Category Archives: Commentary

PATERSON JOSEPH: JULIUS CAESAR AND ME  (FOLGER, SHAKESPEARE UNLIMITED) ·

(from the Folger Shakespeare Library; via Pam Green.)


 Shakespeare Unlimited: Episode 98

In 2012 the Royal Shakespeare Company staged the first-ever, high-profile, all-black British Shakespeare production, Julius Caesar, set in Africa. The actor who played Brutus, Paterson Joseph, recently wrote a book about the experience called Julius Caesar and Me: Exploring Shakespeare’s African Play.

Paterson Joseph in Julius Caesar. Photo by Kwame Lestrade © RSC

On this podcast episode, he also talks about his early work, his thoughts about race in the British theater, about the proper way to play Brutus, and much more. Paterson Joseph is interviewed by Barbara Bogaev.

Listen on iTunesGoogle PlaySoundCloud, or NPR One.

BLIND TO RACE, GENDER AND DISABILITY, SHAKESPEARE’S GLOBE GOES A NEW WAY ·

(Matt Wolf’s article appeared in The New York Times, 5/31; via Pam Green.)

LONDON — Shakespeare’s Globe may have had a spring cleaning, but don’t for a second think that the deservedly popular playhouse is playing it safe.

You could be forgiven for expecting a conservative, back-to-basics approach following the controversial artistic tenure of Emma Rice, who parted company with the theater in 2017 after only two years. But if “As You Like It” and “Hamlet,” the opening productions by the new artistic director, Michelle Terry, are any gauge, the Globe looks poised to continue provoking — albeit in new ways. Already, Ms. Terry’s tenure promises to throw norms to the wind by casting without regard to gender, race or ethnicity. Eyebrows have been raised, but there has been hefty applause as well.

Ms. Rice had ruffled feathers by modernizing a space that Globe hard-liners defend fiercely. They took issue with her use of amplification, contemporary lighting rigs and a pop aesthetic that introduced Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies,” for instance, into her Bollywood-inflected “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Her “Twelfth Night” included the London drag artist Le Gateau Chocolat as a disco diva Feste.

No less provocative was Ms. Rice’s candid admission that she found Shakespeare difficult — a sentiment she expressed in her first news conference as artistic director and in various interviews.

Ms. Terry, by contrast, has spoken from the outset of an apprenticeship to Shakespeare that began when she was a child. And because she, unlike Ms. Rice, is an actress — and an Olivier Award-winning one at that — she comes to her current position steeped in the playwright’s work. The result is that you feel at every turn a direct engagement with a dramatist whom Ms. Rice, by contrast, sometimes seemed at odds with, as if the verse were an irritation to be overcome.

(Read more)

Photo: Virgin Experience Days

 

THE GREAT WORK CONTINUES: THE 25 BEST AMERICAN PLAYS SINCE ‘ANGELS IN AMERICA’ ·

(Ben Brantley’s and Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 6/1; via Pam Green.)

“The Great Work begins.” When we first heard the Angel of America bellow that bulletin as the curtain came down on Part 1 of the play named for her and her band of anxious immortals, many of us who look to the theater for inspiration were, in fact, inspired. Tony Kushner’s “gay fantasia,” fusing the ambition, morality and underdog sympathies of earlier 20th century masters, felt not only like a great American play but like a culmination and reimagining of great American playness. It slammed a door open.

That was 1993. Exactly 25 years later, the first Broadway revival of “Angels in America” started us thinking about what has happened to American plays in the meantime. Have they been as great? Is their greatness different from what it was? Is “greatness” even a meaningful category anymore?

(Read)

Photo: Newsela

HENRIK IBSEN: HIS LIFE AND ART (BBC RADIO 4) ·

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the great Norwegian playwright and poet, best known for his middle class tragedies such as The Wild Duck, Hedda Gabler, A Doll’s House and An Enemy of the People. These are set in a world where the middle class is dominant and explore the qualities of that life, its weaknesses and boundaries and the ways in which it takes away freedoms. It is the women who fare the worst in this society, something Ibsen explored in A Doll’s House among others, a play that created a sensation with audiences shocked to watch a woman break free of her bourgeois family life to find her destiny. He explored dark secrets such as incest and, in Ghosts, hereditary syphilis, which attracted the censors. He gave actresses parts they had rarely had before, and audiences plays that, after Shakespeare, became the most performed in the world.

With

Tore Rem
Professor of English Literature at the University of Oslo

Kirsten Shepherd-Barr
Professor of English and Theatre Studies and Tutorial Fellow, St Catherine’s College at the University of Oxford

And

Dinah Birch
Professor of English Literature and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Cultural Engagement at the University of Liverpool

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

***** BRIAN FRIEL: ‘TRANSLATIONS’ (SV PICK, UK) ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in The Guardian, 5/31.)

Brian Friel’s 1980 play has long been regarded as a modern classic. In Ian Rickson’s flawless production, it seems to expand to fill the vast space of the Olivier. Friel’s multilayered study of what Colm Tóibín calls “the clash between language and culture” is set against the epic breadth of the mist-wreathed Donegal hills, beautifully lit by Neil Austin and punctuated, in Ian Dickinson’s sound design, by the sound of steadfast Irish rain dripping into a bucket.

What strikes one is Friel’s ability to find complex meanings in a simple story and to capture Ireland, in 1833, at a moment of historical transition. A rural hedge-school, where classes are conducted in Irish, is to be replaced by a national education system in which English is the official language. At the same time, British soldiers are engaged in an ordnance survey involving the anglicisation of Irish place names. Friel explores these radical changes through their impact on individuals: in particular, Hugh, the local teacher steeped in Latin and Greek; his bilingual son, Owen, who acts as interpreter for the occupying forces; and an English lieutenant, Yolland, who readily succumbs to the romance of Ireland.

(Read more)

Photo: The National Theatre

SIR ANTHONY HOPKINS: “MOST OF THIS IS NONSENSE, MOST OF THIS IS A LIE.” ·

(Miranda Sawyer’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/26; via Pam Green.)  

For anyone who looks toward their later years with trepidation, Sir Anthony Hopkins (“Tony, please”) is a proper tonic. He is 79, and happier than he has ever been. This is due to a mixture of things: his relationship with his wife of 15 years, Stella, who has encouraged him to keep fit, and to branch out into painting and classical composition; the calming of his inner fire, of which more later; and his work.

Hopkins loves to work. Much of his self-esteem and vigour comes from acting – “Oh, yes, work has kept me going. Work has given me my energy” – and he is in no way contemplating slowing down. You can feel a quicksilver energy about him, a restlessness. Every so often, I think he’s going to stop the interview and take flight, but actually he’s enjoying himself and keeps saying, “Ask me more! This is great!”

We meet in Rome, where he is making a Netflix film about the relationship between the last pope (Benedict) and the current one (Francis). Hopkins is playing Benedict, Jonathan Pryce is Francis. He is enjoying this – “We’re filming in the Sistine Chapel tomorrow!” – and we are both relishing the lovely view across the city from the penthouse suite in the hotel where he’s staying. Still, he declares that the film we are here to talk about, the BBC’s King Lear, filmed in England and directed by Richard Eyre, is the piece of work that has made him truly happy. “I felt, ‘Yes, I can do this.’ I can do this sort of work. I didn’t walk away. And it’s so invigorating, because I know I can do it, and I’ve got my sense of humour, my humility, and nothing’s been destroyed.”

(Read more)

Photo: The Guardian

FINTAN O’TOOLE ON SAMUEL BECKETT’S POLITICAL IMAGINATION: WHERE LOST BODIES ROAM ·

(Fintan O’Toole’s article appeared in the 6/7 New York Review of Books.)

Beckett’s Political Imagination

by Emilie Morin

Cambridge University Press, 266 pp., $39.99

 

In April 1962, Samuel Beckett sent a clipping from the French press to his lover Barbara Bray: a report of the arrest in Paris of a member of the Organisation armée secrète. The OAS was a far-right terror gang whose members were drawn largely from within the French military. It had carried out bombings, assassinations, and bank robberies with the aim of overthrowing the government of Charles de Gaulle and stopping the concession of independence to Algeria. Among its targets had been Beckett’s publisher and friend Jérôme Lindon, whose apartment and office were both bombed by the OAS.

Samuel Beckett; drawing by Siegfried Woldhek

The press clipping detailed the capture of an army lieutenant who would be charged with leading an OAS attack on an arms depot outside Paris and a raid on a bank in the city. His name was Lieutenant Daniel Godot. Sending it to Bray was a typical expression of Beckett’s black humor. But it also serves as a reminder that his work is not an exhalation of timeless existential despair. It is, as Emilie Morin’s groundbreaking study, Beckett’s Political Imagination, shows, enmeshed in contemporary politics.

That such a reminder should be necessary is one of the more remarkable facts of twentieth-century cultural history. Beckett, after all, risked his life to work for the French Resistance, even though he was a citizen of a neutral country, Ireland. The astonishing works with which he revolutionized both the theater and the novel—Waiting for Godot and the trilogy of MolloyMalone Dies, and The Unnamable—were written immediately after World War II and the Holocaust. Vladimir’s question in Godot, “Where are all these corpses from?,” and its answer, “A charnel-house! A charnel-house!,” hang over much of his writing. Torture, enslavement, hunger, displacement, incarceration, and subjection to arbitrary power are the common fates of Beckett’s characters.

(Read more)

Photo: Irish Times

METROPOLITAN DIARY: A SHARK, 60 YEARS LATER ·

(Ronnie Lee’s letter appeared in The New York Time, 5/14; via Pam Green.)

Dear Diary:

It has been just over 60 years since “West Side Story” opened on Broadway with me as one of the Sharks. I was 19 when rehearsals began.

I had already worked for Jerome Robbins in the original Broadway productions of “The King and I” (as Crown Prince Chulalongkorn) and “Peter Pan.” Working on “West Side Story” was the best of times and the worst of times — the most challenging choreography and, emotionally, the most ego-deflating, at the hands and tongue of that master torturer, Jerry Robbins.

Photo: Times Square Chronicles; Theater Pizzazz (Carol Lawrence and Ronnie Lee)

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WAR OF THE ROSES: MARGARET OF ANJOU ·

Margaret of Anjou

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of the most remarkable queens of the Middle Ages who took control when her husband, Henry VI, was incapable. Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482) wanted Henry to stay in power for the sake of their son, the heir to the throne, and her refusal to back down led to the great dynastic struggle of the Wars of the Roses.

The image above is from the Talbot Shrewsbury Book, showing John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury, presenting Margaret with that book on her betrothal to Henry

With

Katherine Lewis

James Ross

and

Joanna Laynesmith

Producer: Simon Tillotson.