Megan's Head

A place where Megan gets off her head.

Tag: Maynardville

Kung Fu The Comedy of Errors

A big new breeze, a fresh young wind has blown into Maynardville with director Matthew Wild and his creative team at the helm of this year’s Shakespeare in the park. The most exciting thing about this production is how young it is. Let’s face it; Maynardville is an institution, and coupled with the fact that it’s an annual Shakespeare, it pulls serious weight. So a young, new generation of theatre people is so welcome to shake it around a bit. Did they? Almost.

Last night the park looked so pretty with the chinese lanterns and lights and I loved the White Rabbit sweets, chinese fortune cookies (and completely irrelevantly, The Creamery ice cream).

Then we took our seats as the sun went down for some The Comedy of Errors. This is so difficult for me to ‘review’ for a number of reasons, but the main one is that I saw the National Theatre production in London not two months ago, and I can’t help comparing, which is totally, ridiculously unfair. The Comedy of Errors was also one of my first├é┬áMaynardville experiences, which I remember unbelievably clearly. Soli Philander was in it and it was done Asterix style.

So, I thought, how about two lists, of things I loved and liked and things I didn’t like or didn’t work for me.

I loved the concept. I think the Kung Fu theme and the execution of it was delicious, iconic, modern and funky. The detail of the design (Angela Nemov), costumes (but not so much the girls’ ones), the styling, the actual Kung Fu and the music was fabulous. I loved the second half which was jolly and rompy and Kung Fuey. The school kids will go crazy. I loved Rob van Vuuren and James Cairns as the set of Dromio twins. They were brilliant. In fact, I’ll come right out and say it, Rob stole the show. Literally. He was the best thing in it, on it and through it. I will never, ever forget his explanation of how fat Nell was. James was his perfect twin. Lovely. I loved Andrew Laubscher as Antipholus of Ephesus. He was just the right mix of arrogance, frustration, speed and wit to be hilarious. I enjoyed Stephen Jennings as Egeon and his opening speech was warm and truthful and set the right tone. I also enjoyed Chi Mhende as Solinus. She was still, commanding and clear, with a gorgeous voice. I could hardly believe she was huge, fat Nell as well – a total transformation. I enjoyed Francesco Nassimbeni’s Angelo a lot. His character, the cockney-crooked foreigner-doing deals in China was totally slimily typical, down to his cotton socks in sandals (although I did worry for his voice). I loved the fact that I could hear and understand every single word on stage, and mostly get the meaning of the Shakespearian (having Liz Mills as voice coach was a genius move). I loved the silent basket merchants, carefully placed with their stock for eating, and fighting. I loved the fighting. And the sound effects. And the omnipresent, cute and quirky DJ (Nieke Lombard).

Things I did not love. I thought that it was all a little bit too serious, especially in the first half. I know, that’s when you have to set the scene, but I think the first half was handled too carefully, making it a bit slow and brooding. I did not love the fifty million accents. None of that made sense for me, especially that the sisters Adriana (Sonia Esgueira) and Luciana (Frances Marek) had two different accents.There was Italian, old fashioned Chinese, send-up Chinese, posh English, standard English and a kind of Kung Fu Chinese and it was too much. I did not totally love Nicholas Pauling as Antipholus of Syracuse. Though his performance was clear and well delivered, it was too serious and slow and considered to fit the comedy, and it was out of whack. I was disappointed that in the gorgeous styling there was the choice to have cloth sea. I hate cloth sea, especially if the cloth is too short to make like water. Ban cloth sea I say. I did not love the immovability of the set. Although I loved what it looked like I thought it was underused and a bit overbearing.

My advice to the cast, especially in the first half, is to find the funny. The play is a ridiculous case of Shakespearian mistaken identity. Let’s get there as fast as possible.

In a nutshell. Yes there is a fresh new wind at Maynardville. Did it blow my wig off my head? No. But the gentle wind does bring with it some pleasant possibility of change. I love the youth, effort, commitment, courage and flair of a brave new thing.

 

Romping Taming of The Shrew

Last night was my annual trip to the suburban bush, for Shakespeare among the trees. Maynardville is a treasured institution of Cape Town, and, for some, I imagine it’s their only theatrical trip of the year. That’s why it’s important for me that the experience is a good one. It’s Shakespeare, and a bad production can put someone off for good.

I met friends before the show and we picnicked on the lawn. I made sushi and picnic salad pockets (but that’s a discussion for another blog) and we listened to the actors warming up, and then we all filed in to take our seats under the stars. For the last almost ten years I have managed to make sure I was invited to opening night of the yearly Maynardville, but this year there was a double glitch so last night I sat down with Cape Town’s general public. It was a treat. (One of the things I have been really good about is not reading what anyone else thought about the production so I could have a very open mind.) Before the lights went down a young woman behind me told the Wikipedia summary of the story to her quite inebriated and very jolly boyfriend. It was a wonderful summary, for in case the story was difficult to follow, but she had nothing to worry about.

Now, I need to say a few things about the actual play. I can totally take or leave the Taming of the Shrew. No, actually, I would rather just leave it. It is not my favourite Shakespeare play. I have never before seen a successful production of it (I remember a particularly laborious one at Artscape many, many years ago). I think it’s because often the production gets seriously bogged down with the terrible responsibility of trying to manage the sexism and misogyny inherent in the story. Well, the huge success of this production is that it doesn’t take this on! There is a “who cares?” attitude about it that allows it to be silly, comedic and clever without a smidgeon of high horse or excuses. What follows is a story that is clear if not ridiculous, performances that are delicious if not serious, and spectacle that can be enjoyed without any analysis.

Director Roy Sargeant has done a really good job, particularly in these areas: He has cut the script brilliantly. The story skips along and makes total sense, and he has managed to keep all the important bits in. He has taken a concept and style and setting that works really well with the text and has run with it. This makes the production brave and cheeky (although the Seffefrican beginning and end is unnecessary and a bit clumsy) and, from an audience point of view, delightful and accessible. He has not for one moment been bogged down with the issues of the story. It is as if he had a ‘whatever’ attitude. And it works.

The other thing that Roy did brilliantly is the casting. This is a delicious cast. Anthea Thompson and Grant Swanby, the leads, are fabulous. Anthea is brilliant, with her ability to send up, be ironic, really speak the language and give it shtick. She was my nine year old friend’s favourite. And what a relief to see a more mature Kate, giving the story more credbility. Grant is delicious, relaxed, flowing and gorgeous to watch and listen to. Then there is the next tier of characters and actors. I am going to list my favourites, Mark Hoeben is brilliant. Brilliant. I loved every moment of him on stage. Francis Chouler is really, really good. He totally got the character right from the start. Darron Araujo is amazing. He is hilarious and delightful. Adrian Galley is wonderful; easy, warm, funny and great. Nobody was bad. And John Caviggia as the widow was hilarious and mad. Even the teeny, non-speaking parts were well performed, and special mention must be made of the lion puppeteers who were outstanding.

The great thing of having a small(ish) cast is that the production didn’t suffer from the big parts being played by actors who are good at Shakespeare and the smaller ones not managing. With this cast I heard and understood every single word. I can’t tell you how important this is for me.

Dicky Longhurst’s designs are delicious. The Italian circus styling, retro combined with modern cheeky Rome, is sumptuous and gorgeous, and fun to look at. That lion puppet was magnificent. (My only quibble was Richard Lothian’s blue one piece which was his costume from A Circus Side Show. At least make one change to it. It’s mine!). Faheem Bardien’s lighting is awesome. His tent of fairy lights is especially delightful and magical. And the shlocky Italian retro pop pre-show and interval music is my best!

This production offers a non-snobby, totally accessible, fun, beautiful to look at, exciting Shakespeare. If Shakespeare makes you nervous, this is the one to see.

Maynardville and me, and Antony and Cleopaaatra

Last night was the pilgrimage to Maynardville for the opening night of the yearly outdoor Shakespeare. This year it is Antony and Cleopatra. After the delightful and mostly interrupted picnic on the lawns; there was a lot of jumping up and kissing of opening night people, we filed into the venue, piled cushions on seats and realised that we (my darling friend and Shakespeare lover was my date because Big Friendly has sworn off Shakespeare and Maynardville) had arguably the worst seats in the whole space. We were in the fourth row, right at the end on the right. I could see nothing over the heads of everyone in front of us, I could see nothing of anything at the back, behind the set, I could see nothing on stage right at all. There were two spots where I could see well; directly in front of me and on the beautiful raised circle of the set.

When the final ‘take your seats’ bell rang and the ‘switch off phones’ announcement was made we realized how close we were to the speaker! Well, at least we were going to be able to hear everything.

Before last night I had lots of mixed feelings about A and C. I was very excited that Marthinus Basson was making a return to Maynardville, since he is one of my favourite directors, but I had very clear memories of Marthinus’s last A and C, which was most beautiful but very strange, with the not entirely successful Aletta Bezuidenhout and Andrew Buckland as the leads. It also had a gold Mark Hoeben as soothsayer, with gold live snakes. I was nervous that this year’s leads seemed very, very young, and I was in my normal state about Shakespeare’s ‘historicals’, since I never properly understand what’s going on. In fact, I know A and C pretty well, having seen it live and in movies many times, but I still have no actual clue what the political story is.

Mixed feelings are what I left with afterwards too. There was a lot about this production that I liked, there was a lot that I didn’t, but mostly, although I enjoyed watching the spectacle (what I could see of it) I remained unmoved emotionally. The really good things were the design and costumes, which, of course, Marthinus is magnificent at. Tinarie van Wyk Loots as Cleopatra and Andre Weideman (who I just completely adore) were damn fine and very good as A and C, and even got away with being so young, Andrew Laubscher was successful and irritatingly good as the young Octavius, and nobody was truly hideous, although I definitely had my favourites. I thought Mark Hoeben (in a completely different part this time) and Eben Genis were really very, very good. I liked the original music, with the different sounds for Egypt and the war and Rome. I loved the costumes, especially the suits of Rome.

There is no doubt that I would have been more engaged with the production if I had been able to see more. But here’s another thing. I don’t know if it’s because of the limitations of Maynardville as a venue, but I found everybody’s performance very one levelled. Antony was big and shouty, Cleopatra was either woes or happy, with a lot of head holding, Octavius was whiny and plotting. And mostly, the speaking of Shakespeare was not completely fantastic. There were so many times when I had no idea what anyone was actually talking about. Lionel Newton was an exception, and his ‘the barge she sat on’ speech was beautiful. The bottom line is that as an audience member you have to care for ole Cleopatra (at least) because if you don’t her death is endless. Which is a little bit how I felt about the production; stylish, interesting, but, as with most Shakespeare, endless.

As I Liked It

Off to a perfect evening for opening night at Maynardville I went last night for As You Like It, directed by Geoffrey Hyland. It’s a jolly good production and I had a jolly good time. This is a great way to do Shakespeare; picnic on the lawns, have a glass or two of Distell’s finest, cover yourself in mozzie repellant and take in a bit of the old bard.

As You Like It is a bit of a nothing play, but what made this production work was that it was so easy to follow and that the funny bits were really quite funny, which is actually the hardest thing to do in Shakespeare as far as I’m concerned.

I have lots and lots of good things to say about this production, and only a few complaints, and they are small in comparison, I have to say.

Firstly, I know Geoff is really good at visuals and visual design of a show but here it really goes further and his concept for the show is very strong. The heavy, restricted and rather gloomy and oppressive court is Gothic and boldly visual with blacks and reds. Then, to the forest of Arden where everyone floats about in hippy floral in the pastoral Ashram in the woods. Delicious. And very funny.

I loved the opening dance sequence, choreographed by magician Jay Pather. I was a bit sad when it ended and we had to go through the opening introduction scenes which are always a pain; lots of explaining to get the story going. And it was a bit heavy going until the crowd scenes which lifted the whole thing up. Claire Watling stole the show as Madame Le Beau, with her perfect comic timing, outrageous costume and madly restoration voice and accent. It was good that she did steal the show because, the first half is not nearly as much fun as the second, and she was the comic relief. In fact, at half-time I was not loving the play as much as I did at the end.

The second half was great and it gave my favourite performers and characters time to bloom and flourish, They were the absolutely surprising and delightful Mark Elderkin as Touchstone, who was properly funny, spoke the Shakespeare like it was his native tongue and was magnetic, charming, camp and huge, the consummately talented Guy de Lancy as Jaques the melancholy traveller, who is by far the guy who speaks Shakespeare the best, and his famous ‘all the world’s a stage’ speech was impeccable, Gys de Villiers who played the bad guy Duke Frederick in the first half and totally contrasted him with the love machine, guru leader with the voice, Duke Ferdinand in the forest. The smaller parts were also too delicious. Nicola Hanekom‘s Phoebe and Pakamisa Zwedala‘s Silvius were delightful and funny, as was enormous Adrian Galley as the no-frills shepherd Corin. I have to mention Paul Savage’s second character ‘Sir Oliver Martext, a free spirited but questionable priest’ as one of the funniest teeniest cameos I have ever seen.

The hardest parts to play are the romantic leads. It’s hard to take them seriously. They recover unbelievably quickly from the terrible things that happen to them, make decisions in the blink of an eye and fall in love at first glimpse. It’s just so hard to care about them, and they aren’t really funny either. Having said that, I thought that Lika Berning as Rosalind was terrific. She was clear, comfortable and totally present, especially in her boy disguise. Matching her, as her cousin and side kick Celia, was the delicious, clear and so beautiful Astara Mwakalumbwa. The only thing I thought that really could have helped these two a lot was a bit more cutting of their scenes which were long and repetitive. They do go on about not much for quite a bit. It was Andrew Laubscher as Orlando who suffered the most though. He had the terrible job of starting the show off and he just didn’t manage it for me. Granted, his character is the poor, love-lorn dweeb! (I know this is rude, but when I saw Scott Sparrow in the bar afterwards I thought about how good he would have been in that part.)

The ensemble worked like a dream, and even those who had little or nothing to say were fab. I smaaked the hippy folky songs and was amazed at how well everybody danced! Wow guys. The zulu wedding ending was very lekker.

I found the guy-with-the-stick a bit irritating though, even though we ‘got’ what he was doing. Also, although the set looked good and I loved the fiery crosses in the court, the funny poles in the forest were not terribly successful and the one did look like it was going to tip over.

There were two other things I loved about the production that made it for me: Dicky Longhurst‘s costume design (I can’t believe he had the girls in beautiful red ball gowns and sparkly red stilettos in the first half!) was amazing, and William Baker‘s original music was fabulous.

I can’t wait to see and hear what everyone else thought of this one. Go and see it and let me know.

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