ReviewsGate co-editor Timothy Ramsden casts his mind over 2014

ReviewsGate co-editor, Tim Ramsden, finds that it’s still possible to be surprised – and not all the surprises are in London.

Being surprised by joy is perpetually possible in theatre.

Of all plays, Hamlet isn’t one where a fringe company wouldn’t be expected to provide new light. But Mark Leipacher’s production with The Faction, at London’s New Diorama made unusual sense of why Hamlet, so sarcastic to a loyal old courtier and who insults his girlfriend publically, should be called “sweet prince” and judged a fine king in waiting.

Hamlet has seen his beloved mother betray him in her re-marriage. His first instinct is to protect the girl he loves from a wicked world by recommending she seek moral sanctuary in a nunnery. Only when he discovers she is spying on him does this turn into a rancid command. His final hope lies with the dead – the skull of the jester remembered from innocent childhood. The skull Hamlet handles was a white-faced actor clothed, cap-a-pied, in black. All life becomes death for Hamlet.

A new stage author, Mark Hayhurst has worked mainly in historical documentary. Taken at Midnight lit-up a dark corner of Germany’s early Nazi era as time brought a quick revenge on the liberal lawyer who’d forced Hitler to take the stand in 1930, offset by his mother’s attempt to gain his freedom. It was a time when Germans were still adjusting to what Nazi rule meant. Due to open in London early in 2015, it was a triumph – a serious play by a new playwright – at the Minerva in Jonathan Church’s splendid Chichester season.

Another triumph is the series of plays, mostly new to England, from Bath’s Ustinov Studio. Both Danny Moar, Chief Executive at Bath Theatre Royal, and its Board should share in this – a commercial theatre mounting six productions a year of unfamiliar plays. As must Laurence Boswell, who oversees the seasons. Florian Zeller’s The Father (also due in London) stood-out. Watching James Macdonald’s production, with a fine cast lead by Kenneth Cranham, was like standing on an island that turned-out to be a whale’s back, as its picture of dementia had audiences questioning what they thought they knew of what was going on.

2015-01-01 15:17:10

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