Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday June 30 2014

London! We went, we saw and once again we were conquered!  I will not go on and on about it here though. If you’ve been to London, you know. If you haven’t, it must be your top travelling priority. 

This time we did not take a thousand photos of the Globe, we did not spend hundreds of pounds at the Globe shop, we did not spend nearly the entire time within a hundred metres of the Globe, we only saw two plays not three... But it was still a visit steeped in the spirit of Shakespeare.

If I miss anything on the report this time, I’ll put it in next week.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Maecenas plays a smallish role in Antony and Cleopatra (can’t say I really remember which one he was) but in real life he was interesting for his support to the arts, providing financial support to the likes of Virgil and Horace.
  • March, the Ides of which are infamous. Poor Julius.  He should have listened to the soothsayer. 
Shakespeare sightings, mostly in London, but a few since coming home:
  • In the novel Eeny Meeny, by M.J. Arlidge, bought at the W.H. Smith on Southwark Street, read then left on the Thames wall for another reader:
    • The pathologist Jim Grieves is described thus: “the endless hand washing made him appear like a modern Lady Macbeth (albeit an overweight one).”
    • Tenacious reporter Emilia is ordered by the police to back off: She “had decided discretion was the better part of valour and given up the chase.”
  • In the book The Rules of Acting by Michael Simkins (bought at the Globe and finished as the plane was coming in to land in Stockholm; a thoroughly enjoyable book) Shakespeare is mentioned so many times that it would take a whole report to cover all the sightings so here I will just list some of the most interesting:
    • In describing ways to get into drama school Simkins recommends choosing something from Shakespeare’s plays for the classical part of the audition even if it isn’t required: “...although it might seem attractive to mess about with some Marlowe or Webster, they won’t offer you the same degree of raw genius with which to work.” He further advises aspiring students to chose a suitable part (“There’s no point having a go at Falstaff if you weigh 8 stone 5 pounds dripping wet”) and dress appropriately (“...don’t wear shorts and flip flops if you’re giving your Titania”).
    • There’s a whole section about the Royal Shakespeare Company. Simkins recommends it as a good place to work in order to learn to act.
    • He also recommends open-air festivals. “No matter that the show being staged is nearly always A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Work is work.”
    • Simkins himself has played some Shakespeare, including Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew and Cornwall to Ian Holm’s Lear
  • In the quiz program Turning Point seen in the hotel while resting (I’ve forgotten which channel if I even noticed) one of the contestants had to identify a quote in the category “Shakespeare”. The quote: “Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and caldron boil.”  The choices: Hamlet, Macbeth, or Othello. Her guess: Othello. Her explanation: “Shakespeare is my worst category.” One could say that. But she went home with several thousand pounds so she had better categories.
  • In the musical Jersey Boys seen at Piccadilly Theatre on our last day in London, Frankie Valli says to the audience about his friend and fellow Four Season Nick who has just quit the group (I don’t remember the quote exactly and I scribbled it on the program in the dark so I can’t promise complete accuracy): “Some are born great and some have greatness thrust upon them then fuck it up.” 
  • In the London Evening Standard there was a review of the ballet Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Albert Hall. Oh, that would have been good to see but it ended soon after we arrived in London. The critic gave it 4 * of 5 calling it bold and soulful.
  • In tube stations all over London there were posters advertising a stage version of Shakespeare in Love and of Martin Freeman in Richard III, both starting after we leave London. So disappointing! Would have loved to see both. If you’re in London in late July, try to see a special performance of Shakespeare in Love at the Rose Theatre!
  • On Union Street we passed the little Union Theatre which was offering performances of King Lear with Ursula Mohan in the gender-bending lead.  We really considered seeing it but the performance times just didn’t work out for us.
  • After coming home there have been two sightings in Dagens Nyheter from while we were gone:
    • On Midsummer Eve, in the crossword, the clue was “known for his music used for A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The answer: Mendelssohn.
    • The photo for the article about reorganisation (and possible dismantling) of the state’s Easy Reader publications so important to immigrant learners of Swedish included the recently issued Romeo and Juliet.                                        
Further since last time:
  • Seen at the Victoria and Albert Museum: Several paintings with scenes from Shakespeare plays, photos and paintings of various actors in various roles, and in a small room discovered in the depths of the museum, a video montage of interviews with various actors, directors and others who do a lot of work with Shakespeare.
  • Seen at the Globe with Hal: Julius Caesar
  • Seen at the Globe with Hal: Antony and Cleopatra
  • Bought at the Globe:  The DVDs of two of the plays we saw last year – The Tempest and Macbeth.  They weren’t there the first time we looked but on a later visit, there they were! They had just arrived to the shop an hour earlier.
Posted this week:
  • This Monday report.
  • "The Globe x 2: Julius Caesar, and Antony and Cleopatra, June 2014”

The Globe x 2 - Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra June 2014

The Globe x 2: Julius Caesar, and Antony and Cleopatra, June 2014

                      Just being at the Globe is magical. I waxed lyrical about it on this blog last year after our London visit so I won’t do it again now. Yes, we visited it often. Yes, we looked through the shop several times and were very fortunate to be able to buy the DVDs, delivered to the shop just an hour earlier, of two of the plays we saw last summer, The Tempest and Macbeth. So we’re hoping and expecting to see the DVDs of Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra in a year’s time.
Below you will find my reviews of these two plays.  But first I must mention our great appreciation to the members of the staff who noted that Hal walks with a cane and that our seats were in the highest row in the theatre for Julius Caesar.  We were escorted backstage (giving us glimpses of the cast, who nodded in a friendly way, and some props) to the staff lift in the depths of the Globe and up to our seats. In the pause we were met at our seats and escorted down again and back up. And again at the end. Wonderfully friendly helpful people. Thank you!
                      Now to the plays:

  • Directed by: Dominic Dromgoole
  • Cast: Brutus – Tom McKay; Marc Antony – Luke Thompson; Cassius – Anthony Howell; Julius Caesar – George Irving; Octavius Caesar – Joe Jameson; Casca – Christopher Logan; Lucius – Keith Ramsay; Calpurnia– Kary Stephens; Portia – Catherine Bailey
  • Seen: June 20, 2014
 Julius Caesar must be a hugely difficult play to do.  All that political talk – how to make it comprehensible and dramatic?
One way is to follow the script. It is Shakespeare after all. Wisely, director Dominic Dromgoole has made this choice. With a solid, mainly young, cast. This, possibly the most famous political drama of all time, proceeds scene by scene at a brisk pace.  I am engrossed from start to finish.
Because of my interest in Cassius I pay special attention to Anthony Howell’s interpretation. He’s really very good. Lean and hungry he is indeed. With a beautifully rich sonorous voice he argues, reasons, resents and grieves. Sadly a set of his best lines – “How many ages hence/ Shall this our lofty scene be acted over,/ In states unborn and accents yet unknown!.../ …So oft as that shall bee,/ So oft shall the knot of us be called/ The men that gave their country liberty” – rather disappear in the drama of the assassination and the coughing of an unfortunate spectator near us, but his parting scene with Brutus is clear and wrenching.
There is little room for humour in this play but what there is is used well: Casca’s campy report on Caesar’s behaviour in the first scene, the silly jig after the angry confrontation between Brutus and Cassius, some of the citizens’ scenes and of course the mandatory and wonderful jig at the end.
Young Lucius, though a small role, deserves mention. Keith Ramsay plays it very well and he also has a most pleasant singing voice.
Sitting where we are – highest up in the last row in the centre – the visual effects are at their strongest. Just before the assassination as Cimber, Brutus and Cassius appeal to Caesar to pardon Cimber’s exiled brother, Cassius throws himself down prostrate at Caesar’s feet, his arms stretched out.  Very strong. Seconds later the assassination. Bright red blood on white togas starkly contrasting against the wooden stage.  Also the minimalist approach to the battle – six or seven soldiers in a rigid plunging dance – very rhythmic and oddly sensual.
The visual and audio effects of the three druids/muses who appear on the balcony above the stage singing in eerie disharmony after each death – of Caesar, of Cassius, of Brutus (here they appear on stage) – are very powerful.
It’s opening night and there are some wrinkles – dropped swords, fallen draperies, a certain stiff staginess at times, and sadly the two very potent roles of Calpurnia and Portia have not reached their full force.
We wonder too about the blood on the stage. Will they get it out before the next performance?  Or even before Antony and Cleopatra which we’re seeing the day after tomorrow? 
At the end the audience is jubilant and so are we.  Readers of Shakespeare Calling and the movie blog know that I can be very negative to film versions of Shakespeare’s plays and maybe one day I will be to a stage performance. Maybe even at the Globe.
But not this time.  I like this Julius Caesar very much indeed.

PS - We went back to the Globe a later evening and watched the activities in the lobby while waiting for the play to begin.  We so wanted to back and see it again but, alas, we didn’t have tickets.  But we saw some of the citizens and musicians give lively performances in the lobby, and both Calpurnia and Portia wafted in queenly majesty through the area.
PPS – In fact we forgot to notice the blood on the stage while watching Antony and Cleopatra.

  • Directed by: Jonathun Munby
  • Cast: Cleopatra – Eve Best; Marc Antony – Clive Wood; Octavius Caesar – Jolyon Coy; Octavia and Iras – Rosie Hilal; Enobarbus – Phil Daniels; Eros and Messenger – Peter Bankolé; Charmian – Sirine Saba; Soothsayer – Jonathan Bonnici; Alexas – Kammy Darweish
  • Seen: June 22, 2014
 Readers of this blog know that it has been difficult for me to like Antony and Cleopatra which is why I have awaited this Globe performance with great curiosity.  Talking before the play with a very nice couple from Sheffield who say that Eve Best has been given rave reviews turns the anticipation up a notch.
And it does indeed start out well. It’s boisterous and colourful, festive and full of gusto.  It’s funny and lively.  Eve Best’s Cleopatra is bawdy and ironic and a great comic.  In her reeling-in-Antony-the-fish scene she flirts brazenly with a groundling and when he bites her finger she and the audience roar with laughter. I swear she blushes a little. Clive Wood as Antony does well. He too is funny, disrespectful, a bit of a lad, a lush actually.  One of the play’s most interesting characters is the shrewd and outspoken Enobarbus and Phil Daniels does him justice.  Eros and the Messenger are very well played by Peter Bankolé.  The first half ends in gold and glitter and great enthusiasm from both cast and audience.
But sadly, when the play should shift from humour to drama and tragedy, it doesn’t.  Cleopatra is not nearly as regal and imperious as she should be. Enobarbus, who in his repentance and suicide would have been so very strong if his final monologues had been subdued and introverted, is instead loud and melodramatic and a bit of a farce.  Antony plays for laughs right up to his death which becomes shallow and not at all as gripping as it should be.  After his death the play actually drags a bit until the scene with the asp.
Peter Bankolé plays his two roles with bravura all the way through, though,  and a good choice was made in having Cleopatra die quite quietly, sitting straight in her golden throne, and the play ends effectively with the three women dead on the stage.
And then the jig.
The verdict?  I like the play better than I did but mostly I see more clearly its potential. I do enjoy much of it and I’m glad to see it.  But it’s still not Shakespeare’s best, nor my favourite. 
So who cares?  It’s the Globe!

For my texts on the two plays click on:

Monday, June 9, 2014

Monday June 9 2104

Oh what a quiet Shakespeare week, as if the world of Shakespeare were holding its breath for bigger things to come.  Still, it’s never completely silent so here is this Monday’s report.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Lucifer, who as you know is usually considered the prince of demons and thus a villain, is actually “the bringer of light”, connected to Venus, the Morning Star, which the early Christians believed was the enemy of God. They’re so silly.  Anyway, Lucifer shows up in: King John, Henry IV:1, Merry Wives of Windsor, Henry IV:2, Henry V, and Henry VIII.
  • Lud’s town, the early name of London, got its name from King Lud who, according to legend, was a Trojan hero who escaped to establish the British race. His name comes from a Celtic river god and he was the grandfather of Cymbeline. A likely story... Mentioned, reasonably enough, in Cymbeline, coming soonish on this blog.
Shakespeare sightings:
  • In The Big Bang Theory, Season 6, Sheldon says to Leonard:  “This little dust-up between us is much ado about nothing” when Leonard plans to move in with Penny and Amy therefore plans to move in with Sheldon.
  • Only one Shakespeare sighting – a record low!
Further since last time:
  • Continued reading aloud with Hal: Antony and Cleopatra in preparation for seeing it at the Globe soon!  We’ll finish it this evening probably.
  • Read: Shakespeare Today by Jane Shuter, bought on the net i.e. sight unseen. It turns out it’s for young people who know almost nothing about Shakespeare so not much I hadn’t known but interesting anyway.
  • New comment on "Does Anybody Like Antony and Cleopatra?" 
Posted this week:
  • This Monday report.