Category Archives: History

‘OLIVIER’ BY PHILIP ZIEGLER (LISTEN NOW ON BBC 4—LINK BELOW) ·

Listen at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03bq9ct

Published when the National Theatre turned 50 in 2013, Philip Ziegler’s biography, based on previously unseen letters and diaries, tells the story of Laurence Olivier as he developed his craft, focusing on his career path from early school days through rep theatre to Hollywood, before returning to triumph in his greatest role ever, as the first director of the National Theatre.

Episode 1:
Born at a time when theatre was at a low ebb in Britain, and after a rather unpromising start in life, the young Laurence Olivier enters the acting profession and begins to shine.

Reader: Toby Jones

Producer: Clive Brill
A Pacificus production for BBC Radio 4.

 

SPY REPORT THAT CRITICISED MARLOWE FOR ‘GAY CHRIST’ CLAIM IS REVEALED ONLINE ·

(Andrew Dickson’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/30.)

A controversial document in which the playwright Christopher Marlowereportedly declared that Christ was gay, that the only purpose of religion was to intimidate people, and that “all they that love not tobacco and boys were fools” is to go on show online for the first time.

The so-called “Baines note”, a star item in the British Library’s Renaissance manuscript collection, offers tantalising evidence about the private life of Marlowe, one of the most scandalous and magnetic figures of the Elizabeth period.

Compiled in May 1593 by the police informant and part-time spy Richard Baines, it claims to record a conversation between the two men in which the playwright airs a long list of what Baines describes as “monstrous opinions”.

Among them, Marlowe casts doubt on the existence of God, claims that the New Testament was so “filthily written” that he himself could do a better job, and makes the eyebrow-raising assertion that the Christian communion would be more satisfying if it were smoked “in a tobacco pipe”.

(Read more)

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/mar/31/christopher-marlowe-spy-baines-note-gay-christ-british-library-online

DAVID STOREY, REST IN PEACE (1933-2017) ·

(Michael Coveney’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/27.)

David Storey, who has died aged 83, was an unusual literary figure in being as well known for writing novels as he was for writing plays, never claiming that one discipline was harder or easier than the other, but achieving distinction in both, often overlapping, fields. He sprang to prominence with his first novel, This Sporting Life, in 1960; his 1963 movie adaptation, directed by Lindsay Anderson, and starring Richard Harris and Rachel Roberts, was an outstanding example of the new wave of British film, in its raw black-and-white northern realism and its brutal story of a miner turned professional rugby player and his widowed landlady.

Storey, the big and burly son of a Yorkshire miner, played rugby league for Leeds in the early 1950s while also studying fine art at the Slade school in London. His recurring themes, on stage and page, were defined by this dual experience; and by the conflict between his roots in the north and a sense of powerful dislocation in the south, as well as feelings of guilt and atonement in family life.

(Read more)

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/mar/27/david-storey-obituary

ALAN LIGHT: ‘WHAT HAPPENED, MISS SIMONE?’ (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 4) ·

Listen at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08gwsjb

Inspired by the Oscar-nominated TV documentary, Alan Light’s biography draws on Nina Simone’s early diaries, rare interviews, childhood journals and input from her daughter Lisa Simone Kelly to paint a picture of the classically-trained pianist who became a soul legend, a leading civil rights activist and one of the most influential artists of our time.

Episode One
“I was born a child prodigy darling. I was born a genius.” Nina Simone

Music journalist Alan Light is the author of The Holy of the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the Unlikely Ascent of Hallelujah, and Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain, among others. He was editor-in-chief of the music magazines Vibe and Spin, and is a frequent contributor to the New York Times.

Writer: Alan Light
Abridger: Pete Nichols
Reader: Alibe Parsons
Producer: Karen Rose

A Sweet Talk production for BBC Radio 4.

Photo: Respect Magazine.

‘BEING ORSON WELLES’ (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 3—LINK BELOW) ·

Orson Welles (1915 – 1985), American actor, producer, writer and director. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Listen at:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05s3k88

Five essays by five enthusiasts that follow the rise and fall of Orson Welles, the controversial Renaissance man who was an actor, film director, radio producer and theatre impresario. Essayists include film critics Peter Bradshaw and David Thomson and Sarah Churchwell.

Simon Callow, Welles’s biographer, tracks the transformation from schoolboy to prodigy and unpicks what really happened during the six months Welles spent at Dublin’s Gate Theatre.

Produced by Gemma Jenkins.

 

JEAN RACINE : ‘ANDROMACHE’ (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 3—LINK BELOW) ·

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Listen at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08bbghs .)

Jean Racine’s play, first performed in 1667, is set a year after the Fall of Troy in Epirus, where Pyrrhus, son of Achilles, is ostensibly betrothed to Helen’s daughter, Hermione. Pyrrhus however is pining after Hector’s widow, Andromache. The play opens as Orestes, son to Agamemnon, comes with a message from the Greeks demanding that Pyrrhus should hand over Andromache’s son Astyanax. Orestes, it so happens, is in love with Hermione.
Edward Kemp’s version of the play is set against a present-day soundscape and asks ‘when a culture has endured a shattering event – the Trojan War or one of the world-changing events of the current century – how can we move on? And if we can’t, are we destined to repeat the same cataclysmic mistakes over and over again?’

Translated by Edward Kemp
A Cast Iron Radio production for BBC Radio 3

AUGUST WILSON ON BROADWAY: A HISTORY ·

(Erik Piepenburg’s article appeared in The New York Times, 1/10; via Pam Green.)

When “Jitney” opens in New York City this month, it will be the final work in August Wilson’s 10-play cycle about African-American lives in the 20th century to reach Broadway. Wilson, who died in 2005, wrote plays with many storytelling elements in common — they almost all took place in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, the playwright’s hometown; they bracingly examined issues of racism, friendship, romance and memory; the shadow of slavery was ever-present, if sparingly depicted; and they were also vibrantly distinct in their settings, ambitions and theatrical destinations. All of them received Tony Award nominations for best play. (“Fences” is the only one to win.)

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/11/theater/august-wilson-on-broadway-a-history.html?em_pos=small&emc=edit_cu_20170111&nl=theater-update&nl_art=2&nlid=68469194&ref=headline&te=1

TUDOR CHRISTMAS GIFTS ·

(Deborah Swift’s article appeared on English Historical Fiction Writers, 12/18; via Pam Green.)

In Shakespeare’s Day it was more usual to give gifts at New Year, but if you were lucky you might receive one at Christmas. Christmas gifts were known as Christmas Boxes and were usually given by a master to his servants, or an employer to his apprentices or workmen. They were a mark of appreciation for work done over the previous year.

New Year’s gifts were a more equal exchange between friends or relations.

So what might you expect in a Tudor christmas stocking?

Maria Hubert in her book “Christmas in Shakespeare’s England” suggests that Shakespeare might have enjoyed receiving paper as it was very expensive, a new quill pen, or a knife with which to sharpen it.

ell in Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” a pedlar is selling:

Lawn as white as driven snow,

Cyprus black as e’er was crow,

Gloves as sweet as damask roses;

Masks for faces and for noses,

Bugle bracelet, necklace amber,

Perfume for a lady’s chamber;

Golden quoifs and stomachers

For my lads to give their dears.”

Elizabeth herself had a liking for candies and sugar fruits. The Sergeant of the Pastry (what a great title!) gave her a christmas ‘pye of quynses and wardyns guilt’. In other words a gilded pie of quince and plums.

(Read more)

http://englishhistoryauthors.blogspot.com/2016/12/tudor-christmas-gifts.html?spref=fb&m=1

LOST CLASSICS OF GREEK TRAGEDY ·

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(Charlotte Higgins’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/10.)

Think of Greek tragedy and we tend to think of sad stories of the death of kings. Or, if not their deaths, then at least their comeuppances: Agamemnon killed in his bath by his wife; Ajax made mad and murderous by the gods; Oedipus blinded by his own hand; Jason destroyed after his wife, Medea, kills their children.

But only 32 complete plays survive, by just three playwrights – out of hundreds, or perhaps as many as 1,000 texts by around 80 authors. And, according to Matthew Wright, professor of Greek at the University of Exeter, the works we have by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides are neither necessarily the best plays of their time, nor especially representative. Some of these lost works, he believes, were likely to have been masterpieces: “There is no evidence that quality played a part in the transmission of the surviving texts.”

(Read more)

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2016/nov/10/the-one-where-medea-saves-her-kids-lost-classics-of-greek-tragedy

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MICHAEL FEINGOLD: ON GEORGE BERNARD SHAW–A PLAYWRIGHT’S POLITICAL MADHOUSE (PART II) ·

(Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 11/4.)

A famous image of George Bernard Shaw comes from his lifelong friend, the critic and Ibsen translator William Archer. When Archer first met Shaw, in the British Museum Reading Room, the then-novice playwright was alternately studying two books: Marx’s Das Kapital and the orchestral score of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde. Viewed superficially, the image conveys the wide range of Shaw’s interests (economic theory and opera), and of his skills (foreign language, musical notation), as well as his passion for everything new and radical: Das Kapital had not yet been translated into English; Tristan had just had its London premiere.

Closer scrutiny reveals a less pleasant aspect: Shaw’s lifelong fascination with theories that would give rise to totalitarian systems. The intellectual path from Marx led to the Soviet empire, the anti-intellectual path from Wagner’s ecstasies to Nazism. Shaw in later life was not wholly immune to either ideology, and put both in his plays. The disillusioned characters of Too True to Be Good try to enter a new socialist state, the “United Federation of Sensible Societies” or “UFSS” (an obvious allusion to the USSR), which declines to admit them. In Geneva (1938), Shavianized cartoon versions of Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco defend their policies.

(Read more)

http://www.theatermania.com/new-york-city-theater/news/michael-feingold-on-george-bernard-shaw-2_78927.html

ON GEORGE BERNARD SHAW–A PLAYWRIGHT’S POLITICAL