Oh boy, that was the drunkest I have EVER done Drunk Theatre. Fricking good production, though!
The Gatehouse is a brilliant thing to have just up the road from me, an old coaching inn that’s now a good, cheap pub with good, cheap theatre upstairs. It’s probably the oldest pub in Highgate (the claim is so modest that I’m inclined to believe it) and it’s now run by JD Wetherspoons, a much-maligned chain of pubs that tend to be either Dodgy Student Dive or Actually Pretty Nice. The Gatehouse is the latter. It has carpets, the food is nice, the beer is well kept (this is usually true of all ‘Spoons actually), the furniture is attractive wood and the interior is quite pretty.
Above the pub is a fringe theatre, Upstairs at the Gatehouse, where I’ve seen some excellent shows and some er more experimental ones that were at least quite good tries. Right now there’s a “Richard III” on by Hiraeth Productions (until 1 March).
On Sunday I’d just got off a 7am-3pm shift, and after meeting up with a friend and sorting out tickets for the 4pm matinee, I necked a double vodka and lemonade and most of a large glass of red wine in about fifteen minutes.
Opened with the killing of Henry VI, which all three York boys participated in and was set to rock music and strobe lights. Excellent way to start any play, really. Edward IV (Callum Cameron) sat on the throne, the lights came up and the production jumped straight into the everyone-get-along loveday scene at court. Richard (David McLaughlin) hung around smilingly waving everyone off (oh, Richard) before starting into “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer…”, making the ‘discontent’ the conflict among the Yorkist factions, with Edward having ‘made’ it glorious summer by commanding them to knock it off.
The production did the best job I’ve ever seen of communicating who the Woodvilles are and what everyone’s problem with them is. The production photographer, Adam Trigg, describes the aesthetic as ‘Shakespeare meets Mad Max’: it’s a visceral, anarchic world easily open to the possibility of shifting personal and clan allegiances. The Yorkists were in black leather, while the Woodvilles wore furs and gauze – a clearly distinct clan that had swanned into power thanks to Elizabeth’s (Gemma Barrett) marriage with Edward, and were now pretending they had earned it. In this world (as with the real history) there was very real personal danger to even the most important Blokes With Place Names, something I think is easy to lose in productions where everyone is wearing nice clothes and speaking crisply.
They took out all the jokes, which at first made me go “what, they took out all the jokes >:(” then “ohhhhhh, they took out all the jokes!” It was a musclar thuggish court, with no space for humour. The most playful scene was Richard’s nightmare, when a leather coat came down from the rafters and Richard manipulated it into ‘acting’ as the ghosts: it was like his repressed perverse playfulness was emerging at last. Richard also had some interesting transgressive gender stuff going on as his back brace echoed the women’s corsets, but this wasn’t overtly explored (I still really liked it, though). Aside from the brace, his disability was suggested with very light touches of movement – one shoulder held slightly higher than the other, one leg stiff and awkward – and not overplayed which worked very well.
Richard’s connection with Anne (Helen Reuben) suffered most from the joke-ectomy as Richard’s humour makes up a lot of his charm, and without that it was very difficult to sell her coming round to marrying him. But Anne’s scenes alone were excellent, as was an invented wordless scene between them after their coronation, in which Richard strangles her.
Actually all the offstage deaths were brought onstage, even the princes in the tower – here just one prince, Edward (played like a smug little shit by Mary Cormack, very good) – as well as Clarence, Hastings and Buckingham. The killings were brought as close to the audience as possible, and there was a shakingly excellent character moment in Hastings’ (Chris Pybus) killing that I’ll tell you about at the end (I think it’s worth seeing unspoiled).
Cormack also played a Woodville called ‘Margaret’, who is I think intended to be Elizabeth’s daughter rather than her sister. (She takes Dorset’s lines.) Meanwhile Cecily Neville (Tabitha Becker-Kahn) made me think of Tamora in Titus Andronicus. Her relative youth was a bit confusing at first – she was a pretty woman hanging around the Yorks’ side of the room, so I assumed she was Jane Shore, SORRY CECILY – but I liked the parallel it gave her with Elizabeth, an energetic mum who was very active in her family’s advancement.
During the interval I ordered two more double vodka and lemonades, which was just not sensible, and my impressions of the second half are much more shall we say impressionistic. These are:
- Catesby (Callum Cameron again) was an oddly sexy nerdy sadist, tick vg. (What is it with hot Catesbys lately? I don’t know, but I like it. Please carry on.)
- Rivers (Josh Jefferies) came back as Richmond, and, you have to double Richmond with someone and I really liked that it was a semi-Lancastrian. The Richmond/Richard fight at the end was among the least homoerotic semi-shirtless manwrestling I have ever seen, and in the final image he slouched onto the throne with his legs stuck out, echoing both Edward IV and Richard III’s postures earlier in the play.
- Also, he was really fit and had his shirt off often. (I am REALLY SORRY if I audibly verbalised my appreciation in the actual theatre, although I don’t think I did.)
- Elizabeth KILLED IT in her last scene with Richard, and through most of the show. Also tick vg.
After the play I lined up another V&L with my friend (WHY. WHY. WHY DID I DO THIS) and staggered into the pub loos, where I spotted Elizabeth Woodville, and said “Oh, you were in the play!” “Oh yes, thanks!” she said. “And here’s our director!”, indicating another woman in the queue [presumably Zoe Ford, who both directed the play and is artistic director of Hiraeth Productions]. I spent several minutes cheerily slurring something about Margaret of Anjou while she edged back with a fixed polite smile and slightly widened eyes. Emerging from the loos I spotted a table of the rest of the actors, doing what actors do after a show. “Can I buy you a drink!” I said. “We were, ah, just leaving,” they said in near-unison, also edging away. I returned to my table and plonked down across from my friend. “Gosh, Rivers, though,” I said.
VERDICT: WOULD RECOMMEND DRUNK OR SOBER but probably not as drunk as me, which was Slightly Too Drunk even for Drunk Theatre!
OK that thing with Hastings’ murder
WAS SO GOOD, GUYS. Richard had been glaring at Stanley (Lewis Howard) through the council scene, with an “are you in or out, and by ‘out’ I mean ‘murdered, by me, personally, in the next five minutes'” look, and after sentencing Hastings to death, Richard, Buckingham and Catesby all got right to it, holding him down right downstage centre and stabbing him brutally. Stanley hovered around the periphery of the stage, considering making a break for it, and Richard looked up, brought him forward with the power of eye contact and handed him the knife to stab his best friend while Richard watched. It was this total psychological creepster, really powerful breath-holding moment. Just great theatre.