First published in The Times, Thursday July 4 2019
Shakespeare’s great pastoral comedy is a gift for outdoor performance. Who needs elaborate stagecraft when you have trees and foliage and natural light? The last time Bard in the Botanics staged As You Like It – back in 2012 – the shift from the court of Duke Frederick to the Forest of Arden was achieved simply by moving the audience from one part of the gardens to another.
Staging outdoor theatre in Scotland is a risky business. Just ask Gordon Barr, the artistic director of Bard in the Botanics, who has been anxiously watching the skies above Glasgow’s west end every summer for the past 15 years.
The weather gods were smiling on the opening performance of his new production of the Scottish Play, however. As the city sizzled in a heat wave, the crowd gathered in extraordinary numbers on the grassy embankment at the back of the glasshouses in the Botanic Gardens. For once, the extra clothes, the blankets and sleeping bags, proved surplus to requirements.
First published in The Times, Thursday June 30 2016
While cross-dressing is central to the plot and resolution of a number of Shakespeare’s comedies, Twelfth Night occupies its own league as a comment on gender construction and elastic sexuality. The female protagonist spends most of the play dressed as a pageboy, inadvertently stirring the passions of a woman who has forsworn all male suitors while simultaneously harbouring a secret love for a nobleman. Talk about progressive.
First published in The Times, Tuesday December 16 2015
Beauty and the Beast: Four Stars
Cinderella: Three Stars
Perth’s Victorian theatre may be in the midst of an extensive restoration but, for the second festive season in a row, the proscenium archway has been lovingly recreated on the stage of the city’s concert hall. This year’s pantomime, scripted by the ever-reliable Alan McHugh, is Beauty and the Beast, with a refreshing emphasis on the former rather than the latter.
The story unfolds against an array of gorgeous painted backdrops, created by the designer Ken Harrison, with stunning costumes to match, from Belle’s (AmyBeth Littlejohn) sumptuous gold ball gown to the increasingly over-the-top frocks and topknots modelled by Barrie Hunter’s Dame Betty Blumenthal.
In recent years, Bard in the Botanics, Scotland’s annual summer Shakespeare festival, has complemented its programme of full-scale outdoor productions with one radically pared-down adaptation, performed by a handful of actors in the Kibble Palace glasshouse. Last year’s ambitious reworking of Henry IV Parts I and II, performed by a cast of just three, was a powerful, drum-tight account of Prince Hal’s relationships with his two parental guides, his father the king and feckless Falstaff.
First published in The Times, Tuesday June 30 2015
Love’s Labour’s Lost is one of Shakespeare’s earliest comedies and its dizzying verbosity and baggy middle section does suggest a playwright still finding his fleet feet. That said, in the play’s depiction of a group of young lovers overcoming social hurdles, misunderstandings and mistaken identity to achieve a happy ending, one does find an early template, not only for the Bard’s great comedies, but for the enduring Hollywood screwball farce.