Monday, 30 April 2012

Quote #014

"The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit; and, upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry! England and Saint George!'
King Henry - 'Henry V', Act III, scene 1


14 - Henry V

It is good to complete the story of the rise of King Henry V from tearaway Prince to all conquering hero! But sad to hear of the final demise of the Eastcheap Massive (SPOILER ALERT); Falstaff dead in his bed; Bardolph and Nym finally hung for thieving; the boy page killed defending the luggage;  only Pistol survives but is beaten with a leek and then reports that his wife, Mistress Quickly, has died back in England (hard to say which is worse). 

Kenneth Branagh (on a horse)
In addition to my first ever public Shakespeare performance (see my post on Shakespeare’s birthday) Henry V has one other significant memory. While at drama school a group of us were in a pub when one of my friends got chatting to a guy at the bar who was a little the worst for drink. On finding out that we were all actors the guy was determined to find out what he had seen us in. Steve proceeded to spin a yarn about us all having been extras in Kenneth Branagh’s ‘Henry V’, which was in cinemas at the time. His story grew and grew as he elaborated on the part each member of our group had undertaken in the battle scenes while also downplaying the Hollywood glamour of the thing by explaining that we’d all been up to our necks in mud. I became aware of the prank when Steve turned me into the group saying that I had been the lucky one! “He was on a horse!”

Reading Shakespeare is encouraging me to increase my knowledge of the past beyond what I learn through watching ‘Horrible Histories’ with my kids. In this case reading up on the Battle of Agincourt where, although outnumbered by the French, Henry was victorious mainly thanks to the use of long bow archers from England and Wales. So nothing to do with tigers or greyhounds as I originally thought!

And Finally – My French is even worse than Henry’s so I have no idea what is going on in Act III scene 4. They are either talking about a game of ‘Twister’ or the lyrics to ‘Dem Bones, Dem Bones!’


Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Ronnie Barker's 3 Minute "Hamlet"

The equally wondrous wordsmith Ronnie Barker giving us a potted version of Hamlet!


Tommy Cooper - Hamlet


Monday, 23 April 2012

Happy 448th Birthday Billy-Boy Bard!

Yes, today is the big, big day as we say "Many Happy Returns!" to the bard of Stratford upon Avon!

The people at are asking the bloggers of the World to say Happy Birthday Shakespeare! To stand up and declare our love for the man himself and say just what Bill has done to shape our lives.

Well, by reading any part of this blog you'll see that the great man's works have been subtly slipping into my life for as long as I can remember. And like a favourite novel or movie I can happily return again and again to his plays, either watching, listening or, as now, rereading them, and always be sure to feel a buzz of excitement in my stomach. Shakespeare has been a major part of my life; from studying him at school to visiting the theatre with my family. I am currently midway through rereading 'King Henry V', a most fitting text for me as the famous "Once more unto the breach dear friends..." speech was the first time I performed Shakespeare to an audience.

I was 16 years old and as part of a very patriotic end of year school show we performed the history of Britain though songs, speeches and sketches. So, wearing Union Jack braces and wielding a cavelry sword I urged the audience to “stiffen the sinews” and “summon up the blood” before crying "...God for Harry, England and St George!", leaping from the stage and charging up the aisle. This was all well and good but as card carrying specky kid who preferred to act without the aid of glasses I was risking not only my own life but those several unsuspecting adults as well! Thankfully the evening went off without a single broken limb or perforated parent.

And so began my acting life with the bard. My one regret is that I've yet to act in a complete play by Shakespeare. But somehow I just know that the day will come. When it does I shall do my best to play my part (most likely in the higher 'ages' bracket of man and possibly with less stage diving) and indulge myself in a wondrous act of fiction...


Thursday, 19 April 2012

Morecambe & Wise - Trying the Serious Stuff


Anthony Quayle as Sir John Falstaff by Ronald Searle

Anthony Quayle portrayed Falstaff excellently in the classic BBC adaptations of 'King Henry IV parts 1 and 2' in 1979. But regretfully did not reprise the role four years later for their version of the 'The Merry Wives of Windsor'. In fact the only actor to span the three TV plays, and indeed 'King Henry V', was Gordon Gostelow as Bardolph.

My father was always an avid reader of Punch back when I was young and I would often flick though to look at the cartoons. I can remember many such sketches by Ronald Searle of the stars from either plays or films which accompanied their review.


Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Quote #013

"You may know by my size, that I have a kind of alacrity in sinking"

Falstaff - 'The Merry Wives of Windsor', Act III, scene 5


13 - The Merry Wives of Windsor

Among Shakespeare’s other innovations (such as inventing practically every other word or phrase in the English language) in 'The Merry Wives' he also becomes the first writer to create a ‘spin-off’ from a popular series! Here the mighty Sir John Falstaff gets to stretch his comic legs beyond the confines of the Histories among the ladies and gentlemen of Windsor. Author Jasper Fforde, in his Thursday Next series of books, describes Falstaff as a 'PageRunner'. PageRunner being -
"Name given to any character who is out of his or her book and moves through the back-story (or more rarely the plot) of another book. They may be lost,
vacationing, part of the Character Exchange Programme or criminals,
intent on mischief." - Lost in a Good Book
Dr Fassbender - "Who is?"
This play is pure farce in the best sense of the word. Full of jealous husbands and hiding in closets (Dr Fassbender would be in heaven!). There are also so many asides to the audience and couples moving out of ear shot that I can see the play performed on a revolving stage. Possibly with Herne’s Oak right at the centre!

Or another comparison for the play would be with a good old-fashioned British sit-com - probably with David Croft as co-writer! All the elements are there; suburban setting, extra-marital affairs, young lovers defying their parents and stereotypical ‘Non-English’ characters with outrageous accents! Take this excahnge for example between Evans the Welsh parson and Caius the French doctor –
Evans: If there is one, I shall make two in the company.
Caius: If there be one or two, I shall make-a the turd.
Maybe not 100% PC but good fun none the less!

Finally – Shakespeare's contemporaries also tried spin-offs but unsuccessfully with such titles as;

Webster’s ‘Son of The Duchess Investigates’ or
Jonson’s ‘Everywoman Has Some Humour Too’ or
Marlow’s ‘Mephistopheles: Adventures in the Fourth Dimension’!


The Muppet Show - Interview with William Shakespeare


Thursday, 5 April 2012

Quote #012

"It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing"
Macbeth - 'Macbeth' - Act V, scene 5


12 - Macbeth

Macbeth must easily be the Shakespeare play I have known the longest, if only by reputation. The image of the three witches crouched about their cauldron, mixing up "Eye of newt and toe of frog" certainly goes back to my childhood. Macbeth is a byword for tyranny and bloody advancement while at the same time Lady Macbeth is the epitome of the power behind the throne, goading and pushing her husband to "do the deed". Both the supernatural and the gory murder are just what kids love - look at 'Harry Potter', 'Twilight' or 'The Hunger Games' to see what attracts a young audience.

The production which had the most lasting impression on me was by a small touring company seen at the Towngate Theatre in Basildon in the mid eighties. They made memorable use of the character Rosse as an ‘Angel of Death’. He was portrayed as black robed, black gloved menace who was forever lurking on stage and directing others to murder. By handing him the additional lines of the odd nameless lord and of Seyton he managed to to be all sides at once setting them one on the other. His worst crime being that he warned Lady Macduff of her danger, then returned to kill her himself before audaciously delivering the news to Macduff. And, although you never saw it, you just knew he would be Banquo's mysterious ‘third’ murderer.

I personally only got one 'stab' at the dagger wielding Thane but it was to have profound effect. In my O-Level Drama class one week we had been set the task of learning duologues from Shakespaere one of which was act two scene two from Macbeth, the post murder scene. I dutifully learnt and performed my version with the partner who the teacher had chosen for me and so did everyone else. It was good but nothing special to my way of thinking and neither were any of the others. Except one girl doing the same scene with a diffenent patrenr seemed to shine.

I can't remember who instigated what happened next, the girl, myself or our teacher, but together we ran the scene again - no rehearsal, no nothing. We both acted our socks off and I still get chills when I think about it. Up until then I had enjoyed acting as a hobby or as a bit of fun but that one scene from Macbeth on that day was to change the way I felt about theatre and the path my life would lead for a very long time...

And Finally – I'm sorry but witch or no witch it can’t be easy to find Baboon’s blood in Scotland…


It's All Rather Confusing Really...


Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Quote #011

FALSTAFF: My king! my Jove! I speak to thee, my heart!
KING HENRY V: I know thee not, old man: fall to thy prayers;
How ill white hairs become a fool, and jester!

'King Henry IV, Part Two', Act V, scene 4


11 - King Henry IV Part 2

Okay, so I freely admit that I’ve had a little Bard-break. I think it might be necessary to do so every ten plays or so as my reading pile of the non-Shakespeare variety is starting to look decidedly top-heavy! When I began this challenge I wasn't sure it would take me a full year but Spring has sprung and here I am only a quarter of the way through! They do say, however, that it's not the arriving which is important but the getting there! And so on with the journey...

As previously stated I have always avoided the Histories in the past, thinking them to be just a bunch of battles and back-stabbing with the odd bit of regicide thrown in. But the Histories are in a way the first 'box-set', following  the crown from one generation to the nest and the political changes being made as a result. Come to think of it's almost exactly the same as 'Game of Thrones' (just without the zombies or the dragons or the naked bodies!). But where you miss out on the CGI and the SEX Shakespeare makes up for with the characters.
Mrs Slocombe
At the same time that a 'peace' is reached for the country so the King and Hal emotionally reunite. Thus the king ensures the safe passage of the Crown before he makes his way to his own private Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the subplot of the Cheapside crew also continues and we are introduced to the 'Mrs Slocombe' of Shakespeare in the guise of Mistress Quickly. Never before has so much innuendo been undertaken by one woman as she is "swaggered", "fubbed" and "stabbed" through the streets of London!

And importantly as Hal is reconciled with one father so he must forgo another. Sir John Falstaff is spurned and banished from the new king's sight and condemed as a "white haired" fool! Maybe Falstaff had it coming with all his lying and cheating but it is still sad to see the last of the old rascal. Or have we...

And finally – That Prince John of Lancaster’s a tricky one and no mistake. Watch your back Hal. I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him…


Monday, 2 April 2012