I’m not normally a fan of ‘themed’ seasons but this year’s Roman summer in Stratford has had some great moments.
Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra were both good productions, if not anything special.
Salome in the Swan theatre, on the other hand, very definitely was something special. Matthew Tennyson was entrancing in the title role ( good to see that cross-gender casting works both ways at the RSC ) and Owen Horsley’s direction was tight and inventive. I love it when the RSC comes up with something unusual like this.
As you may realise, I LOVE the RSC. I have seen nearly 500 of their productions over many years. It therefore pains me to write the following. This summer’s production of Vice Versa was quite the worst RSC production I have ever seen. Who thought a show like this was the sort of thing the RSC should be producing ? It was like something you used to see in theatres at the ends of seaside piers in the 1960s. I am all for the RSC letting its hair down and coming up with a comedy romp from time to time but this was DIRE. Fart jokes and cries of “Stick it up his jaxi” no doubt have their place, although it is depressing to find them in the Swan. The worst thing, though, was the sheer feebleness of the jokes and the strained over the top performances. One interminable bit of business where items are removed from a shopping cart/crate accompanied by a series of puns would have been rejected by any self-respecting pantomime. Writer Phil Porter and director Janice Honeyman should be shown the door and never invited back.
Finally, to the best show of the summer, Titus Andronicus. This was the RSC at its masterly best, interpreting Shakespeare for the 21st century. David Troughton’s storming Titus was a treat and there were equally brilliant performances from Nia Gwynne as Tamora and Patrick Drury as Marcus Andronicus. In fact the entire cast were pitch perfect. One sign of a quality production (director, Blanche McIntyre) is the attention paid to detail and to the minor characters. Will Parsons, for example, as Young Lucius, with very few lines to work with, was totally convincing in his descent from proud grandson of Titus, arranging the family for a selfie, to a frightened, bewildered, haunted child, almost driven insane as the horrors of the story mount up. This was the highlight of the season.