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Rating: ****

National Theatre, London (2009)

Summary: Beautifully Crafted, Paced and Performed Production

OK, so I admit that, despite the numerable productions reviewed (or to be reviewed) on this blog, this is the first time I’ve ever seen Shakespeare on the stage. Shameful, yes, but understandable I think.

The thing about Shakespeare is that his work is always being performed within one’s locale, so the impetus to rush out an see it is somewhat compromised. However, thanks to a very rainy night in London and Travelex’s fantastic £10 ticket promotion at the National, I got front row tictkets to see my first Shakespeare stage production.

Fortunately, this is one of the Bard’s easiest plays to follow; meaning that while some of the subtleties of his language may pass you by, the overall progress of the play, along with the primary dialogue will not overwhelm you.

The story is simple (well for Shakespeare, it is). Girl Loves boy, Boy doesn’t love girl. Girl manages to marry boy (by doing the king of Paris a great service) and boy marries, very reluctantly, said girl. Boy then runs off to Italy to hang around with soldiers and sow his wild oats while girl plots to get him back. I should point, if you needed to know, that this is one of Will’s comedies, so whilst the plot may sound a bit bleak, it is actually littered with good humour.

The story, for me, was very dated in its theme. The idea of watching a young lady plot and chase a man who is not interested in her and then for him to begrudgingly succumb to her seems quite sad. But then again, I suppose love isn’t a straight and easy path.

The production, well it’s at the National, so you know you’re in for a decent production. The setting is very bleak, looking like the set for Saruman’s castle in Lord of the Rings, but some great lighting brings it to life and gives it the scope to move from scene to scene with limited set changes.

The cast, is stellar: all key performances are beautifully delivered giving real emotion to their characters. Standout performances come from Claire Higgins (Countess of Rossillion), George Rainsford (Bertram), Michelle Terry (Helena) and Conleth Hill (Parolles).

Professional reviews that are out at the moment confirm that this is very well produced version of this play, but as a first timer, it was a great introduction to the stage adaptations of the Bard’s work.

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