(Setting aside the current political controversy over the proposed removal of the subsidy to The Playhouse by the County Council, of which I am going to diplomatically stay reasonably neutral - see a couple of opposing views: here and here).
This is a slightly delayed blog (life has intervened) but I hoping that people who read it are able to get along before the run ends and support local live theatre (if that's important to you) in the most direct way possible - by buying a ticket.
On that note, the house when I was there was perhaps two thirds full - yes it was one of the (incredibly good value) preview nights and a wet-ish Monday night but even so, Nottingham, where's your civic pride in a chance to get one over on Leicester...?
Although I was slightly more prepared than when I was scribbling notes on the back of my ticket for the acclaimed 1984, I still only have a few bits sketched out - so will restrain myself to a trio of observations.
Modern Dress and Elizabethan Language
Despite discovering that H16 is the best possible seat for anyone my height (6'4") - the seat infront is offset so you're free to stretch out as much as you like and therefore being relaxed and in full anticipation of a good night's entertainment my heart sanked into my (well extended) boots the moment the curtain went up. The cast were assembled in modern dress. Modern dress I tell you. I hate nothing more from a staging of Shakespeare. Stop trying to convince people that it's all "relevant" and "contemporary" and in touch with our modern lives through dressing people in jeans and modern suits. It's a 400 year old piece of drama about Elizabethan concerns and Elizabethan opportunities. Stop trying to pretend it's anything else. Stop it.
As if to prove my point, the costume incongruity was forgotten within about two minutes with a brilliant rendering of the opening soliloquy by Ian Bartholomew;
Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous,By drunken prophecies, libels and dreams,To set my brother Clarence and the kingIn deadly hate the one against the other:And if King Edward be as true and justAs I am subtle, false and treacherous,This day should Clarence closely be mew'd up,About a prophecy, which says that 'G'Of Edward's heirs the murderer shall be.Dive, thoughts, down to my soul: hereClarence comes.(Act I, Scene i. Text from here)
The key couplet showing Gloucester's malevolence was perfectly delivered with the pause between "As I am" and "subtle" lulling the audience into a brilliant moment of realisation. When you've got language and delivery as world-class as that, don't go and spoil it with a cocktail dress, eh.
My second favourite moment in the early part of the play came about fifteen minutes later when Gloucester shows his true colours with great piece of Shakespearean irony;
I do not know that Englishman aliveWith whom my soul is any jot at oddsMore than the infant that is born to-nightI thank my God for my humility.(Act II, Scene i. Text from here)
The entire auditorium was silent during al the key moments - I suspect a combination of good textual knowledge and the excellent pacing and pointing up of the peaks of the action.
In keeping with a very traditional interpretation of the live theatre of the time, the action in various parts of the production moved to be in the audience and also used the full extent of the Playhouse's auditorium.
Therefore at one point during the sham pleading for Gloucester to make a claim for the throne his cronies were standing right next to me in the aisle of the auditorium and calling up to Richard who was in the Circle. This truly broke down the fourth-wall and made for a very engaging performance.
Finally, I just want to commend the artistic direction when the action was back on the main stage.
The trompe l'oeil effect of the stage with the various settings receding off into the distance was very smart - giving a good sense of place and space whilst maximising the playing area. When combined with the lighting from in front giving a projection of Richard's hunchback and making him seem very fearsome this was a very powerful look.
I also really enjoyed Act V, Scene v - the night before the battle where the rival leaders are shown in the stage version of a "split screen" - the same tent but divided into two with a tormented Richard stage right and his rival peacefully slumbering stage right. A very clever piece of stagework, well executed with some technical challenges in the erection and dismantling of the tent well navigated.
The production misses some of the polish that I might expect from a professional production with a couple of prompts needed (albeit very well coped with) and a few stumbles (literally in one case - Charles Daish injured himself on the night I was there and has been performing on crutches ever since!) in the flow of the action. But overall was a strong performance of a topical play well worth a visit. It closes on 16th November.