatiss patted his stomach and it reminded me so much of his Mycroft Holmes that I laughed out loud! :D No-one else laughed and I'm sure it wasn't meant to be funny but oh well! Hadley Fraser is one of my favourite musical theatre stars and he played Tullus Aufidius in Coriolanus, a rare non-singing role for him. The Volscians were given northern accents in the play and although Hadley Fraser's accent was a bit over the top I still really liked his performance. I hope to see him in more non-singing roles. Not too many though, I love his singing too much for that! Fraser worked really well with Tom Hiddleston and they had a pretty cool sword fight at one stage. I know some reviewers have complained about the homoerotic elements of Aufidius's relationship with Coriolanus being played up in this production but it didn't bother me. It's very heavily implied in the text itself and they didn't play it up anywhere near as much as they could have done. Aufidius only kisses Coriolanus once in a way that I wouldn't describe as being particularly passionate or erotic

As for the rest of the cast: Deborah Findlay gave a powerhouse performance as Coriolanus's mother Volumnia. She'd make a terrific Lady Macbeth! Birgitte Hjort Sørensen played Coriolanus's wife Virgilia and brought a lot of sensitivity to the role.Her role contrasted quite nicely with the cold and ambitious Volumnia. Elliot Levy and Helen Schlesinger played Coriolanus's enemies Brutus and Sisinia and they worked really well together. Schlesinger's character is a man in Shakespeare's text but was rewritten as a woman for this particular production so that she could be in a romantic relationship with Brutus. It worked surprisingly well. Alfie Enoch had a minor role in this play as Titus Lartius which made me happy. Alfie Enoch played Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter films and Bainbridge in the Sherlock episode The Sign of Three. Titus Lartius is a pretty minor role but Enoch played him well.

I think Coriolanus was a hugely underrated play and apart from a few minor issues I really enjoyed this production. I do really envy the people who got to see the production live but by seeing a filmed version of the play I was able to get close-ups of the actor's faces and I got to focus on characters that I might not have thought to pay attention to during certain scenes.

As I mentioned, there were a couple of things about this production that I didn't really like sadly. In the interval of the recording Josie Rourke gives an interview with Emma Freud and all Freud can talk about is Tom Hiddleston's sexiness. Like... seriously? This production has one of the best actors in the world right now who is giving an absolutely amazing performance in the title role! And all she can ask Rourke about is his sexiness?! Show some bloody respect! Also, the ending of this production is more depressing than the ending of the written text. In the written text Aufidius and the Volscians are filled with sadness after they kill Coriolanus. They then decide to honour his memory and give him a hero's funeral. But in this particular version Aufidius doesn't seem to be the slightest bit upset about Coriolanus's death. He even bathes in his blood! Admittedly this is probably a much more realistic ending but it's quite a downer! But still, I did really love this production.

Rating: 5/5


samara said...

Loved your reviews - especially of the 2 Shakespeare plays! I missed NT Live's airing of Tennant's Richard II, sadly. But did catch Coriolanus. It was brilliant and I'm terribly bummed he didn't win the Olivier for it. Have you seen the Fiennes / Butler film version of Coriolanus? I enjoyed Fiennes portrayal, but thought Hiddleston, as a younger Coriolanus, made so much more sense. He came off more as a teenage boy that never really grew up - hungry for blood and violence, saying rash things before he's thought them through, still cowering to his mother, etc... Anyways. Thoroughly enjoyed it! And as for Richard II, I'm going to start the Hollow Crown soon :)

Hannah said...

Thank you! Although I thought you might to be honest ;)

I was really upset about Hiddleston not winning the Olivier too. Maybe Kinnear deserved it but still :( I still haven't seen the Fiennes version yet - although I want to - but I've heard that Hiddleston is one of the youngest actors to take on the role. That really surprised me! You're right. It makes so much more sense for Coriolanus to be a younger man and it makes his flaws more understandable.

Oh you're in for an absolute treat when you watch The Hollow Crown. It's amazing! :) It's a shame you missed the NT recording of Richard II but it's worth checking out the NT website from time to time. They do encore screenings occasionally.