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I’m not sure how many of you are Druids, so I thought I’d just ask – do you realise the Summer Solstice is almost upon us?
Those of you who are I know will be beating misguided and anachronistic paths on Friday to Salisbury Plain, but here in the Lea Valley as summer settles in a flurry of wild poppies, the main talking-point is a strange abundance this year of swans.
Whether it’s been the warm wet weather or some mysterious river sorcery involving fertility rites, the valley teemed with signets throughout the spring, and now we have elegant white traffic jams amongst the scullers and canoe paddlers. I wandered down the tow-path this afternoon, camera in hand…
Moving on from wild-life jottings to my more usual musings on matters theatrical, this summer in England offers a chance to seek out a scattering of fine performances by major female actors, with some intriguing nods across the gender divide.
Up on the banks of the Avon Radagrad Lisa Dillon is attracting rapturous attention as Moll Cutpurse in “The Roaring Girl”. Yet another reason for a Warwickshire visit – Lisa’s covered a lot of ground since pulling it off in my Vanbrugh Theatre production of “Daisy Pulls it Off” – and down by the Thames at Shakespeare’s Globe, the always terrific Eve Best returns (to her customary rave reviews) as the Serpent of Old Nile in “Anthony and Cleopatra”.
Meanwhile, if you venture just a few streets inland from the South Bank you will find, tucked into a railway-arch on Union Street some two hundred paces from Southwark tube station, a little “fringe” performance space called the Union Theatre. If you have any interest in Shakespeare at all, and if you have ten pounds in your pocket, get down there to see “Lear”.
The title role is taken by Ursula Mohan, one of the most interesting and exciting actors in London who, despite remarkable work on television, at the RSC and elsewhere, remains known mainly to the cognoscenti rather than the general public. There’s no reason at all why the great Shakespeare roles should remain male preserves – Maxine Peake’s “Hamlet” is about to hit Manchester, and Phillida Lloyd has an all-female “Henry 1V” due at the Donmar in the autumn – and Lear slips easily into being a female absolute monarch, so in this case there’s no need for cross-dressing.
Ursula Mohan as “Lear’ with Daisy Ward as Cordelia
The relationships in the story often gain an edge via the gender-switch. For instance when the queen, in furious and bitter dispute with Goneril, calls down curses on her daughter’s womb…
The play is cunningly edited and directed by Phil Wilmott, with a strong cast, featuring another largely un-sung actor, Richard Derrington, lucid and touching as Gloucester. With a tiny budget this show achieves standards way above many an expensive, over-blown production, and tells the tale of a journey from pearl-decked sophisticated grandeur to bewildered dementia with absolute conviction and great style. The best “Lears” fill you with pity and terror. Prepare to feel both in abundance – and all for a tenner. On till June 28th – here’s the link: http://www.uniontheatre.biz
Lisa Dillon at the RSC: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/theatre-dance/features/lisa-dillon-the-roaring-girl-who-is-a-match-for-any-man-9200599.html
Eve Best at the South Bank: http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/may/30/antony-and-cleopatra-review-shakespeares-globe
Swan population increase: https://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/m/muteswan/