Friday, August 28, 2009

Hamlet 2 (2009)

Hamlet played by Octavio.
Directed by Dana Marschz.

Without hopefully giving too much away (!) it’s important to note, right up front, since this (p)review is being published on a blog about Hamlet, that the provocatively titled Hamlet 2 has almost nothing to do with the play. The title of the film comes from the musical that Steve Coogan’s down at heels teacher is producing in order to save the drama department at the athletics driven high school in which he’s marooned following a failed acting career.

Though the story of the musical has the mysteriously resurrected young prince employing a time machine to visit key moments in the play to save Gertrude, Ophelia, Polonius and his father, do not watch the film expecting a sharp parody of Shakespeare’s story or themes in the tradition of Ten Things I Hate About You or even Get Over It, other than a very general mention of Hamlet oedipal complex.

That’s part of the joke; in casting about to create a production which demonstrates the power of theatre, rather than actually presenting one of the greatest works in the English language just as Michael Maloney’s similarly out of luck actor did during Ken Branagh’s In The Bleak Midwinter, Coogan’s hack egotistically writes his own version, an “offensive” travesty which also parachutes in Jesus, Einstein and a raft of other real life figures and pop culture references.

So while some of the resultant staging, in which Shakespeare’s scenes are lovingly augmented by a giant video screen, most remarkably with Hamlet Snr’s face looking down on his son, the dialogue is deliberately hammy, the film’s main trump card, the song and dance number Sexy Jesus Sing-Along has more to do with Grease and Jerry Springer: The Opera (and their ensuing condemnation by the religious right) than The Mousetrap.

With director Andrew Fleming’s film just about absolved of disingenuousness then, what enjoyment you dig up from this back stage high school musical probably depends on the extent to which you feel Steve Coogan is a comic genius. I have issues. I think he can be a very clever actor, and at his finest, in 24 Party People, A Cock and Bull Story, Marie Antoinette and the little seen Happy Endings, his work can be outrageous but poignant. Sadly, he also has a tendency, when he’s the focus of attention, to push himself too far, resorting to the worst variety of gormless mugging, as in The Parole Officer or Around the World in 80 Days.

During Hamlet 2, he’s in almost every scene, and Fleming, deep in the genius camp, appears to have given him a certain latitude to improvise which leads some scene to donder on beyond their natural end as Coogan attempts to ring out every drop of the “comic potential”. When Fleming (who in the 1990s brought us the righteous run of Threesome, The Craft and Dick) should be playing up the zanier aspects of the film in preparation for his finale, he’s too busy allowing Coogan to shout, gurn and toss his hair about as though it’s a punch line. That has the effect of stagnating the rest of the film and at worst Coogan becomes the boring one at the party who hogs the conversation but doesn’t realise he’s ruining everyone’s night.

Elizabeth Shue cameos, playing herself, having given up acting for the nursing profession, but much of her contribution is reduced to reacting to Coogan’s hero worship and shouting out of her back catalogue. The mighty Catherine Keener is wasted in the role of his wife, throwing out some good barbs, but generally looking like she knows she’s in a dud. David Arquette plays their “boring” lodger whose turn is to mumble obvious observations about the situation but otherwise has nothing to do. And at the moments when they’re at their funniest, Fleming cuts away to whatever bit of business Coogan is up to. Only Amy Poehler is given space to work as a ballsy civil rights lawyer who doesn’t care about the quality of the production.

Hamlet 2 barely manages to resuscitate when dealing with the teenagers who populate the drama club. There’s some interesting subtext in relation to our perception of the kid’s background, and their ability to turn in a good performance on stage despite the material. At a guess (though the deleted scenes on the dvd don’t reflect this) I’d suggest that there are a couple of sub-plots within this group which are still sitting in the editing software. The director has clearly decided that the film is about Coogan, Coogan and more Coogan, and I take no pleasure in saying this, especially since the film company have been good enough to supply me with a preview copy, on this occasion his timing off, off and even further off.

I will add this. I laughed four times, proper belly laughs, at very good jokes, which it would be a shame to spoil, especially since if you’re in the right mood, Hamlet 2 might just work, particularly in the finale where the population of the town turn up to simultaneously gasp and applaud the final production. The film is co-written by South Park's Pam Brady and these closing dance numbers clearly share some DNA with the productions in the film version of that series (Bigger Longer & Uncut).

But that’s not enough for me. As the first ambassador says in Hamlet 1, “The sight is dismal”. And it really is.

Hamlet 2 was released on DVD on the 7th September 2009.

Hamlet vs. Ophelia.

The Shakespeare Geek compares and contrasts film and tv versions of the 'remembrances' scene:

"The big question, in my mind, is to what degree Ophelia deserves the treatment she gets from Hamlet. Is she just a pawn, moved one way by her father and another by her boyfriend? Does Hamlet agonize over his decision to crush her, or is he so far removed from that relationship that he doesn’t think twice about it?"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Twilight's Catherine Hardwicke's new Hamlet film

News of another new screen Hamlet this time directed by Twilight's Catherine Hardwicke and starring Emile Hirsch as the young prince and Ophelia played by one of the actresses from the vampire film. No mention in the links as to whether it's to use Shakespeare language or an adaptation.

Update: It's a musical: "Hamlet will try to work out some of his more agonizing decisions through composing music and singing it in clubs to small groups of about six people. Harwicke has described hers and Hirsch's Hamlet as kind of an "early Kurt Cobain." Hirsch is taking singing and guitar lessons to prepare for the role."

Monday, August 24, 2009

More on 3D Hamlet

I've been talking to the people at Shakespeare 4 Kidz who announced recently that they're working on a 3D film version of their Hamlet production. Here is their press release:

S4K’s Hamlet in 3D will be the first of a series of six movie adaptations of the musical versions of the Bard’s plays originally created by the acclaimed UK theatre company Shakespeare 4 Kidz.

The film, which is produced by Mark Thomas and Elsinore Films, will be directed by double BAFTA winner John Godber, who is reuniting his partnership with Thomas, the producer of Godber’s film version of Up ‘n’ Under.

Series producer Mark Thomas of Elsinore Films explained “We have long admired the work that Julian and the team at Shakespeare 4 Kidz have achieved, which is often described as the “Disney-fication” of Shakespeare, and we are delighted that funding opportunities have presented themselves so readily.”

Executive Producer Michael Cowan, co-MD of Spice Factory and Stealth Media Group says: “We believe that there is a great commercial opportunity here for the S4K series to flourish in the worldwide market, and the titles to enjoy an ‘evergreen’ status which will still be selling in 50 years time.”
Not only will the story of Hamlet be told in a unique and exciting way, but the addition of the latest 3D technology brings added excitement to cinema audiences: a ghost that hovers in front of your eyes, cannon-fire that flies into the auditorium and a final sword-fight that seems to literally be all around you, are just some of the features promised in the first film, which is firmly targeted at the Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and High School Musical market.

S4K’s Julian Chenery, who is a co producer of the new film series, says “Creating a Hamlet for children was the ultimate test for The Shakespeare 4 Kidz Theatre Company and we are thrilled that the team of Mark Thomas, John Godber and Michael Cowan are able to help bring this unique idea to the big screen.”

S4K’s Hamlet is the first in a series of three Shakespeare 4 Kidz movies that will be produced back-to-back over an eighteen month period. “Hamlet” will be followed by “Macbeth” and “Romeo and Juliet” in the first block of three. The second series will feature “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “Twelfth Night” and “The Tempest”.

Alongside the movies, Elsinore has developed a television show “Movie Quest – A Romeo 4 Juliet”, a public search to find two undiscovered young actors to play the lead parts of Romeo and Juliet.

S4K’s Hamlet will be distributed internationally and in the UK by Stealth Media who are about to release the 3D version of Garfield Petforce.
They've receiving some curious criticism for the project, a typical example being from the usually good Paste Magazine who are unusually snippy and cynical about the project the tone of their post exemplified by opening of the title "No seriously...".

It is a bit annoying when people jump to conclusion without checking things out first -- it's part of the new culture I suppose, in which surface has replaced depth. I remember at Easter when certain books suddenly dropped from Amazon's listings and people where immediately jumping about and pointing (metaphorically speaking) and accusing Amazon of homophobia when in fact it was just one guy in Paris who'd clicked the wrong box when he was updating a database and it had spread through the webshop and nothing could be done because it was a bank holiday ...

Anything which brings kids to Shakespeare is a good thing from Lamb's Tales of Shakespeare to even the Romeo and Juliet cartoon with sea mammals. I wish I'd been exposed to such things at primary school -- we essentially reached third year secondary school and had Julius Caesar dumped in our lap which was incredibly difficult having only touched on the "All The World's A Stage..." speech from As You Like It the year before. In other words, Shakespeare 4 Kidz is a brilliant idea.

Even a cursory glance at their website shows that they've thought a great deal about how these shows should be put together, even to the point of offering for sale packs which can be used by schools to put on their own versions and teacher resources. Far from being a cynical exploitation of the bard, this looks like a carefully thought out strategy for bringing children to his work at a much younger age than usually, and the film is simply an extension of that, which can only be a good thing.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Preview: 'Hamlet' Illustrated by Harold Copping.

When I was just old enough to understand the stories my father would read to me as I was going to bed, my first exposure to literature was from two giant story books which he’d been given as presents when he was very young. ‘Long, Long Ago…” collected the Greek myths and “Grimm's Fairy Tales” included the original versions, those with the nastier endings that Stephen Sondheim appreciated (cf, Into The Woods).

They were both being printed on quite rough paper (having been published during wartime) but inside were brightly coloured watercolour plates illustrating the action, of Perseus confronting Medusa and pigeons pecking out Cinderella’s stepsisters' eyes. Older eyes might have considered these a bit naïve and of the kind you’d see in the storybooks that introduce classic Disney films, but I investigated those pictures for hours, even days, as they transported me away from my drab seventies existence.

So it’s with some nostalgia I flick through the pages of Arcturus Publishing’s lushly printed new edition of Hamlet, which intersperses the text with paintings and drawings by the late Victorian painter Harold Copping, wondering if my interest in Shakespeare would have developed far earlier if I’d been given this to read too. This is Hamlet presented in a similar storybook style poignantly reflecting backwards to those simpler times.

Copping, who was taught at the Royal Academy before completing his training via a Landseer Scholarship in Paris, is perhaps best known for his work on the best selling Copping Bible (which he researched by visiting Palestine), but he worked on literature too, various Dickens, "Little Women", and as I’ve discovered, this play. The paintings and engravings reproduced here were originally published in 1897 by Raphael Tuck and Sons, both as a book and postcards.

The artist presents Shakespeare's characters in a similar fairytale style to those old books, Claudius and Gertrude the very figures of a medieval king and queen, Hamlet a prince charming with golden locks. Copping’s background in Bible illustrations only really reveals itself in his depiction of a Polonius carrying a staff and sporting a gloriously whispy beard which wouldn’t look out of place on Charlton Heston’s Moses.

These pictures won’t be to everyone’s tastes; there is an element of kitsch especially in the image of Ophelia’s madness where Hamlet’s ex stares vacantly off the page as the King and Queen concernedly huddle together in the background. The illustration of her ensuing suicide owes much to John Everett Millais and I’d say that if you hate the Pre-Raphaelites with their romantic notions you’ll hate these too.

But I like the Pre-Raphaelites and I like these very much too. The visions of Hamlet Snr greeting first Horatio then his son on the battlements is genuinely spooky and the gravedigger is exactly as I imagine him, a wizened old man with an earthy face. In just three images we see the death of Polonius, first skulking behind the arras, next on the floor behind the curtain Hamlet nearby sword in hand and then out in the open having later been abandoned by the prince.

There is one curious drawing though (on page ninety-four) of what appears to be Hamlet drinking from the poisoned cup, which could be Copping misunderstanding the story or perhaps using artistic license (as so many have before him and since) and showing a moment during his final speech in which he hastens death having seen how quickly the concoction works on his mother. Or at least, that’s what the younger, more imaginative version of me might have decided.

'Hamlet' Illustrated by Harold Copping will be published on 1st September 2009 by Arcturus Publishing.
ISBN 978-1-84837-368-6

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

20 Stephen Fletcher

Hamlet played by Stephen Fletcher.
Directed by Max Rubin.

Before I start the review proper, I should mention that my opinion is probably affected by the fact that I spent most of the show distracted by a bored ten year old sitting next to me who'd been dragged along by his parents and older brother. Out of the corner of my eye I constantly saw him rocking about, sighing, swinging his legs, looking up, looking down and at one point shifting his ticket backwards and forwards on the wooden floor with the tip of his toe, sweep, sweep, sweep. Only during the fencing match at the end did he seem to pay any attention to the show.

During the interval I overheard his mother asking him if he was enjoying it.

"No." he said.

She was obviously crestfallen.

"I'm bored. I don't understand what they're saying and it doesn't make any sense to me."

Well of course you don't and of course it doesn't. You're ten. I hated Shakespeare when I was ten as well. I didn't understand what they were saying and bits of it still don't make any sense. But at least you can constructively put your problems with the situation into words. That's a start. Just be happy that this version is a trim two and a half hours and you hadn't been handed the big cahoona.


Sometimes a production is about the space within which it’s presented and sometimes that’s because of directorial choice and sometimes not. As part of the Liverpool Shakespeare Festival, the Lodestar Theatre Company have inhabited the Concert Room at the St George’s Hall, an opulent neo-classical gem which looks like the interior of the Titanic and has hosted concerts and theatrical performance since the main hall was built in the 1830s. BBC Liverpool has a 360 degree panorama of the room as viewed from the stage and here’s an article about the 2007 restoration project. I’ve been to meetings here before and always wondered how a theatre director would utilise it.

Aesthetically it’s a palace so director Max Rubin and Designer Nadia Tahiri have decided to set their Hamlet in an actual palace, with thrones on the main stage and a red carpet spilling over the edge and into the stalls were they’d boldly removed the chairs, the audience watching from the very edges. The room already has a grand piano and glorious chandelier and in this Elsinore they became the trappings of wealth, emphasising the aristocracy of the family, making us interlopers on a crumbling legacy, which is also reflected in the choice of 1930s costumes, a period which saw the last gasp of the old fashioned class structure, when old wealth still outweighed new (this was reflected also in the cuts which tossed out Fortinbras choosing to focus completely on the domestic drama).

Rubin took full advantage of this arena; after a prologue showing Elsinore in happier times, the room was plunged into darkness for the battlement scene Horatio and Co providing their own key lighting using torches. With the audience distracted, Liam Tobin’s Hamlet Snr presumably slipped into at the back so that when he suddenly ‘appeared’ bathed in spotlight it was a genuinely surprising flash, aided by the abject horror in Horatio’s eyes. When the Ghost emerged again later before his still living son, his resonant voice eerily filled the room from all angles (Tobin the only actor to enjoy mic support). When Hamlet spoke against this from his own location, the impression was positively supernatural.

The extra performance area also made sense of The Mousetrap, which on the few occasions I’ve seen the play in the theatre has looked a bit clumsy. Here, the family were placed just a row ahead of the audience and together we watched the action of the play up on stage, with Hamlet between us and the players offering his commentary placing us briefly within the world of the play, supporting players in the drama. From the back that did mean that we didn’t quite see the moment of Claudius’s realisation that he’s been exposed, but his ensuing anger (perfectly rendered by Renny Kruplinkski) and Hamlet’s relief more than made up for it, the exploits frozen at just this moment for the interval, picking up where we left off twenty-minutes later.

This choice of staging clearly had its benefits but with the performance occurring half in a proscenium arch and half in the round, whenever a scene was set completely on the back stage it tended to feel a bit remote and that barrier seemed to continue when the action spilled into the front area, with the actors rarely relating directly to the audience, speeches sent towards the floor or ceiling rather than directly at us. The play really came alive when Polonius passed his asides to us during Fishmonger and during To Be Or Not To Be when Hamlet fixed me with his eyes, and I would have liked to have seen more of that.

Outside of the director's control is that the concert room is essentially an echo chamber which might sound beautiful in concerts but as we I discovered works against lucid theatre. As a couple of the reviews have eluded to depending upon where you were sitting the re-verb tended to muffle quite a lot of the verse. This was particularly obvious from my position directly opposite the space -- when the actors had their backs turned and shouting towards the stage, their words disappearing through the window onto the plateau and car park outside.

Yet despite these potential impediments there was still much to enjoy. Stephen Fletcher took full advantage of the flexibility Hamlet offers, presenting us initially with a broken soul whose fatherly visitation motivates him to action, relishing the process of entrapping his uncle until his actions cause the deaths of Laertes immediate family at which point he obviously realised that this was not a winnable situation. He was well matched by Tom Latham’s Horatio whose expressive face balanced between abject horror and quiet resignation throughout, the barometer gauging the emotional pressure of the court.

But the highlight in this production, at least for me, was the first appearance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern played by Richard Kelly and Simon Hedger, confidentally standing at the edge of the stage. Hamlet seemed genuinely pleased to see them, and we were too because with they confident humour proceeded to steal not just this moment but all of the scenes in which they appeared to the point that the eventual news of their offing off-stage was a genuinely tragic moment. There’s a good reason for this: as well as Hamlet, in September Lodestar will be offering a production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is Dead at the Novas Contemporary Urban Centre featuring the same cast.

So whereas in most stage productions, R & G are offered by actors doubling up servants roles or even the gravediggers which can lead them to being a bit bland, Kelly and Hedger have properly rehearsed their roles and boasted a clearer than usual idea of who these men are, which is reflected in their performance, sharing the looks and glances of fellow journeyman as the story spins on around them outside of their control, the Stoppard version of the characters transplanted back into Shakespeare. It works very well and certainly a good advert for their further theatrical adventures.

Click here for more information about the Liverpool Shakespeare Festival. They also have a production blog.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Shakespeare's Globe

Ice Cream

I spent last Tuesday in a very giddy mood. I didn’t think anything could be more exciting than taking part in Anthony Gormley's One & Other project but then I was finally standing in Shakespeare’s Globe (mark 3) looking up at the deep blue sky through the roof waiting for their latest production of As You Like It and realised that in fact, whilst it was fun to be part of Anthony Gormley’s art project, looking at that empty stage awaiting actors was as close as I’ll ever come to sitting on the touchline of the baseball diamond in Field of Dreams, or being a distant Liverpool fan visiting Anfield, a Beatles nut at the Cavern Club, an Elvis aficionado at Gracelands. I was teary at the Royal Shakespeare Company because I was submerged in theatrical history. The Globe is like actually stepping into history (albeit with a concrete flooring). It’s a dreamland.

I decided to dedicate my final day to the Globe, knowing that I'd want to take my time. For a change. If you do ever decide to visit, I’d certainly recommend you take the morning tour before the show. Over about three quarters of an hour the chronology of the theatre is explained, that the timbers were originally part of The Theatre theatre (yes, indeed) until problems with a lease agreement led them to be shipped across the Thames and turned into the first Globe in 1599. Which then burnt to the ground during the third performance of Henry VIII (misfiring cannon) in 1613. Rebuilt the following year it continued to be a going concern until the 1640s when the Puritans took a dislike to theatre I general and shut it down, that building falling to demolition in 1644. There’s plenty more to hear, that’s just the bare bones. Just enough time for photographs.


The present structure is a product of a twenty year campaign by Sam Wanamaker, who sadly died before it was completed and opened in 1997. During the tour, there is plenty of time to become acclimatised to the shape of the interior, and if like me you’re planning to become a groundling a chance to see the stage from other perspectives. The space is smaller than I was expecting, more intimate, though logically it has to be for the words of the actors to project and bounce of the roof and walls and back into the space. The other surprise was how sound from the edges could be isolated within their relate enclosures – the tours begin every fifteen minutes and at one point at least four different groups were at different stages of presentation but the voice of the guide was perfectly lucid. It's a beautiful building with its painting ceilings and fixtures, as colourful in its own way as Westminster Cathedral, the images just as symbol suggesting the stage teeters between heaven and hell.

A tour ticket also allows admittance to the education centre and exhibition, which adds extra detail to the information relayed on the tour using artefacts related to the original playhouse. One good choice is the recreation of other contemporary theatres in miniature, including Blackfriars, a space I’m not as familiar with as I’d like (perhaps someone will rebuild that too someday!) which underscores how plays were very much written to take advantages of the available spaces and how they have to be adapted to fill a proscenium arch, a television studio, a film soundstage. The exhibition also demonstrates that as well as being a historical recreation, the Globe is a living theatre with guides to the rehearsal process, musicians and costume making with examples from past productions and a rather sparkly recreation of Elizabeth I’s dress from the Armada Portrait which was worn by Jane Lapotaire at the Gala opening. What a night that must have been.


Having already been inside as part of the tour and enjoyed the first woosh through the doors into the space, I was surprised to find that I was still equally thrilled as I ran in, along with the other groundlings, just before the show, grabbing a space on the edge of the stage. Perhaps it was turning around and seeing a nearly full theatre, the stalls and floor as they should be, crowded to the rafters, a sea of grins. The multitude seemed to be a mix of tourists and locals, a range of accent and languages, splashing together. A Spanish family installed themselves behind me, the father giving his kids a running commentary throughout the first half and cracking jokes, presumably on the assumption that he was bettering anything the playwright was offering. But unlike most theatres, this is to be expected; no one stood to attention in Shakespeare’s day and that the atmosphere which is being engendered here. To work, the Globe has to be noisy.

And it was. How we laughed. As You Like It is (surprisingly) a play I’m not that familiar with. Jaques speech “All The World’s A Stage” was the first Shakespeare I studied at school, but somehow with the exception of the cob-webby Argo audio production (which I heard on vinyl in the early nineties) and the BBC Shakespeare production with Helen Mirren, this was my first proper visit to the forest of Arden. That was to the good, because instead of simply trying judge whether this was a good version of the play, I was more involved in trying to follow the plot which is exactly how to experience a play in the Globe, allowing the actors, so close and often speaking from the stage and stalls and back of the yard to talk directly to you, to become involved in their story because you’re hearing much of this language for the first time. During the tour, the guide said that during their last production of Hamlet, the prince would ask someone in the yard, directly "To be or not to be?" and sometimes they would answer.


So brilliant was the ensuing production that my feet, throbbing from walking about for two days, seemed to stop hurting, or perhaps it's that I just stopped caring. About the only fly in the ointment (phrase which I thought was Shakespeare but turns out to be Biblical) was the process of standing. After finding my speck, I took off my shoes and stood on my jump, but by the end I was in bare feet. Also, because I have the bowels of an Labrador puppy, I had to nip out some time during the first half, when you have to go, you have to go. And sadly I went during “All The World’s A Stage…” it seems, which didn’t stop me spending some of the ensuing time wondering if I’d missed it have long since forgotten I’d gone to the toilet. Always half a perfect world. As with most things in fact, attending alone can be difficult to navigate. Luckily I was next to some people who didn’t mind keeping an eye on my stuff whilst I nipped outside to buy that ice cream. Is this the Globe as theatrical Woodstuck, a temporary community watching out for one another.

The proximity of the players to the audience means that they’re speaking directly to us and reacting to sounds from the audience and the environment. Typically, the clown, on this occasion Dominic Rowan’s Touchstone, was best at this, reacting to odd murmurs and physically chiding the audience when they didn’t laugh at his jokes, a natural comedian. But at no time did this seem forced; we didn’t feel like we were laughing because we were meant to (which often happens) but because this was genuinely funny. In the Globe’s souvenir brochures, actors line up to talk about how they relish acting within the space because they have this connection with the audience, a connection which is lost in a typical theatre were the rest of the auditorium is hidden in darkness. Often the characters would plead with us for understanding, emotionally charged which must be electric during the major tragic soliloquies. That suspension of disbelief is continued in our acceptance that all this is occurring in a forest, even though the only evidence we have of that is the words of the actors and columns wrapped in brown material to suggest tree trunks.

The best moments are the careless love between the gender disguised Rosalind and Orlando, in which she’s testing his resolve by making him believe that he’s pretending to woe a man when in fact he’s wooing the very woman he’s in love with. As played by Sophie Duval and Jack Laskey, these has elements of screwball comedy as Duval threw Laskey’s oaths back in his face, the actor’s gregarious approaches suggesting that he come from the same mould as Ed Tudorpole, Callum Blue and David Tennant. Though the theatre was noisy in the first half, during these scenes the Globe fell silent and hung one every word; even my Spanish commentator stopped intoning. That’s the magic of the place. By making an expectation of noise, makes these moments even more remarkable, that our suspension of disbelief is so total that it could be just us and Laura Rogers’s adorable Cecilia witnessing and reacting to the unfolding scene. This is one of those occasions when I don’t simply have the memory of what I saw, but also of how I felt. There aren’t many theatre productions that I can say that about.

The Globe

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Shakespeare's Churches

Saint Andew By The Wardrobe, London

When he was working in London, William Shakespeare mostly worshipped at just two churches because of their proximity to his theatres and whilst I was in London last week, I made a point of visiting both of them. The more famous is Southwark Cathedral which was just a short walk from the Globe Theatre, or as the church was known then, St. Saviours. The present building has been repaired and reconstructed a few times since the 16th century, the nave having been replaced at least twice, which means, like the best medieval churches, the history of the place is held within the fabric of its structure.

The church had an uneasy connection with local actors; though it was the place were the company worshipped (their names appearing on the parish registers and many would be buried within its walls) the chaplains would denounce the theatre from the pulpit. These days, it’s this connection which is the main tourist feature, and Shakespeare is commemorated by a monument in the south aisle, above which is a stained glass window depicting scenes from the plays including a very resolute Hamlet. There’s also a plaque offering thanks to Sam Wanamaker, whose determination led to the Globe reconstruction just down the Thames.

When Shakespeare and company decamped to Blackfriars Theatre (set up in a monastry), their church became St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe. Its curious name derives from a house purchased by Edward III in 1361 which he used as the storehouse for his accoutrements, the “Royal Wardrobe”. That original church, the one Shakespeare would have known (and the wardrobe) were destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. The shell of what exists now was one of the fifty-one baroque churches designed by Sir Christopher Wren in its wake, the interior a 1950s reconstruction after the original was gutted during the Blitz (in 1940).

Off the main road, hardly sign-posted, it’s not an easy place to find; by then Leo, or the person with the sense of direction, had gone home, and I took a few false turns and was given directions to the wrong church before I gave in and caught a taxi with a driver who only had a vague notion. As you can see from the photograph, it’s a forbidding place, the kind of gloomy edifice you’d expect to see an Ingmar Bergman film when the main character (played by Max Von Sydow) is falling out of love with God and is clamouring for answers but finds none. Look at this crucifix which is in the grounds. I can’t imagine you’d find much comfort here:

Crucifix at Saint Andew By The Wardrobe, London

But them I’m not a religious person, and I know that people visit churches for different reasons. Perhaps the interior is different; though the church is closed during August, I was able to glance inside a bit, and saw some rather jolly wood panelling and the impression that as with many baroque churches, there is more than initially meets the eye. Like Westminster Cathedral, this could be another of London's secrets waiting to be rediscovered.
Imogen Carter on the current prevalence of the floating body as an artistic motif. "Step aside Prince Hamlet … it's Ophelia's turn to have a fashion moment. Shakespeare's aggrieved maiden met a soggy end but now, from theatre to art, the floating body as an artistic motif is once again in vogue."

Friday, August 14, 2009

Elsinore 3D

Shakespeare 4 Kidz' Hamlet to become 3D film: "A musical version of Hamlet by theatre company Shakespeare 4 Kidz is to be turned into a 3D film, as part of a deal that will see six of the organisation's plays adapted for the screen."