Tag Archives: Tom Hiddleston

Saving Lockdown: National Theatre at Home and the Future of Audience Engagement

National Theatre at Home (by Richard Hubert Smith, Johan Persson, Catherine Ashmore and Tristram Kenton)

Hero and villain, roles the National Theatre finds itself cast in again and again, often at the same time; its name and funded status as a nationwide theatre means that while its tours and community-developed pieces such as A Taste of Honey and the Theatre Nation Partnerships are often feted, its London programme announcements often meet a tide of denunciation, as the failure to represent diversity or to adequately balance its schedule of classic and new work comes under fire. During lockdown, the National Theatre has been lambasted for announcing front of house staff redundancies in spite of an (as yet) unclear portion of the government fund. Given, the NT’s position and mission at the forefront of UK theatre, it is not unreasonable that such public scrutiny should be applied to its creative decision-making and financial management.

Yet, the National Theatre has also been a lockdown saviour, the first to offer archive content via a Youtube channel that allowed its productions to be viewed almost anywhere in the world. And all for free. We flocked to it, 15 million views in 173 countries, an inestimable reach that will open all kinds of debates about the democratisation of theatre. Four months on and audiences are now taking online streaming for granted, spoiled by the volume of material available across the arts from theatre to dance, opera and concert performances, to fringe, pub theatres, regional venues and major West End playhouses. Arguably, the National Theatre’s March announcement set the bar for theatre engagement during lockdown, a time when no one imagined closure would last this long.

16 weeks later, the National has shared 16 productions with its community, a collective viewing reach of millions of individuals around the world. The decision to call time on the National Theatre at Home scheme is sad but reasonable, online theatre cannot be free forever and now is a suitable time to reflect on the choice of productions, how selections changed as a longer period of lockdown became clear and what this new method of outreach could mean for future theatre engagement with its audiences.

This is not the first time that the National Theatre has been at the forefront of a period of disruptive innovation, one that doom-mongers warned could signal the end of live theatre. Established in 2009, NT Live has radically transformed the cultural landscape, ushering in a golden age of accessibility for UK audiences unable to travel to, and crucially even afford, West End prices. There are schemes enough to ensure low priced ticket allocations but the additional cost of travel, accommodation, food and sustenance can make the journey to London a prohibitive one. NT Live did away with all that, opening-up the experience of theatre to a much wider community through partnerships with and relays to the cinema screen.

It can be  divisive, many will insist that nothing can replicate the feeling of live theatre, of being in the room. And, feeling the atmosphere alter around you can be a magical experience. But, as the National Theatre at Home screenings have reminded us, the growing technical skill of the NT Live camera crew and directors have brought audiences as close as they can, providing viewing angles or close-proximity visuals unavailable to the live audience – Danny Boyle’s exciting overhead camera-work for Frankenstein (Week 5) is a case in point. Equally, anyone who has experienced the same show in both forms can attest to the expertise of the NT Live team – the screening of Jamie Lloyd’s Cyrano de Bergerac, for example, held a power that enraptured cinema audiences in February  who were equally thrilled by it, the silver screen enhancing the experience with technical choices and shot selection that created intense, slow close-ups which understood and expanded on the underlying purpose Lloyd’s interpretation.

Programming the Season 

The first announcement came in March, with the hugely successful One Man, Two Governors opening the season; it was truly event theatre as a million people tuned in within the first 24-hours, a feeling of commonality stretching between laptops across the country as we all switched on at 7pm that Thursday night, together apart. Three more shows – Jane Eyre, Treasure Island and Twelfth Night would follow, shows that were enjoyable but not quite in the top tier of National Theatre productions. Then as a Spring and Summer of theatre closures loomed the National Theatre got serious.

Huge announcements of high profile productions followed, showcasing some of the very best work of the last decade – Frankenstein was a marvel offering both versions in the same week, the ripple of excitement that accompanied the news that The Barbershop Chronicles (Week 7), A Streetcar Named Desire (Week 8), This House (Week 9) and Coriolanus (Week 10) would provide a glorious mid-season high, and as the Black Lives Matters protests dominated debate, a more diverse final show selection from The Madness of King George III (Week 11) to Small Island (Week 12) the smouldering brilliance of The Deep Blue Sea (Week 15) and the joyous strangeness of Amadeus (Week 16) – a fitting conclusion that revealed the operatic grandeur of the Olivier Theatre and the huge resources of the National deployed in music, costume, direction and performance.

Across the 16 weeks we have seen four Shakespeare plays and seven contemporary plays, new at the time of recording. The vast majority of them came from NT Live captures while The Barbershop Chronicles was an archive recording in the Dorfman, seven were set before and four during the twentieth-century with five in modern or timeless locations. There were five comedies, two American playwrights and four book adaptations. We were transported to Ancient Egypt and Rome, a 1950s boarding house, eighteenth-century courts, 1970s Westminster, the nineteenth-century Yorkshire moors, colonial Africa, magical woodlands, a sultry apartment in New Orleans and the seaside all without leaving our bedrooms. We laughed at pseudo-1950s farce, became swept up in wars of oppression and conquest, shed tears for grand lovers, ruined musicians, tragic monarchs and caged women while rejoicing at the humanity of it all. This is the power of theatre and it was all completely free.

The Future of Theatre Engagement

So how does all of this affect what we might see in the future. Certainly in the short-term, the industry may adopt a hybrid model with performances happening live in socially distant theatre spaces as with the forthcoming Jesus Christ Superstar concert and the new Sleepless in Seattle musical, while others will continue to pursue the creation of new digital content either through live relay as the Old Vic’s In Camera series is pioneering, or as films created under lockdown conditions and streamed to Youtube.

Perhaps there is even a way for the two to come together, a socially distanced audience for those who can and feel comfortable attending a live performance with a limited run which could also be streamed online via a pay-wall – exactly how a National Theatre Live evening usually works where the cameras are arranged so as not to impede the viewer in the room but take the show to hundreds of cinema screens, or in this case laptops, across the UK.

But, the real impact of National Theatre at Home has been to change our relationship with venues and the creative forces behind each show. The first cast reunion happened in response to One Man Two Guvnors, a 30-minute chat on 7 April that has been viewed 145,000 times. The idea was replicated down the months, Twelfth Night  (Week 4) and Antony and Cleopatra (Week 6) soon followed, while both Small Island and Les Blancs (Week 14) held panel sessions on the issues raised in both plays, helping them to respond to the changing social climate in which the screenings were now taking place.

The concept really took off in Week 10, when the National Theatre opened-up its offering to include shows recorded in other venues. Director Josie Rourke and lead Tom Hiddleston provided a live Instagram commentary with contributions from other cast members throughout the 2.5 hour runtime of Coriolanus from the Donmar Warehouse. Later uploaded to Youtube, it proved a fascinating conversation with insight into the decision-making process as Rourke and Hiddleston’s wide-ranging discussion covered literary aspects of the text, the classical context of Ancient Roman society and the technical elements of building a character, stage design and physical movement that fed into the performance. A 30-minute post-show discussion also available on the National Theatre’s Youtube channel has been watched more than 86,000 times while the Bridge Theatre’s anecdote-filled A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Week 13) cast reunion has had almost 40,000 views.

Video trailers and talking heads have long been part of theatre promotional strategies but filmed post-show discussions may have more traction or could even replace the rather stale content in the traditional programme. If audiences want to understand more about a production buying a programme will only tell you so much with venues retaining a decades-old approach – a couple of academic essays on the play’s origins or themes, usually a chronological life of the author and the creative team biographies. In 2020, if a theatre-goer wants an essay on the themes of Hamlet or the defiance of Noel Coward, the Internet can provide all your needs, what it can’t tell you is why particular production decisions were made.

These cast reunion and live commentary videos tell us that thousands of people want to know more about the specific choices creatives make in bringing their version of a play to life; why did the director and designer want to set Julius Caesar in a 1970s carpet warehouse, by what process does an actor in the cast build their role using the text, knowledge of past performance, socio-political experience of the era and instinct, and what are the challenges of lighting a moody Sondheim musical in a space as large as the Olivier Theatre? A modern programme should help to translate these choices to the audience, putting the creative teams we all admire at the centre of theatre outreach, their work does not begin and end in the performance space. And it needn’t just be digital content, programme essays could come from costume or set designers explaining how a character’s style and fabric choices respond to the themes of the play or how soundscaping is used across the show to mark changes in the emotional rhythm of the story.

From The Grinning Man to the cast of Smash during lockdown Zoom discussions have almost become the norm, a chance to relive the excitment of seeing the show but also to understand more about the process of making it. These activities are the equivalent of DVD extras for theatre lovers and the future of theatre engagement has to be in reaching out across the fourth wall, something modern audiences are clearly hungry for. This closure period has given us a renewed appreciation for the writers, directors, technical specialists, performers and musicians that make theatre for us, so forget the dry academic essays because it is their skill in interpreting and reimagining stories for us that we really want to read about. The National Theatre really did save lockdown and made us appreciate our phenomenal creative industries, but they may also have inadvertently pointed the way for the future as surely as National Theatre Live did in 2009.

National Theatre at Home ran from 02 April to 23 July 2020. Cast reunion and other videos are available on National Theatre Youtube Channel. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1 or Facebook Cultural Capital Theatre Blog


The Art of Theatre Photography

Present Laugher by Manuel Harlan - Uncle Vanya by Johan Persson - Betrayal by Marc Brenner

Theatre photography is one of the most important ways to promote a new production and simultaneously one of the elements audiences – and probably most creatives – actively think least about. While the contributions of actors, directors, designers and more recently the technical crew to creating and embodying the visual concept of a show are increasingly understood and recognised within the industry, the role of the photographer is vastly underestimated. Search for ‘theatre photography’ and the results focus entirely on technical learning and tips but far less on the crucial role of the photographer in capturing the essence of a production. Yet, to the outside world, their images are the entry point into a show, brokering that relationship with potential audiences.

Production and rehearsal room photos are far more than window dressing and along with posters that increasingly use digital photography rather than graphics, they signal to potential theatregoers what this production has to say. They demonstrate how revivals have distinguished their approach from earlier productions and help new shows to compete in a crowded marketplace, where numerous alternatives vye for your attention and your money. A set of well chosen photographs can do far more than the critics and sometimes even the synopsis to entice an audience into the theatre – as a promotional tool, they are invaluable.The very best production shots can distil the work of the wider cast and crew into a series of storytelling images, bringing the show’s aesthetic as well as its tone, style and psychological approach meaningfully into view.

Yet, only a few photographers are able to truly capture the essence of a production, to encapsulate its quality and depth in a single shot and three photographers have dominated the professionalisation and art of stage imagery for some time – Johan Persson, Marc Brenner and Manuel Harlan. Their pictures make the transition into independent objects of art, acting only partly as a visual record of performance and instead largely exist as beautiful images in their own right. These photographers are particularly adept at recording that one defining image, the analysis of which reveals all you need to know about that particular show.

Johan Persson

Persson’s sought after work recently includes Ian Rickson’s productions of Rosmersholm in 2019 and Uncle Vanya (pictured above) at the beginning of 2020, both of which had a painterly set designed by Rae Smith. Persson’s ability to capture the particularly shades of those spaces, the combination of light and shadow in the visuals was particularly striking as forgotten corners of lived-in rooms were briefly illuminated by rays of sunlight from the natural world intruding into a once silent household. He is a photographer that often finds contradiction in an image as the emotional and the physical contend.

One of Persson’s finest images – an arguably one of the truly great theatre pictures – has re-emerged during lockdown thanks to the proliferation of online theatre performances. This image of Tom Hiddleston in the Donmar Warehouse’s Coriolanus was printed on the back of tickets before the venue went paperless last year and was framed on their staircase. Memorable even six years on, this is electrifying photography, full of drama and evoking a particular moment within the show where the bloodied hero, victoriously returned from battle, enjoys a moment alone. Crucially as a single representation of this production it captures everything Director Josie Rourke wanted to say across its 2.5 hour running time.

Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus (by Johan Persson)

We see the intensity of this second and its fervent masculinity as the figure plastered in the blood of other men enjoys a moment of post-victory elation. But he is rendered human by the contrasting notes of vulnerability in the image, the painful wince caused by water on freshly drawn wounds, the physical cost of societal expectations of manly behaviour playing out across his body as he privately grapples with the mental and material cost of war, a cost he must tend to in this very private scene that sits between the lines of Shakepeare’s play. Watched through, Hiddleston’s characterisation visits every aspect of this character’s public and private face which is so forcibly and stunningly captured here in this single Persson image.

Contrast that with this photograph from the musical Follies, first staged at the National Theatre in 2017 when Persson took this show-defining photograph, one that eschews the big stars to reflect an obsession with the nostalgic and ethereal that were so bewitching in Dominic Cooke’s landmark interpretation. There is a dreamlike quality to the visuals created by Vicki Mortimer on stage that is rendered entirely in this single image, and while Coriolanus is about two realities – the military and the personal – colliding, Follies is entirely focused on unreality, on fantasy, the impressionability of memory and the despair of lives never lived.

Follies by Johan Persson (National Theatre)

Persson’s image has the same photographic quality as his shot  from Coriolanus but the ghostly image of historic chorus girls backlit against the crumbling facade of the music hall’s brickwork and the illuminated Weismann’s Follies sign, itself in disrepair, pinpoints the emotional confusion of Sally, Buddy, Ben and Phyllis as they travel back in time. The lingering regret of Follies, the glamour of youth and the memory of so much possibility lost is at the heart of Sondheim’s musical. Avoiding sentimentality, Persson’s single shot entirely sums-up a production in which these shadow-selves haunted and comforted the women they became, the Follies itself a now crumbling edifice to something now permanently adrift, a time, a life and a dream about to be crushed forever.

Marc Brenner

Brenner’s work has been just as emotive, a favourite at the Almeida, his photographs have captured moments of great intimacy and flair on stage where external political, socio-economic and military structures buffet the characters as forcibly as their inner lives. Brenner has developed a particularly fruitful relationship with Jamie Lloyd, recording all of his productions from the seedy excesses of 2016’s Faustus to the visual simplicity of the remarkable Pinter at the Pinter season, the emotional cavern of Betrayal (pictured above) and, most recently, the brooding linguistic energy of Cyrano de Bergerac.

Last summer, Brenner took this image at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre during Lloyd’s superb revival of Evita whose transfer to the Barbican this summer has been sadly postponed. Brenner’s long experience of Lloyd’s work instantly reveals all you need to know about this production. Gone are the elaborate 1980s costumes, the coiffured hairdos and elaborate sets and in their place is Lloyd and designer Soutra Gilmour’s fresh and unencumbered vision told in the Argentinian colours of white and blue, using the original purity of the lyrics and the music to tell the story of Eva Peron while bringing a new visual language to the experience of musical theatre.

Evita by Marc Brenner (Regent's Park Open Air Theatre)

In his blog, Brenner writes about the challenge of staging the images of this production, working with the parallel shapes created by Gilmour’s steps and responding to the changes to sunset times that daily affected lighting design across the entire run. As art, this image incorporates that technical knowledge, snapping the moment the light falls on the central female figure, framing her against the even rake of the staging and the almost symmetrically-posed dancers. But the depth in Brenner’s photograph encapsulates and reflects the layers of meaning in the story. Here is the simply dressed but nonetheless charismatic Eva Peron who uses her humble origins to climb the ladder of fame, building relationship with the working classes to sustain her position. The smoke effects speak to the frequency of protest and violence in the musical, as well as the almost goddess-like status that Evita achieved which bookends the show.

Evita’s relationship to Colonel Peron may be a political powerplay, but one of Brenner’s most beautiful creations is this image for Rebecca Frecknall’s production of Summer and Smoke at the Almeida (where it was also printed on the back of tickets) which transferred to the Duke of York’s Theatre. The performance reawakened interest in lesser-performed Tennessee Williams plays and became a captivating example of two people just missing one another. Famed for its rare stripped back approach, using musical tones to set the emotional beat and pace of the story, Brenner’s gorgeous picture, like Persson’s shot from Coriolanus, is one of the great examples of theatre photography as art in its own right, expressing the hopeless romanticism of the relationship between John and Alma through this one image.

Summer and Smoke by Marc Brenner (Almeida Theatre)

The soft pink/orange glow of the lighting sets a mood for this picture evoking the warm evening heat of the South that is so essential to tone and atmosphere in Williams’s most lyrical work. This highly romanticised scene as depicted by Brenner is a momentary fantasy between them but one tinged with regretful longing. John’s (Matthew Needham) direct gaze reflects his open personality while Alma’s (Patsy Ferran) slighty bowed head and closed eyes speak volumes about her process of internalisation in which this moment of physical intimacy warms and scares her – both hope for so much in this second but already understand it cannot end happily. It is an eloquent and dramatically layered shot, instantly transporting the viewer back to one of the most arresting productions of recent years.

Manuel Harlan

Understanding the same degrees of light and shade in an image, Manuel Harlan’s work, favoured by The Old Vic and the RSC, is incredibly evocative, often recording key moments of change or the thematic subtext of a play that helps the audience to understand the genesis of the production. This image from David Leveaux’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead was not used in press releases or reviews, and was perhaps considered too oblique as a marketing tool showing neither of the production’s leads, Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire. Yet, it is an extraordinarily atmospheric summary of a play that recasts two originally shadowy figures from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and gives them their comic due. What happens in this photography is particularly fascinating, recording in one sense the purposeful artificiality of Anna Fleischel’s staging choices – the roll of marbled paper that covers ceiling, walls and floor, the errant stepladder and the strategically positioned lighting – to create a studio feel, while at the same time offering a hint of these two characters overwhelmed by the vast emptiness of the world they inhabit and, the small part they play in Shakespeare’s construction of it.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Manuel Harlan (Old Vic)

As a piece of art, the illumination of the two protagonists captured in silhouette behind a gauzy curtain speaks to the notions of concealment and spying that are vital to both plays as well as their tangential role in the events at Elsinore. At the same time the hints of colour, a dash of orange on the rear wall and at the top of the curtain add a liveliness to what would almost be a solely black and white depiction of this world. It is a striking piece of photography, one that implies a purgatorial state in which Stoppard and Shakespeare have trapped their characters, not quite real but not entirely fictionalised either.

All too real was the dynamic verve of The Bridge’s immersive production of Julius Caesar staged in 2018 at the still relatively young playhouse by Nicholas Hytner, allowing members of the audience to act as the whipped-up mob crucial to the action in Shakespeare’s Roman plays. The immediacy of the production is reflected in this turning-point moment, photographed by Harlan, immediately following the death of Caesar in which the Conspirators begin to recognise the unforeseen dangers they have unleashed

Julius Caesar by Manuel Harlan (Bridge Theatre)

Harlan, like Persson with his shot of Coriolanus and Brenner in his image from Evita, has entirely caught a defining political and human moment in this picture which implicitly reveals the rest of the play. The artistic framing and use of perspective in this shot are vital, the Conspirators are foregrounded with their hands bathed in blood and purpose achieved, while the ruined corps of Caesar is raised above them, his gaping wounds soon to be referenced in Mark Antony’s famous speech both centralised and slightly out of focus. Yet, the confusion of Brutus, Cassius et al foretells the misdirection to come as they fail to sell their deed to the onlooking crowd, a fatal flaw in their plot which will cost them their lives. Harlan has entirely caught the energy of this room and the exact moment at which the game changes.

Selling prints may not be something theatres want to consider – although in the newly straightened times created by months of enforced lockdown it may generate some much needed revenue – but theatre photography is far more than a series of marketing images. The very best exponents of this art form, Persson, Brenner and Harlan, are able to locate and develop a shot that summarises the narrative and thematic substance of a show, incorporating the director, designer and actors’ vision. But they also move to a realm beyond the physical representation of theatre, these extraordinary images are objects of art, testament to the skill of photographers able to read, interpret and capture these defining moments.

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Coriolanus and the Hero-Warrior – National Theatre at Home

Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus (by Johan Persson)

Coriolanus is a strangely neglected and infrequently performed play, one without the speechifying and introspection that offer psychological insight into Shakespeare’s most popular protagonists. Yet, with its focus on the delusion of leadership, the importance of the mob and the brittle basis of populism, Coriolanus is truly a play for our times. A recent production starring Tom Bateman at the Sheffield Playhouse was truncated by the pandemic, so this is the perfect time to revisit the Donmar Warehouse’s extraordinary 2014 production showing this week via National Theatre at Home and starring Tom Hiddleston.

Six years on, this remains one of the most viscerally impressive productions of the last decade, a fascinating dissection of power, class and the enduring battle between military conquest and political protectionism that characterise Shakespeare’s Roman plays. Wars and conflicts occur across Shakespeare’s plays and, within the Histories especially, this involves many characters whose motivations and purpose in the story vary considerably as families, regions and nations contend for tangible forms of power.

In these plays, Shakespeare is particularly interested in the formation and decline of the warrior as an archetype, charting the dehumanisation process that rids the individual of personal weaknesses and emotion, transforming them into great and celebrated military leaders. The Henriad trilogy is the best example of this, following the reformation of Prince Hal from tavern-dwelling layabout to the principled and invincible monarch-conqueror. There are plenty of moments of hesitation, uncertainty and fragility along the way, but the steel that Henry V displays on the battlefield and in the rejection of his former companions denote the completion of his metamorphoses from fallible human prince to an idealised personification of glorious war.

Equally interesting is the post-war process in which the feted Hero-Warrior, unable to sustain their god-like form, must return to society – something Henry V escapes by dying unceremoniously in Shakespeare’s afterword. Now irreversibly changed or damaged by combat, the Hero-Warrior sets in motion a train of events that lead disastrously to their own destruction. Caius Martius who earns the moniker Coriolanus from his bloodthirsty endeavours takes this path through the play, the self-destruction of a hero unwilling to accept the confines of a society that built him and this becomes the major driver of Josie Rourke’s outstanding production.

Characteristics of the Hero-Warrior

Heroism is an intangible characteristic in many ways, requiring personality traits including decency, fairness, courage and bravery as well as deeds to demonstrate the hero’s prowess. There are several characters who begin one of Shakespeare’s plays already in the position of celebrated military hero – Coriolanus, Macbeth and Antony – all of whom return from garlanded battle with honours and political recognition, the discussion of which dominates the early section of these plays. Yet the very characteristic that made them also becomes their fatal flaw and pursuing it in peacetime takes them on a path to inevitable destruction and death.

In the Donmar’s Coriolanus, the audience is given a vivid picture of the protagonist’s battlefield strengths in an opening section where he descries the cowardice of his compatriots hiding in trenches rather than running into battle. He goes on to take the city of Corioli singlehanded, returning drenched in blood that runs into his eyes, covering his face and upper body entirely – a beautifully staged moment from Rourke and designer Lucy Osborne. Instantly we know that this is a man apart from others, one with superior fighting skills, incredible audacity and, crucially, an excess of bloodlust that make him part hero part madman.

What unfolds in the rest of the play suggests how fatally flawed this Hero-Warrior is, bred for the simplicity of soldiering, the life and death fundamentality of it all, and entirely unfitted for the grey, oleaginous world of politics. In Hiddleston’s remarkable performance, we see the effect of hubris and how clearly the very thing that made Coriolanus also breaks him – the love of his mother Volumnia. The intensity of their relationship, visible on his return to Rome is given physical form in the tenderness of the greeting between Hiddleston and Deborah Findlay, exceeding that for his wife and son. His reliance on her guidance is vital to understanding the path Coriolanus takes, his unyielding refusal to be other than what she made him even when the great prize of political office and power are offered. By the same extension, when he does finally succumb to her entreaties in the penultimate scene of this production and shows mercy to his former home, he places his mother above himself – it proves his undoing.

Shakespeare’s other Hero-Warriors experience a similar trajectory and while their motivation and downfall is conceived differently, both Macbeth and Antony suffer a rapid fall from grace, tumbling from invincible military hero supporting the dynastic sustenance of the state to its most pressing enemy. Macbeth’s ambitious belief in fate  becomes his fatal flaw which in the early part of the play summons his courage to take the Kingship he craves, while that self-same fate becomes a poisoned chalice as he tries to outmanoeuvre the destiny earmarked for him at the start of the play.

Antony, likewise, is in a solid position at the start of Antony and Cleopatra holding a third of the Roman Empire in his grasp while living with the woman he adores. Antony’s fatal flaw – lust – helps to build his powerbase before the play begins uniting two countries in mutual support, but as his strategic abilities are increasingly clouded by his attachment to Egypt, he foreshadows the series of military disasters that lead to his his military capitulation and death. All of these men experience the decline of the Hero-Warrior image during the course of the play, a status and easiness of mind held at the start which they will never know again.

The Military-Political Clash

One of the core themes of Coriolanus is the uneasy alliance between military action and the democratic process, an idea that recurs in Shakespeare’s Roman plays. States are reliant on the bravado of commanders to conquer territories and occupy land, but attempts to translate battlefield honours into consolidated political roles in peacetime society often in the role of Consul or Tribune, are treated with suspicion by the career politicians that pack the Senate. Julius Caesar is the best example of this as the predominantly civilian conspirators plot to destroy their overmighty colleague, the unspoken threat of the violence his legions could unleash on the city a driving force in his assassination and the recruitment of veteran Brutus to their cause.

In Coriolanus the sniping role of Tribunes Sicinia and Brutus played by Helen Schlesinger and Elliot Levy starkly exemplifies that division, adding a class angle between the rulers and the ruled as they both represent and manipulate the voice of the people, using political tactics to dispense with the military man they personal despise. The status of Hero-Warrior counts for remarkably little in the political arena, and Coriolanus struggles to accept the legitimacy of a government that requires the frequent sacrifice of his blood to protect it but not his person. And while the Hydra-like work of the Tribunes (a reference Shakespeare returns to throughout the play) makes them and their reasoning entirely unsympathetic, Coriolanus’s own disdain for democratic process and the people become equally problematic for him.

Dismissive of the facile rituals of political conduct, Hiddleston’s sneering warrior mocks the ceremony of installation into the Consular office, pulling at the robe and laurel crown and refusing to parade his war wounds in order to beg for ‘voices’. Encouraged by his mother to comply with conventions, Hiddleston shows the frustration of the solider forced to debase himself as he courts a popularity he believes should be his by right and contends with his own straightforward honesty (brutal though it is). The result is a bristling tension in this production as Coriolanus struggles to flatter the citizens he can barely hide his contempt for as the audience anticipates confrontation. Within the play there is a fundamental clash between the two mutually dependent arms of the state that find each other’s rituals and personnel distasteful, a conflict, Shakespeare suggests in the plays set later that is never entirely resolved.

A Hard-Edged Vulnerability

The early scenes of the play are full of machismo as battles are fought and the posturing of victory informs the audience’s image of Coriolanus as an unyielding and statuesque figure. Hiddleston’s entrance sets the tone entirely as he captures both the commanding figure and personal charisma of a solider whose exploits are widely admired.  It is a very physical performance, his posture set in rigid military bearing with shoulders back and head held high even when lurking at the back of the stage when’s he out of the scene, creating a fearsome impression, using his posture and surety of step to dominate the stage. There is real danger in Hiddleston’s Coriolanus, a no man’s land between rational, strategic thinking and a psychotic madness that erupts into violence as he fights the Volscian’s led by Hadley Fraser. The menace and physical strength Hiddleston exudes ideally situates the fears of the political class as his return to Rome provokes suspicion and jeopardy for the city.

And while it would be easy to play him as a blustering bully or maniac, what made Hiddleston’s performance so memorable is the thread of vulnerability that runs throughout his characterisation, generating a degree of compassion for the ill-fated general. It is an interpretation that gets between the lines of Shakespeare’s text and colours-in some of the emotional and psychological substance absent from a play with no great speeches or underlying lyricism – at least Macbeth and Antony had soliloquies in which they could unpack their minds to the viewer and themselves.

Hiddleston is a very subtle actor on stage, eschewing expansive expressions or gestures in favour of almost imperceptible flickers of feeling that provide a far richer and deeper experience, particularly well suited to the supposed impassivity of Coriolanus. The emotion exudes from within the character, registering largely in the actor’s eyes as they convey the effect of betrayal to the audience. We see a light die in him as the hurts and taunts dispel any ideas he may have had of his homecoming, while the painful process of dressing-up to beg for votes is clearly an embarrassing affront to the Hero-Warrior ego.

But it is the penultimate scene where these vulnerabilities are so movingly represented, broken down by his mother’s appeal for mercy, Hiddleston brings great clarity to the struggle within Coriolanus between the right tactical response to ensure his victory over Rome as well as ensuring the faith of his new-found comrades, and surrendering the advantage to guarantee the life of his own family. Coriolanus must choose between the two sides of himself, Caius Martius and Coriolanus, the soldier and the politician, knowing the latter ensures his own death, a dilemma that is full of agony in this meaningful performance.

The Donmar’s production of Coriolanus is one of the great NT Live recordings, capturing the intimacy of the space and the intensity of the production. The play may lack the grand tragedy of Macbeth or Antony and Cleopatra but this production makes a fine case for its value as a study of the declining Hero-Warrior and its relevance to our current political climate. The impasse between deluded politicians shoring up their own span of power and those who lack the temperament for government but can accomplish great deeds is the essence of Coriolanus – Shakespeare shows us it was ever thus.

Coriolanus is freely available on the National Theatre at Home Youtube channel until 12 June. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1 or Facebook: Cultural Capital Theatre Blog


Theatre Review of the Year and What to See in 2020

2020

With a new year fast approaching, it is an interesting time to reflect on small changes across the theatre landscape in 2019 that will continue to shape how UK theatre will look as it moves into a new decade. While there is still a very long way to go in equally reflecting voices from different perspectives and experiences there is a sense – in fringe theatre primarily but slowly making its way into the mainstream as well – of shifting sands and the desire of artistic directors and theatre programmers to present seasons that better reflect the make-up of our multicultural and multinational communities.

Regional Theatre Brings New Perspectives

There are interesting and educative works emerging from companies from around the country; most memorable were Education, Education, Education in which Bristol-based theatre company The Wardrobe Ensemble innovatively unpacked the enduring problems in our scholastic system since the Blair government. Likewise, Helen Monks and Matt Woodhouse’s Trojan Horse which came to Battersea Arts Centre as part of a wider tour examined the nonsense of a Muslim conspiracy in Birmingham schools – a show that went on to play to the communities affected in the hope of finally healing the breach, while Luke Barnes and the Young Vic Taking Part in collaboration with inmates at HMP Wandsworth created the insightful The Jumper Factory currently at HOME Manchester until February.

Meanwhile, the relocation of The Tower Theatre company to Stoke Newington also brought a season of  critically acclaimed comedy and drama including a superb approach to The Beauty Queen of Leenane – with productions of Sweat, A Passage to India and The Norman Conquests already announced for Spring, this is definitely a company on the up. The surface simplicity of a star rating system doesn’t always reflect the potential or the lasting impression that these works in progress are already making, and the role that regional theatre companies will continue to play in 2020 to broaden perspectives.

It may lack the funding and support of theatre in the capital but regional venues continue to punch above their weight; at Chichester Festival Theatre in September John Simm joined forced with Dervla Kirwan for an exciting production of Macbeth – rivaled only by an astonishingly good interpretation at Temple Church by Antic Disposition in August starring Harry Anton as the troubled and murderous monarch – while the wonderful Laura Wade play The Watsons came first to the Menier Chocolate Factory and will take over the Harold Pinter Theatre in May, a must-see deconstruction of female authorship and characterisation.

A late addition to the West End arrived in the days before Christmas as the charming Curtains: The Musical Comedy rescued the Wyndhams with an unexpectedly delightful backstage murder mystery – the West End premiere of Kander and Ebb’s forgotten song and dance show which will shortly resume its tour until April. The Theatre Royal Bath production of Blithe Spirit with Jennifer Saunders and Geoffrey Streatfeild has also charmed its way to a regional tour followed by a West End transfer from March 2020 – the first since Angela Lansbury’s turn as Madame Arcarti in 2014.

Great tours included the fantastic Glengarry Glen Ross which replaced its West End cast with equally impressive performances from Mark Benson and Nigel Harman (the less said about the disgraceful Bitter Wheat the better!), while Inua Ellams’s unstoppable The Barbershop Chronicles continues to run and run two years on. The National Theatre also toured their production of A Taste of Honey which concluded with a West End transfer to the Trafalgar Studios running until February. And not forgetting Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’s Six, the one-hour pop sensation about the wives of Henry VIII which toured widely this year earning an Olivier nomination for Best Musical and now a Broadway transfer.

Reimagined Classics

Some of the most exciting work in 2019 have entirely reinvented well-known plays or used innovative techniques to make important social or political statements. Best among them was Femi Elufowoju jr’s The Glass Menagerie at The Arcola Theatre, whose diverse and varied programming entirely reflects the Dalston community it serves. In a co-production with Watford Palace Theatre, Elufowoju jr’s production of Tennessee Williams’s classic play recast the Wingfields as an African-American family to meaningful effect.

Marianne Elliott did the same with Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman casting Wendell Pierce and Sharon D. Clarke that earned its own West End transfer and found a whole new level to the isolation of the central family and why the American Dream was never for everyone. Add to that Inua Ellams’s exciting and vivid relocation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters to the Biafran War in Nigeria at the National Theatre, and Jamie Armitage’s Southern Belles at the King’s Head which brought two one-act Williams play’s about emotional fragility and class division so sensitively to life, and theatremakers are starting to think more broadly about ways in which the thematic and emotional universality of the classical canon can be reflected on stage.

The West End Finds Breadth and Depth

Those big American dramatists had significant West End success as well with a range of productions celebrating Arthur Miller, including the aforementioned Death of a Salesman as well a disappointing production of The American Clock at the Old Vic, who quickly revived with this year’s most outstanding Miller production, inviting Bill Pullman and Sally Field to star in a very fine and devastating version of All My Sons which also boasted excellent supporting turns from Colin Morgan and Jenna Coleman. A lesser performed Tennessee Williams play also enjoyed a big West End run in the autumn, hailing the return of Clive Owen to the stage as the lead in The Night of the Iguana, a sultry and rewarding version directed by James McDonald.

It was a trend that continued with varied approaches to other classic playwrights, and some of the best theatre came from productions of lesser known works given an all to rare outing. For Ibsen-lovers it was Hayley Atwell who easily gave one of the performances of the year as the complex Rebecca West in Rosmersholm alongside Tom Burke as the eponymous landowner, while Noel Coward has rarely been better served than in Matthew Warchus’s hilarious gender and sexuality-bending version of Present Laughter that put paid to any questions about Coward’s modern relevance. As well as a fine cast including Indira Varma, Sophie Thompson and up-and-comer Luke Thallon on superb form, it also boasted an exquisite central performance from Andrew Scott, every bit as good as his Hamlet in 2017.

New versions of the classics look equally promising in 2020 with Ian Rickson’s take on Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya from January with Richard Armitage and Ciaran Hinds while in the same month the Old Vic celebrate Samuel Beckett with Endgame tempting Alan Cumming and Daniel Radcliffe back to the stage. Angels in America writer Tony Kushner adapts Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Visit with Lesley Manville, while celebrated directed Ivo van Hove brings his international, and brief, versions of both Death in Venice and The Glass Menagerie – the latter with Isabelle Huppert – to the Barbican. And not forgetting a much anticipated To Kill a Mockingbird penned by TV and film writer Aaron Sorkin starring Rhys Ifans.

New writing wasn’t entirely forgotten in 2019 although there seemed to be fewer new plays opening in the West End than we’ve seen in the last few years. Duncan Macmillan’s 2011 play Lungs  isn’t exactly new but it made its London debut with the inspired pairing of Claire Foy and Matt Smith in an emotional story about reproduction and climate change which heads to the US for an off-Broadway run from late March. Simon Woods attracted theatre royalty Lindsay Duncan and Alex Jennings to star in his first play Hansard at the National in August, a fascinating and honed debut about the political failures of the Left and Right in the last 30 years, while the theatre also hosted the UK premiere of Annie Baker’s The Antipodes another fine installment from a playwright whose reputation grows in stature with each new play. And concluding the year, Mike Lew’s invigorating homage to Richard III and the High School Movie became the wonderfully astute Teenage Dick at the Donmar Warehouse in December.

The Musical Resurgent

But if the West End in 2019 was really defined by anything it was both the reprise of musical theatre and the productions of Jamie Lloyd – with the two themes neatly intersecting in the summer. Not so long ago the musical was widely derided, tourist fodder that serious theatre-goers would actively avoid, but revitalised and mature productions of Follies and Company led to a renaissance for the genre which this year has born considerable fruit. The UK premiere of Dear Evan Hansen won everybody over with the first true musical of the social media age, a new star was born in Jac Yarrow who took the lead in a refreshed revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat which added some serious nostalgia factor by adding Jason Donovan to the cast, while the temporary closure of the renamed Sondheim Theatre led to the all-star Les Miserables: The Staged Concert which united old friends Alfie Boe and Michael Ball, the latter adding a new chapter to the show’s performance history by swapping his status as the original Marius for the role of Javert. And proving that musicals can also meaningfully tell more serious real life stories, the Soho Theatre hosted the UK premiere of Max Vernon’s stirring The View Upstairs, with great turns from John Partridge and Declan Bennett.

The musical then is going nowhere in 2020 and some big productions are already lined-up; American film star Jake Gyllenhaal brings his acclaimed turn in Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George to the Savoy Theatre from June, while the dream team of director Dominic Cooke and leading lady Imelda Staunton reunite for Hello Dolly at the Adelphi in August. Michael Ball continues his journey through his career highs by returning to the role of Edna Turnblad in a new version of Hairspray at the Coliseum in April with Lizzie Bea making her debut as Tracy – a production that promises to be plenty of fun. And if you missed it in Regent’s Park in the summer, then Jamie Lloyd’s joyously modern take on Evita transfers to the Barbican in August where the challenge of reimagining his ticker-taped, multi-entrance outside production in a classic proscenium arch auditorium will be an interesting one.

Jamie Lloyd Dominates the West End

And what an exceptional year it has been for Jamie Lloyd, the director’s name seems to be on everyone’s lips as he landed astonishing production after production, reimagining and reinvigorating the classics. The divisive Faustus in 2016 seems a long time ago, gone are the bells and whistles and lurid designs and instead Lloyd’s commitment to the purity of the original text has been an abiding feature of his success in the last 18 months. As the new year began, the West End was in the midst of the Pinter at the Pinter season with Lloyd resuming the reigns for Collections Six and Seven which celebrated and marvelled at Pinter’s playful use of language, most notably in an intense radio play staging of A Slight Ache, followed by a celebrated stage return for Danny Dyer and Martin Freeman in The Dumb Waiter.

Going head-to-head with Atwell and Scott for the year’s very best performances are Tom Hiddleston and James McAvoy who set theatreland alight with their devastatingly raw portrayals of love gone horribly wrong. The Pinter series concluded with Betrayal in March, as fine a production as you’ll see anywhere, with Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox playing the unbearably entwined friends and lovers that was filled with pain, self-destruction and deception which Lloyd steered with an unassuming simplicity that lent unrelenting weight to the emotional entanglements. It rightly earned an acclaimed Broadway transfer in the autumn.

Lloyd rapidly announced a new residency at The Playhouse Theatre where, despite the poor sightlines and eye-wateringly expensive ticket prices, Cyrano de Bergerac has earned wide acclaim with a mesmerising performance of unrequited love, jealousy and soldierly bravado by James McAvoy that runs until February. This must-see production has been inclusively realised, turning what is often a very silly three hour caricature into an outstanding and crushing examination of self-image and emotional laceration. 2020 will also deliver two major West End debuts as Lloyd tackles both Chekhov and Ibsen with Emilia Clarke in The Seagull and Jessica Chastain in A Doll’s House, both set to be fascinating but respectful interpretations by a superstar director.

But the new theatre year has plenty more gifts to offer, not least Timothee Chalamet making his West End debut alongside Eileen Atkins in 4000 Miles at the Old Vic in April, Cush Jumbo’s Hamlet at the Young Vic in July, the return of City of Angels, a new play by Tom Stoppard, Leopoldstadt, a stage version of Upstart Crow and Colin Morgan in Caryl Churchill at the Bridge – with plenty more to be announced. 2019 may not have entirely shaken-up theatreland but the foundations are slowly being laid for greater representation and the inclusion of more voices in 2020. And whether it’s musicals or plays, fringe, regional theatre or West End every bit of the theatre ecosystem has a vital part to play.

For up to date reviews in 2020, follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1 or Facebook: Cultural Capital Theatre Blog   

 


Finding Harold: A Pinter at the Pinter Season Review

Pinter at the Pinter Season

Six months ago, the thought of a season dedicated to Pinter, let’s face it, sounded like a drag, a potential slog through 20 one-act plays and sketches full of weird scenarios, aggressive encounters and endless pauses. But as lovers of drama “this will be good for me” you may have thought, Pinter is beloved of actors and directors, an important voice in the landscape who like Brecht and Beckett we have to learn to appreciate – the equivalent of our theatrical fibre, you know it’s good for you but you don’t have to like it.

What has actually occurred in the last six months is nothing less than astonishing as Jamie Lloyd’s Pinter at the Pinter season has transformed hearts and minds, showing us the genius and humanity of a multi-stranded writer whose plays remain as relevant and meaningful as they were in the 1960s. By finally letting the audience in on the secrets of Pinter’s success and making a case for his work in the mainstream, this is how Jamie Lloyd et al has taught us not just to like and understand Pinter, but to love him.

  • The Context

Prior to this game-changing season, there has been plenty of Pinter to see in the last few years with high calibre productions filled with star names. Lloyd himself directed two at the Trafalgar Studios – The Hothouse and The Homecoming with a fantastic cast that included Pinter-veteran John Simm in both alongside Ron Cook, Gary Kemp, Simon Russell Beale and Gemma Chan. A major revival of No Man’s Land toured the UK with legendary theatre knights Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, while 2018 began with an impressive production of The Birthday Party also at the Harold Pinter Theatre directed by Ian Rickson and starring Toby Jones, Zoe Wannamaker and Stephen Mangan.

All of these productions were great, all weird, menacing, peculiar experiences that were entertainingly bizarre. They created a chink through which you could sit back and appreciate Pinter’s (then) niche appeal, his focus on unsettling tone and illusory perspectives rather than straightforward narrative and character development. Did we understand these plays? Maybe. Did we love them? Probably not. Using the same criteria for assessing last year’s disappointing Oscar Wilde season, let’s see how Jamie Lloyd changed our minds.

  • Play Selection is Crucial

Building an entire season around rarely seen short works and grouping them together in thematic collections was a stroke of genius. The advantage of this for an audience is the feeling of assortment, knowing that if one piece was less entertaining or meaningful then in 10-30 minutes the next play or sketch might be more appealing. The anthology approach offers plenty of variety in one night, making explicit connections between quite different types of work and  thereby reinforcing the central premise that our perspective on Pinter’s output has been unfairly narrowed by his most revived plays.

Pinter is, Lloyd has forcefully argued, an ever-relevant commentator whose writing incorporates the full spectrum of human experience, that it has a universality that beneath the strange structure and scenarios makes him a major and enduring figure in theatre history. And the timelessness of Pinter’s subject matter was infused through the seven thematic collections, beginning with a set of stories including Mountain Language, One for the Road and Ashes to Ashes that examined the totalitarian state, the shifting balance of power in society and the slow erosion of individual rights that leads to violence.

Playing in repertory, Lloyd changed pitch completely in Pinter Two with the oft-combined The Lover and The Collection that examined the politics of relationships, of fantasy role-play and unconventionality. Pinter Three and Four also applied contrasting themes, the latter using Moonlight and Night School to think about external intrusion into the domestic sphere and the complexities of family life, while placing these alongside exquisite productions looking at love and absence – Landscape and A Kind of Alaska – making us see Pinter’s ability to write deep emotion for the first time. Pinter Three was a powerful experience amplified by Lee Evans heartbreaking Monologue which remains one of the seasons most memorable events, one that felt utterly transformative in shifting our perspective on Pinter.

The fifth collection continued to focus on isolation and physical separation finding poignancy beneath the comic in Victoria Station and particularly Family Voices, an exchange of letters between mother and son. This was contrasted with the class-based falsity of pre-selected communities in Pinter Six’s Party Time and Celebration, before concluding with A Slight Ache and The Dumb Waiter showcasing the absurdity of language and the rhythm of Pinter’s dialogue. The breadth of Pinter’s work has been gratifying to see, evolving throughout the season and carefully curated to reveal a writer whose multifaceted output elicited deeper meaning the more of it we saw.

  • Vary the Presentation

It has been said many times during the series, but Jamie Lloyd has the most finely calibrated understanding of Pinter of any modern director and this gave his team the confidence to break free of the original period settings and to deliver each anthology with a slightly different, but undeniably modern, approach that underscored the generality of Pinter’s themes. Where Dominic Dromgoole’s Wilde season stuck to its rigid historical focus (much to its detriment), Lloyd and season designer Soutra Gilmour had a clear, stylised vision for each production, united by a series of common factors including the large rotating cube in various states of deconstruction, and the visible “backstage” detritus that lent artificiality at the right moments.

The effect created layers of meaning within the design that united individual collections under their thematic banner whilst also ensuring that they were visibly part of the overall vision for the season. Through careful management of visual clues, Jon Clark’s lighting design and George Dennis’s sound and music choices, every time the curtain went up the audience undoubtedly knew they were at a Pinter at the Pinter performance.

It all began with a clear statement of intent, the lurking fear and intensity of Pinter One became a core feature of the stark, grey and intimidating design, with plenty of shadows creating dark corners. This is not the way Pinter’s work had been visualised before, and it set the standard for no ordinary season to come. And so it proved to be, every production offered a different approach, from the heightened reality and colour saturation of 60s sex comedy The Lover right through to the creepy radio booth of a A Slight Ache, each design slightly separate from those that had come before while beautifully serving the themes and content of the work.

The most visually exciting and directorially daring, was Pinter Six in which Lloyd employed very little movement and instead organised his actors in a line during Party Time, each stepping forward to deliver their scenes. The purposefully static nature of these decisions showed a season full of confidence, revelling in an intensity amplified by Gilmour’s monochrome design. As a now dedicated Pinter audience, we were pushed to focus on the text more completely as the season unfolded, a decision that allowed us to get the most from radio play A Slight Ache and Betrayal which followed.

  • Venue and Casting

Holding a Harold Pinter season at the Harold Pinter Theatre is an obvious choice, but the auditorium itself, aside from a series of slim pillars on every level, offers reasonable views from all but the most extreme seats in the Royal Circle and Balcony. Wherever you sit, the audience can feel fairly close to the action and if you booked early enough, you could see the whole season for £15 per show with several marginally restricted view seats in the Dress Circle – a sensible pricing decision for what 8-months ago seemed like an enormous risk. While Betrayal prices are now notably higher, previous season attendees had access to pre-sale tickets for as little as £25, while a weekly Rush scheme was introduced for key workers and those in receipt of social security benefit to see the show for £15, all of which have resulted in what has felt like a relatively diverse audience across the entire run.

Casting, of course, has been one of Pinter at the Pinter’s most notable features and, like the Kenneth Branagh Season in 2016, there has been a clear strategy to align established theatre veterans, those who personally knew Pinter and, most importantly, the industry’s rising stars – reiterating the season’s role in ensuring Pinter’s future survival. Every casting announcement brought fresh excitement with well-known performers including David Suchet, Anthony Sher, Phil Davis, Tamsin Grieg, Celia Imrie and Tracy-Ann Oberman across the run. Rupert Graves was particularly excellent in Pinter Five as a bemused taxi driver before joining with Jane Horrocks for the memorable Family Voices. John Simm excelled as ever in Pinter Six while Janie Dee and Brid Brennan were hilarious as nosey aunts in Night School.

Among the creative team, Lloyd successfully shared the directing honours with Patrick Marber, Lia Williams, and particularly Ed Stamboullian, but it was just as delightful to see substantial roles given to younger actors. Hayley Squires, Papa Essiedu, Gemma Whelan and Kate O’Flynn are well established if arguably not quite household names yet, but each firmly grasped the opportunity that the season offered to deliver excellent performances. And equally we saw brilliant work from actors all but fresh from drama school including Abraham Popoola as waiter with literary pretensions in Celebration, Jessica Barden as the mysterious lodger in Night School, and most impressively from Luke Thallon (soon to be seen alongside Andrew Scott in Present Laughter at the Old Vic) who brought Pinter’s radio play Family Voices so vividly to life in another of those memorable moments that will linger long after the season concludes. Of course, the ever-savvy Lloyd saved his trump cards for the season finale.

  • A Grand Finale

If there has been one key feature of the Pinter at the Pinter season it has been never to do things by halves, so with that in mind, why have one season finale when you can have two! The combined excitement of seeing Martin Freeman and, Pinter collaborator, Danny Dyer on stage in The Dumb Waiter promised to be quite an experience when it was announced last summer when Pinter Seven was intended to conclude the series in February. It may have raised eyebrows at the time, but populist casting would drive new audiences into the theatre. In that time, Dyer has transformed himself into a national treasure, and, with a theatre CV that is predominantly West End or equivalent, it proved to be an insightful evening as the central pair delivered a performance that showcased the layers of comic potential in the text to a house packed full of newly won Pinter fans.

Then came Betrayal. Announced only last November when the season was well underway, Pinter’s beautiful 90-minute play about adultery and friendship became the new season finale. The casting of Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox ensured that Pinter at the Pinter would end with one of the year’s most anticipated productions. Fully consistent with the seven insightful anthologies that have come before and visually aligned with the stark simplicity of Pinter One, directed with the precision and choreographical control that Lloyd displayed in Pinter Six, and performed with the intensity and emotional force of Pinter Three, Betrayal is an extraordinary piece of theatre, moving, complex and hugely resonant, the cumulative effect of Pinter’s work over the last 6 months ensuring you’ll never forget this astonishing finale.

  • A Point of View

In just six months, Jamie Lloyd’s creative team and ever-changing company of actors has utterly transformed our perspective on Harold Pinter. Where once we went leaden-footed for a night of inexplicable menace, suddenly we were skipping to our seats eager to be wowed by each new perspective on his plays. The range and value of Pinter’s writing, his inestimable effect on the theatrical landscape and the importance of his commentary feels more relevant, timeless and incontrovertible than it ever has.

The Pinter at the Pinter season set out to change our minds, to make us see, understand and really feel the many kinds of writer Pinter was. Anyone planning a production now will (and should) be intimidated by the wonderful clarity this season has brought us, the creative vision so brilliantly and purposefully delivered by all involved and filled with memorable experiences. We are genuinely sad that it’s over. The season has deservedly received huge acclaim, and plenty of applause, but Jamie Lloyd this figurative ovation is just for you for because in this exceptional season of work, you truly taught us all to love Pinter.

The Pinter at the Pinter Season concludes with Betrayal, now running until 8 June, with tickets from £15. Follow this blog on Twitter @culturalcap1 or Facebook: Cultural Capital Theatre Blog.


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