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Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Shitfaced Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet

I‘m not entirely certain that the glorification of intoxication is a public good, but I don’t think it can be argued that it’s not good for a laugh.

The premise for this piece is beautiful in its simplicity: perform one of Shakespeare’s works with a lead actor completely sloshed. To maintain the premise, a couple of audients are provided with instruments for calling for another drink for the actor, and an audient in the splash zone is put on bucket duty.

Though it may not please the purists, my immediate sensation was that this manner of presentation is possibly even truer to the style of performance in Elizabethan London than the present-day Globe. It’s bawdy and the audience are involved and don’t mind calling out.

But that’s probably where the argument for this as an authentic Shakespearean experience ends. It’s a laugh, and as far as great performances go, there’s little more than some quality improvisation to praise.

The play is shortened to one hour, which is an improvement, but does necessitate a certain amount of assumed knowledge of Shakespeare’s work.

In all, this is a great idea that’s good for one laugh, but I’m not likely to bother a second time.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 23 August 2017 in British Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Theatre

 

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The Two Gentlemen of Verona

2014-08-23 USA 026asI was lucky enough to be able to sit in Central Park this afternoon and enjoy Barefoot Shakespeare’s The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I really can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday afternoon than lazing about in a park while a bunch of very talented performers work very hard to entertain me!

Hard work is exactly what it looked like. The area they were performing in was a particularly busy area of the park, and contrary to the image New Yorkers like to project of their favourite open space, Central Park is not by any means an oasis of calm in the middle of the city’s bustle. To be heard, they had to compete with a loud concert barely 100 metres away, constant helicopters and sirens, and the occasional heckler. But they handled all of this with aplomb, especially Michael Pettey, in the role of Proteus, who improvised marvellously when a particularly rowdy bunch suddenly noticed that he was performing and announced it for all and sundry.

The rest of the cast also delivered an outstanding performance, and although I did struggle to hear above the hubbub of the park, I did manage to follow this play, which I was not very familiar with beforehand.

Courtney Moors also impressed with her portrayal of Silvia. The pathos in her responses resonated brilliantly above the hubbub of the park, and I was certainly taken along with her in her pursuit of Valentine (played by James Kivlen).

In all, a great way to encounter such a fun little play, and a great performance.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 23 August 2014 in American Theatre, Theatre

 

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Burbage

burbageThere really is an over abundance of plays derived from the stories that surround Shakespeare’s life. Though I am getting a little bored of them, I am nonetheless drawn to further explorations of the context in which the Bard lived, and speculations about his times.

Burbage has been one of the better ones I’ve seen lately. Essentially a one hour rant imagined from the realities of Richard Burbage’s life and the common themes of the actor’s existence, it explores these with some depth and develops a strong image of the man left behind as the great playwrights and actors of the Elizabethan era fell off the twig in the early seventeenth century.

Richard Burbage, for those who’ve either forgotten about him or never heard of him (really?), was an actor who performed lead roles in the premieres of many now-canonical works of Elizabethan drama. Playwrights such as Shakespeare and Marlowe wrote roles with him in mind, and he was owner of the Globe Theatre with his brother.

In this monologue, he engages an imaginary young actor, Tom, who is seeking to continue his acting career past the roles of his youth.

Neil McGarry’s greatest achievement in his performance is creating a believable ‘Tom’ in the auditorium. While I am not a fan of monologues, and the idea of an invisible and inaudible second character in a monologue usually seems extremely naff, I was impressed to find myself fully engaged in the reality of the piece. The result is an engaging performance that gives humble recognition to one of the artists who contributed so much to the golden age of English theatre.

Despite some oddities of accent (which I will happily forgive with the knowledge that the English of Burbage’s day sounded a little more like the modern American accent than modern Received Pronunciation), McGarry was entirely believable and made a strong connection with his audience.

This was the last performance at the New York Fringe, but it’s likely to pop up again with the Bay Colony Shakespeare Company, and is worth a look if you’re an artist.

 
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Posted by on Friday, 22 August 2014 in American Theatre, Theatre

 

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Julius Caesar

julius caesarWhen I was a backpacker in London in 1995 I donated £10 for a brick for the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It took me 19 years, and even after arriving in London I still found circumstances conspiring against me, but I have finally been to a show in the magnificent reconstruction.

I can’t comment too intelligently on the show. Partly because I had no familiarity with Julius Caesar before today, but mostly because of the amazing novelty of being a groundling in Shakespeare’s Globe. I think I would have to see quite a few shows before I could concentrate on the show and not the venue, and even then the number of tourists who are there for the novelty would still be a distraction.

For the unaware, Shakespeare’s Globe is a relatively accurate reconstruction of the Globe Theatre that stood on the South Bank of the Thames when Shakespeare’s work was at its peak. It stands very close to the position of the original, and was constructed using sixteenth century building techniques as much as possible (though it does have the odd modern feature for practicality’s sake like steel drainpipes, safety equipment and a few halogen lights). Like Shakespeare’s Globe it has three balcony levels, where patrons pay according to the view of the stage, and a pit directly in front of the stage where common folk like me can stand and get amongst it all as ‘groundlings’ for a mere £5. It is an outdoor venue, with roofing over the stage and the upper balconies, but none over the pit. And yes, it did rain, which was perfect.

I really would not have enjoyed my day quite as much had I paid for a seat; there are just too many advantages in being a groundling. One of the techniques used to draw the audience’s attention in this context where the house lights don’t turn off on cue and there are no lights for the stage or any curtain to speak of, is for the action to burst into the pit amongst the groundlings, which is exactly how Julius Caesar opens. The performers just burst in pushing a way through the crowd and get everyone focused on the action. This worked extremely well, and really created an atmosphere appropriate to Ancient Rome, which you would be completely outside of if you were sitting.

The main inconvenience in being a groundling is the sky above. It belongs to London, and therefore leaks. Most of the time the leaks are small, but I happened to come on a day when the heavens ope’d and spewed forth their watery bounty. I had secured a spot next to the stage, where I had some respite. I had also forked out for a garbage bag with a hood, which are sold at the door, and offer enough protection to allow you to enjoy the performance, which of course carries on regardless (although the heavens did seem to open and close at the right times to change the meaning of quite a few lines, much to everyone’s enjoyment (including the wet ones)).

2014-07-25 London 090aI hope you’re starting to get an idea of why I wasn’t paying as much attention as I normally do to what is going on on stage.

The performance was impeccable, I think. I may have been overwhelmed by the novelty of the theatre, but I certainly enjoyed the murder of Caesar, and Marc Antony’s speech was remarkable. Likewise, the friendship of Brutus and Cassius was palpable in this wooden O (sorry, couldn’t resist).

I only regret waiting so long to come see something here. I will be back again and again until I don’t notice the novelty of the space and the tourists annoy me because I’m no longer one of them.

 

 
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Posted by on Friday, 25 July 2014 in British Theatre, Shakespeare's Globe, Theatre

 

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The Merry Wives of Windsor

2014 06 21_0864aSo of course I couldn’t come to England without making a pilgrimage to the Bard’s hometown. Of course the lure of Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Holy Trinity Church and a clever little exhibition of props from the Royal Shakespeare Company’s collection were too much to resist, but with the throng of tourists getting in the way of the atmosphere, the most pleasant part of our afternoon was definitely plonking ourselves down in The Dell with a pint of cider for a lively performance of The Merry Wives of Windsor.

The company, Greater Fool, was formed specifcally to perform for the Royal Shakespeare Company at The Dell in Stratford Upon Avon, and they certainly deliver. Lewis Allcock worked up a sweat playing four different characters, and David Rankine’s brilliantly angsty Mister Ford had the eager audience in stitches.

Possibly the only decision that left me wondering whether it was a good one was the decision to utilise the fame of Modern Family to improve accessibility. Taya De La Cruz‘s Mistress Page was highly amusing as a Mexican housewife, but the reference was heavy-handed and I just wondered if there was a more nuanced way to achieve the same effect. My twelve-year-old daughter has never seen much Modern Family, so the references went over her head, but she still engaged with the story well, despite having had no exposure to this play before either.

Whether this was too much or not was neither here nor there in the end, as the performance was light, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining. Falstaff (Adam Diggle) was suitably depicted as a football-obsessed larrikin, and his engagement with the audience flowed into the atmosphere of the outdoor space, punctuated, as it was, during the performance we attended, by loud speaker announcements from across the river and actual real-life larrikins who had already removed their jerseys to soak up the sunshine and talk on their phones behind the stage. The cast, however, were impressive in their determination to hold our attention, and their toil paid off. These are perhaps the most undervalued performers in England (it was free, though they do pass a basket around afterwards).

2014 06 21_0861aI did consider swapping our days so we could be at Stonehenge for the solstice, but I actually think this was the best activity for summer’s longest day ever devised. And to enjoy a play is a much more suitable activity for a visit to Stratford than battling to catch a glimpse of the bed in Shakespeare’s parents’ room over the shoulders of other pilgrims.

 

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 21 June 2014 in British Theatre, Theatre

 

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Romeo & Juliet

romeo and julietIn less than a week I will be taking the stage in London for the first time at The Space on the Isle of Dogs. The Space is a quaint repurposed venue full of character and the first thing I noticed on my arrival was that Romeo and Juliet is currently in production, so of course I had to pop along.

I love Romeo and Juliet principally, I think, because though its plot plays hard and fast with the willing suspension of disbelief, its characters are drawn with impeccable honesty.

Tonight, I was treated to one of those brilliant experiences where the familiar becomes new again. The performers delivered deliciously light renditions of Shakespeare’s characters, while also delving richly into the great stock of pathos Shakespeare provided.

I was particularly taken with Lucy Bailey, who took us on the Nurse’s amusing and moving journey of joys and sorrows. Juliet was also given an unusually engaging lightness by Rebecca Burnett that provided the space for joining her on her highs and lows.

There was some novel (and very clever) casting in the form of turning Benvolio into a Benvolia, and Gregory also underwent a sex change. Both characters benefited from finding their feminine side, I thought, though it didn’t seem to serve much of a purpose other than utilising the eternal glut of female actors and relieving the difficulty of fielding a male cast.

And herein lies my one reservation about this production. Despite a couple of interesting choices such as this, and despite some commendable performances, there’s no spark of brilliance to make it truly noteworthy.

These qualities don’t quite compensate for a rather staid envisioning of a text with such broad possibilities. It just seemed far too constrained to its conventional setting, and despite the freshness of the performances, I just wanted something more to sink my teeth into.

 
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Posted by on Thursday, 29 May 2014 in Birdiedoes, British Theatre, Theatre

 

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Goliyon Ki Rasleela Ram-Leela

Ram-LeelaOkay, I might have a reason to like Ram-Leela that gives me a bit of a bias, but I simply haven’t enjoyed a film this much in ages. Colourful, engaging, and full of life, this film captures the attention and the heart.

Bollywood has not been high on my list of priorities, but this film could well change that. Their energy and obsession with colour has always fascinated me, but the plots can be pretty ordinary. Since Ram-Leela borrows the bulk of its plot from England’s foremost dramatist, it can hardly be said to suffer from this illness. 

Based roughly on Romeo and Juliet, Ram-Leela begins with the familiar style of Bollywood. It is not long, however before it delves deeper into the characters and their backstory than is customary, and the challenge becomes to recognise Shakespeare’s characters in those in front of us.

This is not, however, a straightforward transliteration. In transplanting the story to India, the plot required some major reconstructive surgery. It takes some interesting turns that are not quite what I was expecting, and in the second act I was beginning to think the plot had diverted completely from Shakespeare’s when it finally resolved back into the familiar run.

This is where I really found myself fascinated. Some of my readers may be aware that some years ago I was involved in writing and directing a re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet in which the lovers live and rather than finding a happily ever after they find they don’t really like each other quite as much as they thought they did. Ram-Leela looked for a while like it might head down a similar path, but it didn’t, and I breathed a sigh of relief in a way.

I can’t think of a more interesting experience than seeing this film in the heady mix of cultures I am experiencing here in Timor-Leste. It just sits beautifully in this eclectic place and should not be missed.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 1 December 2013 in Film

 

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