Thoughts On: Macbeth, National Theatre

rory kinner anne-marie duff macbeth

Despite being, obviously, a hugely famous play, I have never studied Shakespeare’s  Macbeth and nor have I ever seen a production of it. So when the National announced a production starring Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff, I was all over getting tickets.

In case you’re also not so up on Macbeth, the play follows Macbeth (Rory Kinnear) who is returning from fighting for Scotland in a war when he comes across three weird sisters/witches. They tell him that he will soon receive a title, and will ultimately become king. At first he dismisses their ideas, but when the king, Duncan (Stephen Boxer) bestows a title on him he begins to think the witches might be telling the truth. When he shares their prophecy with his wife (Anne-Marie Duff), she encourages him to use more murderous means to gain and retain power.

The play itself is, obviously, fascinating. The character of Lady Macbeth feels incredibly modern, and her desperation for her husband to ‘be more of a man’ and follow through on what he says he will do. In a way, Macbeth is similar to Hamlet in his dithering; but ultimately becomes obsessed with retaining his position, and no matter how well he knows someone if they’re a barrier, they’re gone.

kevin harvey macbeth

But despite the great text, there is something about this production that just feels a little…off. Rufus Norris places his production in the near future; there’s been some kind of civil war and the world left behind is one that is empty and stark. Rae Smith’s set designs seem to be predominantly made of bin liners, and there is no hint of royalty coming with plush surroundings. This does place a bit of a question mark as to why the Macbeths are so desperate to gain power, aside from power itself, when it has no discernible difference to their lives (aside from Kinnear sporting a red suit). The off-kilter feel is really increased through Orlando Gough’s score which feels continually ominous. All that being said; this almost-dystopian setting meant that Macbeth’s descent didn’t feel that surprising, frankly anyone could go a bit mad in such a setting, which did detract a little from the main story arc. There’s also a bit of an odd cut for the interval, meaning that the second act speeds by whilst act one feels like it really drags.

The qualms with the production aside, there are good performances from the cast. Rory Kinnear is a compelling Macbeth, an everyman whose increasing paranoia takes him over. Anne-Marie Duff is excellent as his wife, moving from being the ambitious woman behind the throne, to being haunted by their actions. There are also good performances from Patrick O’Kane as Macduff whose grief is brilliantly portrayed and Trevor Fox in the always tricky ‘comedy’ role which is a good physical performance.

Having not seen any other productions of Macbeth, I did quite like this just an opportunity to see one of Shakespeare’s plays, but I’m not quite sure if I’d recommend it if you are familiar with the text.

Amy
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rory kinner anne-marie duff macbeth 2

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What I’ve Bookmarked | 8

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Welcome to Newscycle: The world’s most exhausting cycling workout

How to manage anxiety without dumping it on the people you love

The cover letter template that helped me land 3 job offers within 6 months of graduating (I haven’t used this, but as someone who suffers from fear of the blank page and this is a great guide)

What Hope Hicks learned in the White House

10 signs you have an exceptionally good boss

Growing up British-born Chinese

When you Saturn Return starts and why it changes everything (I’m glad to say I have two years before I’m astrologically a proper adult)

Social media, being an ‘influencer’ and my mental health

Why podcasters love lipstick and pyjamas 

The radical plan to give every homeless person an address

If you loved the Five Women episode of This American Life as much as I did, this interview with Chana Joffe-Walt, the journalist who put the story together, is great

What I Wore to Get (and Keep) the Job: 12 women on the intersection of appearance and professional aspirations

It is possible to empathise with Ant McPartlin, and feel appalled at the same time

An 84-year-old on flirting with fame and marrying too young

 

Amy
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Photo by Mark Solarski on Unsplash

Thoughts On: The Shape of Water

the shape of water

The Shape of Water is this year’s best picture winner and so I was keen to see what all the hype was about. Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water is the story of Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a cleaner in a secret research laboratory during the Cold War. One day a very special asset arrives at the lab, along with new security man Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), and Elisa finds herself bonding with this amphibian man (Doug Jones), with whom she appears to have a special connection.

When I think about films that seem primed to win Oscars, The Shape of Water is not really one that I would expect to win. It is aesthetically beautiful, with Dan Lausten’s cinematography really lifting the scenes. It is also a film that is fairly weird, this is a film with a love story between a woman and a merman at its heart after all. That being said, it is also a film about outsiders. Elisa is a mute who only communicates through sign language, who lives next door to Giles (Richard Jenkins) who is gay and whose only friend at work is Zelda (Octavia Spencer), a black woman. They come up against the wrath of the all-American Strickland, an exemplar of everything that is wrong with seeing the world in a very narrow way. At a time where the other is instantly distrusted, The Shape of Water is a dark, fairy-tale-esque exploration of the possible extreme results from this.

sally hawkins octavia spencer the shape of water

The Cold War setting plays on the edges of this film, with Michael Stuhlbarg playing a Russian spy, who ultimately becomes too attached to the science behind the merman as opposed to its possible use as an asset for the Soviet project. I’m a bit obsessed with the Cold War so this was only a good thing for me, and I felt that it was well-integrated into the main plot. I also liked the fact that the Russians actually spoke Russian, rather than English with a bizarre accent.

Sally Hawkins is the stand-out performance in this film. As her character cannot speak, Hawkins has to portray all of her characters feelings through her face and body language and she is just perfect at doing that. She is shy and passionate and cheeky all at once. As her opposite, Michael Shannon is just awfully good as Richard Strickland, who is the perfect bad guy in this gothic fairy tale. My other favourite performance has to be that of Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s neighbour Giles. His desperation to find acceptance, his love of old Hollywood musicals and of Elisa herself is just beautifully portrayed, and I’m glad to see that he received award nominations this year. I do just wish that Spencer had had more to do than play Elisa’s kind of sassy black friend.

Amy
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the creature the shape of water

Thoughts On: Lady Bird

lady bird

Lady Bird is Greta Gerwig’s second project as writer and director, and has received huge critical acclaim, and is also possibly one of my new favourite films.

It follows Lady Bird or Christine (Saoirse Ronan) who is in her last year at high school. She’s attempting to balance deciding what to do next, her high school friendships and first loves; along with her tumultuous relationship with her Mum (Laurie Metcalf).

It’s a film that just feels really real. Gerwig places the film in the early 2000s, and it just feels very rooted in that time, and the cinematography (by Sam Levy) often feels like a bit of a love letter to Sacramento despite Lady Bird’s vehement hatred of the area and her desire to escape to university on the East Coast.

Lady Bird makes all the choices that you make when you’re a teenager desperate to fit in. She gets involved in school drama to catch the eye of Danny (Lucas Hedges), abandons her best friend (Beanie Feldstein) to chase the friendship of popular girl Jenna (Odeya Rush) and antagonises her Mum at every opportunity. There were moments in this film that just reminded me so much of my teenage years it almost hurt, Lady Bird’s overriding desire to get far away from her home town felt very familiar, and her recognition of how much she secretly loves it once she’s away felt like the same experience that I had when I moved to university. I also loved that all the teenagers in this film actually looked like teenagers; there is no glossy hairstyles and clearly ten years too old for their role casting here. Somehow seeing non-perfect looking teens on screen (with acne and everything), made Lady Bird feel all the more real. I also really liked how, like the ladies on SRSLY point out, all the characters in Lady Bird, no matter how little their screen time, clearly had complex lives that were going on off camera.

saorise ronan beanie feldstein lady bird

This complexity is really helped by the excellent, natural performances which come from the cast. Saoirse Ronan is just a complete star; she’s one of my favourite actresses and she just makes Lady Bird feel completely real. She could be a character that could easily be made slightly ridiculous, and Ronan just gives her such warmth. As her Mum, with whom she has a very complicated relationship, Laurie Metcalf is just very good. Her character has relatively little screen time, but she is great at capturing the ‘warm and cold’ aspect that Lady Bird’s Mum has. All the moments of mother-daughter time they have; such as shopping from a prom dress or listening to tapes of John Steinbeck, felt really familiar and their performances were central to making this so.

In the supporting cast, Tracy Letts does a good job of playing the ‘good cop’ to Metcalf, sensitively capturing the feeling of someone facing joblessness later in life. As Lady Bird’s best friend Julie, Beanie Feldstein really captures the deeper inner life of her character as she moons over the maths teacher and deals with her slightly more fractured home life. Man of the moment Timothee Chalamet does a great job as Kyle (or Every Ex-Boyfriend I’ve Ever Had) the eye-rollingly pretentious guy that Lady Bird falls for.

saorise ronan laurie metcalf lady bird

I would 100% recommend Lady Bird if you want a film that will fill with nostalgia whilst also making you laugh and cry all in 90 minutes. I’m definitely going to go back and watch Frances Ha, Gerwig’s previous work.

Amy
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What I’ve Bookmarked | 7

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Facebook really is spying on you, just not through your phone’s mic

The Ambition Collision

Two Call Your Girlfriend episodes: Bi Bi Bi and Believe Women’s Pain

Dame Minouche Shafik’s Desert Island Discs

For International Women’s Day, The New York Times began Overlooked, a series of obituaries on famous women whose deaths were overlooked by their pages, including Ida B. Wells and Sylvia Plath

Affirmation horoscopes for the New Moon in Pisces 

The work-life balance: does it even exist?

The psychology of ghosting and why people can’t stop doing it

Debunking the super-common myth about success I’m sick of hearing about

I can’t pull everything off, and that’s okay

Every single dollar I spent during my first month abroad as a college student

This This American Life Episode: Five Women

Hamilton: What’s better than seeing the hottest show on Broadway? Creating a forever memory. (I’m not sure how I missed this in 2016, but I cried at my desk reading it)

Amy
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Thoughts On: Summer & Smoke, Almeida Theatre

summer and smoke almeida

Summer & Smoke is one of Tennessee Williams’ less well-known plays, and when my housemate said she wanted to see this production, I didn’t need too much convincing to check out the Almeida’s latest production. And it was a really excellent surprise.

The play follows Alma (Patsy Ferran), a preacher’s daughter who has adored the wayward doctor’s son John (Matthew Needham) since she was a child. Over the course of a summer, their interactions lead to both of their lives changing.

Rebecca Frecknall’s production is just incredibly atmospheric. Despite the design being kept to a bare minimum, with the stage just circled by pianos, Angus MacRae’s music and Lee Curran’s lighting really places you in the oppressive heat of the Southern summer.

patsy ferran summer and smoke

Whilst the play was obviously written in the 1940s, many of the topics that the character’s discuss feel a lot more modern. Williams has Alma and John representing two radically different perspectives; she striving for a deep, spiritual connection with something, fascinated by the ‘reaching up’ of Gothic cathedrals, whilst he sees indulging his hungers for truth, food and sex as no bad thing.

This central conflict is made all the more engaging thanks to the performances. As John, Matthew Needham is suitably brooding and you can see why Alma would be attracted to him, he definitely has a dangerous edge of sexuality. He is also, of course, a pretty terrible person. However, this play completely belongs to Patsy Ferran. Her performance is just phenomenal. There is just something about seeing an actor completely disappear inside their character, and it just felt like you were truly watching Alma. Alma is a character who teeters on the edge of hysteria, bought about by her circumstances, and Patsy makes her endearingly awkward, her nervousness around John feels so true. I so hope that this performance is remembered during the award season.

The rest of the cast do great work in numerous roles, notably Forbes Masson as both Alma and John’s fathers who reveals a stunning singing voice, and Anjana Vasan, who plays John’s two very different other love interests.

You should definitely check this play out, I feel like this play has wrongly been neglected, and Ferran’s performance is worth the entire price of admission.

Amy
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patsy ferran matthew needham summer and smoke

Thoughts On: 42nd Street, Theatre Royal Drury Lane

42nd street west end

On my birthday I got itchy feet about spending the evening in, so my housemate and I checked out the rush options on Today Tix, and decided that 42nd Street would be a fun night out.

42nd Street is a show that feels incredibly old-school, and is based on a 1933 film, but was originally staged in 1980, so that long ago. It follows Peggy Sawyer (Clare Halse), an aspiring chorus girl from Pennsylvania who manages to get herself cast in the new show produced by Broadway impresario Julian Marsh (Tom Lister), and starring one-time diva Dorothy Brock (Sheena Easton). As this is old school musical theatre,  due to a variety of twists, Peggy is thrust into the spotlight.

Much like An American in Paris, Mark Bramble and Michael Stewart’s book is not particularly ground-breaking, and at times made me come quite close to rolling my eyes, and the first act in particular feels quite long. I could have also done without the weird quasi-romantic plotline involving Peggy and another character, which in these days of Weinstein felt a bit…creepy. However, Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s music is played wonderfully by the orchestra and you can’t help but hum along to the score as you leave the theatre.

clare rickard ella martine jasna ivir clare halse emma caffrey 42nd street

Again, like the other show, the real star of 42nd Street is the dancing. The curtain opens on the cast’s tapping feet, and the ensemble in particular seem not to stop dancing for the entire show. Randy Skinner’s choreography is just excellent, and the cast just seem to have boundless energy, there were plenty of moments where I almost wanted to clap in the middle of the routines.

In terms of performance, Clare Halse is great as the endlessly perky Peggy, and is a great dancer. Stuart Neal is also a lot of fun as Billy Lawlor, the self-important lead actor of the central show, and I loved the chemistry that he and Halse had in the ’42nd Street’ tap routine. Sheena Easton is in great voice, and does well with a character that is slightly weirdly written, and I’d admit that I found Tom Lister fairly one-note as Julian.

There is great supporting performances from Emma Caffrey, Clare Rickard and Ella Martine as some of the chorus girls who take Peggy under their wing, and I thought Martin McCarthy who was on as show choreographer Andy Lee was also excellent. Really, I wish I could name check the entire ensemble who work so hard, and really make 42nd Street the fun night out that it is.

Amy
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clare halse 42nd street