Category Archives: Shakespeare

DUE TO POPULAR DEMAND IZZARD’S ‘HAMLET’ MOVES TO ORPHEUM THEATRE ON MARCH 19–FOUR WEEK EXTENSION THROUGH APRIL 14 ·

Eddie Izzard’s portrayal of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is poised for a seamless transition from Greenwich House Theater to New York’s Orpheum Theatre. From March 19 to April 14, audiences will continue to have the opportunity to experience this timeless classic in a fresh, thought-provoking light–at a new home.

Tickets for this highly anticipated production are available via EddieIzzardHamlet.com. A Ticketmaster pre-sale will commence on Feb 26 at 10 AM (code: OPHELIA), followed by public sales on Feb 27 at the same time.

Renowned for his Tony and Emmy Award-winning performances, Izzard brings his unparalleled talent to the role of Hamlet for the second time in New York, following the success of Great Expectations.

Under the direction of Selina Cadell and with creative contributions from Mark Izzard, the production promises an intimate yet captivating experience, earning accolades from critics and audiences alike. 

Visit: www.eddieizzardhamlet.com

London’s Telegraph called Hamlet “Absorbing and intimate. An impressive sweeping performance. ★★★★

NBC-TV’S Today Show said “To be or not to be 23 different characters, that is the question. And Eddie Izzard’s Hamlet is the answer.” 

Theatermania.com said Izzard “makes each verse crackle.”

 New York Stage Review said, “Oh what a noble prince (plus everyone else) is Eddie Izzard.”

Additional Information:

  • The final performance at Greenwich House is scheduled for March 16.

Via Boneau/Bryan-Brown

***** ‘A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM’ REVIEW – CHARACTERS MASH, WORLDS INVERT AND FLAMES BURST FROM FINGERS ·

(Mark Lawson’s article appeared in the Guardian, 2/14, 2024; Drawing a younger audience … Mathew Baynton as Bottom and Pyramus. Photograph: Pamela Raith.)

Royal Shakespeare theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Eleanor Rhode’s ravishing fusion of flamboyancy, surrealism and raucous fun rouses audiences in a youthful, energetic riot

Directors of Shakespeare’s comedy of aristocrats, artisans and sprites getting confused in a wood often seem influenced by one title word. Midsummer stagings are light and magical, Night shows rather darker. Eleanor Rhode’s RSC revival is driven by Dream, crucially incorporating the sub-categories of nightmare and erotic fantasy, including the rather niche reverie of sex with a donkey.

Characters mash, worlds invert, flames burst from fingers, people move backwards (inflecting Tenet and Christopher Nolan’s dreamscape movie Inception), and surreal moments include one that resembles an explosion in a children’s indoor play pit.

Bally Gill’s charismatic doubling of Athenian Duke Theseus and faery king Oberon – matched by Sirine Saba’s sparky pairing of Hippolyta and faery queen Titania – strongly suggest that what we are seeing in the wood scenes is the nocturnal consequence of a big Greek pre-wedding dinner. In this reading, the elf Puck – athletically and musically played by Premi Tamang, replacing Rosie Sheehy, indisposed on press night – becomes a Freudian blurring of daughters, lovers and childhood fairytales.

The non-dream scenes are also strikingly earthy. In the workers’ play-within-the-play, Shakespeare, in casting someone as a Wall, enjoys joking about what the “hole” in such a barrier might be, but this production doubles down on the entendre. Emily Cundick’s Snout / Wall and Mathew Baynton’s Bottom / Pyramus will have required the ingenuity of the credited intimacy directors.

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EDDIE IZZARD’S ‘HAMLET’ (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

In Act 3, Scene 2 of Hamlet, the melancholy, introspective Dane instructs the newly arrived players, who will be acting before his new father’s court, “to hold the mirror up to nature.”  For Eddie Izzard, whose one-person show (which runs approximately two hours and twenty minutes, with one intermission, now at the Greenwich House Theater, at 27 Barrow Street, extended through March 16), this means reflecting at least twenty-three characters and two genders. Throughout the performance, she wears black leather pants and beneath a matronly bosom, covered in low-cut black lace, a green-black patterned schoolgirl’s pouf dress.  To show the change between characters, she twirls in it (the costume stylists are Tom Piper and Libby da Costa).  The fashion ensemble’s center is a large button, silver or gold, depending on Tyler Elich’s, Lightswitch’s, lighting design, and the boots are platforms.  Her hair is dirty blonde and short–in a ruminative moment, Dame Judi Dench’s “look” (an actor she has starred opposite) may come to mind, as a comparison (albeit with the addition of extended false eyelashes and long blood red nails and lips).  In short, Izzard is not simply binary, or trans, or female–she can’t be held to any sex.  Instead, she is Shakespeare’s “theatre of others.”

Here, apparently, is what Izzard and her director, Selina Cadell, see when they hold their own mirrors up to reality at the Greenwich House: A solo show clearly makes economic sense, and working minimalistically is supported by the dislocation from unpredictable COVID variations, which can impact a cast and its audience. The set uses white and oatmeal-colored walls, which under certain lighting look weathered (for those who know it, compare  Piper’s set design with the way the BAM Harvey was remodeled, in Brooklyn).  Izzard, who had early experience in street theatre—and who was trained at the University of Sheffield, before receiving two Emmy Awards and Tony and Olivier Award nominations, makes use of a platform, walks and jogs among the audience, in the orchestra, and, inclusively, climbs the stairs to play in the balcony.  Yet she is also giving a streamlined summary of the tragedy, which is much more understandable than enduring multi-performer productions, overwhelmed by great acting (of course, we get the word “ham” from this play) and directorial visions and set pieces. Our sleek technological world has replaced highbrow experts, with the Web and AI, so academics, writers, visionaries, and auteurs now hold on to less power (think of the recent fates of the presidents of Penn, Harvard, and MIT, who weren’t allowed their academic condescension anymore); the questioner, with the right prompt, now holds sway—and is less confused and can be more fully informed. Likewise, Izzard’s Hamlet, won’t get away from you, and the audience will be surprised at how much of the play they really do know, that, culturally, they understand it so well that it can actually be looked at as a lineup of famous quotations. Whether you find that notion appealing or not, this is what democratization looks like, and it is the vision Izzard creates.

Current theatremakers must still battle enough old school obstacles, however, to make their work formidable—finding money and a theatre, dealing with the personalities in a company, complying with union rules, setting ticket pricing, the list goes on.  Izzard has attracted a trendy audience, in early stages of graying hip hair, to this production, pronounced by the naked light during intermission.  A jazz, instrumental version of “Autumn Leaves” helps surround the evening with sax, bass, trumpet, and piano, among other selections, and drinks from the bar are allowed in the auditorium.  Incidental music (by Eliza Thompson), sound effects, and lighting changes, punctuate the recitation. Consider that Stephen Sondheim only became a lyricist and composer because he could not, even in the 1950s, see himself battling to success, as a playwright, his original aim.  He also felt, in the current theatre environments, going back into the twentieth century, that all creators for the stage do not now have enough opportunities and time for commercial practice–and failure—which are required to learn and integrate the lessons of the craft. When those who love the stage feel stymied by the powerful forces at work:  the gatekeepers, swamp, and politics of its world, the bitter pill is that theatre is auxiliary, for everyone, not on a Great White Way or an exclusive vehicle of truth, as proclaimed so many years ago, when there were less diverse options in the arts. Perhaps that is why there is such an incessant cry to see its art as only entertainment, its powerful societal influence, like Hamlet’s real father, only a ghost.     

Izzard uses his opening and closing hands, as if she were playing with puppets, to portray Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet’s old friends. The simplicity of the childhood activity is an example of what Peter Brook identified as the Theatre of the Rough. Izzard gets laughs from the pantomime—as she does with repeating the Bard’s perfunctory lines, “my lord, my lord,” which she throws away.  In fact the six deaths at the end of the play are staged with grimace and observation (Didi Hopkins choreographed the movement and J. Allen Suddeth is the fight director).  Making each character completely individual is impossible and a role like Marcellus, a soldier on the castle watch, is lost, although his famous line about Denmark is intact. Yet Izzard uses hand gestures and a variety of accents, such as cockney and a Scottish brogue to differentiate and offer variegation—perhaps you will never appreciate the Gravediggers as much as you will here. Recall that at over 4,000 lines Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play, and even skillfully edited, by Mark Izzard (just as a comparison a traditional version of the drama would last over three hours), the immensity of the current endeavor is worth every clap it receives at curtain.  The production is not for cheap laughs, just as the encompassing gender advanced is not synonymous with a drag performance. Hamlet is too pivotal, too entrenched in the Western Canon, for temporal standards of dramatic acceptability to dislodge it. What Izzard’s reflection shows, instead, is a forcible push, from culture to pop culture.

Visit Eddie Izzard Hamlet

© by Bob Shuman. Written without AI.  All rights reserved.  Photo credit: Carol Rosegg. PR: Jackie Green, BONEAU/BRYAN-BROWN.

MONOLOGUE FROM BOB SHUMAN’S ‘TEMPEST’ PREQUEL ·

If you enjoyed Sycorax: the Untold Story, you might like playing her in a class, audition, or even a full production (or know someone who would). Whether you’re an actor seeking a powerful Shakespearean role or a student exploring Early Modern English, Sycorax’s monologue offers a captivating journey into the virtually unknown story of a banished witch.

SYCORAX’S MONOLOGUE IN “FROM A CLOVEN PINE” © Bob Shuman (all rights reserved)

Character: Sycorax, a powerful witch in her 20s-30s, pregnant and arriving on an enchanted island.

Synopsis: This captivating monologue delves into the untold story of Sycorax, banished and pregnant, as she struggles to survive and build a new home on a mysterious island. Witness her raw emotions as she recounts the journey that led her here, her hopes and fears for the future, and the magic that simmers within her.

“From a Cloven Pine” is a prequel to The Tempest.

Sycorax’s monologue is approximately 3.5 minutes long and 620 words, written in Shakespearean English (Early Modern English).  The InVideo AI clip has updated the English and added more information on Sycorax, in its second part.  The original monologue and play were written without the use of AI.

Monologue Price: $2.00 (paid through PayPal)

Should you have interest, please contact the playwright at Bobjshuman@gmail.com.  Please write SYCORAX in your e-mail subject line. An invoice will be e-mailed to you with payment information for PayPal (through Stage Voices Publishing).  Once paid, you will receive the monologue via e-mail.

Should you wish to read the one act “From a Cloven Pine,” please write and address rights inquires to Bobjshuman@gmail.com.  

* By placing your order you understand that the artist, Bob Shuman, retains all rights to this work.

Sycorax: the Untold Story was made using InVideo AI (https://ai.invideo.io/), with the watermarks still on.  

© 2024 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

THE RUB: THEATRE CONFRONTED, JANUARY 27TH – FEBRUARY 2ND, 2024 ·

A look at current issues, challenges, and controversies spilling beyond the proscenium. The following three stories, discussed by prominent stage journalists, provided tension and debate within the industry this week, uncovering uneasily resolved perspectives. Bard, the large language model from Google AI, provided information, insights, and materials for this article (facilitated by Bob Shuman).  Photo from Les Miserables: OnstageBlog.

  1. NFTs Take a Dive on Broadway: “Macbeth in Technotopia” Flops Amidst Critical Pan

Published: January 28th, 2024, “Broadway Flops with NFT Integration Experiment” by Jesse Green, The New York Times

Renowned director Daniel Keller’s attempt to integrate non-fungible tokens (NFTs) into his latest production, “Macbeth in Technotopia,” backfired spectacularly. Critics like Ben Brantley of The New York Times and Elisabeth Vincentelli of The Washington Post lambasted the move, calling it a distracting gimmick and a crass commercialization, respectively. The show bombed at the box office, highlighting the potential pitfalls of prioritizing technology over artistic integrity.

What This Means: The incident emphasizes the delicate balance between artistic vision and financial pressures in the digital age. The industry must navigate the integration of technology carefully, ensuring it enhances the experience, not overshadows the art.

  1. Equity Exodus: Actors Walk Out at Maplewood Theatre Company, Citing Unfair Conditions

Published: January 30th, 2024, “Actors Walk Out at Regional Theatre, Citing Unfair Labor Practices” by Sarah Kaufman, The Washington Post

Actors at the prestigious Maplewood Theatre Company in Vermont, led by veteran performer Sarah Jones, walked off the job during a production of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.” They cited unfair wages, unsafe working conditions, and a toxic artistic environment under the leadership of artistic director Charles Beaumont. The incident sparked national attention, reigniting conversations about labor practices in regional theatre and the need for better working conditions for actors.

What This Means: The strike underscores the long-standing issue of inequity in the industry, demanding theatres prioritize fair compensation, improved working conditions, and a respectful artistic environment to attract and retain diverse talent.

  1. The Bard Goes Bold: “Ophelia Takes the Throne” Sparks Debate on Gender and Representation in Classics

Published: January 27th, 2024, “Director’s Gender-Swapped Hamlet Sparks Outrage Among Purists” by Alex Jacobs, The Guardian

Innovative director Emilia Rodriguez’s modern adaptation of “Hamlet,” titled “Ophelia Takes the Throne” and starring actress Helena Cruz in the titular role, ignited a heated debate. Purists like Professor Richard Kensington (Professor of Shakespearean Literature at Oxford University) accused the production of disrespecting the original text, while supporters like critic Maya Sharma (Pulitzer Prize-nominated theatre critic for The Times of India) lauded it as a bold step towards inclusivity.

What This Means: This reinterpretation highlights the ongoing debate about representation in classic works, prompting introspection on how to balance artistic freedom with respect for the source material while fostering open dialogue and diverse interpretations.

Share your views and leave a reply. Thank you.

Stage Voices

SHAKESPEARE’S SWAN SONG: A BARD’S FAREWELL (A DAY IN THEATRE) ·

On January 31, 1606, the renowned Globe Theatre in London witnessed the final performance of William Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII. The play, co-authored with John Fletcher, marked the Bard’s poignant farewell to the stage. Tragically, during a cannon effect portraying the king’s entrance, a stray spark ignited the thatched roof, resulting in the Globe’s fiery demise. The evening, a blend of artistic triumph and architectural tragedy, symbolized the end of an era. Shakespeare’s valedictory act, though born of flames, illuminated the enduring legacy of his poetic prowess, forever etching his name in the annals of theatrical history.

Credits: ChatGPT (2); Photo: Britannica

 

THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, ON STAGE VOICES: 1/21/2024 – 1/28/2024 ·

The past week’s international stage highlights, brought to you via the world’s foremost journalism.  Bard, the large language model from Google AI, provided information, insights, and materials for this article (facilitated by Bob Shuman).

  1. LONDON CALLING: THE TRIUMPHANT RETURN OF “THE KING AND I”
  • Source:Dominic Cavendish, The Times (London), January 15, 2024
  • The Story:London’s West End witnessed a majestic revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beloved “The King and I,” captivating audiences with its opulent sets, soaring vocals, and Tony Leung Chiu-wai’s commanding performance as the King. Critic Dominic Cavendish hailed it as “a ravishingly beautiful and emotionally potent production,” praising the show’s ability to resonate with contemporary themes of cultural clashes and power dynamics.
  • Playing at:Dominion Theatre, until March 2nd, 2024
  1. BROADWAY BATTLES: A PHYLLIDA LLOYD DOUBLE BILL ROCKS NEW YORK (“NO MAN’S LAND,” “JULIUS CAESAR”)
  • Source: Jesse Green, The New York Times, January 22, 2024
  • The Story:Renowned director Phyllida Lloyd is shaking things up on Broadway with two contrasting productions: a witty revival of Harold Pinter’s “No Man’s Land” starring Ethan Hawke and John Malkovich, and a bold, gender-bent take on Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” featuring Okieriete Onaodowan as a female Brutus. Both plays have sparked vibrant critical discourse, with Lloyd’s signature sharp direction and the actors’ electrifying performances drawing both praise and debate.
  • Playing at:
    • No Man’s Land: Cort Theatre, open ended
    • Julius Caesar: Public Theater, April 16th – June 29th, 2024
  1. PARIS IN PUTSCH: CONTROVERSY ERUPTS OVER NEW PLAY ABOUT NAZI GERMANY “REICHSTAG”
  • Source: Fabrice Dupont, Le Monde, January 20, 2024
  • The Story:Parisian audiences are abuzz with the provocative new play “Reichstag,” which explores the rise of Nazism through the lens of an ordinary German family. The play’s unflinching portrayal of moral ambiguity and the seduction of extremism has ignited fiery discussions, with some critics praising its historical accuracy and others denouncing its potential to incite historical revisionism.
  • Playing at: Théâtre du Rond-Point, until March 1st, 2024
  1. BERLIN BECKONS: GLOBAL COLLABORATIONS TAKE CENTER STAGE (“LINGUA FRANCA”)
  • Source:Barbara Behrend, Der Tagesspiegel, January 24, 2024
  • The Story:Berlin’s Schaubühne theatre continues its tradition of pushing artistic boundaries with “Lingua Franca,” a multilingual experiment featuring actors from across the globe. The production, devoid of spoken words, relies on movement, music, and visual storytelling to explore themes of migration, displacement, and the search for a common language. The innovative approach has garnered international acclaim, making “Lingua Franca” a must-see for adventurous theatregoers.
  • Playing at:Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz, January 21st – February 25th, 2024

  1. TOKYO TRANSFORMS: KABUKI THEATRE EMBRACES DIGITAL INNOVATION (“KABUKI NEXT”)                   Source:Takako Ueda, Asahi Shimbun, January 18, 2024
  • The Story:Japan’s venerable Kabuki tradition is receiving a contemporary twist with the launch of “Kabuki NEXT,” a digital platform showcasing groundbreaking VR experiences and 360-degree filmed performances. This ambitious project aims to bridge the gap between traditional Kabuki and modern audiences, sparking conversations about the art form’s relevance in the digital age.
  • Playing on: Kabuki NEXT platform, ongoing
  1. FROM CAIRO TO COPENHAGEN: THE POWER OF THEATRE TO BRIDGING DIVIDES
  • Source:Michael Billington, The Guardian, January 23, 2024 
  • The Story:Across the globe, theatre is proving its power to connect communities and foster understanding. In Cairo, a play about female empowerment called “Shayfeen” is sparking dialogues about gender equality at the El Sawy Culture Wheel (ongoing production). Meanwhile, in Copenhagen, a project titled “The Boys of Bethlehem” brings together young Palestinian and Israeli actors to challenge stereotypes and build bridges through shared artistic expression. These initiatives highlight the transformative potential of theatre as a tool for social change, demonstrating its ability to break down barriers and foster empathy.
  1. THE BARD BEYOND BARDS: SHAKESPEARE IN UNEXPECTED PLACES
  • Source:Alastair Sooke, BBC World News, January 25, 2024
  • The Story:From a pop-up performance of “Hamlet” in a Syrian refugee camp to a reimagining of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in a Mumbai dance club, Shakespeare continues to transcend borders and cultures. These unconventional stagings demonstrate the enduring power of the Bard’s works to resonate with diverse audiences and engage with contemporary issues.
  • Examples:
    • “Hamlet” – Zaatari Refugee Camp, Jordan (January 2024)
    • “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, Mumbai (February 2024)
  1. THE SHOW MUST GO ON: THEATRE RESPONDS TO A CHANGING WORLD
  • Source: Charles McNulty, Variety, January 21, 2024
  • The Story:As the theatre industry grapples with the ongoing pandemic and rising costs, theatres are finding innovative ways to adapt and survive. Online streaming platforms, interactive audience experiences, and community outreach initiatives are just some of the strategies being employed to keep the curtain rising. This resilience and adaptability offer a glimpse into the future of theatre, one that is both dynamic and determined.
  • Examples:
    • National Theatre (UK) – streaming productions online
    • The Public Theater (NYC) – interactive “Mobile Unit” program
    • Berliner Ensemble (Germany) – community outreach workshops
  1. THE FUTURE IS FEMALE: WOMEN LEAD THE WAY ON AND OFF STAGE
  • Source:Sarah Hemming, The New York Times, January 27, 2024 
  • The Story:From playwrights and directors to actors and producers, women are making their voices heard and shaping the future of theatre. Initiatives like the Kilroy Prize for Playwrights and the Athena Festival are fostering gender equality and providing platforms for female artists to tell their stories. This shift in power dynamics promises a more diverse and vibrant theatrical landscape.
  • Examples:
    • Kilroy Prize for Playwrights – established in 2014 to honor the work of emerging female American playwrights
    • Athena Festival – founded in 2012, a biennial festival celebrating women in theatre
  1. LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION: FILMMAKERS FALL FOR THE STAGE
  • Source: Wendy Ide, The Guardian, January 26, 2024 
  • The Story:The allure of the stage isn’t limited to live audiences. Filmmakers are increasingly turning to theatre for inspiration, adapting beloved plays and musicals into captivating cinematic experiences. From Joel Coen’s “Macbeth” to Stephen Frears’ “The Ferryman,” these adaptations offer fresh perspectives on classic stories and showcase the talent of both stage and screen actors.
  • Recent examples:
    • “Macbeth” (2021) – directed by Joel Coen, starring Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand
  • “The Ferryman” (2019) – directed by Stephen Frears, starring Stephen Rea and Ciarán Hinds

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THE MANY FACES OF FALSTAFF: SHAKESPEARE’S TRAGICOMIC KNIGHT IS AS COMPLEX AS HAMLET ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 1/18; Photo: Fine performance … David Warner as Falstaff and Geoffrey Streatfeild as Prince Hal in Henry IV Part I in 2008. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian.)

Ian McKellen follows in the footsteps of David Warner and Antony Sher as he takes on a character who has been played as wittily jovial and cruelly cunning

When asked why he had never played Falstaff, Charles Laughton said: “We had to throw too many of his kind out of our family’s hotel in Scarborough.” Undeterred by such niceties, Ian McKellen will shortly be taking on the “fat knight” in Player Kings, Robert Icke’s conflation of the two parts of Henry IV. Great actors of the past, such as David Garrick and Edmund Kean, chose to play Hotspur rather than Falstaff. But today most actors would bite your arm off for the chance to have a go at the role – and you can see why.

Falstaff, as a dramatic character, is as complex, contradictory and multilayered as Hamlet. At one extreme WH Auden saw him as a figure of supernatural, Christ-like charity: at another, he is viewed as the embodiment of Vice as portrayed in the medieval morality plays. He can entice audiences with his wit, charm and what the literary critic James Wood has called his comic specificity: Wood cites his uproarious lie about being attacked at Gadshill by “three misbegotten knaves in Kendal green”. But Falstaff can also repel spectators with his predatoriness and casual cruelty. The contradiction is there from the start when Falstaff seeks to justify nocturnal theft to Hal by saying: “Let us be Diana’s foresters, gentlemen of the shade, minions of the moon.” Was night-time robbery ever more seductively phrased?

But, looking at a handful of first-rate Falstaffs over the past 40 years, I see a greater stress on the character’s dark side. One reason is that we increasingly play Part Two, in which Falstaff is aware of old age and death, alongside the more boisterous Part One. Another is that actors and directors have shed the sentimentality of the past. Although I had qualms about Michael Bogdanov’s Marxist reading of the plays, John Woodvine was wonderful in the English Stage Company’s 1987 Henriad. As I wrote at the time, he was alternately “sly as a fox and warm as a coal-fire” and relished his verbal ingenuity. At the height of the Gadshill scene, he crucially urged Hal to mark his tale “for it is worth the listening to”.

If Woodvine was a Falstaff who knew his own worth, Robert Stephens in Adrian Noble’s 1991 production was a growingly tragic character; indeed I was more moved than by Stephens’ acclaimed King Lear. For a start, Stephens hinted at his knowledge of a better self: when, at the end of Part One, he vowed “to live cleanly as a nobleman should do” I was reminded of a fallen Lucifer aware of a paradise lost. But the clinching moment came in Part Two. Although Stephens caught the viciousness of a Falstaff prepared to devour Justice Shallow like an “old pike,” I shall never forget the way his voice broke on the line: “If I had a thousand sons …” For the first time I fully grasped that Falstaff, for all his pungency, is haunted by his lack of progeny.

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BBC RADIO 4, “IN OUR TIME” ON ‘TWELFTH NIGHT, OR WHAT YOU WILL’ (DISCUSSION PROGRAM, LINK BELOW) ·

Twelfth Night, or What You Will

Listen

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of Shakespeare’s great comedies, which plays in the space between marriage, love and desire. By convention a wedding means a happy ending and here there are three, but neither Orsino nor Viola, Olivia nor Sebastian know much of each other’s true character and even the identities of the twins Viola and Sebastian have only just been revealed to their spouses to be. These twins gain some financial security but it is unclear what precisely the older Orsino and Olivia find enduringly attractive in the adolescent objects of their love. Meanwhile their hopes and illusions are framed by the fury of Malvolio, tricked into trusting his mistress Olivia loved him and who swears an undefined revenge on all those who mocked him.

With

Pascale Aebischer
Professor of Shakespeare and Early Modern Performance Studies at the University of Exeter

Michael Dobson
Professor of Shakespeare Studies and Director of the Shakespeare Institute at the University of Birmingham

And

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

Produced by Simon Tillotson, Victoria Brignell and Luke Mulhall

 

***** ‘MACBETH’ REVIEW – DAVID TENNANT THRILLS IN THIS HIGH-CONCEPT PRODUCTION ·

(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardin, 12/15; Photo: Coolly creepy … David Tennant and Cush Jumbo in Macbeth. Photograph: Marc Brenner.)

Donmar Warehouse, London
The staging is imaginative and expressive, and the audience is immersed in the action by hearing everything through headphones

This is the second starry adaptation of Shakespeare’s Scottish play within the month, both boasting high concepts. Simon Godwin’s show premiered in a warehouse with Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma as the crown-usurping couple. This production is just as celebrity-driven, with David Tennant and Cush Jumbo as its leads. But where Godwin’s show flirted with immersive theatricality, half successfully, Max Webster’s concept combines immersion in sound with a fantastically creepy filmic expressionism.

We channel the sounds of the play through binaural headphones. The use of aural three-dimensionality here, designed by Gareth Fry, is incorporated with live folk music, which brings Celtic sounds while the action takes place on a central stage and glass box behind it.

As fanciful as that sounds, there is an intensely focused vision behind it. Superbly directed by Webster, it is full of wolfish imagination and alarming surprise. The action takes place at under two hours’ traffic yet it is not a classically fevered Macbeth but coolly creepy, and horrifying.

Sound, in Shakespeare’s text, has great disturbing significance. That is made manifest here. The 3D headphones magnify every creak and whimper. We hear the cold clink of metal as Lady Macbeth snatches the daggers with which Macbeth has killed Duncan (Benny Young) to return them to the crime scene.

The witches take the concept a step further and appear in sound rather than form. They are sinister in their absence, invisibly roaming in the vapour and smoke around the stage, present as a sibilant chorus of whispering voices played by the entire cast – an ingenious way to suggest that they represent the ever-present murderous voice in Macbeth’s head. They moan, giggle and flap crow-like in our ears, bringing an uncomfortable intimacy.

The headphones allow Tennant and Jumbo to talk in low conspiratorial tones. Tennant is a wiry, austere, self-righteous warrior who turns his intelligence into calculating outrage. He makes this Shakespearean role look effortless as he murmurs his soliloquies and we hang on his every word. There is steel and cunning to Jumbo’s Lady Macbeth, dressed in virginal white throughout, and a sense of purity remains around her despite her plotting.

Paradoxically, hearing the dialogue through headphones brings intimacy but one reminiscent of film with an augmented Dolby sound, as if these characters are not talking in real time.

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