This post is part of a series where I talk about programmes I have collected over the years and the productions they represent. This time it’s programmes for Shakespeare and Shakespeare-related shows, forsooth!

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (and The Merchant of Venice)
Propeller Theatre Company
Tour, January-July 2009 (I watched at Liverpool Everyman)

Grey, undefined and a bit boring to look at (that's the propeller, not Propeller)
Grey, undefined and a bit boring to look at (that’s the propeller, not Propeller. Or me, you impertinent reader.)
  • Full disclosure: I love Propeller. They stage all-male Shakespeare in a fresh, funny and wonderfully true way. This was a revival of their 2003/4 production of the Dream, running in repertoire alongside the Merchant, which sadly I didn’t see. The Dream was enough, though, to secure my devotion (shush, it’s a blog not a review, I can be blatantly partisan) and I’ve followed them ever since.
  • Bear with me, though, while I make a critical point. Looking back at this programme, I noticed that the cast of the Merchant/Dream double had a significantly better racial mix (4 out of 14 actors were BME) than subsequent Propeller doubles, which have been overwhelmingly white. First of all, when you’re producing all-male plays, it’s probably a good idea to up the other strands of diversity to avoid looking more elitist than the Tory government… But secondly, from the look of the programme’s production shots of Merchant, which was set at least partially in a prison, the show was intended to feel modern, urban, poor. Was there a hint of the idea that blackness and black actors can somehow inject grittiness into a show? Hmmm. (This doesn’t apply to the Dream, however, which felt ‘colourblind’.)
  • #Actorwatch: Peter Pevensie from that Narnia TV adaptation I used to have on video as a kid. Playing Titania. He was brilliant.
Queen of the Fairies. Source: http://bit.ly/19UrFKG
Richard Dempsey, Queen of the Fairies. Source: http://bit.ly/19UrFKG
King of Narnia. Source: Propeller on Facebook
Richard Dempsey, King of Narnia. Source: Propeller on Facebook
  • Director Edward Hall’s programme note emphasises the challenges of funding their 14-actor world tour and thanks private banking service Coutts for sponsoring their UK run. The emphasis on financial support as far back as 2009 becomes significant when you know that Propeller have had funding pulled by Arts Council England this year. Evidently it’s tough out there for even the top ranks of British theatre companies.

Hamlet
Crucible Theatre Sheffield
September-October 2010

  • John Simm, guys.
John Simm!
John Simm.
  • #Actorwatch: apart from the above (John Simm!), there was also Michelle Dockery! Downton Abbey had literally just begun airing at this point and she made a good Ophelia, if I remember rightly. Also John Nettles as Claudius, who I remember less about.
  • Programme notes in this one say that the set was aiming for “architectural anchoring” without “nail[ing] the play’s feet to the floor”. I’m not sure that the design had a light enough touch to live up to that claim, though I like director Paul Evans’ point that the openness of the Crucible’s, um, crucible-shaped auditorium allows Shakespeare’s text some breathing-space.

Hamlet: The Gloomy Prince
Wrightmark! Productions
Sweet on the Grassmarket, Edinburgh Fringe 2008

So many worksheets it was hard to get both them and my face in frame at the same time.
So many worksheets it was hard to get both them and my face in frame at the same time.
  • As well as a leaflet with the programme information, I have a flyer and two worksheets from this production – yes, worksheets. The premise is that we are watching the last date of a schools’ tour in which Mr Wright and Mr Grady educate Year 4 classes about the Bard’s great tragedy. One of the worksheets, handed out during the production, tests our knowledge about Denmark, while the other asks us to prepare an essay on the question, “Which does Hamlet want? (a) to be, or (b) not to be?”
  • This was a laugh-a-minute show, as the whole thing fell spectacularly to pieces, culminating in the final duel between Hamlet and Laertes being fought with a baguette and three kumquats. It’s the best comedic take on Shakespeare that I can remember coming across on stage (although Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is funny, I wouldn’t call it a comedy, else it would win that title). (Side note: for those who like their Shakespeare with a healthy dose of irreverence, check out Rhiannon McGavin’s Condensed Shakespeare on YouTube – she is excellent.) No #Actorwatch here, as neither of the two writer-performers seems to have gone on to fame and fortune. Shame – it was a very good show.That’s it for today. In the next edition of Get with the Programme, we talk Stoppard and Greek tragedy (yes, Classics again).
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