Tag Archives: Shakespeare

Shakespeare’s Local

5 Apr

“Shakespeare’s Local” by Pete Brown is a fascinating look at the George Inn in Southwark.

There has been an inn on the site since the 14th Century, and Pete Brown looks at the history of Southwark through the focus of the George.

The George Inn sits next door to the site of the Tabard, with the White Hart next door.  Both famous inns in English history/literature.

This books is rich in history, trivia, and humour.  Pete Brown frequently wanders down byways following odd little thoughts.

If you are interested in Southwark, history, pubs, oh and Shakespeare, this is the book for you.

Highly recommended.

The Elements of Eloquence

10 Nov

What to say about this brilliant book by Mark Forsyth?

“The Elements of Eloquence” looks at the figures of rhetoric that make up part of English grammar.

Mark Forsyth provides examples ranging from Shakespeare to the Beatles and back again.

He analyzes some of Shakespeare’s greatest lines, explaining why they work and why they are so memorable.

I made several interesting discoveries.  Firstly, that it is possible to sing Lewis Carrol’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter” to the tune of “The House of the Rising Sun”.

The second one was a personal discovery: that Byron’s poem “The Destruction of Sennercherib” has much in common with Clement Clarke Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas”.  This isn’t in the book.  I worked this out for myself.

I also found myself sitting down and analyzing some of my favourite poems by A. A. Milne.

I recommend this book for all lovers of Shakespeare and poetry in general.

Romeo and Juliet

15 Aug

Whilst in London I went to the Garrick Theatre to see Kenneth Branagh’s production of “Romeo and Juliet”.

I found the production uneven.  Two things disturbed me a lot.  One was the setting.  Shakespeare’s plays are, mostly, timeless, in that you can shift them quite happily through time and space without upsetting the story.  However, because “Romeo & Juliet” deals with teenage love, and the marriage of a girl not yet 14, shifting the setting to the fascistic Italy of Mussolini, just feels so badly wrong.  As if Lord Capulet is pandering to a paeodophile in attempting to marry Juliet to Paris.  In Shakespeare’s own time and earlier, this was nothing to quibble about.  Marriages were contracted early.  But by the 1930s-1940s, this simply was not done.

The second thing was the sheer brutality of Lord Capulet.  Turning him from a harried father to a brutal, abusive, psychopath, changed the tone too much.  There was no need for the violence displayed on stage as he throws Juliet around in his rage.  No, sorry, if I want to see that I’ll watch the bloody news.

However, the production does have three things going for it.  Three of the actors.

Sir Derek Jacobi – I freely admit that I wanted to attend the play purely for the chance to see one of the greatest actors of our age on the stage.  Having adored him in the BBC Shakespeare’s productions of “Richard II” and “Hamlet” in my teens.  Sir Derek played Mercutio.  Usually a young man, full of pomposity and arrogance, in Sir Derek’s hands, Mercutio becomes an avuncular oracle to Romeo, dispensing advice, wit, and sarcasm in equal measures.  His death scene is a delight.

Meera Syal – Meera played Juliet’s nurse, one of Shakespeare’s most delightful comic creations.  She captured the stage and the audience in the palm of her hand and never let them go.  A brilliant performance.

Samuel Valentine – Friar Laurence is one of those characters, like Horatio in “Hamlet”, where the role is small, but pivotal.  Samuel’s Friar Laurence was a creation of strength, honour, and love.  Watch for this actor.  I am positive he will go on to greater things.

Though, as I said, the production was uneven, I would not have missed it for the world.  The chance to see three fantastic actors at work, was well worth the cost.

Lady MacBeth’s Daughter

19 Jul

“Lady MacBeth’s Daughter” by Lisa M. Klein is a delightful book that takes an unusual look at Shakespeare’s famous tragedy.

While the viewpoint does switch, the story is mostly told from the viewpoint of Albia, the daughter of MacBeth and his wife, who was abandoned at birth and raised by three weird sisters.

It’s marketed as a young adult romance, but don’t let that stop you for several reasons.

It’s a damn good story.  Well told and absorbing.

The romance isn’t overplayed.  It’s young love (Albia and Fleance), but not in that nauseating way that adults seem to usually view teenagers in the first flush of love.  In all honesty it is more of a female perspective quest narrative than a romance.  Love drives the quest, but then that is usual of most quest narratives anyway.

The story, like any good quest, has a sprinkling of myth and magic to season it.  In this case it’s Celtic.

Highly recommended.

Shakespeare Live

8 May

I went to the cinema yesterday to see “Shakespeare Live”.  The RSC homage to the Bard on the 400th anniversary of his death.

A friend of mine saw it back in April and commented that it was very much like the curate’s egg.  I pretty much have to agree with her.  It was good in parts, mediocre in some, and downright terrible in others.

However, good, bad, and mediocre are subjective, so I’ll just dwell on the parts I truly loved and leave it to others to make their own minds up.

In my view it was an inspired choice to have the production hosted by David Tennant and Catherine Tate, who were the RSC’s most popular Benedick and Beatrice in “Much Ado About Nothing”.  They work well together and were obviously enjoying themselves.

Catherine did the “Seven Ages of Man” speech, which worked very well.

Dame Judi Dench made a wonderful Titania from “A Midsummers Night’s Dream”.  I love the fact that the RSC will not be bound by convention.

Sanjiv Bhaskar and Meera Syal gave wonderful performances as Benedick and Beatrice from “Much Ado About Nothing”.  I would love to see them in a production of the play.

Roger Allam’s performance of Lear’s ‘blow winds’ speech was powerful.  Roger is constantly under-rated as an actor.  He has one of the most glorious voices.

Some of the music was very good too.  Rufus Wainwright has put some of the Sonnets to music.  The one he sang was beautiful to listen to.  I shall have to see if it is available on CD.  It is something I would listen to for sure.  Alison Moyet provided music to Shakespeare’s song “Sigh No More”, which was hauntingly beautiful.

For me, and I suspect, for many others, was the ‘To be or not to be’ sketch.  A young actor begins to declaim the speech only to be interrupted by other actors trying to instruct him how to do it.  Starting with the very funny Tim Minchin.  Benedict Cumberbatch’s entrance during this sketch was greeted with massive applause.  Tim Minchin’s confusing him with Eddie Redmayne was hilarious (“I loved you as the Danish girl”).  David Tennant, Ian McKellen and others all adding their ten cents worth.  But the high point was Prince Charles appearing on stage to declaim the first two lines of the speech.  Brilliantly done.

All in all, “Shakespeare Live” was a fitting tribute to the man who has given the English speaking world so much.


London 2016

11 Apr

I’m off back to dear old Blighty for two weeks again this year.  Same time as last year.  July/August.

This year, the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, I am trying to give my two weeks in London a Shakespearean flavour.

There are two things that I am confirmed doing so far.  One is visiting the British Library’s special exhibition “Shakespeare in Ten Acts”.  As they will have one of the few known examples of William Shakespeare’s handwriting as part of the exhibition, that’s a must.

The other is attending a performance.  I have a ticket to see “Romeo and Juliet”, put on by Kenneth Brannagh’s Theatre Company, at the Garrick Theatre.  For me the highlight of this performance is the fact Sir Derek Jacobi will be playing Mercutio.  The chance to see an actor I consider one of the finest Shakespearean actors of our age performing live is too good to miss.  I have seen recorded performances by Sir Derek.  Notably his Hamlet and Richard II for the BBC back in the late 1970s.

I am hoping to get to Oxford as well, as the Bodleian Library has a free exhibition on Shakespeare and death.

I’m also going to try and squeeze in a visit to the Globe Theatre.  Maybe just a tour of it, because I’m not sure I’m going to get a chance to see a play there too.  Even though they are performing on of my favourites this season – “Macbeth”.

All in all, it’s going to be a wonderful two weeks.

Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet

25 Aug

I was fortunate enough when I was in London to have a ticket to one of the previews of “Hamlet”, starring Benedict Cumberbatch.

This isn’t going to be a review of the play.  Enough unqualified people have shoved their oar into that particular pond without me now shoving mine into the morass.  This is my impression of Benedict in what has become an iconic role.

I, like so many others, discovered Benedict via the BBC show “Sherlock”.  It was obvious from the first episode that here was an actor of incredible talent.  Apart from “Sherlock”, I have since watched Benedict in other things, my favourite being both versions of Nick Dear’s play “Frankenstein”, which really made me wish I could see Benedict live on stage.  I got that chance on 12th August 2015.

The role of Hamlet is one that really tests the mettle of an actor.  Apart from the final scene, the majority of the play’s drama rests on the shoulders of this one actor.  It is a role that can make an actor’s reputation, or sink him without trace.  Sir Derek Jacobi was my favourite Hamlet.  After seeing what Benedict did with the role, I now have a new definitive Hamlet.  The one I hear and see in my mind’s eye whenever I read the play, which is a lot.

Benedict’s Hamlet is a brilliantly conflicted character.  Hamlet starts off quiet and gentle, playing records and gently grieving, and then Benedict’s energy just explodes onto the stage, leaving the audience breathless.

Hamlet’s madness taking the form of a return to childhood was a perfect touch, as far as I was concerned.  The psychological return to a happier time when his father was alive and Hamlet a mere boy, gave the madness a poignancy that is often lacking in productions of the play.

Benedict, thankfully, played down the often incestuous overtones of Hamlet’s relationship with his mother Gertrude.  Those scenes have always made me feel slightly nauseous.  Thankfully, there is no hint of an Oedipus Complex in this production.

Benedict handles the extremes of the play with a deft hand.  From the madness, to the bawdy humour, to the anguish and anger of revenge, to grieving for Ophelia, Benedict never gives less than his whole heart.  One line, “O vengeance!”, cried from the depths of Hamlet’s soul, quite literally made the hair on the back on my neck stand up.

Benedict’s handling of Hamlet is, I hesitate to use the word perfection, but to me that is what it is.  He creates a Hamlet that aligns completely with my personal vision of the character.

Benedict is such a powerful actor with an enormous stage presence that television and film mute quite a bit.  You can tell he’s a good actor on screen, but it takes seeing him perform on stage to get a real measure of his brilliance.

Hamlet is a Sell Out

11 Aug

Okay, I expected Shakespeare’s Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch to sell well.  I DID NOT expect it to sell out.

20,000+ people were in the queue at one point.  That was when I knew that the Barbican had a situation without precedence on their hands.

A few of Benedict’s fans have been saying that everyone should have known it would sell out.  I don’t agree.

Firstly, the tickets went on sale twelve months in advance for what is a three month run in one of London’s largest theatres.  There is no way in hell that any sort of sales projection could come up with a complete sell out of all public tickets within a matter of hours.

Think about it.  All tickets (membership AND public) were gone by the first day of public sales for an old, undoubtedly a classic, play that isn’t being staged for another TWELVE MONTHS.

You’d have to be bloody Nostradamus to see that coming!

Hamlet at the Barbican

7 Aug

Having been amongst those fortunate blessed to get a ticket, expect a number of blogs throughout the next twelve months as more news comes out about casting, staging etc.

To say I am excited right now is an understatement.

Roll on August 2015 and Benedict Cumberbatch as Hamlet at the Barbican.

This is going to be the most quickly passing twelve months on record. 😀

As Luck Would Have It

24 Jun

Sir Derek Jacobi has been a favourite actor of mine ever since I saw him in the BBC production of Shakespeare’s Richard II.

His autobiography “As Luck Would Have It” is as warm and as sweet as you would expect from this lovely man.

He is open and honest about his career and his personal problems, but at no point does he invite you to feel sorry for him.  It’s very much “this is me; this is what happened”.  No excuses and no bullshit.

“As Luck Would Have It” is also chock-a-block with delightful theatrical anecdotes and bon mots.  I was reduced to helpless giggles many times during my reading of the book.

In many ways “As Luck Would Have It” is a throwback to the old style of theatrical memoir.  It has a warm, friendly feel to it, lots of wonderful stories, and no decorating of other actor’s shoulder blades with metaphorical knife hilts, as has become so common in recent years.

His recollections of the four times he played Hamlet make for wonderful reading for any dedicated Shakespeare aficionado.

I can’t recommend “As Luck Would Have It” highly enough.  I think it would be of particular interest to those interested in English theatre, the early days of the National Theatre, those who enjoy a good, old fashioned memoir, and fans of Sir Derek.

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