Sunday, July 13, 2014

Monday July 14 2014

How did that happen?  My holiday is drawing to an end and this will be the last Shakespeare Monday for awhile because I go back up to full time for a month or so starting next Monday. When I return it will hopefully be to post a text on The Winter’s Tale. Until then, have a good Shakespeare summer.  

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Maria, the one in Love’s Labour’s Lost, was lady-in-waiting to the Princess of France and was wooed by Longueville.
  • The Earl of Marle was one of the French nobles would died at the battle of Agincourt.
  • Marseilles is mentioned in The Taming of the Shrew and All’s Well that Ends Well.
Shakespeare sightings:
  • There was a review in Dagens Nyheter of The Comedy of Errors at the Roma ruins on the island of Gotland (mentioned last time). The reviewer quite liked it, claiming that it is probably close to the way Shakespeare himself had envisioned it. High praise indeed! She goes on to mention “deft farce and snorting despair” (it sounds better in Swedish: “flyhänta farsinslag och frustande förtvivlan”.  Other words: energetic, furious, frustrating, magnificent, comical, melancholy.  The review ends with mentioning the triple anniversary: the Roma Cloister 850 years, Shakespeare 450 years and the Roma Theatre 25 years.  Happy anniversary, everyone!
  • In A History of World Societies by John McKay et al. I’ve reached (and passed) Shakespeare’s time. In a book of over 1300 pages Shakespeare is granted almost half a page, ending with “Hamlet’s sad cry, ‘There is nothing either good or bad but thinking make it so,’ expresses the anguish and uncertainty of modern man.”  That’s one way of looking at it. I’ve always seen this quote as an “aha” of enlightenment.  Some two hundred pages later the Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu is compared to Shakespeare “for the richness and complexity of character and plot.”
  • In Beautiful Darkness, the second in the Beautiful series by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Olivia utters the quote, “Hollow laughter in marble halls” and Ethan ventures a guess: “Shakespeare?” To which Olivia replies, “Pink Floyd.” Later Ethan compares his mother to “Juliet in some kind of twisted play where Romeo was in Incubus” which in this novel means vampire.                                              
Further since last time:
  • Finished reading aloud with Hal: The Winter’s Tale.
  • Seen on stage in Galärparken with Hal and friends AB and UJ: Much Ado about Nothing with the Stockholm English Speaking Theatre .  It was great fun. The weather was perfect, the company extremely pleasant, the crowd full-sized and enthusiastic and the performance witty, colourful and imaginative.  I failed to get the names of the actors but Benedick was superb as were Beatrice and Hero, with Hero doubling as the hilarious Dogberry in the form of a mad blind nun.  Another successful gender bend was Leonata as Hero’s mother. For those of you living in the Stockholm area they will be performing at Drottningholm and Rosendahls Wärdshus through July. Don’t miss it!

Posted this week:
  • This Monday report.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday July 7 2014

This has been a week of recovery but also of returning to daily routines and finding our way back to daily Shakespeare. It feels good.

From Davis and Frankforter’s The Shakespeare Name Dictionary.
  • Marcus Crassus is another character in Antony and Cleopatra of whom I took no notice so don’t remember in the play but in real life he was a rich member of the first triumvirate and his first major task was to suppress the slave revolt led by Spartacus. Not something I would want to be remembered for.
  • Margaret (1430-1482) we’ve met earlier in this blog.  She was from Anjou and in status and wealth she was not a good match for poor Henry VI.  History and Shakespeare have blamed her for a lot of things, especially pressing Henry into continuing the War of the Roses. She probably wasn’t a very nice person but she was undoubtedly interesting.
Shakespeare sightings:

  • In the novel The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu one of the three main characters Lea says, “I am like Shylock’s daughter, Jessica.  I cannot hear music.” To which her friend Avishag replies, “We are not doing Shakespeare right now, are we?”   There’s more but it’s too much for here, and it gets weird, like much of the novel is.
  • Some fifteen years after studying history at the Stockholm University I’ve started rereading the book we used in the first semester: A History of World Societies by John McKay et al. I haven’t come to Shakespeare’s time yet but he popped up anyway: “India’s greatest poet Kalidasa (ca 380-450), like Shakespeare, wrote plays in verse as well as separate poems.”
  • In another book I haven’t read for a long time -  a much longer time in this case – Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, the precocious eleven-year-old Anne says, “I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it.”  Several years later her teacher Mr. Phillips “gave Marc Antony’s oration over the dead body of Caesar in the most heart-stirring tones.”
  • In the film The Invisible Woman Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) visits the home of the theatrical Ternan family and notices a playbill on the wall.  He notes that it’s of Mr. Keane playing the Moor to which Mrs. Ternan (Kristin Scott Thomas) replies “Yes, I was Desdemona. My husband was Iago.”
  • The murder of the poor Corpse Bride in the film of the same name is described as “murder most foul”.
  • Dagens Nyheter
    • had a debate article about revenge and forgiveness and though Shakespeare is not mentioned in the article a large photo from a production of Hamlet was used with the caption, “Revenge is one of art’s central motifs, notably in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
    • the actor Andreas Nilsson has turned fifty and though he is playing the twins Antipholus in A Comedy of Errors the performance has been cancelled for that day due to his birthday party.  He points out that he and Shakespeare were born in the same year, though not the same century.  Is that a good excuse for cancelling a Shakespeare performance, I wonder?
  • It’s good to look through one’s book shelves now and then. I did so at work (though I’m on holiday I went to pick up some books) and found Collins English Dictionary. Just paging through the introduction chapter on pronunciation I found the sentence, “A modern Londoner would have little difficulty in understanding the speech used in the plays performed at Shakespeare’s Globe although it would make a somewhat rustic impression on his ear.” Or hers.                                               
Further since last time:
  • Started reading aloud with Hal: The Winter’s Tale.
  • Listened to with Hal (actually before the trip to London but I forgot last week): The CD we bought at the British library last summer Shakespeare’s Original Pronunciation which seems to agree with Collins (see above).

Posted this week:
  • This Monday report.

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: