Posts Tagged ‘ Cambridge ’

Theatrigirl on tour: Under Milk Wood, ADC Theatre, Cambridge

Bawds Theatre Company
Dir: Nick Warburton

Radio plays are notoriously difficult to adapt for the stage. Dylan Thomas’ masterpiece, Under Milk Wood, is a work for the wireless to its fishing-boat-bobbing core: this production entirely fails to make a case for the transition.

The play follows the salty characters of Llareggub (“Bugger All”, backwards) as they go about their daily lives. Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, Nogood Boyo, Captain Cat and The Reverend Eli Jenkins wake up to the sound of the church bell and we hear the villagers’ dreams, we share their secrets and laugh at their foibles. Thomas conjures the cobbled streets with his impeccably crafted phrases: visuals can only blur the picture.

And so it was with Bawds’ production, directed by Nick Warburton. Under Milk Wood’s inherent unsuitability for the stage was everywhere evident. The twenty-strong cast remained on stage throughout the first half, either statically sitting or awkwardly miming. Actions we could clearly see being carried out were described and the miniature cut-out houses were a poor accompaniment to Thomas’ florid prose.

Richard Burton is inextricably linked with this play – his radio recording is hypnotic and definitive. The cast, perhaps wisely, decided to imitate rather than create making for a dull spectacle. The slavish dependency on the recording, however, did have the pleasing result that the accents were generally strong and consistent.

Guy Holmes as Mr Waldo was energetic, and Rosemary Eason amusing as the vile Mrs Pugh. Overall, however, this production was a shadow of Thomas’ enchanting radio play.


The Lonely Sea and the Sky

In the search for extra terrestrial life, water is key. Astrophysicists know that where there is water, there could be life.

The oceans, rivers and streams of Earth are teeming with life and movement; without water, humans could not survive.

And yet, the sea is a world from which we are barred, a world we can only ever observe, a world which has both fascinated and terrified since the beginning of human existence.

I must go down to the seas again

The sea is the last great wilderness on the planet and artists and writers have always sought to understand and tame it. John Masefield’s poem, Sea Fever, communicates a near-pathological need for the salt spray, the whale’s way and the gulls’ cry. But the sea is a fickle friend, as wild and ruthless as it is life-giving and generous.

Maggi Hambling, an artist whose work is inspired by the North Sea as it assaults the coast, seeks to capture the sea on canvas – a task which, she admits, is an impossible one.

While gazing at her paintings in the current exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, my mind began to turn to the stage. And the theatre’s relationship with water and the sea.

From the example of Disney’s broadway production of ‘The Little Mermaid’, it would seem that attempts to portray this “other world” are futile. As the actors pathetically flap their arms and traverse the stage on roller skates the audience is reminded of humans’ inescapable groundedness. One critic was even impressed that the production managed to ‘translate an animated cartoon into something that feels like less than two dimensions’.

But does it follow that no representations of the sea are possible on stage?

Shakespeare frequently uses the sea as a dramatic catalyst – in The Tempest, the storm in the opening scene sets the events of the play in motion. In Twelfth Night, the confusion comes about because Viola and Sebastian are separated by a storm at sea. Hamlet is sent overseas to England, with instructions to be killed on arrival and Othello’s glamour is derived at least in part from the seas he’s explored.

Sensibly, however, Shakespeare never tried to set one of his plays under the sea. Acknowledging the inherent untameability of the ocean, Shakespeare’s sea is left offstage.

Water, is something else. Water is small, understandable and containable. And water often plays a part on stage. One student production of Hamlet at my university had an enormous tank of water centre stage in which Ophelia’s lifeless body floated in Act IV. Sam West’s revival of Howard Brenton’s controversial Romans in Britain at the Sheffield Crucible, in 2006 had an enormous sunken swimming pool on stage. I could go on.

But these felt like gimics – spectacular yes, but dramatically uninteresting. Frustratingly and ironically, the sea is one of the most inherently dramatic settings on Earth – and yet it cannot be represented on stage. Any stage – or, in Hambling’s case, canvas – which seeks to contain it, seems pathetically small and human.

For theatre, the dramatic possibility of the ocean lies in the human desire to tame it; to enter it; to unlock its mysteries. The stage, like Masefield, hears the call of the sea: a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied.

Theatrigirl on tour: As You Like It, Girton College, Cambridge

GB Theatre Company
Dir: Neil Sheppeck

As the sun set over the majestic buildings of Girton College Cambridge, and swifts performed an impressive warm-up act of aerobic acrobatics, the audience settled down for a charming, if safe, ‘As You Like It’.

Graced with some of the poet’s best lines, Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy follows the romantic adventures of Celia and Rosalind, two princesses exiled from the French court who take refuge in the Forest of Arden. There they meet the love-sick Orlando, the melancholy Jaques and prelapsarian shepherds galore.

Neil Sheppeck chooses traditional Elizabethan costumes for his crowd-pleasing production. This ‘As You Like It’ plays it safe, but is no less enjoyable for that. Lucia McAnespie in the star role of Rosalind throws herself into the cross dressing and wars of wit with gusto. She gives an immediacy to Shakespeare’s lines and captures the light-headedness of young love well. Suzannah Hampton’s Celia is a delightful, girlish air-head, who giggles conspiratorially with her wittier cousin.

The Stratford man

Vanessa Redgrave once said that every actress playing Rosalind falls for her Orlando. Gabriel Thomson, as the romantic lead, is every girl’s dream: a lion-wrestling, sonnet-writing, tender-hearted young lover. Thomson made his name playing “Mikey” in the BBC series My Family; but his confident delivery of Shakespeare’s lines quickly erases his TV character from the audience’s mind.

Elsewhere, Jim Bywater as the fool Touchstone doesn’t manage to exploit the comedy of the role – and Sheppeck would have been well-advised to cut some of his later speeches. Jaques (David Davies) steals the scene with ‘All the world’s a stage’ but seems to neglect the less quotable lines. Laura Murray gives a genuinely funny performance as the preening, foolish shepherdess, Phebe and Matt Milburn as Oliver puts in a competent performance.

Frivolous but fun, this performance doesn’t rock the boat and won’t be remembered for years to come. It does, however, celebrate Shakespeare’s youthful language, the summer weather and the beautiful surroundings. Pass the Pimms.  3/5