Category Archives: Shakespeare

SHAKESPEARE: ‘THE TWO NOBLE KINSMEN’ (LISTEN NOW ON BBC RADIO 3–LINK BELOW) ·

 

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This and the Two Gentlemen of Verona are the least performed of the Shakespeare cannon and I wanted to see the progression between the first and the last. It is for this reason that I have given this production a modern feel in terms of sound and music. I wanted to record them with the same actors entirely on location to give the sense of a strolling company, making the most of the countryside around enabling them to be as honest to the story as they possibly could be.

On the day planned for his wedding to Hippolyta, Duke Theseus of Athens is petitioned by three queens to go to war against King Creon of Thebes, who has deprived their dead husbands of proper burial rites. In Thebes, the ‘two noble kinsmen’, Palamon and Arcite, realize that their own hatred of Creon’s tyranny must be put aside while their native city is in danger, but in spite of their valour in battle it is Theseus who is victorious. Imprisoned in Athens, the cousins catch sight of Hippolyta’s sister, Emilia, and both fall instantly in love with her. Arcite is set free, but disguises himself rather than return to Thebes, while Palamon escapes with the help of the Jailer’s Daughter, who loves him. Meeting each other, the kinsmen agree that mortal combat between them must decide the issue, but they are discovered by Theseus who is persuaded to revoke his sentence of death and instead decrees that a tournament shall decide which cousin is to be married to the indecisive Emilia and which is to lose his head. The Jailer’s Daughter has been driven mad by unrequited love, but accepts her former suitor when he pretends to be Palamon. Before the tournament Arcite makes a lengthy invocation to Mars, while Palamon prays to Venus and Emilia to Diana – for victory to go to the one who loves her best. Although Arcite triumphs, he is thrown from his horse before the death sentence on Palamon can be carried out, and with his last breath bequeaths Emilia to his friend.

JAILER’S DAUGHTER ….. Lyndsey Marshal 
EMILIA ….. Kate Phillips 
PALAMON ….. Blake Ritson 
ARCITE ….. Nikesh Patel 
THESEUS ….. Ray Fearon 
HIPPOLYTA ….. Emma Fielding 
JAILER ….. Hugh Ross 
PIRITHIOUS ….. Daniel Ryan 
WOOER ….. Oliver Chris 
QUEEN 1 ….. Susan Salmon 
QUEEN 2 ….. Sara Markland 
QUEEN 3/DOCTOR ….. Jane Whittenshaw 
COUNTRYMAN 1/FRIEND ….. Sam Dale 
ARTESIUS/COUNTRYMAN 2 ….. Carl Prekopp 
COUNTRYMAN 3/BROTHER ….. Pip Donaghy

Music composed and performed by Tom Glenister and sung by Emma Mackey and Tom Glenister

ON ‘A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM’ WITH MELVYN BRAGG (BBC RADIO 4) ·

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of Shakespeare’s most popular works, written c1595 in the last years of Elizabeth I. It is a comedy of love and desire and their many complications as well as their simplicity, and a reflection on society’s expectations and limits. It is also a quiet critique of Elizabeth and her vulnerability and on the politics of the time, and an exploration of the power of imagination.

With

Helen Hackett
Professor of English Literature and Leverhulme Research Fellow at University College London

Tom Healy
Professor of Renaissance Studies at the University of Sussex

and

Alison Findlay
Professor of Renaissance Drama at Lancaster University and Chair of the British Shakespeare Association

Producer: Simon Tillotson

 

SHAKEPEARE RECIPES: DID THE BARD EAT THAT? ·

(Marissa Nicosia’s article appeared on Folger.edu; via Pam Green.)  

Citrus and sugar: Making marmalade with Hannah Woolley

As our First Chefs recipe series continues, Marissa Nicosia writes about a 17th-century recipe for citrus marmalade. Nicosia is the author of the blog Cooking in the Archives: Updating Early Modern Recipes (1600-1800) in a Modern Kitchen, where you can find even more information about these adaptations.

Citrus and sugar: What could be more precious than marmalade? Oranges and other citrus cultivars come from the mountainous parts of southern China and northeast India. They were prized for their beauty, scent, and medicinal properties in this region long before Europeans saw, smelled, or tasted an orange. As Clarissa Hyman writes in Oranges: A Global History, “In India, a medical treatise c. AD 100 was the first to mention the fruit by a term we recognize today. Naranga or narangi derives from the Sanskrit, originally meaning ‘perfumed from within’” (10).

The three original citrus cultivars were the citron (prized for its thick, fragrant peel), the pomelo, and sour oranges, called China or Seville oranges in early modern England. Easily hybridized, these three cultivars are the origin of all modern citrus varieties. Soldiers returning from the Crusades brought citrons and sour oranges home with them. In the early modern period, sweet oranges, sour oranges, lemons, citrons, and exotic varieties like bergamot and blood orange were widely cultivated in Southern Europe and by wealthy gardeners who build special hot houses, or orangeries, further north.

Photo by Teresa Wood.

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IS SHAKESPEARE HISTORY? THE ROMANS (BBC RADIO 4) ·

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In the second of two programmes marking In Our Time’s 20th anniversary on 15th October, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare’s versions of history, continuing with the Roman plays. Rome was the setting for Titus Andronicus, Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and parts of Antony and Cleopatra and these plays gave Shakespeare the chance to explore ideas too controversial for English histories. How was Shakespeare reimagining Roman history, and what impact has that had on how we see Rome today?

The image above is of Marlon Brando playing Mark Antony in a scene from the film version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, 1953

With

Sir Jonathan Bate
Provost of Worcester College, University of Oxford

Catherine Steel
Professor of Classics and Dean of Research in the College of Arts at the University of Glasgow

And

Patrick Gray
Associate Professor of English Studies at Durham University

Producer: Simon Tillotson

IS SHAKESPEARE HISTORY? THE PLANTAGENETS (BBC RADIO 4) ·

Listen: Is Shakespeare History?  

 In Our Time

In the first of two programmes marking In Our Time’s 20th anniversary on 15th October, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Shakespeare’s versions of history, starting with the English Plantagenets. His eight plays from Richard II to Richard III were written out of order, in the Elizabethan era, and have had a significant impact on the way we see those histories today. In the second programme, Melvyn discusses the Roman plays.

The image above is of Richard Burton (1925 – 1984) as Henry V in the Shakespeare play of the same name, from 1951

With

Emma Smith
Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, University of Oxford

Gordon McMullan
Professor of English at King’s College London and Director of the London Shakespeare Centre

And

Katherine Lewis
Senior Lecturer in Medieval History at the University of Huddersfield

Producer: Simon Tillotson

THERESA REBECK: ‘BERNHARDT/HAMLET’  (SV PICK, NY) ·

(Jesse Green’s article appeared in The New York Times, 9/25.)  

Is it chance or synchronicity that brings “Bernhardt/Hamlet,” a muscular comedy about a woman unbound, to Broadway at this grim transitional moment in gender politics?

Either way, Theresa Rebeck’s new play, which opened on Tuesday at the American Airlines Theater, is so clever it uplifts, so timely it hurts.

That’s a depressing thing to say about a story set in 1899 in that temple of chauvinism, the French popular theater. Janet McTeer stars as Sarah Bernhardt, then in her mid-50s and aging out of the dying courtesan roles that made her world-famous. As far as Shakespeare is concerned, she is caught in the gap between Ophelia and Gertrude.

So why not try Hamlet?

Enter the men: Edmond Rostand (Jason Butler Harner), one of France’s greatest young dramatists; Alphonse Mucha (Matthew Saldivar), the Art Nouveau illustrator of Bernhardt’s gorgeous posters; and Louis (Tony Carlin), a critic so parsimonious with praise I suppose it’s only fair that he’s given no surname.

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Photo: Chicago Tribune

 

 

‘HENRY VI’ FROM THE NATIONAL ASIAN AMERICAN THEATER COMPANY (SV PICK, NY) ·

(Laura Collins-Hughes’s article appeared in The New York Times, 8/31.)

Halftime was ticking down at a marathon performance of Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” when the guys in front of me returned to their seats and I fell a little in love with them. Riffling through plot points and names of characters they vaguely remembered were coming up (“Who’s Edmund? Or am I thinking of ‘King Lear’?”), they were like soap opera fans preparing to dive back into an engrossing serial.

That’s the kind of hold that the National Asian American Theater Company exerts on spectators with its oxygenated “Henry VI” at A.R.T./New York Theaters. It’s a production that asks nearly six hours from your life (yes, you can see its two parts on different days), but it repays you handsomely.

Fast-paced and gripping, this is an unusually lucid staging of a bloody history play, whose surfeit of schemes and villainy could make a daytime-drama writer blush. Yet for all the battles and beheadings in Stephen Brown-Fried’s handsomely designed production, never does it take death lightly. That’s one of the remarkable things about it.

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Photo: William P. Steele

***** ‘PERICLES’ AT THE NATIONAL THEATRE (SV PICK, UK) ·

(Miriam Gillinson’s article appeared in the Guardian, 8/30.)

Has the National Theatre ever felt as open, compassionate and heartfelt as this? Pericles can be one of Shakespeare’s more difficult plays, notoriously uneven and elusive, but this musical adaptation is a joy. It is the first production in the National Theatre’s Public Acts scheme, and boasts a community chorus of about 200 amateur actors, dancers and musicians. But what might have been a total mess turns out to be mesmerising: a giddy celebration of humanity and our endless capacity for warmth, togetherness and love.

The huge ensemble cast floods Fly Davis’s elegantly sweeping set with performers of all ages, abilities and ethnicities. Emily Lim has corralled the chorus brilliantly but she hasn’t polished the life out of them. Nervous smiles flash towards the audience and Shakespeare’s play feels so much more authentic and touching for it.

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Photo: Playbill

BOOK: ‘PERFORMING HAMLET: ACTORS IN THE MODERN AGE’ BY JONATHAN CROALL ·

(Stanley Wells’s article appeared in the Spectator, 8/23.)

Glenda Jackson might have made a magnificent Hamlet

The role of Hamlet is, Max Beerbohm famously wrote, ‘a hoop through which every eminent actor must, sooner or later, jump’. In this book, and in its online supplement, Jonathan Croall charts the flight through that hoop of pretty well all of the ‘eminent actors’ — male and female, young and not so young, white and black — who have taken the leap in British performances, from Michael Redgrave with the Old Vic company in 1950 to Andrew Scott at the Almeida in 2017.

The trajectory of the actor’s flight is of course different in every production. No play text is complete until it is performed, and every time it is performed it takes on a new identity, determined by factors such as the personalities of the actors, the place of performance, the interpretative ideas of the director, and even the weather — in a brief account of Hamlets at Elsinore, Croall records John Gielgud’s description of a performance there as resembling ‘extracts from the Lyceum production with wind and rain accompaniments’.

Moreover, even on the page Hamlet is the most fluid of texts. It’s come down to us in three versions: one corrupt (the ‘bad quarto’ of 1603) ; another printed as Shakespeare first completed it (the ‘good quarto’ of 1604–5); and a third with changes, omissions and additions made for performance, some of them of a topical and local nature (the First Folio text of 1623). If you try, as the 18th-century actor David Garrick put it, to ‘lose no drop of that immortal man’, you end up with a text of over 4,000 lines — the ‘eternity version’, as it has come to be known — rivalling in performance length the longest of Wagner’s operas. Most directors, like most editors, draw variously on the good quarto and the Folio.

View Performing Hamlet on Amazon

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Photo: Medium

***** ‘KING LEAR’ WITH IAN MCKELLEN (SV PICK, UK) ·

(Tim Walker’s article appeared in The New European, 8/14; via Pam Green.)

King Lear

 

Duke of York’s, London, until Nov 3

***** (Five stars)

Two kings, neither in full possession of their faculties, are currently holding dominion in the West End, and across the Thames, at the National Theatre. One is sublime, and the other is, quite frankly, a ridiculous pretender.

Let us pay court first to Sir Ian McKellen’s King Lear. The actor has played the title role in Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy several times before. I saw him in Sir Trevor Nunn’s much-hyped production of 2007, when he offered a performance of dazzling technical accomplishment. I have to say that it left me stone cold.

By contrast, his latest reprisal of the role – which he has hinted may well be his swan-song on stage – has moved me almost to the point of tears. I reacted differently for two reasons. It is, firstly, difficult now not to feel the contemporary resonance of the story of a leader who, by dint of one vain and ill-considered decision, renders asunder his kingdom and then comes to bitterly regret it. The king even stands before a Union flag in the opening scene as he rips up a map of his kingdom and hands out the pieces to his oleaginous but calculating daughters Goneril (Claire Price) and Regan (Kirsty Bushell).

Secondly, Sir Ian – nudging 80 – has grown into the part, both as a man and as an actor. He seems a lot less pre-occupied with the big, hammy gestures and vocal projection that have characterised so much of his stage work. He is finally feeling the role.

When he says “let me not be mad, not mad, sweet heaven,” you feel the man as much as the character speaking from the heart of his worst fear. A lot of it – and this is always the measure of great theatre – doesn’t feel like acting at all. It is as a consequence almost unbearably painful to watch.

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Photo:  Manuel Harlan