Shakespeare’s Globe On Screen – Twelfth Night

The genesis of the original Globe Theatre is a story of intrigue, daring and initiative – an actor’s out-of-hours tale as dramatic as any portrayed on stage.

In his excellent book for children, Shakespeare – His Work and His World (beautifully illustrated by Robert Ingpen) Michael Rosen tells the tale like this:

‘It’s the middle of the night on the edge of London, a few days after Christmas Day, 1598. The River Thames is frozen over, snow is falling. The roofs of the timbered houses and the nearby fields are white with it. Four buildings stand higher than the nearby houses, shops, bowling-alleys, gambling houses and taverns – a windmill, a church and two theatres. One of the theatres is called the Curtain, and the other simply the Theatre….

.…tonight sixteen men are pulling down the Theatre. Two of them are brothers. They run a company of actors who put on plays, and with them there’s a builder and his workmen. As the men hurry about their work, it’s clear that what’s going on is secret and must be done as quickly as possible…. Two strangers arrive and start quizzing them. The workmen lie and say they are only taking down the parts of the building that are decaying…. But before long the men are taking the timbers across London Bridge to Southwark, where the theatre will be rebuilt and become known as one of the world’s most famous theatres: the Globe.’

'Shakespeare - His Work and His World' by Michael Rosen, Illustrated by Robert Ingpen

‘Shakespeare – His Work and His World’ by Michael Rosen, Illustrated by Robert Ingpen

Although James Burbage owned the Theatre, he leased the ground on which it stood – and the lease was due to expire at the end of 1597. The ground landlord, Giles Allen, seems to have seen this as his chance to make both money – and a manoeuvre that would satisfy his disapproval of theatrical productions. He raised the price of the lease to a sky-high level – and when negotiations failed, planned to pull down the Theatre and sell the materials. But, Burbage had discovered a clause in the original lease which allowed him to dismantle his theatre – and so he gathered his acting troupe to undertake the task under cover of a winter’s night…

Illustration by Robert Ingpen (dismantling the Theatre, 1598) - From 'Shakespeare - His Work and His World' by Michael Rosen

Illustration by Robert Ingpen (dismantling the Theatre, 1598) – From ‘Shakespeare – His Work and His World’ by Michael Rosen

As Michael Rosen points out, they were taking an enormous risk ‘…because if it can be proved that they are stealing, they will all be hanged and their severed heads put on show.’ These were people dedicated to their business, their livelihood, their autonomy – actors who claimed the world of the imagination, placed it in a Thames-side swamp and watched it grow…

Illustrations of The Globe Theatre by Robert Ingpen - From 'Shakespeare - His Work and His World' by Michael Rosen.

Illustrations of The Globe Theatre by Robert Ingpen – From ‘Shakespeare – His Work and His World’ by Michael Rosen.

…And all these centuries later, in 2013, on a sizzling Sunday at the beginning of July’s heat wave, it felt as if Burbage and Co. had been moving their theatre again – and had somehow cunningly contrived to set it up inside our local cinema…

Shakespeare’s Globe On Screen was like honey to a bee for my daughter and me. A strong enough lure for us to forsake one of the earliest sun-drenched afternoons of the summer, to sit in a darkened room – and happily travel to Illyria via the Globe’s 2012 production of Twelfth Night, directed by Tim Carroll.

Described as an ‘Original Practices production, exploring clothing, music, dance and settings possible in the Globe of around 1601,’ it was the first full all-male cast production of Shakespeare either of us had seen – and this experience, in itself, was like a direct, electric hook-up to the original presentations of his work. It highlighted all the more the complexities and emotional scope of all that cross dressing and gender disguise; the instances of a man falling in love with a woman disguised as a man, played by a man. And of a woman, played by a man, falling in love with a woman disguised as a man, played by a man. Situations that roll out like a series of magic carpets; layered with all the opportunities for both the fun and serious exploration of assumed and more latent aspects of sexuality and identity.

Mark Rylance was wonderful as Olivia – gliding demurely across the stage; stately, black-clad and – after her meeting with Cesario/ Viola – set simmering beneath corseted consonants, like verse ready to break free from the confines of its form.

Johnny Flynn as Viola/ Cesario was all at once innocent, knowing, bold, perplexed and heart-sore, lost in love. I was totally able to believe in the girl beneath the boy – even though the girl beneath the boy was – a man! The illusion and magic of the theatre – and Shakespeare’s manipulation of the power of the imagination – was brought to a pitch that fully referenced the play’s own relationship to the contemporary tools of its trade.

Paul Chahidi totally inhabited his role of Maria – catching every beat of comic timing (as well as glancing the darker undertones the audience’s way) on the delivery of each line, gesture and facial expression. He positively seethed as a woman biding the unleashing of her own powers.

Colin Hurley as Sir Toby Belch and Roger Lloyd Pack as Sir Andrew Aguecheek, were a double act made of that same cloth of comic timing and endearing humour – and of the casually draped darker and disturbing edges to their relationship, motivations and intentions. They were joined in this by my daughter’s favourite in the play – Peter Hamilton Dyer as Feste; wearing his part of Shakespearean Fool with that required demeanour of both familiar participant – and aloof, amoral onlooker; a kind of vessel for the looser, intangible, elusive, discordant, stranger aspects of the play’s atmosphere and pitch. In his wide eyes and melancholic, beautiful singing he underlined both the moral, philosophical questions, and the detachment of strings cut free from accountability.

Liam Brennan’s comic-petulant, earnest-shallow, affronted-romantic Orsino reminded me how every time I encounter his character I am worried by Viola’s choice – and see perfect sense in Olivia’s keeping her distance. The man is in love with love – and adrift in his own illusions. And, as this production suggests, perhaps he desires Cesario more than he desires Viola… But, of course (and as the play constantly reminds us) sexual attraction tends, for those involved, to lead to a complete bypassing of analytical scrutiny – and lights a mysterious touch paper that often burns out of kilter with surface awareness.

The comedy of the play was beautifully played by all – with both control and wonderful exuberance – and Stephen Fry came into his own as Malvolio. He wore the role with convincing comfort, and his both comic and hugely touching delivery of the scene in which he finds Olivia’s supposed letter, inspired an eruption of spontaneous applause from the onscreen audience – and heartfelt inner applause from us in the cinema. Fry’s portrayal of Malvolio’s very deep delight at the discovery that he is loved (‘I am happy!’) cut through the character’s pomposity, and formed a connection of heart-strung sympathy from the audience. And so, the most was made of Shakespeare’s revelation of the human beneath the character, intensifying the unease we feel in accepting any complicity in Sir Toby’s, Sir Andrew’s and Maria’s cruel schemes – though, the full impact of this unease did not come through until the end; reserved for then, and held back by the sheer force and beguilement of the comedy. We, as audience, are suddenly brought up short by our complicity – but, in this presentation of the play, not for too long. This was a production that emphasised the life-affirming pull of comedy – the subversive festivities of a Twelfth Night – and allowed the audience to run with it, to have our ‘cakes and ale,’ rather than tug us back with overly hard overtones of judgement. The unease and the darkness leave an aftertaste to mull over later…

And so, Theatre lives, breathes and finds its place, despite the ‘puritan’ negations of a Malvolio, or the likes of a theatre-demolishing Giles Allen. And, true to the traditions of Twelfth Night – the Feast of Fools – everything has been turned upside down. Through shadows and through light, through ‘the wind and the rain’ we have been led in a complex dance by the Lord of Misrule.

‘it raineth every day’ – and Life’s festive and mournful sides both have their need, their time – and their responsibilities.

‘…what is yours to bestow is not yours to reserve’ says Viola to Olivia.

Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?’ Sir Toby asks Malvolio.

What is love?’ Feste asks us…

Questions that, when we truly engage with them, can dismantle us – or at least challenge and dismantle our preconceptions – and can rebuild and rearrange and renew…

The experience of seeing a full Globe Theatre production at the cinema was definitely the next best thing to being there. The big screen brought us close to the actors and the action; the audience present at the recording seemed to draw us in as one of its own – and the vitality of sixteenth/seventeenth century music, colour, dance and spectacle typical of a Globe production, placed us under the magical illusion of actually being there. There was even a fifteen minute interval between Acts – for ice creams and loo breaks – just as if we were at the theatre.

My daughter and I relished the experience – and were both feeling on a “theatre-high” all evening afterwards. We’re now looking forward to seeing The Taming of the Shrew this month, when the Burbage brothers and Co. get up to their metaphorical dismantling tricks again – and move Shakespeare’s Globe back to our local cinema once more…

You can find details of the productions and check out cinema venues and times at the Shakespeare’s Globe On Screen website.

All the Globe 2012 season of plays – Twelfth Night, Henry V and The Taming of the Shrew will be available on DVD from the autumn.

Here’s a clip from Twelfth Night (Act II, Scene 2) with Stephen Fry as Malvolio and Johnny Flynn as Viola/ Cesario:

‘…the darling buds of May…’

On Tuesday 23rd April I wandered the garden, scooping up fragments of light.

I eyed them above me, where they were whole again – a wash of dazzling blue cast across the day. And found them pooled on holly leaves like offerings; shining coins quietly placed.

Sunlight on holly leaves

Some were scattered through trees, or had fallen amongst wood piles. One shimmered on a magpie’s wing – whilst others were caught by scant threads of damson blossom, each flower an open purse fraying at the seams.

April Damson blossom

Damson blossom and blue sky

As I watched, a queen bumble bee nudged bright edges out from the shadows, testing their resilience against the infant teeth of fresh, green nettles – and I willed her to found a nest in our small patch of earth. Manoeuvring her heavy body close to the open soil, she seemed, for a moment, ready to give up wandering and grant her approval to a spot not far from my feet. As I leaned in to watch her, the holly trees tipped their leaf-light amongst the primroses; let it fragment further in the dew.

Garden primroses, April 2013

Those holly trees are wanderers too; incomers cast adrift from a parent tree that keeps watch from our neighbour’s garden. They have a sturdy, reckless air – like someone who has found their place. Feeling comfortable, they sink into belonging – and give us a sense that we’ve been chosen. They adorn our place and make it more our home too.

Our damsons also arrived this way. Over the wall. They are the unfurling of fruits dropped by trees long since cut down by a neighbour; last chance investments deposited in our garden the year my husband and I were also newly transplanted to this soil. Now, these refugee, house-warming trees are over twenty feet tall, full of birds, blossom – more fruit – and a green-fire glow at sunset. They are gifts – beginnings and endings indistinguishable from each other.

Meanwhile, the queen bee is still taking her turn in the cycle of beginnings. She tests the territory, inches back and forth in a mid-air-drone, finds wanting the patch of earth below the damsons; gives herself up to a gust of air – and disappears over the fence and out of sight…

She leaves me scratching about in my own equally wanting soil – seeking words. Elusive things, like the peacock butterfly suddenly blown high over my head; a shadow extinguished from sight too fast to reveal its colours or pattern.

The significance of the day is uppermost in my mind; 23rd April – Shakespeare’s birthday, and death-day. An end swallowed by a beginning.

And Shakespeare – consummate spinner of words – can always catch what I ask for…

He throws it back to me like something plucked from a sunlit web – and I seize it, gratefully:

Polonius: What do you read, my lord?

Hamlet:  Words, words, words

(Hamlet Act II, Scene II – William Shakespeare)

Words. They can say so much and contain such power.They can capture and convey beauty – and be, in themselves, beautiful. They can be cruel, kind, magnanimous, insightful, inspiring, blunt, elegant, sinuous, glorious, hypnotic, ugly, obtuse. They are the conveyors of ideas and intention. They can sting, they can soothe. They are mighty.

And yet they are just – words.

‘My words fly up, my thoughts remain below.
Words without thoughts never to heaven go.’

(Hamlet, Act III, scene II – William Shakespeare)

Words sometimes fail. Words can be bricks in a wall, obscuring what lies behind. They can disconnect from meaning – and truth.

For some people, words are not biddable at all. They live without them, their senses aligned to other frequencies; tuning in to listen, but answering – and maybe hearing – in different ways.

My son doesn’t have words. He cannot speak. I’ve often heard it said that language is what makes our species somehow “special” – that the ability to speak defines what makes us human. But is my son not human? And are our words the only language at work in the world?

Language is all around us – in the birdsong; in the chemical signals passed between the trees; in the wind as it describes the mood of the day; in the pungency of fox scent reaching my nostrils as I listen to the robin claim his territory. The whole day is full of wordless voice.

‘Perhaps there is a language that is not made of words and everything in the world understands it. Perhaps there is a soul hidden in everything and it can always speak, without even making a sound, to another soul.’

(From A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett)

‘And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones…’

(As You Like It, Act II, scene I – William Shakespeare)

During our long weeks in hospital with our son, we often felt keenly the lack of words. Doctors and nurses would look to my husband and I to interpret our son’s feelings, his reactions, his thoughts. We were often lost in a blank of not knowing – in a pit of bewilderment and distress; his and ours. We could guess, but could not be sure we were being accurate. We were in a new situation for all of us. Our usual parameters were gone. And even with words, we could not know our son’s mind. He could not know ours. Can any human being know another human being’s mind, intentions, feelings fully?

But without words, we can sometimes listen more closely – and keenly – to that other language which is heard more loudly by intuition – and which is so often dismissed or obscured behind a tangle of surface communication. Language is in my son’s eyes, his expression, his demeanour, his wordless singing. It is in a connection built in ways I can’t describe or explain with words. When asked how my son communicates with me, I can’t tell someone else how it happens. It just does. We feel and respond. And when, during his long ordeal in hospital, I found words that might work, I fed them to him like manna of reassurance. I laid each coin of words on the palm of his hand, so that he could feel the weight of the thought behind them. I saw his eyes listening to the intentions and the whys the words carried, if not to the precision of their particular meaning. I saw him understand.

‘Where words are scarce they are seldom spent in vain.’

(Richard II, Act II, scene I – William Shakespeare)

During 23rd April – the day that was both Shakespeare’s birth-and-death-day, my thoughts were already beginning to turn towards this week and to May Day; Beltane; time of renewal, new beginnings; the death of winter from which the summer is born; festival of fire; the phoenix from the ashes; Persephone travelling from the underworld to rise again.

And now it is the second of May – and in the passing of the days between Shakespeare’s birthday and today, the green firing of spring has ignited from tree to tree, bush to bush – the leaves opening more and more in front of our very eyes.

And we feel and respond to the wordless language of the season…

But words fail me again. This post hasn’t said what I wanted it to say; hasn’t conveyed exactly the thoughts I wanted to convey. But then words never do. When describing the true nature of the tree, words never (unless you’re Shakespeare!) reach to contain every far flung leaf adrift on the wind.

I’m very aware too that quotes from Shakespeare, placed out of context as I’ve placed them here, never really represent their true reach. Sometimes they transmute, taking on a significance that tips the scales a particular way. But, put them back into context and that apparent significance becomes problematic. We then have to follow a different trail of light-clues; ask ourselves what Shakespeare built around those words in terms of form and structure. How it all interacts. And whether the character who voiced the words is perhaps fooling himself, or lacking belief in what he professes, or maybe deliberately deceiving others…

When words dis-locate from their original surroundings, they become chameleons – both liberated and limited by the colours of their new environment – though, in Shakespeare’s case, ever retaining their magical, delicious ambiguity. But, behind the words is their intuitive touch on our mind – which, through and around those clusters of letters and shifting locations, reaches us direct. And if, in our response, we have heard the poetry behind the poem, felt that connection, we experience a deeper, wordless something begin to piece together – another fragment of light illuminating a little more of the whole.

Time is impatient with my own inadequate attempts to capture thoughts, so I shall have to be content with the fraying threads of this blog post and let my words fall where they will. So this is me, scooping up the fragments of light, trying to piece them together – and moving on into new Bookish Nature beginnings…

Thank you again to everyone who left such wonderful messages of support and encouragement during the darker times. They meant a lot to me.

So far, here in the South West of England, ‘the darling buds of May’ have not opened to ‘Rough winds’ but to balmy and glorious sunshine. These early May days have been filled with a wordless voice of awakening and shimmering exuberance.

My words fail again in attempting to transmit the true spirit of that voice – but, thanks to Sonya Chasey (who pointed me towards the Loreena McKennitt page on Grooveshark – many thanks, Sonya!) I discovered a while back the beautiful Huron ‘Beltane’ Fire Dance (from Loreena’s album Parallel Dreams) – which brims with that spirit of this time of year – and which pieces together for us those sparkling facets of intuitive, illuminating light via music; another wordless language that speaks so profoundly.

Whether you were out and about enjoying May Day revels yesterday, or are planning some for the Holiday Weekend – or are simply revelling in the spring – (or, indeed, are enjoying whatever seasonal fragments of light illuminate your own particular part of the world right now) – a very Merry May-time to you all!

Huron ‘Beltane’ Fire Dance, Loreena Mckennitt, performed live in Spain (part of a concert recorded on the DVD/CD set Nights from the Alhambra):

All the World’s – a Book…

I hope you had a happy, bookish World Book Day 2011!

I started writing the following post yesterday, with every intention of posting it on the actual ‘Big Day’ – but… time and events had other ideas… So, here’s the finished article; a day late – but hopefully still topical (may whichever day you happen across this post, be a bookish celebration wherever you are in the world!)

Here’s what I wrote on 3rd March 2011:

My son has gone into school today dressed as Harry Potter, his wheelchair wheels sprinkled with wizardly magic (how he would love to be able to fly that NHS wheelchair, broomstick fashion, at Nimbus 2000 speeds! There would be no stopping him; he’d be airborne faster than you could say ‘snitch!’)

As I write this, my daughter will be paying homage beside Shakespeare’s grave. I hope she is passing on to Will a special moment of remembrance from her mum…

Later, she will spend a couple of hours at a workshop with the RSC – followed by a trip to the recently re-opened Royal Shakespeare Theatre, to see Rupert Goold’s production of Romeo and Juliet; a school trip beyond the wildest dreams of my own teenage years!

She’s beaten me to it as first member of the family to experience the new theatre at Stratford upon Avon. For the past few years, I’ve periodically watched its gradual rebirth, gazing across the River Avon at the original red brick façade, imagining the ghosts in its walls stirring, gathering up the memories and poetry of the soul of the theatre as it settles around the new stage and waits for new magic to happen.

My September 2008 trip to see the RSC’s truly riveting, unforgettable Hamlet (David Tennant, Patrick Stewart, Penny Downie – directed by Gregory Doran) saw the RST redevelopment looking like this:

My birthday treat in February 2009 (to see Antony Sher and John Kani in a deeply moving production of The Tempest – its African heartbeat throbbing with the strange magic of the play) – took place in a mysterious, mythological world parallel to these scenes:

And, in June 2009 – another trip to Stratford upon Avon revealed these changes in the theatre:

…all bound up with memories of the truly visceral drama of the assassination scene in Julius Caesar, which I watched through tears of shock and pity, my emotions wrung by the electric, skilful interplay of confusion, betrayal and human frailty moving like a lonely, cornered animal amongst the characters on the stage.

In August 2009, my daughter and I were gifted a very different mood of fun, frolics and superbly handled mayhem in the Young People’s Shakespeare production of A Comedy of Errors – and in June 2010, my friend and I were back in ancient Rome, following Darrell de Silva to Egypt, as he and Kathryn Hunter sparked and sparred in a crackling production of Antony and Cleopatra.

In beautiful August evening sunshine, 2010 – after my daughter and I had been treated to a wonderful Young People’s Shakespeare production of Hamlet – in which Debbie Korley delivered one of the best, most heartbreaking Ophelias I’ve ever seen – I took these pictures of a near complete new RST:

…And also took these commemorative pictures of the Courtyard Theatre, the RSC’s temporary performance space (and template for the auditorium of the RST rebuild) with sad, fond nostalgia in my heart. How I love that ‘big rusty shed.’ So full of memories…

But now, anticipation of my first visit to the transformed RST in June awaits new memories in the making. My tickets – little paper portals to actually be there when Jonathan Slinger, directed by Michael Boyd, inhabits the skin of Macbeth – are tucked away safely and at the ready. My excitement about this production is simmering at heart leaping levels already – it will be the first live performance I’ve seen of  ‘The Scottish Play’ since Peter O’Toole was beguiled by siren witches in the infamous Old Vic production of 1980!

Macbeth is special to me – the first Shakespeare play I ever read. I first opened its pages when I was about the age my daughter is now, and it awakened in me a passion for the Bard that has continued to deepen, grow and embed itself ever more firmly in the fabric of who I am. Now, I see the same process at work in my daughter…

For these reasons, and more, I can hardly wait to see Macbeth come alive on stage in what promises to be an electrifying production – and I can’t wait to get inside the new RST. Tonight though, the magic of the place will be brought home here in the sparkle of my daughter’s eyes, and in her tales of her experiences there. This World Book day, she is caught in those heady, early stages of falling in love – as I was when I first read Macbeth – with the book that truly belongs to all the world:

Just a few World Book Days ago, she too went into primary school dressed in the Gryffindor cloak my son wore today (she was Hermione – big hair included!)

Not long before I first read Macbeth, I was tucked up in bed riveted by Jill’s Gymkhana or avidly following Bilbo Baggins ‘there and back again’ (well, I still am sometimes…some things don’t change… 🙂 )

From Ron Weasley to Romeo, from The Hobbit to Hamlet – there’s no telling where a journey through books will lead…

Hip-Hop Happy Birthday, Shakespeare!

 
 
 

Picture of Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare's Birthplace, Stratford-upon-Avon

 

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see, 
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.
    

(Sonnet 18 – Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day)

The tributes go round and round. The poetic tribute Shakespeare paid to his beloved in this sonnet – (and also, entirely deservedly, to the power of his own poetry) – gives life not only to that beloved – but becomes, when spoken on the breath of each and every reader, a tribute to Shakespeare and the longevity he foresaw for his ‘eternal lines’. Every time those words are read or spoken, their life unfolds and flies.

I suppose, in a way, there’s a tribute in there to the reader too. Shakespeare crafts a dialogue with our own powers of appreciation and empathy. Those ‘eternal lines’ pass through our own time, always retaining the same timeless relevance – and are relived and lived again in our own lives and understanding. Poem, thought and experience connect past, present, future. Going round and round and round. 

I’m passionate about the living Shakespeare. And that living Shakespeare – the heartbeat of his work – is…well… kept alive… in those very passions of the people who love him. They do indeed, these ‘eternal lines,’ go round and round, constantly beating in the pulse of everyone who loves them, shares them, passes them on. What would life be without Shakespeare? I can’t (don’t want to) imagine it. I want everyone to ‘get’ his magic – to feel that inspiration and connection.

Project’s like Akala’s Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company are a vital blood flow to that great, shared, living passion for Shakespeare; passing it on, opening eyes, igniting fires. I’m always so moved to see the many and various heartfelt ways in which people connect to Shakespeare. It’s a true inspirational high to see the magic at work; to see Shakespeare’s relevance suddenly reach someone for the first time, switch on their heart’s fire, light up their faces, spark their own passion – enrich their lives. Just witness the faces of some of the young people Akala has worked with to see it in action. The passion in Sir Ian McKellen’s and Akala’s faces is an inspiration very few could resist. Here Akala, with that passion and inspiration, performs Sonnet 18 and gives the breath of his times to those ‘eternal lines.’ And, of course, it is those ‘eternal lines’ that give the breath of life to his passion. And so it goes round and round…

We pass the baton on.

Other videos of Akala’s breathtaking Shakespearean inspired rap (e.g. Comedy, Tragedy, History) can be seen here. If rap’s not your thing…go on…give it a go, and have a look anyway. I never thought rap would be my thing either, until I saw Akala… I suppose I kind of followed the same process the kids go through at the Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company workshops – but in reverse. Through Shakespeare, I came to appreciate hip hop! Through the familiar, I discovered a way in to the unfamiliar. It’s all about finding that connection, I guess. It’s never a one way thing…

Happy birthday, Will!