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Brighton Year-Round 2020

Low Down

Directed by Joanna Rosenfeld again with a crisply-observed 20 minute interval. Production Manager Nathan Potter. Production team Tabitha Fawcett Fry, Saskia Monteiro, Faith McNeill. Prop construction under Joanna Rosenfeld Roseanna Bini and Katie Marshall. Next performance Saturday August 29th at 18.00.


It’s the 535th anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth. So what other play could it be than Richard III? Well As You Like It was the other touted possibility wit this two-day notice aesthetic, but that’s a festal play designed for a festal weekend, the fourth and – till five days ago – last of this micro-season next Saturday. Except it isn’t. There’s now two more plays announced and this time we’ll not even know what they are till we see them, both directed as here by Joanna Rosenfeld.

The One Fell Swoop Project’s Zoom Shakespeare two weeks ago zoomed out on to St Anne’s Wells Sensory Garden for the first time since its lockdown zooms. In a word, Unlocked. Joanna Rosenfeld and Conor Baum alternate as directors and actors in a ‘micro-festival’, four now six outdoor productions of Shakespeare, the audience strictly distanced and with all amenities on hand.

Actors have just 24 hours to con their parts meet up and read through, everything’s fluid, and the spirit of OFS with its spontaneous leaps into abysms of inspiration is preserved. The Zoom traversal of all Shakespeare and apochrypha will hopefully recommence in the autumn.

Though modestly priced it’s also a charity event. There is though no gala about it. This is first-rate outdoor Shakespeare. 

Richard III poses two challenges. First it’s the second-longest drama, after Hamlet. It needs deft cutting to shape it for a particular production – effected admirably here in 2 hours 45. Second it’s often a one-man play. And it has been, mesmerisingly with Emily Carding’s award-winning show.

Conor Baum’s Richard of Gloucester though is first among equals in this seventeen-strong ensemble: multi-roling, crowding and generally forming a balletic series of set pieces. Sometimes they’re pyramidal, with a leader atop a dais proclaiming on a cone of adorers. Sometimes the conga-opening of the revellers in a brief happy time of peace elongates or contracts, rushes round the paths eventually in pencil-lights for scripts; or they form antiphonal banks of voices raging at each other – for instance at the climactic dream sequences and yelling battles-scenes of the finale, underscored with drum-thwacks.

Baum’s closely followed too in an outstandingly clear Buckingham in Benjamin Darlington’s deeply revolving, clarion interpretation: quick to apprehend, lucid, able to cringe and beg, able to dissimulate and snap to another mood. Darlington enjoys a cut-through voice but he mettles it with a baffled or sharp edge exactly when needed. And his response to Baum’s dismissive slap is memorable.

So that might seem like Richard himself. Baum with his leg iron and crooked fury though is outstanding as Richard. Baum who’s remarkable for both Richards on zoom, here transposes into Rosenfeld’s deeply physical linear production where his special fleering, flattering insinuation is a major reason to see this. Baum turns with or without Buckingham. He and Darlington form a fearsome double-act with all the theatricality that evokes; but of course Richard’s deeply alone. Hawks do not share.

Baum’s exuberance brings out the playful audience-wooing side of Richard and more than smack of his celerity. Baum also brings out – as he must in this rapid gloaming time – his fearsome headlong career. Baum gets that prima-donna arc of ‘was ever woman in this humour wooed?.. won?’ to an outrageously triumphant mini-aria, arced up at the end. His voice can cut each inflection through the fug of war and clamour for peace. His timing for administered slaps is tight – as are the actors like Darlington who receive it.

Jules Craig is a Shakespearean flued and sanded for these productions and it’s great to see her out of the slips – as the ailing Edward IV played with a convincing regality not all who pay this part catch; as 1st Citizen querulous and throwing down troubles for the other two citizens to peck at; as Lord Lovell applauding yet anxious, and the youthful Earl of Surrey.

Duncan Henderson’s George is more noble than piteous, more grandly rhetorical as Richard fears then say fearful as some Georges are. Henderson brings out the imperious in George, and a very able monster in Tyrell the murderer, indeed rather commanding here; a fine Mayor presiding over the coronation, aware of his dignities and a pondering Sir Herbert. 

As the hapless Lady Anne Lexi Pickett provokes dignity and there’s much physicality between her and Baum, not at all erotic but furious as Picket gradates a kind of crumbling surrender rather than some erotic subtext others bring. Pickett’s response is exactly what’s needed here. Her grief real as the train of pall-bearers of the corps of henry VI father of her also murdered husband, is dismissed and terrorised by Richard. The strong element in this direction is how every hint of action in the text is taken and emphasised, occasionally wildly so, to bring out the smack of physicality from this word-heavy choric work into the open twilight.

Sophie Dearlove as Queen Elizabeth owns another cut-through voice managing to curse with dignity and show the queen’s pathos when husband and sons are stripped from her. As a much-abused Messenger she’s remarkably fleet and energetic.

Ross Gurney Randall’s Duchess of York is one of those gender decisions Rosenfeld is anxious to keep from the zoom productions, and Gurney Randall’s gravelly stentorian dignity finds its apotheosis in that final curse. He’s utterly distinctive and naturally able to invoke winds to blow and crack their cheeks before being overborne.

Margaret the She-Wolf of France who was in truth back in France, is cut from this production. The choric note is a loss, as it’s Shakespeare’s most Greek play, a model he absorbed and moved away from. But here it’d hold up action. No bottled spider then but a climactic curse the Elizabeth adds to with her own dignity.

As ‘kind‘ – in other words credulous avuncular, wholly outflanked Lord Hastings Gurney Randall’s in his element, a mix of bluster and stoic dignity.

Christine Kempell‘s Earl Rivers gets a powerful presence, more than this role often gets. Wounded outrage veiled with dignity is brought out here. Kempell’s voice is an instrument that’s powerful and varied As Sir William Brandon Kempell’s baffled, as Third Citizen, the largest and more intellectually engaged of the three, she’s commanding.

Roseanna Bini’s fleeing Earl of Dorset is well dispatched too, full of foreboding; and as Cardinal, 1st Monk, 2nd Citizen, the excellent Bini has less to do in this production because so active in others.

Sharon Drain’s not usually in hapless roles, but she gets a couple here and really digs into the Bishop of Ely’s bafflement, dispatched to fetch strawberries from his garden as murder is announced. As the true sick-hearted Robert Brackenbury she looks like a rabbit in headlamps secretary. As the Ghost of Henry VI however, in the dream sequence, she unleashes her vocal distinction to curse and bless.

Seth Morgan’s always one of the most distinctive-looking as well as sounding actors, and rangingly assured. His single role’s an important one. His gradual withdrawal from Richard’s orbit despite the later peril of his son comes out in the way he can both express anxious fealty with facial, physical and vocal truth.

I’ve not seen Andy Hogarth in these productions, and he brings a clearly conniving Sir William Catesby back to Buckingham, as his minion; and on Richmond’s side, Sir James Blunt a man joyful to do right, literally on the run.

As Richmond the future Henry VII Kirsty Geddes is a delight – clear, rousing, fresh for a crown you actually believe she might cleanse, acrobatic as she vaults on to a top box to command troops. And there’s a reflective side. As 2nd Murderer Geddes also scores – the one with remorse ticking away before and after though the ‘look behind you’ here is played as a ploy. It’s plausible as a point of resolve, though I’m not quite sure of that direction since Geddes has immediately to don remorse again and being naturally very fast sprints off from the horror at speed. Another tiny part involves getting slapped hard by Baum (a superb piece of fight-management here) flinching with astonishment.

David Sampson’s Duke of Norfolk (whose son is Surrey) hasn’t the role his great-grandfather was to assume in both Henry IVs, but Sampson’s another fresh, vital presence. Most of all he scores as 1st Murderer with that bloody bold and resolute approach to drowning Clarence, and badinage with the shrinking Geddes. His vocal command jousts with Geddes and indeed Henderson and it’s a fine ensemble moment.

Katey Ann Fraser another regular company presence has a splash f small roles. The Keeper of the Tower involves her in much hand-wringing and is Fraser’s most drawn out moment, wit the luckless Lord grey proving Richard’s earliest victim as indeed is Sir Thomas Vaughan. Only as Scrivener can Fraser project a worried equinamity.

Alissandra Henderson’s really flourished in these productions, developing audibly. Here she’s a confidently forward (Prince) Edward V prettily answering, to her detriment, as well as Clarence’s daughter. Vocal projection’s remarkably clear for someone just starting out.

Henderson acts well with Eden Wolfe-Naughton as young Duke of York and Clarence’s Boy. Wolfe-Naughton finally makes a delightful stage debut in these roles, full of querulous innocence. Finally because she’s been present on stage as the cellophane-interpolator whenever there’s a covid-swerving kiss to be had – though the Scottish couple last week being actually married did away with that. So here Wolfe-Naughton comes to interpose a kiss between wooing Richard and Anne, only to be visibly disappointed when they don’t require he; a delicious moment of comedy – something pointed up outside the strict measure of Richard always dispensing it.

All productions of Richard III have a measure of violence done to them. It’s not in its full text one of Shakespeare’s masterpieces, though its energy and popularity make it perhaps the most celebrated history, albeit surpassed by another four. Cut down however, it’s far stronger. And often very funny as here, the key to its success through Richard’s confiding his comically bloody intent, wholly novel. Rosenfeld’s taken care to balance what’s cut with what remains, so the second wooing – that of the widowed and now son-less Elizabeth for her last child, her daughter – is kept nearly entire as balance; as it must be.

OFS stake much on a history, Shakespeare’s least popular genre. They’ve presented several in zoom and in themselves are confident, fluent and engaged. This one gains its pull-through with Baum and Darlington’s crackling villainy and a strong ensemble feel. Problems occur with storm clouds bringing premature dark and high winds; it’s a miracle most words got through. There’s danger in presenting so many roles and actors in this setting. Several minor ones don’t matter so much, and you’re fixated on the way they feed the strong visual geometry Rosenfeld stamps on her directing. That it survives nature is a tribute to everyone though a point to consider.

Luckily the play itself allows an explosion of noise at its end, and the battle’s blocked superbly with much running round the perimeter. At the pyramidal opposites of Richard III and Richmond oppose each other we’re treated to a spectacle of Baum being suddenly thrust above everyone else. A spectacular, necessary end. It’s almost invisible from a few yards off but these strong angles carry it.

 The preparation and care of the few props including glinting swords is Production Manager Nathan Potter’s realm: actors spin various box seats to sundry uses: swift pyramids, a brief conference, a dais.

Rosenfeld’s direction allows reflective text room in its two hour forty-five traversal again with a crisply-observed 20-minute interval. Elsewhere there’s much dispatch and the effect of this edited play is fleet with eddies of dark comedy. Like last week there’s clarity, truthfulness though no trip-ups. Next week Baum again directs at six as evening draw in slightly. Watch that grassy space afterwards too, as the final two begin at 4.30.