Review: Tom Stoppard on text and performance

A review of Sir Tom Stoppard’s lecture as Humanitas Professor of Drama at Oxford University.

The Oxford Culture Review

How much “Shakespeare” is there in a Shakespeare play? A facetious question, perhaps. But it’s a question that is peculiarly specific to the theatre — how much of the author can one distinguish in a play text? Unlike the novel, with its possibilities for narrative stretches where the author’s “voice” can emerge, in plays the author is heard through the lens of an actor playing a character. And that’s before you take in to account the director, stage and sound design, costumes, lighting… Of course, in poetry and prose the author can also adopt masks and assume characters, but the presence of multiple voices is more acute when dealing with live events such as plays. This relationship between page and stage, and the position of the playwright’s authorial voice, provided the subject for Sir Tom Stoppard’s first lecture as the Humanitas Visiting Professor of Drama at Oxford University. With characteristic…

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Review: ‘Blind Man’s Song’

The Oxford Culture Review

Blind Man’s Song is a simple question intricately answered. Blending mime, dance, and an exquisite soundtrack by Alex Judd, Theatre Re’s production explores why people kiss. It’s the type of question whose answer is limited only by the scope of one’s imagination, and Blind Man’s Song surpasses itself in creative scope. It’s not a flawless production, but it is consistently elegant and presents so many levels of nuance that the possibilities for interpretation seem limitless. It struck me as appropriate that the show should open their programme with a quote from the author Milan Kundera — they share the similar quality of offering surprising depth and structure behind an often deceptively uncomplicated surface.

Essentially, Blind Man’s Song tells a love story through sound and gesture. A blind musician remembers his relationship with a woman, and we share the story through his music. Theatre Re are far from the first…

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Review: ‘The Rape of Lucretia’

On staging The Rape of Lucretia.

The Oxford Culture Review

Seventy years after its première at Glyndebourne, Benjamin Britten’s opera The Rape of Lucretia is still deeply unsettling. Its small cast of eight singers and thirteen musicians places very little distance between the audience and the unfolding of Lucretia’s rape and subsequent suicide onstage. And unlike operas such as Das Rheingold where the idea of rape functions symbolically, the actuality of sexual assault tempered in some way by using it as a metaphor for the violation of nature and plundering of gold, in Lucretia the rape itself is unavoidable. The act of sexual assault is written into Ronald Duncan’s libretto, with the physical and musical drama entirely revolving around the central scene between Tarquinius and Lucretia.

Added to this, Britten’s music and Duncan’s libretto are deeply problematic. There are no clear-cut villains or heroes in their setting, and the women themselves are given very little agency in comparison to…

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Review: ‘Macbeth’

How do you stage Macbeth with only two actors? Review of a great performance from Out of Chaos at the Old Fire Station in Oxford.

The Oxford Culture Review

Staging a well-known Shakespeare drama in his anniversary year is beginning to seem something of a madness —and it’s only March. Having been given Hollywood treatment last year by Justin Kurzel, Macbeth is being, or has been, staged at the Young Vic, Birmingham Repertory Theatre, London Globe…the list continues. With this amount of coverage, how do you bring something new to a play as famous as Macbeth?

Out of Chaos’s answer to this, rising admirably to the challenge, is to cut the running time by half, and the number of actors to just two. For a play as full of people (and corpses) as Macbeth, this is no mean feat. By necessity, such a pared back version of the text has to be extremely innovative to stop it falling apart at the seams. And with slightly less charismatic actors than Troels Hagen…

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Review: ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’

Review of a stage adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’.

The Oxford Culture Review

The Picture of Dorian Gray has hardly been short of adaptations. Oscar Wilde’s only novel, first published in 1890 with significant deletions on account of being considered “indecent”, has since been transformed into films, musicals, plays, audio books, and provided the inspiration for various other forms of fiction, including graphic novels and erotica. St Hilda’s College Drama Society is the latest company to put Dorian on to the stage, in a production currently running at the Jacqueline du Pré Music Building. The immediate problem for dramatic adaptations of this book is that so much of the novel’s brilliance is in the style of its prose, not just in its characters and plot. In this respect, their new script fared relatively well, using original dialogue from the novel to capture much of Wilde’s wit and lightness of touch. The rest of the production, however, did not make the most of the…

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Review: ‘King Charles III’

Review of ‘King Charles III’ by Mike Bartlett.

The Oxford Culture Review

As the programme notes proclaim, King Charles III has been one of the most lauded plays of recent years. It won the 2015 Olivier Award for Best New Play, received multiple adoring reviews, and made it into Michael Billington’s 101 Greatest Plays. And at a personal level, it came recommended to me by various friends and colleagues, all of whom espoused its brilliance with great aplomb. I’m always nervous about going to see new plays whose reputation precedes them in such a noticeable fashion, but King Charles III is one of those rare dramas that manages to achieve the virtually impossible, in that it largely makes good on all the claims made of it. There were certainly a few clumsy moments, but for the most part this was some of the best writing and acting that I’ve seen in years, to say nothing of the accompanying production.

Currently running at…

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Best Coffee in Stockholm?

It seemed like a good idea to put my love of coffee to good use, so I've compiled a guide to fika in the capital. Having coffee is less a routine and more a lifestyle in Stockholm so I was spoiled for choice when picking a coffee route. The article is available below on Slow... Continue Reading →

Review: ‘King Lear’

Review of Creation Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’.

The Oxford Culture Review

2016 is proving to be the Year of Lear. Shakespeare’s most troubled tragedy seems to be dominating his anniversary year — it’s hitting stages with Anthony Sher and Glenda Jackson in the titular role, and has been the subject of both historical and performance-centered scholarship. It’s also Creation Theatre’s Spring production, currently running at Blackwell’s Bookshop in Oxford, as part of Oxford’s Shakespeare festival.

Creation Theatre set out to find ‘unusual spaces’ to stage their plays, and the Norrington Room has proved to be a pretty perfect space for King Lear. With audience members nestled among the alcoves holding volumes on philosophy, religion, and psychology, there seems to be no more fitting setting for Lear’s descent into madness. The written word is pivotal in Lear — miscommunication and manipulation largely occur via letter, when there is no physical presence to confirm or refute their meaning. So holding the…

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