Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Saturday 4th May 2002

Henry V / A Midsummer Night's Dream / The Winter's Tale / Chitty Chitty Bang Bang / Macbeth

The Spectator - 4th May 2002

It was Shakespeare's birthday last week--he's 438--and I decided to celebrate by going to see the British Touring Shakespeare's production of Henry V. If only I'd seen the programme notes beforehand. It's here that the director, a 25-year-old ex-public schoolboy called Miles Gregory, announces his intention to "reclaim the play from the nationalist brigade". Oh no, I thought. I'm going to have to sit through a production of Henry V directed by a May Day protestor.

I'm afraid this young rebel is tilting at windmills. Henry V has long been the property of liberal, trustafarian types who regard patriotism as indistinguishable from out-and-out racism. If only Miles Gregory had decided to reclaim the play on behalf of the nationalist brigade--now that would have been something to see. As it is, his production is a dreary, lacklustre affair that depicts Henry as a sadistic little martinet. Only Lucia Latimer as Katherine saved the evening from being a total wash out.

Further on in the programme notes, Gregory announces that he's "bum-numbingly bored" by "the established theatre's stiflingly reverent treatment of Shakespeare's texts". Clearly, Gregory hasn't paid a visit to Stratford recently. The notion that the RSC--or the National or, indeed, any established company--occupies itself with putting on conventional productions of Shakespeare's plays is completely absurd. In Stratford, the only people in Elizabethan costume are the tour guides.

There are three RSC productions of Shakespeare's plays on in London at the moment: The Winter's Tale, The Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream. I haven't seen The Tempest--the press night isn't until next week--but the other two are about as far from conventional as it's possible to be.

Richard Jones's production of The Dream got poor reviews when it opened in Stratford last February and it's not hard to see why. The critics were expecting a crowd-pleasing summer blockbuster and instead Jones has delivered something weird and experimental. The hair, make-up and costumes look as though they've been imported straight from Alexander McQueen's latest show in Paris and sets resemble paintings by Joan Miro (only in black and white). Richard Jones is better known as an opera director and you half-expect the cast to break into song at any moment. But I have to confess I quite enjoyed it. The whole production is infused with a youthful, sexed-up energy and I left the theatre feeling pleasantly refreshed. The performances vary enormously, but Tim McMullan's Oberon is pitch perfect. It's worth seeing just for him.

The Winter's Tale, by contrast, is a mess. Directed by Matthew Warchus, it's set in America in the 1940s, with the King of Sicilia as a mafia don and the Old Shepherd as the leader of a hillbilly clan. The main reason it doesn't work is because the vast majority of the cast can't do American accents. Perhaps I'm more of a stickler about this than most because I've spent about a third of my adult life in the States, but Douglas Hodge's attempts to make Leontes sound like Marlon Brando rendered everything he said unintelligible. I've no objection to setting The Winter's Tale in America, but the performers should no more attempt to do American accents than the cast of Hamlet should try and do Danish ones.

I was in a particularly uncharitable mood when I saw it because when I turned up I was initially refused entry. This wouldn't have been so bad were it not for the fact that I was with my wife and her parents. I'd arranged to get four tickets through the RSC press office--I was intending to pay for two of them--but the man at the box office told me he knew nothing about it. It was only after I'd kicked up an almighty fuss that I was admitted into what was a virtually empty theatre.

I wanted to write a piece linking this cock-up to Adrian Noble's leave-of-absence as chairman of the RSC--a bit far-fetched, I'll grant you--and review The Winter's Tale alongside Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, the play Noble took time out to direct. But events have rather overtaken me. In any case, it's hard to work up much of a rage against a musical about a flying car. It's a bland, soulless affair, lacking all the charm of the original, but my six-year-old sister loved it and it's aimed at her, not me. Sitting there, arms-folded, as everyone around me gurgled with pleasure, I felt like the Child-Catcher.

However, let me end on a positive note. The production of Macbeth that's just opened at the Arcola Theatre in Stoke Newington is fantastic. I've seen five RSC productions in the past six months, but this is better than the lot of them. It's difficult to imagine a less pretentious version of the play. Everything is geared to telling the story as simply and powerfully as possible. Jack Shepherd is marvellous as the equivocating, murdering Scotsmen, but the real star of the show is Amanda Boxer. Not even Cherie Blaire could give a more convincing performance as Lady Macbeth.

[ FIXED LINK ] Bookmark and Share

Twitter Ninestiles School has a staggered lunch hour — only way to feed 1,400 kids. That means some kids are heading to lun… link  (10 hours ago)


The shocking truth about Jordan Peterson by Wesley Yang -
The intellectual dark web by Bari Weiss -
How identity politics is harming the sciences by Heather Mac Donald -
The fall of the German Empire by Ross Douthat -
How Tom Wolfe became Tom Wolfe by Michael Lewis - Vanity Fair
The neuro-diversity case for free speech by Geoffrey Miller -
The Age of Outrage by Jonathan Haidt -
The Warlock Hunt by Claire Berlinski -
Is classical liberalism conservative? by Yarom Hazony -
The Implosion of Western Liberalism by Patrick Lee Miller -
The Eton of the East End - Daily Mail
The reactionary temptation by Andrew Sullivan -
The book that scandalised New York intellectuals by Louis Menand -
To understand Britain today, look to the 17th Century by Adrian Wooldridge -
The crisis in France by Christopher Caldwell -
A Visit to Michaela School by Patrick Alexander -
Why parenting may not matter by Brian Boutwell -
Trump Establishment's Cultural Significance Explained by Michael Wolff -
Branching histories of the 2016 referendum by Dominic Cummings -
Putin's Real Long Game by Molly K McKew -
The Flight 93 Election by Publius Decius Mus -
How the education gap is tearing politics apart by David Runciman -
What's wrong with identity politics by Graeme Archer -
Grammars and the grain of truth by Jonathan Porter
Anti-Brexit: Britain's new class war by John O'Sullivan -
The English Revolt by Robert Tombs -
Democracies end when they are too democratic by Andrew Sullivan -
Human beings really are making progress by Steven Pinker -
What ISIS really wants by Graeme Wood -
A society ripe for Submission by Douglas Murray -
Why I'm a Conservative Teacher by Jonathan Porter -
Corbyn's Inconvenient Truth – He wanted the IRA to win -
Why I've become Tory scum by Tony Parsons -
Inside Westminster's free school -
Robert Conquest obit -
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite – it's so much worse than that -


Andrew Lilico
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Bagehot's Notebook
BBC News
BBC Sport
Benedict Brogan
Brendan O'Neill
Bruce Anderson
Coffee House
Conservative Home
Damian McBride
Damian Thompson
Dan Hodges
Daniel Hannon
Ed West
Frank Furedi
Guido Fawkes
Harry Phibbs
Iain Dale
Iain Martin
James Delingpole
James Wolcott
Joe Murphy
John Rentoul
Labour List
Mark Steyn
Matt Drudge
Mehdi Hasan
Melanie Phillips
Michael Wolff
Nick Cohen
Nick Robinson
Nikki Finke
Paul Waugh
Peter Hitchens
Political Betting
Right Minds
Rob Long
Rod Liddle
Sophy Ridge
Stephen Pollard
The Arts Desk
The Corner
The Daily Beast
The First Post
The Omnivore
The Onion
Tim Shipman
Tim Stanley
Tom Shone


AA Gill
Aidan Hartley
Allison Pearson
Allister Heath
AO Scott
Boris Johnson
Charles Moore
Cosmo Landesman
Daniel Finkelstein
David Brooks
Fraser Nelson
George Monbiot
Giles Coren
Henry Winter
James Delingpole
Jan Moir
Janan Ganesh
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Warner
Jim White
Jonathan Freedland
Lloyd Evans
Manohla Dargis
Martin Samuel
Mary Ann Sieghart
Matthew d'Ancona
Matthew Norman
Maureen Dowd
Michiko Kakutani
Owen Jones
Patrick O'Flynn
Paul Krugman
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Oborne
Philip Collins
Polly Toynbee
Quentin Letts
Rachel Johnson
Rod Liddle
Roy Greenslade
Tim Montgomerie
Trevor Kavanagh
UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • Audio Book Cover

  • Buy the audio book from
    Whole Story Audio
  • DVD Cover

  • Buy the DVD from

  • Buy the DVD from

  • IMdb Page on the film