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REVIEWS & CAST

2009
Much Ado About Nothing
A Midsummer Night's Dream

2008
A Midsummer Night's Dream

2007
Henry V
As You Like It

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2006

Romeo & Juliet
A Midsummer Night's Dream

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2005
A Midsummer Night's Dream
The Taming of the Shrew

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2004
Twelfth Night
Much Ado About Nothing

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2003
As You Like It
Hamlet

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2002
Romeo & Juliet
A Midsummer Night's Dream

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2001
Macbeth
The Taming of the Shrew

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2000
Twelfth Night
Much Ado About Nothing

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1999
Hamlet
As You Like It

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1998
Henry V
A Midsummer Night's Dream

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1997
Romeo & Juliet
The Taming of the Shrew

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1996
As You Like It
Much Ado About Nothing

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1995
Twelfth Night
A Midsummer Night's Dream


 

 

 

 

 
 

Tour 2009

Shakespeare programme

Starring:
Mark Arden
Steven Blakeley
Daniela Lavender
Louisa Lytton
Gabriel Thomson

Robert J Williamson

Click here for full cast biographies.

2009 reviews


Much Ado About Nothing is the first of two plays being performed in one tour by the British Shakespeare Company. As a set for this production Kirkstall Abbey could have been tailor made: the old stone walls with their arched doorways and expanse of green made, with the addition of a bench and two plant-strewn statues - the better to hide behind - a perfect set for Leonato’s gardens as well as for the road in front of his house and was, when touched by flickering torchlight, an eerily beautiful setting for Hero’s “tomb”. Scenery alone, of course, cannot make a play.

Much Ado as a play is fatally easy to perform as all wit and no substance, the quips, jests and retorts of the bantering characters being emphasised to the loss of any greater depth. This did not happen here.

Martha Swann as Beatrice left the audience in no doubt that she had been involved with Benedict prior to this visit and that the end of the relationship was none of her choosing. She was a self-conscious wit, pointing the end of every jibe, emphasising the punch line lest some may fail to see how clearly she was enjoying the verbal sparring, repeatedly insisting that she wanted nothing to do with any man and most particularly not with Benedict. Yet it was clear from her first speech that this was far from true and when, at times, she became serious her sincerity was horribly poignant. David Davies as Don Pedro likewise showed a man trapped behind a public visage: he, always aware of his station, maintained a properly decorous image unable to relax lest he reveal the man beneath. When, in contrast, he was required for his ruses sake to play a part he seized upon the role with gusto; Balthasar being omitted from this production the Don himself took up a guitar to play “Sigh no more” in the style of a tragically romantic troubadour and indulged himself enormously in his recounting of Beatrice’s supposed love-agony. One could well believe that so propriety-bound a public figure might embrace the opportunity to play the fool awhile.

Particularly worthy of note was Louisa Lytton’s Hero: very young, very eager and very much in love she was a believably light hearted, innocent maiden. Growing in confidence throughout the first half of the play she slowly responded to Claudio’s embraces growing surer of him every time they were together till the watcher looked with dread anticipation toward the inevitable wedding. This was all that it promised to be: her happiness snatched from her and love thrown back in her face she was suddenly not a silly girl but a woman betrayed and bewildered. Her fainting fit was entirely natural and believable indeed had her death been more than mere rumour it would have seemed not at all strange in the light of her character and reactions.

Fortunately, for it is a comedy, the production was not all subtext and character studies: Beatrice was as sharp and Williamson’s Benedict as cutting as could be desired, the latter being both charming and witty, a perfect foil for Gabriel Thomson as an inarticulate Claudio who grew eloquent only in rage. Throughout the play the audience was rocked with laughter, not laugh-to-show-we-know-it’s-a-comedy laughter, not even we’ve-seen-the-film-and-know-where-the-jokes-go laughter but the true, unsuppressable, riotous laughter of the deeply amused. Mark Arden’s Dogberry in particular was magnificently funny; with the manner of a sergeant major but without the ability he gave a performance of Pythonesque hilarity which never failed to hold everyone in stitches and excused even a slightly odd character substitution which saw Borachio recounting his wicked doings not to Conrad but to Don John himself, the man who paid him and who had already witnessed the whole scene.

All in all it was an enthralling performance which left me sighing for more and greatly looking forward to the second production of the tour.

Amelia Crowley, The Shakespeare Review 31.07.09


The seasonal theatrical drought was touched by an oasis this weekend as the British Shakespeare Company (BSC) stormed the city and the Summer Shakespeare Festival at the castle. After months of Czech-only productions of the Bard in Prague, the visiting Brits were much anticipated and well-received. Actor/director R. J. Williamson expected a good turnout and an exciting series of performances for BSC's first appearance in the city, and he was not disappointed. "I was in Prague in the early '90s," he explained via telephone. "I remember seeing Havel waving to crowds at the castle, so coming back here to perform in the festival that he helped create is poignant."

The performance of Much Ado About Nothing on Aug. 21 highlighted BSC's commitment to promoting full-cast productions of the plays, staged as originally intended by the author. A delightfully confident cast took obvious pleasure in their work, and their sense of whimsy was contagious. A minimal set sufficed admirably, augmented as it was by Williamson's artful blocking.

All in all, the festival was much enhanced by the addition of the British company. Williamson and Co. will no doubt be welcomed back next year.

James Walling, The Prague Post 26.08.09


After seeing what this company could do with Much Ado About Nothing I expected to thoroughly enjoy their performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Alas it was not to be. Not because the production was substandard; indeed it bade fair to rival their previous performance, but because I was forced to leave during the first act.

What I saw however was magnificent. The scene (set against the same backdrop as Much Ado minus the bench and with the addition of some stone “buddha” heads to invoke the Indian Boy) opened to mischievously dancing fairies who quickly set the tone for the night’s magical mayhem before scampering off at the approach of Theseus and his Hippolyta.

An extraordinary Hippolyta: whereas the character is frequently reduced to a cipher, merely a bride for Theseus, here Daniela Lavender was every inch the Amazon Queen. Stately and elegant yet strong willed and independent she did not simply speak her lines as has happened so often before; this Hippolyta spoke her mind, skilfully warded off the cozening of her husband-to-be, shielded Hermia from her father’s wrath and finally strode off the stage in clear disgust at the barbaric customs of Athens, leaving Theseus to exit in some disquiet.

I very much looked forward to seeing how Theseus and Hippolyta would become Oberon and Titania, unfortunately I cannot compare their performances here. While I saw enough of the thwarted lovers to feel immense sympathy for their plight and for their great youth, as portrayed by Jaqueline Wilder and Gabriel Thomson, and can confirm that Martha Swann is a truly flexible actress, as believable as a woefully bedraggled Helena as she was as Beatrice, I can say no more than this.

Oh excellent indeed.

Amelia Crowley, The Shakespeare Review 2.08.09


There's something pleasingly authentic about watching Shakespeare outdoors and set amid the ruins of Kirkstall Abbey you're quite literally dripping in history. A Midsummer Night's Dream is also an excellent choice as its mixture of romance, comedy and magic keeps audiences entertained and it's arguably still his most popular play.

This is the third time I've seen a British Shakespeare Company production and this was probably the best. The play's director Robert J Williamson has assembled a hugely impressive cast and there were fine performances throughout.

Many eyes were on former EastEnders star Louisa Lytton, as Cobweb, who took to her role with mischievous aplomb.

But if I had to single out one of the cast it would be Steven Blakeley whose irreverent Puck set the tone for the rest of the play.

Williamson's playful direction maintained the lively pace and by the end of a riotous performance the actors were caked in mud and deserved every drop of applause from an appreciative audience.

Chris Bond, Yorkshire Post 31.07.09


A welcome return of the BSC to Kirkstall Abbey after a year's absence saw a revival of their singular interpretation of A Midsummer Night's Dream. After a wet and changeable day it looked like a wet and gloomy evening was in store but the rain held off and the sky cleared to provide surprisingly pleasant conditions. The ground was, however, very soft and wet making conditions less than ideal for the performers and, in a play that involves much falling down and laying upon the ground, leaving them somewhat muddied by the end. On this occasion there was no set, save two tall slender lion-headed columns which served to hold the curtains for the play within a play - but then, in the superb surroundings of the Abbey nothing else was necessary.

Director Robert J. Williamson reprised his wonderfully funny interpretation of Bottom, a mesmeric characterisation wherein a light sprinkling of Harold Steptoe adds piquancy to a generous helping of Baldrick. An overly enthusiastic and blissfully inept David Davies also returned in equally confident vein as Theseus/Oberon - an exceedingly charismatic actor with a deep, resonant voice commanding the 'stage' whenever he appears. His Hyppolita/Titania on this occasion was Brazilian actress Daniela Lavender, tall and very elegant, she was every inch the fairy queen and recherchÈ duchess - a woman clearly accustomed to being on top. Steven Blakeley (PC Younger in Heartbeat) gave us a very different puck than that of Wayne Sleep three years ago, more the gormless inept of his TV persona than Sleep's cheeky chappy. In his early appearances it didn't quite seem to work, but as events progressed and he became more involved in the action it really came together in a very funny and superbly engaging performance. Luciano Dodero as Demetrius and Gabriel Thomson Lysander gave good workmanlike performances although the latter was, perhaps, a little too dour and lacking in vitality. Jacqueline Wilder, on the other hand, gave us a charming, sympathetic and immensely likeable Hermia whilst Martha Swann's performance as Helena was nothing less than supreme, a real tour-de-force of rattled discomposure and bruised innocence - a masterpeice of casting. Her injured indignation when Lysander and Demetrius suddenly transfer their affections and commence squabbling over her, which she assumes to be a trick to make fun of her, is a real joy, as is the moment when Hermia reacts to her imagined tempting away of her beloved and chases her around the Abbey cloister - "though she be but little, she is fierce." The fairys, led by Louisa Lytton as Cobweb and Rebecca Alin Jayns as Peaseblossom capered delightfully on the soggy ground adding fairy magic to the proceedings (and I would have loved to have heard more of the latter's exquisite singing).

This was a production in which the emphasis is very much on the fantastical aspects and comedy of the story and ends on a real high note when the 'rude mechanicals' perform their play at the wedding celebration. Played strictly for laughs and full of sight gags, this sendup of theatrical amateurishness is uproariously funny and Williamson' gloriously hammy' Bottom, crowning a veritable farrago of silliness, will long live in the memory. Overall a production with plenty to admire with direction that drives the production forward at a cracking pace and certainly received an enthusiastic response from the audience.

A very pleasant midsummer evening. Once again, the BSC deliver Shakespeare which is approachable and immensely entertaining. A real crowd-pleaser.

Don Gillan, stagebeauty.net 29.07.09


Whilst the story of Much Ado centers around the troubles afflicting the union of the young lovers Claudio and Hero, the comedy is largely underpinned by the much more interesting sub-plot of the battle of the sexes between Beatrice and Benedick. Director Robert J. Williamson, who excels in Shakespeare's comic roles, is again superb as Benedick but it is Martha Swann, as Beatrice, exceeding even her standout performance as Helena in the previous production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, that puts the real life and soul into this production. Her slightly manic grin belying her sarcastic outbursts is utterly infectious, totally dominating the stage whenever she appears, and her feverish manner hints compellingly at the underlying melancholy hiding beneath the veil of jocularity and captures perfectly the essential ambivalence of her character - the protester against love who desperately wants to be loved. The chemistry between Williamson and Swann was electric, adding real piquancy to the witty antagonism between them and genuine realism to the self-denial of their true feelings. The only criticism could be that they so totally overshadowed Gabriel Thomson and Louisa Lytton as Claudio and Hero that we end up caring little about the young lovers and remain instead on tenterhooks as to the outcome between Benedick and Beatrice. If Lytton's performance was a little subdued on this occasion, however, that was explained by the announcement before the start that she was suffering from a bronchial viral infection but had insisted, in true show-business spirit, on performing - and if her performance was a little lacking in energy she never-the-less delivered all her lines with perfect clarity.

The arrival of the watchmen after the interval provided some of the best laugh-out-loud moments in the production with Mark Arden's addle-headed, toadying Dogberry being totally hilarious and Steven Blakeley's dim-witted Verges providing a perfect foil.

On a balmy, if somewhat overcast, summer evening in the idyllic surroundings of Kirstall Abbey this was a bright and breezy production that has real-life and vitality. As with the previous production in this year's tour, the emphasis is very much on the comedy and there are plenty of visual gags. But it never sacrifices the essential drama and poignancy that underly the bitter-sweet story and keep the viewer gripped from start to finish.

Amatory, delightful and hilarious in turns - a must see. For anyone who doesn't find Shakespeare's comedies funny this is the production to change their minds.

Don Gillan, stagebeauty.net 29.07.09


Director Robert J Williamson brought us a show that was crystal clear and fun from the start. Everybody secretly loves Peter Quince and the mechanicals the best (well, I do) and what a treat they were. Mark Arden as Peter Quince was the closest thing to perfection in the role I’ve ever seen. Then again, David Vale as Snout was a lesson in the watching, especially with his hairy brown spaniel in the last act. Even the telly talent could hold the stage: Heartbeat’s Steven Blakeley squeezed every ounce out of Puck.

Eve Stabbing, Eastern Daily Press, 17th July 2009


 

 
   

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