Monday List: 5 Great Shakespeare Adaptations

I tend to think Shakespeare is best live and in a theatre – but with no shortage of screen adaptations, there are plenty of gems in there amidst the dullness of others. In honour of tonight’s broadcast of King Lear on BBC Two (9:30pm), enjoy this list of other fab adaptations of Shakespeare’s work.

  1. Shakespeare Re-Told: Much Ado About Nothing
    Re-telling Shakespeare in modern-day English, this series saw James McAvoy as a murderous Michelin-starred Macbeth, Shirley Henderson and Rufus Sewell as warring politicians in The Taming of the Shrew, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream set in a caravan park. But none of those was as good as the joyous rewrite of Shakespeare’s best romcom (no arguments please) by David NichollsSarah Parrish and Damien Lewis are Beatrice and Benedick as broadcasters, whose bickering is too much to take for their colleagues. It’s light-hearted and funny, just as this play should be.
  2. The Hollow Crown: Richard II
    All of The Hollow Crown is fantastic; faithful to the text, beautifully shot and acted. This, the first of them, is still my favourite, partly because I love Ben Whishaw and Rory Kinnear, who star as Richard and Bolingbroke respectively. You can find my review from way back in 2012, when this was first aired here.
  3. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Russell T Davies)
    If you’re looking for a more irreverent take on a classic than The Hollow Crown will give you, Russell T Davies’ version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream should be right up your alley. However well you think you know this story of fairies and donkey heads and lovers, the last ten minutes will definitely surprise you. It’s also as star-studded as tonight’s King Lear, with Maxine Peake, Matt Lucas, John Hannah, Elaine Paige, and a handful of excellent young RSC/Globe actors as Puck and the lovers.
  4. Shakespeare Live! From the RSC
    Not strictly a full adaptation, but this deserves a place on this list for the many joyous excerpts from Shakespeare scenes, starring many British national treasures. The Rory Kinnear/Anne Marie Duff Macbeth scene is so gripping, it makes the recent National Theatre production feel like even more of a let-down. And who can forget the hilarious ‘To Be or Not To Be?’ sketch, starring none other than Prince Charles.
  5. Romeo + Juliet (Baz Luhrmann, 1996)
    The absolute classic. I was planning to just focus on TV adaptations, but I couldn’t leave this out. Flashy and over-the-top and melodramatic, this is a perfectly teenagery, stylistic version of Shakespeare’s fatal romance, filled with lustful longing. Also Leonardo DiCaprio deserves to be on every list in existence.

#tbt The Astor Place Riot

When I say crowd riot, you might think of political protests, student revolution, football hooligans, eager fans. Theatre does not leap automatically to mind. Yet the 10th May 1849, 169 years ago today, saw a deadly riot break out at the Astor Opera House in Manhattan, NYC, killing at least 25 and injuring over 120: the infamous Astor Place Riot. And what provoked this awful event (and the largest number of civilian casualties due to military action in the United States since the American Revolutionary War)? A fight between two actors over who performed Shakespeare better. Talk about divas…

In fact, theatre riots were not an unusual occurrence in the early nineteenth century. Theatre was entertainment for the masses. Actors, and particularly the superstar actor-managers like our protagonists Edwin Forrest and William Charles Macready had legions of hardcore fans ready to defend them on a word (think the Cumberbitches/Directioners on steroids). ea3b8711772038b4ae14fe3220885461--america--break-outs

This came to a head when the Astor Place Opera House invited acclaimed British tragedian Macready to perform Macbeth during his US tour. This pissed the patrons of the Bowery Theater right off, as they were champions of American actor Forrest. Forrest had recently returned from a disappointing European tour where he’d been hissed and booed in London by Macready’s fans. In retaliation, Forrest embarked on a tour of the same cities Macready was playing, doing a rival version of Macbeth. Thus, when Macready was scheduled to appear at the Astor Place Opera House, the Bowery Theater downtown would mount Forrest’s production of Macbeth. As any Shakespeare fan knows, two Scottish plays in one city can surely never lead to good things.

However, this was not simply a fight about Shakespeare. It was rooted in much deeper conflicts; class, nationality, values. Astor Place was seen as a venue for the upper class; the Bowery Theater was not. The pretensions of the Astor Place moneyed patrons had become offensive to an emerging street culture embodied by “B’hoys,” or “Bowery Boys.” Macready and Forrest therefore came to represent upper-class New Yorkers versus lower-class, English versus American values.

On May 7th, things started badly. Macready walked onstage to be greeted by boos, hisses, and pelted rotten eggs and old boots. The performance had to be cancelled. Macready refused to perform for the next two days. It was only on May 10th that he agreed to continue – bravely ignoring, or blissfully unaware, that the Bowery Boys had stuck up posters around the city demanding action from its citizens: SHALL AMERICANS OR ENGLISH RULE THIS CITY?

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By the time the performance began a crowd of ten to twenty thousand people surrounded Astor Place, pelting it with bricks and paving stones. New York’s elite militia, the Seventh Regiment, was called in to quell the riot—the first time a military unit had been asked to do so in peacetime. When the crowd did not disburse, the soldiers were given the order to fire. Eighteen died that day, although more would die from their injuries over the next few days. The militia’s actions were widely praised by the city’s elite.

More than just a riot, we can even see this event as creating the stigma around Shakespeare that we see today. The idea that Shakespeare somehow belongs to the elite could come from, or have been furthered by this event and its fall-out. According to Nigel Cliff in The Shakespeare Riots, these riots furthered the process of class alienation and segregation in New York City and America; as part of that process, the entertainment world separated into “respectable” and “working-class” orbits. As professional actors gravitated to respectable theaters and vaudeville houses responded by mounting skits on “serious” Shakespeare, Shakespeare was gradually removed from popular culture into a new category of highbrow entertainment.

sad_shakespeare1

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astor_Place_Riot

https://www.thoughtco.com/astor-place-riot-1773778

http://www.boweryboyshistory.com/2014/05/the-astor-place-riot-massacre-at-busy.html

 

 

“What must the king do now? Must he submit?”

Richard II, Act 3, Scene 3

William Shakespeare

‘King Charles III’, currently playing at Wyndham’s Theatre,blog 6 is the play I have been waiting for. With so many rave reviews that it became one of the many Almeida transfers to the West End, like one of my favourite books of last year, The Marlowe Papers’ (Ros Barber), it’s written in iambic pentameter. It’s a modern Shakespearean tragedy and, not only that, but it is done to nigh-on perfection.

Unlike Shakespeare, however, thankfully we live in a time where playwrights don’t have to watch what they say to avoid a sentence of treason, and even perhaps the death penalty, as Mike Bartlett would certainly have be in for it in Tudor times! Bartlett envisages London after the Queen’s death, during the three months interim before Charles’ coronation.

Naturally, this is a subject that has been joked about a lot i.e. Charles being desperate to get his hands on the throne.  However, whilst naturally there are a lot of ‘wink, wink; nudge, nudge’, funny moments, this is also, at heart, a tragedy; the downfall of one man, and his struggle, not only against his government, his public, and his family, but against himself. Yet, of course, as a King and the leader of a country, Charles must deal with his own problems whilst shouldering the responsibility of a turbulent, modern country. It is a gripping study of what it means to be royal today, and of what it means to be a good king (just like Henry V, which we all know is one of my favourite plays of all time!).

blog 3Tim Pigott-Smith stars as our eponymous protagonist, and really carries the show. The iambic pentameter never feels forced in his mouth, and he makes the difficult decisions a ruler must take seem just that: difficult. Even if one doesn’t agree with a character’s choices, one must still emphasise with his situation and understand why they made that choice, and Pigott-Smith really gets the audience on his side, despite plunging the country into chaos and near-revolution.

Likewise, the rest of the ‘Royal Family’ do a great job of stepping out form the shadow of stereotype. Even though there were the obligatory laughs of recognition when they first appeared, Kate, Will, Harry, and to a lesser extent, Camilla, all become fully-rounded, three-dimensional characters rather than just caricatures. Lydia Wilson as the Duchess of Cambridge, in particular, shines; not only does she have the mannerisms and the posture down to a tee, but we get a multifaceted portrait of this clever, cunning, courageous woman who, despite growing up a ‘commoner’, is key in ensuring the continuation of the ‘Brand’. She is strong-willed and determined and a PR genius; not only a strong woman, but a strong character.

Oliver Chris (last seen in Great Britain) brings the same believability to her husband, Prince William. He is torn between blog 5standing behind his father and monarch, and doing what his wife says and protecting the brand. What does it mean to be strong as a royal? Is it what the Queen does i.e. always doing her duty, never giving away her opinions, and supporting the family no matter what? Or is it making sure The Royal Family product is safe, even if this means going against your own father?

There are honestly so many amazing cast members in this production I simply don’t have enough time to write about them. Adam James is a great Prime Minister and Nicholas Rowe is an excellent, slippery Leader of the Opposition, at some points it seems only out to make trouble without any huge benefit to himself. Richard Goulding is perfect as a rather sweet, naïve Prince Harry, and I have to give a mention to one of my favourites from many of National’s Shakespeare productions, Tom Robertson (think I praised him before in my Timon of Athens review) who played many parts with many different accents. My favourite, though, had to blogbe the Made-in-Chelsea type who introduced Harry to Jess, the everyman of this play.

This brings me to one of the only flaws in the play. Although Jess was acted very well by Tafline Steen, I did feel that ironically she became the most stereotypical character on stage. In trying to establish her as ‘so different to the usual blonde bimbos’, she became somewhat predictable.

The staging (Tom Scutt) is marvellous; sparse but very effective. The brick walls looked deceptively simple at first, yet soon one noticed the band of painted faces about half way up, all the way around. These faces would light up or darken, representing the public. A lot of the time this really emphasised the difference between a character’s private and public personas.

The funeral of the Queen right at the beginning, in which each of the darkly clothed actors holds a small candle, and the Coronation right at the end are the most spectacularly staged scenes, each accompanied by music from the clarinet and cello, and some powerful harmonies from the actors sung in Latin. I also loved the presentation of the rioting in the streets, as actors donned the infamous Guy Fawkes/V for Vendetta masks and dark hoods and marched on a scrabbling, ridiculous grinning Charles mask. One could feel the threat and sense of immediacy in the air.blog 4

As you can probably tell, I thought this production was absolutely brilliant. Was it perfect? No. There are always elements in a play that I don’t entirely agree with – how could Prince Harry have a long conversation with a kebab shop owner about the Royal Family, and that owner not recognise him? There’s a whole ‘Diana ghost’ concept which was very Shakespearean, but also a bit too ludicrous fpr me and I also thought the deliberate highlighting of the slimy Leader of the Opposition being Conservative was a bit gratuitous. It felt like pandering to a London audience and the arts world in general, and I felt, really wasn’t necessary.

However, it’s a play I came out of exhilarated and amazed. It made me laugh, and despair, and it made me think. It’s well acted all round, the staging is brilliant, and, most importantly almost, the script is so interesting. It’s the sort of play that could be played to generations in the future and they, too, would be both amused and gripped by it. Unlike many modern plays, it doesn’t rely on clever modern references for its success, but at the same time it plays up to the current times for a current audience. It’s a Shakespearean tragedy for our times, and for future times, and that is why this is a must see.

King Charles III’ at Wyndham’s Theatre: 5/5 stars

“I fear I am not in my perfect mind.”

King Lear, Act 4, Scene 7

William Shakespeare

When I heard of a show being described as “Like watching a masterclass on King Lear under the influence of LSD” (Daily Telegraph) I simply had to book myself a ticket. ‘My Perfect Mind’, created by Told By An Idiot and currently playing in the studio theatre of the Young Vic, first appeared back last April, and is now back, by popular demand, first in London and then on a UK and international tour.blog 1

The play itself, in an incredibly roundabout way, tells the story of Edward Petherbridge (famous for being the original Guildenstern in Stoppard’s ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead’ and playing Lord Peter Wimsey on TV) and his experience when he suffered a stroke in New Zealand while about to play King Lear there. He could remember all of the famous and powerful lines, but was completely paralysed down one side of his body.

This might sound like an incredibly moving Channel Four documentary deliberately created to play on your heartstrings, but I promise you, it is so much more entertaining and interesting than that. Directed by Kathryn Hunter (once a famous King Lear herself), written by her, Paul Hunter and Petherbridge, and performed by the latter two actors, this is a close-knit production. This much is obvious from the mutual respect and quick repartee between the two.

In fact, in a play like this, where the situation is constantly changing, and Hunter is literally running around the stage becoming blogthe cleaner, the Kiwi director, the Kiwi prompt lady, Cordelia, a German psychologist with a “borderline offensive” accent and, I felt most importantly, the Fool, this bond between the two actors is vital in making the play seem a whole, rather than lots of little scenes and sketches.

The production is incredibly meta; every time you get used to the crazy direction they’ve gone in, and settle down to enjoy the acting and plot, one of them stops the action and says to the other: “Hold it, hold it, hold it. This is ridiculous and somehow pretentious and slapdash at the same time,” and the engine starts again, and off we go into another, related but completely different direction. Maybe this sounds confusing and an exaggerated conceit, but I promise you, it completely works.

And despite their own criticism of their acting, there are actually several very touching moments in amongst the hilarious blog 3impressions of Laurence Olivier’s racist Othello and a young Edward Petherbridge singing in a talent competition. The brief moments of King Lear are very powerful, especially the storm scene, where Petherbridge bellows the words out, as Hunter rushes around thundering and raining and hailing with the use of various contraptions around the lopsided stage. Another astonishingly touching and powerful moment was when Petherbridge hoarsely uttered the words “Howl, howl” in a corner of the stage, before quickly disappearing off. This must have lasted about ten seconds, and yet with just two words, a whole world of anguish and pain opened up before our eyes. It was moments like this that made me really want to see Petherbridge’s full, straight King Lear – one only hopes the RSC really will pick it up.

The set itself is deceivingly basic; an askew stage (the very epitome of “pretentious” and “slapdash”), white walls behind, table and chairs, a few hats, and several contraptions and seats and things hidden beneath huge dustcloths. Yet the simplicity blog 2makes it easier to flit between sketches quickly, and also provides many of the ‘meta’ jokes in the script, especially some great ones about “miming being such an unsatisfactory medium.” The two cast members use every prop; every inch of floor and wall space to make more actors seem unnecessary, redundant.

Overall, this is a brilliant new piece of theatre, well worth seeing, especially if you are a theatre/Shakespeare fan already. I would especially recommend it to drama and English students, as I think it presents an entirely new perspective of ‘King Lear’, both in relating the intense emotions to the present day and an understandable situation, and also in adding a lot of humour to the gut-wrenching situation. There are also a load of great stagey anecdotes in there which are a lot of fun. The thunderous applause at the end from the packed house was well deserved by Hunter and Petherbridge for their exhausting, triumphant production.

‘My Perfect Mind’ at the Young Vic Theatre: 4/5 stars

“Pause awhile and let my argument sway you”

Much Ado About Nothing, Act 4, Scene 1
William Shakespeare

Apologies for the recent lack of blogging – I’m currently in Costa Rica, without a computer so I’ll be on haitus for a little while.

I’ll still be tweeting so you can follow me that way, and keep checking back for short little posts and photos, with longer ones resuming in May!

I’m currently reading ‘Middlemarch’ (George Eliot) which is I think one of the most realistically written novels I’ve read. I know it’s perennially popular with lots of book lovers so any opinions among all of you out there?

“The man that hath no music in himself, nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds…Let no such man be trusted.”

The Merchant of Venice, Act 5, Scene 1

William Shakespeare

Lucky me, I went to see ‘Kiss Me Kate’ at the Old Vic Theatre yesterday, which is a musical based on ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, with music written by Cole Porter. This production is directed by Trevor Nunn and is well worth going to see. However, if you simply like musicals for the songs, this has some good numbers, but most impressive and probably the most enjoyable sections are the dance sequences. Nevertheless….naturally, this song caught my attention 😉 So I thought I’d post the lyrics up for you:

Brush Up Your Shakespeare

The girls today in society go for classical poetry
So to win their hearts one must quote with ease
Aeschylus and Euripides
One must know Homer, and believe me, Beau
Sophocles, also Sappho-ho
Unless you know Shelley and Keats and Pope
Dainty Debbies will call you a dope

But the poet of them all
Who will start ’em simply ravin’
Is the poet people call
The Bard of Stratford on Avon

{Refrain}
Brush up your Shakespeare
Start quoting him now
Brush up your Shakespeare
And the women you will wow

Just declaim a few lines from Othella
And they’ll think you’re a hell of a fella
If your blonde won’t respond when you flatter ‘er
Tell her what Tony told Cleopatterer

If she fights when her clothes you are mussing
What are clothes?  Much ado about nussing
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they’ll all kow-tow

{Refrain}

With the wife of the British ambessida
Try a crack out of Troilus and Cressida
If she says she won’t buy it or tike it
Make her tike it, what’s more As You Like It

If she says your behavior is heinous
Kick her right in the Coriolanus
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they’ll all kow-tow

{Refrain}

If you can’t be a ham and do Hamlet
They will not give a damn or a damlet
Just recite an occasional sonnet
And your lap’ll have honey upon it

When your baby is pleading for pleasure
Let her sample your Measure for Measure
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they’ll all kow-tow – Forsooth
And they’ll all kow-tow – I’ faith
And they’ll all kow-tow

{Refrain}

Better mention “The Merchant Of Venice”
When her sweet pound o’ flesh you would menace
If her virtue, at first, she defends—well
Just remind her that “All’s Well That Ends Well”

And if still she won’t give you a bonus
You know what Venus got from Adonis
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they’ll all kow-tow – Thinkst thou?
And they’ll all kow-tow – Odds bodkins
And they’ll all kow-tow

{Refrain}

If your goil is a Washington Heights dream
Treat the kid to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
If she then wants an all-by-herself night
Let her rest ev’ry ‘leventh or “Twelfth Night”

If because of your heat she gets huffy
Simply play on and “Lay on, Macduffy!”
Brush up your Shakespeare
And they’ll all kow-tow – Forsooth
And they’ll all kow-tow – Thinkst thou?
And they’ll all kow-tow – We trou’
And they’ll all kow-tow

Wish I could find a YouTube video of the current production, but this’ll have to do:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4PPO70as0g

Anyway, I’ll post again soon, as I went to see the critically-aclaimed ‘Twelfth Night’ starring Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry on Thursday, and I have much to say about it! 🙂

Thanks for reading!

“Painfully to pore upon a book to seek the light of truth”

Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act 1, Scene 1

William Shakespeare

After reading a couple of book blogs on here, I’ve decided to take up… *dramatic duh,duh, duuuhhh and drum-roll*…the 30 Day Book Challenge. Since, even with my fabulous purple hardback, I can’t find 30 Shakespearean quotes about reading and books, I’m going to do this week by week, rather than daily. So, without further ado, as Raven would say:

“Let the Challenge…Begin.”untitled

DAY 1: Favourite Book –Well, I’m going to refuse to answer this question on principle; there are too many good books out there, lots of which I haven’t read, and I simply can’t choose which one is my favourite. Sorry guys!

DAY 2: Least Favourite Book – Another difficult question… probably ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ byimages Henry James. I have to be honest, it was a struggle getting through this. I originally read it in preparation for my AS Level text ‘The Turn of the Screw’ last summer and I didn’t like any of the characters except Ralph, who *SPOILER ALERT* dies at the end. That said, it prepared me for the unsatisfying ending of TOTS – it must be a trademark of James’ or something. His descriptions take pages and pages to get through, each sentence becoming more and more convoluted, as the meaning gets lost amongst the constant commas and semi-colons and dashes and colons and conjunctives, and brackets and clauses and semi-clauses… I must have re-read the same page at least five times. Maybe other people would like this book, but… for me, no.

DAY 3: Book that makes you laugh out loud – Actually, I’m just reading ‘The Lost Continent’ by Bill Brysoimagesn at the moment and it is super funny:

“My grandmother was the only person I ever knew – possibly the only person who ever lived – who actually made things from the recipes on the backs of food packets. These dishes always had names like ‘Rice Krispies ‘n’ Banana Chunks Upside-Down Cake’ or ‘Del Monte Lima Bean ‘n’ Pretzels Party Snacks’. Generally they consisted of suspiciously large amounts of the manufacturer’s own products, usually in combinations you wouldn’t think of except perhaps in an especially severe famine.”

I have a head cold at the moment, and this book is definitely a great, easy read for those times when you just need something relaxing and uncomplicated, which I, at least, found very funny.

DAY 4: Book that makes you cry – I’m not meaning to impress you or anything, but I actually don’t cry at books very often. I know, the memeuntitled on the right says it all 😉 It’s a bit of a cliche, but the last Harry Potter did make me cry – how could she kill off Fred and Lupin?? (yep, I didn’t even put a *SPOILER ALERT* sign on there, because if you haven’t read the Harry Potter series WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING WITH YOUR LIFE??)

(I joke, of course. But read them. Please.)

DAY 5: Book you wish you could live in – ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ by CS Lewis specifically, ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’. I love these books, but this or ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ is probably my favourite; it has Christmas, snow, battles, Aslan, talking beavers and trees, summer, coronations…need I go on? I think children’s literature is probably the easiest thing to answer this question with, since those worlds are the most fantastical and perfect, and often have the most detailed descriptions, as I think kids are happier listening to/reading pages of imagery and similies to form a detailed picture in their imagination, which means these worlds are the some of the most fully formed of any.

DAY 6: Favourite young adult book- Hmm… I was going to be completely predictable and say ‘The Hunger Games’ trilogy by Suzanne Collins. But although I absolutely loved these, my favourite would have to be ‘Life As We Knew It’ by Susan Pfeffer. I picked this up on the suntitledpur of the moment at my school library, and it’s ridiculously gripping. Whenever I heard the words ‘sci-fi’ before, I had been sceptical, but this book is just too good; the moon gets knocked out of its orbit, causing huge tidal waves, famine, etc. and it’s told from the viewpoint of a teenage girl. Seriously tense.

DAY 7: Book you can quote/recite- Well, not to sound like a total nerd, but I can quote Juliet’s speech from the balcony scene in Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Awfully, since this is a book blog, I find it much easier to quote lines from films or audiobooks than from books, because I get too caught up in the descriptions or the emotions behind the characters to remember the actual lines. This means I can quote many, many Agatha Christies, Meg Cabots and ‘Emma’ by Jane Austen, but not some of my absolute favourites, like Catch-22.

That’s it for this week, but keep checking back for another seven next Sunday (when there’ll be only 2 days ’till Christmas!) and for other book reviews. Thanks for reading 🙂

“The very instant that I saw you, did my heart fly to your service.”

The Tempest, Act 3, Scene 1

William Shakespeare

Yes, that’s right everyone – I’m in love *cue romantic, soaring violins and birds tweeting*

Last week I found the most perfect book ever, in one of the most perfect bookshops ever (Blackwells, in Oxford), and I want, nay need, to tell you about it!

121210-223459

It’s called ‘Shakespeare Quotations’ by The Arden Shakespeare, and even though it’s not a book for reading as such, it’s just so pretty and lovely and special that you all need to go buy it. Like, now 😉121210-224711

This is why I couldn’t cope with just a Kindle. I get that they’re useful for journeys, holidays, etc, but this book is purple. And hardback. And it has a purple bookmark and a pink inside cover and silver words on the front and a lovely cover and it’s the perfect size and it just feels right and even if I never use it I still love it so much. Although I did use it on both my blog posts today (you lucky things, getting two in one day 😉 ), so it’s already been worth it.

 

 

” ‘Tis mad idolatry to make the service greater than the god.”

Troilus and Cressida, Act 2, Scene 2

William Shakespeare

I went to see ‘Damned by Despair’ at the National Theatre on Thursday with my lovely friend Beth. Admittedly, part of the reason I went was because I could get really cheap student tickets. However, the play is also based on a 13th century Spanish play by Tirso de Molina and updated by Frank Guiness; so I thought: Spanish and English Literature combined? Sounds good to me… 🙂

The play has mostly got 3-star reviews, with a couple worse, so I’ve got to be honest, I went into it prepared for the worst. Actually, it wasn’t too bad. Contrary to the Guardian’s review (see below for the link), I thought that the acting and staging was very good, but the actual plotline was just too predictable and simple for me.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2012/oct/11/damned-by-despair-review

Therefore, I think I should start with the plotline; after all, it won’t take too much explaining! Paulo, a saintly man repenting for his sins in exile, is told by a devil-disguised-as-an-angel that his fate is inextricably linked with a Neapolitan man, Enrico. So when Paulo finds out Enrico is the most evil, nasty man in all of the world, he’s pretty upset to say the least. The play follows both Enrico, demonstrating his redeeming love for his father, and Paulo, as he gives up on sainthood, feeling there is no point if he is already damned. I won’t give away the ending, but I think you could probably guess it from the title of the play- it’s a typical story used by many religions to teach a lesson about God’s mercy and faith; a fact which is pointed out by my favourite character, Pedrisco, Paulo’s servant/friend, at the end of the play.

As always, I felt the staging was very apt; the swift changes and clear cut sets were impressive, and I especially liked the prison scenes. The tempestuous sky in the imagesCA5XVTTYbackground was very effective when contrasted with the rocksand the rising stage at the front (see left).  However, both Beth and I felt that there was some confusion over the era it was set in; obviously, with such a religious play, it’s hard to make the themes feel modern, since the majority of people are atheists nowadays. Yet the National decided to use both modern costumes for the ‘Naples’ section, which, I admit, definitely showed that these characters were current, but clashed with the old-fashioned mentions of bandits, public execution and eternal hell. The fact that the little boy playing the Shepherd (representing Heaven and salvation), Paulo and Pedrisco all wore quite antiquated costumes made this clash more pronounced, and, personally, I feel it just didn’t reconcile.

As I’ve said before, Pedrisco (Rory Keenan – see below with Armesto) was my absolute favourite; partly, I admit, because he was Irish, but also because he had the funniest lines in the play; he was the most relatable character. He provided some much needed comic relief afterimagesCA5XVTTY Paulo’s constant moaning – not that Sebastian Armesto acted him badly – he didn’t – but because Paulo was just too extreme a character for me to connect with. I never felt emotionally attached to him, just irritated by his stupdity and incredibly quick desertion of his ideals. Another of my favourites, even though he was only on for about ten minutes max, was Octavio, played to perfection by Pierce Reid. Again, this was partly becausehe was one of the few comedic characters, but also because he kind of reminded me of Antony Blanche from‘Brideshead Revisited’, who I love, as you can see from my previous blog post. He was ridiculously flamboyant and exceedingly camp, and some comedy was sorely needed after Paulo’s great ‘revelation’ speeches/soliloquy. Unfortunately, he got brutally murdered within ten minutes of his coming on, which I was pretty disappointed about 😥 However, his death was brought about by Enrico, who, although it was hard to completely like him, was very well-acted by Bertie imagesCA5XVTTYCarvel (see left) – he got the *hard nut with a soft centre* role down to a tee. I completely believed in his love for his dad and how he was willing to do anything for him, and this meant I also believed in his *SPOILER ALERT* reconciliation with God at the end of the play.

There was a helluva lot of fighting in this play; gunshots galore (which never failed to make me jump), constant cutting of throats, even a hanging towards the end. Sometimes this can detract from a production; I didn’t feel it did that here, since the corrupt, violent, pacy city of Naples was brought about by its use, yet I also felt that some bits of the stage fighting were a tiny bit sloppy – they didn’t quite look realistic enough for me. Now, admittedly, I’m always up for a bit of gore – you can see my ‘King Lear’ post to see how much I enjoyed the eye -gouging scene – but I did feel that some was lacking in this production. I heard laughing during some of the fights and for that many throats cut and people shot, there just wasn’t enough blood. In fact, there wasn’t any.

So, to conclude, a much better play than I expected, although I don’t feel that modern-day atheism and the totally religious focus of the play were completely reconciled; it didn’t seem like the audience could totally buy into the concept of ever-lasting hellish torment, and that meant Paulo’s decisions and his character were incomprehensible, at least to me. The use of the old, bony woman as the Devil (Amanda Lawrence) and the innocent child as the Shepherd was a good idea in concept, but the Shepherd’s entrances sometimes seemed a little contrived and out-of-place to me; again, I couldn’t get caught up in this world where Heaven and Hell are very real prospects, which is perhaps why, when one character went up to Heaven, many of the audience laughed at his expressions of ecstasy. Some really good acting, impressive but out-of-place staging and an overly simple plot meant that I’d probably give this three out of five stars. Enjoyable theatre, but not imperative to see.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to comment, like and follow 🙂

“Now go we in content/ To liberty, and not to banishment”

As You Like It, Act 1, Scene 3

William Shakespeare

A non-Shakespeare-related blog post about a couple of the books I read over the summer, and have only just got round to posting about: ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue and ‘Year of Wonders’ by Geraldine Brooks. The reason I’ve chosen this particular titular quote for these books is that the theme I’m relating to the two of them is that of ‘entrapment’. Honestly, I had to wrack my brains to find a theme that linked the two, but I’m pretty pleased with this one 🙂 Both books are about people being trapped in a small place with only a few people for company, under very traumatic circumstances and, after being released, having to come to terms with a new, much larger world.

However, this is expressed in very distinct ways; the key difference being subject matter. ‘Room’ is about an abducted women living in a locked room with Jack, the five year old boy she has born her kidnapper, whom she depends upon for everything. However, Jack doesn’t realise this – the only world he has ever known is ‘Room’, which contains ‘TV’, ‘Rug’, ‘Bed’, etc. The book takes place at the point at which Jack has to come to terms with the fact that there are other things outside of ‘Room’ and that the some of the things he sees on ‘TV’ are actually real and not pretend. I’m not going to say more than that, as I’ll ruin the suspense for you, but rest assured it’s a gripping read.

The entrapment experienced by Anna Frith, the protagonist of ‘Year of Wonders’ is of a different nature; unlike Jack she certainly doesn’t feel safe in her entrapment and longs to be in the outside world. However, both books are based on a true story, although ‘Year of Wonders’ is a lot more historical than ‘Room’. The latter is somewhat influenced by the story of Josef Fritzl, and the former is heavily influenced by the story of a village in the Penines in 1666 when the plague took hold of London. The book is based on a true story, when the infection spread to this village, and they decided, rather than allowing it to spread, to put themselves under self-enforced exile. Anna tells the story, as she watches her family and hundreds of her 350 population die around her, and assists the dedicated but intense vicar and his virtuous wife.

Both books were really enjoyable; both very plot-focused and therefore very gripping. I would proabably say I found ‘Room’ the most engrossing out of the two, mainly because, as I’ve mentioned several times before, I often have trouble with protagonists. Personally, I found it much easier to excuse Jack of his faults because of his youth and his background, whereas Anna, , I found more difficult to like (although I realise it was a different time, different place, different marriage system, etc.)

For me, the endings of both books were slight anti-climaxes, perhaps because I was so absorbed in them, and in the details of entrapment; I loved the world that Donoghue created, where you knew what everything was, and so could picture it vividly, yet she described it so clearly through Jack’s eyes that it all seemed new. I didn’t exactly ‘enjoy’ the desrciptions of the deaths and the religious fanatism that took hold of many of the people in ‘Year of Wonders’, since they were pretty disturbing, but they were extremely well-written and very riveting. However, I almost didn’t want these to end, and therefore the endings were a little bland comparatively. I think I would have almost preferred if they had been left more ambiguously, especially ‘Room of Wonders’.

Basically, overall, two great books, very plot-driven and very easy to read, which I would really recommend, although, be warned! You can’t stop in the middle of them to go to sleep; you have to keep on and on reading until they’re finished.

Coming up soon, reviews of all the Shakespeare books I’ve read for my EPQ so far (which I’ve finally started writing, by the way!), of ‘Life: an exploded diagram’ Mal Peet, ‘Letters to Alice on first reading Jane Austen’ Fay Wheldon, ‘Perks of Being a Wallflower’ Stephen Chbolsky and whatever else I get up to in the next few weeks. Keep reading! 🙂