Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler works best in its correct period, the 1890s. But it is still interesting to see Ivo van Hove’s radical updating and deconstruction. The play is no longer the familiar social drama Ibsenites know. At the National Theatre there is a new translation by Patrick Marber and the production is existential. The stage is a huge space with bare walls and the sparse furniture is randomly placed. The actors make their entrances and exits from the stalls.
Only Ruth Wilson’s thoroughly unpleasant Hedda is readily recognisable; the other characters have been completely rethought. Kyle Soller is a very boyish Tesman. Chukwudi Iwuji’s Lovborg is no Bohemian with vine leaves in his hair; nor is Kate Duchêne’s Aunt Julian a sweet old lady. Rafe Spall’s blackmailing Judge Brack is also much younger than usual and a thug.
Gemma Arterton in Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan at Donmar Warehouse is the loveliest, the most flirtatious, the most seductive, the most girly Joan I have seen. The English want to burn her. Her nationalism is a threat to the feudal lords: she is winning too many battles and this is bad for morale. The Catholic Church wants her burnt because she is a serious threat. She acts as if she was the Church and wrecks the social order; her death is a political necessity.
There are those who grumble that Shaw is all talk and no drama; but for those who enjoy a good debate, the famous trial scene and an earlier meeting, when Cauchon (Elliot Levey) and the Earl of Warwick (Jo Stone-Fewings) settle their differences, are intellectually and theatrically most satisfying. Warwick, who is very English, has a nice dry line in cynicism: “By all means do the best for her if you are quite sure it will be of no avail.” Fisayo Akinade’s Dauphin is the campest Dauphin since Kenneth Williams.
There is nothing original about the RSC setting Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost in the Edwardian era. It has been done many times before. But Christopher Luscombe’s originality at Theatre Royal, Haymarket, is to stage it as a double bill with Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and set Much Ado in 1918. Love’s Labour’s ends in 1914 and the young men depart for the First World War. Much Ado begins with the young men returning from the war. These two comedies now share the same English country house setting and the productions are an absolute delight.
Dreamgirls at Savoy Theatre takes its inspiration from Diana Ross and the Supremes and is set in the 1960s. Listening to the songs of Tom Eyen and Henry Kreiger and watching Casey Nicholaw’s exciting production and Michael Bennett’s choreography, I did wonder why this Broadway musical had taken 25 years to reach London. Amber Riley has a big voice and she used it so dramatically in her rendering of And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going that she got a standing ovation in the middle of the song.
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