The Lace Market Theatre
Not the most well known of William Shakespeare's plays but a fascinating piece of theatre it is. I can take or leave Shakespeare when it is modernised but this was done really well, and a tick in the director box for Cynthia Marsh.
This production starts in Thatcher's reign, and it was uncanny how much Mandy Wilson looked like the Iron Lady. It then travels back to Elizabethan England and then to medieval times. Covering the reign of King John from him receiving the crown to his death with plenty of action, fighting and feuding in between.
It has plenty of comedy but also quite a bit of dark, sinister overtones with beheading, attempted blinding with hot pokers and suicide thrown into the mix. With this being a modern version of the script you will have no trouble following the text which in a way is good but it also takes a lot of the romance and poetry from Shakespeare's usual rhythm of words.
Paul Johnson stepped in at the very last minute to play King John but, even though he was reading the lines from a script, he still managed to "act" the script with feeling.
There were many stand out performances in this play, but as an entirety there were no weak links, so i will just mention a few of the actors that made this play a success for me. Loved the total commitment to the part of Queen Elinor by Janice White and Imogen Lea's passionate speech about Arthur, her son. Speaking of which, Arthur, the one under the wing of Hubert, was played wonderfully by Sophie Owen. I loved the innocence Sophie depicted in Arthur and the tragedy of his pleading not to have his eyes removed by Hubert and then throwing himself of off the battlements to his death.
Hubert was played by Neil Duckmanton and this is the best I have seen him act. Hubert, a follower of King John was portrayed like a little lap dog who would agree to whatever was asked but showing heart by not harming Arthur.
Shakespeare's works and script seem to bring out the true actor in an actor and I found this with Ciaran Stones. I have seen Ciaran in many productions over the years but his role as Phillip Falconbridge's "half brother", Robert Falconbridge really brought out a top class performance from Ciaran. Shakespeare, or at least this modern Shakespeare suits him down to the ground.
Two actors really held my attention though. They have such stage presence that you have to watch them when on stage and with this drama, they truly excelled and were magnetic. Rob Goll, who is a true Shakespeare buff, played King Phillip of France and knows how to project Shakespeare the way it should be done. He made it so easy to watch and understand the character.
And then there was Richard Hill who was just marvellously entertaining with that dry sense of humour he brought out of his character, Phillip Falconbridge. Another actor who really sits well with Shakespeare. Some would find some of Shakespeare's characters aloof and Falconbridge is definitely that and Richard knows just how to portray this aloofness with comedy, but when there are serious speeches to be made, you can tell by his face that he believes every word he says in character, very much like Rob Goll.
What also made this show exciting was the lighting and effects, designed by Hugh Phillip with a whole team of lighting engineers with the sound design by Peter Hodgkinson and Echo Zheng.
The set looked simple enough but looking closer you could see that quite a bit of hard work had gone into the design of the set which was the brainchild of Mark James who also created the backdrop projection.
If you've either never really been a Shakespeare fan then maybe this just might be the one to sway your opinion. many do not "get" the comedy in Shakespeare's work but believe me there is a lot of fun on his plays, especially in the hands of a good director and cast, and that is what you have here.
"King John" is at the Nottingham Lace Market Theatre until Saturday 25 April 2015