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Friday, 30 January 2015

One of our Oxford University Student Ambassadors, Chloe Cheung, has written a a review on our current five star, Swan Theatre production of Oppenheimer
BP £5 tickets are available for all performances. Oxford University students can get £17 coach trip tickets on the 18 February.


‘Destroyer of worlds’: Oppenheimer at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon
 by Chloe Cheung

Readers are advised that this review makes details of the plot explicit. 

The threat of nuclear war between the Cold War superpowers plunged the latter half of the Twentieth Century into some of its darkest days.  Tom Morton-Smith’s gripping new play Oppenheimer now brings the man behind the atomic bomb to the stage. 

Immediately, we are plunged into the zeitgeist: at a Communist fundraiser party, concerned guests decry the spread of fascism in Europe.  We hear how German chemists have discovered the processes of atomic fission, with possibly devastating consequences for the Allies.

At Einstein’s recommendation, the US government decides to take action. J Robert Oppenheimer is picked to lead the top-secret weapons development programme: Project Manhattan is born.  

The production is filled with striking moments; credit is due to director Angus Jackson.  Oppenheimer succinctly explains the basics of the theoretical physics involved through clear, lecture-style explanations scrawled on blackboards, so even non-scientists will be able to follow the physics that underpins the play. Most memorably, cleverly utilised projections onto the stage floor demonstrate how added neutrons destabilise uranium to the point of explosion. 

Against the backdrop of rising global political turmoil, Oppenheimer is in the ascendant, rising rapidly to the top ranks of the military.  John Heffernan’s performance as J Robert Oppenheimer is the most compelling, as befits the most complex character in the play. Heffernan encapsulates the contradictions within Oppenheimer’s self: his arrogance, optimism, ambition, weakness and, ultimately, his self-loathing at what he has created. 

In the play, Oppenheimer boldly states that the existence of nuclear weapons would eradicate all future wars.  With hindsight, though, the audience is all too aware of the horrific consequences of nuclear war.


Oppenheimer raises some of the most fundamental questions in our society today about science: the limits of ethics, the justification (if any) for use of nuclear weapons in wartime, how we exploit scientific advances for destructive and dangerous purposes.  The nuclear question is still brutally relevant in our post-Cold War world.  

Oppenheimer is now playing in the Swan Theatre until 7 March. 

Monday, 26 January 2015


Our Marketing Intern, Hannah Goodwin, went along to a production of Love’s Labour’s Won at the RSC and discovered, with her BP £5 ticket, the unbelievable value that being a RSC Key member can bring!

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s current production of Love’s Labour’s Won (Or Much Ado About Nothing) is full of fun and festivities with the heart-warming notion that love can often show itself in the most unlikely of couples. Its post-World War One backdrop provides the perfect setting for a story of gender battles, sibling rivalry and love conquering all.

Set in Autumn 1918, with the memories of war slowly fading into the past, soldiers Benedick and Claudio return from the trenches to find themselves reacquainted with Beatrice and introduced to her cousin, Hero. As they settle into their post-war lives, Love’s Labour’s Won follows the highs and lows of a whirlwind romance for Claudio and Hero, with their passion being encouraged by most and yet plotted for downfall by others.

Despite Claudio and Hero’s relationship being the focal point of suspense and tension in the play, their engagement is upstaged by the fiery and quick-witted exchanges between Benedick and Beatrice. Their constant challenges of wit and smart remarks not only set up for some hilarious comedy but provides a will they/won’t they situation that completely captivates the audience. With them both confirming their planned lives of solitude and bachelorhood, it only takes a little interference from their friends before battles of wit meet with a ceasefire of love.

Although both relationships are met with challenges, love ultimately wins overall with peace and joy falling over this post-war household just in time for Christmas festivities to commence!

Christopher Luscombe’s production of Love's Labour's Won (Or Much Ado About Nothing) makes a welcome break from the winter chill with a warmth that flows from the stage and into the hearts of its audiences. It is playing in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre at the RSC Stratford until 14 March 2015. With BP £5 tickets available for RSC Key Members, there are really no excuses to miss such a fantastic show!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015


RSC Key member, Beth Sharrock, has written a review on Love's Labour's Lost.  BP £5 tickets are available for this comic verve. 
Love's Labour's Lost is showing at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon until the 14th of March. 

The RSC has mastered in Love’s Labour’s Lost a play which unapologetically mocks people in love. To their faces. Were Shakespeare alive today, his problematic, comedic masterpiece may be encapsulated in an ironic ‘like’ for one of those detestably cringeworthy “Me and My Girl #theone #loveher” updates.


On the page, Shakespeare’s lesser performed comedy reads like the Bard’s sonneteering run-through. No less than five lovers in the plays pen odes to their mistresses, which makes the play read more like an anthology than a piece of drama. And indeed, the lover’s action shows itself as much on paper as it does between people.


The power of the penned verse in this play is, like forerunner to Malvolio’s blundering interpretation skills, the production’s biggest gag. Picture this; four young academic Edwardian gentlemen reclining in their library walled parlour, vowing to sign their lives and desires in favour of strict study. Freedom of food, sleep, and most importantly – women – are all forsworn by the gallants for three years. 



Now picture these litigiously bound men in their dressing gowns, weeping and pining and waxing positively rhetorical for four beautiful strangers who have taken their fortified court, and even more impregnable vows, by storm. What’s more? In what feels like an unspoken jeer of “Berowne and Rosaline sitting-in-a-tree”, their odes of painful love are all overheard by each other. What’s even more? The scene stealing comedy is provided by Luscombe in the form of a teddy bear.
that's right, a teddy bear. 

"For your fair sakes have we neglected time,
Play'd foul play with our oaths: your beauty, ladies,
Hath much deform'd us"
Berowne, V.ii


The sonnet scene is one which threatens to be a laborious wade through the mud of the inaccessible, superfluous, verbose, grandiloquent sophistry (see where I’m going with this?) that has built itself into a harmful skeleton in the closet of ‘Shakespearephobia’. This production side steps this landmine as smoothly as an Edwardian slick comb ‘do. Our love sick brotherhood have just as great a laugh at each other’s attempts at poetry as we do, with their awkward half rhymes and (more than slightly) tearful deliveries.


The relationship between the forsworn men is beautifully crafted by Sam Alexander (King of Navarre), William Belchambers (Longaville), Edward Bennett (Berowne) and Tunji Kasim (Dumaine). The group so naturally navigate a convincing, if not naive, devotion to learning astray into the murkier waters of unrequited love; which is so artfully acted that one truly believes the feeling is a new, and threatening, experience. Bennett courts Berowne’s monologues with all the joyful angst of a reluctant lover. Perhaps even more skilful is the group’s tackling of one of Shakespeare’s greatest unwritten scenes – an all-singing, all-dancing, all-bearded Muscovite serenade. 

"We are wise girls to mock our lovers so."
Princess, V.iii.


The play’s female temptations are played with a measure of flirtation, modesty and downright girlish giggles by Frances McNee (Maria), Flora Spencer-Longhurst (Katharine), Michelle Terry (Rosaline) and Leah Whitaker (the confident Princess of France). The Princess and her women are a perfectly choreographed, commanding hand to mould the putty mess of unrequited lovers. Measured touches of a more paternal relationship are embraced beautifully by the baby-faced Peter McGovern (Moth) and John Hodgkinson (Don Armado). 



These stunning performances are not without an original score by Nigel Hess so powerful and emotive it seems to inhabit the stage like an extra character. A funny, sad, reflective one. Think Shakespeare’s perfect wise fool expressed in strains of violin.



"Our wooing doth not end like an old play"
Berowne, V.ii
The beauty of this play is in its promises. Or rather, it’s broken ones. The stunning Edwardian interiors and idyllic rural exteriors promise us blossoming romance. The strength and conviction with which our lovers spar, as only Shakespearean ones can, with wits and disguise and each other’s pride promises an amorous resolution. The farcically bombastic play-within-a-play promises a parade of heroes who will be uninterruptedly hilarious. What we see in the play’s concluding scenes is our own hopeful optimism interrupted with a French messenger ringing the death of a beloved father, who also happens to be the King of France, with this news the play’s vows begin to tragically unravel. Gregory Doran and Christopher Luscombe’s choice to stage this scene as a precedent to the Great War is an insightful and painful light thrown upon some of our own broken promises to each other as nations and as people. Glimmering performances, artfully playful direction by Luscombe and an aesthetic itself to fall head over heels for promise a display of how Shakespeare’s comedy should be executed. 
On this, it delivers.