Category Archives: Sampling Shakespeare

A jolly good show #RSCtwelfth

Ordinarily, I don’t like Valentine’s day. It’s all very much commercialized hearts and flowers; I would be at home, in a sulk and watching box sets.

Not this year.

I decided to stop with the sulking, fly solo and indulge in one of the many things that make me happy. I went to see Shakespeare.

Not just your average Shakespeare show, either. I saw a live relay of Twelfth Night. (MAC Birmingham, you are awesome as always; spending my childhood there, this was a welcome return visit.)

I am no stranger to Stratford-upon-Avon, and over the last three years I’ve watched quite a bit of the canon. Greg Doran et al have done a cracking good job.  Sadly, I was a bit slow off the mark getting tickets for Twelfth Night in Stratford; so when news broke that it would be relayed live, I might have jumped a bit. Putting my membership of Sgt.Pepper’s lonely hearts club to one side, I forgot that it was booked for Valentines night.

The fact that Ade Edmondson was part of it, did rather make me smile. I grew up with re-runs of ‘The Young Ones’ and know of Bottom and Hotel Paradiso. I had intrigue as to how he might tread the boards. Beyond that, I went to the show with an open mind.

Thank goodness, I did!

I didn’t realise the Indian aspect of the production and the late Victorian setting. Two universes don’t collide per se, but merge and combine beautifully. The director and the costume designers have married these two concepts in a really rich, vibrant and effective way.

Then there is the cast.

In the last few years, there has been much said about the lack of BAME actors in theatre, in adaptations/productions of Shakespeare. This cast, was epic. I’ve yet to see an RSC production that isn’t diverse, doesn’t include BAME actors and doesn’t celebrate diversity. This production is more than Ade Edmonson’s Malvolio-he is truly extraodinary, though-there is a lady of Asian Ascent in a lead role-has been done before in midsummer’s night dream.  The fool-Beruce Khan-is cracking good comic relief. Belch and Aguecheek need their own sitcom.

Twelfth night really is about love turning the world upside down. The themes of falling in love with the wrong person, the wrong person being in love with you, being wronged by love when people quite literally mess with your head-Poor Malvolio-then there is gender, identity and sexuality. Shakespeare toyed with topics that four hundred years later are still in debate.

Watching this show, I laughed; I forgot that it was Valentines day. Remembered, that I love Shakespeare, that it reflects the world that I live in. This was wonderfully crafted, yet simple and effective production. I’m glad that I saw it, I’m glad that the cast was diverse. Dinita Gohil is great as the disguised Viola and a true inspiration with Beruce Khan, who wouldn’t be out of place in a Bollywood GOT. These two cast members really stood out for me as inspiration for future generations of BAME actors who want a place on the Shakespearean Stage.

Twelfth night really was a cracking good show. Strongly recommend you watch it. That you love, laugh and live it.

One episode of Shakespeare down, two more to go.

The Shoemakers Holiday: Hmm, interesting

As you are aware, I do rather like sampling Shakespeare. The opportunity arose for me to pootle to the RSC and have a gander into the Swan theatre. The one show playing was Thomas Dekker’s ‘The Shoemakers holiday’.

I had no idea about this play, I still don’t. But it was different. Like Shakespeare’s canon, it is Elizabethan. Big tick, I imagined a mental baseline, as to what I might expect.

I had dinner-not a nice experience, Indian restaurant that couldn’t quite get what I wanted. The ventured to the theatre. The swan theatre is smaller than the Shakespeare theatre, gives it a more intimate, relaxed feel. Right down to the bench like seating. Only I would get the seat, right next to the apron corner of the stage. I got a good view of stockinged calves, and the swoosh of costume kirtle skirts.

There is no staging, lots of props are brought in and out for the scenes. There was a rather useful trap door, and a couple of columns. I guess makes it easier, if you have several plays being staged at the same time. So I waited, the house lights went down, and I watched.

First thing first, I could only just understand the language. Shakespeare, I can understand. This was slightly different. it wasn’t as flowery or poetic as Shakespeare. Perhaps that is a reflection of the ‘real life’ nature of the play. I found myself thinking, trying to work out if I had got the gist of the words. That is more about my exposure to such a play, rather than construction of the work.  The fella who plays Simon Ayr is fab, as is the lady who plays his wife. Hodge is also good, perhaps though as I have seen the gentlemen who play those respective roles on the TV at somepoint. I’m not sure it was the best of stories, but the actors were good. The young king, I’m not sure if he is meant to be King Edward VI, but certainly looks like how he might have appeared. And the tudor kirtle thingies, that the ladies wore. Maybe ask Santa next year.

#NaBloPoMo: Blooms in the gloom

It’s all very gloom and doom outside as the rain comes down in sheets. At this time of the year, the plot is probably at it’s greyest and gloomiest.The abundance of summer seems such a long time ago. As the plot rests, we can cast our mind back to the splashes of colour that have filled the plot.

There are lots of roses on the plot. some established others less so. The lost label roses were new last year, and need another year or so to get going. Previous to that there were the posher roses, and these have really come into their own this year. Newcomer William Shakespeare 2000 sits slap bang in the middle of the plot, a sprawling mess of fuzzy red roses with lots of petals.

With the Big Sunflower Project sunflowers are planted on the plot. Some do not survive the slimers, but those that do, are a beautiful drop of sunshine. Are huge great big hyrdas in some cases, and you always end up with slighty dopey bumble bees floating around.


#NaBloPoMo: Sampling Shakespeare: Much ado about nothing

Funny. This was play was funny.

imageFrom the opening moments, there is laughter, guffaws and giggles. Definitely more bang for buck compared to ‘Loves labours lost’.

The lavish sets and costumes are back, and boy do you still channel Downton. Though I did feel a bit of Jeeves and Wooster this time. The actors have done a switcheroo and the minors from the first show now occupy the major roles. To be fair, the fella who played bendick was a heavy weight in the first show. He now carries the show, complete with dirty giggle. You’ll know it when you hear it.

And talking about hearing things. The bad butler, he was a Bollywood! I for once, wasn’t the only Bollywood in the house! That was a surprise and a half I tell you. But his accent. Oh Dead Gods. Maybe, in being a born and bred Brummie, I can hear the idiolect rhythm and rhyme a mile off. And boy was it ghetto, or close to it. I got sounds of Dudley and Sandwell. It was rather disturbing. The boy butler, from the Black Country. I may have squirmed a little in my seat.

The costumes are exquisite. Lots of dapper looking chaps in twenties suits. Girls wear the most beautiful of age dresses. The word really is sumptuous.

Dogberry was a spot of light relief. The teapot scene was wonderfully crafted. Akin to something out of the Two Ronnies. Not a single word is uttered, but the meaning is clear.

Definitely more bang for buck compared to loves labours lost. A good night out, with good clean fun. A more positive story, written in a more fluid way. There was no part where you wondered when it would end.

The last word though. So much better than Joss Whedon’s attempt. Love that fella and his universe; but leave Shakespeare alone.

Sampling Shakespeare: loves labours lost

If you like downton, the village, Jeeves and wooster. You will like this. The setting of the stage, is brilliant. Well crafted and reminiscent of the Edwardian-I think-era.

Then there is the story. Two, interwoven romantic narratives. Tugging at the heart strings, you also feel your sides split with hysteria. Never has The Bard been so funny. Well, the propeller company’s Midsummers night dream is the closest comparison.

The setting is good, lavish, resplendent. When the ladies of France and the princess arrive, you are transported back to a window in history. The age of aristocratic elegance. The king, his courtiers, have the most beautiful dressing gowns as they swoon over their respective ladies on the roof.

The Spanish fella, and his valet, offer the second love struck story. No idea who he is, but that is the role that would be Stephen Fry’s if he fancied it. Or Alexi Sayle, for that matter. His story does lose a bit of weight and just fizzles out. I did find the scenes with the curate and master a bit superfluous. Perhaps my hearing is bad, but the master was barely audible.

The ladies do not swoon, they have the stiff upper lip here. They have the swagger of champions as the boys huff, puff and basically trip over their tongues. The boys, are in the full throes of love; as the girls push and pull without flexing a thing. They play games to agonise the boys. Shakespeare’s women, are in this instances, strong, wilful, and independent.

The play descends into a mirthful farce, song dance. The play within a play. With a cracking soundtrack, that gives the whole show a level of opulence that one wouldn’t expect for Shakespeare.

Not knowing the story, I fully expected the couples to end up together. That doesn’t happen, more fool me. Big surprise for me, given the romance. There was a lump in the throat as at the end; four soldiers march across the stage. A reminder, of how it’s partnered play ‘much ado’ is set in the same house after the Great War.

Looking forward now to ‘Much ado’.


Sampling Shakespeare: Henry IV part two

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Sampling Shakespeare: Henry IV part 2

Why oh why, is there a second half?

The redeeming feature of part one was Sir Anthony Sher as Falstaff. The theme continues with the second half. In the same vein as before, falstaff carries the show and Hal, takes his top off.

The titular Henry is a weakened feeble man, with even less stage time than the first instalment. Making the play feel even more cobbled together. What you have is falstaff having fun with his ladies of the night, and some other stuff occurring in parallel that Shakespeare peppers in when you have had enough of the one man show. We seem to forgotten the welsh, for one.

Just like the first one, this instalment really should be re-named.

Bluff prince Hal goes from being a tennis playing hooray Henry to a stiff, protocol pleading monarch. In about fifteen minutes. Fifteen long minutes, as his dad has a kip and makes the young prince mistake the slumber for death.

This is a play that is most certainly all about Falstaff. So the ending is heart wrenching. Hal, now Henry V, rebuffs Sir john his drinking buddy, and all too heartlessly. You want to smack him one, for the all the covering Flastaff has done for Henry’s behind. Falstaff does nothing, but you do wish he would box young hal’s ears.

And who, who pray, puts the king of England in a dress?!

Hal changes, from a leathers clad hot blood to a dress wearing fairy who at Christmas is going to sit on a tree. To be frank, that also happened to his dad in Richard II.

The question remains though. As to what kind of king Henry V will be.

I guess that is why there is yet another play….

NT live: king Lear

I had high hope for this. Especially having wanted to go see at the theatre. With the prices ridiculously high, I opted for the live streaming.

I wasn’t impressed.

Managed to get to the interval, and I couldn’t get any further. I found it completely incomprehensible, with dodgy camera angles and sound that hit and miss. The cast was good, as far as the daughters went and also Adrian Scarborough as the fool. He was absolutely brilliant. The others not so much; especially as the one daughter looked as though she was impersonating Wallace Simpson.

The production really was theatric and felt as though Mendes was trying to make it stretch to the silver screen. Only it wasn’t done too well.

The text of the play is meant to be challenging anyway. You can tell, it is hard going. There is no spark, of drama. Of enthusiasm, or passion. It felt concrete and clunky. I couldn’t warm to it, or the fella playing king Lear. I know that the king is meant to be old and almost losing it. But this lovely gentleman-who really was-was really very doddery and grandad joe.

Didn’t like it. I really didn’t.

Sinking The Bard: William Shakespeare 2000

Having celebrated my 30th birthday last week, a dear friend of mine has given me a rather apt birthday present.

Meet William Shakespeare 2000.

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Since it was his anniversary yesterday, it’s rather fitting that he arrived today.

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He is now sat on the very threshold of Project othello, next to the falstaff apple tree.

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There are two blooms nestled in there ready to explode. Rather looking forward to it 🙂

Sampling Shakespeare

I am part way through a year of sampling the Shakespearean canon. Since August last year, I have been collecting what I can of the plays. I have seen As You like it, Hamlet, Richard II at the RSC Stratford, as well as Midsummers night Dream with an all Male cast at the Belgrade theatre Coventry. And there was twelfth night. Today the Shakespearean sojourn continued with Henry IV part one. Part two is penciled in for the summer, as well the Scottish play-I refuse to write it-two gentlemen of Verona, king Lear, as well as loves labours lost and won. King Lear is by the National theatre and will be a streamed live screening, much in the same way that I saw Richard II. Is the production directed by the Hollywood heavyweight-if he can be termed that-Sam Mendes. Particularly resonates, in being one of three daughters. Not sure which of regan, gonerail and Tegan, I am, but we have yet to collectively drive Pops potty.

I think I have missed Antony and cleopatra, Coriolanus and the other gored mess Titus Andronicus. But I can’t say I’d want to see them. Though that is doing The Bard a disservice; his combination of language and historical commentary is entirely the point of watching his plays. I might get around to them eventually.

As you like it was the first play I watched at RSC. A gentle introduction, fluffy. But dragged along with musical whimsy. There was a lot drum rolls and guitars in there. But the duke was good.

Hamlet didn’t leave me particularly enthused at the RSC. Went expecting dark pathos, a bit of brooding, with a dash of the schizophrenic Hamlet. The lead protagonist laughed, giggled and swang from that to miserable self loathing. His red hair and balding pate a constant distraction; he had nothing on Claudius with his double breasted suit, spats shoes and dull metallic crown alongside the Queen in her siken dior-esque dress. Hamlet, we could have liked, you know. There has been much noise of the role being reprised by Benedict cumberbatch next year. As much as I would love to go see it; I won’t be. Because of the hype, and I refuse to pay up to £75 for it. The same could be said of Jude Laws’ Henry V. Didn’t know to late on in the run. £75 is three times the cheap seats at the RSC. Okay so the cheap seats at the RSC have a restricted view, but I still wouldn’t pay £75. Even groundlings in the time of the bard would throw a Hissy fit; and Shakespeare didn’t worry about his sets to warrant such a kings ransom. Want young people to engage, drop the prices. Simples.

Richard the second was a live streaming; with much attention focused on David tennents blonde locks. Pretty as he was-with nail varnish all beautifully manicured-out acted by the seniors that were the Duchess of Gloucester and John O’Gaunt. Not to mention the fella who played Henry Bolingbroke. Built like a rugby player, he was always going to trump the airy fairy fluffy Richard. John o’gaunts speech was particularly important to watch. I’d read that speech as an A level strength of English Lang/lit, complete with an England shirt. If it wasn’t for etiquette and propriety; I would have stood up and cheered him on.

Midsummers night dream toured the Belgrade theatre with the propeller company; with an all male cast. Just, as Shakespeare would have had. I have never laughed so hard when it comes comes to Shakespeare. There were a number of interludes where I thought my sides might split. Men in tights and tutus, amusing to say the least. As were all the bottom jokes, they have stood the test of time.

Twelfth night at the WAC was not so good. Can’t remember who was performing, but there was a notable lady from Holby involved. Short, must have been abridged; it played to a half empty theatre. Okay it was a Saturday afternoon; but even the party food of pizza distributed part way through, did nothing to make it better. With instruments just sat across stage, there was a double bass playing at inopportune moments. And the rather bizarrely yellow rugby socked Malvolio(?) headbanging as though a heavy metal fan was surreal to say the least. The use of a garbled synth, would have annoyed a certain Stevie Wonder.

So is there a hooray for Henry?

These is for young Prince Hal, less so for his father the titular Henry IV. Especially when the show opens with a half dressed Henry in a bordello. The first act is all about Henry the Younger, having the time of his life; being a debauched bachelor and playboy prince under the wing of a permanently inebriated Falstaff. His father is irritated by whatsisname Henry Hotspur; a story placed on the back burner and only just foreboding. Your attention is diverted away from it by falstaff and frivolity. Watching young prince Hal have fun and not care about anything is given precedence over affairs of state and the job of being a usurper king.

This avatar of Henry, is not as good as the Henry Bolingbroke of Richard II. Smaller in stature, less imposing compared to his ascension in Richard II; perhaps that is the point. Even the recycled earls of Northumberland and Worcester out play him at being menacing statesmen. Simply doesn’t have the broad enough shoulders to be the king that deposed Richard. Falstaff is hilarious, Henry Hotspur marvellously mad and Machiavellian. Runs around as though a crazy creature, full of hyperactivity and arms flailing. If he was a fly, you’d want to swot him. And when Henry Hotspur takes his time dying, you find yourself urging him to hurry up. I was desperately trying not to say ‘worms’ and was glad when the Prince of Wales did.

The second act, shows just how heavily political pressure lay in Shakespeare. Henry IV is barely on stage, it is all about Junior-who is rather pretty. Junior suddenly remembers who he is, and actually does his job as Prince of Wales the heir apparent. I can only imagine that Henry senior has some more stage time in the second part; otherwise the two plays should just be renamed. Alas, that would make for a redundant Henry V.

Falstaff and bluff Prince Hal are the saving graces of an otherwise fairly toothless story. If it wasn’t for their humour, you’d want history re-written. Henry IV really isn’t built to be the lead, and the intrigue lies with junior as the man who will be king.

Let’s hope some redemption lies in part two, eh?

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