First published in The Times, Tuesday July 13 2021
Spontaneous applause breaks out at the announcement welcoming everyone to the new season of Bard in the Botanics. It has been nearly two years since audiences last gathered on the grassy rise behind the glasshouses in the Botanic Gardens, Glasgow, for the venerated Shakespeare festival.
As a specialist in outdoor performance, this company, led by Gordon Barr, the artistic director, may have an advantage over its contemporaries as theatre in Scotland slowly emerges from its Covid-era hibernation.
First published in The Times, Saturday July 27 2019
It was only a matter of time before Nicole Cooper, a linchpin of the Bard in the Botanics ensemble, was invited to play the Dane. Having spend a decade with Gordon Barr’s company, showing her mettle in a range of roles, from Rosalind in As You Like It to last year’s Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, her progression in the past couple of seasons to the title roles in Coriolanus (for which she won the Best Female Performance at the Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland) and Timon of Athens has seemed entirely inevitable.
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.
Some Richards are so grotesquely charismatic that they overwhelm everything else onstage. This was the case with Lars Eidinger’s performance as the Machiavellian prince in Thomas Ostermeier’s acclaimed production of Shakespeare, which stopped off at the Edinburgh International Festival a couple of years back. The German actor exploded the stage at the Lyceum with a raucous turn that included berating members of the audience and enticing the entire house into chanting along with his most profane lines.
First published in The Times, Monday October 9 2017
One can’t help but wonder whether this abridged version of the Scottish Play is the kind of thing Shakespeare would be writing if he were embarking on his career in an era dominated by small-scale studio shows. Frances Poet and Dominic Hill’s adaptation strips the tragedy down to its essentials, creating an intense domestic two-hander that requires its actors (Charlene Boyd and Keith Fleming) to divest themselves of everything but raw emotion.
First published in The Times, Saturday August 26 2017
Published in 1593, the narrative poem Venus and Adonis was a bestseller and the work that made Shakespeare’s name. The Bard obviously intended it to be read rather than performed on stage, but the actor Christopher Hunter finds an electrifying new form for the poem in this small gem of a Fringe show.
There is always an element of suspense for audiences to any production of Measure for Measure – even for those who have seen Shakespeare’s most problematic play many times. How will the director and company reconcile the pessimistic depiction of corrupted power, sexuality and relationships with the play’s supposedly comedic elements, including the final flurry of marriages, two of which are meted out as punishments?
First published in The Times, Tuesday June 27 2017
Last year, Bard in the Botanics, Glasgow’s long-running outdoor Shakespeare festival, launched a new strand, Writing the Renaissance, showcasing the work of the bard’s lesser-known contemporaries. The inaugural production was a radical adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, whittled down to a fleet 90 minutes and performed by a cast of just three actors.
First published in The Times, Monday November 7 2016
Was there ever a more contradictory figure in literature than Lady Macbeth? On the one hand she is an enthusiastic accessory to murder whose avowed readiness to commit infanticide has made her a byword for perverse maternity. Yet, by the end of Shakespeare’s tragedy she has become a pathetic figure, taking refuge from assorted torments in madness and suicide.
First published in The Times, Friday August 18 2016
Of all Shakespeare’s problem plays, Measure for Measure is the one that leaves the sourest taste in the mouth. Though the story ends in the usual flurry of marriages demanded by the rules of comedy, two of these unions are meted out as punishments, while all the characters – even the saintly Isabella – have become compromised in some way. Theatre directors are increasingly unwilling to summon up a festive mood for such an unremittingly pessimistic depiction of corrupted power and human sexuality and relationships.