Posted 26 September 2013 - 11:05 PM
Well, the RSC tweeted that they had a bunch of five quid tickets for tonight, which was an audio described performance (not that you would have known). I'd been meaning to see it but hadn't got around to booking, so a fiver for a good seat in Gallery 1 was a good incentive.
It's great fun. I'd not seen the play before, but I was under the impression that it's a grand guignol shocker; pace Epiocene, I think the air of panto or melodrama was both deliberate and the only real way to deal with a body count quite this high (see also the Tamburlaine that Sher and Storry did back in the day).
I thought the leads were all pretty good. Katy Stephens (I confess to being a huge fan) was her usual reliable self as Tamora, and was obviously having a whale of a time; that funny walk she does in a split skirt and high heels got yet another outing, though, which was probably one too many. Stephen Boxer in the title role was I thought convincing in his path to revenge and his final death, although the last scene is pretty much played for laughs. Parts of it appeared to be being played by Ian McKellen in his Vicious mode, which was entertaining. John Hopkins as Saturninus was channeling the recent Measure for Measure (the slight whiff of Roderick Spode and his footer bags) but made a wonderfully decadent figure. Kevin Harvey as Aaron was a charming villain, who has little to do other than villainy. The supporting cast was young, inexperienced and rather indistinguishable, but it is hard to make bricks without straw and the writing is pretty weak. I thought it was all pretty well spoken, and you could hear every word.
I thought the direction was very assured. It looked lovely on the stage, moved along at a good pace (although it still overran the published timings), made good use of the facilities (the resurrected stage lift in the swan got a good workout) and it all seemed well thought out. The accusation that it's Goold-lite is probably justifiable, but it was none the worse for that.
All that said, there's an air of RSC by numbers to parts of the production. Michael Boyd clearly had a policy that all productions should have something raining down from the flies, a drum-based ritual dance and a fake ###### (edit to add: gentleman's trouser snake): pretty well everything has at least two of those these days, and here we got the first two and, if not a ######, plenty of prosthetic hands, heads and other body parts. We got the tableaux on stage as we arrived, we got the play starting just before the lights went down, we got the mud on stage to show when we're outdoors: the house style is getting a little too house-y, wouldn't you say? That annoying and pointless thing of adding a small amount of echo or flanging to selected voices and running that back out of the PA got another outing, and was just as annoying and pointless this time. There was a lot of business with torches and burning braziers which got rather wearing, too.
Pippa Nixon was in with some friends, so we had two wonderful Rosalinds in the room together. Which was nice. I considered asking her what she's doing next year, but she deserves an evening off.
Good fun. Next visit is Richard II, then Coriolanus at the Donmar, neither of which I suspect will be as funny.