McKellen returns to play Lear in crystal clear production

REVIEW

 ‘King Lear’ by William Shakespeare

Minerva Theatre, Chichester

The first season with Daniel Evans and Rachel Tackley in charge of Chichester Festival Theatre is crowned with a memorable production of King Lear in the Minerva. Any doubts about staging yet again one of Shakespeare’s bleakest, bitterest and bloodiest plays are removed by Jonathan Munby’s exemplary direction and a fine ensemble cast, led by Sir Ian McKellen.

This production marks another return to Lear in the last few years. These include: Frank Langella’s superb performance at the Minerva in 2013, the somewhat disappointing National Theatre version with Simon Russell Beale in 2014, and Anthony Sher in Gregory Doran’s RSC production last year. In the current programme notes, written by the actors and production team, Sir Ian says that he welcomed the chance to play Lear again when he himself was a similar age to the character, in his eighties.

“I’m not the first actor who has wanted to return to this play, as if unfinished business. Perhaps it’s just that the closer you get to the king’s age, the more telling it becomes; for some, more a therapy than a job.” Sir Ian was a highly praised Lear directed by Trevor Nunn at the RSC 10 years ago, and this was turned into a TV film. Sir Ian also wanted to perform in the intimate surroundings of the Minerva.

King Lear embraces authority and chaos, misjudgement and madness, age and infirmity, betrayal and brutality, justice and injustice. At the end there is reconciliation but only when Cordelia lies dead in the arms of her father who is briefly finds humility and sense. But Britain is left in ruins, without government. At the end of the play Edgar speaks to our time, when untruth has become so significant in our world: ”The weight of this sad time we must obey; Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”

At first Lear is an unsympathetic character. A quick-tempered authoritarian, used to absolute power, he is removed from knowing or understanding himself, his children, his court or his circumstances. Haunted by his age and a fear of madness even in Act 1, Lear is fevered with his lack of self knowledge: “‘Tis the infirmity of is age; yet he hath ever but slenderly known himself.”

And he also has a sense of his own senility: “Oh! Let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven; Keep me in temper; I would not be mad.”

For a start, Lear was mad to believe that he could surrender his power to his daughters while keeping their love and support, and retaining his authority without responsibility; that he and everyone else would be happy with his retirement hunting and roistering with his 100 knights; and that power would not corrupt his children and turn them against him. “Does thou call me fool, boy?” He asks his Fool, who replies: “All thy other titles thou hast given away; that wast thou born with.”

Lear’s anguish is mirrored by that of his servant Gloucester, an adulterer who trusts his bastard son Edmund rather than his natural heir, Edgar. The engrossing action works well within the close confines of the Minerva, whether Lear is celebrating at table with his knights, or out on the bleak, cold, rain-lashed heath. We were warned before the play began that there would be two hours before the interval but the production did not drag for one moment and time passed swiftly. This is a tribute to the work of director Jonathan Munby. His production is far bigger than the sum of its parts and he brings great clarity to this complicated work.

Phil Daniels exemplifies this as a Fool who looks and performs like a cross between Eric Morecambe and Elvis Costello; he is both witty and wise, whereas sometimes the character seems crass and convoluted. Some of the playing is uneven, and that includes Sir Ian. Neither Goneril (Dervla Kirwan) nor Regan (Kirsty Bushell) completely convince as the evil sisters. Damien Molony does not seem devilish enough as Edmund. But Danny Webb makes a convincing Gloucester and Michael Matus earns his laughs as the servant Oswald.

While it is a surprise to find the Earl of Kent/Caius played by a woman, Sinéad Cusack brings great vitality to the part of a noble who is both loyal to the king and outspokenly blunt (especially when disguised as Caius after his/her  expulsion from court). These minor criticisms should not detract from an extremely high-class exposition of King Lear, which runs at the Minerva until October 28.

www.cft.org.uk

Nick Keith

Ladies charity style evening at Haslewey

Three local ladies are organising a Style Evening at Haslewey, Haslemere, to raise money and awareness of Walk the Walk, a breast cancer grant making charity, most well known for organising the MoonWalks in London.

The event on Friday, September 8 will include a presentation by a professional image consultant and stylist, and makeup tips, tricks and demonstrations by local experts. There will also be free make overs and consultations, reflexology tasters, and a number of local businesses will be supporting the event showcasing their products and services. The evening will be fun and informal, and ladies of all ages are welcome. Tickets are £10 which includes a glass of Prosecco and are available directly from Haslewey or by emailing [email protected]

If you are not able to attend the event but would like to sponsor the ladies for their Arctic Marathon, please visit https://arcticchallenge2018.everydayhero.com/uk/theteam.

Free Heritage Open Day at Waverley Abbey House

Every year in September, thousands of hidden, historic places open their doors to the public for free during the Heritage Open Day event, to celebrate our fantastic history, architecture and culture.
And you can take this rare opportunity to explore the stunning setting of Waverley Abbey House for free.

Waverley Abbey House

Learn about its rich history, dating back to King George I’s reign, discover the remarkable role that Waverley played during WW1 and walk in the footsteps of some famous visitors.
Find out what happens today at Waverley Abbey House and enjoy a free day out with family or friends in the beautiful Surrey countryside.
Free guided tours of the house will take place throughout the day and a history display will be available on the first floor, accessible by stairs only.
Visitors are welcome to enjoy the grounds and a game of badminton or croquet, weather permitting. The ruins of ancient Waverley Abbey are only a short stroll across the footbridge opposite the house.
Homemade light lunches, delicious cakes and refreshments will also be available in our café.

Free lecture on tuberculosis history at Haslemere Museum

Historian of medicine and science, and author of ‘Spitting Blood: the history of tuberculosis’, Helen Bynum, is presenting a free lecture at Haslemere Museum on tuberculosis in the context of the history of the sanatorium movement.

The lecture, A Design for Living, takes place on Thursday, September 21 at 7.30pm and is one of the events being held by Haslemere’s Holy Cross Hospital for its centenary. The Congregation of the Daughters of the Cross of Liege established the Hospital as a tuberculosis sanatorium is 1917.

Tickets for the lecture are free and available from Reception at Holy Cross Hospital. There will be a reception on arrival and a chance to take in the Hospital’s centenary exhibition which will be on display at the Museum from September 1-30.

See www.haslemeremuseum.co.uk to find out more.

Petersfield Shakespeare Festival is As You Like It

The Petersfield Shakespeare Festival is set to return this summer and love is definitely in the air…

Themes of disguise and mistaken identity dominate the joyful programme which is packed with comedy, romance – and quite a lot of cross dressing.

The intimate theatrical festival takes place in the inspiring grounds of Bedales School in Steep, next to the 17th century Sotherington Barn between July 19-30.

This year’s centrepiece is a production of Shakespeare’s  most elegant comedy, As You Like It which will be directed by last year’s dream team of Jake Smith and Chris Cuming. The show will create an energetic world which captures a joyously displaced portrait of life and theatre in the Elizabethan era and now.

Company in rehearsal

A firm favourite among Shakespeare’s comedies, and featuring some of his best-loved characters, as well as four weddings and no funeral, As You Like It will be performed July 19-24, and 29, at 7.45pm, with a 2.30pm matinee on July 28.

To inspire and delight audiences further, the festival is pleased to welcome two acclaimed touring companies, Illyria and Merely Theatre.

The Comedy of Errors (July 27 at 7.45pm) is the bard’s shortest comedy. Two sets of identical twins, separated at birth, unknowingly end up in the same city, and through a series of chance meetings their lives and sanity begin to unravel. Illyria returns with its intrepid band of five actors, desperately trying to work out how they can possibly reach the end of the play without needing more actors! It’s fast, polished and authentically Elizabethan in style.

Merely Theatre are joining the festival for the first time, on July 30 presenting fascinating productions of Romeo and Juliet (2.30pm) and Twelfth Night (7.45pm).  Each actor is twinned by another actor of the opposite gender, and they rehearse their parts together. The result is men and women playing every role in any and all potential combinations, creating five-hand Shakespeare plays with immense energy, pace and clarity.

And to cap it all the Petersfield Shakespeare Festival presents the world premiere of two short, Shakespeare-derived works – The Buried Moon, by Laura Turner and Shakespeare’s Lost Women, by Greg Mosse and John Gleadall.

Shakespeare’s Lost Women charmingly tells, through dialogue and song, the stories of some of the Bard’s forgotten female characters. Actress Deirdre Compton has made a career playing victims and luscious milk maids, fools and clowns. Meanwhile, her mother plays Desdemona, Titania and Lady Macbeth. They do not get on. With words by well-known local writer Greg Mosse and onstage music by John Gleadall, Shakespeare’s Lost Women is performed by the wonderful Harriet Benson, who returns to the festival for her fourth season.
In The Buried Moon, playwright Laura Turner uses a 21st century Lincolnshire setting to explore the youthful relationship between Miranda and Caliban, charting its twist and turns. Miranda is a young woman struggling to come to terms with her mother’s death and to understand her father. Caliban is an awkward outsider. A friendship is born between them but Miranda is never sure if Caliban is a malignant spirit of the marshes or a lost soul looking for a home.

Both performances begin at 7.45pm.

Book tickets for Petersfield Shakespeare Festival online at petersfieldshakespearefestival.co.uk or go to One tree Books, Lavant Street, Petersfield – 01730 261199.

Audiences are encouraged to bring picnics or order a pizza and relax with a drink from the Courtyard Bar prior to the performance.

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Headley Theatre Club predicts a Riot!

Riot! cast outside the gates of Headley workhouse (now Headley Grange)

 

In November 1830 a mob of several hundred men stormed the dreaded workhouses at Selborne and Headley and laid them waste.

This year Jo Smith’s play called Riot!, performed by members of Headley Theatre Club, brings the action to life again as a team of actors visit local venues to tell the story with music, words and action.

The production runs over two weekends from July 14-22, visiting Alton Assembly Rooms (8pm Friday 14), Liphook Village Hall (2.30 and 8pm Saturday 15), The Rural Life Centre, Tilford (2.30pm Sunday 15), The Triangle Liss (8pm Friday 21) and Headley Village Hall (2.30 and 8pm Saturday 22).

Tickets can be obtained from the individual venues, or centrally by visiting the Headley Theatre Club website www.headley-village.com/drama or by ringing 01428 717358.

 

Evening of music and song in July for Farnham choirs

A grant of £1,500 from Farnham Town Council is enabling Voices Together Community Choir to organise an evening of music and song in July.

A Festival of Song is a collaboration of five local choirs which will see each choir sing individually and as a massed choir.

The Mayor of Farnham Councillor Mike Hodge, enjoyed an early musical treat when he visited rehearsals to present Voices Together with the cheque.

Voices Together

“Having listened to Voices Together rehearse, I know the audience will love watching A Festival of Song. The show finale will involve about 200 people from all five choirs coming onto the stage and singing together – it should be quite spectacular.

“It’s always a pleasure for Farnham Town Council to support worthwhile groups and activities like this with a grant. The net proceeds from the event will be donated to Melanoma UK so please do buy a ticket,” says the Mayor.

Catherine Johnson from Voices Together Community Choir says: “We couldn’t put on the show without this grant. The £1,500 has paid for the hire of the venue, lighting, sound and other costs so we very much appreciate the support from Farnham Town Council. We are also grateful to the Farnham Institute for giving us a grant which has gone towards the cost of buying music for all the choirs. Please support us and enjoy our show by coming to the performance in July.”

The event will take place on Saturday 2 July at Princes Hall, Aldershot. Tickets are available by contacting the Princes Hall box at www.princeshall.com/bookingtickets.

Farnham Town Council provides community grants ranging from a few hundred pounds to several thousand to local organisations. Visit its website to find out more and how to apply,www.farnham.gov.uk/grants.

Visit www.farnhamvoicestogether.uk to find out more about Voices Together.

Haslemere Comedy Festival is launched

The Haslemere Fringe is delighted to announce the launch of the first ever Haslemere Comedy Festival on Sunday, July 9, from midday until late, curated by local MC and stellar professional comedian, Andy Stedman.
This event is taking place at seven popular venues in Haslemere, with many of the venues offering drinks/bars on site and money off vouchers:
Haslewey Community Centre (12.30-6.30pm with a BBQ lunch – 120 max)
Haslemere Hall (7.30-10pm – 350 max)
Dylan’s Ice Cream Parlour – Family friendly and a wide range of free children’s entertainment (1-5pm – 30 max)
ST Engineering (St. Christopher’s Green, 2-7pm – 50 max)
The Station House Restaurant & Bar (2-7pm – 30 max)
Headcase Barbers, Haslemere High Street (1-6pm – 20 max)
Haslemere Museum (1-10.pm – 70 max)
More than 35 professional comedians – the majority of them making a pitstop in Haslemere before appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe – will be appearing, including Mike Gunn, Andrew Ryan, Matt Richardson, Stephen Grant and Jonny Awsum (who recently appeared to great acclaim alongside Ant & Dec on Britain’s Got Talent).

Tickets are strictly for comedy fans over 14 years old – with the exception of the free children’s entertainment event at Dylan’s Ice Cream Parlour on Wey Hill – and are available from Haslemere Hall (01428 642161 or online at www.haslemerehall.co.uk) – or from the other six venues listed.

Tickets are £12 per person for the entire Festival.
Pick up your Comedy Festival wristbands, needed to gain entry to the venues, (but not the free session at Dylan’s), from the new Haslemere Hub next door to Haslemere Station on Saturday  July 8 or on the Festival day itself – Sunday, July 9. This will get you into all the venues and the accompanying Comedy Festival Flyer means you can plan and choose where, when and who you want to watch throughout the Festival event.
Comedy Festival flyers will also be available in advance from Haslemere Hall, the Haslemere Hub and the other six venues.
Tickets are limited to just 650 in total for the entire event – so plan your Comedy Festival journey around the venues in advance. Seats are on a first come, first served basis.
For more detailed information on the Festival comedians and venues go to www.lionfest.co.uk/haslemere-comedy-festival

   Children’s entertainment at Dylan’s
Mike Gunn

Free bridge taster sessions

Free taster sessions to learn to play bridge with teacher Douglas Wright will be held throughout June until July 27.

Sessions are held in various locations (Guildford, Farncombe, Farnham, Churt and Dorking). Get in touch with 3 Counties Bridge – visit www.3countiesbridge.com

There will be more sessions in September.

 The seminal story of two girls who fled Ireland for freedom

REVIEW

The Country Girls, by Edna O’Brien

 Minerva Theatre, Chichester

The first novel of Edna O’Brien, ‘The Country Girls’, was banned in her native Ireland and criticized by the church when it was published in 1960. This seminal coming-of-age story mirrors her own experiences of growing up in a highly conservative Roman Catholic country where women struggled to make their feelings and voices heard. Her domineering mother despised literature and even tried to burn the books Edna was reading.

In 1954 O’Brien married an Irish writer, who was disliked by her parents, and they moved to London. Her groundbreaking book was published in her 30th year, and it changed the tone of Irish writing.  She later adapted it for the stage, and has since won international acclaim.

The heroines are charming Kate (Grace Molony) and her bubbly best friend Baba, short for Bridget (Genevieve Hulme-Beaman).  We meet the girls in drab convent school uniforms, white socks and sandals. They feel troubled and trapped in their west of Ireland convent, although they are befriended by one of the nuns, Sister Mary.

This matches Edna O’Brien’s own experience in county Clare where she grew up. As a girl before the War and as a young adult, she lived in a deeply  deprived country where women were particularly oppressed. In 1951 Noel Browne, the Health Minister, tried to introduce the free Mother and Child Scheme to protect young women. This was opposed by the church and the medcial profession, and the Minister had to resign. Books were banned, films were censored, and there was no TV, or mains water for many people, until the Sixties.

Against this real life claustrophobic background, we find the two teenage girls in the story trying to find their way. Baba is constantly breaking the rules in search of fun and leads Kate astray. Out of school, they meet a couple of spiv businessmen. Kate rejects their advances as she is being courted by an older married man, known simply as Mr Gentleman (Valery Schatz). Baba is expelled from the convent after going off with her beau, and the two girls are separated for a while.

  

Kate is flattered by the attentions of the older man and shows a growing affection for him, although he is married. However, the two girls are reunited and Baba persuades Kate, with some difficulty, to leave Mr Gentleman and go with her to London. Kate battles with the demands of her drunken widowed father. In leaving home she overcomes her innate sense of duty, but only with the help her wayward friend Baba. For them, that marks the start of a brave new world as they move from childhood to womanhood, suitcases in hand.

The theatrical version of Edna O’Brien’s tale works well. The innocent rebelliousness of the girls within the confines of their strict social straightjacket rings true. The setting by Richard Kent of bleak stone buildings against a green floor provide the stern background for life in Ireland in the first half and London in the second act. ‘The Country Girls’ is at the Minerva until July 8 and you can enjoy a play with good writing, deft direction, and two fine young lead actors.

www.cft.org.uk

Nick Keith