JULIUS CAESAR · THEATRE

NATIONAL THEATRE LIVE: JULIUS CAESAR

Julius_Caesar_Fathom_National_Theatre_Production_Photo_2018_Ben Whishaw (Brutus) and Michelle Fairley (Cassius) in Julius Caesar. By Manuel Harlan_HR.jpg
Cassius (Michelle Fairley) tells Brutus (Ben Whishaw) of Caesar’s ambitious nature in the National Theatre’s 2018 production of Julius Caesar.

I promised you a ranking post, and a ranking post you shall receive, but first I want to talk about Julius Caesar. I got wind that the National Theatre’s “immersive,” 2018 production was making its rounds through the US two days ago, and I immediately found a cinema that was showing it near me. I love Julius Caesar – it is one of those great plays that I didn’t expect to fall in love with, but did. The suspense in Julius Caesar is unmatched, and I would go so far as it call it Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy.

The play opened with a concert on Caesar’s behalf – a rock concert. My first thought, inelegant as it was, was “ew.” As you know, I am not a fan of modern productions. I am not a Shakespeare purist by any means – I just like the feeling of being whisked away from 2018 and thrust into the past. So, yes. Usually, I am not a fan of modern productions. But, somehow, this production of Julius Caesar managed to change my mind. No easy task, given that I can be incredibly stubborn. And stubborn I shall remain: now, in my mind, Julius Caesar is the only play that can still work as a modern piece. All other plays can remain as they are.

Half an hour into the play, I found myself worried that they would be going down a very predictable path. I think painting Caesar as a villain makes this play incredibly boring. The play itself is intriguing because the reader isn’t supposed to be sure if the conspirators are actually doing the right thing. But when Caesar is painted as a pompous madman (which seems a strange interpretation to me, given that he rejects the crown three times), then the audience is being told that he had it coming. The characters go from grey to being black and white, which is boring, boring, boring. An example of this is the Shakespeare in the Park production that was put on a while ago, in which they had Caesar look exactly like our terrible 45th President. This sort of thing automatically puts the characters in boxes – suddenly you find yourself knowing who the big baddie is. And the play is ruined.

Fortunately, my worries were unfounded. I had Brutus (played absolutely brilliantly by Ben Whishaw) to thank for this. Whishaw played Brutus exactly as I think he should be played: bubbling over with nervous energy and so, so invested in doing the right thing, whatever that may be. At the beginning of the play, a plebeian handed him a book to sign, and that book was titled On Liberty, authored by Brutus himself. That told us what we needed to know. Brutus thinks Rome should be free – he believes in liberty above all else. And when Cassius (played so well by Michelle Fairley that I almost forgot about how little I care for the character in general) convinces Brutus to join her, he finds himself staying up all night, surrounded by books with titles like Stalin and Saddam Hussein. Almost as if he were trying to double and triple check that Caesar is, in fact, a dictator. Almost as if he were trying to read about the red flags that people in the past ignored. It is Brutus’ clear uncertainty that makes the audience feel uncertain too. Maybe Caesar didn’t deserve to be murdered. Maybe Brutus was reading between the lines a little too much. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Caesar (David Calder) had a lot of gravity to him, and I still did not agree with the decision to kill him. Something interesting, though: when Caesar was warned about the Ides of March, something on his face told me that the prophecy actually scared him for a moment. But then, very quickly, he tossed it aside and laughed with the crowd. How much of the prophecy did he actually believe?

In my original post about Julius Caesar, I wrote that there is something very soft about Brutus, something that is very unbecoming of a warrior. That something in this production was his nervous energy, and also the way he behaved toward his wife. Portia was played as absolutely desperate in this production – desperate to know what plagues her beloved husband so. Brutus and Portia together were a flurry of embraces, soft kisses, and desperate pleas. He so clearly loves her, and when she shows him the wounds she’s inflicted on herself, his utterance of “Oh, Portia,” was so heavy and sad that it replayed itself in my head endlessly during the car ride home.

Mark Antony (David Morrissey) was wonderful, and had a stage presence befitting the powerful man he is. But I will say that he was played a touch too emotional for me. I think Mark Antony, as a character, would benefit from having a calm, eerie edge to him. He is nothing but a snake waiting for the perfect moment to strike, and there needs to be something about him that wrongly convinces Brutus otherwise. That aside, Mark Antony truly began to shine when the war broke out. He is a character who loves the thrill of battle, and this production made sure we took note of that.

It was difficult for me to see Brutus beg so many of his friends to kill him. Difficult only because he is my favorite character in this play, even though he is wound so tightly that it makes me nervous whether I’m reading or watching the story unfold. He moved to do it himself a couple of times, but was never able to commit. Little details like that really added to Brutus as a whole. Ben Whishaw might have ruined all other interpretations of Brutus from here on out for me.

Every time I write one of these theater review posts, I wonder what we can do to make Shakespeare more accessible. I actually think this production figured it out. Julius Caesar was described as “immersive.” What that means is that the audience was very much in the thick of things. There was no solid, stationary stage. Instead, platforms rose from the ground as necessary. And the war took place throughout the entire theater. Dust and pebbles cascaded from the sky, showering the audience. Lights flashed, and the sounds of gunshots filled the entire room. The audience cheered for Caesar, gasped at Brutus’ bloody hands, turned violent at Mark Antony’s whim. There was absolutely no way for someone to be in that room and not be enthralled by the tale before them. So maybe making Shakespeare’s plays immersive is the key to making them interesting for everyone. I very desperately wanted to be in that crowd, even though they were all coated in a fine layer of debris at the end. I’m not quite sure how I would make something like that work for other plays – say, Measure for Measure – but I’m sure there’s a director out there who knows just what to do.

There isn’t much more I can say about Julius Caesar that I haven’t already said here or in my original post on the play. I love the suspense, I love the political intrigue, and I love that Brutus is so grey. I highly suggest giving it a watch if you can! Click here to find a cinema near you.

ROMEO AND JULIET · THEATRE

ROMEO AND JULIET @ THE OLD GLOBE

Image result for romeo and juliet
Still from Franco Zeffirelli’s film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, 1968.

I know, I know. I have no business showing my face around here, especially because my post on Coriolanus is twelve days late. I actually have a legitimate reason for being a terrible Shakespearean: I’ve been recovering from a mild concussion. I wasn’t even allowed to read during my recovery, which means that the last act of Coriolanus is still waiting for me. I feel a lot better now, which means I was able to see the production of Romeo and Juliet that I had already bought tickets for.

This isn’t a personal blog, so I won’t keep harping on about myself, but it was pretty terrifying going back to Shakespeare after my concussion. There was a period of time where I didn’t feel like myself, and I kept guiltily looking at Coriolanus as it began to gather dust on my bedside table. I was a bit scared that if I started to read, I wouldn’t understand anything. That my favorite thing to do would be a struggle to get back into. But as I listened to the familiar words of Romeo and Juliet, I realized how silly I had been. But speaking of Romeo and Juliet

If you’ve been reading this blog for any period of time, you know that I am not a fan of modern productions. I don’t like modern costumes, and I don’t like modern music. But I try to be open, so I bought myself tickets to this production knowing it would end with me looking at a jeans-clad Romeo.

This production, unfortunately, combined modern clothing with modern music – and, frankly, that was too much for a purist like me. I can stand it when productions choose one or the other, but both is going a bit overboard. That is just a matter of personal taste, though, so let’s talk about the characters instead.

Romeo (Jose Martinez) was played with the perfect amount of boyish charm. He was overemotional and overdramatic, but I think Romeo should be played that way. I did take issue with the delivery of his ‘O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!’ Actors can get away with delivering all of Romeo’s lines with the same air of boyishness, but I think it’s very important for his delivery to be a combination of firm and shaken when he firsts see Juliet. We need to be convinced that this is love – this is more than what he felt for Rosaline. This is the kind of love that moves mountains, and if Romeo doesn’t convince us of that when he first speaks about Juliet, then the rest of the play suffers for it.

The way Juliet (Larica Schnell) was played was not for me, sadly. As you know, I am very passionate about the women in Shakespeare. I see them as being incredibly strong and admirable. Juliet is no exception. But if Romeo is going to be played as overdramatic, then Juliet should be played with a softer edge. There was a lot of yelling from Juliet in this play. Yelling does not equal strength – there can be strength in a soft voice as well. Give me a sweet Juliet, not one brimming with attitude. She can still be strong. There are so many ways to write and play strong women, and yet I find that they are always played the same way. It was a wasted opportunity to do something unique with Juliet’s character, really.

Speaking of wasted opportunities, let’s talk about Mercutio (Eric Weiman) for a moment, shall we? Weiman played Mercutio well, and my criticism has nothing to do with his skills as an actor. This is a criticism of how Mercutio is always played. In every film, in every stage production, Mercutio is played for laughs. He is painted as vulgar and loud – the clown to Benvolio’s straight man. But does it need to be that way? I am so curious to see what would happen if Mercutio were played as the straight man for once. Hell, I wouldn’t mind having no clown at all. That dynamic doesn’t matter in this particular trio. Romeo is the overdramatic one, isn’t he? Let his friends handle him with exasperation. There is no need for dramatics from more than one character in this play. Mercutio is a joker, but just as strength doesn’t equal yelling, joking doesn’t equal clowning around. Again, an opportunity was missed for a different kind of Mercutio to be explored.

The balcony scene is incredibly iconic, but there wasn’t one. This was a very prop-free play, but I believe that they had the tools to put together a makeshift balcony if they had wanted to. I know that the balcony isn’t mentioned in the actual play, but I think it’s a wonderful way to stage the scene simply because it adds a lot of tension. You really feel the distance in between these two characters who so badly want to be in each other’s arms. When they are standing a few feet away from one another, that tension is lost.

The Nurse (Samantha Sutliff) was my absolute favorite in this production. She was hilarious, and dealt with Juliet in a loving, protective manner. The Nurse is usually played for laughs, but really letting us feel her affection toward Juliet was an excellent touch.

Overall, I would say that the play was just okay. I know that makes me come off as a snob, but I can’t help having very strong feelings about Shakespeare. I love Romeo and Juliet, but not everybody does. The reason is because we’ve fallen into this trap where the characters are the same every time. There is nothing fresh about this play anymore, and that’s terrible. Romeo and Juliet is still ours to re-mold, and if put on correctly, it can pull someone into the world of Shakespeare like nothing (other than Measure for Measure) else.

My post on Coriolanus is coming up soon, I promise! I am so behind, I know, but I will be finishing these plays no matter what. If it takes us into January of 2018, then so be it! I definitely wasn’t planning for a concussion, but that won’t stop me from finishing this resolution.

HAMLET · THEATRE

HAMLET @ THE OLD GLOBE

hamlet
Hamlet (Grantham Coleman), Polonius (Patrick Kerr), Rosencrantz (Kevin Hafso-Koppman), and Guildenstern (Nora Carroll) from The Old Globe’s 2017 production of Hamlet.

I’m a big believer in spending money on theatre. I’ve been to enough plays to know that the cheap seats are a waste of money. But I wanted to see Hamlet very badly – so badly, in fact, that I resigned myself to a $30 ticket. Trust me, if I had $100 lying around, I would have been in the middle of the first row. As luck would have it, my $30 seat was great for what it was. I was very close to the stage (a condition that always has to be met no matter what), and I could see facial expressions very clearly. What more could a girl want?

The set of this production of Hamlet was all gold. It told us that Elsinore was a glittering place – one that was hiding a dark and terrible secret. When the play opened, the characters came out in the gaudiest costumes I had ever seen. Every single character was dressed in the brightest colors imaginable – and then there was Hamlet, dressed completely in black from his ruff to his boots. I loved the stark contrast that the costume designer decided to go for.

Grantham Coleman absolutely knew what he was doing while playing Hamlet. Of course, there is no such thing as a perfect portrayal of Hamlet. Shakespeare simply made the character far too complicated to capture. It really makes me wonder how Hamlet was played in Elizabethan England. There was something desperate about Coleman’s Hamlet, and I just adored that. My view of Hamlet is that he’s very desperate, and he’s been given a task that he is just unable to do. He doesn’t have it in him, and the weight of knowing that the task of avenging his father is in his hands alone cripples him.

When the Ghost (who was glowing in a strange, lit up ensemble) boomed, “Mark me,” Hamlet responded with the most desperate and broken, “I will.” You could really feel his terror while the Ghost was speaking to him – his terror, and the pain he felt at seeing his father. Hamlet’s wounds had no time to close before they were torn open again by the sight of the Ghost – and that causes him to splinter. After his encounter with the Ghost, Hamlet wears an unbuttoned doublet that has the words “REMEMBER ME,” painted all over it in red. He cannot escape the task he’s been set to.

Ophelia (Talisa Friedman), as you all know, is my favorite character in Hamlet. I did, after all, rattle on about her for half of my post on the play. Here, she was played with a sort of air of exasperation. To be completely honest, I didn’t love it. I think Ophelia is most successful when she is played as a quiet, unassuming, and relatively meek young woman. She should be played as the very picture of innocence, I think. I want an Ophelia that is utterly selfless, that gives her love away freely despite the fact that she is being tugged around like a puppet on strings. When played as someone who is capable of exasperation at her father and brother, Ophelia no longer comes off as someone who is capable of being broken. But she does break – she simply cannot stand what happens.

I want to go back to costuming for a moment – remember how I said that Hamlet was dressed in all black at the beginning? Well, Ophelia was dressed in a gaudy blue like the others. I would have put her in more muted tones, if only to show the connection between her and Hamlet. In fact, I would have changed Ophelia’s styling completely. I would have liked to see a bookish Ophelia, whose intelligence and selflessness pulls Hamlet toward her. I’m not sure how much I liked the giggly, exasperated teenager we were given. As a character, Ophelia can balance out Hamlet’s dark and dour moods without having to be just like everybody else. Hamlet and Ophelia don’t need an opposites attract dynamic to be interesting.

There is much debate about whether or not Hamlet and Ophelia have had sex. This production implied that they did – or that they had some physicality to their relationship, at least. When Hamlet very cruelly tells Ophelia, “I did love you once,” Ophelia responds with, “Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so.” It’s a very sad line, really, that was delivered strangely. And after it was delivered, Ophelia lunged herself at Hamlet for a passionate kiss. This really rubbed me the wrong way. I am not against Hamlet and Ophelia being physical with one another, but think about what he has just told her. Ophelia should have shrunk away from him, heartbroken at what he’s just said to her. Her response should have been tinged with a sweet melancholy. Why on earth would she try to kiss him with such gusto?

Ophelia really came into her own after she went mad. Of course, I think Ophelia should come off as strong and be given agency before she loses her mind, but I think this production failed a bit in that respect. Seeing her mad tugged at my heartstrings – poor Ophelia. Something in her was breakable after all, and losing Polonius completely shatters her.

Nothing was more painful than Hamlet’s heartbroken, “I loved Ophelia,” as he fought against the people who were restraining him and keeping him apart from Laertes. The delivery of this line was heartwrenching – you could practically see the pain tearing through Hamlet at this admission.

Gertrude (Opal Alladin) was a very sympathetic character in this production. She came off as someone who was swept away in all of this madness, someone who didn’t choose it at all. When she calls Hamlet to her dressing room after the disastrous show put on by the Players, they grapple a bit in her bed. I held my breath, hoping that this play wouldn’t rely on the (frankly ridiculous) Oedipus complex analysis that is so popular. It was flirted with, but never committed to. Thank goodness, because it would have ruined the whole production.

Gertrude, in the very last scene, takes the poisoned drink, but is warned by Claudius to not drink it. Interestingly, in this production, she looks upon her husband in silence, then very sadly says, “I will, my lord.” She turns toward Hamlet, and looks at him with a motherly melancholy before asking him to pardon her. And she drinks it, seemingly aware that she is about to poison herself. This gave Gertrude a very interesting edge. Unable to handle all that she had discovered, she decides to jump ship.

Horatio (Ian Lassiter) was as he should be – he spent much of the play watching silently over Hamlet, making sure that he never fully went off the edge. His sadness at losing Hamlet was palpable. He loved him. Despite everything, he refused to abandon him.

At the end of the play, as Horatio explains what has happened to Fortinbras, the Ghost returns to the stage. He looks upon Claudius, who has finally been killed in revenge. But when he looks upon Hamlet, his expression twists into one of pain. He walks over to his son, kneels down, and grasps his hand. It wasn’t supposed to end like this.

During intermission, I heard more than one person complaining about how little they understood of the play. It got me thinking – what can we do to make Shakespeare more understandable? More accessible? Hamlet was being advertised as the greatest play ever written, and that is why it sold out every night. Post-show talks are common, but maybe adding pre-show talks to Shakespeare’s plays would help people to keep up. Sure, it would spoil a lot of major plot points, but offering people a glimpse into what Shakespeare was trying to say would probably heighten the entire experience. I was with family the last time I saw Hamlet, and I had them watch the BBC’s Shakespeare Unlocked episode on the play. It helped a lot, and made the play actually fun for them to watch!

That said, a lot of audience members were really into it regardless. I saw a high school teacher there with her students (which I loved – gold star for that teacher), and one of them burst out with an unrestrained, “That was LIT!” outside of the theatre. So there’s a summary of this entire review for you. Hamlet was lit.

If I’m not mistaken, that’s it for The Old Globe’s Shakespeare festival. I’m very excited to see what they put on next year! I’m sure I can hunt down other plays in my area, but The Old Globe will be a hard act to match. Till next year, I suppose!

P.S. This is my 50th post on ‘oh for a muse of fire!’ Here’s to many more.

 

 

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING · THEATRE

MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING @ FILIPPONI RANCH

Image result for much ado about nothing
From Tales from Shakespeare by Charles Lamb, 1909.

Today I found myself at Filipponi Ranch, a small winery in San Luis Obispo, California. Unbeknownst to me, this little town that I’ve called home for the past two years does have a Shakespeare festival. I suppose calling one play an entire festival is a bit much, but San Luis Obispo is a small town with a small population. One play is enough for us, thank you very much.

In any case, one of my friends saw an ad for the festival at a Starbucks. She texted me a picture, because I am everybody’s resident Shakespeare friend. I decided to give it a shot, and paid only $7.50 for the entire experience. My brief review is: it was alright. If I had paid more than $7.50, I would probably be a little salty. But I didn’t, and I laughed a few times, so it was alright.

This production of Much Ado About Nothing was set post-WWI. All of our male leads were in crisp sailor’s outfits, and the concept of them having come from war was quite fitting. But, of course, I would have preferred for the play to have been put on in period. That is a personal preference of mine, though. Regardless, I would definitely see a professional production set post-WWI, because I think it’s interesting stylistically.

The very first thing I noticed – and the thing that would bother me for the rest of the production – was how smiley Beatrice was. I love when Beatrice is played as deadpan, with a sharp, dry wit that Benedick just cannot match. But all of her jabs were said jokingly and, in a sense, it took away from the chemistry that she is supposed to have with Benedick. I know Beatrice is described as a merry lady many times, but merry doesn’t have to equal smiley and giggly. Or at least it doesn’t to me. I was a bit disappointed because I love Beatrice. She and I are so eerily similar to one another. Truly, Shakespeare accidentally wrote me into Much Ado About Nothing 417 years ago.

I kid, I kid. But my criticism still stands. Beatrice and Benedick work best when they fall into the enemies-turned-lovers trope. Ignore that trope, and almost all tension between them melts away.

Benedick, however, was an absolute charmer. He fled into the audience to eavesdrop on Don Pedro, Claudio, and Leonato and – wouldn’t you know it! – it was my chair that he chose to crouch next to. I love little details like that. The Globe puts those little touches in their plays quite often, and I think it’s very engaging. The entire baiting scene was done very well, and the audience was in hysterics. I think my favorite part was the fact that they had Leonato reading from cue cards, as if he was unable to improvise the conversation. It added a few funny pauses to an already hilarious scene.

I did have one gripe about Benedick, and it concerned the delivery of the line, “I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange?” This is one of my absolute favorite lines. It’s so tender, so tender – and yet the latter half was played for laughs. For shame! And Beatrice abandoned her sobbing for laughs and smiles when she responded. But why? The confession of love in this play happens when Beatrice is at the height of vulnerability, and I truly think she should stay in that state throughout. It gives the words weight. This is a comedy, yes, but romance still has its place in a comedy.

Let’s talk about Claudio. The love between Claudio and Hero was appropriately sweet and innocent, but I was totally unconvinced that this Claudio would shame Hero in front of her wedding party. There was something missing from Claudio. I don’t know what, exactly, but it was something crucial. He had no strength, no presence. I couldn’t even imagine him as a war hero, as bad as that sounds. But something interesting did happen during the play – when Hero fainted after being accused, he tried to rush to her…only to be stopped by Don John. I thought this was an interesting choice, because it was clearly an attempt to make Claudio a bit more likeable. It didn’t work on me, because I have ridiculously strong opinions, but it was a good attempt nonetheless.

Shockingly, I loved Dogberry and Verges best in this production. Which is almost unbelievable, because I pay them very little mind usually. But the actors had excellent comedic timing, and they garnered the most applause.

I probably sound like such a stick-in-the-mud, but believe me, I did have a good time. It was nice to be out in the open air, and it was nice to chitchat with other Shakespeare lovers. I really don’t get to do that often – though I can’t tell you how often I have to deal with people’s surprise when they find out that I’m an engineer and not a literature student.

Overall, I’m glad I went. It was a good break from the monotony of my current project. It was an amateur production, no doubt, but Shakespeare is Shakespeare. I’m leaving town for good in a week and a half. How nice of Shakespeare to say goodbye, hmm?

RICHARD II · THEATRE

RICHARD II @ THE OLD GLOBE

Image result for richard ii the old globe
Richard II (Robert Sean Leonard) and Henry IV (Tory Kittles) in The Old Globe’s 2017 production of King Richard II.

I am incredibly lucky to have been able to attend tonight’s production of Richard II at the Old Globe’s Lowell Davies Festival Theatre in San Diego’s Balboa Park. This was my first visit to the Old Globe, and although the actual Globe in London will always have my heart, I can see myself becoming a regular patron of the Old Globe – especially once I move to San Diego come August.

A few years ago, I would have bought the cheapest seats in the house. But I’ve come to learn that theatre is worth splurging on. That is how I found myself sitting in the second row, right in the middle of the open air Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. A perfect seat for an almost perfect production.

You’ll recall that I don’t like Richard II – the character, not the play. But Robert Sean Leonard’s portrayal even managed to pull at my heartstrings. Goodness knows how everybody else in the theatre felt. I can only compare Robert Sean Leonard to Ben Whishaw, because I’ve only ever seen the BBC’s adaptation of Richard II. To be clear, both portrayals impressed me beyond belief. Ben Whishaw’s Richard was all trembling hands, shaky voice – that Richard was weak, and we could see that. Robert Sean Leonard’s Richard was wry, prone to dramatics, but also had the ability to be self-aware every now and again. He played him as almost indifferent to the things going on around him, but cracks began to form in the facade soon enough and Richard began to crumble. When I read Richard II in April, I was more or less untouched by pity. But I felt pity, even sadness when Richard’s demanding tone dissolved as the line, “I wasted time, and now time doth waste me,” was breathed out into the chilly San Diego night. Was I cold, or was I finally beginning to feel for Richard? Guess we’ll never know!

The Duke of York, played by Patrick Kerr, was a surprising favorite of mine in this production. The role was played with the perfect amount of exasperation and helplessness. York was still too by-the-book, as he should be. His interactions with the Duchess of York (Lizbeth Mackay) made the crowd laugh, but I couldn’t help but think how disappointed the Duchess must have been in York for wanting to turn Aumerle in to Henry IV. Lizbeth Mackay floored me with her raw display of a mother’s grief, of her desperation to save her only son. She played a minor role, but it was a stand out one nonetheless.

Henry IV, played by Tory Kittles, was incredibly regal and well put together. Richard slaps him across the face during the deposition scene, and Henry IV raises his shaking hands as if to choke his cousin…but instead pulls him into a hug. Richard is unresponsive to this gesture, as he keeps his hands by his side. The hug is drawn out, and when they part, Richard’s face is streaked with tears. I loved this so, so much. This was the Henry IV they were trying to sell, and I was buying it without shame.

Hotspur doesn’t play a huge role in this play (his time to shine comes in Henry IV, Part One), but I must comment on his costume. His doublet was constantly unbuttoned, and he had a disheveled look about him that was so uniquely Hotspur. What a lovely touch, something for those of us that know what Hotspur is about.

I suppose I can’t mention Hotspur without talking about Hal. I know, I know, Hal isn’t in this play. But Henry IV mentions him in passing, asking where his son has been. Lines were cut from this, much to my disappointment. I suppose it doesn’t matter because they aren’t putting on the entirety of the Henriad, but I view Henry IV mostly through the lens of his turbulent relationship with his son. His moment of clarity about his son’s potential really touched me when I read Richard II, but it apparently did not have a place in this production. But, hey, if you were wondering, Hal was messing around in a tavern the entire time. Shocker!

Nora Carroll played Queen Isabel, and she breathed so much life into this small role. She was absolutely gorgeous, almost angelic in her white gown. I stayed after the play for the post-show forum, and Ms Carroll mentioned that although Isabel is regal, she is also human. Through her, we are given scraps of another side of Richard – a side we never see. I love this interpretation so much. Who hasn’t been mystified by Isabel’s unwavering love and dedication to her sub-par husband? But he must have been treating her well, must have shown her love. We don’t know that Richard, but he must exist.

I have a very minor criticism that I want to throw in here. When Richard and Isabel were being separated, trash was thrown on them from up above. I knew that, but I’m not sure if it was well communicated, because it just seemed like leaves were being tossed out of buckets and onto their heads. The Duke and Duchess of York discuss it later, but still.

I was also incredibly shocked at who killed Richard. Brace yourselves, because it wasn’t Exton. It was Aumerle. It was a very “Et tu, Brute?” moment, because the production made a big show of the love between Richard and Aumerle. I suppose it was to increase the impact of Richard’s death. Also, it might have been because this play has more than enough characters.

During the post-show forum, someone wondered if Henry IV’s grief over Richard was genuine, because they didn’t think so. Luckily, Charles Janasz, who played a magnificent John of Gaunt, answered by saying he did believe that Henry IV’s grief was genuine because it is something that eats away at him during the rest of the Henriad. I loved that the actors knew so much about the Henriad – I mean, why wouldn’t they? – but it just spoke to me because I love the Henriad so much.

Overall, the Old Globe’s production of Richard II was incredibly enjoyable. I gasped, I laughed, and I even felt a twinge of pity for poor old Richard. I am so glad I was able to attend. There is nothing like seeing Shakespeare live.

I’m making slow progress with Much Ado About Nothing – not because I’m not enjoying it, but because I’m on a two week break. Here’s hoping that I’ll be able to finish it before the month is over. Until then, you can probably catch me at your local Shakespeare festival, because there’s no other place for me to be.

 

 

LONDON · SHAKESPEARE · THEATRE

LET’S TALK OF GRAVES, OF WORMS AND EPITAPHS

 

“For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground,
And tell sad stories of the death of kings:
How some have been depos’d, some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have depos’d;
Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping kill’d;
All murdered – for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king,
Keeps Death his court: and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state, and grinning at his pomp;
Allowing him a breath, a little scene
To monarchize, be fear’d, and kill with looks;
Infusing him with self and vain conceit –
As if this flesh, which walls about our life,
Were brass impregnable – and, humour’d thus,
Comes at the last, and with a little pin
Bores through his castle wall,  and – farewell king!”

Then: applause! I did this speech for the performing part of our course. We had to memorize a passage and perform it in front of the class. My hollow crown was simply a crown of flowers that I had bought previously. I sat down (even though people had told me not to because it’d be boring) and said, “For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings.”

Everybody was silent and almost in awe. I was in awe of myself because I managed such a perfect delivery – my voice wavered and I was panicking because I was starting to feel the pressure that Richard II was feeling. Only seven people got votes for the best performance and, even though I didn’t win because one girl sang a song and she won by default, I was one of the people who got votes. Because the more I spoke, the more I felt like crying and the more I resented the crown that I had taken off of my head and had placed in my lap. And it just made me think: God, I love acting! And, most of all, I love acting out Shakespeare.

I was told that I had stage presence, a great voice for acting and all sorts of lovely compliments that I brushed off.

But I’m so happy that I managed to do it. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to give Richard II the performance he deserved, scared little thing he is, but I did. It just got to the point where I surprised myself – how was I suddenly feeling so resentful of my crown of flowers and how was I suddenly filled with fear? I kept thinking, Henry IV is going to kill me, I know it.

It wasn’t that I was scared of being up in front of people – I’ve done stage acting before. I don’t care about people watching me. It just came down to the fact that I finally found what my drama class was always yelling about: my inner creative self or whatever. It sounds cheesy, but it was so exhilarating!

And I’m just so glad.

LONDON · THEATRE

PISH FOR THEE, ICELAND DOG.

Today, we went on both a walking tour and a bus tour. The bus tour was rather uneventful – I didn’t waste any time trying to take any pictures, because I knew there would be an obnoxious glare. The walking tour was absolutely perfect and I bored everybody with my historical knowledge and also with my facts about Shakespeare. I actually did see a tiny bit of the Globe during the bus tour, and I almost expired from excitement. Even though everybody else is here for a vacation, I can’t wait to spend every single second of the next coming weeks just falling in love with Shakespeare all over again, the sly, dirty dog that he is.

Image
The changing of the guards.

We managed to catch the changing of the guards, which is a very long, tedious process complete with a band and horses. I have very little interest in things to do with royalty and their traditions, so I wasn’t nearly as excited as everybody else was. I was busy trying not to laugh because, honestly, they looked so silly in their hats. And they all looked like they were cursing the very day of their births. It was pretty interesting to see, strict rules and all.

Image
Royal College of Music.

The Royal College of Music and I have a very long, unfortunate history that began while I was in either the fifth of sixth grade. I took piano exams through the Royal Board, so you can understand when I say that I felt a strong desire to walk in and declare my hatred for all things related to the Royal Board. However, I was too busy looking for an IV to keep myself from dying, because right in front of me was Royal Albert Hall, the very same concert hall where they held the 25th anniversary showing of The Phantom of the Opera.

Image
Details on Royal Albert Hall.

Prince Albert was a great lover of the arts, so I spent most of the day basking in my new-found adoration for him.

Image
Entrance to Royal Albert Hall.

We spent a great deal of time around the Hall, so every time we stopped to discuss something or another, I turned around to stare longingly at the very first theatre I’ve seen so far. I very seriously considered moving out of Metrogate and into the lobby of the Hall, because it was just that beautiful. Plus, you know how I am about theatres.

Image
Prince Albert Memorial.

And here is the art-loving prince himself! This memorial was right across the road from the main entrance to the Hall. After Prince Albert died, Queen Victoria had a great many things put up in his honor. True love never dies – she had them lay out his clothing every day until she herself passed away.

Image
Stained glass in what I believe was St. Mary’s Church.

I went to my first church! Beatrix Potter, who wrote Peter Rabbit, was christened at this church. Our tour guide, an old woman named Katie, was very excited to tell us all about Beatrix Potter and her life, but then a woman came over and basically told her to shut up – couldn’t she see that people were praying? As we walked out, Katie apologized to the praying woman who shot her a very dirty look. I’m sure Jesus wouldn’t have appreciated it at all.

Image
T.S. Eliot’s house at Kensington Court Gardens.

I’ll keep this short and sweet – I almost died on the spot when I saw T.S. Eliot’s house. I just cannot imagine what I’m going to do when I finally make my way to Keats’ house. Somebody will probably have to call an ambulance for me.

After the walking tour, we went to a series of bookstores. I bought a book of poetry (Keats, because I’m a terrible hoarder), a book entitled Not Hamlet – Meditations on the Frail Position of Women in Drama, and The Little Prince. All in all, it was a really pleasant day and I managed to ignore the fact that nobody gives two hoots about history and literature.

And that was day two!