Category Archives: History

‘THE BACCHAE’ BY EURIPIDES (ON BBC RADIO 4 “IN OUR TIME”—DISCUSSION PROGRAM) ·

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Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Euripides’ great tragedy, which was first performed in Athens in 405 BC when the Athenians were on the point of defeat and humiliation in a long war with Sparta. The action seen or described on stage was brutal: Pentheus, king of Thebes, is torn into pieces by his mother in a Bacchic frenzy and his grandparents condemned to crawl away as snakes. All this happened because Pentheus had denied the divinity of his cousin Dionysus, known to the audience as god of wine, theatre, fertility and religious ecstasy. The image above is a detail of a Red-Figure Cup showing the death of Pentheus (exterior) and a Maenad (interior), painted c. 480 BC by the Douris painter. This object can be found at the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. With Edith Hall Professor of Classics at King’s College London Emily Wilson Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania And Rosie Wyles Lecturer in Classical History and Literature at the University of Kent Producer: Simon Tillotson

A NEW SHAKESPEARE PLOT: GARDEN OF BARD’S DAUGHTER TO BE RECREATED ·

 

William Shakespeare. Portrait of William Shakespeare 1564-1616. Chromolithography after Hombres y Mujeres celebres 1877, Barcelona Spain

(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Guardian, 7/17; via Pam Green.)

Remedies used by healer Susanna Hall and her doctor husband will be planted at Stratford home

In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia offers rosemary to boost memory, while in A Midsummer Night’s Dream Puck pours the juice of “love-in-idleness” on to the sleeping eyelids of Titania, making her “madly dote” on Bottom wearing an ass’s head.

The magical power of herbs and flowers that Shakespeare recognised is now inspiring the recreation of a 17th-century herbal garden in the historic 1613 house that his daughter Susanna shared with her husband, John Hall, a physician who is believed to have advised his father-in-law on medical ailments.

Documentary evidence shows that the vast majority of Hall’s patients were women, and the herb garden at his home, Hall’s Croft in Stratford-upon-Avon, will be filled with the sort of plants that he used in treating them. The site is overseen by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (SBT), which is collaborating with the University of Brighton on a major research project focusing on Susanna.

As part of their research, they are drawing on Hall’s 400-year-old medical casebook which was recently translated from Latin into English. Between 1611 and 1635, he recorded symptoms and treatments for 178 cases.

Hall, who was educated at Queens’ College, Cambridge, emerges from its pages as a compassionate scholar-physician. Among his treatments was rhubarb, which helped sort out “constipation of the belly, melancholy, sleeplessness”, while borage, mallow and mugwort calmed “frenzy after childbirth”, now understood as postnatal mental health issues. Rosemary appears repeatedly, treating Susanna’s own scurvy, back pain and “melancholy”.

The project is headed by Dr Ailsa Grant Ferguson, principal lecturer in literature at the University of Brighton. “We’re going to create a garden with the plants that were actually used for women’s health, particularly reproductive health, looking at how that was treated and how we might treat it now,” she told the Observer.

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IRELAND MARKS BLOOMSDAY WITH PLAY ABOUT ULYSSES OBSCENITY TRIAL ·

(Rory Carroll’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/16/22; Photo: James Joyce in Zurich in 1915. Photograph: Granger Historical Picture Archive/Alamy.)

1933 trial that vindicated ‘pornographic’ James Joyce novel made into play to be staged in Dublin

It was a seminal literary trial in which a book itself – not its author or publisher – was the defendant.

The United States v One Book Called Ulysses, as the case was termed, put James Joyce’s masterpiece, which had been banned for obscenity, on trial in a New York courtroom in 1933. The landmark ruling in favour of Ulysses resounded across the world and helped lift bans in other jurisdictions, including the UK.

The victory for freedom of speech eventually faded into history, a dusty footnote, but now it has been turned into a play that will be performed in Dublin to mark the centenary of the publication of Ulysses.

“A history play is never about history it’s always about today, and this seemed a good time to be talking about cancellation and censorship,” said the author, Colin Murphy. “I like stories that can flip how we think about things today.”

The performance of The United States v Ulysses at the Pavilion theatre in Dún Laoghaire will be one of dozens of events on Thursday to celebrate Bloomsday, named after Leopold Bloom, the hero of Joyce’s novel, which recounts his wanderings around Dublin on a single day, 16 June 1904.

The annual celebration – a mix of tours, readings, concerts, screenings, reenactments and tributes – has additional resonance this year as it marks a century since the book’s publication in 1922, a keystone for modern literature.

The Museum of Literature Ireland – its acronym MoLI is an homage to Bloom’s fictional wife Molly – collaborated with 35 Irish embassies and consulates to make a short film, titled Hold to the Now, that mixes scholars and actors, including Stephen Fry. It will premiere on YouTube on Thursday morning.

The day will also mark the first public staged performance of Murphy’s play, which draws on case files, other historical material, and Set at Random, a novel by Declan Dunne about the trial.

“I thought I knew the Joyce story but this had completely passed me by,” said Murphy. “For us Joyce is an Irish story so it was surprising to find this American leg, and this leg is crucial. The verdict creates the possibility of Joyce as a part of mass popular culture.”

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‘WE KEPT OUR BEARDS’: OBERAMMERGAU’S PASSION PLAY EMERGES FROM PANDEMIC ·

(Kate Connolly’s article appeared in the Guardian, 5/14/22; Photo:  Frederik Mayet as Jesus Christ in the 42nd Oberammergau passion play. Photograph: Lukas Barth/Reuters.)

In 1633 the Bavarian village vowed to stage its play every 10 years if it survived the plague. It did then and has again

From his perch in the orchestra pit of the Oberammergau stage, Christian Stückl nods and points to his players above, trying to offer them helpful instructions as their dress rehearsal to a half-full house of mainly local people gets under way.

“It is hard to believe we’ve got this far. I keep waiting for something to go wrong, but apart from a couple of older men forgetting their lines there’s really nothing to complain about,” the director says at the end of the five-and-a-half-hour show.

The villagers of Oberammergau in the Bavarian Alps are in a state of excitement. Their “passion play” – which in 1633 their forebears vowed to God they would stage every 10 years if they were spared further deaths from the plague (they were) – is back again after having been thrown off its usual schedule by two years owing to the latest pandemic.

Depicting the life, persecution, death and resurrection of Jesus, the 42nd season of what is believed to be the oldest continuous running amateur theatre production in the world will open on Saturday with a 103-performance run until October.

The play is the village’s raison d’etre. It is taken for granted that almost every one of the 5,200 residents who is eligible, from babies to nonagenarians, plays a part either on or off the stage. All children are allowed, as is anyone who has lived in the village for 20 years or more.

After being postponed for two years due to Covid, the passion play will be performed from 14 May to 2 October. 

“The last time we had to delay was 100 years ago, due to the Spanish flu, as well as deaths and injuries from the first world war, after which it was rescheduled for 1922,” Stückl says. “Pandemics and the passion play have a certain tradition.”

Despite misgivings over whether it would be able to go ahead, the usual decree went out on Ash Wednesday last year, forbidding male participants from cutting their hair or shaving their beards until the production closed the following October.

“It was hard for us to believe until recently that it would actually go ahead as the coronavirus infection rate had exploded, but most of us stuck to the rules and didn’t cut our beards in the hope it still would,” said Werner Richter, a taxi driver who has taken part in every production since 1970. His grandchildren are among the 400 youngsters on stage and his son, Andreas, a former Jesus and a psychologist by profession, has one of the lead roles as the high priest Caiaphas.

About 400 players who had signed up to take part in 2020 were forced to drop out, some due to changing life plans, others owing to their refusal to be vaccinated or to take a daily test. The Catalan donkey Sancho, on whose back Jesus was due to ride into Jerusalem, has gone into retirement, replaced by the younger Aramis.

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‘SOMEWHERE IN THE BODY’: SHINING A LIGHT ON THE REAL LUCIA JOYCE ·

(Michael Seaver’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 5/14; Photos (top to bottom): Choreographer Áine Stapleton has spent eight years exploring Joyce’s artistry; Lucia Joyce: Whenever her name is mentioned, the words ‘daughter of James Joyce’ aren’t far away.)

Whenever the name of Lucia Joyce is mentioned, the words “daughter of James Joyce” are never far away. A talented dancer, writer and musician, Lucia’s career was cut short after she had a nervous breakdown and was – some say inaccurately – diagnosed with schizophrenia. She spent the rest of her life in institutions where she was subjected to experimental treatments.

According to dance historian Deirdre Mulrooney, many accounts of her life are Mills & Boon-style narratives, where the real protagonists are famous male writers, including her father and Samuel Beckett, with whom Lucia had a relationship. Writing in Joyce Studies Annual, Mulrooney claims: “This misunderstood artist has been reduced to a ‘mad girl’, synonymous with mental illness, considered primarily in relation to her father, and filed away under ‘miscellaneous’ in coveted James Joyce special collections around the world.”

This two-dimensional caricature would be different had she fulfilled her artistic potential. In 1928 the Paris Times stated that, “When she reaches her full capacity for rhythmic dancing, James Joyce may yet be known as his daughter’s father”.

Choreographer Áine Stapleton has spent the past eight years forefronting Lucia Joyce’s artistry and will premiere a dance film installation, Somewhere in the Body, at this year’s Dublin Dance Festival. “In 2014 I was working with some friends in a band who had created musical interpretations of Joyce’s major works for Bloomsday,” she says. “During the rehearsals, they told me a bit about Lucia and her dance career. That same week, I managed to source some letters that were written by Lucia during her later years in psychiatric care. I could instantly see a clear divide between the clichéd accounts of Lucia in the press and media, compared to the kind, intelligent and loving person that came through in her letters. These writings inspired me to make my first work about Lucia and I’ve been immersed in her story ever since.” Stapleton would concur with Mulrooney’s disdain for the superficial accounts of Lucia’s life.

“I try to avoid the clichés that are so often associated with her story, so it’s always important for me to research as thoroughly as possible. But it’s very difficult to find information about Lucia, due in part to the fact that Stephen Joyce, James Joyce’s grandson and long-time estate administrator, is known to have had part of Lucia’s correspondence with her father and Samuel Beckett destroyed following her death.” Poems and an unpublished novel have also been lost or destroyed.

Stapleton has created two previous dance films. Medicated Milk was based on a period of time that Lucia spent in Bray, Co Wicklow (“close to where I grew up, which Lucia described as a magnificent place, full of flowers”), and Horrible Creature, based on her life in Switzerland between 1915 and the late 1930s.

“Somewhere in the Body takes a different approach to my previous work about Lucia, which relies heavily on her biographical details,” she says. “For this film installation, I examine the psychic spaces that Lucia inhabited in her father’s mind, and how she appears in his writings, with a particular focus on Finnegans Wake.”

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‘IT’S HARD TO FIND A TEACHER FOR SWORD-SWALLOWING’: THE THRILLING SKILLS OF CIRCUS SHOWWOMEN ·

(Kate Wyver’s article appeared in the guardian 5.9; via Pam Green;  Photo: The stars of Showwomen: (left to right) Fancy Chance, Marisa Carnesky, Lucifire and Livia Kojo Alour. Photograph: Sarah Hickson.)

Pioneering female entertainers, including a 1930s clown and a Wall of Death stunt rider, are celebrated in a show by a fearless group of performers

Female performers in British variety acts have long been termed “showgirls”. For the illusionist Marisa Carnesky, this demeans them. “What happens when the showgirl grows up?” she asks.

A performance artist and creator of the interactive show Ghost Train – which was in residence at Blackpool for five years – Carnesky is using first-hand testimony, archival research and a healthy dose of guesswork to conjure the world of late 19th and early 20th-century female circus performers. The lives explored in her new production, Showwomen, include those of a sword climber, a clown, an aerialist and a daredevil. “The British seaside was always this extraordinary melting pot,” Carnesky says with glee. “Women weren’t just mute leg-kickers in a lineup.”

First: the women who work with swords. Making the show with Carnesky is sword swallower Livia Kojo Alour, who was naturally drawn to the story of the sword artist, crocodile charmer and glass-walker Koringa. Working in the 1930s, Koringa was rumoured to hypnotise farm animals on enemy lines so soldiers could cross unnoticed. “There’s this picture where Koringa climbs up a high ladder of swords,” Kojo Alour says. “I do the same. I have a ladder of swords. I swallow swords; I lay on beds of nails.” She moves her hands as she speaks, occasionally flashing an intricate tattoo of a sword from elbow to wrist.

In pictures, Koringa has dark skin, but it is uncertain whether she was an Indian performer, as touted by the Bertram Mills Circus posters, or whether she was encouraged to lean on a racist British fascination for the “exotic”. This is a term Kojo Alour has had to deal with often. “When I was starting out, I had a hard time. I was one of the very few Black performers on the London scene. I was constantly searching for something that made me stand out, and not in an exotic way, which is how I was described a lot back in the day.” She was drawn to extremities in performance. “The only way to carve my way was to do something dangerous that nobody else could do.”

Another of the show’s main characters is the pioneering 1930s clown Lulu Adams. Her act would have felt something akin to drag kinging, Carnesky suggests, as clowning was only done by men. Carnesky and Kojo Alour will also be performing with the self-taught hair hanger Fancy Chance, who will explore the 1880s aerialist Miss La La, whom Degas painted hanging from her teeth. In some shows, they will be joined by the fire artist Lucifire, who will look into the life of the 1920s stuntwoman and Wall of Death rider Marjorie Dare.

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‘THE LIDO IS FINISHED’: FAMED PARIS CABARET SET FOR FINAL CURTAIN AMID MASS LAY-OFFS ·

(from France24, 5/13; Photo: Dancers perform at the Lido cabaret in Paris on September 10, 2019. © Christophe Archambault, AFP.)

High-kicking showgirls and nightly cabaret shows at the famed Parisian Lido club on the Champs-Elysees are set to be a thing of the past after the venue’s new owner confirmed mass lay-offs on Thursday.

Created in the aftermath of World War II, the Lido has drawn fans for more than seven decades with its racy dance routines featuring towering women in feathers, high heels and little else.

But though it has sought to modernise its shows and adapt to the times, the venue has been losing money for years and changed hands at the end of 2021.

The new owner, French hotels giant Accor, told staff on Thursday it would lay off 157 of 184 employees, including its “Bluebell girls” troupe of dancers, according to several sources who spoke to AFP.

“The Lido is finished,” one trade union representative said on condition of anonymity, adding Accor intended to turn the prime real estate into a venue for other musical events.

“All the artistic staff, meaning around 60 people, will disappear,” the source added.

Cabaret dancing first appeared during France’s “Belle Epoque” at the end of the 19th century, when the French capital was a hotbed of artistic creation.

The Moulin Rouge remains the best-known show in the city and is still going strong, thanks largely to the publicity from the 2001 film of the same name by Baz Luhrmann.

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AP EVIDENCE POINTS TO 600 DEAD IN MARIUPOL THEATER AIRSTRIKE ·

(Lori Hinnant’s, Msyslav Chernov’s, and Vasilisa Stephenko’s article appeared on the AP, 5/5; Photo: GMToday.com.)

LVIV, Ukraine (AP) — She stood in just her bathrobe in the freezing basement of the Mariupol theater, coated in white plaster dust shaken loose by the explosion. Her husband tugged at her to leave and begged her to cover her eyes.

But she couldn’t help it — Oksana Syomina looked. And to this day, she wishes she hadn’t. Bodies were strewn everywhere, including those of children. By the main exit, a little girl lay still on the floor.

Syomina had to step on the dead to escape the building that had served as the Ukrainian city’s main bomb shelter for more than a week. The wounded screamed, as did those trying to find loved ones. Syomina, her husband and about 30 others ran blindly toward the sea and up the shore for almost five miles (eight kilometers) without stopping, the theater in ruins behind them.

“All the people are still under the rubble, because the rubble is still there — no one dug them up,” Syomina said, weeping at the memory. “This is one big mass grave.”

Amid all the horrors that have unfolded in the war on Ukraine, the Russian bombing of the Donetsk Academic Regional Drama Theater in Mariupol on March 16 stands out as the single deadliest known attack against civilians to date. An Associated Press investigation has found evidence that the attack was in fact far deadlier than estimated, killing closer to 600 people inside and outside the building. That’s almost double the death toll cited so far, and many survivors put the number even higher.

The AP investigation recreated what happened inside the theater on that day from the accounts of 23 survivors, rescuers, and people intimately familiar with its new life as a bomb shelter. The AP also drew on two sets of floor plans of the theater, photos and video taken inside before, during and after that day and feedback from experts who reviewed the methodology.

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RUSSIA BOMBS THEATER WHERE HUNDREDS SOUGHT SHELTER AND ‘CHILDREN’ WAS WRITTEN ON GROUNDS ·

(Tim Lister’s, Olga Voitovych’s, Tara John’s, and Paul P. Murphy’s article appeared on CNN, 3/16; Photo: The Drama Theater in Mariupol, where hundreds were taking refuge, sustained heavy damage in a bombing on Wednesday, authorities said.)

Lviv, Ukraine (CNN)A theater where hundreds of people had taken shelter in Mariupol was bombed on Wednesday, according to local authorities, as hundreds of thousands of people remain trapped in the coastal Ukrainian city that has been encircled for weeks by Russian forces.

Mariupol City Council, who shared an image of the destroyed building, said Russian forces had “purposefully and cynically destroyed the Drama Theater in the heart of Mariupol.”

“The plane dropped a bomb on a building where hundreds of peaceful Mariupol residents were hiding,” it said.

CNN has geolocated the image and confirmed it is of the theater in the southeastern port city. The word “children” was spelled out on two sides of the theater before it was bombed, according to satellite images.

Videos of the aftermath showed a fire raging in the theater’s ruins. The number of casualties is unknown, authorities said.

“It is still impossible to estimate the scale of this horrific and inhumane act, because the city continues to shell residential areas,” the council wrote on Telegram. “It is known that after the bombing, the central part of the Drama Theater was destroyed, and the entrance to the bomb shelter in the building was destroyed,” it added.

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‘ANNE BOLEYN’S TIARA WAS FROM CLAIRE’S ACCESSORIES’ – HOW WE MADE SIX: THE MUSICAL ·

(Chris Wiegand’s article appeared in the Guardian, 3/7; via Pam Green;  Photo:  ‘The format was inspired by Beyoncé’s Live at Roseland show’ … Six at the Arts theatre. Photograph: Idil Sukan/Draw.)

What if Henry VIII’s wives were a pop group? The makers of the smash hit recall how Catherine of Aragon was very much Beyoncé, Anne Boleyn had Lily Allen vibes – while Jane Seymour was a sort of Adele

Lucy Moss, co-writer

In 2017, Cambridge University’s musical theatre society invited applications for an original show that it could take to the Edinburgh fringe. Toby Marlow and I were third years at the university, and had talked about doing a musical together for ages, so he applied, saying he would write a show with pop music and lots of women at its centre. Representation of women on stage was in the cultural conversation – later that year #MeToo happened.

The fringe has so many professional productions, you need a hook for your student show. The “real housewives of Shakespeare” and a Wicked-type backstory for the witches in Macbeth were two of Toby’s ideas. But if you’re looking for a famous group of women who are out of copyright, the most obvious are the six wives of Henry VIII. “What if the wives were a pop group giving a concert?” asked Toby. I was like: “Sure! But that sounds like it could be so terrible. We’ll have to make sure it isn’t.” The format was inspired by Beyoncé’s Live at Roseland show.

My main research was Lucy Worsley’s TV series – I love the way she gets dressed up

I was studying history but couldn’t remember much about the Tudors, beyond Henry possibly writing Greensleeves about Anne Boleyn. Anyway I had my dissertation to write so didn’t have much time for reading. My main research was Lucy Worsley’s TV series. I love the way she gets dressed up, pretending to be a lady in waiting and looking over her shoulder at the camera. It’s so ridiculous!

We wrote half the show over four days in the Easter holiday; the rest we finished in our final term. We took a student production of Six to Edinburgh that summer. The costumes were very low budget – Anne Boleyn had a tiara from Claire’s Accessories. No one was paid, it was just for fun. Our venue in Grassmarket was a converted hotel conference centre. I set up the first couple of shows then went back to Cambridge to direct a Shakespeare play. I just didn’t think Six would be so important. But it quickly started selling out and it wasn’t just our friends buying tickets.

After the fringe we put it on in Cambridge. The producer Kenny Wax saw it and said he had a show at the Arts theatre in London that wasn’t playing on Mondays. Would we like to do a showcase with a professional company on those nights? We did that, recorded an album, toured the show, then went back to the Arts for an open-ended run.

I’d thought that after uni I’d move back in with my mum, send emails to theatre directors asking to shadow them and slowly try to work my way into the industry. I was fast-tracked by Six. People get in touch now and say they’d love to learn from me but I don’t know what I’m doing!

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