Monday, August 6, 2018

August 2018

London, Wales, Bournemouth, London again.  That’s been our July. With loads of Shakespeare. Just look at the report below.

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Shakespeare sightings:
  • Often in the afternoon, exhausted from being travellers in the UK, Hal and I would return to our hotel and watch ‘Tenable’, ‘Tipping Point’ and ‘The Chase’ (sadly ‘Pointless’ is no longer shown in the afternoons). From these quiz shows came many sightings:
    • ‘The Chase’: Who said, ‘Who’d have thought the old man had so much blood in him?’ The contestant answered Hamlet.
    • ‘Tipping Point’: ‘From which Shakespeare play is the quote ‘All the world’s a stage’? The contestant got it right.
    • ‘The Chase’: ‘Which Shakespeare comedy has the character Falstaff?’ The contestant got it right, The Merry Wives of Windsor. The answer couldn’t be in Henry plays because they’re history plays, not comedies. Clever contestant. Although maybe Wives is more well-known?
    • ‘Tipping Point’: ‘Who wrote the play with the characters Leontes and Hermione?’ Contestant: ‘Chaucer.’ Boo hiss.
    • ‘Tipping Point’: ‘Which of these films were based on a novel?’ One of the alternatives was West Side Story, which the contestant knew was based on Romeo and Juliet.
    • ‘The Chase’: ‘In which play does Orsino love Olivia?’ The contestant got it right.
    • ‘The Chase’: ‘Which play is set the earliest, Henry V, King John, Richard III?’ The contestant got it right.
  • In the excellent The Boy on the Bridge by M R Carey
    • Kat Foss notes that they are ‘maybe five miles from where Birnam Wood made its unexpected visit to Dunsinane castle in the play Macbeth, but there was no danger of that here.’
    • Later Samrina Khan notes that the droop of her commanding officer’s mouth is like ‘a line from the play Macbeth. I have supped full with horrors,’ and thinks, ‘But who hasn’t, these days?’
  • In The Devil You Know, by the same author under a different name, Mike Carey, the narrator Felix Castor tosses in Shakespeare quotes and references from time to time:
    • When forced into an exorcising job he doesn’t want: ‘Some men have greatness thrust upon them.’
    • When the rather scary boss becomes too familiar with him by using his first name, Felix decides that ‘the better part of valour is to let it pass.’
    • After an obscure reference that neither I nor the man he was talking to got, he reflects, ‘What’s the point of an Oxford education if nobody gets your Shakespearean references?’
    • When the ghost he is trying to exorcise becomes a bit violent Felix reflects, ‘Discretion is the better part of staying alive.’
    • When his employer, who in fact has fired him, sees him later she stared at him ‘with an expression like the one Banquo’s ghost must have used on Macbeth.’
    • I like this Felix Castor. I’ll be reading more of him!
  • In the novel Unexploded by Alison Macleod, the main character Evelyn had read Tales of Shakespeare as a child in England in the 1920s.
  • In the YA fantasy novel Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren, the main character Freddy knows all about Shakespeare because her mother is an English professor and only half-listens when her teacher says they will be working with A Midsummer Night’s Dream this term.

Further since last time:
  • Bought at Oxfam in Cardiff because of the title, read and left on the beach in Bournemouth: Bad Romeo by Leisa Rayven, about two young actors playing Romeo and Juliet and having a wild passionate love affair. If it wasn’t the worst book I ever read, it was one of them. There must be a cosmic law against abusing Shakespeare in this way?
  • Bought at the Globe shop:
    • Hamlet and As You Like It T-shirts
    • Hamlet and As You Like It notebooks
    • A Globe bag
    • Globe pencil boxes with coloured pencils
    • Pens
    • The book The Orient Isle by Jerry Brotton, important in my alter ego’s research for An Isle Full of Noises – the Merlin chronicles volume 3, dealing with the vast Islam influence on the Elizabethan era, including Shakespeare and his plays. I’ve read several chapters. It’s fascinating!  
  • Saw, at the Globe, with friends EG and EG, Hamlet.
    • Hamlet!!! It’s the first time Hal and I have seen it on stage. It was EG and EG’s first visit to the Globe. It should have been brilliant and in some ways, it was. We all love Hamlet, we all love the Globe. It was a brilliant experience to see this play in this place with our dearest Shakespeare friends. But…
    • Some things were good. Richard Katz was one of the best Poloniuses I’ve seen. Helen Schlesinger was appropriately angry in the beginning of the bedroom scene. The musicians were, as always, very good. The miming player queen (Tanika Yearwood, good in all her small parts) opens her mouth wide to scream her grief over the death of the king and the horns blast out – the only moment in the production to give me a little ripple of emotion. Shubham Saraf, as Ophelia, does well in his/her first mad scene. The ending dance, somber and monochromatic, was good. The audience was enthusiastic. But…
    • Some of the most important monologues were given so far back on stage that the pillars blocked our view. Though I liked the gender-bending concept, this production did nothing exciting with it. There was no chemistry between Michelle Terry’s Hamlet and Shubham Saraf’s Ophelia. Some of the most important lines, e.g. ‘There are more things…’, ‘I have of late…’ and ‘I loved Ophelia’, are muffled or tossed off as though of no significance. The ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy was so low-key that I actually dozed off and Ophelia’s following monologue made no emotional impression. The production as a whole made little emotional impression. There were good moments but sadly, the four of us were in agreement that this production does not do justice to the play’s genius.
    • We have seen film versions with David Tennant, Kenneth Branagh, Adrian Lester, Penny Downy, Julie Christie and so many other great actors that our expectations were probably unreasonably high. In any case, we were all very happy to have been there and would be very happy to see it again, despite its weaknesses.
  • Saw the film:
    • Cymbeline BBC version
    • Cymbeline RSC version
    • Cymbeline Almereyda version
  • Wrote text on Cymbeline
  • The insult for today, 6 August 2018: ‘You sunburnt sicklemen, of August weary, come hither from the furrow and be merry.’ The Tempest. More an invitation than an insult, don’t you think?

Posted this month
  • ‘Cymbeline x 3’
  • This report

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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Cymbeline x 3

x 3

     In ‘You might well ask’, my first text about Cymbeline (pages 616-621 in Shakespeare calling – the book) I dealt with the historical aspect of the Roman-English political conflict, which was a good choice. With this second reading I find that the play has much more to offer. On the surface it has many of Shakespeare’s oft-used themes: resourceful young woman who dresses in men’s clothing to chase down the weak young man she’s in love with, cruel father, evil queen, false accusations of infidelity, nobility in commoner disguise.  Always good for studies of character and society.
     Since reading this play last, we have added two film versions of it to our collection. We have previously seen the excellent BBC version. In this analysis I will simply compare the three films, all of whom make good use of these themes.
     But first a summary of the play.
     Innogen, the daughter of King Cymbeline, has married his foster son Posthumous. The king is enraged and banishes him. In exile he meets Giacomo who wagers with him that Innogen is not faithful. Giacomo goes to England, fails to make Innogen believe that Posthumous has been unfaithful to her, but succeeds in spying on her and falsifying evidence showing that she has been unfaithful to Posthumous with him. When told this, Posthumous rages that he will kill her. Meanwhile, Cymbeline’s two sons who had been kidnapped as infants have been raised as hunters in the wilderness. Cymbeline’s evil queen’s son is in love with Innogen and vows to get revenge on her for loving Posthumous instead. Furthermore, the Romans demand tribute from England. Cymbeline refuses. It’s all quite complex, in other words. However, it is not a tragedy so after many twists and turns it ends happily.
     So, to the movies.
     First out, the one we’ve already seen, the BBC version from 1982, directed by Elijah Moshinksy, with Helen Mirren, Robert Lindsay, Claire Bloom, Paul Jesson and Michael Pennington. The encounters between Innogen (Mirren) and Giacomo (Lindsay) are among the most enthralling I’ve ever seen, visually strong, disturbing and emotionally intense. Pennington’s portrayal of Posthumous’s neurotic obsession with Innogen’s supposed infidelity is strongly done.  This play has more depth and complexity of character than the silliness of the story would suggest and the cast, with Mirren as its leading beacon, does more than justice to Shakespeare’s fascinating study of the individuals in class, gender and political conflicts of Roman Britain. This is one of the BBC box’s best; one of the best productions, full stop.
     Next, the RSC version from 2016, directed by Melly Still, with Bethan Cullinane, Oliver Johnstone, James Clyde, Marcus Griffiths and Hiran Abeysekera. There is some gender-bending which works well enough. The costumes are a motley mess of bizarre semi-modern clothing, the scenery surreal, the music eerie and at times funky. The tone is often that of a hammy farce, bringing occasional titters from the audience. The non-British characters speak Italian, French and Latin, which also works. For those not familiar with the play there are screens with the text. We had subtitles. The surreal absurdity distracts from rather than enhances the play. I find the visual and musical theatricality – at the same time both minimalistic and elaborate – appealing but it doesn’t reach much emotional height. It is interesting to watch but has almost none of the depth of feeling of the BBC version and makes much less impact, though it lifts at the dramatic end.
     Finally, the 2014 version, directed by Michael Almereyda, with Dakota Johnson, Ethan Hawke, Milla Jovovich, Anton Yelchin, Penn Badgley, and Ed Harris. This modern-day version generally got terrible reviews and indeed it is confusing. Cymbeline is the King of the Briton Motorcycle gang which is at war with a crooked cop gang. Otherwise the story is the same and the lines are Shakespeare. There are cars, bicycles, cigarettes, T-shirts, jeans, hoodies, black leather jackets, guns and more guns, mobile phones/cameras, American teenagers, skateboards, Google and President Obama on TV. It’s all curiously remote. Many of the monologues are done as voice-overs and much of the dialogue is choppy and low-key, relaxed, spoken with a shrug.  In its own peculiar way, it’s faithful to Shakespeare’s play. And in its own peculiar way, it works. It’s one of the most interesting modernisation spin-offs of Shakespeare I’ve seen.
     That’s the three of them. A comparison? Almost impossible. They are so different that they might not be the same play. Except that they are. For a straightforward serious production, the BBC version can’t be beat for the acting and powerful emotional impact. For a sort of modern version with interesting innovations that don’t always seem relevant, the RSC version has its merits and should be seen. For the weird smack-in-you-face-today’s-reality version, don’t miss Almereyda.
     In fact, don’t miss any of them. And really, don’t miss this play. It may be obscure, it may be long and rambling, but it grows more powerful and complex with each reading.
     After all, it is Shakespeare.