What a year (and a bit) it’s been. I have tickets booked for an actual play in an actual theatre for the first time in – ooh – eighteen months? And the hope that that might actually happen has made me realise that I have been hanging on to reviews of the few shows I did get to in 2020 for far too long – so here they are, if somewhat truncated!
I saw Upstart Crow onstage and really all I can remember of it now was that it was very like the TV show (down to recycling some plot elements). But since I’d been because I liked the stage show, this was by no means a disappointment
I actually, finally, truly saw a Romeo and Juliet in the summer of 2020 when we were (briefly) allowed to do stuff outside.* The Handlebards gave a fabulous version in their usual style, albeit with a mixed-gendered troupe of three who lived together and therefore had manage to rehearse during lockdown. Oh, and it also meant they were allowed to get close than 6 feet apart – totally a bonus for a love story. They gave us a fabulously breezy production with a northern Romeo (complete with backwards cap and denim jacket**) and a somewhat dorkish Juliet. And insane amounts of doubling up***, a balcony crinoline and a xylophone in a briefcase. Which was apparently important enough that it constitutes a significant part of all my notes on the play. On the serious side, the Queen Mab speech and the death of Mercutio were excellent. On the less serious side, the running gags about a water spray and ninja monks were maybe born out of spending too long together in lockdown. As my first theatre in months, it was unspeakably glorious and if its my only Romeo and Juliet in the ten years, I’ll be perfectly content.
I went for another Two Gentlemen of Verona as well – in a courtyard in a gothic pile in a random corner of Wandsworth. This was a larger troupe (alas I have no record of who exactly they were) who clearly didn’t live together: any attempted kissing, fighting, or other contact-stagery was interrupted with a stern “TWO METRES” from a rather grumpy Voice of God offstage. Seeing a version of Two Gents which is meant to be sincere made me realise quite how challenging it is to take seriously as a play – not just because of the outlaws-ex-machina, but because the two main characters – Valentine and Proteus – are both rather unlikeable to spend so much time with. Valentine feels just to dim to carry the play****, while Proteus is too inconstant to earn our sympathy*****. The play really has to sit on Julia’s shoulders, and luckily could. In fact all of the women were great. I especially noted Lucentia’s wonderfully grounded delivery of her common-sense lines, compared to rather useless pair of manservants (although there were nicely set up as a cockney/country contrast).
How did everyone else find theatre in lockdown? I tried my best with National Theatre broadcasts and various live online extravaganzas – but nothing really filled the spot for me of going and seeing something live and in the flesh. I can’t wait to get back to it.
* I went to Strawberry Hill House which was the furthest I had been in yonks. And the difficulty in getting there felt adequate to the momentousness of the visit.
** He was definitely, deliberately, nowhere near as cool as the Romeo in &Juliet.
*** The parts were shared out to give a generously even split of lines – and laughs – but at least one actor still had to do most of a scene with herself. Which I loved, obviously.
**** My contemporaneous notes describe him as “so dumb he deserves the incredibly rah Sylvia”. Which is way harsh.
***** This Proteus was cast just a little old for the role – I found it difficult to stomach his father sending “the lad” off, but then I was a little in revolt at the news of Ian McKellen’s age-blind casting as Hamlet so I wasn’t really in the mood for this nonsense. I did note he was “the best” though…