Shiver me Timbers! The UK National Theatre is still awesome!

Ahoy there me mateys!  Matey Kim @ travelinginbooks was kind enough to let me know that “the UK’s National Theatre is presenting certain plays for free on YouTube through June to provide theatrical experiences while people are stuck at home during lock-downs. These plays are available for one week beginning each Thursday.”  Having been a professional stage manager and having seen some of this theatre’s work when I lived in London I absolutely HAVE to watch these.  The first one was Frankenstein and it rocked.  Since then I watched two more and so this post is to capture me thoughts on both.

Antony & Cleopatra

This production starred Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo in the title roles.  I studied this play in grad school but had never seen it performed.  I was very much looking forward to this production and have to admit that it was a miss and switched back and forth from being boring to being bewildering.  Part of the problem was that Fiennes and Okonedo had no chemistry.  Another problem was that Cleopatra was not the interesting woman she should have been.  Some scholars consider Shakespeare’s Cleopatra to be “as one of the most complex and fully developed female characters in the playwright’s body of work.”  This Cleopatra was unfocused, bordered on nonsensical, and certainly wasn’t capable of ruling a whole country.  Umm what?  I have no idea what the director was thinking.  But ultimately the main problem of the production was the Shakespearean rhythm of the three main characters’ (the other being Caesar) speech was completely off.  Fiennes had his own weird speech pattern that seemed either an acting or directing choice.  At least it stayed consistent.  Okonedo not only had a range that fluctuated all over the place but also seemed to only have one volume (loud).  Caesar, played by Tunji Kasim, “speechified” things with odd emphasis on multiple words in every line he said and was rarely addressing the other actors on stage.  It was almost like he lived in a bubble on a soapbox and his reality was just reminiscing on his narcissistic self.  Mix in an atrocious slow motion overextended battle scene and that was this production.  The three exceptions in this debacle were the minor characters of Octavia (Hannah Morrish), Pompey (a funny Sargon Yelda), and Agrippa (happily a woman! -Katy Stephens).  Their characters don’t get a lot of page (or stage) time but shined every time they came onstage.  Arrrr!

Barber Shop Chronicles

I have to admit that while I am well aware of beauty salons and their importance to the female culture (Steel Magnolias being an excellent example in theater), I never really thought about the role the barber shop plays for men.  I am much more used to the idea of bars and pubs being the hangout spot for men.  But now that it has been pointed out to me, it makes sense.  I thought this production was excellent.  My issues had nothing to do with the play itself but rather with the inherent problems of filming live theatre and because of my lack of knowledge of African politics.  This play takes place in Peckham, Johannesburg, Harare, Kampala, Lagos and Accra over the course of a single day.  Sometimes it was confusing when it switched back and forth between cities because the film didn’t give all the visual cues the viewer would get in the performance space.  In addition, the actors played multiple roles and it was a bit confusing at times.  My lack of political knowledge meant that I certainly missed subtext and deeper meanings.  I knew a little more about Nigeria due to recent reads.  I know nothing about South Africa or the other countries.  What this play highlighted for me was how universal a lot of the human experience is no matter where you come from.  Whether it is the complexities of father/son relationships or wanting a new, better job, or disagreeing about how the country should be run, these issues go across borders and time periods.  The culture I was witnessing isn’t mine but I cared about the people themselves all the same.  Also I had forgotten how much I loved African style dance and vocal music so the scene shifts made me happy.  The ensemble cast was truly excellent and I had no major problems with acting styles or choices.  Truly a lovely slice of life and discussion piece that I am very glad to have watched.

I cannot wait for next week’s A Streetcar Named Desire.  Arrrr

x The Captain

20 thoughts on “Shiver me Timbers! The UK National Theatre is still awesome!

  1. I love it! I’m sorry that Antony and Cleopatra didn’t work for you. I saw it live a fear years ago and it was riveting. I bet this was mostly a directorial concern as the National Theatre Company normally rocks! A Streetcar Named Desire is one of my favorite plays — I’ll have to catch it next week.

    Keep providing these reviews — It’s great hearing your professional opinion!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Glad I gave the Anthony and Cleo a miss… It’s a play I love and I’ve had my fill of seeing Shakespeare mangled after last year’s atrocious MacBeth production at Chichester Theatre which was dreadful on so many levels – there are no words… Great review and hope Streetcar is better:))

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I will watch live Shakespeare any day. Even if it turns out to be bad. I saw a horrible production of the Scottish Play in a pub in London where they served bad food during the play and the witches were the live band. It was awful but still entertains me. Also some of the Shakespeare plays that I liked the least turned out to be favourites due to a single production that worked (I’m looking at you As You Like It). I think basically I just want to talk about Shakespeare all the time. Luckily the First Mate will watch pretty much any live theatre with me. Well I just asked him and he doesn’t want to go to a show that requires audience participation.
      x The Captain


      1. Oh, derp. I’m just waking up. I thought you were asking about something else! I think I got about halfway through the play. Just wasn’t into it. I’m looking forward to Streetcar Named Desire, though. Gillian Anderson is amazing.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. So nice to hear from ye matey! How be the shoulder? Aye, screenplays are very different. I have been reading both plays and screenplays recently and I it took me a while to get back into reading those mediums. Did ye like Streetcar when ye read it? Have ye seen the movie? I have not. Well except for excerpts in theatre classes.
      x The Captain

      Liked by 1 person

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