AS YOU LIKE IT | Transport UK & European tour 2013
This new imagining of Shakespeare's comedy was inspired by stories of real migrants trying to get into England, and by their existence in the strange limbo between places. To this end, the Forest of Arden has become a decaying squat full of mangy mattresses and peeling wallpaper. Just in case the link wasn't clear enough, they've also added a pre-prologue where Adam talks in modern English about his journey to enter the United Kingdom. This becomes the framing device for the rest of the play, as he expresses a desire for his fellow squatters to act out the only play he possess: As You Like It.
While some pure-blooded Shakespearean elitists might disapprove of this contemporary addition, the new introduction takes us by surprise and adds depth and originality to the familiar story of banishment and love. Shakespeare's language can sometimes be a stumbling block for productions and audiences, but Transport's As You Like It takes you through the tale with clarity and purpose so that it is accessible enough for novices and eloquent enough for experts.
The occasional use of physical theatre makes for a real treat. The wrestling match manages to move from artistic slow motion to the uncomfortably realistic and the journey through Arden's wilderness via suitcase stepping stones is a well-executed delight. Indeed, the way the set is managed is interesting: the positioning of the two walls means that parts of the backstage area are visible. We can see when an actor is getting ready to come on, and sometimes they even watch the scene with us. This was a bold move with mixed results. Sometimes it suggests an interesting meta relationships between the play and the actors and at other times it is used to split the scene - for instance, when we see Rosalind become a man backstage. At other times it is just a tad distracting.
The cast is strong, and those who double up make a clear distinction between roles, with some of the smallest parts making bold marks. Mark Jax as Jaques and Duke Frederick was undoubtedly the star of the show. With his commanding presence and booming voice he brought magnitude and gravitas to every moment he was on stage. His rather unmelancholic Jaques, belying much of his speech, gained a layer of pretension that worked.
As You Like It is a comedy and this production doesn't let you forget it. Unsurprisingly, the fool Touchstone (Colin Michael Carmichael) is the source of the most laughs, and his seduction of Audrey and fight with William provide relief from some of the more tense and romantic scenes. Carmichael also doubles as Amiens, but aside from the costume change the characters aren't dissimilar and both are played for laughs – Amiens gets a recurring gag where he mimes to a cassette tape, fooling others into thinking it is his voice – so that one could almost be tricked into thinking they were the same person living two lives: this is complicated further when he returns to fulfil the role of Hymen at the wedding, wearing a mixture of both costumes.
The production itself is well-handled and visually stunning in places. Orlando's love letters rise like flagpoles above the stage and lighting snaps dynamically from the dim glow of the forest to the blinding lights of an overhead helicopter. With enough innovation to excite and an energy of spirit that lifts the audience with them, Transport's take on As You Like It is certainly one to remember. **** One Stop Arts
As You Like It, directed by Douglas Rintoul and produced by Transport Theatre, throws itself into Shakespeare’s words with a beautiful set piece. A duke is overthrown and banished by his treacherous brother, and his three loyal courtiers sweep him away in an exquisitely choreographed moment. The scene is a poignant foreshadowing of the production that follows. You’d be forgiven for being a bit confused, though, in the beginning. Using his time at a Calais No Borders Camp as his inspiration, Rintoul opens the play in original prose, spoken by a squatter in the modern French city. The boy (Fisayo Akinade, in one of three parts) is mad about Shakespeare, using the text itself to learn English. All the world’s a stage, including a squalid apartment, and all his fellow destitutes are the players.
The play plods along in the first half hour, introducing characters and motivation – the banished duke’s daughter, Rosalind (Icelandic actress Elisabet Johannesdottir) meets Orlando (Michael Fox); the audience meets everyone else.
But it picks up steam after Rosalind, her cousin Celia (Polish actress Anna Elijasz), Orlando and his man (Akinade) are themselves banished by the reigning duke. Their flight is performed in yet another beautiful, wordless set piece. The choreography, lighting and melancholy piano come together breathtakingly.
It’s moments like this that help make the production stand out. It is well acted, though some took a few scenes to warm up to their lines. The set, designed by Hayley Grindle and lit beautifully by Joshua Carr, becomes whatever the scene calls for it to be while acting simultaneously as a reminder of the squatter’s life the play opened with.
When the comedy is resolved and all couples have been married – as they are wont to do in Shakespeare’s happier plays – we return to that lonely squatter. He reads the epilogue, slowly, as if he can’t bear to leave behind that fantasy world and return to his own reality. And then, finished, he crawls onto his thin mattress as the lights dim. It is a somber ending, yet here it is strangely fitting. It’s a familiar tale – Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Match Girl” comes to mind – of the less fortunate, who escape to a lighter, friendlier world using books and imaginations to distract from the chilly draft that the thin blanket just won’t keep out.
Rintoul has created a quiet masterpiece. His As You Like It is a wonderfully executed, fully realized production – thoughtful, funny and poignant in all the right places. STAGE & SCREEN INSIDER
1001 NIGHTS | Transport/Unicorn Theatre 2013
**** WhatsOnStage **** PlaysToSee **** WhatsPeenSeen **** LiveTheatre
I have no such reservations, though, about 1001 Nights for ages six and up, which uses three actors from Liar, Liar – Samal, Arya and Thomas Padden (the latter seen to much more rewarding effect) – to tell the story of Shahrazad, a refugee girl from the Middle East who’s coping with the absence of her mother, the melancholic withdrawal of her violin-playing father and a new life in London. The bookish heroine and a new-found friend together spin ancient yarns anew across the cultural divide. Directed by Douglas Rintoul, it’s simply but ingeniously presented, rustling bits of junk into myriad props, harnessing its audience’s imagination in a continuous game of let’s-pretend and holding everyone, young and old alike, quite spellbound. An utter delight.
ELEGY | Theatre503 2012
**** Telegraph **** Time Out (Critic's Choice)
****1/2 Public Reviews **** OneStopArts
**** The Good Review **** SoSoGay
One man, isolated and alone on a stage completely covered with discarded, unwanted clothing: it's a striking visual metaphor for this show which is based on interviews with gay men and women who fled mass killings by militia groups in Baghdad after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Many of them headed to the UK, driven by the hope of freedom from persecution, not always welcomed with open arms. Inspired by pictures taken by photojournalist Bradley Secker, Elegy isn’t quite as heavy as it sounds but poetic and accessible, deserving the plaudits from its stint at last year’s Edinburgh fringe. Elegy is also a compelling tribute to the people who died in the crackdown on liberty - one UN official believes the number of homophobic murders in Iraq was “in the hundreds” - as well as posing questions about how we treat immigrants from areas of conflict in the UK.Sam Phillips (who is as the programme notes state, a white British actor) recounts the life of an imagined man, ranging from early, touching, youthful encounters to more experienced nights out in Baghdad clubs to the fear of murder, then the nightmare and heartache of becoming a refugee: as he says, “this wasn’t meant to happen”.The narrative seems ever-relevant, given the conflict we’re now seeing in Syria, the hot potato that immigration is in British politics at the moment, and even after former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey's and Ann Widdecombe’s pro-marriage rally at the Tory party conference this week: the ex-MP strongly denied it was an anti-gay rally.Created and directed by Douglas Rintoul and re-devised by TRANSPORT theatre company after its premiere last year, this hour-long monologue could seem staid and dry. But a sensitive, nuanced performance from Phillips, plus superb lighting (Dani Bish) and sound design (Helen Atkinson) which shifts us in time and place so well (whether it’s a mobile phone beep or the whirr and horns of traffic) carry us along with and important and universal story.
INVISIBLE| Transport/New Wolsey Theatre
(UK and European Tour) 2011/12
London businessman Felix is 35 and very comfortably off. So why does he feel so disconnected, a supporting character in his own life? On a clear day, Stefan, existing in limbo in a shanty town on the French coast, can see Dover. "You can see it from here – the white cliffs – the finish line." Lara, who believed in those fairytales about finding your own happiness and the golden goose, discovers the finish line turns out to be the starting line in a race you can never win. But when Lara's life intersects with Felix, just for a moment it looks as if everything could be different. So it proves, but not in a way either of them ever imagined.Since the first migrations out of Africa, the world has always been on the move. But shifts in global politics and capitalism mean that for many, leaving home is not a choice but a necessity. "A person makes plans. One day the world turns upside-down, and you realise there was one plan you never took the time to make," says one character. Few people want to leave home, but sometimes you must, particularly when your neighbour tells you that it would be wise if you left the village before morning.That's one of the best scenes in this pungent new play by Croatian writer Tena tivii, which puts the flesh and bones on the statistics about transnational migration. There's another about the ache to find the gherkin that tastes of home. At times it feels a little over-familiar, but in a smart and smartly acted production by Douglas Rintoul, this play about worth and worthlessness, what we see and what we fail to see, and the dissolution of dreams, has the dislocated air of nightmare.
WHATSONSTAGE ****PUBLIC REVIEWS ****
Invisible, by Croatian playwright Tena Stivicic, is a compassionate tale of immigrants to Britain being overlooked, underpaid and broadly underwhelmed. The underlying theme appears to be that in the modern world, with its blurred geographical boundaries, techno-reliance and career pressures, a great many of us exist in a state of flux - it’s just that some are more stateless than others.Stivicic and director Rintoul have fused a crisp, punchy script with dreamy slow motion choreography and innovative lighting/soundscapes in order to present a multilayered story which builds towards an unexpected climax. It does so stealthily and with the elements fusing near perfectly. Of these layers, the most affecting are inhabited by Anton (Krystian Godlewski) and Lara (Anna Elijasz), two young, brave, hopeful Eastern Europeans reduced to a life of cast-off freebies and dead-end jobs. Godlewski commendably transmits the tension and hurt pride inside Anton, a skilled carpenter reduced to cleaning windows. Elijasz imbues the sunny optimist Lara with just the right air of unspoken desperation as she and Anton grit their teeth at the bottom of the pile - this was a delightful professional debut by the Guildhall graduate.Meanwhile, Felix is the middle class professional on the other side of the fence. The possibility of a contract stint in Romania makes for a thought-provoking juxtaposition with the people traffic coming the other way, but his mid-life crisis sees him lurch into the migrants’ sphere in London with terrible consequences. Jon Foster enacts Felix’s disintegration with subtlety, even if the plot makes his comeuppance feel just a tad too convenient. Bridgitta Roy is suitably exasperated as Felix’s partner, Ann, while Gracy Goldman, in particular, shows impressive versatility and a keen comedic eye as both careworn immigrant Leyla and the quietly smug metropolitan, Louise.Using simple artistic techniques to penetrate a complex subject, Transport has produced a highly uplifting piece of theatre. Credit, too, to the New Wolsey for once again combining talents with an up and coming visiting company.
ELEGY| Transport/Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2011 -
Nominated for a Fringe First.
WHATSONSTAGE ****LOVEFRINGE *****SCOTSGAY ****
THE LIST **** (Hitlist)
Moving story of a flight from persecutionThe last time Douglas Rintoul was in Scotland was to direct a revival of David Greig’s Europe at Dundee Rep. There’s something of the flavour of that migratory play in this powerful production for the internationally minded Transport company, as actor Jamie Bradley tells the story of a refugee traversing the no-man’s land of empty train stations, border crossings and bomb-blasted towns, a man wanted neither by his own country nor anyone else’s.Based on true stories of homophobic persecution in Iraq, Elegy is a compassionate study of a man enduring brutality, fear and exploitation. He is no more guilty of sin than a left-handed man in a right-handed world, yet his repression becomes so extreme he can scarcely articulate his reasons for fleeing even to himself.Staged simply and strikingly in a white-cube gallery space on a long bed of discarded clothes, like the shadows of so many human lives, the play avoids the tub-thumping obviousness of some human-rights drama in preference for Bradley’s vivid storytelling with its clever interweaving of narrative strands and understated humanity.
EUROPE| Barbican/Dundee Rep 2007
TIME OUT ****(Critic's Choice) METRO ****
THE SCOTSMAN ****
EVENING STANDARD ****
"In Brief Encounter, the events that unfold in the tea room at Milford Junction tell us all we need to know about the self-denying England of 1945. In Europe (1994), David Greig uses a station for similarly powerful metaphorical ends. In a small town - "the sort of place people come from, not the place they go to" - somewhere on the border between Eastern and Western Europe, characters hang around the soon-to-be-closed station, caught in limbo between the old world order and the new. Only the true adventurers, however, actually get on a train. While Greig nods obliquely to the fall of the Berlin Wall and war in the Balkans, the real force of this spare but strikingly poetic piece derives from its very non-specificity. Intriguingly, the playwright has said that another title for it could be "Scotland". It's about any Nowheresville in any country where all the good things happen elsewhere and all the bad things - the effects of oppressive centralisation, the resurgence of far-Right politics - trickle down eventually. Director Douglas Rintoul and designer Colin Richmond have put together a slick, sleek production in which benches, timetables and screens are slid around efficiently. The actors add to the unsettling sense of a world in transit by sitting at the sides of the stage when not required. There are some other Brecht-lite tricks, with projected captions providing titles for scenes. Yet the effect is the opposite of alienation. We are constantly engaged by particularly fine performances from Samantha Young as a febrile station assistant dreaming of faraway destinations, and Michelle Bonnard as a refugee fleeing undescribed atrocities. The two young women become friends and offer tentative hope that the ideal of the brave new Europe may also prove to be a workable reality."
"The prefatory quotation accompanying David Greig's 1994 play Europe is from W H Auden's Refugee Blues ("But where shall we go to today, my dear?"), which is apt because the opening chorus of anonymous voices is pure Auden: "Ours is a small town on the border, at various times on this side, and, at various times, on the other, but always on the border." Hearing those lines in Douglas Rintoul's superlative revival at the Barbican Pit, a transfer from Dundee, you realise that this is probably the closest British theatre has got to acknowledging a debt to the poet in the centenary year of his birth. Auden's verse dramas remain his weakest suit, verging on unstageable, but, as with so many of the great poets of the '30s, his gift was to connect with the Continent as much as with our sense of being an island apart. That legacy, mislaid in the post-war period, is one Greig has picked up on and carries forward here. This decaying provincial town, where the local industry is kaput and the trains no longer stop, lies both in his native Scotland and in the dark heart of the European land-mass. Some of its inhabitants stubbornly cling to the idea of staying put, making do. Others allow themselves to dream of heading off down the tracks in search of a better life. That tension is brought out into the open, eventually spills into violence, with the arrival of two mysterious refugees, a middle-aged man and a young woman, who camp out in the defunct station. The topic of how Europe treats its migrants has hardly gone away, but Greig gets behind media issue-grinding and traces the hurt, longing and fear on all sides with intelligence, humour and a fair few expletives. Designer Colin Richmond musters beautiful background "departure board" visuals and scatters the mainly bare stage with autumn leaves. Without ever being explicit, the evening blows shaming memories of Bosnia's dead and discarded back in our faces."
THE FINANCIAL TIMES ****
"Playwright David Greig's enduring fascination is with identity: not the old truth/ illusion trope, but how we construct who we are, how we useexternal frameworks (interpersonal, financial, political) to validate our various modalities of thought. In his early days with the Suspect Culture company, he would deconstruct the drama itself; more recently, with pieces such as The Cosmonaut's Last Message... and The American Pilot, he has deftly interwoven the personal and the broader-world aspects. Europe, dating originally from 1994 and now revived in association with Dundee Rep, is of the latter kind. In a nameless small town near the shifting frontier between nameless countries, the railway station has become redundant: open borders mean no stopping for border controls, so the trains no longer stop. Stationmaster Fret tries to keep going through the bureaucratic motions, while his assistant Adele dreams of journeying to the trains' magical-sounding destinations. Their respective senses of self are catalysed by the arrival in the waiting room of two refugees (from what? from where?), just waiting without hope or expectation of a train or anything else. These incomers in turn become scapegoats for local resentment at the economic downturn, emblematised in the laying-off of Adele's husband Berlin. Europe: at various times it is the dreamed-of better life elsewhere, the exotic, the new opportunities for trade symbolised by international huckster Morocco; it is also who and where we are now, a symbol of civilisation and standards that we may look on as a birthright even while we betray them through, for instance, violent xenophobia. It is half-recognisable but never truly defined, like the blurred, distorted outlines of countries that flash up between scenes on the video backdrop. Greig, writing at the moment that Yugoslavia was fragmenting, grimly foretold so many characteristics and attitudes that are now commonplaces of 21st-century social and political life. This ought to be incidental to the play's central message that we must know not only ourselves but others; however, it cannot help lending an urgency, even a desperation to the work. Douglas Rintoul's elegantly spare production finds its heart in duologues between Robert Paterson and Hannes Flaschberger as Fret and the refugee father, and in particular between Samantha Young as the painfully romantic Adele and Michelle Bonnard as the disengaged, disillusioned Katia.
THE LIST ****
"Reviving a play that is old enough to merit revisiting but too young to be called a classic carries a certain risk. What seemed timely and topical a decade ago might now seem tired and trite. The remarkable thing about David Greig’s Europe, however, is that it speaks even more vividly about our world in 2007 than it did when it was first staged at the Traverse in 1994. Greig would argue that he wasn’t being prescient when he wrote about the movement of peoples on a continent riven by civil war and economic collapse, he was merely tuned in to a problem that hasn’t gone away. That doesn’t lessen the chill wind of recognition when we see Chris Ryman’s wheeler-dealing Morocco being viciously beaten up by a disenfranchised mob for consorting with Michelle Bonnard’s refugee Katia. It could be a racist attack in today’s UK - or anywhere else in today’s world in political flux. What strikes home most forcibly in Douglas Rintoul’s bold, sober, strongly acted production, played out on Colin Richmond’s suitably placeless set of advertising hoardings and neon lights, is the way Greig connects social disintegration with the loss of identity. All the characters in this town near the border of some unnamed country have been uprooted by forces beyond their control, but their greatest psychological wound is caused less by losing their livelihood than by having nowhere distinctive to call home. Perhaps Margaret Thatcher was right when she said there was no such thing as society - and this bleak place is what it looks like.