Inevitably, researching yesterday’s post got me nostalgic about the many good times at various theatres in London. From time to time I particularly recall my good fortune in getting to see Patrick Stewart perform three different Shakespearean roles on West End stages in 2007. This was a time when Stewart had moved back to the UK and was specifically focusing on reconnecting with his theatrical roots at the RSC and with other regional arts organizations. It was also, arguably, a time when he wanted to put distance between himself and his Star Trek/X-Men/general Hollywood pursuits. I don’t think he feels as strongly in the present era, judging by his current status as a resident of Brooklyn and marriage to an American film producer. His social media and pop culture notoriety have reached a new height in recent years thanks to his many pairings with friend Ian McKellen.
In February of 2007, I was very excited to see Stewart onstage for the first time. I eagerly wrote about it in my LiveJournal the next day.
Last night I had a front row seat to see Patrick Stewart and Harriet Walter perform the title roles in the RSC production of Antony & Cleopatra. It was the BEST show I have seen since returning to London, and you can see more info about it here. The energy of the show was incredible, carried by the two leads but ably supported by the rest of the cast. They also all seemed to be having fun with their roles (impressive, as they’ve been performing them off and on for almost a year) and with a keen understanding of what the story meant in a larger context. Those feelings were also accomplished through intriguing usage of set and light design, with Cleopatra’s “lair” being high above and then center stage, the usage of lights to create a unique map on the rear wall which seemed to change shape every so often, and creative music on the sides of the stage, including Buddhist-esque usage of gongs and cymbals near the end of the play, to denote the Egyptian slant. Seeing everyone in the play remain so committed and energetic, as exemplified by a warm glance that Stewart gave to Walter just before they took their center-stage curtain call, extremely impressed me.
A few weeks after I saw Antony and Cleopatra, Stewart moved right on to rehearsing The Tempest, with him starring as Prospero, for a London run. He gave an interview to The Stage theatre magazine (excerpted here) that seemed to imply he wanted to distance himself from his Star Trek fame. I don’t think he is in that same creative place today.
I caught The Tempest with a friend near the end of its run. For some reason I did NOT write about that experience in my LiveJournal. I recall it came at the middle of a particularly tiring week for me, which probably contributed to my lack of interest in writing about it. Stewart was on his own dramatically in that production, not paired with a marquee name and bringing an expectedly high level of gravitas to the role of Prospero. I do recall much emphasis on the isolation of the character and the plot, with windswept drapes across the stage and foreboding sound design throughout both acts of the play.
Nine months later, I was back in London for an “encore” visit to tie up some loose ends from my stint living there and enjoy another abbreviated round of area theatregoing. I was pleased that the plays would include Macbeth featuring Stewart in the title role, and bought a ticket two weeks ahead of time to ensure that I would be able to see the hot – ticket production. I again summarized it on LiveJournal.
Macbeth was a good, strong and edgy production, although perhaps not as spectacular as the critics were claiming it was. Interesting conceptual work (setting it in a Russian hospital, the witches became nurses, the horror film elements of the story were played up) but I had a hard time sustaining my attention at times, either because of an uneven supporting cast (aside from Patrick Stewart’s magestical performance) or knowing the story very well.
Bonus: the following night brought the first time I saw my favorite British actress Diana Rigg onstage. So naturally that experience received more attention in the blog post.
All About My Mother was excellent, anchored by tremendous ensemble-centring performances from Lesley Manville and Diana Rigg, who, as many of you know, remains my favorite British actress. Rigg in particular held her scenes very strongly with a combination of humor and vulnerability, and I loved how she struck completely different dramatic angles for each part of the story. In the earlier scenes, she’s just a strong-egoed actress, but as her character begins to be revealed, she took on deeper resonance with the mothering themes of the storyline and showed vulnerability. Additionally, the direction of the play was inventive, incorporating frequent use of promenade staging, inventive reverse angle curtain calls as part of the story, and a strikingly spare wide-stage perspective towards the end of the play.