Thursday, 30 August 2012

Horrible Histories - Richard III Song

Is this the true face of King Richard III?


23 - Henry VI Part 3

It was with serious trepidation that I approached the reading the History Plays when setting up this challenge but I have to say they have turned out to be a highlight of the whole exercise. They can be very confusing at times, especially when people put on and take off titles quicker than they change their costumes and with the whole 'Names-Which-Aren't-Really-Names-But-Rather-The-Place-Where-They-Happen-To-Have-A-Castle' thing. 

However the plots and the intrigues have gripped me in the same way that soap operas capture the souls of their poor, helpless viewers. I have been following the rise and fall on the houses of York and Lancaster with the same edge-of-my-seat positioning that I adopt with any good thriller. Not to mention watching with morbid fascination the growing menace of Richard of Gloucester.

Of course my kids, both keen readers / viewers of Terry Deary's 'Horrible Histories', are forever pointing out to me that Richard was not as black as Billy-Boy Bard painted him. So I am mindful that the Shakespeare's version of English history is likely to be about as accurate as 'The Comic Strip Presents' version of the miner's strike or the GLC. But who cares for history when you have villains to boo, queens to woo and the three-on-one stabbing action of the York Boys against Prince Ed!

Tune in again soon for the final instalment of "The Histories!"  

And Finally - Beware, for the hunchback cometh...


Quote #023

"How sweet a thing it is to wear a crown"

Richard - 'Henry VI Part 3', Act I, Scene 3

Friday, 17 August 2012

A Very Brechtian Bottom

When studying drama one theatrical concept which intrigued me was that of Bertolt Brecht and his theories on ‘alienation techniques’. 

Brecht felt that if people became too emotionally involved in a story then they were more likely to simply ride that wave of emotion and step away from it when the play ended. This cathartic experience allowed them to distance themselves from the the subject of the play, the actions of the characters and their consequences. Instead, he wanted the audience to learn something from watching a performance, remember it and even question it. 

So in the writing and staging of his plays Brecht employed various techniques in order to ‘alienate’ the spectator from the story. These included bright lights, loud noises, signs appearing before each scene explaining what was going to happen or actors directly speaking to the audience. Anything to essentially remove the surprise and to remind people that this was a play and not real life.

But was this 'Dialectical Theatre', or 'Epic Form' as it was sometimes called, an original idea? Brecht himself sites many theatrical styles as inspiration as far back as Greek Tragedy and its chorus. But I think someone got there before him. During my current re-reading of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ it suddenly stuck me that Shakespeare had already coined the theory centuries ahead of Brecht. 

At the start of Act 3, when the cast of mechanicals voice their concerns regarding the drawing swords and killing on stage as being something the ladies “cannot abide”, Bottom suggests: 

“I have a device to make all well.
Write me a prologue; and let the prologue seem to
say, we will do no harm with our swords, and that
Pyramus is not killed indeed; and, for the more
better assurance, tell them that I, Pyramus, am not
Pyramus, but Bottom the weaver: this will put them
out of fear."

And in fact before their performance in Act 5 Quince introduces all the characters and gives us a blow by blow synopsis of the play before even a word is spoken. Not only that but Bottom also breaks the barrier between actor and audience still further by discussing the play directly with Theasus.

I'm not sure if Brecht would be pleased to know that a group Athenaian workmen had conceived alienation before him, but I’m positive Bottom would be proud to know that he was the first Thespian whose 'form' was considered 'epic’.


Thursday, 16 August 2012

Quote #022

"And those things do best please me
That befall prepost'rously."

Puck - 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' , Act III, Scene 2


22 - A Midsummer Night's Dream

Alright, so hands up anyone who doesn’t know what happens in this play. Anyone? Thought not. This has to be one of the most well known, as well as well loved, plots in Shakespeare.

I've seen countless productions over the years but the one which sticks in the memory was back in the 80’s at a theatre which was a converted church. It’s the venue rather than the play which sticks in my mind as the theatre’s stage resembled that of The Globe. An internet search makes me think it was place called St George’s in Tufnell Park, which apparently stopped being a theatre in the 90’s and is only now being renovated and reverting once more to a church.

In addition to having a Bottom (and all the puns associated with it) the play also has a bum!
“The wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale,
Sometime for three-foot stool mistaketh me;
Then slip I from her bum, down topples she,”
Somehow thought this was a modern word but it crops up once or twice in the Bard’s babble! In fact Pompey, in 'Measure for Measure' gives his full name as Pompey Bum. Maybe he's Bottom's Italian cousin!
And Finally – A story with a happy ending for all? I think not! Tatiana’s loss of the Changing Child and Oberon’s reason for stealing him is never sufficiently explained for my liking. Perhaps he plans to raise him as a vengeful spirit/human hybrid intent on destroying mankind and taking over the world! Or perhaps like the rest of us he just needs a small child to help him operate modern technology!
“Attend at once, most mortal lad
And sync for me, curse’d iPad”…

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Swifter Than the Moon's Sphere

The landing of the Mars probe last week reminded me of the Bard’s own contribution to our Solar System – the moons of Uranus.

The first moons ‘discovered’ were named by John Herschal, whose father first discovered the planet itself. Instead of using names from mythology Herschal named them after Shakespearean characters Oberon and Titania and the spirits Ariel and Umbriel from Alexander Pope’s ‘Rape of the Lock’.

In total Uranius has 27 moons and all are named for characters from either Pope or Shakespeare.

The Bardy-bunch are-


Thursday, 9 August 2012

The Fab Four do Shakespeare

When Beatles tackle Shakespeare it's called a  
 Beatles Bardle Battle!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Quote #021

"Beware the ides of March"

Soothsayer - 'Julius Caesar' Act I, Scene 1

21 - Julius Caesar

This has been the hardest read yet. Not because of the text but because of my own history with the play.

In my post on Romeo and Juliet I mentioned that the REPO men had tackled one other of the Bard's back catalogue and this was it. REPO productions were proud to present... a three man version of Julius Caesar heavily edited so as to play for laughs but with a bit of pathos thrown in for good measure! I played Brutus, another played Cassius, the third both Caesar and Anthony. We filled in for those other parts which had made it past the edit by wearing different hats or coats but always in togas and army boots! The only other person on stage was Sooty (also in a toga) who we needed in the conspirators scene to swell the numbers.

So my problem now is that as I read it I can still see and hear all the gags - Caesar in Groucho specks, nose and tash; constant references to Cassius passing wind; the senate assassination undertaken with flowers rather than daggers ("At-choo Brute!"); and a moving mime show, of the senseless slaughter as Roman fought Roman, to the haunting strains of Morriconi's score from 'The Mission'. I know there is also an excellent play by Shakespeare in there somewhere but it's hard to see. 

Having said that I believe our version was great fun and the closest yet that I have come to performing Shakespeare in full. We staged it originally to try and be short-listed for a student drama competition, although unfortunately we didn't get through. The organisers did, however, ask us if we wanted to put it on as a cabaret act for the actual competitors. But as they wouldn't have been paying us we declined - shame really.

And Finally - Strange, but I can't find one classic line in my text - "Infamy! Infamy! They've all got it in-for-me!"