Monthly Archives: December 2023

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

Twelfth Night, or What You Will

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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

 

UKRAINE WARTIME MEMOIR AND PLAY NAVIGATES LOSS AND PRESERVING MEMORY OF FALLEN SOLDIERS (VIDEO) ·

(Kate Tsurkan’s article appeared in the Lyiv Independent, 12/30; Photo:  LVIV, UKRAINE – NOVEMBER 1: Graves of Ukrainian soldiers during the memorial day at the Lychakiv military cemetery on November 1, 2023 in Lviv, Ukraine. On November 1, Ukrainians mark the memorial day. The memory of fallen soldiers was honored at the Lychakiv Cemetery in Lviv. People leave flowers and candles on the graves. (Stanislav Ivanov/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images; Below: Watch the play, produced at Molodyi Teatr London.)

A historian by profession who has studied war for over a decade, Olesya Khromeychuk found her research spilling over into real life when her older brother Volodymyr was killed in 2017 near Popasna in Luhansk Oblast, nearly two years into his military service.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine’s Donbas region, which began in 2014, had mostly disappeared from international headlines by then, and “most Western Europeans did not even remember that there was a war raging in Eastern Europe.”

However, for the majority of Ukrainians, terms such as shelling, bombing, captivity, casualty, and war crimes have become more than just words in history books. These terms have increasingly encapsulated their reality over the past decade.

“The Death of a Soldier Told by His Sister,” Khromeychuk’s memoir, which was written mostly before the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022, is a reflection not only on the loss of a family member.

The book’s core delves into a profoundly personal experience of loss during the war in Ukraine. However, thanks to Khromeychuk’s strength, openness, and vulnerability, it also serves as a compass for navigating grief within an ever more conflict-ridden world.

The exact number of Ukrainian soldiers that have been killed since Russia launched its all-out war is unknown, but nearly every cemetery in the country has a section dedicated to the soldiers who have given their lives to defend Ukraine against Russian aggression.

As the prospect of a long-term war drags on, and more people are called up to serve on the front line, Ukraine is faced with questions of how, as a society, to mourn and commemorate the fallen.

Grieving the loss of a loved one is typically a personal journey. The lives of those who outlive them become divided into periods of “before” and “after” their death and the impact of this loss is not necessarily something that one wishes to divulge to just anyone.

However, when a life is taken during a war, loss inevitably transcends the personal realm. It becomes a collective grief felt by the nation and requires navigating sometimes surreal experiences accompanying such a tragedy. As Khromeychuk describes it, “there is nothing natural, nothing normal about death in a war.”

A poignant example of this in the memoir is how the public obituaries written for her brother deviated from who he really was. “If reality didn’t make it into the obituaries, then what does?” she wonders.

Given his previous military experience, Volodymyr Pavliv didn’t wait to be summoned for service. He volunteered to fight in the Donbas because he saw the Russian invasion as “a European war that just happened to start in Eastern Ukraine,” as he told his sister before his death.

Pavliv had been residing in the Netherlands beforehand, working as a laborer. After his death, the Ukrainian media portrayed him as a man who had given up his privileged life in the West to return and defend his homeland, mythologizing his decision. And yet, as Khromeychuk points out, the life of Ukrainian migrant workers is often anything but privileged.

Khromeychuk also writes about how she dealt with the layers of bureaucracy leading up to her brother’s funeral by writing down each task in the kind of small notepad she’d normally take with her on a research trip. Instead of conducting trips to archives or interviews, her tasks included visiting the morgue and picking a restaurant for the wake after the funeral service.

On the day of the funeral in Lviv, the church was filled not only with Pavliv’s loved ones but also with soldiers and members of the public. Khromeychuk and her family could not yet mourn him privately, something that was underscored by the presence of the media.

“They seemed to be everywhere: filming, taking photos. Part of me felt sorry for them: how do you find a good angle and decent light, in order to get good footage of a funeral in a gloomy old church?” she writes.

“But mostly I felt annoyed. With their lights and cameras, they were turning one of the most intimate moments–a final farewell–into something that resembled a theater show. I knew it was their job, but the last thing my family and I needed was to be filmed as we were being torn to pieces by grief.”

At the cemetery, the defiant wartime slogan “Heroes never die!” echoed among the crowd. While Khromeychuk acknowledges the sincerity and meaningfulness of the sentiment behind this powerful phrase, she confesses having dreaded that moment, feeling an overwhelming urge to shout: “Stop! He is dead! They’re about to put him in a grave!”

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BLACKLISTED LYRICIST YIP HARBURG: THE MAN WHO PUT THE RAINBOW IN THE WIZARD OF OZ ·

(from Democracy Now!, Dec 25, 2023 Latest Shows .)

Support our work: https://democracynow.org/give His name might not be familiar to many, but his songs are sung by millions around the world. Today, we take a journey through the life and work of Yip Harburg, the Broadway lyricist who wrote such hits as “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” and who put the music into The Wizard of Oz. Born into poverty on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Harburg always included a strong social and political component to his work, fighting racism and poverty. A lifelong socialist, Harburg was blacklisted and hounded throughout much of his life. We speak with Harburg’s son, Ernie Harburg, about the music and politics of his father. Then we take an in-depth look at The Wizard of Oz, and hear a medley of Harburg’s Broadway songs and the politics of the times in which they were created. This is a rebroadcast of a 2018 program. Democracy Now! is an independent global news hour that airs on over 1,500 TV and radio stations Monday through Friday. Watch our livestream at democracynow.org Mondays to Fridays 8-9 a.m. ET. Subscribe to our Daily Email Digest: https://democracynow.org/subscribe 

***** ‘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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ISRAEL RAIDS FREEDOM THEATRE IN JENIN REFUGEE CAMP; DIRECTOR SPEAKS OUT AFTER BEING JAILED & BEATEN ·

(Report from Democracy Now!; Photo: Middle East Institute.)

The Israeli military this week raided the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, a renowned cultural institution whose mission is to fight for Palestinian justice, equality and self-determination. It’s part of a wave of violence Israel has unleashed across the occupied West Bank since October 7, killing 58 people in Jenin alone even as the country intensifies its assault on Gaza. We speak with Freedom Theater artistic director Ahmed Tobasi, who was just released after being held for 24 hours. Two of his colleagues remain in Israeli detention. “The Israeli soldiers believe we are not human beings,” says Tobasi. “You are under occupation, and that’s your destiny as a Palestinian.” He decries the decades of international impunity under which the oppression of Palestinians operates, and calls on Americans to resist the use of their tax dollars to fund Israel’s violence. “They believe no one in this world can ask them to stop,” he says. We also get a reaction from Peter Schumann, the founder and director of the Bread and Puppet Theater, the legendary political and social justice-oriented theater company, marking its 60th year with a puppet show in New York City that is an ode to Gaza. Democracy Now! is an independent global news hour that airs on over 1,500 TV and radio stations Monday through Friday. Watch our livestream at democracynow.org

Dec 15, 2023 Latest Shows

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LES KURBAS, THE MAN WHO FORMED UKRAINIAN THEATER ·

(Andriy Bondar’s article appeared in the Kiv Post, 12/3; Photo:  Les Kurbas, c. 1908.)

The seeds sown by Les Kurbas on the Ukrainian stage sprouted in the following generations of artists, with great works of theatrical art and bold innovations of modern theater.

Theaters, streets and art centers bear the name of Les Kurbas, books and theses are written about him, his creative system is studied at art schools, and his phenomenon is scrutinized by numerous scholars and experts. A hundred years ago, the young man from western Ukraine, who preferred philosophical books and meditations to noisy pastimes, threw down the gauntlet to the old Ukrainian theater.

Les Kurbas (full name: Oleksandr-Zenon Kurbas), the famous Ukrainian director, philosopher, publicist and teacher, was born on Feb. 25, 1887, in the small town of Sambir, 70 km southwest of Lviv. His parents, who were actors, did their best to give him the finest education they could afford. He was one of the brightest students at the Ternopil gymnasium, and then Lviv University, where he took an active part in the student movement advocating Ukrainianization as opposed to Polonization.

In protest against the university leadership’s policy, he left Lviv for Vienna University, where he studied philosophy and took lectures in Slavistics. He also graduated from a drama school at the Vienna Conservatory.

He started out at several theaters in western Ukraine where he performed as an actor, but after several years he made what he described as a “decisive upshift,” becoming a stage director.

In the fall of 1917, two weeks before the Bolshevik coup, he founded and headed the Young Theater in Kyiv, and in March 1922 the Berezil Theater in Kharkiv. Berezil became a unique, innovative union of likeminded theater enthusiasts, with more than ten labs and workshops, including four in Kyiv. The others worked in Odesa and three towns near Kyiv. He sent his disciples to those labs to stage theatrical performances there. “My choice is Berezil, because it is a tempest, because it is a force, because it is an upheaval from which summer is born,” wrote Kurbas.

Berezil theater, Kharkiv. In 1922-1933, its walls witnessed a grandiose theatrical experiment under the guidance of the legendary reformer of the Ukrainian stage who was later expurgated as a “formalist” and a “political felon.” Here began his last road to the GULAG.

Raised at the threshold of great historical turbulence and transformations, Kurbas filled the stage with the sensation and spirit of his time, its dynamics and pulse. Destroying frozen forms of the old realistic art, he created a theater of revolutionary experiment, a theater that did not mirror life but turned it into a new esthetic reality; a theater of symbols and metaphors, of expression and grotesque; a theater dominated by the spirit of studio work and creative quest; a theater where the actors were masters of any genre – “intelligent harlequins,” as he called them.

Kurbas said, “Theater must be very modern.” He created his own theatrical system and brought up a generation of actors, directors, playwrights and stage designers who became the pride of Ukrainian theater.

Les Taniuk, the renowned Ukrainian stage and film director, member of parliament and public activist and one of the leaders of the People’s Rukh of Ukraine in the 1990s, described Kurbas as “a figure of the Renaissance scale” and a powerful personality: “I would say he was more than just a director. He was a philosopher who modeled a new reality. Kurbas was a trailblazer. When someone says that Kurbas reformed Ukrainian theater, I can’t agree with that. Kurbas didn’t just reform Ukrainian theater. He formed it.”

Cut down by the NKVD in his prime

Kurbas dreamed of elevating the Ukrainian stage up to the world level, but his wings were clipped at takeoff. The irrepressible reformer, who did not fit the canons of socialist realism and went against the grain of Communist policy, was excommunicated from theater. In 1933, he was arrested, charged with “counterrevolutionary and nationalist activities” and thrown into the chasm of Stalin’s concentration camps, where the best sons and daughters of Ukraine were exterminated.

(Read more)

‘PACIFIC OVERTURES’ REVIEW – SMALL SONDHEIM IS BEAUTIFULLY DONE ·

(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 12/5; Photo: Sparkling with knowing humour … Pacific Overtures at Menier Chocolate Factory. Photograph: The Stage.) 

Menier Chocolate Factory, London
Co-production with Osaka company brings 1976 study of American imperialism arriving in Japan to subtle, funny life

When Stephen Sondheim’s 1976 musical premiered on Broadway, it was staged in grand kabuki style. By contrast, this Umeda Arts Theater co-production, already mounted in Tokyo and Osaka, goes small – and beautiful.

Directed by Matthew White, the story of four 19th-century American warships that appear on the coast of Japan and open it up to westernising forces is performed straight through in under two hours. A snug traverse stage never looks tight, but is rammed with fast, funny theatricality.

The music is a pleasure, too, and creates an almost physical immersion in such an intimate space, with hammering drums in moments of high drama.

The staging brings great visual wit and wonder, from Ashley Nottingham’s attractive choreography to Paul Farnsworth’s set design. The warships first appear as paper boats held by actors, and later as a giant triangular sheet, alongside curved steel structures that look like expressionist nods to Hokusai’s The Great Wave.

Ayako Maeda’s costumes are variously witty and exquisite, while Paul Pyant’s lighting brings its own delicacy, projecting raindrops and rippling ocean water on to the floorboards.

Some scenes sprint, with instant set changes but without feverishness, while there is a meditative pacing to the songs. Welcome to Kanagawa, in which a madam prepares her geishas for the arriving Americans, averts the reductive cliches of Miss Saigon with its tongue-in-cheek humour. Someone in a Tree, capturing an elderly man’s memory of his younger self, is a delight.

The reciter (Jon Chew, shrewd and agile) looks like he has stepped out of a boyband. The friendship between samurai Kayama (Takuro Ohno), who is drawn towards western culture, and Manjiro (Joaquin Pedro Valdes), who takes the opposite trajectory, has a restrained affection even when the men fall out. The shogun is played with a gender twist by Saori Oda, who brings comic relish but never becomes outrightly clownish.

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CARY GRANT: THE MAN WE THOUGHT WE KNEW ·

Cary Grant was considered one of the world’s best-known movie stars, but it turns out there was plenty that audiences did not know about the debonair actor. In fact, he was born in England as Archibald Leach, and grew up impoverished and neglected, before finding his way to the U.S. and transforming into the silver screen star we know as Cary Grant. The BritBox series “Archie” explores the actor’s complicated past. Correspondent Seth Doane talks with actor Jason Isaacs, who plays Grant, as well as Grant’s fourth wife, actress Dyan Cannon, who is a producer of the series. #carygrant #archie “CBS News Sunday Morning” features stories on the arts, music, nature, entertainment, sports, history, science and Americana, and highlights unique human accomplishments and achievements. Check local listings for CBS News Sunday Morning broadcast times.

Read Cary Grant’s Recollections, along with seeing the new series:

From Kirkus Reviews

“Forget the other books. This is it. Superb.”

Review

Forget the other books, this is it. Superb. –Kirkus Reviews

Here’s a book as charming and likable as its subject and that’s saying a lot. –Booklist

The biography Cary Grant deserves . . . This is the standout Grant biography that should remain as his testament in print. –The Philadelphia Inquirer

“For a book about Grant that’s almost as much fun as his films, this is the genuine article.” ––Variety

“I adored Cary Grant—and I couldn’t put this wonderful book down. I read it in one sitting!” —Carol Burnett

“The first book about the real Cary—lively, warm, always entertaining, totally honest—like the man himself. —Gregory Peck

“It’s a funny, lovely book about Cary.” —Katharine Hepburn

“A charmer of a book. You’ll love spending Evenings with Cary Grant.” —Sidney Sheldon

“This wonderful book gives behind-the-scenes examples of an actor who was dedicated to the art of motion pictures and to the profession of acting.” —James Stewart

“Nancy Nelson has definitely captured the essence of CG in her wonderful book.” —Robert Wagner

“This delightful book gives everyone a chance to spend some time with that delightful person—Cary Grant.” —Helen Hayes

“It embraces the Cary Grant I knew and loved.” —Burt Reynold s “A truly wonderful book about a truly wonderful man.” —Liza Minnelli

“As one of the world’s great raconteurs, Cary Grant knew how to spin a yarn, tell a naughty joke, or shape a thoughtful observation. Thank God readers everywhere can now enjoy the company of this remarkable man.” —Jack Haley, Jr.

“In this book you will discover the real Cary Grant, and you will love him even more.” —John Forsythe

“An absolute treasure . . . the only authentic history of his life and loves . . . Reading this book will leave you with the feeling that you have just embraced the warm and wonderful Cary Grant. He was much more than a movie star. He was a magnificent man.” —Abigail (Dear Abby) Van Buren

“A celebration of a life well lived. Thank goodness there is a Nancy Nelson to tell the world about this beautiful human being we knew and loved.” —Jill St. John

A kind and gentle . . . shows the private man who doted on his daughter, lamented his failed marriages and could be as contemplative as he was comic.” –Baltimore Sun

The biography Cary Grant deserves . . . This is the standout Grant biography that should remain as his testament in print. –The Philadelphia Inquirer

 

‘IS MY PLAY STILL RELEVANT? I DON’T CARE!’ TOM STOPPARD ON HIS GAZA QUANDARY AND REVIVING ROCK ’N’ ROLL ·

(Claire Armitstead’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/29 Photo:  Power couple … Stoppard and Vaclav Havel attending Rock ’n’ Roll at the Royal Court in 2006. Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images.)

As his Velvet Revolution drama returns, the great writer talks about his mounting Israel-Gaza uncertainties, the epiphanies he has in every hot shower – and our one-star ‘corker’ review of The Crown

Tom Stoppard is chatting in the theatre bar when I arrive to interview him about a revival of his play Rock ’n’ Roll. He was comparing ailments with an elderly director friend, he says cheerfully, as he heads up the stairs, having declined an offer of the lift. At 86 he has the nonchalant elegance of a spy in a cold war thriller, lean and mop-haired in a discreetly expensive-looking coat.

Though Stoppard is feted around the world for some of the cleverest plays of the last 60 years, as well as the Oscar-winning screenplay for Shakespeare in Love, he is more gossipy than grand. “I said to him,” he reports of the conversation from which he has just been dragged away, “I’m being interviewed by the Guardian in half an hour and it’s supposed to be about Rock ’n’ Roll, but I’m going to have to have an opinion about Gaza, aren’t I?”

Would I have been a dissenter, or someone who kept his nose clean? I’ve a terrible feeling it would have been the latter

Being canvassed for opinions comes with the territory for a playwright whose identity straddles two of the biggest faultlines of 20th century history. His most recent play, Leopoldstadt, was a monumental reckoning with a Jewish heritage of which he only became aware in middle age. It ended with Leo, one of three survivors of a mighty dynasty, returning after the war to a Vienna of which he had no memory, having adopted his stepfather’s surname and lived in England since infancy.

Stoppard himself settled in England and adopted his stepfather’s name when he was eight, though his early childhood was spent not in Austria but Czechoslovakia. Rock ’n’ Roll, which premiered at the Royal Court in 2006, contains a different reckoning: what if, instead of getting remarried to an Englishman after the death of Stoppard’s doctor father in the war against Japan, his mother had returned to Soviet Czechoslovakia with him and his brother? “I thought I could write a play which was about myself as I imagined my life might have been from the age of eight,” he says. “And then I would find out whether I was brave enough to be a dissenter, or just somebody who would keep his head down and his nose clean. And I have a terrible feeling that it would have been the latter.”

Rock ’n’ Roll takes place between the viciously suppressed Prague Spring protests of 1968 and the period just after the Velvet Revolution of 1989, which put an end to four decades of communist rule and saw the Rolling Stones bring 100,000 fans out for a historic concert in Prague in 1990. The play is framed as a decades-long argument between Jan, a Cambridge PhD student who goes back to Czechoslovakia in 1968, only to become badly disillusioned and nostalgic for the freedoms of the west, and his English professor, Max, who remains a Marxist idealist.

Along the way it takes in the poetry of Sappho, the music of the Stones, Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett and Czech rock group the Plastic People of the Universe, whose arrest at a rock festival in 1976 was one of the inspirations behind the human rights protest Charter 77. The play is dedicated to Stoppard’s friend Václav Havel, who went on to become president of the country in 1989.

Ever since he made his stage debut with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in 1966, new Stoppard plays have been an event. Havel, Mick Jagger and the Plastic People were among the audience for the Royal Court premiere of Rock ’n’ Roll, along with Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, though sadly not Barrett, its wayward Pan figure, who died days after the play opened.

Why revive it now? Even then, it was a history play, he says. “Plays don’t become dated, they become a period, and that’s all to the good.” There’s the small matter that he hasn’t been moved to write anything new in the four years since Leopoldstadt. This is a rare visit to London from the Dorset cottage where he lives with his third wife, Sabrina Guinness. “I’m busy the whole time, but I’ve been completely unproductive,” he says. “And you know, I may have stopped without realising it.”

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