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Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Anna Laycock reviews Matilda the Musical

Matilda The Musical
Cambridge Theatre, London
12th November 2011
Directed by Matthew Warchus
Booking until October 2012
Matilda the Musical is definitely the best British musical in the West End, if not the best musical currently playing in the UK, or even the world. It is that good. I laughed, I cried, I play the soundtrack all the time and I have recommended it to everyone I know.  I may be obsessed, but I’m not the only one. I have not known anyone to come out from a production of Matilda and not love it. The Royal Shakespeare Company has created a work of genius that is sure to be viewed as a masterpiece of British theatre for many years to come.
After seeing the production twice at the Courtyard Theatre in Stratford last year I fell in love with the show and I could not wait to experience Matilda on a West End stage. Yet, I have to admit I was slightly apprehensive about the transfer from the rather intimate thrust stage at the Courtyard to the large proscenium-arch at the Cambridge.  There was a danger that the set would eclipse the performances and the story would lose some of its heart. However this did not happen at all. Rob Howell’s set design is magnificent, with colourful letters of the alphabet branching out from the stage allowing for the proscenium-arch to have a thrust like feel. Rather than overshadowing the performers and the plot, the set enhanced them, serving as a constant reminder of the underlining theme of the musical, the power of story-telling.
Dennis Kelly’s book is remarkably clever; it is, on one level, a simple retelling of Dahl’s tale of a young girl with extraordinary powers overcoming unloving parents and a cruel headmistress. However, on deeper level (one Lit students like me greatly appreciate!) the story is a metanarrative, a story about the process of storytelling and the power of the teller to “change their story”.  Therefore, the musical ingeniously appeals to children, adults and literature geeks alike.
The musical does advocate the importance of reading books, with our young heroine, Matilda, and the lovely Miss Honey being proud bookworms whereas the stupid Mr Wormwood and the villainous Miss Trunchbull are firmly against reading. The musical accentuates the role the library plays in Matilda’s life and the inspirational librarian, Mrs Phelps’ role as a friend and a mentor to Matilda.  The celebration of books and libraries can be seen as having an underlying political message in a country that is closing libraries left, right and centre.
 Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics are brilliant. Lyrics such as “My mummy says I’m a miracle” are simple enough for children to understand, yet Minchin always appeals to adult humour, my mum vouches that Mrs Wormwood in her “Hospital cotton with a smarting front-bottom” definitely appeals to any woman who has given birth! Minchin was born to write this musical, his comic wit guarantees it to be one of the most entertaining and funny musicals in the West End.
It is the talented cast that is the backbone of this production. Both the adults and children are outstandingly talented. When the cast come together as an ensemble for numbers such as “Miracle”, “School Song” and “When I Grow Up” the creative synchronized chorography coupled with the beautiful harmonies the effect is enchanting. Yet, individually the cast are also superb. Bertie Carvel creates a comical yet chillingly sinister Miss Trunchbull, his characterisation of the headmistress from hell is tremendous, allowing her to develop from Dahl’s archetypal villain to a psychologically complex character with an intriguing past history.
Lauren Ward is charming as Miss Honey, who is also expanded from being a simply “good” character to a complex character who is haunted by her past. We can really emphasise with Miss Honey’s lack of self confidence when confronting her boss and bully of an aunt in “Knock on the Door”. Her vulnerability is also depicted at the end of “When I grow up” where she wishes “to be brave enough to fight the creatures that you have beneath the bed each night to be a grown-up” highlighting that the musical is as much the bildungsroman (coming of age story) of Miss Honey as it is the story of Matilda.
Yet, it is Matilda’s musical and Kerry Ingram (one of four young actresses who share the role) proves that. Age is no barrier in this musical, Kerry Ingram danced, sung and acted just as hard and as well (if not even slightly better!) than the professionally trained adult ensemble. She highlighted both Matilda’s vulnerability and her strong determination to do stand up for what is right and to change her story.  Her solos “Naughty” and “Quiet” were outstanding, whenever Kerry was on stage all eyes were encapsulated onto her. I predict a future leading lady or even perhaps a world-class film star or singer, Kerry is so talented the world is her oyster.
Matilda the Musical is a work of genius, surpassing Danny DeVito’s 1996 film and even Dahl’s original novel.  The plot is simple, yet embedded within it is so many layers of meaning; you can watch it again and again without ever getting bored. Anyone who has not yet seen Matilda must go and see it. Above all, it is a first-rate night of entertainment that will leave you feeling full of joy.
Review by Anna Laycock

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Taste of Theatre by Emily Philpott

Do you know you want to work in theatre but are unsure what part?
The RSC can provide the answer. They gear a brilliant work experience programme designed to give its entrants the chance to experience the broad range of theatre careers rather other than just the performance side. For every 1 actor the RSC puts onstage there are 7 other contributing backstage that makes this possible, from marketing and stage management to lighting and automation.
I recently completed the week and it was completely eye-opening! I knew I wanted to work in theatre but had absolutely no idea there were so many jobs I had never even heard of that contribute to the wonderful production that appears on stage.
The scheme aimed at year 10 and 11 students has been running for four years now and it has grown to include a vast array of the RSC’s departments who run hands on activities to give you an insight into what they do. On day one the group was taken to the Timothy Bridge Road workshop where all set and props required are drawn up, made or sourced. We were lucky to see the Matilda rework in progress for the transition to London this year. The workshop also holds floors of achieved props from seasons that go right back to the 1970’s, a huge highlight was to sit Cleopatra’s throne from Michael Boyd’s production of Anthony and Cleopatra.
During the week we also got to watch the lighting sound and set change in the theatres repertoire from Macbeth to The Merchant of Venice (or should that be Vegas?). We were shown by the automation team how the children are lowered in Macbeth; NB: standing on the grid 15m above the stage in the fly tower is not for the faint hearted! In the costume design session we got to see current and future costumes in the process of being made and what they use to make them look ‘worn in’. We had a full tour of the new theatre backstage and got to see the amazing wigs and make-up department.
The marketing department gave us the chance to make a poster advertising The Merchant of Venice. As well as being creative we also had to think about what audience we were trying to appeal to as well as a lot of other factors. The lighting department showed us the lighting desk and how to cue and run the show (fun was had with making the set pink). Although the aim of the week was to broaden students’ knowledge of jobs past the performance, the acting side was not forgotten; we had a voice workshop with Michael Corbit which taught us how: ‘words are merely words, without feeling they are nothing but just because it is Shakespeare doesn’t mean we should be scared of them’.
It was an amazing week to see and work with so many well known practioners that are top in their field. We all left the week with a broader knowledge of just how many other creative jobs theatre has to offer rather than just performance.
The week was truly inspiring and I completely recommend it to any student who wants to find out more about different jobs in theatre! If you would like to apply keep an eye on the RSC website their application process starts again later this year.
Emily Philpott

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Jude Evans reviews The Merchant of Venice

Directed by Rupert Goold
Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Wednesday 18th May 2011

Susannah Fielding as Portia and Emily Plumtree as Nerissa in The Merchant of Venice. Photo by Ellie Kurttz.
Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Yoda, Batman, an Elvis impersonator and a Barbie doll Portia – Goold’s production has it all. There are lots of laughs to be had; Goold certainly shows what makes this play a comedy. But, whilst emphasising the comedic elements, the play’s problematic side also rears its ugly head with considerable force. Goold shifts us from the hilarious to the utterly uncomfortable and grotesque in a production which truly grasps what Shakespeare’s play is about.

Goold thrusts his audience into a Las Vegas casino with showdancers, extravagant costumes and Elvis songs, sung by Jamie Beamish’s thoroughly entertaining Launcelot Gobbo. Tom Scutt’s design is striking for its gaudiness, bright blue with gold-railed staircases and an image of a golden-haired Vegas woman at the top, disturbingly resembling the shape of a cross. Initially, I wondered what I had walked into, and it took a good half hour to see how a Las Vegas setting could speak to Shakespeare’s beautifully problematic play. Despite the occasional moments when the American accents detract from the lyrical language, the result is: it works.

The Las Vegas setting reveals a world of excess and obscene wealth, where money is part of an ongoing game, constantly being exchanged from one pair of hands to another. Scott Handy’s Antonio is a man made ‘sad’ by his gambling losses, and Patrick Stewart’s Shylock is the grand master unusually assimilated into the Christians’ world. Pretence and falseness, both to oneself and to others, appear governing forces in a society of self-seeking individuals. Goold’s production reveals an incredible truth about Shakespeare’s play, that all the characters possess a cruel, unpleasant nature, and to sympathise with any verges on being absurd.

A shared racist attitude towards Shylock, and indeed the princes of Morocco and Aragon, steadily builds over the course of the production, culminating in Portia’s remarkable vindictiveness in the court scene. Stewart’s initially integrated Shylock is forced to envelop himself within a Jewish identity; he dons a cap and performs a short dance as an affirmation of his Jewishness, a beautiful touch. Stewart’s is an understated performance, one which effortlessly captures Shylock’s transition into a man driven into isolation and increasingly, also disturbingly, obsessed by the reward of a pound of flesh.

Challenging preconceptions, Goold places Portia at the centre of his production. And it is here that Goold makes his boldest move. Rather than the perfect heroine in her idyllic green world, Fielding’s Portia and her Belmont reflect the money driven city of Las Vegas. She is turned into a reality T.V. star, and her casket challenge a game-show, Destiny. This striking, southern-girl Portia appears a figure of superficiality until she surprisingly whips off her glamourous blond wig in front of Bassanio, revealing the face behind the celebrity doll. From then on, Fielding’s Portia spirals into loneliness as she begins to face her true reality of being trapped in a loveless marriage. It is a performance which on occasion feels a little too jarred, but one which will likely smooth out as the production progresses.

That course towards isolation and loneliness is most beautifully captured by Caroline Martin as Jessica, a role so often forgotten about. She begins alone in her father’s household, before leaving with lover Lorenzo to a seemingly more comforting world offered by the Christians. But the ending conveys her realisation of their treatment of Shylock; she walks away from Lorenzo conflicted and detached from everything.

Goold once again proves himself to be a daring director with this bold and innovative Merchant, almost certain to divide its audience. It stands as a most memorable production, not least because of its extraordinary final image: solitary figures spread across the stage accompanied by Elvis’s Are You Lonesome Tonight?

Jude Evans, age 22

Friday, 20 May 2011

Luke Harris reviews The Merchant of Venice

Directed by Rupert Goold
Royal Shakespeare Company, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Wednesday 18th May, 2011

Rupert Goold is known for his radical, conceptual directorial style. For the RSC's new production of 'The Merchant of Venice' he transports the world of Venice to the city of gambling, Las Vegas.

An entertaining and energetic pre-show establishes the themes of American culture and the atmosphere of a money orientated society. The glamorous and exuberant set, designed by Tom Scutt, involves gold plated staircases, TV screens and fruit machines. Rick Fisher's fantastic lighting design is suitably extravagant and music by Adam Cork supports the seamless scene transitions, often including Elvis Presley. Never could I imagine the King of Rock'n'Roll, the Glee hit 'Don't Stop Believin' and Duck Sauce's electronic dance track all featuring in a Shakespearean production.
Portia and Nerissa, played brilliantly by Susannah Fielding and Emily Plumtree, are MTV, Paris Hilton-like celebrities who host a game show to find a fitting suitor. It's crass and tacky but captures the comedic side to the play which is often ignored. Caroline Martin's Jessica is geeky and awkward, making something out of a slightly overlooked role. Patrick Stewart's Shylock is just as impressive as one would expect from a quality Shakespearean actor . His portrayal as a  humane yet narrow-minded Shylock is captivating and his Jewish heritage deepens and develops through all of his five scenes climaxing in an absorbing court scene which keeps you hanging off every word. Even though I know the story, the energy and atmosphere produced on-stage was rightfully intense and absorbing.

Goold's cinematic, story-telling aesthetic makes you feel like you are watching a blockbuster film, Ocean's Eleven style. His bold visual flair and his brave concept choices will split audiences, especially a traditionally reserved Stratford audience. Some will argue that his daring conceptual style diminishes the integrity of Shakespeare's themes, characters and story. But the world Goold and the ensemble create works, embracing the spectacle of the glitz and glamour of modern celebrity culture. There are imaginative moments throughout including a car ride and an elevator scene. Goold's genius reminds us all why he is one of the foremost British directors of our age as well as strong candidate to takeover the National or RSC in the future.

It is a thoroughly entertaining production that once again showcases the capabilities of the new thrust stage. Whether it will be a critical success is the big question, however I do believe it will encourage a new, younger audience to the RSC and that is why Goold is such a valuable asset to the company. Get a ticket and enjoy the magic!

Luke Harris, age 22

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Jude Evans reviews The City Madam

Directed by Dominic Hill
Royal Shakespeare Company, Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Tuesday 10th May, 2011

Matti Houghton, Sara Crowe and Lucy Briggs-Owen in The City Madam.  Photo by Ellie Kurttz.
Photo: Ellie Kurttz

Massinger’s seldom performed play gets the outing it deserves on the Swan stage. Dominic Hill’s production shows just how wonderfully funny it really is, with the actors performing the heightened characters to superb effect. But beneath its laugh out loud surface, the production reveals the play’s deeper concern with the destructive forces of selfishness, greed and desire. Hill proves just how modern and relevant this play is for us today.

Set in the London of Charles I, Massinger’s city comedy dramatises the opulent and decadent nature of the Caroline reign. We follow Luke Frugal as he enters the household of his older brother, Sir John, where he is looked down upon by Sir John’s social climbing wife and daughters. Suddenly left in charge of the household, Luke begins to be corrupted by the world of money and wealth he has entered into. His journey is peopled by many characters, from those of new and old money, to a prostitute and a stargazer.

The audience will frequently be tickled by Hill’s production. Elaborate costumes, make-up and wigs are enough to trigger suppressed giggles, and coupled with the actors’ haughty mannerisms it is difficult not to burst out into laughter. But the play’s darker side is never far away. The elaborate features appear a sign of grotesque greed and opulence when viewed against Tom Piper’s brilliantly simple set. The design later complements the plain, prisoner-like costumes which appear as the production progresses. Tim Mitchell’s lighting also works to great effect. The stage is dimly lit by footlights giving the actors a rough, harsh appearance, and creating a dense atmosphere in the relatively small space of the Swan Theatre.

In a play with a large number of characters to portray, all roles are well performed by a strong ensemble cast. Jo Stone-Fewings is excellent as Luke, capturing his shifting nature as he becomes increasingly corrupt. The foolishness of Lady Frugal and her daughters is superbly played by Sara Crowe, Lucy Briggs-Owen and Matti Houghton who even manage to bring a touch of vulnerability to their roles and elicit a small amount of sympathy. And in the underworld, Pippa Nixon’s Cockney prostitute, Shave’em, is highly entertaining.

This is certainly a thoroughly enjoyable production, and one which resonates with our own time. It is wonderful to see the Swan back in full flow with stagings of seventeenth-century drama. And long may it last.

Jude Evans, age 22

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Young People's Forum - 20th April

On a gorgeous sunny evening outside the Swan Theatre the RSC Young People’s Forum met to discuss all things RSC. All thirty-something of us introduced ourselves, and it was great to see new faces and those who’d been before.

The first discussion topic was what the next RSC Key competition should be. The first idea was creative writing. Some were in favour of this, others thought it might be too narrow. It spurred a lot of other suggestions including visual art options, multimedia and a more open creative competition allowing RSC Key members to use whatever creative skills they have.

From this discussion developed ideas of running sessions at the RSC prior to competitions, in creative writing or multimedia or another area, in order to enable all members to feel they can enter. And on a side note, we all agreed that we would be interested in sessions about the work of different departments at the RSC, such as Marketing.

The next discussion topic was an ambassador scheme, with the idea of having some Forum members representing the RSC Key in different venues, including schools and universities. We talked about how many there should be and how to become an ambassador.

Finally, a question was raised about the name of the Forum, whether it should stay the RSC Young People’s Forum – a little lengthy – or have a new title called the RSC Key Forum – a little sharper.

All discussion topics will be developed in the next couple of months, so keep checking Facebook, Twitter and the Blog for future information!

Jude Evans, 22

Monday, 25 April 2011

Anna Laycock reviews Cardenio - Shakespeare's 'Lost Play' Re-imagined

Shakespeare’s ‘Lost Play’ re-imagined
Directed by Gregory Doran
Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Wednesday 20th April 2011

Whether Shakespeare really wrote a play about “Cardenio” or not, we will never know. However, in my opinion, the authorship of the play does not matter, Greg Doran’s re-imagining of “Cardenio” allows the play to be excellent in its own right and not because of any links it may have to the Bard.

“Cardenio” is the result of literary archaeology from the RSC. In 1772, Lewis Theobald claimed to have obtained three manuscripts of an unnamed play by Shakespeare which he edited and published under the name of “Double Falsehood”. “Double Falsehood” has the plot of the Cardenio episode in “Don Quixote”. Using both “Double Falsehood”, “Don Quixote” and other sources Doran has managed to re-imagine the story for a modern audience to enjoy.

From the beginning the audience are transported into the world of sixteenth century Spain, as we find ourselves looking inside a domineering Catholic monastery. Religion is a prevalent motif throughout the play, and appears a controlling force, with characters questioning and blaming God for what happens to them. However, the lustful behaviour of the leads, Cardenio and especially Fernando, along with the pagan villagers and Spanish flamenco style music provide a contrast to the formalities and rules of Catholicism.

Much like a Shakespearean comedy, the play centres around two couples kept apart from their lovers due to disapproval from their families. Cardenio is in love with Luscinda, but her father insists that her father give his approval before the relationship continues. On the other hand, Fernando falls in love with Dorotea, a farmer’s daughter, thus his love threatens his reputation and status as the son of a Duke. The play has many very funny moments, yet, the tone changes throughout the piece and comes close to tragic just before the interval before reviving itself for the denouement where confusions are resolved and the couples reconciled reminiscent to such comedies as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Much Ado about Nothing”.

The new fiftieth birthday season ensemble is a group of very strong performers, not only can they act but also in “Cardenio” we witness members singing and dancing. The four leads particularly stand out; Oliver Rix portrays the charming Cardenio descend into madness after losing his lover with flair and whereas Alex Hassel may look similar to Rix in looks but his character, Fernando, is clearly the mischievous antagonist of the play. Pippa Nixon as Dorotea displays the subtle insecurity of the possessed and abandoned farmer’s daughter perfectly in the first half before gaining confidence and self-assurance towards the end. Furthermore, Lucy Briggs-Owen highlights both the innocence and strength in Luscinda’s character.

The motto “the show must go on” came into effect during the performance when the fire alarm went off about forty minutes into the first act and the audience, staff and cast members all evacuated outside the building. It might be said the alarm is the fault of Shakespeare’s said-to-be cursed play, Macbeth, which was being performed next door in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, although luckily the curse did little to affect the performance as it was a false alarm and the show continued as if nothing had happened.

Doran’s "Cardenio" is a highly joyful experience of theatre. For once all credit must be given to Doran, the ensemble and the team of design, music, lighting, sound, and movement directors for the creation of Cardenio rather than William Shakespeare.

Anna Laycock, age 19

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Dan Hutton reviews Cardenio - Shakespeare's 'Lost Play' Re-imagined

Shakespeare’s ‘Lost Play’ re-imagined
Directed by Gregory Doran
Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Wednesday 20th April 2011

The performance reviewed was a preview performance. Press night is Wednesday 27th April.

In a recent directing workshop, I was given one sterling piece of advice to remember when trying my hand at directing: “You’ll never be as good as Shakespeare”. What’s beautiful about Greg Doran’s so-called ‘re-imagining’ of Shakespeare’s Cardenio is that in all the publicity and in performance it never professes to be as good as anything the Bard could have written, constantly taking a tongue-in-cheek look at the classic Shakespearean comedy.

Piecing together pieces of Lewis Theobold’s Double Falsehood (which was supposedly based on a manuscript of Fletcher and Shakespeare’s Cardenio), Shelton’s translation of Don Quixote and Doran’s own ingenuity, the tone of Cardenio is never able to shake off the feeling of being a cross-centuries collaboration. Some lines feel solidly Elizabethan (“There’s not a maid whose eye with virgin gaze/ Pierces not my guilt”), but elsewhere relatively modern (“There is a woman, sir, there is a woman”). This doesn’t matter, however, for the themes of the play – those of consent and deceit, favourites of Shakespearean comedy – go hand in hand with the atonal language.

It is a perfect formula for a Shakespearean comedy; two men fighting over one woman, even though one of the men is already married. Through disguise and treachery they eventually get what they want and everyone lives happily ever after. The character of Doritea – the second woman – is questionable, as she returns to the man who abused her in the style of Hero, but the strong speeches she is given in the second half of the play remedy that somewhat.

Doran’s joyful production revels in the references to other comedies while taking a look at the darker undertones of religion in the play. Paul Englishby’s remarkable score reverberates around the small space, taking us from brazen ritual to quiet prayer. Niki Turner’s semi-reflective set, lit by Tim Mitchell, facilitates these tonal changes, and the strip of mirror revealed at the back of the stage suggests we are only peeking momentarily into the history behind this lost play.

The four young leads all impress. Pippa Nixon as Doritea copes well with a difficult role, gaining confidence later in the play and showing a strong resolve, even if the script doesn’t. Lucy Briggs-Owen’s Luscinda, the object of the two male leads’ desires, is charmingly innocent, being won over by Oliver Rix’ exuding charisma in his professional debut as Cardenio. Most impressive is Alex Hassell in the role of the loveable antagonist Fernando, a deeply flawed character who wins our empathy through hilarious asides and looks to the audience. Among the strong ensemble, Christopher Ettridge and Christopher Godwin both stand out as the two surprisingly liberal (for Shakespeare) fathers.

Fittingly for the RSC’s Fiftieth Birthday season, Cardenio offers a meta-theatrical look at Shakespearean comedy, straddling five centuries and being fully aware of its roots. It’s unlikely to become part of the canon anytime soon, but it’s no doubt a production which Shakespeare would be able to watch and recognise as something he had a hand in creating.

Dan Hutton

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Anna Laycock reviews King Lear at the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre

Directed by David Farr
Royal Shakespeare Company, The Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Friday 25th February 2011

Although I did not know King Lear well, I still was very keen to watch it being performed at the new Royal Shakespeare Theatre last week. I was most excited to see one of the first performances on the new stage, and to see for myself whether the thrust layout really is much more effective than the proscenium arch.

From the moment I walked into the foyer of the new theatre I knew that I was entering into something very grand, the front of house area really has been transformed and is much more spacious. Instead of being cramped into one space, audience members can browse in the shop located by the box office, or wonder round the corner to the cafe, explore an exhibition room, have a bite to eat at the Rooftop Restaurant or just simply wait by the theatre bar and admire the view over the river basin. Touches like, projecting photographs from past productions onto the wall beside the cafe and the opportunity to add your message to a web of words keep audience members waiting to take their seats entertained.

When I took my seat at the back row of the upper circle I knew I did not have to worry about not hearing or seeing the action as even being right at the back I was no more than 15 feet away from the stage, much closer than the back seats of the old theatre. Also, the thrust stage made the special effects involved so much more effective such as the rain falling on Lear and sandbags falling from the ceiling, effects that would not have worked as well at all in a proscenium arch space. Furthermore, the play made good use of the space, playing to all sides of the auditorium so that all audience members felt involved.

Greg Hicks made a brilliant King Lear, his portrayal of an authoritive leader descended into madness always had an element of black comedy as well as tragedy. Sophie Russell made a highly entertaining Fool, often making the audience laugh. Another stand-out performance was Tunji Kasim as the manipulative Edmund, who with his cunning words almost managed to win over the audience.

Overall, my experience at the new RST was highly enjoyable and will certainly be an experience I will be having many times again!

Anna Laycock, age 19

Photo by Manual Harlan

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Keeping a Blog by Jude Evans

I began my ‘Book Blog’ towards the end of 2010, after having kept other blogs over the past couple of years. With this new blog I’ve finally found my niche. Keeping this blog allows me to channel my passion for literature into something productive. I’m able to keep up what I love doing – combining my love of reading and watching novels and poetry, films and theatre productions, with my love of analysing literature. My blog is also a space for me to keep a record of all that I read and see, and to develop my skills as a writer. Friends and family are also able to read about what I’ve been doing – and I don’t need to chew their ears off about the latest book I’ve read!

Having blogged for the past couple of years, and having read the blogs of others, it seems a brilliant thing to do. It’s your own space to write about pretty much whatever you want, and to be creative in designing it. It can range from being a journal-type blog, a literature-based blog (Dan Hutton's theatre blog is fantastic), to one charting a personal project (take a peek at Samantha Edwards’ ‘Bard-a-thon’). A lot of bloggers, and indeed non-bloggers, enjoy reading and discovering other people’s blogs (it’s amazing the variety out there). Ultimately, blogging is fun, and it can be a really satisfying thing to do!

You can take a peek at my blog at:

Jude Evans, age 22

Friday, 4 February 2011

Liberty Jackson reviews Matilda, A Musical

Directed by Matthew Warchus
Royal Shakespeare Company, The Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

I remember when I first found out that the RSC were staging a musical production of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. I had just sat down to watch their 2009 production of Arabian Nights. I opened the programme and was flicking through when I suddenly saw an A4 poster advert for Matilda. I was 16 at the time, (I’m 17 now) and my dad turned to me and said, ‘Won’t you be too old then?’ I looked at him like he was mad – my favourite book, my favourite film, being put on stage, and as a musical... I was so excited! I enjoyed Arabian Nights immensely, but throughout I couldn’t quite get over the fact that Matilda was being made into a musical – in my hometown!
Fast forward to November 2010 when Matilda, A Musical opened.  With the book and indeed, film adaptation as iconic works in the arts industry, I was intrigued to find out how Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin would make their mark on the RSC’s new production.
I feel privileged in two ways; not only was I lucky enough to see Matilda five times, I was also fortunate to see each team perform! My first visit to the Courtyard to see Matilda, I saw the team headed by Kerry Ingram as Matilda. Even as I was walking to take my seat, I was in awe of the set, and couldn’t help looking up until I spotted the swings. I had already seen the RSC’s promotional video, so I knew what the swings were used for – but I couldn’t wait to see it live! From the opening bars of the band, until the concluding cartwheel, I was covered from head to toe in goose bumps and was taken away, encapsulated in this wonderful story.
Kerry’s portrayal of Matilda was a completely unique take of the character. Her vulnerability instantaneously won the hearts of the audience, whilst still maintaining Matilda’s feisty character, as demonstrated particularly well in Matilda’s first solo song, Naughty. Joining Kerry was an unbelievably talented bunch of children, or should I say actors, who had every ounce of professionalism held by their older colleagues; namely, James Beesley, who played Bruce. His character could be that of a ‘disgusting criminal’ as supposed by Bertie Carvel’s fabulous, show stealing portrayal of Miss Trunchbull. However, his cheeky smile and sensational voice won me over in an instant. Tim Minchin’s lyrics for Revolting Children suited his personality perfectly, and as we had previously fallen in love with Kerry, we fell for James.
About a week later, I came to the courtyard again, this time to see Josie Griffiths as Matilda. Her confidence was second to none, and despite a few slip ups she had the audience as putty in her hands. Again, her supporting cast was faultless and Rebecca Stoll’s performance as Lavender, Matilda’s feisty best friend, was exceptional. Lauren Ward’s portrayal of Miss Honey was enchanting, and at the end of her solo number, My House, I had tears rolling down my cheeks. Once again, Mr and Mrs Wormwood were real life caricatures, played to perfection by Paul Kaye and Josie Walker. Their comedic value echoed that of Matilda’s parents in the film adaptation, played by Danny DeVito and Rhea Pearlman.
Adrianna Bertola’s interpretation of Matilda was enchanting; she had complete command of the stage right from her opening song, Miracle. Her confidence convinced the audience the RSC had made the right decision in letting children take on the lead roles, where before they would’ve been given to adults. Matthew Malthouse’s character Rudolpho was becoming more hilarious with each visit. (Two words: Energy – Flow!) The stunning setting, which on the surface seemed simple, was incredibly versatile, transforming seamlessly from the Wormwoods house to Mrs Phelps library and beyond. Melanie La Barrie’s Mrs Phelps was exceedingly good, winning over every single audience, and I’m sure, cast member, acting as our internal monologue on stage. The carefully crafted storyline, the ideal casting and delightful songs left every person I know stunned. Male friends of mine cringed with embarrassment telling me that, actually, they really enjoyed the performance.
Matilda is a production that will leave an impression on everyone who has the opportunity to see it, and I’m sure will be entertaining audiences for years to come. It has something for everyone, and in the opening number of Act Two, When I Grow Up, these seem to blend together. Adults and children alike are left, not only in awe at the skill of the swingers, but reminiscing and realising ambitions. It is an example of why we should never doubt theatre’s ability to amaze, as confirmed with the Amanda Thripp scene. The choreography, stunts and voices are something that I thought previously could only be achieved in films after months of editing. Well done RSC!
Liberty Jackson, age 17

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Tips for Entering Our Photography Competition by Drew Forsyth

Hello there, and welcome to the guide to entering the RSC’s photography competition. I’ll try to help you out by showing you how to enter, as well as some tips and tricks to helping your photography skills – and don’t worry if you don’t have an expensive camera. For this exercise, I’m going to be using my mobile phone – a Samsung Galaxy S, with a five megapixel camera.

If you don’t have an expensive phone, any phone will do, as long as it has a camera. Seriously.
Now, you need to chose your quote.  There’s five available, and so I’ve chosen ‘Did my heart love 'til now?’ from Romeo & Juliet.

So I’ve got my camera, and I’ve got my quote, what next?

Well, now you need to work out what you think best symbolizes the quote. I had a long think about what I wanted, and in the end I decided that I wanted to show someone alone, but with the implication that someone else had been there – something along those lines.
I find the best way to work out what I want, is to write down a list of ideas that you think might work, then settle on one or two in particular…

So, for me, the quote invoked this idea of love, but at the same time loneliness. So, I chose the ‘sitting alone’ idea. Now, the next thing I wanted to check out was what shot I wanted – what did that picture look like in my head?
Again, the best way to work this out for me, is to draw out what ideas I have in my head (it doesn’t matter if the pictures are rubbish – it’s just a rough guide for you!)

The next thing I had to do was work out where I wanted to take the pictures, and with whom. Now, I knew there was park bench near my house, so I thought I would start there. I called up a friend of mine (who had never done modeling before!) and together we walked down to the park and sat on the bench.

Now, the best time of day to take your photographs (if you’re shooting outside), is either early in the morning, or late in the afternoon. We decided that we wanted lie-ins, and chose the later option.
The sun was just going down when we arrived, and so we only had around fifteen minutes to take the photos we wanted. I started by just taking a few pictures of the bench in its own, to see what it looked like…

I liked it, and so I asked my friend to sit down and I snapped a few shots

I was quite happy with the ones I had taken, and so I thanked my friend, and headed home.
When I got in, I had a look on my phone at the ones I had taken, and I was pretty pleased, but I wanted to make them stand out a bit more. Now, don’t worry if you have never edited a photo before – it’s very straightforward!

If you are lucky enough to have a smart phone, there are a whole host of free apps available to download on both Android and from the App Store on the iPhone. The best one I could find was Adobe Photoshop Express, which can be found here: The app has a very simple to understand interface, and makes editing your shots easy! With just a little bit of contrast and saturation, I got the results I wanted:

If you don’t have a smart phone, and don’t want to shell out for Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro, there is no shortage of free photo editing software online. The best include and
Both are easy to use and easy to understand.

So, now I’m happy with my shot, what next?

Okay, so you’ve got your shot, now all you have to do is download an entry form here, fill it out, and you’re on your way to becoming a winner! Simple!

Top 5: A few tips and tricks…

1. Try something different!
Where you might have submitted a picture in colour, why not try black and white?

As you can see, the black and white adds real drama to the shot, and makes it a lot more interesting!

2. Move it from the middle.

Moving your subject off centre really can help your photo!

3. Try vertical!
From pictures of the Eiffell Tower to pictures of your mates, try shifting the camera to a vertical position – it can really change a photo!

4. When you’re taking pictures of people, try going for a plain background.
Try to choose a plain background so your subject is the centre of attention!

5. Don’t be afraid!
If you’re taking a picture of someone and they’re not smiling enough, tell them!


Good luck!

Drew, Marketing Interm at RSC and Photographer

Being a Marketing Intern at the RSC by Emma Dodd

Hi Blog readers and RSC Key Members, I’m Emma and I am just finishing my Marketing Internship at The Royal Shakespeare Company. The new set will start in April and the vacancies are now listed on the website, so check it out here:
If you want to know a little bit about the kind of things you might get to do and what the experience is like then here is my quick summary of what it was like to be an RSC Marketing intern:
 My role revolved around 16-25 Audience Development and I got the chance to be responsible for my own individual project (developing the RSC Key Forum) and lots of other fun things to promote ‘The RSC Key’ and the RSC’s productions in general. A few of you may have met me or one of the other interns at Fresher’s Fairs where we got loads of contacts so we could reach as many people as possible with our discounts and events. Me and Ellie also got to be ‘Maltilda’s Mates’, promoting the show locally by taking bookmarks and print around to local Stratford businesses so as many people as possible would get the Matilda ‘bug’! 
 I also developed and led the Forum which was used to communicate with our younger audiences and find out the best ways to reach them with our RSC Key Scheme. I put a lot of thought and effort into planning them, but never thought I would get to lead them on my own! It is a great opportunity to find out what people in the 16-25 age group actually want from the theatre and to use this to develop events, and also create things like the newsletter and this blog.
It was an unbeatable experience getting to be creative and learn from this awe-inspiring company, and it is so satisfying to see all of the ideas I had actually coming into being.  I think we have started to reach out to the younger generation of  RSC fans and are finding the community of people out there who love to see great theatre (at cheap prices!). But it’s time to hand the baton on and who wants to take continue the challenge...?!

Monday, 10 January 2011

Sita Thomas interviews Toby Thompson, cast member of Sound and Fury

Sita Thomas interviews Dizraeli, cast member of Sound and Fury

Jude Evans reviews Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet

Directed by Rupert Goold
Royal Shakespeare Company, The Roundhouse, London
Saturday 1st January 2011

Productions of Romeo and Juliet come fast and furious like Hamlets. Many are good, some very good, but it is rare to find one outstanding. Rupert Goold’s production is just that, a rare gem amongst the masses. Goold exquisitely captures the conflicting worlds of the brutal Catholic Renaissance and Romeo and Juliet’s own isolated, personal sphere.

Goold’s production reminds us of the play’s historical context, something often lost. The setting is Catholic Renaissance Spain where, in the opening scene, Tybalt and his men tie Benvolio to a stake. Bodies whirl across the stage with daggers and rapiers abound. Goold has his cast dressed in traditional Renaissance garb. Tom Scutt’s design brilliantly supports the setting. Flaming fire bursts from a vent, dark steps loom at the rear of the stage ultimately functioning as steps in the vault, and a central stone plinth, with multiple functions, is most importantly the place where Mercutio is wounded and a tomb for the lovers. Richard Katz’s Capulet echoes this brutal world as he violently thrusts wine in his daughter’s face and grabs hold of her with a look of murder in his eyes.

Goold’s innovation is in having Romeo and Juliet detached from this world. Both are costumed in modern dress seemingly distanced from their families. They verge on being out of time and out of space; they don’t truly fit into the Renaissance environment of the other characters.

Mariah Gale’s Juliet appears detached from the world she has been brought up in from the very start. We first meet her playing with a toy whip whilst her mother suggests marriage to Paris. She is more in love with death than Paris, preferring ‘dead men’s rattling bones’ than being married to him. This Juliet knows her own mind. She demonstrates a maturity beyond her years in taking the vial from Friar Lawrence, yet she never removes too far from her youthfulness seen when tripping over at the excitement of marrying her beloved Romeo.

Sam Troughton’s Romeo shares with his Juliet a mature yet still youthful nature (he jumps at realising Juliet is very much in love with him). He grows during their encounters, and after realising the full force of his act in killing Tybalt. Like his Juliet, Troughton’s Romeo shows a keen desire for death, rather being united in death with his beloved than to live in the dark, brutal world from which they have sprung.

The fierceness of reality penetrates through the lovers’ sphere in the form of Jonjo O’Neill’s Mercutio. His Mercutio possesses a perturbed imagination, and O’Neill conveys this through manic mimes and fantastic enacting of all he speaks, always drawing a guffaw of laughter from the audience. But despite the laughs, his dark language reverberates around the stage. It is a light gone out when O’Neill’s Mercutio leaves the stage at his death. The stage soon plunges into darkness as the lighting dims for the rest of the production. The resonant ‘you shall find me a grave man’ painfully remains with us until the production’s close. Jonjo O’Neill is that rare thing, an excellent Mercutio.

Forbes Masson and Noma Dumezweni provide superb support as Friar Lawrence and the Nurse. Both are excellent in their overlapping scenes as flawed mentors to Romeo and Juliet. Masson’s Friar is all too aware of his part in the lovers’ tragedy and Dumezweni’s Nurse is struck by the apparent death of her ‘prettiest babe’.

Excellent direction from Goold and sublime performances from Gale, Troughton, and O’Neill make this Romeo and Juliet an exhilarating production to watch. It will be all too welcome back in Stratford this spring.

Romeo and Juliet will be back in Stratford-upon-Avon running at The Royal Shakespeare Theatre from 3rd March - 2nd April.

Romeo and Juliet photos by Ellie Kurttz

Jude Evans, age 22

Sita Thomas interviews Professor D, cast member of Sound and Fury

Sita Thomas interviews Polarbear, director of Sound and Fury

Sita Thomas interviews Kate Tempest, cast member of Sound and Fury

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Dan Hutton reviews Matilda, A Musical

Matilda, A Musical

book by Dennis Kelly, Music and Lyrics by Tim Minchin
based on the novel by Roald Dahl
at The Courtyard Theatre, Wednesday 10th November 2010

 On paper, Matilda, A Musical looks like a winner. Based on the original children’s novel by Roald Dahl, with a script by Dennis Kelly supported by music and lyrics created by comedy genius Tim Minchin? What? AND it’s directed by Matthew Warchus? Could any production live up to such a hype? Well, there’s a simple answer to that question: yes it can.

Matilda is the perfect children’s story. We watch as a young girl with an extraordinary mind overcomes all odds to overthrow the domineering adults around her. She is ignored by her family and detested by her headmistress, the towering Miss Trunchbull, who sees all children as maggots. This is how many adults look like to children, and for once they aren’t allowed to get their way.

This new production is far more faithful to Dahl’s original novel than the later film version. Matilda’s magic is shown to be miraculous, rather than the superpower it was later made to be. One rather curious addition is that of a storyline explaining Miss Honey’s childhood situation. It sometimes seems rather redundant, but does create a closer bond between Honey and her pupil. Having another story to divert our attention away from the main arc is often a welcome break.

Dennis Kelly’s book appeals to both adults and children alike. It is witty, daring and moving, and speaks to everyone, without patronising or confusing. It is simple, and is complemented perfectly by Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics. The lyrical dexterity with which he writes is nothing short of miraculous in itself, and we often hear his voice coming through, especially in songs such as ‘Quiet’ and ‘My House’. He is the ideal wordsmith for this musical; many of the songs hold within them amazing existential thoughts but always have a cheeky childishness embedded within.

The design is clearly based on drawings by the original illustrator, Quentin Blake. Scrabble tiles adorn the theatre, and the costumes are all larger than life. Miss Trunchbull looks like exactly like we remember her all those years ago, and along with the children they all look like they could have been sketched by Blake. Rob Howell’s design emphasises the beauty of words, and is lit vibrantly by High Vanstone.

The entire cast is superb, portraying caricatures while remaining human. Josie Walker and Paul Kaye capture the ignorance of the Wormwoods with flair, and Lauren Ward as Miss Honey beautifully offers a vital counterbalance to them. Initially, the choice to play Trunchbull in drag is somewhat disconcerting, but the hilarious Bertie Carvel brings out the headmistress’ masculinity, and during fleeting moments we pity her. As the eponymous hero, however, Adrianna Bertola is extraordinary, and offers both the intelligence and playfulness required. When Bertola is on stage, all eyes are on her.

As it stands, the show (it is still in previews), at almost three hours, is slightly too long, especially for a show with a young audience. It also feels like too much action is played to the central auditorium, and that pulling back everything a metre or two would benefit everyone. Of course, these are the sort of things which will smooth over after previews, but they certainly need to be addressed. Then again, our minds are usually on other things, namely chalk magically writing on blackboards.

Matilda, A Musical is no doubt going to be the must-see show this Christmas. Is is a joyous, magical and wonderous retelling of a treasured story. We understand the power of words and of reading, something too-oft forgotten in this technological age. Minchin’s songs will play over and over again in your head and some of Kelly’s script will be etched in your mind for months. Watching the production, something miraculous happens: we feel our adult selves regressing into children we once were and see the memories come flooding back. Again, a perfect demonstration of the power of theatre. West End transfer, anyone?