Ravenhill’s Rise and the RSC

Congratulations to Mark Ravenhill, as it has been announced that he will be the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Writer in Residence for 2012. As a man who is generally held critically responsible for helping to kickstart a new generation of British dramatists with the unexpected popular smash, Shopping and Fucking in 1996, it might come as a bit of a surprise. But as a regular commentator in The Guardian and on Newsnight Review, as well as advising Nicholas Hytner at the National, Ravenhill has been in higher echelons of the cultural elite for a while.

Still this doesn’t detract from what could be a promising year. Hopefully acting as a catalyst to reinvigorate a moribund new writing scene at the RSC since Adrian Noble took the reigns, Ravenhill will also have access to one of the greatest acting pools in the world to take on his work. Whilst it might prove to be a false dawn there is always the possibility, bolstered by a domestic world riven with disputes, that the playwrights may finally reassert their theatrical voice.

For more on Ravenhill, new writing and the RSC in the Guardian, click here.

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Opera on a shoe-string

Coronation of Poppea – Kings Head Theatre, Islington, 19 May 2011

The Coronation of Poppea is on as part of the OperaUpClose repertory programme until the end of June 

Not always a nice man...

The startling success of OperaUpclose’s debut production, a modern-day, stripped-down promenade La Boheme, is the kind of story that semi-professional companies usually can only dream of. Six-months at the Cock Theatre in Kilburn put it in the record books as the longest consecutive run of any opera in history, and this was followed up by two six-week sold-out runs at the Soho Theatre. However this kind of instant success brings with it a level of critical scrutiny that might concern even the most long-established groups. Any new production is likely to be picked apart to see if it was a one-off, particularly among opera critics who have a reputation for being notoriously difficult to please.

Establishing a repertory programme at the Kings Head Theatre in Islington made clear that there was an enthusiasm to build on the popularity of La Boheme and bring opera to the masses (the well-heeled masses of Islington at any rate). A seasonal programme that mixed classics like Madame Butterfly and Barber of Seville with less well-known work such as Montiverdi’s Coronation of Poppea suggested a company that were savvy enough to know what would appeal to both mass audeinces and critics.

However early signs weren’t good as rumours about the exploitation of backing singers seeped through the press and a version of Madame Butterfly felt a big misstep; disjointed, badly staged and unsuited to the venue, it raised a big question-mark over whether La Boheme was anything more than an amusing one-off. A big problem with Madame Butterfly was due to the limitations of the Kings Head and the needs of repertory programming requiring much simpler settings meant the production lacked the basics that made La Boheme such an appealing prospect; promenade staging and a fantastically realistic set.

Knowing that these would not have been resolved for Coronation of Poppea meant the production was approached in trepidation. However, in a huge coup for OperaUpClose, Mark Ravenhill has been brought on board as an Associate Director of the company. The Coronation of Poppea marks his directorial debut and from the start it was clear that there was someone with experience working behind the scenes.  Continue reading review here