Margo's Musings

Random ramblings about my life, and anything else which takes my fancy.

Shakespeare Live!
Yesterday, 23rd April 2016, was the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare's death, and the Royal Shakespeare Company and the BBC collaborated on a celebration, which was broadcast live on BBC2 and to cinemas.

Naturally, I watched. It was fantastic.

It was introduced by Catherine Tate and David Tennant (who of course, as well as their performances together on Doctor Who, appeared as Benedict and Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing in 2011)

The evening featured wonderful snippets of Shakespeare's plays, but also other art inspired by him, such as Ballet -  Tyrone Singleton, of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, who danced Othello, was particularly impressive  (I enjoyed that more than the Romeo and Juliet pas-de-deux)

There was also opera (The English National Opera, giving parts of Berlioz's 'Beatrice et Benedict' and Verdi's 'Falstaff') and more music and dance - Akala, Rufus Wainwright, Gregory Porter, Rufus Hound and Henry Goodman performing 'Brush up your Shakespeare', and Joseph Fiennes wandering around Stratford upon Avon with his hands in his pockets, giving a potted biography of the man himself.

Al Murray as Bottom (C) BBC

There were, of course, some wonderful performances - Judi Dench and Al Murray, as Titania and Bottom, Harriet Walter as Cleopatra, Meera Syall as Beatrice.

And, one of the biggest highlights of the evening, Paapa Essiedu (currently appearing as Hamlet at the RSC, and doing so exceptionally well) came in in order to give the 'To be, or not to be' soliloquy, and was, alas, rudely interrupted...

(If the video won't play for you, Paapa is interrupted by Tim Minchin wishing to give advice about the speech, followed in turn by Benedict Cumberbatch (mistaken by all for Eddie Redmayne) Harriet Walter, David Tennant, Rory Kinnear, Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench ("It is I, Hamlet the Dame") and finally, Prince Charles...

I would have loved it if they had managed to get Maxine Peake, too

Sadly, the video stops at that point, and doesn't show Paapa going on to give the full speech, which cannot have been easy, following directly on from the sketch!

Sir Ian McKellen

And directly afterwards, Sir Ian McKellen gave 'The Migrant's Speech' from Sir Thomas More:

Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding tooth ports and costs for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you. You had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.

It was beautifully done.

I would have loved to have been in the audience at Stratford,but as I couldn't be, I'm glad they broadcast it.I believe the full thing is available on BBC iPlayer for the next month.
Happy Birthday, Master Shakespeare!

( I may also have spent some time watching Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons in 'The Hollow Crown', and am looking forward to the next ones, the first of which is going to be shown early next month)

Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe and other friends

After my morning of exhibitions, I headed over to the Globe Theatre, or rather to it's neighbour, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.

It's the first time I have been. The playhouse was built in 2014 and is a reproduction of a Jacobean indoor theatre, built of wood (within in brick shell) and lit by candles. It was built based on 17th Century plans - and is likely to be similar to the Blackfriars Theatre which was built in 1596 and used by Shakespeare's 'Lord Chamberlain's Men' from 1608, so his later plays would have performed somewhere like this.

It's not very big - it seats 340 (snugly) and it's an interesting experience. As I booked months ago, I had a seat in the front row of the pit (the front row consisting of two teeny wooden benches, one each side of the aisle, each seating 3 people. It is, I have to say, extremely uncomfortable. But close to the action. Like the Globe, the actors have lots of entrances and exits via the aisle.

(photo from the Globe's website)

As well as being my first visit to the Playhouse, it was also the first time I have seen 'Cymbeline'.

It's an interesting play - Othello-esque jealousy, plus cross-dressing, a wicked step-mother, mistaken identity, battles, Romans and a happy ending (except, of course, for the wicked step-mother. Oh, and the guy who got decapitated). But mostly a happy ending.

It was good fun. Although I have to say, I thing Innogen was remarkably forgiving of her husband's whole 'order my faithful servant to murder my wife because I believed my Italian  acquaintance when he claimed he slept with her, without pausing to consider that he stood to lose 3,000 ducats and a lot of street cred if he admitted she turned him down'

I particularly enjoyed the performances of Trevor Fox, as Posthumus's servant, Pisanio, Emily Barber as Innogen, and Eugene O'Hare as the underhand and scheming Iachimo (sporting a somewhat anachronistic plastic cast on one leg, but not letting it slow him down in any way)

Very glad I went.

And then, after meeting up with A, and getting food (and conversation) we headed to the Duke of York's Theatre to see Dr. Faustus.

It's a very . .. interesting .. production. It combined Christopher Marlowe's original text (and Elizabethan language) for the first and last scenes, with middle scenes rewritten (in modern language)  by Colin Teevan, and features Faustus (Harington) achieving fame and fortune as a superstar stage magician.

There are topical references, to President Obama, Tony Blair, Cameron's tax affairs. It is not for the squeamish or easily offended. There are demons in grubby underwear (and at times in nothing at all), murders, suicide, rape, smoking. It was not quite what I as expecting, but very well done.

Jenna Russell is superb as Mephistopheles - She, I think, is the real star of this show. Which is not to say that Harington isn't good; he is, but she is outstanding - I particularly enjoyed her comments to latecomers, returning to the stalls after the interval, as she sang, and her word-weary dealings with Faustus.

(for those wondering, the full frontal nudity in the play is not that of Mr Harington, although he  does strip down to his underwear)

I'm a little tempted now to book to see the RSC's production of the play, just for the contrast..

Oh, and kids, the takeaway message here is Just Say No to Pacts with Satan, especially when sealed with your own blood. It doesn't end well.

A Busy Saturday with Fake Tudors and real Egyptions and Master Wm. Shakespeare

I had a very busy few days over the weekend, starting on Friday, with a work-related course. The course took place in London, and started at 9 a.m., which meant that I had a very early early start, having to get up at 5.30 in order to get a train just after 7. I am still undecided as to whether the curse was worth it, but it did mean (as I decided that going home on Friday night and back to London on Saturday morning would just be silly ) that I unexpectedly had Saturday morning in London.

I had, ages ago, booked to see Cymbeline at the Sam Wanamaker playhouse at the Globe, and (later but still some time ago) arranged to meet up with my friend A to see the new production by the Jamie Lloyd Theatre Co. of Kit Marlowe's 'Dr. Faustus', but the first of those wasn't until 2:30,so I had the morning to fill...

I did consider going to visit Bagpuss and the Clangers but then I saw that there was an exhibition on at Somerset House as part of the celebrations of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death, so  I decided to go there instead.

En route to Somerset House I found myself passing Two Temple Place, so decided to pop in to see their 'Beyond Beauty: Transforming the body in ancient Egypt' exhibition.

The exhibition was interesting, including some ancient textiles, as well as masks and other funerary artifacts, not to mention some interesting background information about early Egyptologists.

However, for me, the exhibition was outclassed by the setting. Two Temple Place is an extraordinary building!

It was, apparently, built for William Waldorf Astor in 1895, primarily for use as his estate office, rather than as a home, but it was built in a Tudor / Renaissance  style, packed with wood panelling, hammer beams, carved wood friezes, bronze panels and more.

There is a large central hall, with galleried stairway, stained glass ceiling and marble floors. And two huge stained glass windows (by Clayton & Bell)

A fascinating place!

I then moved on to Somerset House, and visited their exhibition. It was small, and consisted of a number of documents associated with Shakespeare, including copies of the evidence he, and another person, gave (for a law-suit brought against his landlord in relation to a a marriage portion (or 'porcion', as the clerk wrote), which includes Shakespeare's signature, copies of evidence given in connection with a  politically sensitive performance of 'Richard II', books recording plays performed, and grants of cloth to Shakespeare and his men as part of the coronation parade and finally, Shakespeare's will!

It's an interesting, if small, exhibition.  I'm glad I went.

The Herbal Bed

I generally only go to the theatre at weekends, but I had to exchange my ticket for 'The Herbal Bed' to Wednesday night, as I can't go on Friday night.

It is an interesting play. It's based on a true incident in the life of William Shakespeare's daughter, Susanna Hall, who, in 1613 was accused of adultery with a neighbour, Rafe Smith, and successfully sued her accuser, Jack Lane, for slander.

The play portrays Susanna (Emma Lowndes)  as a passionate, intelligent and educated woman, respecting but not loving her physician husband, with Jack Lane portrayed as her husband's young (and immature) student,  Rafe Smith (Philip Correia ) as a friend and neighbour, mourning the loss of his children, and the resulting disintegration of his relationship with his wife, and John Hall (Jonathan Guy Lewis) as a man dedicated to his profession, and apparently less aware of his wife's needs and desires.

According to the play, Susanna and Rafe are not, technically guilty of adultery, but only through luck.

Jack is a somewhat pathetic character, his accusations made, it appears, out of jealousy (Susanna having not only rejected his advances to her, but also made him apologise to her maidservant for his unwanted advances to her, too)

The second half of the play is darker. With Lane refusing to publicly retract his allegations, the Halls find themselves having to take their case to trial at Worcester cathedral, where they face uncomfortable questioning - Smith and Susanna aware of their own guilty desires, and Hall aware of this, but determined, whether for the sake of his practice, or his family's reputation, to pursue the claim .

The questioner, Barnabus Goche (Michael Mears) is the least attractive character, motivated, it appears, by religious zeal, to sift to the bottom the case brought before him, notwithstanding the non-appearance of the defendant, and the claimants' unwillingness to pursue further.

I enjoyed the evening - the play was interesting, and the cast good, but the whole thing didn't quite work for me - I would have liked to see more development of John Hall's character, for instance.

But worth seeing, for all that!

Single Spies

Friday evening saw me back at Bath Theatre Royal again, this time to see 'Single Spies' . It is some time since I booked the tickets, so I had forgotten, until I arrived at the theatre and bought a programme, that this is not a single play, but 2 one act plays (by Alan Bennett) both dealing with members of the Cambridge Spy Ring.

The first of the two plays, 'An Englishman Abroad' is set in Moscow in 1958, the Englishman in question being  Guy Burgess, who disappeared with fellow Soviet spy Donald MacLean in 1951, resurfacing in Moscow.

The play is based on real events, and is told from the points of view of Burgess himself, and of Coral Browne, an Australia born actress who met Burgess while visiting Moscow as part of a cultural exchange in 1958.

Burgess (Nicholas Farrell) comes across as a rather pathetic figure; yearning for gossip about London, frustrated at being constantly associated with his fellow spy, MacLean - a picture of lonely exile. Browne (Belinda Lang) is very detached, happy to assist Burgess in his desire to replace his Savile Row suit, and unimpressed by his politics, sacrifice or betrayal.

The second play is 'A Question of Attribution' which features David Robb (Downton Abbey's Dr Clarkson) as Sir Anthony Blunt, Art Historian, Keeper of the Queen's Pictures, and the Fourth Man in the Cambridge Spy Ring. Robb is excellent in the role, and Belinda Lang appeared again as the Queen (I think rather more successfully than her earlier role) as the play mingles art history and comment with Blunt investigating the history of a Caravaggio whilst parrying attempts to investigate his past associations. (Blunt was granted immunity from prosecution for his espionage in return for providing information)

The play is, in parts, extremely funny, and there cast is excellent.

A fun night out.

Easter Weekend

A bit of a belated blog, as I've been under the weather since I returned home, but I'm starting to feel more human again now!

We had a 4 day weekend for Easter, and I decided I needed a relaxing time, so I spent the weekend in Devon, at my parents' home.

It didn't start too well, as apparently the entire population of Britain decided to spend the long weekend in Devon, so the drive down was slow, dark and windy, finishing with following a very nervous caravan-driver, who did't get above 25 mph.!

However, once I arrived,things improved. Living alone as I do, it is always nice to be a guest and to have someone else doing the cooking!

Friday was forecast to have the best weather of the long weekend, so we decided to make the most of it.

We went to Heddon Valley, and took a 6 mile circular walk to Woody Bay, where the outward leg is mainly along the coast, with spectacular views, and the return leg slightly inland, among woods and gorse.

It was a beautiful bright, sunny day. In fact, so sunny that we even spotted a rather lovely little lizard.

(I assume it is a Common Lizard, as apparently the only other sort you get in this country are Sand Lizards, which are extremely rare, so it's unlikely to be one of them!)

The trees were still mainly bare, but looked wonderful in the sunshine!

And we felt we had earned the ice creams we indulged in at the end of the walk!

On the way home we did a detour to Coombe Martin in order for me to go and look at the sea close up (I decided not to paddle. It was a sunny day, but it's still only March!)

Saturday was extremely wet, so we stayed home, and indulged in the traditional family pastime of being sociable by all sitting silently in the same room while we read! And eating, obviously.

Sunday was  supposed to be wet with sunny intervals, but turned out instead to be sunny with showers, so we were able to go out again - this time to Baggy Point.

Although it wasn't as wet as predicted, it was *very* windy

It's a shame we hadn't thought to bring a kite!

We started with a steep climb up the hill, then a walk along the cliff path. The wind meant that the waves were big, and even up on the cliff there was lots of salty spray.

And, of course, at the point when we were furthest from the car (or indeed any other sort of shelter!) the sky turned grey and the heavens opened.

The rain was icy cold and this was the point at which I realised that *my* waterproofs were still in the back of *my* car, back at the house... So I got rather damp. But we huddled in a slightly sheltered dip in the ground and ate mini easter eggs until the worst of the rain passed. And then walked back briskly enough to stay warm and start to dry off!

Then, after a quick picnic in the car, looking out over the sea (except for when we had another shower, when it felt more like being under the sea, watching the water sleet down the windows) we walked down to the shore for a short stroll along the beach, which was looking beautiful, particularly when the sun came out.

It was a lovely, relaxing weekend. I had an equally slow journey home on Monday. (And then immediately came down with a nasty bug, which rather took the shine off the following week, but perhaps it would have been worse had I not just had such a relaxing weekend!

Long Days Journey Into Night

Bristol Old Vic is celebrating its 250th Anniversary this year, and as part of their celebrations, they have persuaded a number of their alumni to return to the theatre, among them, Jeremy Irons.

He returns to play James Tyrone, in Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ together with Lesley Manville   as Mary Tyrone, Hadley Fraser and Billy Howle as their sons James and Edmund, and Jessica Regan as their servant, Kathleen, all directed by Sir Richard Eyre.

I have never previously seen the play, but with that line up, just up the road from home, I could'n’t resist.

The performance I saw was the first preview,  and it showed a little. This is not an easy play, nor one which is enjoyable in the usual sense.  (for those who, like me, are unfamiliar with the play, it involves cheerful themes of family dysfunction, drug addition, alcoholism, social exclusion, fear of  poverty,  and consumption).

The play is, apparently, largely autobiographical, which suggests that O'Neill had a deeply miserable life. However, although the play is not easy, there were some amazing performances.

I think that Lesley Manville deserves greatest praise - as Mary Tyrone, her performance as the deeply emotional, morphine addicted wife and mother, desperate for a home (not merely a house), tragically aware or her own weaknesses, and deeply nostalgic for her indulgent father and the religious certainty of her youth,  is absolutely stunning.

Fraser and Howle, as James Jnr. and Edmund respectively are also both excellent, Hadley Fraser is wholly convincing as the dissolute, alcoholic elder brother, torn between his love for, and resentment of, his younger brother, and Howle is equally strong as the younger brother, facing up to his diagnosis of consumption.

Jessica Regan has the relatively small role of Cathleen, the Tyrone's maid, and does it very well - which cannot be easy, as so much of the role consists of reacting to others rather than speaking.

Jeremy Irons himself was at times compelling, particularly in his smaller gestures, and rough concern for his son and wife. He did, however, stumble over his lines once or twice, and his accent was a little uncertain, which was slightly distracting at times.

The family all come across as loving one another, but unable to beat their own respective demons, and tied in to damaging and dysfunctional relationships.

It was an excellent production of a very difficult play. Well worth seeing. Particularly for Lesley Manville's performance.

RSC Hamlet

The RSC's season this spring includes a new production of Hamlet, and I thought it would be interesting to see it.

The title role is played by Paapa Essiedu,with Hiran Abeysekera as Horatio, Marcus Griffiths as Laertes, Natalie Simpson as Ophelia, and Tanya Moodie and Clarence Smith as Gertrude and Claudius, respectively.

The performance I saw was the very first preview  performance, and we were told, immediately before the play began, that the cast had not had the opportunity to have a full dress rehearsal on the main stage!

Despite one or two small glitches, which will no doubt be sorted as the run continues, it was a good performance and a very good production. I don't think there was a single weak link in the cast.

The production sets the play in a contemporary, (unidentified) African nation, and at the start of play we see his graduation from Wittenberg University - there is a feeling of a clash of culture between Hamlet, with his foreign education and friends, (Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are, here, presented as young outsiders - gap year travellers, perhaps, tourists unfamiliar with the customs of the country.)  and the court and customs of Denmark.

And it works really, really, well.

Essiedu's Hamlet is young and passionate, very volatile - his 'madness' a relatively short step from his earlier volatility. The friendship between Hamlet and Horatio appears deep and enduring - Horatio's loyalty to Hamlet, and his despair in the final scenes, as a result, are completely believable.

Cyril Nri's Polonius was far more dignified, and far less a figure of fun, than he usually is, which, coupled with the warmth of the scenes between him and his children, makes Ophelia's descent into madness following his death appear more a reaction to his death, than to Hamlet's repudiation of his love for her.

What else? Ewart James Walters is the most dignified and awe-inspiring Ghost you could imagine, and the final duel between Hamlet and Leartes is fast and thrilling (even though you know how it will end, and the production as a whole brings a freshness to the [lay which is pretty impressive, considering that the play is 400 years old.

If you can get to Stratford and see it, I strongly recommend it. If you can't, try to catch it when it is broadcast to cinemas in June.

I believe that Paapa Essiedu and Hiran Abeysekera are both going to be appearing in the BBC's production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' which is showing later this year, as Demetrius and Puck respectively. I was looking  forward to that already, but after seeing this, I'm looking forward to it even more!


On Wednesday evening (2nd March - I'm falling behind in my blogging)  I was back in Bath's Guildhall to see (and hear) the incomparable BRIAN BLESSED.

He was utterly superb. The festival had, wisely, decided against giving him a mike, and despite a spirited attempt to get him up onto the stage, he chose instead to bound out into the aisle, explaining that he 'hates stages' (which might, one would think, be a slight disadvantage to an actor, but maybe theatre stages are different!)

He roared "GORDON'S ALIVE", which met with great enthusiasm from the audience, before starting to talk to us about himself and (very briefly) his book.

He told us that he has recently completed Cosmonaut training with the Russians, at the age of 79, and that we should ask him about Space. And Yetis.

He then complimented various members of the audience and  spoke briefly about other actors, and the normal sort of actor's biography which is all about which other actors they know. (He then mentioned Kenneth Branagh, saying that they have a father/son relations where Ken is the father, before deciding to give us a bit of Shakespeare, so declaimed the glorious Chorus's speech from Henry V, which starts "O for a muse of fire..."

It was superb, and  made me regret again that I didn't learn that he was performing King Lear, last year, until after the entire run was sold out. I've never seen him perform live - although his performance as Exeter in the Ken Branagh Henry V is memorable (Even if the sight of Brian Blessed in full armour on a war horse makes the outcome of battle of Agincourt seem more like a foregone conclusion and less like a forlorn hope)

And then... there were anecdotes about the different places and circumstances in which he has been asked to do the 'GORDON'S ALIVE' thing.. I'm sure that normal actors get asked to quote from their most famous performances, probably in the street, or at restaurants. BRIAN BLESSED, it seems, gets asked in slightly different situations. You know, by Masai warriors half way up Kilimanjaro, by the Queen, at Buckingham Palace, by the Prime Minister, in the Cabinet Room, or (my personal favourite) by the captain of the Russian submarine which has unexpectedly surfaced through the ice near the North Pole!

Then he spoke about his background - he was the son of a coal-miner, and left school at 14 after his father was injured. He spoke several times about having not been to grammar school, and having been in a 'C Class' (I assume as opposed to an 'A', top stream), and seemed to have a great sense of astonishment and appreciation that he has come so far, and had such an interesting life.

He talked about having been friendly, as a young man, with Patrick Stewart - they were both involved with amateur theatre before turning professional, and about how they both applied to go to Drama School, but that he did not expect to be able to attend, being just a 'class C' lad, who had left school at 14 and had no scholarships.

He did, of course, get into Bristol Old Vic theatre school, and they provided him with a scholarship, so (after a stint of National Service, in the parachute regiment (74 jumps)) he arrived in Bristol.. where, among other things, he went jogging naked with Peter O'Toole. (no, we didn't get an explanation as to *why* they were jogging naked..

A little later he talked about his time at the National Theatre (not, I think, a fan of the building. He described it as being 'like Colditz'.) And about hiding in a cupboard and jumping out at John Geilgud. As one does.

And about filming the Flash Gordon, and playing Vultan, and being told, gently, by the director that it was not necessary to add one's own *pew* *pew* *pew* sound effects during attack scenes with the Hawkmen. . .

He described how his work on 'Peppa Pig' is just as popular as his more classical work..

An talked with huge enthusiasm about his involvement in the Mars project (He has been training with astronauts and other scientists), his optimism and enthusiasm for space exploration, and for the human race, and his admiration and love for Shakespeare ("The blue planet, our planet, has had it's author. It would be greedy to expect another")

It was such fun. I did have a certain amount of sympathy for the poor festival person who ha the difficult task of interrupting him and persuading him to stop talking (she did a splendid job, the event only over ran by 15 minutes)

And afterwards, he signed books, and posed for photos, and said thank you to us for buying his book.

I'm just disappointed there wasn't time for him to tell us about Yetis, or the time he punched a Polar Bear.

ETA: I just re-read this, and I can't believe I forgot to mention that he finished up the evening by telling us about the time he appeared as Pavarotti on 'Stars in their eyes' and then singing us o sole mio. On top of everything else the man can sing. Glorious!

Shakespeare and Stuff

After Alice Roberts and Neil Jordan, my day of Bath Lit. Fest. on Saturday continued with their 'Shakespeare Gala', which I saw with my friend T.

The brochure wasn't very detailed, so I was not sure what to expect.

The first half of the evening was series of short scenes presented by The Salon Collective , who explained that the scenes were prepared for in the way that actors in Shakespeare's own day would have received them: each actor being given only their own lines, and the 'cue word' -the last word of the preceding speaker's line, so they do not necessarily know what the scene is about or who else is involved.

The scenes they performed were all Shakespearean, mainly linking scenes, so we had Emilia helping Desdemona prepare for bed, rather than a big confrontation between Othello and Desdemona.

It was interesting, although not as much fun as I had hoped.

There was then an extremely long interval, and I think a lot of people left  during the interval,as there seemed to be a lot of empty seats for the second half. Which is a shame, as the second event was a lot of fun!

It was a largely improvised performance, based on suggestions as to style and content from the audience, and performed in extempore Shakespearean verse. Our show was a late comedy, entitled 'The Wives of Bath' and involving  mistaken identity, lechery, treachery, and just a soupcon of history, all interspersed with occasional pauses for the artists to explain the rhyme schemes they were using.

It was very, very clever, and enormous fun.


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