Michael Hasted brings you News, Views and Interviews from the Everyman Theatre. crack
Most of the shows that come to the Everyman over the course of a year are good – some not so good and some outstandingly good. Of the outstandingly good ones, those produced by Propeller Theatre Company based at The Watermill Theatre, near Newbury, are outstanding.
I saw them for the first time in 2009 when they were here with The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Now, I have to admit that on the face of it, it doesn’t sound that appealing; an all male company doing Shakespeare, but dispel any preconceptions, banish any prejudices and get your tickets for the two plays they will presenting in March. If you only go to the theatre once this year go and see Propeller’s Richard III and…. if you only go to the theatre twice this year go and see Propeller’s Richard III and The Comedy of Errors.
The Propeller company seeks to find a more engaging way of expressing Shakespeare and to more completely explore the relationship between text and performance. Mixing a rigorous approach to the text with a modern physical aesthetic, they have been influenced by mask work, animation and classic and modern film and music from all ages. Productions are directed by Edward Hall and sets and costumes designed by Michael Pavelka.
Propeller’s production of Richard III promises to create a ‘diabolical adventure’, taking Hammer Horror and Grand Guignol as its inspirations. Macabre beauty and bloody sensuality will be the order of the day as the devilish House of York, led by the machiavellian Richard, takes on the purer-than-pure House of Lancaster in an England riven by civil war. This production will be the sixth and final chapter in Hall’s staging of Shakespeare’s complete Wars of the Roses cycle.
The Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare’s neatest comedies. Following the example of Roman theatre, it is a model of comic plotting and finely balanced construction. Two pairs of twins, each separated from their sibling at birth, leave a perfectly symmetrical trail of confusion behind them when a shipwreck unites them on the same island. Full of music, Propeller’s production will emphasise the light and the laughter in this intricately comic masterpiece.
Edward Hall is the founder and Artistic Director of Propeller, for which he has directed Othello, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night and The Merchant of Venice, amongst others. In 2002, Hall directed Rose Rage, a two-part adaptation of Shakespeare’s Henry VI trilogy. He was appointed Artistic Director of Hampstead Theatre in January 2010. He is also an Associate at the National Theatre, and an Associate Director at the Old Vic, and The Watermill Theatre, Newbury. Hall is an established television director, and directed two episodes of the most recent series of BBC TV’s Spooks.
Propeller has toured internationally to Australia, China, Spain, Mexico, The Philippines, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Cyprus, Ireland, Tokyo, Gdansk, Germany, Italy, Malta, Hong Kong and the U.S.A.
The Reluctant Debutante was a stalwart of provincial rep theatres throughout the sixties. It seemed to fit all the requirements having the right number of actors, the right sort of costumes and the right sort of set. It was also the right sort of story, where the ladies wore cocktail dresses and big hats while smoking their du Maurier cigarettes in long holders. The men wore sports jackets and said ‘Jolly Good’ and ‘I Say’ as they hopped into their racy, two-seater sports car parked in the mews outside.
The play was written in 1955, a good couple of years before kitchen sink drama would overflow and change the face of British theatre for ever. The Reluctant Debutante is a museum piece, an antique and as such it has a great deal of value. Not only is a jolly good play it is also a snapshot of a long gone age which had more in common with the Roaring Twenties than with Swinging London which was soon to be snapping at its stiletto heals.
The play, which opens 21st March, stars Jane Asher who was almost the face of the sixties, not least because she was the girl friend of Paul McCartney and sister of Peter Asher of chart-topping duo Peter and Gordon. She has also been an actress since she was five years old.
The play, which was made into a 1957 film starring Rex Harrison and Kay Kendall was remade in 2003 under the title What a Girl Wants and starring Colin Firth. It tells the story of parental plans going awry, reputations being shredded and the generation gap being stretched to its limits. As you will know, debutantes were young ladies from wealthy homes who, after being taught to be even more lady-like at a Swiss finishing school were, along with hundreds of others, presented in a long, white and flouncy line to the Queen. It was a bit like receiving your degree at university, but without the mortarboard.
Society couple, Jimmy and Sheila Broadbent, are launching their daughter Jane into society and have their eye on the perfect husband. Jane, needless to say, has other ideas. The round of Mayfair balls and Hooray Henry parties bores her stiff and the last thing she wants is some stuffy young toff with perfect manners. In fact, the chap she really wants appears to be a perfect cad. Ah, what happened to cads…? Horrified parents, a conniving cousin and hot society gossip make this a debutante season to remember.
The play’s author, Eton educated William Douglas-Home, knew his subject matter well. He was the son of an Earl and the brother of a Prime Minister and to him the events of the play would seem like normal everyday occurrences. To you and me they are a glimpse into a world that probably only survives in the drawing rooms of Belgravia and Eaton Square and possibly even in the more affluent corners of Cheltenham. But I doubt it.
This affectionate caricature of 1950s British society brings the glamour and charm of the debutante scene gloriously to life. And be glad, charm is something you don’t get much of these days and debutantes are as rare as posh girls who queue up wearing long white gloves to meet the Queen.
News from the Everyman’s Alternative Space.
As we seem to have met most of the staff at the Everyman, this column will now concentrate on the Studio Theatre.
Fringe and studio spaces play an integral and important role in the theatre. They are the small, intimate places where new work can be tried and tested, where the commercial restraints that often control main houses are not so prevalent and where, as often as not, the actors will brush past your knees as they perform. While often not in the spotlight these spaces provide a workshop and platform for some of the most original and innovative shows that the theatre has to offer.
The Studio Theatre at the Everyman is a case in point. It is a small but versatile space that provides scope and opportunities for shows that far exceed its physical limitations. It is essentially a black box, a blank canvas. It can be made into whatever it needs to be. Although fully equipped with lights and sound and all the other technical gear, the opportunities for scenery are limited so the audience’s imagination and open mindedness are important components in a show’s success.
The Everyman Studio is the domain of Paul Milton, Director of ReachOut. “It’s about creating a core audience that is after an alternative theatre experience. “I’d love to get a bit of weight in there.” says Paul. “At the moment we’re told everybody wants light-hearted theatre. I can understand there’s a recession and people want cheering up but you have to be careful or you end up with just lightweight stuff and nothing else. What I’m trying to do in the Studio is to mix intimate, light-weight revue type theatre with some new writing and ideas. It can be a bit of a slog sometimes.”
Performers love the Studio. Wink Taylor has appeared there several times, “I love it, it’s a brilliant space and I’m massively fond of it. I used to come to the theatre an awful lot as a kid and I was never really aware of the Studio. They used to do some wonderful things in there in the 80s when it was known as The Richardson Studio. It shocks me just how many people in Cheltenham don’t know about it.”