Review: Measure for Measure at the Young Vic

Stark stage design, evocative music, darkly humorous moments – Joe Hill-Gibbins’s rendition of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure was certainly a Young Vic production: raw, sensual, smutty. Commonly conceived as Shakespeare’s most controversial play, the double entendre often present within his work provides a challenge for directors: is it a tragedy or a comedy? The majority of the lines can be read either way, providing two starkly different possibilities, though Hill-Gibbins manoeuvres around this with skill, the laughs providing a mask for a deeply unsettling sense of doom.

Credit: Keith Pattison

Credit: Keith Pattison

Beginning with a vast pile of blow-up dolls in the centre of the stage and deep red lighting to visually stimulate the hedonistic themes present within the play, the effect, initially laughable and slightly ridiculous, became sombre as the intention behind such design became clear. Inappropriate yet brutally honest, the dolls seemed intended to make us uncomfortable (several people even left soon after the beginning), to make us question the presence of visual sexuality onstage. Indeed, the effect was powerful, as one that physicalises the way society treated women and virtue – and the modernity of the costumes gave way for these sexual themes to apply to the present day.

What follows is a 75-minute exploration into true experimental theatre. Duke Vincentio, in disguise as Friar Lodowick, often holds a camera to other characters’ faces, particularly Claudio’s, giving the effect of invasion and interrogation as the close-ups are projected onto the back wall of the otherwise bare set. The back wall of the stage opens up to reveal a room serving as a prison, complete with table and wall clock, and when this ‘room’ is closed off, the camera and projections serve as a reminder that not all is as it seems behind closed doors.

I cannot commend any actor more than another; Romola Garai as Isabella takes us on an emotional journey wrought with despair, while Paul Ready stages a fantastic Angelo, epitomising the deceitful, hypocritical deputy of Vienna with eerie ease.

Though this adaptation of Measure for Measure is undeniably inappropriate for younger school years, it serves as a fantastic grounding for KS4-5 as a means of exploring new and exciting ways to stage old plays while also laying down Baz Luhrmann-like foundations for Shakespeare to be given the potential to be modernised. If I could give Hill-Gibbins’s version of Measure for Measure more than five stars, I would.

Kenneth Branagh succeeds Richard Attenborough as new RADA president

Former student Kenneth Branagh has been named as the next president of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, following Richard Attenborough’s death last year. The announcement comes following a slew of Eton- and Harrow-educated actors taking lead roles on stage and in films, prompting a warning from Julie Walters that actors from working class backgrounds are being pushed out of the industry.

*Photo by Giorgia Meschini*

Kenneth Branagh in 2009. Credit: Giorgia Meschini

Branagh was born in Belfast, Ireland to a working class Protestant family, his father having been a plumber and joiner. They relocated to Reading in the late 1960s to escape the Troubles, a period of severe political conflict that caused thousands to fall into poverty, and over 3500 people were killed.

Following the recent accolades of Eton-educated Tom Hiddleston and Eddie Redmayne and Harrow alumnus Benedict Cumberbatch, many have speculated that elitism in acting is on the rise. RADA director Edward Kemp says it is a common misconception that their students are privileged and that their intake comes ‘from every corner of society,’ with 40% of the 2012/13 students from a family income of less than £25,000 and 57% currently receiving financial support from the institution.

Actors ‘are being confronted with huge challenges earlier and earlier,’ says Branagh, who hopes to continue the legacy left by Attenborough. Branagh, the first president from a working class background in 40 years, joined RADA in 1979 and has since been nominated for numerous Academy Awards and won three BAFTAs.

Olivier Award-winning Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to stage relaxed performance

Following last month’s autism-friendly performance of Disney’s The Lion King, the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane has announced that it too will be staging a relaxed performance of Sam Mendes’ Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on 19 January. Designed to cater for those with special needs, the show will make theatre more accessible to minority groups.

Credit: Matt Crockett

Credit: Matt Crockett

The performance will be working with Mousetrap Theatre Projects, a charity dedicated to enhancing the experience of the theatre for children who might not otherwise be able to enjoy it. Among the alterations made to the original production are adjustments to sound and lighting, trained volunteers and staff present at the venue and free support resources available on the Mousetrap website, which will provide introductory material and support for parents, carers and children.

Credit: Matt Crockett

Credit: Matt Crockett

Mousetrap works to bring 12,000 young people to see a popular London production every year, and the relaxed production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory means that people with special needs will have the opportunity to watch a two-time Olivier Award-winning production that has broken records at the Theatre Royal.

Mousetrap is ‘thrilled to offer families with young people with special needs the wonderful opportunity to attend a relaxed performance of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,’ says Director of Mousetrap Theatre Projects Susan Whiddington. ‘Over the years, we have had so many requests from families to see this fantastic musical and we know it will be a very special experience for all the families.’

Visit for further information and for access to free resource materials.

London’s Finborough Theatre in danger of closing to make way for new flats

From its founding in 1980, the Finborough Theatre in Earls Court has featured the likes of playwright Naomi Wallace, Wolf Hall star Mark Rylance, and multiple notable Hollywood stars, including Rachel Weisz. But previously abandoned plans proposing new flats above the theatre may pose a threat to its future.

The Finborough Arms. Credit: Pete Maclaine/Alamy Live News

The Finborough Arms. Credit: Pete Maclaine/Alamy Live News

Neil McPherson, artistic director of the theatre, expressed his concerns for the venue, saying: ‘These plans have been rejected before but they have come back again. This time the plans do include some sound-proofing but we have consulted with three consultants who say it’s not good enough for a theatre. The plans would put a kitchen, bathroom and living space directly above the auditorium. If the noise from the flat above gets to a certain level then we won’t be able to put on shows.’ He added that, should a future tenant complain about noise from the theatre, shows will be restricted to close at 9pm, potentially affecting its future existence.

The plans, submitted by Shelley Chopra, are currently being considered by Kensington and Chelsea council, with a decision due to be made in September. Chopra believes that the accompanying noise report suggests that any noise from the flats would not ‘have a negative impact on the operations’ of the theatre. Chopra has expressed that he would like to work with the theatre, and has ‘consulted with acoustics experts’ and ‘looked at putting in carpets and other sound-proofing methods.’ He added that ‘the theatre will benefit from this planned development which also includes a new roof for the building and a separate entrance for them for the first time. I cannot emphasise enough, we do not want the theatre to close.’

The news has raised worldwide concern for the future of the theatre – and, by extension, the future of the arts, with a letter from as far as Canada warning that closing the theatre would be ‘an inestimable cultural loss for London.’

People of Southwark invited to perform on stage at Shakespeare’s Globe

Seldom does the opportunity arise for the public to perform on the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe – that is, until now. The Globe is calling for ‘all who live, work, and learn in Southwark to perform on stage’ as part of A Concert for Winter, the annual celebration of the London borough that houses the famed playhouse.

Schools and communities are invited to perform on the stage of Shakespeare's Globe

Schools and communities are invited to perform on the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe

The concert, brought to the stage by Globe Education, encourages schools, societies and communities to apply with their contributions of music, movement, or spoken word, as inspired by this year’s theme of ‘Sweet Thames, Run Softly.’ With the concert to take place on 10 December at 1pm, there isn’t much time left to apply – applications close at 5pm on Friday 11 September.

Following this, performers will have the opportunity to receive guidance on catering their performance towards the Globe’s unique stage, which includes an eight-week rehearsal period with Globe Education practitioners.

A Concert for Winter is applauded for its celebration of the past, present and future of Southwark. Michael Doyle, conductor of The Blackfriar’s Nightingales and previous contributor in the concert, says: ‘This is a very special event for our group. It gives a chance for our elders to feel included and respected in the community. I see a sense of achievement in their eyes.’

Participation application forms are available online at:

Royal Shakespeare Company to host its first British Sign Language theatre backstage tour

Earlier in the year, the Royal Shakespeare Company held its first semi-integrated British Sign Language performance, The Christmas Truce, and following its success is due to host its first British Sign Language Theatre backstage tour. The tour will coincide with the Swan Theatre’s British Sign Language interpreted show of Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta.

The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

The Stratford-upon-Avon theatre, soon to celebrate its 30th anniversary, will offer visitors the opportunity to learn about the theatre’s history, as well as exploring a range of wigs and costumes from the play. The tour will last one hour and will be led by Clare Edwards, British Sign Language interpreter, with a free special interpreted post-show talk to follow.

‘We want everybody to feel welcome in our theatres and to be able to experience our work,’ says Elizabeth Wainwright, RSC’s Head of Theatre and Operations. The mounting of semi-integrated British Sign Language performances will continue with Ella Hickson’s retelling of JM Barrie’s Wendy and Peter Pan, also to be followed by an interpreted post-show talk.

Ticket details and further information can be found at:

The Ecstasy and The Ecstasy: A Review

On 1-5 September, 16 RADA MA Theatre Lab students performed their end of year project The Ecstasy and the Ecstasy in the George Bernard Shaw Theatre, Malet Street. The postgraduate course comprises the foundations of Stanislavski’s system with brash experimentation to create a final examination performance that must tie in with course contents, wherein students are taught about the practices of the likes of Brecht and Grotowski.

Credit: Linda Carter

Credit: Linda Carter

This year’s students collaborated with American director Jon Stancato to create The Ecstasy and the Ecstasy, a thought-provoking and stimulating piece exploring the highs and lows of the ecstatic experiences humans encounter – ecstasy in its most animalistic and basic form, from religion to art, sex to personal annihilation.

From the beginning, the ‘meaning’ of ecstasy was made clear: there was no meaning – at least, it could not be explained, and throughout the rest of the performance we saw that the spectrum of ecstatic experiences range from the simplistic, such as taste, to the more complex, all-consuming relationships we have with religion and with one another.

Credit: Linda Carter

Credit: Linda Carter

Combining physical and poor theatre, the 16 students convulsed, sang, cried and danced as they narrated their individual encounters with what it means to be in love, in lust. The resulting piece was moving and intimate, and left me reeling with feelings of transcendence and a mixture of understanding and fear. By the end of the performance, each student was emotional, sweaty, gasping after two hours of delving into the darkest corners of ecstasy, and I must commend their pain and effort.

Rather than watching 16 people tell us what it meant to feel these things, they pulled us into the experience, forcing us to live through their eyes, and I truly felt it.

Directors and actors take to open letter to question National Youth Theatre’s cancellation of Homegrown

Following the controversial cancellation of the National Youth Theatre production Homegrown amid concerns it would promote radicalisation, theatre directors, actors and writers have taken to an open letter to express their disappointment and confusion.

The letter, published in the Times, is part of an ongoing battle to get to the root of the sudden cancellation of a play intended to break down the barriers of censorship. As explored in two previous Teaching Drama articles (4 June and 18 August), the play, which explored the reasons behind homegrown radicalisation, was due to open on 12 August, but was pulled just days before by NYT.

Director Nadia Latif and writer Omar El-Khairy had been forced to relocate the production after Tower Hamlets council informed them the school venue was inappropriately close to the Bethnal Green school attended by Shamima Begum, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana, who are thought to have fled to Syria to become jihadi brides earlier this year. Following that, Latif and El-Khairy were warned that Metropolitan Police were considering planting plain clothed officers in the audience, though this is denied by the Met.

The open letter, which can be seen below, is the beginning of a larger argument against theatre censorship, a subject we will be exploring in our Autumn 2 edition of Teaching Drama.

Why was the National Youth Theatre’s production of Homegrown, a new play about radicalisation, suddenly cancelled?

Sir, The abrupt cancellation of the National Youth Theatre’s production of Homegrown is a troubling moment for British theatre and freedom of expression. The play seeks to examine radicalisation and disaffection among British youth. Its cancellation serves only to shut down conversation on these important issues. We fear that government policy in response to extremism may be creating a culture of caution in the arts.

We are deeply concerned by reports that the NYT may have been put under external pressure to change the location and then cancel the production. Police, local authorities and arts organisations have a duty to respect and protect freedom of expression — even, and most especially, where they disagree with the message or find it controversial.

We urge the NYT to give a full account of what led to the decision, and hope that a way can be found to stage it so that the young voices involved can be heard and the production can be judged on its merits.

Maureen Freely, president, English PEN

Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive, Index on Censorship

Jo Glanville, director, English PEN

Shami Chakrabarti, director, Liberty

Anish Kapoor, artist

Anneliese Davidsen, executive director, Unicorn Theatre

Christopher Haydon, artistic director, Gate Theatre

Sir David Hare, playwright

David Lan, artistic director, Young Vic

Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, playwright

Heydon Prowse, actor

Jolyon Rubinstein, actor

Howard Brenton, playwright

Josie Rourke, artistic director, Donmar Warehouse

Lorne Campbell, artistic director, Northern Stage

Monica Ali, writer

David Aaronovitch, chair, Index on Censorship

Nell Leyshon, playwright

Nick Williams, executive director, Actors Touring Company

Ramin Gray, artistic director, Actors Touring Company

Sabrina Mahfouz, playwright

Sarah Frankcom, artistic director, Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester

The Lion King to stage third dedicated autism-friendly performance

A third dedicated autism-friendly performance of Disney’s The Lion King has been announced to take to the stage of London’s Lyceum Theatre on 30 August at 1.30pm, following the success of the 2013 and 2014 performances.

The Lyceum Theatre, London

                    The Lyceum Theatre, London

Visiting the theatre for someone with autism can be frightening and stressful; it’s common for people with the condition to find sudden changes in environment or routine extremely distressing, with sensory issues, such as background noise or bright lights, being intrusive and potentially painful.

As a result, visiting a musical as globally successful as The Lion King in London’s busiest theatre can be understandably overwhelming to a large number of people with the condition, and this is why the show is now being staged especially for people with autism in dedicated performances for the third time.

The adapted performances include modifications to the entire theatre experience, including:

  • Designated quiet and activity areas in the foyer, staffed by experts in autism in case anyone needs to leave their seats
  • Adjustments to the performance itself, such as sounds that may cause distress or strobe lighting that faces the audience
  • The cast, crew, and Lyceum Theatre box office and front of house staff have been trained to better understand the needs of an audience containing people with autism spectrum disorder
  • A dedicated autism-friendly website and booking system has been set up, which includes a downloadable ‘social story’ to further help the ease at which people with the condition can comprehend the theatre experience, from arriving in the foyer to the final curtain call, thus reducing anxiety and stress

For tickets and more information, friends and families can visit:, where tickets are sold at a specially discounted rate and can be selected on a virtual map of the auditorium.

Ria Parry to direct world premiere of Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern

Ria Parry, whose past productions include Mad About the Boy and Caryl Churchill’s Fen, will direct the world premiere of Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s Jane Wenham: The Witch of Walkern. Due to tour from September to November 2015, it will also play at London’s Arcola Theatre in January 2016.

Director Ria Parry. Credit: Lydia Stamps

Director Ria Parry. Credit: Lydia Stamps

Inspired by a Hertfordshire village in 1712, the play centres around the title character as she is blamed for a tragic death and charged with witchcraft after decades free from witch hunts. As the village is torn between those wanting to save her life and those claiming they want to rescue her soul, Lenkiewicz’s play will immerse the audience in society’s hunger to find – and create – witches in the village of Walkern.
Originally a research workshop supported by the University of Hertfordshire (an Out of Joint Associate University) and the National Theatre Studio, the idea was borne out of the true story of Jane Wenham, the last woman in England to be convicted of witchcraft.
Of the play, Max Stafford Clark said: ‘I heard the story of Jane Wenham when I was teaching at the University of Hertfordshire, and I met a historian, Owen Davies, who specialises in the modern history of witchcraft. He joined Rebecca and me and a team of actors for a two week workshop at the National Theatre Studio, and also out researching in Hertfordshire. From Jane Wenham’s sad story, Rebecca has created a haunting and resonant play, rooted in history yet full of her own rich invention. I can’t wait to see it brought to the stage by Ria Parry, whose previous successes include what many thought one of the finest productions of Caryl Churchill’s – Fen, and two Fringe First-winning plays.’
The cast includes David Acton, Judith Coke and Tim Delap.