A Midsummer Night's Dream - Daily Information
A cracking cast make this a night to remember!
Tomahawk Theatre have become a recent fixture at the Oxford Castle with their annual open-air production of a Shakespeare play. And this year, they take on possibly the quintessential summertime comedy from the Bard, A Midsummer Night's Dream. It proves a good match for the group, with a talented cast having a fabulous time, bringing the audience with them. For those who have never read, seen or studied A Midsummer Night's Dream, the plot concerns a pair of lovers, Lysander and Hermia, who flee a disapproving father into the forests surrounding Athens. They are followed by Demetrius, Hermia's betrothed, and Helena, who is in love with Demetrius. Also in the forest are a group of Athenian trademen (the Mechanicals) rehearsing a play. These humans unwittingly find themselves in the middle of a quarrelling fairy kingdom, with trouble coming in the form of Puck.
With a play as familiar as A Midsummer Night's Dream, it starts to resemble comfort food for Shakespeare enthusiasts, and I shall confess I found myself thoroughly enjoying this sweetly good-humoured production. It moves on at a terrific pace and benefits from some exemplary ensemble moments, climaxing with a marvellous version of the Mechanicals play, The Tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe. The set is minimal, but the production benefits from the grand backdrop of the castle, and the costumes (including Bottom's donkey head) are tremendous. This is a production that, for the most part, holds together nicely.
The cast are all great, speaking with a clarity of voice that meant we could hear each of the syllables (sometimes a challenge with open-air theatre). The lovers are all fabulously cast. Billy Morton successfully manages the switch from devoted partner of Hermia to obsessive wooer of Helena, while Ivo Gruev manages to keep Demetrius likeable. Hannah Nicholas is a sympathetic, good-natured Hermia and Victoria Coleman teases out the laughs from Helena's predicament.
As the play progresses and the mischief that befalls the quartet in the Athenian woodlands escalates, the lovers come into their own, with several stand-out moments of slapstick comedy. They spit out their insults with particular venom and it is clear, as it is with the rest of the cast, that they are having a lot of fun here. I was particularly impressed that Morton and Gruev doubled up as Tom Snout and Nick Bottom respectively, and the two became dominating presences in this production. The remainder of the Mechanicals (Colin Burnie, Polly Mountain, Judith Fantozzi, and Chris Walters) play their parts well, and the group has a fabulous chemistry together.
The final component of the ensemble, the fairies, were also strongly presented, led by a rambunctious Craig Finlay as Puck. Kieran Chambers and Eleonora Rossi make for an authoritative Oberon and Titania, while Beth Burns, Adela Herandez and Francisco Vera bring much character to the fairy entourage. It is comforting to see Shakespeare played by a strong cast from the lead characters down.
With the gorgeous weather that Oxford is currently basking in, now would be the perfect time for a trip into the Athenian forest. And with Tomahawk Theatre's A Midsummer Night's Dream you are bound to have a fabulous time, due to a sprightly production and a skilled ensemble.
Russell Bailey (DI Reviewer)
Romeo and Juliet - Daily Information
Sizzling connection through the ages
For the best part of July Tomahawk Theatre's Romeo and Juliet is occupying the courtyard of Oxford Castle, a huge acting space hemmed in on three sides by the grassy motte of 1071, the original wall-tower and the severe stone additions of the 1850s; and how appropriate that the latter was until 1993 used as a prison. For the play shows us a battle between the responsibilities and actions demanded by social institutions – in this case the Prince of Verona's law and order policy and the overwhelming requirement by the city-state's prominent families for their younger generation to toe the line in matters of factional allegiance and marriage - and those demanded by the private desires of the individual. So when our star-crossed lovers met and embraced, the audience could not but note that these massive stone structures were frowning down upon them, seeking to crush their vitality and freedom, reducing them to pawns in the money-and-prestige market.
Director Alex Nicholls has sought to play up the political metaphor of the basic situation by draping a couple of Nazi Party banners on the stone walls and at the white, balustraded dais that forms the entirety of the set, and by kitting out Juliet's suitor Paris (Frazz Jarvis, making the most of a small role) in jackboots and military uniform. Mr Nicholls has also turned the Prince and his spoken exhortations into diktats floating across the evening air in the form of cleverly-distorted and sinister tannoy announcements. A clever idea, although the other fascist references are perhaps not quite pressed home.
Mr Nicholls stages the ball scene with grace, and throughout the actors were encouraged to employ constant movement. covering every square centimetre of the gaping yard, and I thought the transition from the first's half's mix of horseplay and adolescent love to anger and tragedy after the interval was well handled.
Chloe Orrock's Juliet spoke feelingly about her paramour, Remi King's Romeo, who in frock coat and striped trousers, stoked up the fires of true love via his rhythmical delivery of the verse. That Mr King had plenty to give was shown by his activity in the street and ball scenes with his Montague companions or the opposing faction, and in the vehemence of his soliloquies he was eminently credible.
Tybalt in a Henley blazer and bow tie was played by Billy Morton as a generalised hothead, almost a yob. The performance of the night came from Ivo Gruev's Mercutio. This was a man possessed, a coruscating ball of energy and swagger as he roamed the playing area, now joking and declaiming, now wheedling, now threatening. Whether it was by chance or design that seemingly dozens of his young students were in the audience, but there they were, and didn't he just seize the opportunity to amaze them with his quicksilver antics; so while he was on stage the first half atmosphere was electric as the young audience hardly knew whether to laugh or cry. Terrific!
Colin Burnie was excellent in his dual role of Lord Capulet and Friar Laurence. As the former, he went from reasonable parent to a picture of fury as he ranted at his daughter, the focus of his concern switching on a sixpence from her welfare to the much more important matter of his own sense of masculine honour. As the good Friar he was a fount of common sense. In other productions I've seen the Nurse has been a cackling mother hen whereas Polly Mountain's much more interesting reading of her was as a comforting bulwark against the forces of authority.
Our audience of c.165, overwhelmingly of the age group of Romeo and Juliet, sat intent as the sun went down over the motte, the floodlights came on and the shadows lengthened. It was a joy to see so many young people packed in, and Shakespeare here was speaking directly to every one of them over a distance of some 420 years. Tomahawk Theatre with its energy and verve has made this connection sizzle and deserves to play to full houses in the month to come.
Andrew Bell (DI Reviewer)
Romeo and Juliet - Daily Information
Tomahawk Theatre returns to the Oxford Castle with another summer sizzler. Shakespeare’s Verona becomes 1930s Italy, with a beautifully constructed set (Ben Downing’s creation) draped in fascist flags. The fight scenes are superbly done, as the youths of the two rival households of Montague and Capulet express their differences physically. Billy Morton’s Tybalt puts his heart and soul into his role, expressing malevolence with every movement. His victim, Mercutio, is played by Ivo Gruev, surely to become well known as an actor, so skilled is his interpretation and fluent is his body. Polly Mountain and Colin Burnie, both veterans of the Oxford stage, give outstanding performances.Romeo (Remi King), suitably youthful and ardent, is well matched with his Juliet, played by Chloe Orrock, who never falters in her portrayal of a young girl’s first, overwhelming love affair, making us truly believe in her infatuation and ultimate devastation at the death of the object of her affection. Both actors were always audible (sometimes this is not easy in an outside venue). The applause at the end reflected the audience's pleasure of the performance.Francisco Vera was responsible for the sound effects and music. He never missed a cue and also showed us his proficiency as a singer and guitar player. Tomahawk Theatre filled the open-air space with the right blend of comedy and tragedy, making a sixteenth-century play relevant to a modern audience. Recommended.
David Kennedy (DI Reviewer)
Much Ado About Nothing - Daily Information
There are times when Oxford excels and this magical evening was one of them. Amid the magnificent setting of Oxford Castle Courtyard, one of Shakespeare's most accessible and life-affirming comedies was played out with flair and gusto by the consistently reliable Tomahawk Theatre Company.
Paul Nicholls' and Helen Taylor's direction was fast and furious, and quickly won over the eclectic audience of all ages. Holding, among others, young children and language school students in thrall for over two hours is a tribute to the directors' skill and deep dramatic understanding. They used every hook imaginable to keep us riveted to our outdoor seats.
The combination of assured and distinctive characterisation, outstanding musical direction – and guitar playing - from Francisco Vera, fancy footwork (Phoebe Knight) and slick slapstick ensured the play zipped along delightfully, raising laughs aplenty.
The wide pillars of generation were confidently established by the natural authority of Leonato (Richard Readshaw) and the mellifluous verse speaking of Don Pedro (Alex Nicholls) who delivered Shakespearean language with a perfect ear for contemporaneity.
While Beatrice (feisty Kate Collier) out-fizzed her cousin Hero (Kay Benson), Ivo Gruev's wonderfully winsome performance as Benedict made his handsome friend Claudio (Billy Morton) seem positively lumpen – but wasn't that the point? While Gruev could contort himself into any shape – like one of those balloon extravaganzas at the Cowley Road Carnival, Morton's denunciation of Hero was a block download, based on a logical conclusion drawn unwittingly from false evidence.
This astonishing pliancy had the audience roaring and rooting one moment at Gruev's slapstick, but in tears at his pity for poor, wronged Hero. Beatrice's compassion for her cousin was our way in past the prickly verbal pyrotechnics, while Margaret's (excellent Alexandra Ackland Snow) bewilderment and realisation that she had been used to discredit Hero added further subtlety to the dark shades.
Chris Walter's Dogberry was a joy. It almost - but not quite - exceeded his own in being called an ass. Dogberry's appearance with his side kick Verges (Mac Macfadden) to the Blues Brothers theme – especially with the roped k-naves in tow – was terrific. Frazz Jarvis' sympathetic, humane Friar Francis was beautifully observed, and I liked Lucy Rayfield's spirited and humorous Ursula.
There was so much to enjoy in Ben Downing's set design: especially the use of trees, pot plants and the wind up gramophone. Rachel James' attractive art work made for great eavesdropping, while Dogberry's flirtatious sexiness might never have been revealed, if he hadn't bashfully raised a trouser leg.
Good to see too that the Ballroom Emporium – much admired from navigating the Plain roundabout – can furnish such elegant costumes, as sourced by Sue North. The crowd of autograph hunters clustered around after the show said it all – catch it while you can.
Alison Boulton (DI Reviewer)
Romeo and Juliet - Oxford Mail
Oxford Castle provided an appropriately eerie aesthetic for Tomahawk Theatre’s triumphant revisit with Shakespeare favourite Romeo and Juliet. It also complemented the Edwardian styled costumes – all pinstripes and white frocks – while offering a suitably impending sense of doom when the lovers first lock eyes.
And with a running time of two-and-a-half hours, the time flew by – even for the large group of pre-teen schoolchildren who remained fully attentive throughout.
If the chemistry between Romeo (Remi King) and Juliet (Jennifer Robinson) never quite achieved the lust-filled teenage romance one expected, the pair were convincing enough to create an atmosphere of bereavement at their tragic end. To put the play’s style more in context, the meeting scene between the two for example, showed the couple necking their drinks in order to pluck up enough courage for their first kiss – making for a fresh, comic slant. And that’s where Tomahawk’s forte lies, in the comic interjections, whether it was bawdy drunken singing or suggestive gestures, all of which elicited laughter. There was also a level of consistent talent, whose energy and enthusiasm carried the whole cast.
Highlights included the bawdy Benvolio (Ivo Gruev), who brought enough crude banter to the role to keep the substantial audience laughing at his every appearance. The nurse (Rachel Wilmshurst) also played the role of Juliet’s confidante with great comic vigour, creating a perfect dynamic between the two. The more serious moments were achieved with a combination of dynamism and sensitivity, successfully achieving the necessary tension of the family feud, as well as a sense of protection towards the fated pair.
Throw in some seamless and uncomplicated scenes – a feat that director Paul Alex Nicholls should be commended for – because despite the stark and unadorned set, the play successfully manages to deliver the consuming urgency required. Judging by the opening night, Tomahawk are off to a fantastic start, creating an evening bound to appeal to both Shakespeare enthusiasts and novices alike.
Romeo and Juliet - Daily Information
Tomahawk’s production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is first a hoot – and then a tear jerker. The predominantly young audience (many from overseas) watching the play within the historic walls of Oxford Castle were riveted by the power of the story. Even if Shakespeare’s language was not perfectly understood, the conflicts and ideals presented were universal.
Alex Nicholls’ production set a cracking pace, which never faltered or lost its way, as the tragedy unfolded. The initial mood of authority, order and control melded humorously into street scenes of ribaldry and drunkenness.
When darkness fell, boy power ruled. The triad of Romeo (Remi King), Mercutio (Adam Potterton) and Benvolio (Ivo Gruev) rocked. Together they crash the Masked Ball given by the Montague’s sworn enemies, the Capulets. While Juliet (Jennifer Robinson) is smitten, fiery Tybalt (Billy Morton) is enraged.
Fight coach James Reilly ensured some terrific spats, in which mortal blows are struck. As events spiral downwards, the power of the acting carried the audience from laughter and slapstick to tears.
Juliet’s freshness of delivery was always intelligent and psychologically spot on. Just watch her talking to herself so artlessly, unaware of our unseen eyes. Romeo too, is believable. His transformation from playboy to tragic hero with blood on his hands was portrayed with eloquence and ease to a modern audience.
Along with musical director Francisco Vera’s wonderful music, unlikely characters tracked the play’s emotional depths. Benvolio’s exuberance and anguish locked the audience’s attention. They were fascinated by his unerring physical clowning - and by the authenticity of his grief.
Lady Capulet’s socialite brittleness was wonderfully captured by Fleur Yerbury Hodgeson – her heartlessness and ambition dismissing Juliet’s plaintive appeal for support against an unwanted (and bigamous marriage) to bumptious Paris (Frazz Jarvis). Lord Montague’s smooth subtleties could be poignard sharp, while Chris Walter’s beautiful, mellifluous speaking voice was used to great effect in another role within the play – the decent, well intentioned Friar Lawrence.
Rachel Wilmhurst’s Nurse was cheerfully uninhibited in the Capulet household, sure of her place – and in the affections of the child she had raised since birth.
Phoebe Knight’s lively choreography, Florence McGlynn’s costumes and Ben Downing’s ingenious set contributed to the visual spectacle.
The pity of youth and hopes squandered brings to mind Phillip Larkin. Yet Shakespeare’s insights into generational conflict, parental ambition and teenage angst held the contemporary audience to the last flamenco chord – and the fluttering of Oxford Castle’s flag in the gathering darkness.
Alison Boulton (DI Reviewer), 16/07/15
Romeo and Juliet - Daily Information
I never really thought of Romeo and Juliet as a comedy. You know the one; Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy? The one where our eponymous hero and heroine are both dead, by their own hand, by the end (oh, sorry – SPOILER ALERT!). But tonight’s show at Oxford Castle Courtyard was pretty amusing.
Oxford Castle Courtyard is a striking setting, and as the sun went down it wasn’t too difficult to imagine we were ‘in fair Verona’. Well, apart from the rather chilly wind, and the aeroplanes that sporadically flew over throughout the performance, both of which occasionally drowned out the dialogue. But since this is one of the most famous love stories of all time, it wasn’t too difficult to keep up with the action.
The ensemble cast worked well together, with stand-out performances from Rachel Wilmshurst as the Nurse, and Ivo Gruev as Benvolio providing much of the aforementioned comedic element to the romantic tragedy. The latter opens the show with a great deal of energy, bursting onto the stage and only really losing his cheeky spark when things get serious in the second act.
Our Romeo and Juliet were both played beautifully with Remi King and Jennifer Robinson putting in heartfelt and believable performances, also with a hint of comedy thrown in amongst the declarations of love.
The staging was simple – a stepped platform providing the focal point of the show, with large, but moveable boxes placed around the staging area, which were moved around by cast members at various points in the performance, at one point forming a ‘BAR’ for the masquerade. I loved this scene, the Capulets’ Ball, started by a brief flamenco flourish from Lady Capulet (played rather ‘wicked step motherly’ by Fleur Yerbury Hodgeson) and continued with a lovely choreographed dance by the cast, with music reminiscent of Bowie’s Golden Years , likening it to the famous dance sequence in the film A Knight’s Tale.
Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable performance, directed and performed with a quirked eyebrow to the original text, but not so much that there wasn’t a real heart and passion to the tragic central relationship. sophums.
(DI Reviewer), 08/07/15
Romeo and Juliet - Oxford Times
It's hard to upstage the grounds of Oxford Castle even when your subject matter is Romeo and Juliet, but the actors of the irrepressible Tomahawk had a fair whack at it.
Directed by Alex Nicholls, this production flew the flag for the exuberance of youth. Negotiating a bare stage of moveable white blocks, a wide-eyed Remi King and Jennifer Robinson played the eponymous doomed lovers caught up in the escalating conflict of the Montague and Capulet families. If there were ever a prize for the greatest amount of puppy love packed into one performance, Mr King deserves an honourable mention.
From his first appearance struggling under the weight of an enormous portrait of his first love, Rosaline, this fresh, artless incarnation was instantly likeable. At the Capulet family ball, after being showered in beer by a hapless Romeo, Juliet’s squeal of “You kiss by the book!” drew giggles of delight. Out went the star-crossed lovers waxing lyrical, and in came the honest spectacle of two teenagers at a party. That said, this youthful take had its limitations.
After that, there is little that brandishing a pair of women’s frillies like a white flag will absolve. Older cast members, in particular Joseph Adams as Lord Capulet and Chris Walters as Lord Montague, brought an appropriate sense of foreboding and, combined with Jennifer Robinson’s arresting portrayal of an anguished Juliet, made for a triumphant second half. The self-confidence of this production was evident in the lack of frills.
Overall, Tomahawk’s latest is Shakespeare at its boldest and barest, but at times got a little carried away. Then again, so did Romeo and Juliet.
Hannah Somerville - Oxford Times
Midsummer Night’s Dream - Oxford Times
Nicola Lisle enjoys a sparkling summer production of the Shakespeare comedy classic
Rain disrupted play on Tuesday night and Tomahawk Theatre had to hastily decamp from Oxford Castle courtyard to the considerably less romantic setting of the New Baptist Church in Bonn Square.
This necessitated a 20-minute delay to the start of the performance. In a cruel irony, by the time the interval arrived the sun was shining blithely; clearly, the weather was in mischievous mood.
But there was mischief a-plenty going on in the church, too, as Tomahawk’s merry band of thespians threw themselves into this joyous romp with immense energy and enthusiasm, seemingly undeterred by the last-minute change of venue. This is a particularly vibrant and funny production of what is arguably Shakespeare’s greatest comedy, with director Alex Nicholls teasing out the general silliness and mayhem to great effect. Eleonora Aldegheri’s choreography is a joy, and the eerie sounds produced by musicians Francisco Vera and Henry Ruddock add greatly to the ‘otherworldliness’ of the fairy capers.
Dan Abrams gives a stand-out performance as a very acrobatic and impish Puck, and his antics are some of the highlights of the production. Edward Blagrove is equally outstanding as the hapless Bottom, wonderfully gormless with his ass’s head in the fairy bower and comically boisterous in his starring role in ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’. The other mechanicals are well handled, too, with Colin Burnie’s Flute/Thisbe a particular delight.
Joseph Adams strides around with an unmistakeable air of authority in the dual roles of Theseus and Oberon, while Jennifer Riley Smith is a charming Hippolyta and a delightfully flirtatious Titania, and Ruth Blackwell and Katya Adams impress as Peaseblossom and Cobweb. Katherine Rose Comery and Jessica Reilly are suitably passionate as Hermia and Helena, and Alistair Nunn and Jacob Clark are a lively pair as rival suitors Demetrius and Lysander. This is a hugely enjoyable and compelling piece of theatre, which sparkles as brightly as Puck’s fairy dust. Definitely one of the ‘must-see’ productions in Oxford this summer
Midsummer Night’s Dream - Daily Information
This is a slightly different adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by the Tomahawk Theatre: but it kind of works. The great thing about this play is that you can draw out different aspects depending on the strengths of your cast. For Tomahawk this means brilliant physicality, camp comedy and a sort of so-tacky-its brilliant, off-kilter interpretation.
The split between mortals and magical sprites is cleanly portrayed through costumes of floating white and haunting black. Peaseblossom and Cobweb are in dramatic 80s wear, with hair and makeup to match, while their queen Titania is allowed a little gold lame to set off her majesty. Oberon, on the other hand, brings the steampunk with his curling, thin moustache and top hat.
While unsettling at first, this stylisation comes to work rather well as the mystical scenes become unusually sinister and cruel. Certainly this idea is in Shakespeare’s writing but it’s not often brought out with such a demonic twinkle. And special mention has to go to Puck (who owes a hat-tip to A Clockwork Orange in his presentation), who leaps, cartwheels and backflips through his scenes while screeching and squeaking his lines like a true jester.
In the world of the humans, who serve as the fairies' playthings, there is a little more traditional Shakespearean fare. Edwardian costumes give the impression of courtly tradition and respectable young maidens. Lysander is great, really bringing out the cheeky charm and Helena has a knack for Shakespeare’s comedy timing.
Attention must also be paid to Bottom, the unwitting second jester of the play. Again, Tomahawk’s actor played this role with energy and a total willingness to fall into the absurdity and ridiculous pomposity of the character. In fact, the whole cast of the play-within-a-play seemed wonderfully willing to make total fools of themselves in the service of comedy.
The music was a little odd at times, with synth-style guitar indicating moments of magic. It was very metal and although it worked with the tacky, 80s vibe of the forest scenes, sometimes it jarred a little too hard.
Sadly, it was raining the evening I reviewed this, so I saw it in a rather cramped church hall, rather than the much better outdoor setting of the Oxford Castle, but even with those limitations, I definitely enjoyed myself.
Romeo and Juliet - Oxford Times
The ever-reliable Tomahawk Theatre return for their outdoor summer production, taking to Oxford Castle to perform one of Shakespeare's greatest tragedies.This pared down version of the play runs at less than 2˝ hours, but manages to pack everything in. The Capulet family is headed by a brutish patriarch (Alistair Nunn) who is keen on marrying daughter Juliet (Chloe Orrock) to the safe bet Paris (Alec Cook). But Juliet then meets idealistic Romeo (Samuel Plumb) at a family party. Only later does she realise he is from the rival Montagues.
Tomahawk present a fast, physical and unfussy version of the play. Scenes are chopped up for dynamism and there is plenty of movement and some dance. There is no clear period setting (music, with hints of Bowie and Pink Floyd, suggests the seventies, while the costumes suggest perhaps the forties - the relative lack of props leaves all this vague).
On Tuesday the 'outdoor' production had to move inside owing to poor weather. It was amazing then, that a production which features, among other things, live musicians, on-stage fighting and a conga line still managed to be so successful in what was essentially a stage the width and length of an average office corridor.
This success can be attributed to the partnership of an excellent cast and some imaginative direction by Alex Nicholls. He gets the best performances out of the younger cast members - especially Plumb's Romeo -probably the liveliest, more gung-ho interpretation of Romeo I've seen. It's all the more astounding, as the character can, on the page, be easily accused of being a little dull. There's barely a dud performance, although Joseph Adams as the Friar and Edward Blagrove's Mercutio (pictured with Romeo) both play it a little too broadly for comfort.
This is a snappy and relatively loose production, which is perfect for older children and teenagers (indeed, the performance I saw was dominated by two very well-behaved school groups). Of course, any adults who also like Shakespeare will be sure to find something to enjoy here too. The use of music and movement really does break up the text in what is another success for Tomahawk - who are fast rivalling Creation as the most interesting company in Oxford.
Romeo and Juliet - Daily Information
It's a credit to theatre companies and audiences alike that Oxford persists in offering a range of outdoor Shakespearean drama during this most unwelcoming of British summers. Grey skies have overseen most of the season and the opening night of Tomahawk's Romeo and Juliet was no exception. The courtyard of the Oxford Castle isn't, frankly, the most inviting of places to spend an evening at the moment, which only made it all the more impressive that this production was so enjoyable.
This is a good group of actors. Talented and enthusiastic, there's a consistency that runs through the cast and, with no glaring weaknesses, you're able to savour the standout performances all the more. Edward Blagrove is a wonderfully boisterous and likeable Mercutio. The chilly courtyard seemed a smaller and warmer place as he bounded across the stage, filling the evening air with a vivid personality and irrepressible liveliness. Louise Taney also impressed as the Nurse. She was spot-on in presenting the tireless manner, loquacious tongue and well-meaning nature of Juliet's aid. As for our two star crossed lovers, Chloe Orrock and Samuel Plumb delivered suitably self-absorbed performances that seemed fitting for so youthful a pair, anguishing over trials of the heart. It should be stressed, however, that the acting is strong throughout and provided a substantial audience with a number of laughs amidst long periods of rapt attention.
Director Alex Nicholls should be commended for his use of music as well as his excellent production. A trio of guitarists regularly creep in and out of the action offering an occasional soundtrack that never feels intrusive or out of place. This is a refreshing and welcome touch. That tonight was the first in a run till the 14th of July can only bode well for this group. They really seemed to enjoy an assured, confident performance and the two hours passed quickly for the appreciative onlookers. Those of you out there particularly averse to the possibility of receiving a drenching can also rest easy: if the heavens open, the action is simply moved inside. Keep that in mind when pondering over your next evening out. Whatever the weather decides to do, there's a worthwhile evening of Shakespearean tragedy waiting for you at the Castle.
A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Oxford Castle Courtyard
Tomahawk Theatre Company's outdoor production of A Midsummer Night's Dream invites the obvious criticism that a play so suited to a sylvan setting is instead being performed in a paved courtyard with nary a tree in sight. But let's not carp: if lovelorn Helena (Imogen O'Sullivan) can fashion a heaven from hell in her pursuit of the amorously disinclined Demetrius (Jack Powell), then we can surely conjure an Athenian wood from a backdrop as seemingly antipathetic as the austere walls of a former prison. It's all a matter of stage magic - which Dream, of course, supplies in buckets. Here we can even accept "my gentle Puck" (Joseph Adams) as a tartan-trousered tough nut as likely to dispense a Glasgow kiss as fairy potions, and elves Cobweb (Chloe Orrock) and Peaseblossom (Ella Graham) in Doc Martens. Under the zippy direction of Alex Nicholls, what may be considered the three great comic set pieces of the play are there to delight anew. In the order of their occurrence these are the love scene in the fairy bower between the deluded Titania (Anna Glynn) and the gormless Bottom (the excellent Adam Potterton) in his ass's head, the ructions between Helena and Hermia (Eve Winterbottom) - a ding-dong to rival that of Cecily and Gwendolen in The Importance of Being Earnest - and the closing Pyramus and Thisbe play. The last is especially well managed. Bottom and Chris Gladwin's Flute are super in the title roles, but there are hilarious contributions, too, from Ivo Gruev's deliciously petulant Starveling/Moonshine and David Guthrie's Snug/Lion. Peter Quince, ostensibly in control of proceedings, is here transformed, with great success, into Mrs Quince (Ida Persson). It was unfortunate that one of her key speeches at Monday's opening was lost in unequal combat with a helicopter. Voice projection in a large and rather difficult performance area is on the whole commendable. Kieran Chambers's Lysander and Craig Finlay's Theseus/Oberon supply an especially clear take on the peerless poetry. Music from guitarists Francisco Verae and Sebastian Perez - sometimes in freaky electronic vein - adds greatly to the success of the evening.
Christopher Gray - Oxford Times
Twelfth night at the Oxford Castle - Daily Information
Although brilliant as it is, Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night' really isn't as original a play as people may think in terms of content. The idea of twins being separated, confusion following and a happy ending to top it all off is a narrative that he uses multiple times. How right then for Tomahawk Theatre company to aim for a slightly fresh way of telling the well loved classic.
The Oxford Castle's courtyard is a wonderful space and the weather perfect (what a rare thing that is for out-door theatre!). The period setting (which I took to be mid 1900s) was clear but not overstated, and the use of an accessible, jazzy style Feste (James Studds) eased the audience into the world created for us. I must say that the pace of the beginning of the play was slightly slow, however, this is common in Shakespeare's plays as the introduction of characters and situations is crucial, and Tomahawk understood that. But very quickly the mood picked up and the actors delivered an overall wonderful and hilarious performance.
I must commend Chloe Orrock for her performance of Viola. This is a part any young actress would jump at and she delivered a confident, relaxed and warm performance. Also both Alexander Rogers and Alex Nicholls - playing the infamous Malvolio and Toby Belch respectively - made an excellent pairing, the contrast between the characters being highlighted to hilarious effect.
The rest of the cast did extremely well in rising to the large challenge of outdoor theatre. I do think that this is a performance well worth going to see. It is a wonderfully delivered production that I cannot imagine anybody would not enjoy!
Gaslight - Oxford Times
While Patrick Hamilton's excellent novels provide an uncomfortably accurate picture of life as it was led (by rackety characters such as himself at least) in the first half of the last century, his much-better-known stage plays, Rope and Gaslight, possess plots that stretch credibility to breaking point and beyond. They remain first-class entertainment, however, as professional revivals demonstrated to my satisfaction two years ago - Rope at the Watermill Theatre, Gaslight at the Old Vic.
I can pay no more generous compliment to Oxford's Tomahawk Theatre Company for their production last week of Gaslight than to say I found it fully the match of the Old Vic's. The performances were all of high quality, and especially those of Susanne Sheehy, in her role as the much-put-upon Bella Manningham, and Robert Booth as the (entirely misnamed) Sgt Rough, who is able to put an end to her misery.
Though written in the late 1930s (partly in Oxford), the play - essentially a Victorian melodrama - harks back to a period 50 years earlier. Poor Mrs Manningham, as may be recalled, has had the misfortune to marry a grade-one cad - worse, a murdering burglar. The setting is the very house where his crime was committed: Manningham (played in suitably oily style by Alex Nicholls) has returned to continue his hunt for precious rubies he failed to find after battering their owner to death 20 years before. The dimming of the gaslight, a spooky feature of the play, signals his secret searching of the upstairs rooms, his turning on of the lights there having caused a drop in gas pressure throughout the house. As part of a dastardly plan to get his missus out of the way for good, he has meanwhile been hiding things about the place, leading her to believe that she has lost them and is slowly going mad.
All this is gradually brought to her attention by the inspector, who gets a relishably over-the-top performance from Mr Booth in fruity upper-crust tones that fail to disguise (those dropped aitches!) his true social standing. Then Mrs M. shows astonishing self-possession, which makes one marvel at her earlier submissiveness. A feisty woman like her would certainly not be pushed around, as she has been, by a cocky minx of a servant such as Nancy.
Christopher Gray - Arts Editor
I thought that perhaps the lights were about to up and the cast from High School Musical would parade onto the stage in an explosion of glitter. Well, what would you think if you found yourself in a theatre where the ratio of screaming 13 year old girls to adults was roughly 80:20? I decided to force this to the edge of my mind and try to not let the fact we were in the middle of a school trip ruin the evening ahead of me.
Act one, scene one of this production of Shakespeare's The Tempest certainly grasps you by the collar and makes you sit bolt upright - your full attention is on the action as you join the story in the middle of a frightful storm on a ship. High production values made for a great set, atmospheric sound effects and dramatic lighting. The characters clung to each other for dear life and ran back and forth to successfully create the illusion that the stage was indeed the deck of a ship, rolling to and fro with potentially life threatening results.
Then; all is calm. An angelic girl's face appears in the top left of the set and begins to sing a tune softly. You later find out that this girl is Ariel - a powerful spirit who had been trapped by Sycorax the witch on this mysterious island. Ariel was played by Susanne Sheehy, and she quickly became one of my favourite characters in the play. Brilliant acting by an actress who resembled a very beautiful, ballet-dancing Tinkerbell. Another stand-out actor was Dominic Bullock, who played the sorcerer Prospero. His piercing glare and crystal clear voice sent shivers down my spine. Superb. He utilised the two-level set to its full potential. Upstairs, above the main stage, was a second level covered by a sort of muslin cloth stretched tight. This created the perfect representation of Prospero's omniscience over his island, from behind which he could watch the action like a grand, looming figure of doom (wearing a rather excellent magician's cape). Actually, the acting was of an incredibly high standard from everyone.
It was a perfect evening where you either found yourself silent in awe, or laughing at the moments of wonderfully directed comic relief. Sections of dance and singing were weaved into the story masterfully. I did think at one point 'Am I really witnessing this?', when a bare-chested Ferdinand (played by Alfred Enoch) was repeatedly wolf-whistled by members of the High School Musical collective. However, their thunderous applause made up for their terrible behaviour throughout the play - I'm glad they enjoyed such high-brow entertainment. It was a brilliant play. I urge you to go and see it - if only so you'll then understand what John Fowles is going on about in The Magus.