By Frances Marion Givhan
My semester in London has ended. Day by day, I will slowly accept this reality, but this last column from your editor abroad gives me the opportunity to revel in my English (and Irish) theatre experience for a little longer. I learned more this semester than I could ever try to include or summarize in an article, so I have decided to use this opportunity to briefly cover some of the shows that I saw, but did not write full reviews on, throughout the semester.
The Rover at The Royal Shakespeare Company (Stratford upon Avon): Aphra Behn’s riveting, hilarious, and problematic Restoration play describes the mischievous events during the Naples Carnival. The play captured the hearts of the entire LAMDA semester group when we saw it at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford upon Avon.
The show began before the plot, with flamenco dancers, singers, and musicians energizing the crowd with seductive tunes and movement. The life they infused into the theatre did not dissipate with the commencement of dialogue, but each actor carried their weight throughout the performance, showing intention and clarity with everything they did. Faye Castelow as Helena, Alexandra Gilbreath as Angelica, and Joseph Millson as Willmore brought a particular punch to their roles, luring the audience in with their sincerity.
In addition to the electric acting, the production design fit together so perfectly that hardly anyone noticed how incredible it was. The lighting used strong colors that enhanced the sense of the Carnival, while the wrought iron gate and balcony served multiple purposes while adding beautiful detail to the background. Though problematic due to rape threats, the play provides an insightful view into the lives and limitations of women during the Restoration years.
Bronte at The Smock Alley Theatre (Dublin): The Bronte sisters, of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre fame, struggled in their relatively anonymous lives as writers, and the play by Polly Teale attempts to figure out how three sisters in the English countryside wrote such influential works of romantic fiction.
In the show, Branwell, their brother, slips further downhill each day without much promise for success, which dwindles the family’s possibilities for survival. The sisters turn to their main source of entertainment and their skill – words – as a means to save themselves from their reality. The play tells the story of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte with a poetic nature; scenes from their lives are interspersed with the actors also playing characters from the novels Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
The actresses who played Emily and Anne, Katie McCann and Ashleigh Dorrell, subtly wowed the audience as Mrs. Rochester and Cathy respectively. Dorrell, with her wide eyes and hopeful yet simultaneously tortured expressions, captured Cathy’s youth, frailty, and strength that made me feel for the character more than I ever had. Though the production quality could use tightening of detail, Teale weaves the lives of these spinsters with their tragedy and accomplishment.
Consent at The National Theatre (London): Featuring three LAMDA graduates, Nina Raine’s tragi-comedy gives voice to a new perspective on rape cases as it addresses the effects of one case on the defense and prosecution lawyers, their friends, and families. Anna Maxwell-Martin played my favorite character, Kitty, wife to the prosecuting lawyer and five years previously unfaithful Ed, who wants children with the same passion that Kitty does not.
The two have a seemingly happy marriage, especially in comparison to their friends, another lawyer and her husband who have to handle his recent infidelity. Raine writes scenes in the homes of these characters as well as court scenes, both of which show the dangers of the legal profession. Horrifying moments include Tim, the prosecuting lawyer, giving the raped woman Gayle no sympathy as she struggles with court proceedings, and a power play between Ed and Tim as they demonstrate calculated and cruel lawyer strategies they use in court to their actress friend, Zara.
The play deftly shows how issues surrounding marriage, child-bearing, rape, and infidelity can become grey and muddled; whether intentionally or unintentionally, and rarely can anyone win the moral high ground. Every character has flaws and my admiration of them fluctuates throughout the play, which are exactly the reasons I enjoyed it.
The set design was incredibly, powerfully simple, with light fixtures hanging in a sea over the stage and the furniture coming from underneath when needed. The characters were natural, and the actors comfortable but skilled with them. I hope this becomes an important theatrical piece in the discussion of consent and morality.
I could talk endlessly about the shows I saw. I learned that Edward Albee isn’t to my taste after seeing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Goat, Or Who’s Slyvia? though the actors delivered fantastic performances in each. I observed the importance of theatre spaces, considering I couldn’t see half of what happened in The White Devil at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre at The Globe, while the Old Vic has brilliant architecture for presenting shows such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.
My heart grew to love Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, as the play brought a necessary distance between the audience and Christopher. Most of the plays wowed me with the talent, skill, and production quality they provided, and I’m incredibly sad knowing I must wait until my next London show. Theatre doesn’t end, though. There will always be new discoveries to make as I come back to the Mountain.