Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Past Pass Notes in The Guardian.

Celebrating the three thousandth of their Pass Notes column, The Guardian have reproduced No.51 which was about Hamlet:
"What does it all mean? That Shakespeare was a cuckold, betrayed by Anne Hathaway and his brother (James Joyce); an expression of sexual disgust, caused by the arrival of syphilis from the New World (DH Lawrence); premature male menopause – "he is at a crossroads in his life and Shakespeare dramatises that very human situation" (Kenneth Branagh)."

RSC @ Park View Armory

Royal Shakespeare Company is touring the US and when it pitches up at the Park Avenue Armoury, it will be appearing on a nearly exact replica of the theatre in Stratford. ArtInfo has statistics, but look at this:

This American Life

Next week on This American Life is an updated repeat of this episode which originally aired in 2002 and is available to stream now:

Monday, June 13, 2011

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Friday Night is Music Night at the RSC on Radio 2.

Last week's Friday Night is Music Night on Radio 2 was a celebration of music and words to mark the 50th anniversary of the Royal Shakespeare Company.  Presented by Samantha Bond, the ...
"... concert features members of the RSC performing some of Shakespeare's most famous soliloquies. The BBC Concert Orchestra, conducted by Roderick Dunk, plays music ranging from Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream, Verdi's Macbeth, William Walton's Henry V and Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet.

There's also music from Patrick Doyle's score for the Kenneth Branagh film versions of Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet, Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate, Rodgers and Hart's Boys from Syracuse, West Side Story and the film Shakespeare in Love."
Still available on the iPlayer for the next few days, it features Rupert Evans (previously Romeo) reading/acting To Be Or Not To Be and as well as the Doyle scores mentioned above (the track "My thoughts be bloody" to be exact).

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Musicians of Shakespeare's Globe

The Guardian has an excellent piece on the musicians from Shakespeare's Globe. Artistic director, Dominic Dromgoole, offers some insight into the compositions for the touring production of Hamlet
"In Dromgoole's touring production of Hamlet, Laura Forrest-Hay's deliberately anachronistic score features a rustic mix of medieval crusade songs, ghostly sound effects and 16th- and 17th-century Scandinavian folksongs, arranged for a ragtag bunch of instruments: modern saxophone and acoustic guitar, accordion, fiddle and percussion. Says Dromgoole: "That sort of free-play with anachronism, where you're simultaneously in your own age and you're in a bit of the past and a long way back, is what we base a lot of our work on at the Globe." Not that the days of Jacobean music on the South Bank are over, he says. "Filling in those gaps in people's musical knowledge is such an important part of understanding how we can move forward. If we don't really know our own culture, and our own traditions and our own history as it was, then it's very hard to reinvent the future in interesting ways."
Sadly, the closest the production will be to me is Buxton which is a pity because we have an open air theatre going spare on Renshaw Street in Liverpool.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

That inspiration for Ophelia story.

The obligatory link due to the title of this blog department (I'm in a cynical mood today):
"A little girl of the 16th century, who lost her footing while picking flowers, tumbled into a mill pond and drowned, could have inspired one of the most famous tragic heroines of literature.

"Shakespeare was five at the time of the tragedy that befell Jane Shaxspere in 1569, and would not write Hamlet until 40 years later, but academics now believe the girl may have inspired the fate of the author's character Ophelia."
To be fair, it is seductive idea -- Shakespeare's character is a far more complex character than the "fair woman" in Saxo Grammaticus. But for all we know, the Ur-Hamlet had all of these details too. Assuming that isn't just Q1 as some other academics believe.  As with all Shakespeare scholarship, we're chasing our tails again.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Extract from Kingsley Amis's The King's English: A Guide To Modern Usage

Over a decade ago and old friend, well I assume we're still friends, sent me a copy of Kingsley Amis's The King's English: A Guide To Modern Usage. I've dipped into it now and then in the years since. It's never seemed like the kind of book that can be read from cover to cover despite Amis's magnetic wisdom. His prose can be intimidating, especially since, over and over again, I've been proved wrong on a great many things. Perhaps that's what my friend intended. I'd like to ask her some time.

As is to be expected, Amis mentions Shakespeare somewhat. Usually it's in passing, when searching for a paragon. His most impressive outburst is during the glossary, when after lucidly explain the chronological context for Old English (- AD 1150), Middle English (about 1150 to about 1500) and Modern English (everything since including Shakespeare) where he notes that "only a barbarian talks of old English when Elizabethen or Jacobean or other "old-fashined English" is meant.

Inevitably he does dedicate a complete entry to Shakespeare. It's short and to the point:

It is fair, through hardly very important, that to say or imply that the man of this name is not our greatest writer marks a second-rate person at best. The aberration whereby the name was spelt Shakspere is now happily discontinued. I recommend that the derived adjective be spelt Shakespearean with an E, not Shakespearian with an I.

His works should not be taken as justifying subsequent practice. In particular, as a writer and speaker of the period 1590-1610 he threw accentuation further forward than we now customarily do, making actors in Hamlet, for instance, stress commendable and observance on their first syllables.
Except of course in the weeks when I've listened to a lot of Shakespeare and I find myself slipping into iambic pentameter or at least trying to, the words tripping over one another trying to discover the correct stresses and failing miserably because I lack the vocabulary.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Much Ado About Nothing (Classic Radio Theatre).

It’s with a certain inevitability that since David Tennant’s returned to Benedick at the Wyndham Theatre, AudioGo would rerelease his first run out at the part opposite Samantha Spiro as Beatrice from late September 2001. In the new tie-in edition of Much Ado About Nothing, his new leading lady, Catherine Tate, describes how Tennant mentioned the radio production when she first broached and it’s clear that he thinks of it fondly. And he’s right to. It’s lovely.

Later in the same interview, the actor suggests he was, even at thirty, a bit too young for the part and that it works better slightly older actors, not quite in their first flush, perhaps best if they’re well into their second or even third. Whilst that’s true, his youthful voice still contains much maturity and as Benedick lists his many qualms about the fairer sex, particularly in the shape of Beatrice, he lends the words much experience as well as a touch if nostalgia.

Tennant was still years away from becoming a household name when this was recorded, still known within the industry as a reliable presence on radio and stage and as a character actor on screen. He plays the role in full Scotch brogue, verbally punching the syllables with superb comic timing, and it’s a unique occasion when his description of Claudio “I have known when there was no music / with him but the drum and the fife” gains a geographic resonance.

He contrasts perfectly with Spiro’s RP delivery who because of the timing of this release may well be unfairly compared to Tate. She’s repeated Beatrice too, in 2009 at Regent’s Park and garnered some excellent notices which suggest that Tennant she was unafraid of stressing her maturity and like Tennant, the first seeds of that late blooming approach are planted here. She’s smart, fearless and with a requisite obstinacy which suggests that their war of word will continue into marriage.

But it’s perhaps unfair to focus too much on that duo, when this is the kind of “all star cast” the phrase “all star cast” was designed for, an ensemble that would later underpin the BBC’s prime time schedule. Yes, that is Emilia Fox as an aristocratic Hero, a soft spoken Chiwetel Ejiofor as her beloved Claudio and Silk’s Maxine Peake in the relatively minor role of Margaret, her broad accent introducing a useful class element which is usually only reserved for the interminable Dogberry scenes.

Julian Rhind-Tutt also makes for an especially menacing Don John. On stage the character can become lost amongst the revere, a function of the misunderstandings rather than the trickster he really should be. Rhind-Tutt’s deep voice, has a cold resonance that’s barely human as though the devil himself is stalking what should otherwise be a merry comedy. When he speaks to those outside of his circle, there’s no chemistry, no sense of camaraderie.

Director Sally Avens, perhaps sensing the value of the cast, presents a simple soundscape short on gimmicks, preferring to project the language without too radical an interpretation, no 80s version of Hey Nonny Nonny here. Which isn’t to say the music doesn’t have a vital part to play in unifying the action and the orchestral score provided by composer/performers Simon Oakes and Adam Wolters has a surprisingly melancholic quality.

A final word about the excellent sound design which unlike too much audio theatre gives these characters a physical presence (rather than the disembodied voices which sometimes pull the audience out of the action). When Benedick and Beatrice hide in the arbour and listen to their friend’s subterfuge, the point of view shifts between their harrumphing and the false words they’re listening to, the change in volume suggesting almost magically that most visual of devices, the close-up.

Much Ado About Nothing (Classic Radio Theatre) is published by AudioGo. RRP: £13.25 ISBN: 978 1408 470015. Review copy supplied.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Screen Plays: Theatre Plays on British Television (a research project).

We've talked before, and often, about how somewhere along the line television became bored with theatre or at least filming classical theatre. If it's not school Shakespeare, it doesn't exist. So while it's pleasing to see The Henriad given the period drama treatment and with a great cast, a whole panoply of other plays are relegated to radio if recorded at all.

Perhaps in response to this, in an attempt to demonstrate the long legacy of theatre on television which isn't being respected, John Wyver (mentioned before and often as a producer at Illuminations Media) and Dr Amanda Wrigley at the School of Media, Arts and Design, University of Westminster have begun a research project to ... well, see the contents of this email ...
Friends and colleagues,

Forgive this round-robin mail, but we are delighted to inform you of the start today of our research project Screen Plays; Theatre Plays on British Television.

Screen Plays is a three-year AHRC-funded project from the School of Media, Arts and Design at the University of Westminster. We aim to document and explore the history of theatre plays on British television since 1930, and our deliverables will include a freely accessible online database of information about all of the productions.

We will also organise screenings and conferences, co-ordinate publications and contribute regularly to our Screen Plays blog which can now be found here:

Further details about the project are included in the post, The adventure begins...

We very much hope that the blog, and the project as a whole, will be a focus for lively discussion -- and we look forward to exchanging thoughts and ideas.

[admin related material then ...]

Also, if there are colleagues who you think might be interested in the project, please forward this mail -- and of course we would be delighted to include them in future mailings.

With thanks for your interest, and with best wishes,

John Wyver
Dr Amanda Wrigley

School of Media, Arts and Design
University of Westminster
Now, then. I'm very excited. The British Universities Film & Video Council already have a Shakespeare database in place, it stringently ignores everything else. No Middleton, no Fletcher, certainly no Marlowe unless in something directly connected to the bard.  The BFI has a database too, but it's difficult to use.  There are probably others but this is filling a much needed gap in the "market".