Enda Walsh & Cillian Murphy: ‘Ballyturk’ at The National Theatre

BALLYTURK

 

My reasons for going to see Ballyturk at The National Theatre are disgustingly shallow. When I saw that Enda Walsh’s new drama starred Peaky Blinders actor Cillian Murphy, I bought a ticket without hesitation; I have had unhealthy attraction to Murphy since I was about seventeen, and it was through this initial attraction/obsession that I also discovered Enda Walsh.

Amongst many other things, Murphy had starred in a small, independent Irish film called Disco Pigs (2001), which was based on the play of the same name, written by Enda Walsh. I bought and watched the film when I was around eighteen, and I loved it; partly because Murphy was a ferocious, unbearably attractive screen presence, and partly because Enda Walsh’s story was so unusual, unsettling and powerful. I also bought and read the play, and have been enjoying both ever since.

The idea of Walsh and Murphy collaborating again was too good to miss, so; this is why I went to see Ballyturk on the 8th of October. The play opened with Murphy in the spotlight, delivering his lines with an intimidating intensity. When the lights came up, next to him was Mikel Murfi in nothing but a pair of greying Y-fronts. What followed was a confusing, but entertaining 90 minutes of impersonations, perfectly executed physical and verbal comedy, and some highly uncomfortable (but necessary) silences.

Walsh’s script was beautiful, but also baffling. I am no theatre expert, but as a Literature student and an ex-drama student, I feel comfortable with most types of theatre. However, at times, Walsh’s words and plot were too abstract for my understanding (which I’m a bit ashamed to admit); and I left the play with more questions than answers. That may have been Walsh’s intention, but I feel a little unsatisfied by the ending, despite Murphy and Mikel’s powerhouse performances. However, I was chasing Murphy’s celebrity status when I bought the ticket; and as a result, have not paid enough attention to Ballyturk’s contexts; which is probably a criminal offence in the eyes of The National Theatre.

Ultimately, I’ve fulfilled a personal life goal (seeing Murphy in his underpants) and I would urge anyone with a taste for unusual, darkly comic theatre, to go and see Ballyturk at The National Theatre this year.

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Richard III at Trafalgar Studios – A Review

“And therefore, — since I cannot prove a lover,

To entertain these fair well-spoken days, —

I am determined to prove a villain,

And hate the idle pleasures of these days.”

 

Last year, I scored cheap tickets to the Trafalgar Transformed production of Macbeth, starring James McAvoy. It was a theatrical highlight for me; and I nearly lost my mind when I saw McAvoy’s blue eyes in the flesh.

This year, I scored slightly more expensive tickets to the Trafalgar Transformed production of Richard III, starring Martin Freeman; I nearly lost my mind when I saw Freeman’s beard in the flesh.

I had minimal knowledge of the play’s historical background, but I knew the basics. To confirm my existing knowlefe; I conducted a quick Google search, which revealed Richard III was a complex monarch, accused of many things; ranging from the murder of the two princes in the tower in 1483, to having a hunched back. With these details in mind, I sped-read Shakespeare’s tragedy on the train to London. As I progressed through it, I realised I was in for a night of regicide; infanticide, and incest. Shakespeare’s representation of the eponymous monarch was unflattering and unforgiving. I wondered how a remarkably charming actor, like Martin Freeman, would be able to portray such rancid qualities on stage. Rest assured reader; Freeman plays a villain to perfection. He delivered Shakespeare’s words with dark and devious aplomb. With a carefully characterised limp and hunched back; his familiar appearance was altered dramatically; allowing the audience to despise him anew.

The female cast were also superb. Gina McKee was flawless as Queen Elizabeth; her dialogue with Richard about the murder of her sons, and the sacrificial marriage of her daughter had me on the edge of my seat. Her desperation and grief were mirrored in her every movement. Lauren O’Neil’s delivery of Anne’s (Richard’s first wife) venomous dialogue was also mesmerising. I particularly enjoyed her spitting in Richard’s face; a moment I had been eagerly anticipating. Maggie Steed’s portrayal of the witch-like Queen Margaret was spell-binding; her deep and ominous voice matched her apathetic, prophetic scene-stealing stares.

Director Jamie Lloyd’s decision to use 1979/80s style sets and costumes perfectly complimented the events depicted in Shakespeare’s original script. As with Macbeth, Lloyd’s combination of apocalyptic lighting and sound effects enhance Shakespeare’s character soliloquies and asides; making them utterly unforgettable. His direction of Richard’s dream sequence was also chilling; no wonder we had trouble sleeping last night.

As for gore and bodily fluids; the stage was flooded with them. The murder of Richard’s brother, George of Clarence; was a particularly gruesome highlight. He was drowned in front of us in a fish tank that housed two living goldfish. As George drew his last breath; a stunned silence spread through the audience, as eerily as the fake blood that spread through the water. It was grim but glorious; as was Anne’s death by telephone cord, and the presentation of Lord Hastings’s blood-soaked, severed head. All were easily cleared away in seamless and often humorous stage transitions.

Ultimately; the team behind the Trafalgar Transformed production of Shakespeare’s Richard III, should be commended for their talent, their vision; and their ability to make me jump out of my skin with a single, ear-shattering sound effect.

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The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Gemma Arterton & The Duchess Of Malfi

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In 2011, I read and studied The Duchess of Malfi (1613) as part of my English Literature Degree with The Open University. I prefer reading novels to dramas, but I enjoyed this play because it tenaciously explored the themes of love, marriage, religion, betrayal and gender roles.

When I heard that Gemma Arterton would be playing the Duchess in the new production at The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, I was desperate to go. So desperate in fact, that I accidentally ruined my surprise Christmas gift of tickets to the play. I’ve been a fan of Arterton since I saw her in the BBC production of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbevilles. She broke my heart but restored my faith in human morality. This is why I had to see her as The Duchess.

On Sunday 9th of February I entered the brand-spanking-new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. As the name suggests, it is a tribute to the man who brought Shakespeare’s Globe back to London in 1997. The Playhouse is built in the style of an authentic Jacobean theatre, lit entirely by candlelight. In comparison with The Globe it’s tiny, but this only enhances the authentic atmosphere.

I stood in the upper circle with a slightly restricted view, but I was able to see Arterton in all her glory.  She was supported by a phenomenal cast, particularly David Dawson and James Garnon who played her obsessive brothers Ferdinand and The Cardinal. Dawson’s delivery was flawless and Garnon’s vanity and cruelty were mesmerising. Sean Gilder’s Bosola was equally as enthralling. The Duchess’ death scene was brutal, but Arterton confronted it like the professional that she is and captivated the entire audience.

It was a delight to watch Webster’s play by candlelight, and see one of my favourite actresses in the flesh. I’ll definitely be returning to The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in the future.

***Also: this play proves that the Bible is deadly (The Cardinal poisons its pages and tricks his mistress in to kissing it, resulting in her choking to death). Webster, you cunning atheist!

Re-blogged by The Belle Jar: Jessica Swale’s ‘Blue stockings’at Shakespeare’s Globe; Entertaining, Educational, Feminist Theatre.

The Belle Jar Magazine re-blogged my ‘Blue Stockings’ review!

Belle Jar

The barbarous custom to breed women low is grown general amongst us, and has prevailed so far, that it is verily believed…that Women are not endued with such Reason, as Men; nor capable of improvement by Education, as they are…’

Bethsua Makin (1673)

The above is a quote printed in my Blue Stockings programme. The programme is filled with fantastic information about the history of women’s education and the immense sacrifice women have made to earn the right to graduate. Last night’s performance of Blue Stockings at Shakespeare’s Globe was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe it only cost me £5 to watch it. I was so overwhelmed by the power of the story; I could barely speak after the close of the curtain.

Written by Jessica Swale, Blue Stockings follows the lives of four girls in nineteenth-century England who have been accepted…

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Jessica Swale’s ‘Blue Stockings’ at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

‘The barbarous custom to breed women low is grown general amongst us, and has prevailed so far, that it is verily believed…that Women are not endued with such Reason, as Men; nor capable of improvement by Education, as they are…’

Bethsua Makin (1673)

 

The above is a quote printed in my Blue Stockings programme. The pages are filled with information about the history of women’s education and the immense sacrifices women have made to earn the right to graduate. Last night’s performance of Blue Stockings at Shakespeare’s Globe was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. I can’t believe it only cost me £5 to watch it. I was so overwhelmed by the power of the story; I could barely speak after the close of the curtain.

Written by Jessica Swale, Blue Stockings follows the lives of four girls in nineteenth-century England who have been accepted to study at Girton College, Cambridge University. They are dubbed ‘blue stockings’ by the male students at Cambridge, who, like most  nineteenth-century men, believed that Education was a man’s business and that women could not understand, or participate in anything remotely intellectual. This ideology had been passed down for centuries and was accepted as social normality. Any woman that expressed a desire to learn was seen as ‘unnatural’. Science, Religion and Language blamed women’s supposed lack of intelligence on their physiology: The word ‘hysteria’ is derived from the Greek word for ‘womb’, which was ‘concrete proof’ that because of their biology women were ‘hysterical, unreliable, and physically unsuited to any kind of mental exertion. This is why the ‘blue stockings’ caused such controversy. Their self assertion and independence was seen as an ‘unnatural’ invasion of male life, a threat to patriarchal society.

The Girton girls sacrificed their reputations and their marriage eligibility in order to gain an education, something which was almost criminal in the eyes of nineteenth-century society.  Even after these sacrifices, even when the girl’s grades matched the boy’s grades and their rhetoric and passion was just as fierce; they were still denied the right to graduate. They were allowed to acquire the knowledge (that’s if they weren’t banned from lectures halls, classrooms, even bathroom facilities) but their efforts were not allowed to be recognised outside of the institution. Despite fierce efforts and campaigns to achieve graduation rights, which were met with misogynist protests of burning effigies of women in the street, train loads of hateful male students coming down to Girton in 1897, assaulting the men and women who supported women’s educational rights;  Women were not allowed to graduate until 1948. That’s only sixty-five years ago. I was unaware of this fact until last night.  Thanks to their perseverance, I will be able to graduate with a Literature degree in 2015.

As a student already looking forward to my Graduation day (provided I pass, of course!) I imagine that the female students of Girton College must have despaired when they realised that not only did they not have the right to
graduate, but even memebers of their own sex were against them.Women publicly shamed other women who were fighting for educational rights, and even female lecturers had to ‘tame’ their views in order to keep male superiors happy. They were terrified that their current position in the education system would be swiftly readjusted, setting them back even further in the fight for women’s education. I won’t reveal too much of the plot, but there were moments in Blue Stockings when I wanted to scream either a reprimand or supporting statement at the characters. I felt such frustration as an audience member; I find it difficult to comprehend how women must’ve really felt in the face of such real, horrific adversity.

When I arrived home, I spoke to my Mum about the play. She too, had no idea that women have only been allowed to graduate from universities for sixty-five years. She asked the question that I have been asking ever since I left school: why isn’t the history of women’s rights being taught in modern school history lessons? Surely it is a vital part of an equal curriculum. How have the Girton Girls and The Suffragettes been ignored after decades of protests and militant action? Why has the education system hushed the horrific misogyny that fuelled the violent protests against women’s graduation in 1897? Modern feminists are successfully tackling issues like updating sex education in our schools; I hope it’s not too long before history lessons are updated too.

Finally, I would like to openly thank Jessica Swale for writing such an entertaining, comical, educational, balanced piece of theatre. Women’s history is finally getting the attention it deserves.

‘The Scottish Play’ at The Globe Theatre.

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Joseph Millson as Macbeth at The Globe. 2013.

Yesterday I stood for three hours with my friends watching William Shakespeare’s Macbeth at The Globe Theatre in London. It’s the best five pounds I’ve ever spent, and the backache was minimal. It’s my third time visiting The Globe, but the first time I have not been seated for a performance.

I saw James McAvoy as Macbeth earlier in the year at the Trafalgar Studios and I didn’t think anyone could beat his portrayal. The direction of the play was phenomenal (See this blog post for a full account of the glory).

However, after seeing Macbeth performed in its traditional format, I am undecided about which version of the play I prefer. Jamie Lloyd’s transformation of the play’s setting in to a post-apocalyptic wasteland at The Trafalgar, was unique, and enhanced the cruelty of the action; but Eve Best’s understated, minimal setting at The Globe, was equally as impressive.

As for Macbeth himself, McAvoy was an absolute beast in the role, even in his moments of weakness; whereas Joseph Millson’s portrayal was more vulnerable, more guilt-ridden, more tragically human. I don’t think I can pick the better portrayal because both were fantastic in different ways.

I do feel Clair Foy’s Lady Macbeth was superior to Samantha Spiro’s, but as with the portrayals of Macbeth, both had their moments of genius. Spiro’s ‘spirits’ soliloquy was more intense than Foy’s, but overall I felt Foy’s portrayal was stronger.

I also felt that Forbes Mason’s, Banquo was not as strong as Billy Boyd’s. Boyd seemed to have more likeability, and his delivery was better; he was a superb ghost at the feast. He even opened the second act with a song, which charmed the entire Globe.

Although I have tried to justify which is the better production, I’ve decided that both were so powerful and entertaining that I’m just going to remember both with equal splendour. God Bless the Bard!

James McAvoy in ‘The Scottish Play’ at Trafalgar Studios

macbbbb

 

I read Shakespeare’s Macbeth when I was fourteen in my year 9 English class. English was (and still is) my favourite subject, but at that age I really didn’t have any interest in Shakespeare. I only began to enjoy Shakespeare when I began studying Hamlet for my A Levels; I’ve been hooked ever since.

The reason I remember the plot of Macbeth so clearly is because I had to re-enact one of the scenes for my year 9 drama exam. I played the lead, clad in a corduroy blazer and pencilled on moustache. My friend played Banquo and another three friends played the witches. I won ‘best actress’ and a £10 cinema voucher and I felt like a God. (I also realise that I was encouraging androgyny at a much earlier age than I even realised…)

…anyway, enough of my reminiscing. The point is, I haven’t actually had any kind of contact with Macbeth since this time. That was until last night when I saw James McAvoy playing the eponymous character at The Trafalgar Studios in London. I am not exaggerating when I say that the performance and the production took my breath away.

I will freely admit the only reason I took an interest in Macbeth again was because it was JAMES MCAVOY portraying him. I’ve been a fan of McAvoy since his days in Shameless and have enjoyed every film I’ve seen him in, my all time favourite being Atonement. He’s a fantastic actor, has beautiful blue eyes and a mesmerising Scottish accent. Of course I was going to try and get a ticket to see him. I was very lucky to get the £15 Monday-only tickets that encourage those who wouldn’t/couldn’t normally go to the theatre to attend. Not a bad price to see a piece of Hollywood.

I was also eager to see Claire Foy as Lady Macbeth. I’d watched her in the BBC adaptation of Dicken’s Little Dorrit and thought she was excellent. She did not disappoint; she delivered all the famous lines perfectly and held her own opposite McAvoy. Their chemistry on stage was fierce and fascinating. They laid all kinds of violence on each other, disguising it as passion and love. It was barbaric and beautiful watching them scream their lungs out at each other.

McAvoy was, as expected, a force to be reckoned with. From the moment he threw himself in to the spotlight he was relentless, pronunciating like a pro and making every moment his own. My favourite part was his second meeting with the three witches in which he drank from their cauldron and proceeded to wretch and spit his lines out all over the stage. It was repulsive, but raw and compelling; I could not take my eyes off him.

There was also an excellent turn from Jamie Ballard as MacDuff. His reaction to the news of the murder of his wife and children was heart-breaking (I nearly spilt a few tears over it.) His final showdown with Macbeth was more bloody, brilliant and satisfying than I could’ve imagined.

Director Jamie Lloyd’s decision to use apocalyptic style costume, set and lighting to portray the grimness of Macbeth’s Scottish Kingdom works successfully alongside the classic script. His excessive use of blood also made everything more grotesquely thrilling.

Seeing the production last night has made me re-realise the power of Shakespeare’s plays. One of my teachers used to insist that we should see the plays and not just read them as the two experiences are completely different. He couldn’t have been more right; on paper Macbeth was a mass of words and confusion to me, on stage it was a world of horrific entertainment.

Eve Best is directing Macbeth at The Globe this year. I was planning on going anyway but after seeing last night’s production I cannot wait to book my ticket. It may have been James McAvoy that got me interested in Macbeth again, but it is the play itself that has made me realise that I should never have neglected it.

(Also, for anyone else wondering, James McAvoy’s eyes really are THAT blue. I was only 6 rows from the front so I can testify to that.)