The Great List



RSC at the Barbican
Director: Greg Doran
Designer: Stephen Brimson Lewis

Talent: Antony Byrne (Duke), Lucy Phelps (Isabella)

Club: Self, RW and Mr Peter Huhne

Shakespeare set it in Vienna, so so did SBL and Doran, though three hundred years later.  Plus ca change, eh?  Well, it kind of worked.  The set design - very clever photographic projection and lighting (the famously long final scene was set in a magnificent railway station, fit for dukes and punks alike).  I didn't really get a proper sense of the decadence and moral decay that is one of the themes of the play.  Still, that may be because I missed much of the language of the first half, as my new bluetooth loop app-fangle didn't appear to work (I had head phones for the second half - a treat).  It is a terrifically intriguing play, that can be done in all sorts of ways.  Usually the duke is played as a rather neutral deus ex machina, but the truth is he is not ex at all - he has almost a third of the lines.  It is HIS play.  This production seemed to recognise that, and Antony Byrne gave an energised, driving performance.  Lucy Phelps was a bit too shouty for me.  I tend to think of Isabella's anger as controlled.  Anna Maxwell Martin, ten years ago at the Almeida, is my model.  It also has to be said that last night's Angelo maybe lacked a little sleaziness.  Then again, it is interesting that it is a Nun who gets the character going, so perhaps Shakespeare intended to suggest that even the upright can succumb, given the right temptation.

17 June
The Bridge Theatre
Directed by Nicholas Hytner

Present: RM, RP, WW, RW, Emma F, Mike H, Margy K.

It begins grey, with black suits, grey serge, with wimples.  It’s no fun, after all, what with Hermia’s father wanting her to marry Demetrius, threatening to have her executed otherwise.  Wisely, Hermia and Lysander decide to run away to his aunt’s house….  And so it begins.
         Going to Shakespeare is often an act of piety, but when Shakespeare is done well, it knocks the socks off the rest, and this Dream is done very well indeed.
         Certainly I can imagine purists bridling.  I bridled a bit, as my confusion cleared and I realised that Titania and Oberon had been swapped. Whether this was because Sir Brienne of Tarth needed a bigger role, or there were more laughs in a Dick Emeryish approach to the Titania-Bottom sex scenes, or whether it was just all tremendously woke, I don’t know, and by the end I no longer cared.  This was because I was enjoying myself so much. 
         One of the very good things about Nicholas Hytner’s production is the vim and verve brought to the often rather dull quartet of indistinguishable lovers abandoning themselves in the forest.  They were all good, but Kit Young (Lysander) in particular deserves a name check.  I think he’d make a rather good Hamlet.  Odd thing to say, but I’ve said it now, and dammit, I shan’t delete.  The other star was Hammid Animashaun, who thoroughly enjoyed playing Bottom, an enjoyment enjoyed too by the audience.
         Ah, yes, the audience.  The Bridge Theatre is a remarkable place.  It doesn’t have a stage.  Instead it has a series of landing blocks that rise and fall, along with enormous prop bricks than run in and out or up and down: these are variously beds and swards, and they are pitted around the space at the centre of the auditorium, and surrounded by a standing audience, or rather a moving audience, for it is continually being moved about and burrowed through, and generally never left alone.  It is made to clap along, even to dance.  In return it occasionally whooped enthusiastically, and applauded particular bits of business.  The stage craft, which involves design, stage managers, and the actors themselves, is boggling impressive. The Bridge is a rather wonderful theatre, both grown up and contemporary.  The place was full of the young.
          The gender-bending works much better here than it did in the enjoyable but distinctly iffy Julius Caesar, Hytner’s last Shakespeare at The Bridge, and the crowd interaction seemed much more natural.  Emma Smith, the current Shakespeare eminence, thinks the Dream is a dark piece concerned with transgressive sexuality, inappropriate for children.  I personally think almost all Shakespeare is inappropriate for children until such time as they understand it, but this production, never sentimental or cloying, I think would enchant the intelligent young as much as it enchanted me.
         The Club, I believe, was broadly in agreement: we were wedded with Theseus in jollity.

RM:  Nerdy "ancients" (sic) like me will also want to note that, inexplicably, Hytner (who was generally respectful of the text - and a good director of it) cut Theseus big Act 5 speech (about "the lunatic, the lover and the poet").

April 1

What is it about the Globe that brings us catastrophically bad productions at moments of high political drama?  On 7 June 2001  we walked out of Tim Carroll's spectacularly awful 'Macbeth' at half-time, to find that Tony Blair had been re-elected. I believe we ate in the Globe's empty restaurant.

I can't be arsed to be archival, clever or facetious, and have nothing else to add about this insultingly poor production of a very expositionful play, performed in candle-light in the ever beautiful Sam W theatre.


29 January
Directed by Joe Hill-Gibbins
Club:  RW, CC, RP, RM,, BM, Margy, Emma

RW: It’s perhaps telling that the programme for Richard 2 contains three articles. One on prisons, one on belief and the one on the play/ history is written by a Times columnist (and not even our Times columnist). 
There’s something terrifically literal about playing the whole thing out in a prison – (without even an a glimpse of another world a la Kiss of the Spider Woman. Though there is some in the verse). And this was compounded by opening with the prison speech from the end. You could  at least have done some sort of James Turrell thing with the lighting. The production seemed to me to be trapped in this idea: the plot, the other characters literally bouncing from pillar to post, and with increasing speed  and volume as the play wore on.   The story, the history  can’t just be a backdrop for Richard’s gradual breakdown- or whatever it is. Gosh – the prison must be a metaphor for the human condition. I see now how we’re all trapped etc. It made me think of gloomy old Eliot but at least he gives us some aetherial rumours (whatever they are). 

We think of the key, each in his prison
Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison
Only at nightfall, aetherial rumours
Revive for a moment a broken Coriolanus. 
I like the idea of doubling some of the parts. Saskia Reeves was good. Some of the blocking was effective The blood was good for the battles. Though again sometimes this physical theatre is way  too literal. The text has Richard being humiliated on his way to the Tower, covered in muck - so we see him humiliated, covered in muck and after a while you’re thinking, I hope he doesn’t get a nasty chill lying there in that wet t shirt, or some  mud in his eyes. At the curtain I was keen for him to get off and into a hot shower. Not quite what you should be thinking. 
Still, I liked SRB. I found his reading extraordinarily clear and moving. The verse was fresh and brilliant in places. Emma found him too camp, CC found him not moving enough. RM and RP were very pleased to have seen it.  Margy as well.  At times, I thought how lucky we’ve been to watch SRB pile through these parts at the height of his powers, though the productions sometimes don’t do him justice. Imagine if Peter Brook had directed him. Though Mendes  has done a good job in those they’ve done together.  
At the pizza house, Ben told us that he’d recently found that his phone had been wiped (downloaded?) after he’d checked it in at the Thames House front door. In my jet lagged, befuddled state I was imagining that maybe they’ll come across Wynn’s Lost Shakespeare Club Archive – that holy grail of the intelligence services.

CC: I wish Rory Kinnear would have a go at it.  It was me who thought SRB was too camp - I thought he was channelling his performance, over thirty years ago, of Edward II at Stratford, on which occasion I interviewed him.

RM: Rory Kinnear can be rather hit-and-miss. HIs NT Macbeth (with  Anne-Marie Duff) was a stinker - but that probably wasn't his fault.

CC: Edward II 1592
Richard II 1595

My theory being that Shakers saw Marlowe's and thought he'd have a go - which he's referring to, perhaps, when he says "the sad stories of the death of kings. . .all murdered" speech

RM: I firmly believe that you can't stress too strongly his competition with Marlowe. The sincerest flattery of imitation. Why ? because ever since the SENSATIONAL  success of Tamburlaine in 1587, Marlowe was the Top (Bankside) Dog. That's the insight that Stoppard very cleverly exploits in S. in Love.

10 January
National Theatre
Directed by Simon Godwin
Ralph Fiennes, Sophie Okinado

RM writes: 
A reduced, but invigorated, detachment of the Club made its sharp rendezvous on the south bank last night to see Ralph Fiennes and Sopie Okenado tackle this very difficult script. We were: NM, RM, RP, RW – and SG (by special appointment), deputising for WW, whose customary critical excellence we miss here. 

Actually – absent WW – all the record needs to show is that SG a) attended the whole performance, b) evinced enthusiasm at half-time and c) declared the evening a great success at close of play (three and a half hours later). Result!

Act, 3, scene 10, inspired the most comment. Those of us who believe in the Stratford origins of WS delighted in the comparison of Cleopatra’s movements to “a cow in June” and then (surely, we see the playwright thinking aloud here?) – just 7 lines later – Anthony’s own precipitate flight matched to “a doting mallard”.

The consensus, in the Pizza Express, was that Ralph F is at the top of his game, and outstanding in the key valedictory speeches of Act 4; that Sophie O started too tarty/shrill, but managed, more or less, to find her character and make the all-important transition to doomed nobility in Act 5. We all admired Simon Godwin’s clear, intelligent direction. RW approved the inventive use of the National’s mighty revolve. RP, doubtful at the break, came off happy. NM – this is not actually part of the play, but at least newsworthy – left his keys in Oxford and had to find a £50 room somewhere in Waterloo. That’s the Provost’s tale, anyway.

RP added: Excellent critique and thank you, RM, and RW.  I thought Fiennes was outstanding - really came into his own.  Monument scene so hard - they should have given the entrance more space as all those people squeezing in and out of the tunnel was messy and distracted for me from Cleo’s end.  Which did indeed show nobility after her brassy, shouty start. 


12 December
Directed by Fiona Laird
David Troughton (Falstaff)
RM, RP, RW, Mathilda, WW

Yuletide fare. A warm hearted farce.  The director moved the setting from Windsor to 'Essex', and down a class from middle middle to lower middle, with no great damage. The costumes were a hybrid of Elizabethan ruff and contemporary dull.  In tone there was a Gavin and Stacey air to the whole proceedings (a Dick Emery joke worked its way in for the more senior members of the audience) - or perhaps it was watched over by the spirit of Alison Steadman's most memorable performances, spiced with a touch of Sibyl Fawlty (and even the merest hint of Vicki Pollard).  The action, in commencing, seemed perhaps a little slow, the comedy forced; but it may be that the audience itself needed to become familiar with the characters.  As the evening went on, the play seemed to accelerate, and the laughs became more frequent and more natural.  I personally found it hard to hear many of the actors,  Troughton and most of the women excepted.  I was sorry Karen Fishwick, otherwise perfectly competent as the desirable Ann, allowed the immortal lines "Good mother, do not marry me to yond fool... / I had rather be set quick i' th' earth / And bowled to death with turnips!"  be consumed by business (lying on the floor waving legs), of which there was perhaps a little too much altogether.  The well-known scene in which Falstaff is hidden in a laundry basket - one of Shakespeare's great comic set-pieces - brought the show fully to life, despite there being no laundry basket in evidence.  Instead, both on stage and in the text, there was a filthy wheelie-bin.  Almost the entire play is in prose, so this was quite acceptable, and one imagines WS would not have disapproved.  And anyway, it was very funny.  Troughton gave Falstaff the centre of attention, but it was the Merry Wives themselves who were the stars of the show.  As, presumably, ought to be the case.  Enjoyed by all club members present.

19 April
Silk Street Theatre, Barbican
Cheek by Jowl
Declan Donnellan & Nick Ormerod
Christophe Gregoire (Pericles)
Present: NM, RW, WW, RP, Margy, Mathilda

In French, with surtitles.  Ideal for me (WW).  Aplomb was the word that crept into my head.  It is one of the trade marks of Cheek by Jowl, this straightforward authority, Donnellan and Ormerod's redesign of Shakespeare never seeming to overwhelm the original, though NM remarked that the approach tends to emphasise plot over words.   I thought this worked very well.  It was both funny and moving,  though  maybe not quite so charming as the Dominic Dromgoole at the Wannamaker a couple of years ago.  M Gregoire was terribly good, and the French actors were all terrifically declamatory and, well, French.

RW added this (the end of Eliot's 'Marina'): 

Bowsprit cracked with ice and paint cracked with heat.
I made this, I have forgotten
And remember.
The rigging weak and the canvas rotten
Between one June and another September.
Made this unknowing, half conscious, unknown, my own.
The garboard strake leaks, the seams need caulking.
This form, this face, this life
Living to live in a world of time beyond me; let me
Resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken,
The awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships.

What seas what shores what granite islands towards my timbers
And woodthrush calling through the fog
My daughter.
This too, is RW: 
As we’ve discussed before there’s clearly something about reconciliation and rediscovery that spoke deeply to Shakespeare.

17 April
NT Olivier
Rufus Norris
Rory Kinnear, Anne-Marie Duff
Present: NM, RM

Report by RM

Neil & I went to see Macbeth,  starring Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff, at the Olivier last night. We were in an out by 10pm (more on the cuts shortly).

We both understood why the critics were so hostile, but it was not as bad as we feared. It is, after all, a great script. Most of the trouble, from my POV, was to do with

1. The Olivier
2. Rufus as a director

Everything else was fixable. But...

1. The Olivier is just too vast a space for an essentially intimate and claustrophobic piece. The designer made it worse by attempting to give it an operatic set (massive ramp; ominous drapes; witches up poles) that seemed to confuse the cast as much as the audience. There was a lot of shouting in a variety of regional accents, some of them Scottish, or possibly Scouse.

2. Rufus, who has not done Shakespeare for 25 years,  was out of his depth. Hopelessly. There was some terrible staging (notably the big Banquo part one closer), while the cutting of the witches' antics on the blasted heath made the show of kings meaningless. 
McCrum's First Law (of this play) is: Get the witches right, and all will be well (cf. Rupert Goold)
Act Four (which can be quite boring) was heavily and badly cut. Macduff was quite good, but the minor parts were not well drawn. The fellow who played The Porter seemed to play all the minor roles that Rufus could not understand. The result was unintentionally comic, by the end.

Worst and saddest of all: Rory Kinnear, who does so well when directed properly by someone like Hytner, was not at home in his part. Anne-Marie Duff was good, at times excellent, but terribly isolated. She treated Macbeth like a slightly autistic lodger with body-image issues.

Neil said he enjoyed our traditional trip to pizza express more than the show, which is the kind of thing provosts like to say, but probably a bit harsh.

I was glad to have gone. I still think SRB's Macbeth at the Almeida was worse.

It's high time someone did a first-class production: it's such a wonderful play, and I am always struck by Ss audacity at presenting his new boss (James 1), whom he knew to be obsessed with witchcraft and fears of assassination, with... a play about witches and king-killing.

23 January
The Bridge Theatre
Nicholas Hytner, Director
Ben Whishaw (Brutus), David Morrissey (Mark Antony) Michelle Fairley (Cassius), David Calder (JC)
Present: RM, Emma, NM, WW, RP, RW, Felicity, A Tall Young Walters

RM; "It wasn't for me"
RP: "I thought that was marvellous"
RW: "They were afraid of the intimacy"
NM: "You can't carve with guns"

Well, it starts brutally with a band playing Seven Nation Army rather (perhaps not inappropriately) badly but loudly (gig-loud).  This is for the benefit of the 'mob' (£15 promenade tickets) which gets frequently shifted about  through the course of the evening as different parts of the stage rise and descend, and bodies or military equipment are moved in and out. The production is more or less in the round, in, you will have gathered, modern costume.  The assassins have guns rather than knives (which are really not as 'intimate' as knives, and nor can they be said to 'carve').  The late war scenes are pretty well done: loud and unpleasant, with actors dashing around with guns (very Johnny 7) - but it does look nastily like a battlefield. 

 On the whole, I am for togas.  The audience is usually clever enough to make its own comparisons, draw its own conclusions.  We really don't need Trump jammed down our gullets.  

I thought the thing stuttered along until the assassination, at which point the pace picked up, specifically with David Morrissey's very good Lend Me Your Ears.  That sold me.  Ben Whishaw is a very good actor (FR however could not drive Paddington Bear from her mind), but he perhaps lacks that stolid, almost dim gravitas that I think Brutus needs  ("It was all a bit Chekov" RW remarked of his and Cassius' bivouac argument/make-up scene).  Michelle Fairley (Cassius) I thought was not quite sure whether she should be pretending to be a man or not.  What can be said is that I heard almost every word of this play, which is incredibly rare.  Whether this is to the credit of the performers or the superdooper uptodate acoustics of the Bridge, I don't know.  A bit of both, I daresay. 

 JC is a tricky play: one is never quite sure who it is about, and, prefiguring Psycho, the person you thought it was about gets killed in the middle.  Nonetheless, I expect that with time (it hasn't actually opened yet) this production will find a rhythm that will give it both the intimacy and the cohesion it somewhat lacked this evening.  I think if we average out the marks it  comes in at perhaps 6/10.  I'd give it a B+ myself and expect it to rise to an A- .  What began questionably ended enjoyably.

Finally, a word for Leaphia Darko as Portia, who spoke her small part beautifully.  I look forward to seeing more of her.


13 November 2017
RSC, Barbican
Angus Jackson, Director
Sope Dirisu (Coriolanus), Haydn Gwynne (Volumnia)
Emma, RM, RP, NM, RW, WW

" that converses more with the buttock of the night than with the forehead of the morning."

RM: I have nothing but abject  regret for last night's abysmal outing. Waking this morning, the whole experience seemed -- if possible -- worse not better. 

Acting: dire
Direction: atrocious
Staging: 6th form
Music: pointless rubbish
Set: incomprehensible.
Verse-speaking: non-existent
Star power: zero.
Audience satisfaction: negative zero

Perhaps only Volumnia emerged from the rubble with some dignity intact.

I now think that we should establish -- for such evenings -- a penalty system whereby the perpetrator (in this instance, Me) is fined on a sliding scale of £50 (for poor direction) £30 per dud actor and £20 per Act.

On this reckoning, I'm now seriously in the red, and will bend every sinew to try to identify a future hit for mutual delight.

Sorry about all this. If things get any worse -- is this possible ? -- I shall just have to resign - and retire to civilian/country life.

Meanwhile, I look forward to Roland's JC at the Bridge in January.

RW:  My only regret about last night apart from not having the trad steak frites with lashings of red wine was that Simon wasn't there to critique it for us. The camp servants were in some ways the final insult. Please!

RP: RSC basic duty is to teach them how to speak, it seems to me.
Thank god the fork-lift truck didn’t reappear.

WW: As I think I said last night, it is a very odd sensation leaving Shakespeare feeling nothing.  Well, other than disappointment.  This was so lacklustre I didn't even feel angry (as the Scott Hamlet made me - though I think many of you enjoyed that).  What did shock me within very few minutes of the beginning was how awful the acting was.  The poor chap asked to play Coriolanus had in his countenance nothing that one could fain call authority.  The two tribunes resembled Islington councillors and Aufidius had the threat and gravity of a balloon. Rupert described Volumnia as a ‘housemaster’s wife not quite sure where to put herself', though I personally thought Haydn Gwynne was by some distance the best thing in this production.  The droney cello music marking the breaks between scenes was intolerable, and that voice wailing through the deeply unconvincing fight was wholly “sorry, what?”

It has to be said, however, that the seats at the Barbican are very comfortable.  Had we been sitting in some squeezy Shaftesbury Avenue theatre I think we would have all followed Neil out at half time.


Exchange between RM and self (WW) on Andrew Scott's Hamlet, as directed by Robert Icke for the Almeida.  It garnered very good reviews from just about everyone except for me and CC.

Robert, we seem once more to be at different ends of the critical spectrum.  Despite Cressida’s warning, I too went, some time ago now, to see the Andrew Scott Hamlet, partly at my son’s urging (he’d seen the Tennant, wanted to see another) and partly because I like Scott..  Unfortunately the actor failed to take the prince's advice - "do not saw the air too much with your hand”.  More sawing and pointing and waving and god knows what, with both hand and arm I have rarely seen.  It was like watching Hamlet performed by one of those chaps who direct aeroplanes about an airfield. Because the director had decided to set the play in some vague modern context, he had the actors speak the verse as though it were prose, which had the odd effect of often robbing it of its meaning.  And as for something being rotten in the state of Denmark - no sense of that at all.  Furthermore, despite deciding to keep in all the Norway business (god, but it is a long show), the feeling that there was a war waging was utterly absent.  I suppose all this could have been tolerable (Ophelia was very good indeed) had it not been for the unbelievably crass use of Bob Dylan tracks played at stupid volume, and with very little reason, and what seemed an over-willingness to stop the songs mid-phrase.  We were expected to watch that usually terrifically tense fight at the end to the sound of Bob droning ‘Not Dark Yet’, a great song, but, I mean, give the audience at least a little credit, and trust Shakespeare.  Just when one is hoping that the rest is silence, Bob breaks out again, to bring the curtain down to - of all the lyrics that have ever been written - ‘one more cup of coffee before I go’.  I left the theatre laughing and furious.  I’d bought four tickets - over £250.  No more Icke for me, thank you.  And apologies for this response, Robert.  I had thought to write it all up at the time, but then thought, it isn’t worth it.  The truth is I felt short-changed and cheated.

On 18 Jul 2017, at 09:08, Robert Mccrum <> wrote:

I went off-piste last night with Emma and some friends to see Robert Icke's Hamlet (starring Andrew Scott) at the Harold Pinter Theatre (you'll all remember Stoppard's famous gag).

I know this production has inspired -- shall we say ? - a range of comment. So, for the record, I wanted to report that a) I think Scott is really an actor to watch and b) this is one of the best Hamlets I've seen in ages. 

It's in three parts: 1. up to the Mousetrap, 2. to Hamlet's banishment and 3. to the bloody climax.

Part 1 was a revelation; part 2. was efficient (slightly missing Juliet Stevenson, who has given way to an Irish actress); part 3. was confused and unsatisfactory. So: not a great evening, but a really engaging one., in which the reading of the text was often quite brilliant. Scott's "To be or not to be" was a revelation. In fact he did all the great arias really well.

Ophelia was, for once, almost bearable.

But what I liked about the show was that here's director who successfully re-made the play for a 2017 in the way that Rupert Goold used to do. 

20 April 2017
Silk Street Theatre, Barbican
Direction / Design Declan Donnellan / Nick Ormerod
Orlando James (Leontes) Natalie Radmall Quirke (Hermione)

RM, NM, RW, CC, WW, Matilda W, Roland W

This was riveting.  Neither pious on the one hand nor indulgent of a director's fetish on the other.  It took liberties with the text, but in service to the play. Proper theatre.  And such an extraordinary play, containing a bit of everything, switching from tragedy to comedy without a hiccough, maintaining a current of high emotional power throughout. There were moments when i found myself not breathing, and 'Oh, she's warm' nearly undid me   Orlando James's Leontes was exceptionally persuasive in all his extreme passions - for his friend, in his jealousy, in his pain, and in redemption.  A tincture of camp added a theatricality which did not upset. NRQ's Hermione, sometimes very quiet, had exactly the right degree of dignity and indignation. The club throughly enjoyed itself.  NM and RM were a little snooty - perhaps rightly so - about the high jinks of the sheep-shearing festival (done as a kind of game show, and enjoyable), which denied us some of Perdita and Florizel's sweetest a-courtin', and none of us could really hear Joy Richardson as Paulina.  Sam Woolf as Florizel was very well spoken (in both senses), but the real star was the company itself, which gave this production verve and punch, and left one feeling invigorated on leaving the theatre. 

NT Olivier
2 March 2017
Simon Godwin
Tamsin Greig (Malvolia), Tim McMullan (Sir Toby), Phoebe Fox (Olivua)

Enjoyed by all I think.  Very funny. Teetered perhaps on the edge of disaster in terms of, er, concept.  Where or when it was set – god alone knows.  Modern stage design is incredibly clever, often too so, and here we had revolving, splitting, upping, downing, fountaining, pooling and whatnotting generally.  A lot was thrown in: motor cars, bicycles, boxing gloves, balloons, neon. Somebody in drag sang ‘To be or not to be’ in a sleazy nightclub.  With so much busyness, the thing could have been eaten up with itself.  But it worked.  Though quite why it was necessary to make such a gender fluid play even more gender fluid wasn’t quite clear, perhaps especially in the case of the cross-dressing Irish hard man O’Antonio.  Still, Tamsin Grieg did put in a star turn as Malvolia - though Malvolio is not a school headmistress.  Not sure I can ever get Alec Guinness out of my mind’s eye for the role.  And as RW pointed out, crossgartering Malvolio is not supposed to make him look sexy, but absurd.  His vanity, his pomposity, his pretentiousness is what Sir Toby and Maria want to prick, not his starchiness or disciplinarian tendencies.  Sir Toby, unusually looking like a dishevelled Keanu Reeves rather than a dry run for Falstaff, was excellent as played with a strong stage voice by Tim McMullan, as was Daniel Rigby’s very funny Aguecheek.  I thought Phoebe Fox did OK as Olivia, but it was generally agreed that as Viola Tamara Lawrence’s ‘pipes’ (good spot from NM) weren’t up to it.  Nobody had anything to say about Feste, but I thought Doon Mackichan was, with Niky Wardley’s Maria, the best of the women (excepting TG of course).  She sang the songs mournfully but naturally, and strolled about with proper Foolish licence.  However she was no Robert Eddison  (you have to be really getting on to know who Robert Eddison – my father and I both saw him as Feste, some 40 years apart).  The audience loved it, cheered, and clapped Tamsin Greig’s Big C-U-T Scene.  Altogether not a great Shakespeare production, but a very good show, nonetheless, which very likely would have pleased Him.  Bums on seats.

RSC Stratford
Gregory Dolan
Self, Margie, RW, BM, RM, Emma, CC

Terrific, magical production.  Production design by Stephen Brimson Lewis.  Mark Quartley quite wonderful as Ariel.  Oddly only real moan is about SRB, who spoke a little too quickly.  But then I think he was trying to convey an impatient, angry man.  Nevertheless, one of our best outings.


Anthony Sher

The Old Vic
8 November
Directed by Deborah Warner
Glenda Jackson, Jane Horrocks, Rhys Ifans, Celia Imrie, Karl Johnson

Sisters not tremendously good.  Karl Johnson excellent as Gloucester.

Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare's Globe
Directed by Dominic Dromgoole
James Garnon as Pericles
Dorothea Myer-Bennett as Thaisa / Dionyza
17 March
Present: WW, CC, NM and Alfie Mendoza

Enjoyed by all of us.  Both funny and touching.  May be WS's sweetest play. Dorothea M-B particularly good as the warm-hearted Thaisa before turning up as the cold-hearted Dionyza.  You can't do that with the Method.

National Theatre, Olivier
Director: Polly Findlay
Talent: Rosalie Craig, Joe Bannister, Matk Benton (Touchstone), Paul Chahidi (Jacques)
Club: RM, Emma, RW, RP, NM, WW

"Over-directed", muttered Mr RM at half-time, referring not least to the preposterous set, which, whatever the clever interpretive thinking or the brilliantly theatrical execution involved, struck me - and indeed most of us, I think - as mere whimsy, detracting rather than adding to what is indeed an almost whimsical play.  Whimsy of genius of course.  Again at half time Mr NM thought the performances "uneven".  The second half, in which the weight of interest shifts from Rosalind's relationship with Celia to her training up of Orlando, was tremendously well-paced and funny. Rosalind takes the play by the scruff of the neck, and, as it were, directs the action.  "They played it like children, they seemed to be having fun," remarked NM at the end, and even the hey nonny-no's that sometimes infuriate Mr RW were acceptable.  The club has seen AYLI twice before - both RSC productions - in 2006 (Lia Williams) and 2009 (Katy Stephens). I don't remember either very well, although I do rate Victoria Hamilton's Michael Grandage-directed go at the Lyric Hammersmith in 1999 as amongst the best Shakespeare productions I have ever seen.  This one may live in the memory - I hope not merely for the upside down furniture.


Kenneth Branagh Company, Garrick Theatre
2nd December
Kenneth Branagh and Rob Ashford
Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Michael Pennington, Jimmy Yuill
Present: all but WW

"We hated it. 

 Kenneth Branagh clearly had a train to catch. The staging was very charmless and dreary. Shepherds and co in second half had those cod-Somerset voices never actually heard in any rural area of Britain, but reserved solely for Shakespeare yokels.  Judi Dench did her best and had nice clear, clipped diction.  Michael Pennington was OK as Antigonus and Hadley Fraser had the only good fruity voice in the whole ensemble as Polixenes.

My new pet theory - utterly unsubstantiated by scholarship or even light background reading - is that Shakespeare wrote the first half as a tribute to Elizabeth 1st's mother, hence very Anne Boleyn-like trial and the injustice of the king refusing to believe she was faithful, then condemning her.  Some distraction (or perhaps a wise advisor pointing out that it made Henry 8th look bad, which might have displeased his queenly daughter) made him put it in a drawer for many years, until required to produce something festive; whereupon he added the wildly different second half.  Hence the very odd repetition of the words moiety, placket and swerve in second half: he'd obviously read through the first half and added these same words to create illusion of it having been conceived as a whole."  


Barbican Silk Street Theatre

Cheek by Jowl / Pushkin Theatre Moscow
Directed by Declan Donnellan
16 April 2015
Present: BM, RM, NM, Mr Roland Walters, Poppy, RW, SEMW, WW

The last time a couple of us attempted a foreign language production of Shakespeare at the Barbican, it wasCymbeline in Japanese and Mr Mendoza and myself were in seats that precluded us from seeing the surtitles. Mr Mendoza cleverly left at half-time.
         Measure for Measure is not so obscure a play as Cymbeline, and many of us had seen Michael Attenborough’s brilliant production at the Almeida five years ago, with Rory Kinnear and Anna Maxwell Martin and Ben Miles as the Duke (with whom we had a very good supper afterwards). However, it is not a play one knows in the sense that one knows Hamletor Henry IV or The Tempest.  It is a complicated play that throws up all sorts of questions about morality; very probably it is the nearest Shakespeare gets to a play governed by New Testament ethics.  Seeing it in English requires concentration.  Seeing it in Russian?  Well, as I brushed my teeth before leaving home, I thought, this is one for the piety check box.
         Quite wrong.  A real pleasure.  It featured “nudity and smoking” as plays used to do without warning signs in the 1970s, and ran without an interval, the length of a movie, 105 minutes.  So obviously there were major extractions. Most sadly missed were the rude mechanical scenes with Pompey and Froth, but it was a minor sadness, and very likely they would have been difficult to properly translate into Russian.  The principles, especially the delicate Anna Khalilulina as Isabella, were first class.  Isabella is one of Shakespeare’s best roles for women, played here as more vulnerable than Anna Maxwell Martin’s, but nonetheless the very heart of the play (for it is she, after all, who learns the most).
         The real star was the production itself. The set comprised five red cubes, and an occasional odd chair or two and a desk (behind which a terrifically Sovietesque provost, Alexander Matrosov, sat smoking).  Around these the cast moved, sometimes in a close cohort, picking up characters at the end of a scene, depositing new ones, somehow softly, sometimes separately walking with tremendous purpose around and across the stage as though late for an important meeting or looking for an elusive friend.  The choreography of the thing was, in itself, a pleasure to watch. Occasionally there was music, a sort of Russian-inflected waltz (the play is set in Vienna). 
         This music, and the freer movement of the cohort signal the intrusion into Angelo’s grim puritanical world of the forgiving Duke, disguised as the Friar.  As his plans begin to unfold the play becomes lighter: the set itself seems less bloodily red. We are heading towards one of those Shakespeare resolutions in which everyone ends up married, as being the only way of maintaining sanity and order in a seriously messy world.
         There were surtitles.  Some of them were not Shakespeare – “fun-house” had both Mr Mendoza and myself baffled – but on the whole they were.  So it was hard to avert one’s eyes from these, but then it was equally hard to divert one’s attention from the stage, so enjoyable were these actors to watch.
         Speaking personally this was one of the Club’s most enjoyable outings.  I rather liked not having to keep up with spoken Shakespeare, given that I cannot hear very well these days.  I liked it too because – I know this is heretical – it was short.  I liked not having an interval.
It also seemed pertinent in its rejection of the puritan ethics that are enveloping us from both left and right..

         Here’s to nudity and smoking.


NT, Olivier
11 March
Sam Mendes
SRB, Anna Mazwell Martin, Sam Troughton

4 Feb
Wanamaker Theatre, The Globe
NM, RP, WW & Molly Line
Gemma Arterton

30 January
Gate Cinema (Live transmission from Donmar)
Tom Hiddleston
NM, RM, WW & Caitlin Line

RSC at the Barbican
8 January
Greg Doran
David Tennant, Michael Pennington, Oliver Ford Davies, Nigel Davies
WW,NM,RM,RP,Roland Walters


The Old Vic
22 September
Mark Rylance
Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl Jones
WW,RM, SS, Caitlin Line, Stephen & Teresa Graham

RSC The Swan
19 June 2013
Michael Fentiman
Stephen Boxer

RSC Main Stage, Stratford
18 June 2013
David Farr
Jonathan Slinger, Greg Hicks, Charlotte Cornwell, Pippa Nixon
SS, Caro, CC, Charles H., RW, WW, NM, RM

Theatre: Olivier (NT)
Date: 9 May 2013
Director: Nicholas Hytner
Talent: Adrian Lester, Rory Kinnear
Present: WW,NM,RM, CC, RP, RW, BM + Barney

Theatre: Trafalgar Studios
Date: 18 April 2013
Director: Jeremy Lloyd
Talent: James McEvoy, Claire Foy
Present: RW, WW, RP, NM, Scarlet

Thetare: Apollo (Globe production)
Date: 7 February 2013
Director:  Tim Carroll
Talent: Mark Rylance
Present: RM, RW, RP, WW, NM


Theatre: Apollo (Globe production)
Date: 29 November 2012
Director:  Tim Carroll
Talent: Mark Rylance
Present: WW, DNM, JAHW, Callum Akass

Michael Attenborough
Jonathan Pryce
Club in various formations minus WW

RSC Noel Coward
Greg Doran
Paterson Joseph
RM,RW,BM,RP,WW, Thomas Arnold, Jacob Wheldon

2012 9 7/8
Nicholas Hytner

Ed Hall Propeller at Hampstead 
2012 7 5 
Ed Hall
Dugdale Bruce-Lockhart 

Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park 
2012 05 20 
Matthew Dunster 
Rebecca Oldfield 
NM, RP, SS, WW, Young Master Walters & Friend

2012 01 10 
Michael Grandage 
Eddie Reemayne 


Ian Rickson Young Vic 2011 12 01 Michael Sheen WW,NM,RP,SS, Andy Mee, Jacob Wheldon, Stephen Graham, Caitlin Line

Trevor Nunn Haymarket 2011 09 14 Ralph Fiennes CC, NM, RW, BM, SS, RP +Catherine Gibbs

Sam Mendes Old Vic – Bridge Project 2011 09 06 Kevin Spacey WW, NM, SS, RW + Tommy, RP, BM, CC

Rupert Goold RST Stratford 2011 05 13 Patrick Stewart WW,RW,BM,RM,NM,CC + Young Hudsons

Michael Grandage Donmar @ Richmond 2011 03 30 Derek Jacobi WW,RM,RP

TWELFTH NIGHT Peter Hall NT Cottesloe 2011 03 01 Rebecca Hall Simon Callow WW CC ??

Lucy Bailey RSC Roundhouse 2011 01 26 Greg Wise / Sam Troughton NM,CC,RP,WW,RW, Roland Walters, Ted, Cal Wheldon


HAMLET Nicholas Hytner NT Olivier 2010 10 07 Rory Kinnear, Patrick Malahide, Clare Higgins WW,RW,NM,RM, CC + Frank Spotnitz

HENRY IV, 1 & 2 Dominic Dromgoole Globe 2010 10 5 Roger Allam WW, NM

TEMPEST Sam Mendes The Old Vic 2010 06 24 Stephen Dillane, Juliet Rylance RW, NM, RM, BM, CC, RP

HENRY VIII Mark Rosenblatt Globe 2010 05 26 Ian MacNeice WW, RW, NM, RM, BM + Mark Ellingham

ROMEO & JULIET Rupert Goold RSC Courtyard Stratford 2010 04 29 Sam Troughton, Mariah Gale WW,RW,RP,CC, NM,RM

[MACBETH Lucy Bailey Globe 2010 04 25 WW, CGPW]

[MACBETH David Pearce Rose Theatre 2010 03 04 WW, CGPW]

MEASURE FOR MEASURE Michael Attenborough Almeida 2010 03 17 Ben Miles, Rory Kinnear, Anna Maxwell Martin WW,CC, BM, RP, SS, WW + Guest Sue Swift

TWELFTH NIGHT Greg Doran RSC @ Duke of York’s 2010 01 20 Jo Stone—Fewings, Alexandra Gilbreath, James Fleet, Richard Wilson, Nancy Carroll WW, RM, NM, CC, RP, RW, SS, BM


[OTHELLO Barrie Rutter Trafalgar Studios 2009 09 25 Lenny Henry, Conrad Nelson WW, JAHW]

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING Timothy Sheader Regents Park 2009 07 17 Samantha Spiro Sean Campion Club sans WW and others

AS YOU LIKE IT Michael Boyd RSC Stratford 2009 06 18 Katy Stephens, Forbes Masson, Jonjo O’Neill Club ?

WINTER’S TALE Sam Mendes The Old Vic 2009 06 11 SRB, Ethan Hawke, Rebecca Hall, Sinead Cusack Club ?

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL Marianne Elliott National Theatre 2009 05 21 Oliver Ford Davies, Clare Higgins Club minus I think Rupert

KING LEAR Rupert Goold Liverpool Playhouse @ Young Vic 2009 03 10 Pete Postlethwaite. John Shrapnel BM, Barney Mac, RP, WW, NM, RM

OTHELLO Kathryn Hunter RSC at Hackney 2009 02 10 WW, JAHW, RM, NM, RP, RW, BM

[TWELFTH NIGHT Michael Grandage Donmar at Wyndham’s 2009 02 04 Derek Jacobi. Victoria Hamilton WW. JAHW]

HAMLET Greg Doran RSC Novello (?) 2009 01 08 David Tennant, Patrick Stewart Shakespeare club (sans WW)


[HAMLET Greg Doran RSC Courtyard 3 Sept 08 David Tennant, Patrick Stewart WW, JAHW, DNM, CGPW]

ROMEO & JULIET Regents Park 2008 06 23 NM, RP (WW forgot to go)

THE REVENGERS TRAGEDY Melly Still NT 12 06 08 Rory Kinnear WW. RW, NM, RM., SS, RP

HENRY V Michael Boyd RSC Roundhouse 16 April 08 Geoffrey Streatfield WW. RW, NM, RM., SS, CC

HENRY IV pt 2 Richard Twyman / Boyd RSC Roundhouse 16 April 08 David Warner / Geoffrey Streatfield WW. RW, NM, RM., SS, CC

HENRY IV pt 1 Richard Twyman / Boyd RSC Roundhouse 16 April 08 David Warner / Geoffrey Streatfield RW, NM, RM., SS, CC

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING Nicholas Hytner NT Olivier 8 Jan 08 SRB
Zoe Wanamaker WW,BM,RW,RP,RM,NM, Roland Walters, Mrs Walters



[MERCHANT OF VENICE Julia Pascal Arcola Theatre 12 Oct 07 Paul Herzberg WW]

MACBETH Rupert Goold Gielgud 4 Oct 07 Patrick StewartKate Fleetwood WW,BM,RM,NM,RP,SW,Felicity

MACBETH Regents Park 2007 06 20 RM,RP,RW,Alfie M,NM

KING LEAR Trevor Nunn RSC Courtyard 22 May 2007 Ian McKellan WW,BM,RM,RP,RW,NM

MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM Tim Supple Roundhouse 18 April 07 All Indian cast WW, JAHW, NM, RM, RP

TEMPEST Rupert Goold RSC Novello 6 03 07 Patrick Stewart NM,RM,RP,RW,SS

ANTONY & CLEOPATRA Greg Doran RSC Novello 18 Jan 07 Patrick Stewart
Harriet Walter NM, RW, RP, SS


MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING Marianne Elliott RSC Novello 12 Dec 2006 Joseph Millson, Tamsin Greig RW,RP,RM,NM,WW

THE ALCHEMIST Nicholas Hytner NT Olivier 27 Sept 2006 SRB, Alex Jennings, Ian Richardson WW, NM, RM, RM, RW, SS

[MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM Ian Talbot Regents Park 10 July 2006 John Hodgkinson WW, DNM, Jacob Wheldon, Cal Wheldon, Karen, Nick]

ANTONY & CLEOPATRA Dominic Dromgoole Globe 29 06 2006 Frances Barber WW, RP, NM, Alfie M, Zandi

MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM Ian Talbot Regents Park 22 06 2006 John Hodgkinson NM, RM, RW, RP, SS

TAMING OF THE SHREW Rachel Kavanaugh Regents Park 6 06 2006 WW, NM, RM, RP, RW

AS YOU LIKE IT Dominic Cooke RSC Novello 16 03 2006 Lia Williams WW, NM, RM, SS, RW

MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM Greg Doran RSC Novello 21 Feb 2006 WW, NM, RM, RW, RP, BM

THOMAS MORE Robert Delamere RSC at Trafalgar 11 Jan 2006 WW, NM, RM, RW, RP


TAMBURLAINE David Farr Barbican 9 Nov 2005 Greg Hicks WW, RM, RP, Sian Wheldon, Giles O’Bryen

RICHARD II Trevor Nunn Old Vic 28 Sept 2005 Kevin Spacey WW, NM, RM, RP, SS, RW

CYMBELINE Rachel Kavanaugh Regents Park 13 July 2005 WW, RP, RW

[TWELFTH NIGHT Timothy Shreader Regents Park 30 06 2005 WW, DNM, Cal Wheldon]

HENRY IV pt 2 Nicholas Hytner NT Olivier Michael Gambon WW, RW, SS, RM, RP

HENRY IV pt 1 Nicholas Hytner NT Olivier 18 April 2005 Michael Gambon WW, RW, SS, RM, RP

[MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM Yvonne Gregory The Lund Theatre, UCS 2 03 2005 Jacob Wheldon WW, DNM]

MACBETH John Caird Almeida 13 Jan 2005 SRB WW, RM, SS, RW, RP


[OTHELLO Declan Donnellan Cheek By Jowl, Riverside Studios 10 Nov 2004 Nonso Anozie WW, Adam Kean, Michael Herbert]

HENRY IV pt 1 Alan Strachan Regents Park 2004 21 06 WW, RP, RM, Catherine Gibbs

MEASURE FOR MEASURE Simon McBurney NT Olivier May 2004 RM, RP, RW, SS

HAMLET Trevor Nunn Old Vic 28 April 2004 Ben Whishaw, Imogen Stubbs WW, RM, RP, RW, SS

ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL Greg Doran RSC Gielgud 16 03, 2004 Judi Dench WW, NM, RW, RP, RM, SS

[MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (B. Britten) English Touring Opera, Hackney Empire 13 03, 2004 WW, MDF, Lottie Barker]


[TAMING OF THE SHREW Greg Doran RSC Stratford 28 October 2003 Jasper Britton WW, LP]

HENRY V Nicholas Hytner NT Olivier 26 06 2003 Adrian Lester WW, ?

TWO GENTLEMEN OF VERONA Rachel Kavanaugh Regents Park 20 06,2003 WW, RM, RP, RW + Catherine Gibbs

LOVE’S LABOUR’S LOST Trevor Nunn NT Olivier 13 03 2003 Joseph Fiennes WW, NM, RW, RM, RP, SS

THE MALCONTENT Dominic Cooke RSC Gielgud 3 03 2003 Anthony Sher WW, RP, RW, Giles Milton


THE ROMAN ACTOR Sean Holmes RSC Gielgud 17 Jan 2003 Anthony Sher WW. RM. RW, RP, SS

EASTWARD HO! Lucy Pitman-Wallace RSC Gielgud 14 Jan 2003 WW, RW, RP, RM, SS


TWELFTH NIGHT Sam Mendes Donmar Warehouse 21 Nov 2002 SRB, Emily Watson WW, RW, RP, SS, RM

PERICLES Adrian Noble RSC at the Roundhouse 2002 03 July Ray Fearon WW, NM, RP, SS, RM

DR FAUSTUS David Lan Young Vic Jude Law WW, NM, RW, RP, RM

[TEMPEST UCS 2002 13 02 WW, JAHW]

KING LEAR Jonathan Kent The Almeida at Kings Cross 5 Feb 2002 Oliver Ford Davies WW, NM. SS, RP

KING JOHN Greg Doran RSC The Pit, Barbican 17 Jan 2002 Guy Henry WW, RW. NM, RP


MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM Alan Strachan Regents Park 2001 07 06 Gary Wilmot WW, SS, RW

MACBETH Tim Carroll The Globe 7 06 2001 Jasper Britton WW, NM, RW, SS, RP

WINTER’S TALE Nicholas Hytner NT OLIVIER 24 May 2001 Alex Jennings WW, NM, RW, SS, RP

[TWELFTH NIGHT Lindsay Posner RSC Main Stage, Stratford 23 May 2001 Guy Henry - WW, Lindsay Posner]

RICHARD III Michael Boyd RSC Young Vic 2 May 2001 WW, NM, SS, Sian Wheldon, Stephen Graham

TEMPEST Jonathan Kent Almeida 15 Feb 2001 McDiarmid WW, NM, RW, SS, Caroline


[HENRY VI Parts 1,2,3 Michael Boyd RSC Swan, Stratford Jan 2001 WW. Sian Wheldon]


HAMLET John Caird NT Lyttleton Sept 2000 SRB WW, NM, RW, RP, SS

MERCHANT OF VENICE Trevor Nunn NT Olivier 2000 Henry Goodman WW, NM, RP, RW, SS

TEMPEST Lenka Udovicki The Globe Summer 2000 Vanessa Redgrave, Jasper Britton WW, ?

CORIOLANUS Jonathan Kent Almeida at Gainsborough 06 2000 Ralph Fiennes WW, NM, RP, RW, SS

RICHARD II Jonathan Kent Almeida at Gainsborough April 2000 Ralph Fiennes WW, NM, RP, RW, SS

[AS YOU LIKE IT Michael Grandage Lyric 03 2000 Victoria Hamilton WW, Lindsay Posner]


TAMING OF THE SHREW Lindsay Posner RSC The Pit, Barbican  WW, NM, RP, RW, SS

TROILUS & CRESSIDA Trevor Nunn NT April 1999 WW, NM, RP, RW, SS

[HAMLET Laurence Boswell Young Vic April 1999 Paul Rhys WW, NM, Sian Wheldon]

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