Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Tempest at the RSC!

Last night's performance of The Tempest at the Royal Shakespeare Company was magical, but not in the traditional sense. Jonathan Slinger as Prospero delivers a haunting performance. His staff was little more than a piece of driftwood come ashore and his coat a dirty suite jacket. Under the direction of  David Farr, the production delivers an intelligent interpretation of William Shakesepare's final play.

The tropical island described in the text appears as a muddy wasteland. The concept feels modern, but not labored. Prospero's cell, and the sea, resemble a large refrigerated unit or fish tank placed upstage. The walls convert from opaque to translucent. The cube created unique visual images of life inside the tempest.

Sandy Grierson stands out as the doppelganger of Prospero, subtle and still in his portrayal of Ariel. His performance delivered the mysterious supernatural appeal of Ariel, struggling with human emotion - a very smart choice and dynamic in his simplicity.

All in all, a very successful production.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Circle Walk from Ilmington via Chipping Campden

Yesterday, Tanya, Kristy, and I embarked on a 11.5 mile walk through the heart of the Cotswolds. We began our jounrey in Ilmington. Kristy was kind enough to drive us to a lovely starting point near a little Roman Catholic Church.

From the Church, we took a path along a small lane. Of course we had to take a picture in front of the sign marking Grump Street. Who knew that the sign would be a precurser for the day! Yikes!

Before we were even 30 min into our walk we started climbing Ilminster Down, the highest point in Warwickshire. I was winded by the time we reached the top and had to ask my friends to stop for a moment and take a breath. Needless to say, the company and the views were beautiful.
The mud along the way was quite significant. The first leg of the trip was very slow going, tedious, and dirty. We were all exhausted and hungry by the time we reached Chipping Campden. We were very pleased when we saw the town in the distance and were greeted by sheep in our trek across the final field.

We had a lovely lunch, complete with tea in a little cafe in town. Since the first half of the walk had been so gastly with the mud and insects, Kristy decided to take a cab back to Ilmington, while Tanya and I continued on. She would meet us back at the Roman Catholic Church when we reached the end of our journey.

The way back wasn't easy. Finding the Public Footpath signs became more and more difficult. We often lost the path, as it seemed less traveled and less maintained. But Tanya and I kept smiling through it all.


We were very pleased to get back to the car!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Haworth ~ Brontë Country

Last Sunday I went on a magical trip to Haworth, home of the Brontë family, in West Yorkshire. The Brontë sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Ann) grew up in Haworth, the backdrop of the moors of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

During my visit I spent time in the Brontë Parsonage Museum, rode a steam train to Keighly and back, and walked 8 miles into the moors to visit the Brontë waterfall, bridge, Emily's seat, and Top Withins. Below are some pictures from my adventure.

Haworth Main Street

Haworth Steam Train

Parsonage Museum

Haworth Reservoir

Brontë Bridge

Brontë Bridge

Looking down on Brontë Bridge and Waterfall

Hiking to Top Withins

Jude and I at Top Withins

Top Withins

My new friend in the Brontë Parsonage field...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Charlecote Park Walk

Today my friend Tanya and I walked 10 miles (round trip) to Charlecote Park.  It was a beautiful walk along Tiddington Road to the deer park where Shakespeare supposedly illegally poached game in his youth. We had a picnic lunch in the park, saw many a sheep and deer, and had our exercise for the day as well. I feel very energized and ready to take on my trip to Haworth in the morning.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

As You Like It Encore

On Thursday, 16 August 2012, As You Like It will be remounted by The Shakespeare Institute Players. We will perform an edited version for UK Summer Camp 2012. The summer camp will be visiting The Shakespeare Institute to experience their very first Shakespeare production. The camp benefits children who were directly affected by the events of 9/11. The 9/11 Scholarship Fund was established by the British Council to award scholarships to the dependents of victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to the U.S. I am excited to give these kids a piece of Shakespeare, a good laugh, and a touch of hope for their futures. We'll make Shakespeare scholars out of them yet! ;)

Heartwarming Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It)

As part of the World Shakespeare Festival, the RSC has commissioned a Russian production from the Chekhov International Festival entitled Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It) to perform for one week only in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The title is a bit deceptive, neither following the narratives of Midsummer or As You Like It. Instead, the story revolves around a play within a play—The Mechanicals staging Pyramus and Thisbe.  "As You Like It" does not refer to Shakespeare's comedy, but the willingness of the audience to indulge themselves in the play - "We hope you like it..."

The production is touching, charming, and enjoyable. There is very little dialog to contend which, hardly any of which is Shakespeare save for a sonnet or two.
To begin, a slew of actors appeared loading the set, complete with a grandiose plastic tree and working water fountain. Hijinks insure as the actors attempt to hall the set pieces through the audience, slapping ticket-holders with branches and spouting water all the way.

A well-dressed “audience” enters and are taken to their seats on either side of the stage, interjecting with rude , though comical, commentary. An actor informs the audience that the play is under-rehearsed, though we will probably not know the difference since we have nothing to compare it to. Indeed, much of the comedy resided in the play going slightly wrong at times – yet everything about this play is exactly right. The ensemble of actors are funny and talented, joking around with deadpan faces and preforming acrobatics. The play comments on itself by including the audience in the jest. Dmitry Krymov (director) delivers it all –What could be better than two giant puppets and a dancing dog?

Read more reviews at:
Year of Shakespeare
The Stage

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Brace Yourself for Troilus and Cressida

Last night’s RSC performance of Troilus and Cressida left me feeling bewildered, confused, and slightly foolish. The prospect of New York’s Wooster Group coming together with the RSC seemed exciting. The experimental project, directed by Elizabeth LeCompte (of NY) and Mark Ravenhill (of the RSC), brought Rupert Goold’s original conception to fruition. Yet, somehow I wonder if this is the sort of theatre even the controversial Goold would stand behind.

The production highlights the juxtaposition of Greek and Trojan cultures, bring the Trojans to life as war torn Native Americans.  The Wooster group attempted to theatrically embody the ritualized and stereotyped Native American culture. While I do not agree with all of their choices (I will explain this later) I do want to bring attention to some of the critical receptions of the play - some of which have  bashed The Wooster Group for all of the wrong reasons.

Michael Billington of The Gaurdian wrote:
“Many past productions have highlighted the differences between the chivalric Trojans and the pragmatic Greeks. That is pushed to the limit here with LeCompte's actors all wired for sound, presenting the Trojans as beseiged Native Americans. Politically, there is something questionable about modern white Americans appropriating past tribal customs; and, however authentic the war cries and dances, the actors can't help resembling extras in a Bob Hope western.”
I would just like to say to Mr. Billington that this is exactly the point.  What audiences are failing to recognize is that The Wooster Group was less authentic in their interpretation of Native Americans and more stereotypical of the Hollywood ideal.  This was expressed with the multiple television screens which showed clips of Native American films throughout the performance which the actors mimicked. As for the decision to provide the actors with microphones, we only can speculate. Perhaps the Wooster group, as Billington suggests, were unable to successfully fill the theatre with their voices and therefore were placed on microphones to project their voices. However, there was quite a bit of live music during their section, which would have been virtually impossible to project over; and furthermore, the moments that were occupied by silence and the lone actor were all the more eerie because of the echoing effect – reminiscent of the echo across the empty plain.  But maybe that is too generous.
What I did have a major problem with was the performances of the Troilus and Cressida – both being far too concerned with their exact replication of the video replay on the television screens then with the text itself. Scott Shepherd (Troilus) and Marin Ireland (Cressida) both gave a flat performance, devoid of meaning. Most importantly they forgot to tell the story! I complete agree with Billington that “this production… is that it does nothing to enhance our understanding of the play.”
On the flip side, if you can call it that, the Greeks show stronger stamina in camouflage as modern day soldiers. They certainly appear the stronger actors, not reliant on microphones and elaborate stylization.  Joe Dixon comes to the stage with the right amount of flare and energy, presenting the opposite of our imaginings of the heroic Achiles. Zubin Varla delivers Thersites's narrative commentary in a wheelchair and dressed as a transvestite. Of these, only Scott Handy as Ulysses delivers an intelligent performance representative of the RSC. This is yet another example of the RSC trying to push the boundaries, but falling short.
The major problem of the play was its lack of reliability – an alienation effect that was probably semi-intentional. Nearly half of the audience walked out during the performance. This was a failure on the audience’s part to accept art, in a crowd heavily reliant on “traditional” and “authentic” Shakespeare. However, there was also a failure on this productions ability to effectively tell the story – an element fundamental to the enjoyment of a performance. My recomendation is to embrace experimental theatre, however hard it may seem.

Read more at The Gaurdian and The Telegraph.

Friday, August 3, 2012

RSC's Much Ado About Nothing

The RSC's production of Much Ado About Nothing is certainly eye-catching, transforming the Courtyard Theatre into a modern Indian marketplace. Tom Piper’s stunning set evokes the heat and exotic culture of India. Conceptually director Iqbal Khan has all of the ingredients for success, however this production falls short with a less than likable Benedict and boring Beatrice.

Meera Syal, an experienced and well-beloved TV and film actress, lacks the stage presence and confidence needed to deliver a convincing Beatrice. Shakespeare's wit falls flat when Syal delivers her commentary on Benedict: "he wears his faith but as / the fashion of his hat; it ever changes with the / next block."  Paul Bhattacharjee’s Benedick gains speed in the second half, becoming a dopey love-struck puppy, but proves unlikable in the beginning. His stoic appearance suggests the absence of a capacity to love, not the occasion for it. A bright star in the production was Anjana Vasan, whose plays several small roles but commands attention, full of vibrant energy.

Though still in previews, these actors have a lot of hard work ahead of them to illuminate and clarify the text and their character's relationship. The visual flash can only disguise so much of their weakness.