(Eva Corlett’s article appeared in the Irish Times–from Wellington–10/14.)
New Zealand’s arts council has pulled funding for a Shakespeare festival that has been running in secondary schools for roughly three decades. Photograph: iStock
Relevance of event in New Zealand schools is questioned by country’s art council
New Zealand’s arts council has pulled funding for a Shakespeare festival that has been running in secondary schools for roughly three decades after questioning its relevance to the country and because it focuses on “a canon of imperialism”.
Every year, the Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand runs the Sheilah Winn Shakespeare festival — a secondary school competition where students perform excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays.
Students are given the scope to direct, compose music, perform and create sets and costumes for their show. It has been a popular event, with more than 120,000 high school students from more than half the country’s secondary schools having participated in the festival since its inception.
The festival regularly secures about $30,000 (€17,400) a year from the government’s arts funding body — Creative New Zealand. But this year, the council has decided to pull the money.
In the funding assessment document, the advisory panel said that while the festival has strong youth engagement, and a positive impact on participants, it “did not demonstrate the relevance to the contemporary art context of Aotearoa in this time and place and landscape”.
The board signalled concerns that the organisation was “quite paternalistic” and that the genre was “located within a canon of imperialism and missed the opportunity to create a living curriculum and show relevance”.
One assessor said the application made them “question whether a singular focus on an Elizabethan playwright is most relevant for a decolonising Aotearoa in the 2020s and beyond”.
The board felt the centre did not offer a strong proposal compared with other groups seeking funding.
The centre’s chief executive, Dawn Sanders, said the organisation was dismayed by the decision.
“Creative New Zealand say it is irrelevant to modern day New Zealand — the opposite is true,” she said. “We’re dealing with what people are thinking, the human psyche, competition, jealousy, misogyny and so many things that are totally relevant.”
(Nick Ahad’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/14; Photo: Compelling … Guy Rhys (Benedick) and Daneka Etchells (Beatrice) in Much Ado About Nothing at the Crucible, Sheffield. Photograph: Johan Persson.)
Crucible, Sheffield Daneka Etchells is the most compelling Beatrice you might ever see in an exceptional production of the romantic comedy
Post lockdown, theatres are looking for sure things and bets don’t come much safer than the wittiest of Shakespeare’s romcoms. Sheffield Theatres and Ramps on the Moon bring this production of Much Ado to the stage just a couple of days after the National Theatre brought down the final curtain on its own. If London audiences missed out, they should head to this exceptional and exceptionally moving version of a bulletproof piece.
A number of aspects elevate the production. One is the involvement of Ramps on the Moon, which aims to normalise the presence of deaf, disabled and neurodiverse people on British stages. Another is the most compelling Beatrice you might ever see: Daneka Etchells plays this script like a maestro, somehow finding new notes in lines that are four centuries old, even making some of it feel like it was written yesterday. When Beatrice’s shield of wit is pierced by heartbreak, Etchells, who is autistic, can’t suppress her – or the character’s – physical tics and watching her resolve to remain calm is deeply affecting.
(Catherine Shoard’s article appear appeared in the Guardian, 8/9, via Pam Green.)
The BBC kids’ channel is known for its wit, invention and credo of inclusivity – but can its take on As You Like It captivate children? Just throw in a property developer baddie and some non-binary casting …
Steven Kynman leans forward to show me his arm. “Look! All the hairs standing up! And that’s just from thinking about being on stage at the Globe.” Yesterday, when he actually rehearsed there, “I swear to God, those hairs didn’t go down the whole time.”
He leans back. He’s just had Covid, he says, still feels a bit emotional. His eyes shine. “I believe in the spirit of spaces. The wood is from Shakespeare’s time. It’s like a musical instrument; like standing in the middle of a guitar. I have never in my life felt more giddy about working somewhere.”
Kynman is 46 and looks on the anonymous end of a young Derek Jacobi. He’s not much recognised. Working recently with a famous actor, Kynman mentioned that he knew Justin Fletcher, the CBeebies star who has popularised Makaton, a sign language for children with special needs.
The actor began to cry. “He said, ‘Can you please tell Justin I learned to communicate with my son because of him?’” Then he asked Kynman what he did. “I said: ‘Oh, I’m Robert the Robot.’ He just repeated ‘Oh my God’ for about 30 seconds and then said: ‘I have to call my wife.’”
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.
(Sara Keating’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 7/16/22.)
For Methven, who stars as Prospero in Rough Magic’s The Tempest, the rehearsal room is the beating heart of a theatre production
It is late on a Friday afternoon, and Eleanor Methven is sitting in the production offices of Rough Magic Theatre Company in Dublin city centre, running her lines. It is the end of the first week of rehearsals for director Lynne Parker’s new production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which Methven takes the lead role of Prospero, the sorcerer hero now recast as a woman. It is a massive role, involving “pages and pages of these amazing speeches”, and with a highlighter pen Methven marks out the dense body of text she must learn.
Methven has been practising at home for weeks, “just sitting in my house, acting away, using what Prospero would tell me to — my imagination — to din it in. The neighbours must think I am mad.” So she is delighted and exhilarated to be finally in the rehearsal room. “Really what [an actor needs] is to learn their lines on the floor,” she says, “because the lines tend to be attached to your muscle memory. The more you repeat it, the more it goes in, the more natural it becomes. At the end of the day, you’re an actor, and what you are trying to do is create human beings [on the stage].”
For Methven, the rehearsal room is the beating heart of a theatre production. When other actors of her vintage — she has been acting professionally for 45 years — are asked about their dream roles, they have a list of great parts they would love to play. Methven doesn’t. She wants to know “whose production are you talking about? Who else is in it? You can have the role you want, but what about the other parts? It could be a complete failure if you don’t have everyone you need around you. Theatre is about a total ensemble and that begins in the rehearsal room.”
Methven has been thinking a lot about this in relation to The Tempest. “A lot of the play is about how you order society and how you lead; what the character of your leadership is? The way Lynne runs an ensemble is very democratic; very much a case of ‘I have chosen these people because I think they are the best people to help me to do the play’. It is obvious of course that she is in charge. She works out all the production aspects with lighting, set designers, and it is up to her to keep a hold on all the skeins of silk she has and weave them together. But it is very much up to each individual to bring what they can to the rehearsal room every day, because that is your job, that is why she cast you.”
The actor and director have a long relationship, dating back to the 1980s, when Parker directed several productions for Charabanc, the theatre company that Methven set up in Belfast in 1983 with a group of like-minded female theatre artists. As she explains, the venture was born out of “unemployment, but not just unemployment. There weren’t many roles for [female actors] and when there were, they were ‘someone’s wife’ or ‘someone’s mother’, ‘someone’s daughter.’ We thought ‘we would like to be the someones for a change”.
(Hillel Italie’s article forthe Associated Press, appeared in USA TODAY, 5/9.)
Joshua Cohen’s “The Netanyahus” has won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
The work, titled in full “The Netanyahus: An Account of a Minor and Ultimately Even Negligible Episode in the History of a Very Famous Family,” is a comic and rigorous campus novel set around 1959-60 and based on the true story of the father of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeking a job in academia. The novel has been highly praised for its blend of wit and intellectual debate about Zionism and Jewish identity.
“It is an infuriating, frustrating, pretentious piece of work — and also absorbing, delightful, hilarious, breathtaking and the best and most relevant novel I’ve read in what feels like forever,” The New York Times’ Taffy Brodesser-Akner wrote last June.
The winners of seven arts categories were announced Monday afternoon at Columbia University, which administers the awards. This year’s Pulitzers recognize work done in 2021, and many of the winners in the arts were explorations of race and class, in the past and the present.
The late artist Winfred Rembert won in biography for “Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South,” as told to Erin I. Kelly. Rembert, who survived years in prison and a near-lynching in rural Georgia in the 1960s, died last year at age 75.
In an interview Monday, Kelly spoke of the book’s long and unexpected back story. She is a professor of philosophy at Tufts University and had come across his work several years ago while working on a different project, on criminal justice. She contacted Rembert, who was living in New Haven, Connecticut, and found him so compelling that she wanted to make sure his life was properly documented.
“He was both charismatic and down to earth,” she said. “He had an incredible grasp of language and an incredible visual memory.”
Rembert had been in poor health and died before “Chasing Me to My Grave” came out, although he did get to see an edited manuscript.
“We both felt a great sense of urgency to get the book done,” Kelly said.
Andrea Elliott’s “Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City,” which builds upon her New York Times investigative series about a homeless Black girl from Brooklyn, received a Pulitzer for general nonfiction. Elliott’s book has already won the Gotham Prize for outstanding work about New York City.
Two prizes were awarded Monday in history: Nicole Eustace’s “Covered with Night: A Story of Murder and Indigenous Justice in Early America” and Ada Ferrer’s “Cuba: An American History,” which traces the centuries-long relationship between U.S. and its Southern neighbor.
Diane Seuss won in poetry for “frank: sonnets.” Her collection, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Prize, draws in part on her roots in rural Michigan and features her fierce and lyrical reflections on gender, class and substance abuse among other subjects.
“My father died very young. My mom raised my sister and me. Young me came to poetry by instinct alone,” Seuss said Monday, also citing influences ranging from Frank O’Hara to Amy Winehouse. “I consider ‘frank: sonnets’ a collaborative effort — with the living and the dead.”
The music award Monday was given to Raven Chacon for his composition for organ and ensemble, “Voiceless Mass.” Chacon created “Voiceless Mass” specifically for the pipe organ at The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Milwaukee, where it premiered in November 2021. Chacon is a composer, performer and installation artist from the Navajo Nation. His art work, currently on display at the Whitney Biennial, is inspired by protestors at the Oceti Sakowin near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota.
“This was my first time writing for a church organ and I wanted to make a statement about the space that this organ is housed in,” said Chacon, who is Diné, the Navajo word for “the people.” “I wanted to think about the church’s role in the forming of the country, particularly as it pertains to Indigenous people.”
His 2020 opera, “Sweet Land,” co-composed with Du Yun, was performed outdoors at the Los Angeles State Historic Park earned critical praise for its revisionist telling of American history using different narratives simultaneously. The opera was awarded best opera by the Music Critics Association of North America for 2021.
Chacon has been mentoring hundreds of Native high school composers in the writing of string quartets through the Native American Composer Apprenticeship Project since 2004.
Chacon told The Associated Press in an interview after learning of the Pulitzer win that he wants his work to stand as a reminder that Indigenous people are involved in chamber music and classical music.
“I am happy that this work was heard. I think overall chamber music is not something that can always be accessible to a broad audience,” Chacon said. “There’s an opportunity for anyone to listen to chamber music and I am happy I am able to contribute to that.”
Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez congratulated Chacon, saying the artist exemplifies the tremendous potential of Navajos.
“His award showcases the talent, innovation and creativity of Indigenous people and shows our young people that anything is possible through hard work and prayer,” Nez said in a statement to the AP.
Chacon graduated from the University of New Mexico and the California Institute of the Arts and is scheduled to start a residency at the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage in Philadelphia in 2022.
His solo artworks have been displayed at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Smithsonian Institute’s American Art Museum and National Museum of the American Indian and many more.
Drama finalists included “Selling Kabul” by Sylvia Khoury and “Kristina Wong, Sweatshop Overlord” by Kristina Wong.
The drama award is “for a distinguished play by an American author, preferably original in its source and dealing with American life.” Ijames is a Philadelphia-based playwright and Wilma Theater co-artistic director whose “Fat Ham” production was streamed last summer.
The Pulitzers are considered the most prestigious honor in American journalism. Winners of each category get a prize of $15,000, except for the public service award, which comes with a gold medal.
(Dalya Alberge’s article appeared in the Observer, 4/24; Photo: Tom Hiddleston as Posthumus and Jodie McNee as Innogen in Cymbeline at the Barbican in 2007. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian.)
Notes from a 1533 book put Sir Thomas North in the frame for one of the bard’s later plays
A rare 16th-century book offers “compelling evidence” that William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline was inspired by a now-lost play by Sir Thomas North, an Elizabethan courtier and writer, new research claims.
A 1533 edition of Fabyan’s Chronicle, a compendium of British and French history from Roman times to Henry VII, bears notes in the margin in North’s hand that have been linked to the plot and other details of Shakespeare’s tragicomedy, set in Roman Britain.
Michael Blanding, who unearthed the book in Harvard University’s Houghton Library, said the marginalia could not have been based on Shakespeare’s play because North died about six years before the conventionally accepted date of its first performance, 1609-10.
“It is a revolutionary discovery that is hard to interpret in any other way than that North used the book to write notes for his own play, which Shakespeare later adapted,” he said.
The marginalia have been analysed by an independent researcher, Dennis McCarthy, who since 2005 has used plagiarism software to reveal links between Hamlet, among other plays, and North’s writings. His research inspired Blanding’s book North by Shakespeare, published by Hachette last year and to be released shortly as a paperback, retitled In Shakespeare’s Shadow.
Since then, Blanding has tracked down dozens of 16th-century books once owned by the North family. Several bear North’s marginalia.
Blanding said that, while North is known as the translator of Plutarch’s Lives, a recognised source for Shakespeare’s Roman plays, the marginalia in Fabyan’s Chronicle “often provides a point-by-point correspondence with the historical plot of Cymbeline”.
“For example, both the marginalia and the play refer to Julius Caesar’s repeated attempts to invade Britain, and display an obsessive focus on the theme of tributes being paid to Rome by British kings,” Blanding said. “In addition, both focus on Cymbeline’s sons, Guiderius and Arviragus, include a strategy of a character disguising himself to kill an enemy, and incorporate a battle by a ‘wall of turfs’, historically fought in Scotland.”
(Mark Lawson’s article appeared in the Guardian, 4/21; Photo: Frail body, strong mind … Mark Quartley in Henry VI: Rebellion at the Royal Shakespeare theatre. Photograph: Ellie Kurttz/RSC.)
The three plays about King Henry VI rank low in the Shakespearean canon for character and poetry but paradoxically have the heaviest popular culture presence, as an acknowledged source for the regicidal TV epic Game of Thrones. The middle drama also contains one of Shakespeare’s most quoted lines, “the first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers,” spoken by an ally of Jack Cade, the populist demagogue who, as proxy for the Yorkists, threatens the House of Lancaster’s hold on the throne.
The production by Owen Horsley (RSC boss Gregory Doran, on compassionate leave, is “consultant director”) imposes no strenuous topicalities but is alert to the fact that a wobbling monarchy and the vulnerability of a populace to muscular false promise particularly chime with this revival. Shakespeare covers most human and political possibilities and, through Cade, skewers the year zero egotists of which Boris Johnson is the latest exemplar.
“Burn all the records of the realm. My mouth shall be the parliament of England,” declares the self-glorying rebel during a campaign based on denigrating the French and pledging unlimited state expenditure. Warned that he has said something “false”, Cade shrugs: “Ay, there’s the question; but I say ’tis true.”
Aaron Sidwell’s swaggering braggart, giddied by the possibility of tyranny as success swells him, directly references no current public mannerisms, but those who watched prime minister’s questions on their phones just before the 1pm start at the Royal Shakespeare theatre marvelled anew at Shakespeare’s historical prescience.
What academics call the H6 plays are staged rarely and, even then, in mashups of the English history cycle. Horsley and Doran create Henry VI: Rebellion from the first four acts of part two and join the remaining scenes to part three to create Wars of the Roses.
Such reshaping reflects that these are early plays, the dramatist sketching scenes of witchcraft, a deranged exiled king, women who out-power their men and the dynamics of popular power that will mature in Macbeth, King Lear and Coriolanus.
Another complication is that the bloodlines and fault lines between the founding fathers of Yorkshire and Lancashire, thickened by French intermarriage, can seem impossibly convoluted: this version helps by giving characters white or red roses on their costumes like November poppies, and using live video capture on a downstage screen to underline those being mentioned or remembered.
(Rebecca Mead’s article appeared in the New Yorker, 4/11; Mike Bartlett Illustration by João Fazenda.)
A few years ago, the British playwright Mike Bartlett offered an ingenious take on future events in “King Charles III,” a drama that appeared in the West End, and then on Broadway, about the Royal Family in the imagined wake of the death of Queen Elizabeth. Startlingly, but somehow entirely aptly, its characters spoke in blank verse: “My life has been a ling’ring for the throne,” Charles soliloquized in the first scene. When the curtain rose last week at London’s Old Vic on Bartlett’s new play, “The 47th,” a very different head of state was center stage, announcing himself to the audience in iambic pentameter: “I know, I know. You hate me. So much, right?”
In “The 47th”—the title refers to whoever will come after Joe Biden, the forty-sixth President of the United States—Bartlett again employs Shakespeare’s idiom to fashion a contemporary succession drama. “I’ve known for a while that Trump was sort of a Shakespearean archetype, in the way that Charles was,” Bartlett explained the other day, during a break from rehearsal. “Charles is the man who waited: he waits his whole life to be king, and then he’s only got a short period, so what’s he going to do with it? And Trump, as a sort of seductive, show-biz, bitter, iconic figure, is also quite Shakespearean—quite ‘Richard III.’ ” It was only after the storming of the Capitol, in January, 2021, that Bartlett felt inspired, he said, to give the former President the stage from which he had been ushered in the election of 2020, and to set the play slightly in advance of the 2024 election. “After that happened, I realized American democracy, as a project, is in jeopardy,” Bartlett said. “So it’s not just about: how does one defeat Trump? It’s: how does one engage with that?”
The cast is a mix of British and American actors: Trump is played by Bertie Carvel, who won an Olivier Award for his performance as Miss Trunchbull in “Matilda” and a Tony for playing Rupert Murdoch in “Ink”; Kamala Harris is played by Tamara Tunie, who appeared in more than two hundred episodes of “Law & Order,” as the medical examiner Dr. Melinda Warner. To capture the forty-fifth President’s distinctive speech patterns, Bartlett watched hours of rallies and debates—just kidding! “I didn’t have to listen to any—I’ve heard enough,” Bartlett said, grimly. He salted his text with Trumpisms, especially in the early scenes. “It was so beautiful, so many jobs,” Trump says of the economy during his tenure. But, Bartlett explained, “as the narrative comes through, and the characters come through, some of that drops away.”
Instead, “The 47th” playfully riffs on Shakespearean rhythms and tropes. In a “Lear”-like setup in the first act, Trump discusses dividing his fortune among his three older children: Don, Jr., who models himself on his namesake (“I am your mirror, father. Donald named / And Donald Trump in bloody nature, too”); dopey Eric, “a sniv’ling wreck with little sense,” as Eric himself puts it; and cunning Ivanka. “Your rightful heir will never beg, but trade” is Ivanka’s response to her father’s entreaty for loyalty, before Trump declares that a three-way split “feels not aligned / With my philosophy: to find the art / Within the deal.”
Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss William Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, written in the early 1590s after a series of histories and comedies. His audience already knew the story of the feuding Capulets and Montagues in Verona and the fate of the young lovers from their rival houses, but not how Shakespeare would tell it and, with his poetry and plotting, he created a work so powerful and timeless that his play has shaped the way we talk of love, especially young love, ever since.
The image above is of Mrs Patrick Campbell (‘Mrs Pat’) as Juliet and Johnson Forbes-Robinson as Romeo in a scene from the 1895 production at the Lyceum Theatre, London
Helen Hackett Professor of English Literature at University College London
Paul Prescott Professor of English and Theatre at the University of California Merced
Emma Smith Professor of Shakespeare Studies at Hertford College, University of Oxford