Monthly Archives: November 2014

Our Maxine…at the Royal Exchange

Maxine Peake as Hamlet

The good will for Maxine Peake amongst a northern audience at Manchester’s Royal Exchange this autumn was palpable. We love her as one of our own.

Hamlet at the Royal Exchange was a rare treat. Despite the advance hype about Hamlet being played by a woman, within moments I found myself gender blind. Maxine’s first appearance is visually stunning: her short, beautifully cut blond hair, her blue North Korean styled trouser suit. She stands out as she should, as being different from the rest of the Court; set apart.

What is different about this production is the deliberate choice to play it as a domestic tragedy. Something is lost in cutting the menacing outside presence of the threat of war, invasion and the contrast with another Prince who has lost his father. But let’s judge this production on what is presented…

John Shranel playing Claudius the King, Hamlet’s step-father, is great. He is totally convincing in his authority, menacing and strong enough to take drastic action when he realises the degree of threat that Hamlet presents to send him to his death in England…or so he thinks. Gertrude is an elegant queen, out of her depth in understanding what is going on around her.

We are gender blind too, to the roles of other ‘male’ characters being played by women. Claire Benedict’s Player King is as good as I have seen (this is my fifth Hamlet) and Michelle Butterly’s gravedigger brings an immediate freshness to the role with her scouse wit.

The stagecraft at the Royal Exchange is always interesting because of the demands it places on director and cast in engaging the whole of the audience – in the round and on three levels. Sarah Francom deals with it brilliantly. I loved the bareness of the set simply because it makes you concentrate on the language. It makes us all in the audience work hard so that we feel a part of the production.

Maxine Peake provides us with a slow-burning opening Hamlet, gathering power and convincing authority especially on her return to Denmark from England. Although at times her voice lacked power, Hamlet’s intelligence, the strength of her emotional commitment, her disgust at the reach of corruption to the highest levels is never questioned. A Hamlet to be remembered.

A film version of this production will be available in cinemas in March 2015.  Find out more here.

David Smith

 

David On Tour: Part Three – Jerwood

Editor: The continuing adventures of David Smith during his week in Brighton…

 

‘Cultural tourism’ is on everyone’s lips in the south-east: ‘Turner Contemporary’ in Margate, ‘The Towner’ in Eastbourne, ‘De La Warr Pavilion’ in Bexhill and ‘Jerwood’ in Hastings.  The role of the arts in social and economic regeneration continues to have credence. Well, it was ‘The Jerwood’ for me. My first time in Hastings.

£8 to get in seemed a touch on the expensive side especially when one of my party only wanted clean toilets whilst the other some lunch.  So we started with lunch – fresh crab salad and sandwiches left everyone in good mood especially as I had paid for everything so far.  How refreshing too to visit a gallery with huge panoramic windows letting in the outside.  Two huge pieces by Quentin Blake of artists on the beach drawn especially for Jerwood held the attention of all the diners.

Quentin Blake

In the gallery Quentin Blake, who lives just round the corner, had been asked to respond to 10 pictures he has chosen from the collection. More than that, he concentrates on each of the artists showing them at work on the beach by Jerwood in a way that you makes you smile as you explore them – Stanley Spencer with his pram!  Alongside each drawing he has included a piece of text he has written for each piece. I only knew of Stanley Spencer; so it was a fascinating introduction to a number of artists whose work I didn’t know: from Edward Burra to Prunella Clough.  It was also a way into seeing the part of the Jerwood collection on display which focuses on modern British art.

As a Salford boy, it was great to stumble on Lowry’s, Canal Bridge, which I hadn’t seen before.

Coming back to ‘Cultural Tourism’ and regeneration: it’s great to think that Mid Pennine Arts has been making its own significant contribution in our region since 2003 with Panopticons, Land and now the LANDMARKS programme in the Forest of Bowland.  They are all worth visiting or revisiting.