Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, play and film


This video says about itself:

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM Trailer

19 August 2014

An immersive cinematic record of director Julie Taymor’s (The Lion King) virtuosic stage production of Shakespeare’s immortal fantasy.

By David Walsh in the USA:

Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

24 June 2015

Directed by Julie Taymor; written by William Shakespeare

Julie Taymor’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream was screened in a number of movie theaters in North America this week for one night only (on or about the summer solstice). The film was shot during a run of Taymor’s version of the play at the Theatre for a New Audience in Brooklyn in 2013-14.

Scholars theorize that Shakespeare wrote A Midsummer Night’s Dream, perhaps for an aristocratic wedding, in the mid-1590s. The comic-magical play, one of the few whose basic outline the dramatist did not derive from another source, has several interconnected plot strands.

Duke Theseus of Athens and Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons, are making preparations for their wedding day; four young lovers—Hermia, Helena, Lysander and Demetrius—attempt to sort out their relationships, in the face of a host of external and internal pressures; Oberon and Titania, the king and queen of Fairyland, are in the midst of a quarrel, with all sorts of implications for the natural world around them; a group of Athenian “mechanicals” (workmen) are rehearsing a play, the tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe [a story that resembles Romeo and Juliet], to be performed at the wedding of Theseus and Hippolyta.

Much of the play takes place in the moonlit woods presided over by Oberon and Titania. Angered at his queen, Oberon has his “sprite,” Robin “Puck” Goodfellow, locate a flower whose juice, smeared on the eyes, will make any creature fall in love with the next person—or animal—he or she sees. Puck changes the head of one of the workmen, Bottom the weaver, into a donkey’s, and Titania, on seeing him, falls madly in love.

Meanwhile, the four lovers are stumbling around the forest. At first, both Lysander and Demetrius are in love with Hermia, much to the unhappiness of Helena, who adores Demetrius. After Puck drops some of his potion in the wrong eyes, Lysander and Demetrius direct their affections and attentions toward Helena, who becomes convinced that the other three have conspired to play a cruel prank on her.

Bottom passes the time with Titania and her attendant fairies, until Oberon and Puck intervene and restore him more or less to his previous condition. In the end, Oberon and Titania are reconciled, the three other couples find their way to the altar, and Bottom and his fellow workmen stage their play successfully at the wedding reception.

Taymor (born 1952) is best known for spectacular theater stagings, especially of The Lion King (1997) and Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark (2010). She has directed a number of films, including Titus (1999, based on Shakespeare’s bloody Titus Andronicus), Frida (2002), Across the Universe (2007) and The Tempest (2010). While visually intriguing, none of these films was an artistic success. Frida, about the life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, was significantly misconceived.

Taymor’s work in general has seemed a triumph of style over substance. Fortunately, with A Midsummer Night’s Dream she has taken on a work that brings her considerable skill to the fore. Imaginatively staged and exuberantly performed, Taymor’s effort is largely a delight. If it does not explore the play or its themes deeply, and it does not, it certainly allows an audience to experience something of the work’s relentless beauty and poetry.

The play takes place on a stage deeply thrust into the audience at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn. A central image is a giant silk bed-sheet that makes itself into a balloon, a sky, a sort of hammock, a projection screen and a good deal more. Taymor makes great use of lighting, harnesses, trapdoors and a variety of equipment, especially in the Titania-Oberon-Puck scenes.

Kathryn Hunter as an androgynous Puck, who twists herself into any number of poses, is thoroughly engaging, as are David Harewood as Oberon and Tina Benko as Titania. A crowd of small children charmingly represent the fairies. To her credit, Taymor has made the play accessible to contemporary audiences, without sacrificing the original play.

There is something genuinely breathtaking, almost “unbearable” (as I noted in a review of Michael Hoffman’s 1999 film version of the play), about the sweetness of the language in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This is Oberon to Puck:

Thou rememb’rest
Since once I sat upon a promontory,
And heard a mermaid on a dolphin’s back
Uttering such dulcet and harmonious breath
That the rude sea grew civil at her song
And certain stars shot madly from their spheres
To hear the sea maid’s music?

And further:

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite overcanopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and eglantine.

And that sweetness is powerfully brought out here, by Taymor, Harewood, Benko and Hunter in particular.

As we noted in 1999, A Midsummer Night’s Dream is perhaps “the gentlest of Shakespeare’s works.” That review went on:

“Puck plays his pranks, and Oberon takes his relatively harmless revenge on Titania, but this is not a nightmare, it is a dream born of a warm summer night. Oberon takes pity on Helena, ‘a sweet Athenian lady … in love with a disdainful youth.’ Puck says, although mistakenly, of Hermia lying near Lysander: ‘Pretty soul, she durst not lie / Near this lack-love, this kill-courtesy.’ Later Oberon instructs Puck to prevent a fight between jealous Demetrius and Lysander, and declares his intention to release Titania from her spell, ‘and all things shall be peace.’ Or, as Puck puts it, even more suggestively, ‘Jack shall have Jill, / Naught shall go ill.’”

One of the remarkable themes of the play, bound up of course with great changes in social relations in Shakespeare’s time, is the extraordinary and novel malleability of human personality and emotions. Granted that Oberon and Puck intervene supernaturally from time to time, but the four young people, as well as Titania herself, demonstrate that love, for example, is hardly a sentiment fixed for eternity.

Demetrius observes that his love for Hermia—which he was only cured of the night before!—“seems to me now / As the remembrance of an idle gaud / Which in my childhood I did dote upon.”

Titania declares her undying love for Bottom at the beginning of one scene (“O, how I love thee! how I dote on thee!”) and, only a few scant moments later, once having woken from her “visions,” exclaims, “How came these things to pass? / O, how mine eyes do loathe his visage now!”

As we noted in 1999, A Midsummer Night’s Dream suggests “a world of infinite possibility. After all, this is the only one of Shakespeare’s plays in which a man on the Bottom sleeps with (or by) a Queen, at her instigation no less. In the forest in the middle of the night in a dream all things pass into one another and are transformed, love and hate, man and animal, spirit and matter.”

The rapid, dramatic changes of Taymor’s set and design have the advantage of suggesting something of this transmutability.

The weakest point here is Max Casella’s Bottom, or rather, not the actor, but Taymor’s direction. Casella is far too broad, with his clichéd New York-New Jersey accent, and works far too hard for broad and rather cheap laughs.

Shakespeare was not writing his play principally for “mechanicals,” for laborers, although they formed a section of his audience. And certainly there is a degree to which the playwright laughs along with Duke Theseus and the rest of the Athenian elite at the artistic-theatrical pretensions of the weaver (Nick Bottom), carpenter (Peter Quince), bellows-mender (Francis Flute), tinker (Tom Snout), joiner (simply “Snug”) and tailor (Robin Starveling).

As occasionally foolish as the “mechanical” actors are, however, their essential geniality, solidarity and sincerity come through. Is there a genuinely warmer moment in Shakespeare than that in which Bottom makes his reappearance, after losing his asses’ head, among his fellow artisans?

BOTTOM

Where are these lads? where are these hearts?

QUINCE [and the others]

Bottom! O most courageous day! O most happy hour!

BOTTOM

Masters, I am to discourse wonders: but ask me not what; for if I tell you, I am no true Athenian. I will tell you every thing, right as it fell out.

QUINCE

Let us hear, sweet Bottom.

Essential to the success of the “mechanical” scenes is the workers’ spirit of togetherness. Despite their various idiosyncrasies, they stick up for and stand by one another. In Taymor’s version, Brendan Averett as Snug, Joe Grifasi as Quince, William Youmans as Starveling, Jacob Ming-Trent as Snout and Zachary Infante as Flute all do well, even memorably. Infante’s “death scene” as Thisbe is quite remarkable. On the other hand, portraying Bottom as something of a scene-stealer and “ham,” and not simply an enthusiast, is a mistake and detracts from the work.

Whatever intentions he had in his head to begin with, Shakespeare was Shakespeare, and once he began to work through a character’s situation, he generally got to the heart of things. We recently noted the comment by Orson Welles that Shakespeare’s Falstaff (who appears in a number of the history plays) was “the most completely good man, in all drama.” Then Bottom is certainly one of the kindest and most endearing.

He is the favorite of the artisans; during the time he spends away from them in Titania’s company, they are at a loss. He has, according to Flute, “the best wit of any handicraftman in Athens,” and he is “the best person, too,” adds Quince. “O sweet bully Bottom,” cries Flute, sadly.

We noted in 1999: “The weaver is unfailingly thoughtful and considerate, and apparently unfazed by any of the astonishing things that befall him. When Titania unexpectedly proclaims that she loves him, he replies, ‘Methinks, mistress, you should have little reason for that.’ Nonetheless, it is not unthinkable, for ‘to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays.’

“Offered the part of a lover in the workmen’s theatrical, Bottom expresses the desire to play a ‘tyrant’ instead. No one is less fit for such a part. So concerned is he about the ladies in the audience becoming frightened, because a lion appears in the piece, he explains that were he to play the part, ‘I will roar you as gently as any sucking dove. I will roar you an ‘twere any nightingale.’

“Worried as well about the impact on the female spectators of his character killing himself, Bottom suggests adding a prologue in which he will explain that ‘we will do no harm with our swords, and that Pyramus [his character] is not killed indeed; and for the more better assurance, tell them that I, Pyramus, am not Pyramus, but Bottom the weaver. That will put them out of fear.’ I think Harold Bloom is entitled to assert in his Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human that Bottom is ‘a sublime clown … a great visionary … and a very good man, as benign as any in Shakespeare.’”

In any event, despite the missteps in this regard, Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is enjoyable and absorbing. It will open more widely later in the year.

Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice on stage


This video says about itself:

19 August 2009

Brandon Ewald performs a monologue as Gratiano from William Shakespeare‘s “The Merchant of Venice” Act I Scene 1 at the Globe Theatre in London.

By Gillian Piggott in England:

Timely note of tragedy

Wednesday 6th May 2015

Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice has dark undertones which directly address issues of racism today, says GILLIAN PIGGOTT

The Merchant of Venice
Globe Theatre, London SE1
3/5

WITH the election battle waged in sections of the media dominated by the issue of immigration, The Merchant of Venice is the perfect Shakespeare play to mount at the present moment.

So it proves in Jonathan Munby’s engaging production in which Shylock, the tragic outsider at the play’s core, is given due gravitas by Jonathan Pryce.

He stands not only for Jews but for all immigrants — or their second-generation offspring — struggling to rub along with host nations while maintaining religious and cultural identity. British Muslims or eastern European immigrants, so maligned by the far right, spring readily to mind.

Munby makes a compelling case for Shylock’s descent into vengefulness in a production which underlines how Antonio (Dominic Mafham), Bassanio (Daniel Lapaine) and the rest of the Christians are a thoroughly racist lot.

Contemptuous and self-satisfied, they openly despise and bully the Jew, with Mafham’s creepily charming and self-regarding colonialist merchant resorting to physically assaulting Shylock before bargaining his flesh for cash.

Pryce’s Shylock has the integrity and dignity that invites audience sympathy in the trial scene. An actor of presence, his wonderful voice breaks into vibrato at moments of passion and his simple truthfulness make his refusal to show mercy convincing.

And it also makes the unravelling of Shylock’s case and the legal bias and conspiracy ranged against him by Portia (Rachel Pickup) all the more ruthless.

With the emphasis on the Christians’ culpability, Jessica’s betrayal of her father is even less intelligible. Munby attempts to address this by having Shylock’s enforced baptism — a violating and brutal ritual — witnessed by Jessica (Phoebe Pryce), who sings a threnody bewailing the destruction she has helped heap upon her father.

It’s a powerful echoing of sectarian violence but it fails to solve the mystery of why Jessica does what she does.

Another issue with the production is that Munby does not appear to know how to make the Globe space work. He obscures the back half of the stage with a trellis and all the action takes place in front of the pillars.

And, while experienced actors such as Pryce and Mafham know how to speak the verse and use their voices effectively in the space, younger members of the company are less technically accomplished.

Intelligibility, unlike the quality of mercy, is thus sometimes strained.

Runs until June 7, box office: shakespearesglobe.com

Shakespeare’s play Cymbeline on film


This video says about itself:

11 March 2015

Official trailer for ‘Cymbeline‘ starring Ethan Hawke, Ed Harris, Milla Jovovich, John Leguizamo, Penn Badgley and Dakota Johnson.

By David Walsh in the USA:

Cymbeline: Michael Almereyda returns to Shakespeare

11 April 2015

A decade and a half ago, Michael Almereyda, the American filmmaker, directed a modern-day version of Shakespeare’s Hamlet with Ethan Hawke in the lead role. We wrote that “Almereyda…has seen the play as the tragedy of idealistic youth caught up and destroyed by official greed and corruption.” Hawke’s Hamlet, we commented, “is not a tour de force performance, but an element of a calm, serious approach to the play.”

Almereyda (born 1959), who has had an uneven filmmaking career, perhaps not all his fault, has now returned to Shakespeare, but to one of his lesser known and less frequently performed plays, Cymbeline. The work is not a complete success, but it has an urgency and seriousness that are unusual in American movies at present, and is certainly worth viewing (it is available online).

The original play is set in ancient Britain. The British king Cymbeline (a historical figure who lived around the time of Christ, although much of the play is based on legends and literary sources, or was simply invented by Shakespeare) has stopped paying tribute to the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus. War threatens. Complicating matters, Cymbeline’s daughter Imogen has secretly married a man raised in her father’s court, Posthumus Leonatus, infuriating the monarch, who wants her to marry Cloten, the brutish son of his second (and treacherous) wife.

Posthumus is banished. In Rome, he encounters the sinister Iachimo. The latter bets Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen and bring Posthumus evidence of his triumph.

When Iachimo later pays Imogen a visit at the British court, she angrily rejects his advances. Nonetheless, he manages to produce sufficient fraudulent “proofs” of her infidelity back in Rome to convince Posthumus. In a letter, he instructs his servant, Pisanio, to kill Imogen after luring her to Milford Haven, on the west coast of Wales. However, in the course of their trip there, Pisanio shows Imogen the fateful message and urges her to carry on to the Haven dressed as a boy.

Meanwhile, Cymbeline’s other two sons, believed to be dead twenty years previously, were actually kidnapped by an unfairly disgraced nobleman, Belarius, and live a relatively idyllic existence in the Welsh mountains. Their real sister, Imogen, calling herself Fidele (“the faithful one”) now stumbles on Belarius and the two youths in their lair and is welcomed as a member of their household. Cloten, having been unceremoniously rejected by Imogen, sets out after her with bloody, sadistic revenge on his mind.

Ultimately, a battle takes place between the invading Romans and the native forces, which goes badly for the Britons until Posthumus, Belarius and the king’s two sons (although they are still ignorant of their royal birth) make a stand. Everything unravels and unfolds in a lengthy final scene, with relatively benign results. Forgiveness and reconciliation are the order of the day. In fact, it is one of Shakespeare’s few plays about “tumultuous broils” that end on a harmonious note, so much so that even King Cymbeline seems surprised: “Never was a war did cease…with such a peace.”

Almereyda has transposed the action to contemporary America. Cymbeline (Ed Harris) is the head of a motorcycle gang at odds with corrupt police, i.e., the Romans. Posthumus (Penn Badgley) is a somewhat unlikely, skateboarding member of the gang hopelessly but immaturely smitten with Imogen (Dakota Johnson, daughter of Melanie Griffith and grand-daughter of Tippi Hedren). The scheming Iachimo (Hawke) shows Posthumus apparently compromising photos of Imogen on his iPad. And so forth.

The director has retained the general outlines of the play, although the national-patriotic British element is obviously downplayed. The language is still Shakespeare’s, but Almereyda has edited it down perhaps by half and also re-arranged portions of it.

Like all such modernizing attempts perhaps, this Cymbeline has its ups and downs. The greatest strengths of the film, as they were of Almereyda’s Hamlet, are its simplicity and directness. The filmmaker does without special effects, bombast or much effort to explain his choices. The film simply begins near a baseball diamond at night, with Imogen’s lines to Posthumus from Act I, Scene II, or a slightly amended version of them: “Look here, love; / This diamond was my mother’s: take it, heart; / But keep it till you woo another wife, / When Imogen is dead,” and proceeds from there.

The scene between Iachimo and Imogen in which he attempts to seduce her, by slandering Posthumus, and then changes tack, pretending that his effort was merely a test of her loyalty to her husband, is well done. Johnson is not always up the challenge, but her sincerity in playing Imogen—one of Shakespeare’s great female characters—wins one over, here and in other sequences. She is effective and moving when she tells Iachimo early on in the scene: “You do seem to know / Something of me, or what concerns me: pray you, — / Since doubting things go ill often hurts more / Than to be sure they do; for certainties / Either are past remedies, or, timely knowing, / The remedy then born—discover to me / What both you spur and stop.”

Milla Jovovich, who has generally been stuck in stupid films, is a revelation as the scheming queen, a would-be Lady Macbeth. Her version of Bob Dylan’s “Dark Eyes” is also memorable. Delroy Lindo as Belarius stands out, as do Vondie Curtis-Hall, as Caius Lucius, the leader of the Romans, Peter Gerety as the doctor, and Kevin Corrigan, in a small part, as the hangman. The others are generally adequate or better.

Almereyda told an interviewer: “I’m very grateful to actors who will work for low budgets because that shows true commitment. So everyone who was involved in this movie was working because they wanted to collaborate with William Shakespeare.”

The imagery is relatively creative and thoughtful, the score is disturbing, melancholy. This is a film without a wide range of emotions, they remain mostly on the somber side, but those explored are seriously explored. The overall mood is one of sympathy for the young, the marginalized, the rebellious.

And one has Shakespeare, which is an advantage. There are beautiful and powerful lines in the play that Almereyda has kept. Imogen, in agony over her separation from Posthumus, laments: “O, that husband! / My supreme crown of grief!” Iachimo, perhaps laying the basis for his eventual change of heart, tells Imogen that “the Gods have made you unlike all others,” and after sneaking into her bedroom at night and snatching compromising images of her while she sleeps, exclaims to himself and about himself, “Though this a heavenly angel, hell is here.” When Imogen imagines that the decapitated Cloten is her beloved Posthumus, she cries: “O Posthumus! alas, / Where is thy head? where’s that? / … And left this [her own] head on.” And in the final moments, when a happy Posthumus lifts Imogen off her feet and holds her in mid-air, he tells her lovingly: “Hang there like a fruit, my soul, / Till the tree die!” And Cymbeline, finally: “Pardon’s the word to all.”

Almereyda has limited himself to relatively elementary ideas about the play’s content. He told an interviewer that the movie is “about a family and broken trust. It’s a kind of a blighted love story, and almost every man in the story has some imbalanced relationship with a woman. And that intrigued me. It seemed, in some ways, a very modern set of relationships.”

Nonetheless, as noted above, his imagery suggests something more critical about the wider, contemporary world, and more threatening, in the spirit of the play itself. Harold C. Goddard, in his well-known The Meaning of Shakespeare (1951), writes that while “Shakespeare was no Jacobin,” the play paints a picture of “The Power of the English throne wedded to Corruption, who is slowly poisoning it.”

Goddard, writing of the queen’s vicious son, observes: “Nor does Cloten stand alone. He is merely the dark consummate flower of a nobility and court society that is rotten to the core. The Queen is villainous, the King pusillanimous, the British lords cowardly and panicky in battle.” Shakespeare’s Cymbeline provided an intensity that the director had sufficient intellectual wherewithal and integrity to have absorbed and passed along to his audience.

“Here’s what we do know: This is the 399th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and his outsize importance to Western culture looms as large as ever. Christopher Marlowe would be lime-green with envy over the popularity of his one-time rival’s plays; there are entire theater troupes devoted to performing Shakespeare, and the finest actors jockey to commit their portrayals of Hamlet and Lady Macbeth to film. Oh, and then there are the remixes.” (Read more here)

William Shakespeare sonnet on building


Shakespeare sonnet on building, 8 September 2014

There are poems on various buildings in Leiden city in the Netherlands. This one, in the inner city, is William Shakespeare‘s Sonnet XXX.

Shakespeare sonnet, 8 September 2014

These are cellphone photos.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet, played by actress Maxine Peake


This video from England says about itself:

21 mei 2013

Interview with Maxine Peake: Interview at MIF13 Launch. Maxine talks about her one-women performance in The Masque Of Anarchy at MIF13. Read more here.

By Peter Lazenby in Britain:

We aspire to give women the confidence to take on whatever role they choose

Thursday 4th September 2014

Maxine Peake talks to Peter Lazenby about playing the traditionally male role of Hamlet at Manchester’s Royal Exchange theatre.

It’s no surprise that Manchester’s Royal Exchange has extended its run of Hamlet with Maxine Peake playing the role of Shakespeare’s tragic hero.

It opens next week and the actor, a long-time friend of the Morning Star, has won widespread acclaim for tackling the role. There’s a big demand for tickets.

It’s caused her a few bumps and bruises as well. That, too, will raise no eyebrows among those who know her. When she takes on a role she does so “full on,” she says.

She did it in 2012 when she performed Percy “Red” Shelley’s 91-stanza poem The Masque Of Anarchy. It was written in response to the 1819 slaughter of protesters in Manchester’s infamous Peterloo Massacre, when sabre-wielding Hussars rose into a peaceful crowd of 60,000 listening to speakers calling for greater democracy and freedom.

To the public, of course, Peake has many faces — those of the characters she has portrayed in a wide range of TV series. They include Dinnerladies, Silk, The Village and Shameless, along with her performance as Myra Hindley in See No Evil: The Moors Murders. The list goes on.

But there’s always a freshness to her work, maybe because it is influenced by her deeply held political beliefs.

Peake is a socialist and is not afraid to speak out, particularly in voicing her disgust at the coalition government’s austerity measures and attacks on working people.

Now she is breaking more new ground as a woman actor taking on the traditionally male role of Hamlet. It’s never been her desire to play the Prince of Denmark, she says, “but it has always been my ambition to play a male part in a production. I don’t look at a role in terms of its gender, just whether I identify with the character or not.”

So why is she doing it? “I had done a production with Sarah Frankcom, our wonderful director, three years ago in which I played the title role in Strindberg’s Miss Julie and it was quite a success for the theatre,” she tells me.

“So we sat down and put our heads together to think of another project. We wanted something different that would stretch and challenge us both to the limit. Hamlet seemed perfect.”

It is “a mountain of a play, very physically demanding and challenging,” she says. “The design is very cool and minimal with a quite extraordinary use of light.”

Peake’s commitment to her audiences is total and she wants them to take a clear interpretation and accessible version of the play with them when they leave the theatre. “Hopefully it’ll be a Hamlet they can relate to. But mainly I hope that they feel they got their money’s worth and had a full theatrical experience.”

The theatre, as does virtually all the media, suffers badly from gender imbalance and for Peake playing Hamlet is part of the process to redress that. “There is a real sea-change in the gender balance in theatre,” she explains. “The Exchange I think is leading that process. The imbalance has gone on now far too long and it’s so exciting that companies are having a go at tackling it. It’s still not enough but I hope that our Hamlet will help with that.

“In years to come women will be playing these roles and no-one will be questioning it and we aspire to give women the confidence to take on whatever role they choose.

“Hopefully people will now start to tackle the race issue that I feel is still a problem in theatre and television and we’ll start to do more colour-blind casting and begin to represent honestly the wonderful racial diversity of our country.”

Peake chooses to live in the region of her birth – she was born in Bolton in Lancashire and now lives in Salford — rather than London.

In addition to acting she is an accomplished writer and her work has included a play for BBC Radio 4 about the courageous women who staged an underground occupation of a Lancashire colliery in protest at pit closures in 1993.

The Royal Exchange has made her an associate artist, with a wide-ranging role. What does she hope to achieve now?

“I will be writing as a part of my new role,” she says. “I have an idea but what it is I can’t tell you yet I’m afraid. I will be mentoring some young actors on a project next year who have been cast from the local community.

“I am really excited. I think the Royal Exchange is a thoroughly modern theatre that is responding to its surroundings and the times we live in. Up the revolution!”

Such enthusiasm is positively infectious.

Hamlet runs from September 11-October 25, details: royalexchange.co.uk.

Shakespeare’s Henry IV on stage in Stratford


This videio from England is called Trailer | Henry IV Parts I & II | Royal Shakespeare Company.

By Gordon Parsons in Britain:

Theatre: Living Histories — Henry IV

Thursday 24th April 2014

The RSC productions of Henry IV parts 1 and 2 give a sense of the compromises politics impose on human nature which transcends the centuries, says GORDON PARSONS

Henry IV part 1
5/5

Henry IV part 2
4/5

Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Stratford-Upon-Avon

The RSC’s recent dramatisation of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies is testament to the company’s courage in competing with their house dramatist’s own theatrical handling of history.

Now Gregory Doran’s productions of Shakespeare’s treatment of the interplay of personalities and politics demonstrate dramatic genius at its height.

These plays tell the story of a king dogged by the guilt of his usurpation of the crown. He is beset by successive internal rebellions and seemingly cursed by a son and heir who prefers the company of a dissolute bunch of merry rogues and who is dismissive of the demands of state.

Rich in characters and language, both plays work like two movements of a dramatic symphony.

The first focuses on Prince Hal — mentored by the “abominable” misleader of youth Falstaff — and his rivalry with Hotspur, who is high on the drugs of honour and war and the son the king would have preferred.

Understandably, Alex Hassell’s Hal finds his Eastcheap companions more fun than the tensions of a court ruled by his father, an impassioned, intolerant and conscience-stricken king in Jasper Britton’s portrayal.

However skilfully Shakespeare weaves together comedy and crisis, play-acting and warfare, the character of Falstaff dominates.

Antony Sher, with the matted grey hair and spherical build of an impish troll, revels in his scabrous wit and sheer joy in his shady lifestyle. Even when reluctantly forced away from the comforts of his bar-room boozing and whoring onto the battlefield, his determination to survive by any means wins through.

The second play provides a change from major to minor key. Time has taken its toll. Rumour has undermined comforting certainties and the King is mortally ill. Where open battles had decided issues in the first part, now deceit and betrayal thread through the political dealings.

The self-proclaimed youthful Falstaff has become a man aware of his own frailties. Now clinging to forlorn hopes that Hal, his “sweet boy,” will reward his long-held expectations, he is destroyed by his erstwhile companion’s royal rejection: “I know thee not, old man,” the prince tells him.

We are left with a sad awareness of the compromises politics impose on human nature.

Major scenes in both plays capture the central themes. In the first, Falstaff’s roleplaying as Hal’s father remonstrating with his wayward son signals the prince’s true nature while in part two the Gloucestershire garden scene, in which impotent old men rehearse memories of youthful exploits, underlines the dying fall of life colouring the action.

Among the magnificent large cast, vignette cameos from Paola Dionisotti as the put-upon tavern landlady Mistress Quickly and Antony Byrne’s frenziedly drunken Pistol make their mark.

Highly recommended.

Runs until September 6. Box office: (0844) 800-1114.

Shakespeare sucks: a history of Bard-bashing: here.

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Shakespeare’s King Lear on stage in London


This video from Britain is called King Lear.

By Gordon Parsons in Britain:

Theatre: King Lear

Tuesday 4th February 2014

In its depiction of societal and personal breakdown, a new production of King Lear by Sam Mendes speaks directly and uncomfortably to our own times, says GORDON PARSONS

King Lear

National Theatre, London SE1

4 Stars

More than any other of Shakespeare‘s plays, this great symphonic drama of the human condition has mirrored each successive age, often unbearably, with its own self-image.

Our own nihilistic day, obsessed with media accounts of what seems the dissolution of both civilised society and personal relationships, finds its ugly reflection in Sam Mendes’s eagerly awaited production.

From the opening, when Simon Russell Beale‘s ageing dictator enters his conference chamber walled with his own military imperial guard, we recognise a common scene of power and insecurity.

Ordered to express the degree of their affection for their unlovable father, his older daughters, Goneril and Regan, outbid one another in their amplified, effusive offerings and are duly rewarded with his divided kingdom.

Only Olivia Vinall’s Cordelia refuses defiantly to play the game and consequently is violently cast off. This is the cue for the first of Beale’s frenetic rages, a state which constantly marks his downward spiral into a dementia fuelled by the treatment from his favoured offspring.

Beale’s Lear is a definitive portrayal of a man progressively stripped of power over others and control of his own identity – “Who is it that can tell me who I am?” he asks.

And, as he slowly loses his mind, with the pitiful plea of “Let me not be mad,” his is an increasingly shambling figure, nervously pawing at a troublesome hip.

The last vestiges of his authority are lost as his substantial personal bodyguard slip away into the night.

Unlike Hamlet, where we see events subjectively through the protagonist’s eyes, in King Lear we watch with a horrible objective fascination and even fear.

This is not only Lear’s world it is ours. The parallel Gloucester plot, in which betrayal and physical cruelty deny family bonds, make Shakespeare’s universal intentions clear.

Mendes squeezes the play dry of any comfort, with the normally moving conclusion rejigged to expunge any medieval heroics – no mummers’ challenge and barnstorming duel between good and evil here. Edgar simply stabs his bastard half-brother in revenge for his own and his father’s betrayal.

A huge cast gives the impression that at times Lear has all of his 100 knights on stage and there are excellent supporting performnces.

Sam Troughton‘s Edmund is the budding, suavely suited potential corporation man while his brother, Tom Brooke’s Edgar, is a student drop-out who shows perhaps an understandably muted sympathy for their blinded father, Stephen Boxer‘s naive Gloucester.

The demonic daughters, Kate Fleetwood‘s Goneril and Anna Maxwell Martin‘s Regan, are equally differentiated, the former cunningly calculating, while the latter comes across as hysterically high on cruelty.

Adrian Scarborough as the Fool for once makes the character’s often meaningless babble analytically clear as he dissects Lear’s condition, only to be unknowingly clubbed to death by his master in one of his demented frenzies.

If the production loses something in subtlety it certainly speaks uncompromisingly to its audience.Runs until May 28. Box office: (020) 7252-3000.

King Lear, recast with Ursula Mohan as the decrepit monarch, challenges our perceptions of gender, ageing and madness, says KATHERINE M GRAHAM: here.