Tag Archives: William Shakespeare

Simon Russell Beale in Without Memory or Desire Shakespeare Performance

21 Jun

Simone & SRB

Is that Simone with Simon Russell Beale?

Blink again! This can’t be real! I can tell you now that this is not photoshopped, this actually happened and most of my whole evening has been spent transcribing notes and coming up with this breakthrough article to share.

This is the first official non-theatre stalking activity I have done since I have come out in the open and unashamedly announced to the world about my love and admiration for Simon Russell Beale. Theatre outings are legitimate excuses but today just smacks of stalking in the highest order. Dying to find out what I did? Well, whilst catching up on my daily SRB web browsing a couple of weeks back, I stumbled upon an events website that listed SRB giving an Ernest Jones lecture for The British Psychoanalytical Society in June. I mean a lecture? Then I remembered this was mentioned in his interview with the Times Online. My heart skipped a beat and quickly checked my iCal if I can squeeze it in, or bump anything off that’s in the way, so the short and end of it was, I got my ticket.

Not really knowing where to go as the blasted map feature on my iPhone is showing that Guilford Street is somewhere in Southwark, (duh!) I had to rely on Google Maps to navigate my way and after a blissful ride on the 38 bus, I decided to get to the UCL Insitute of Child Health via a taxi cab, which reminded me of fellow theatre trotter JohnnyFox’s preferred use of transport. I couldnt find fellow SRB cheerleader Abigail anywhere in the lecture theatre so I made my way and found an empty seat in the 3rd row and like some illumination, I saw him across the room making his way to the platform. Oh this is just too good! We are not just practically breathing the same air but we are in the same room, okay with other people too. I recorded the lecture in my QuickVoice app but I will not dare transcribe the whole lecture here. I must say that even before the lecture started, SRB endeared himself to the audience for when Mike Brearley, the Society’s President reminded the audience to switch off their mobile phones, guiltily, SRB got up to get his rucksack, and tried his darnest best to look for his phone to switch it off. It was just so comical! So if the academics that were present havent heard of him until today, they might just be booking his shows now and why wouldnt they?

Without wanting to embarrass SRB with his introduction, I have to agree with Brearley when he said that apart from being one of the best leading actors of this country, many will go to the theatre especially to see him. I have always thought the same, and even believe that if they have Hollywood box office stars whose presence in the film will make it a certified blockbuster, cast Simon Russell Beale and be assured of very good box office returns. SRB started off by thanking the audience for being there and remarking that we should all be in bed, and that his vanity wouldn’t allow him to refuse the invitation to do another lecture. Why is the lecture called ‘Without Memory or Desire’? SRB mentioned that it was the suggestion of a friend who was studying psychoanalysis and it was coined by Wilfred Bion and should be how psychoanalysis is approached.

As he was preparing for the lecture, he eventually decided to speak about how an actor approaches a Shakespearean part, trying to wipe out all the performances he’s seen, to rid himself of misconceptions or wipe the slate clean so to speak. He proposed that some of the Shakespearean characters he has portrayed over time like Cassius, Iago, Macbeth, Hamlet, Leontes, all end up in a state of suspended animation, a sort of transcendental state, without memory or desire. He then goes into their characterizations wherein Hamlet gets to an extraordinary serenity, Macbeth a timeless misery, Iago an absolute hell, that loveless universe that he inhabits, and Leontes’ experience of a wife coming back to life. He shared snippets of how some of the characters were approached for instance Sam Mendes’s treatment of Malvolio as having a secret vice where his own suggestion of giving him alcohol didnt catch on, and moving the scene from the backyard to his own quarters. He also felt that his portrayal of Macbeth was soft around the edges, not at all blood and guts, with a critic pointing out that his Macbeth was more interested in his suffering than butchering, how Hamlet was such a sweet Prince, and Leontes’ jealousy unforgivable.

SRB reckons that the process of reading afresh has it roots from literary criticism. He mentioned that it is an important part of the actor’s job cast in a classic play to lead the audience through a detailed thought through a series of arguments, and as a component of this it’s essential to clarify and distill the line of thought in an individual character’s head before one begins to explore other emotional areas. A large part of the actors time is spent in this process and the benefits, if pursued rigorously are threefold: (1) an actor cannot safely open his/her mouth without knowing precisely the meaning of the words at the surface level, (2) it clarifies the character’s function within the larger picture of the play, (3) shows a careful analysis of a series of thoughts mainly the actor’s to an unexpected emotional territory. When this happens, in an ideal world, it can lead to discoveries beyond, or without memory or desire. Although there is the emotional component of an actor’s work, but that no figure can come alive on stage without the thought processes, the arguments being galvanized by some emotional energy. Shakespeare’s plays are designed to explore the heart, as well as the head. Some who yearns the dream of the neutrality of delivery, a live version of reading of the writer’s words are presented unmediated to the hero but SRB believes that that is an impossibility for every word spoken carries the fray to the speaker’s atttude, even neutrality in context is an emotional statement.

The lecture lasted about 50 minutes, and there was no dull moment as he peppered the lecture with his wit and humor, and showed us a sampling of his Shakespearean characterizations. My favorite was his inclusion of Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing where the play’s power and magic lies in its use of the everyday and the possible. The declaration of love between Beatrice and Benedick which to SRB is the best love scene Shakespeare ever wrote, and it worked so well as it is so often the case in real life, it’s at the wrong time and in the wrong place. It’s very short, only a few lines long, in prose, and hurried. Left behind in church where Hero, Beatrice’s cousin has been accused by sexual betrayal by her fiance Claudio, the two older lovers, had the space to squeeze out a few words mostly simple mono syllables before other demands came to their attention. I do love nothing in the world so well as you is that not strange? / As strange as I think it will not, I was about to protest I loved you. / And do it with all thy heart./ I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest.

SRB reiterates that this is not Romeo and Juliet who delight in what they feel to be an extraordinary experience, Benedick might describe her love for Beatrice as strange but they are both wise enough to know that their feelings are ordinary, even commonplace. The scene is effective because of this as the fear of rejection, and sense of inappropriateness where things have to be said now, or they will never be said, all of these are things we can easily recognise and experience. Some of us, like Beatrice and Benedick. have experienced too, a happy ending. He then talked about National’s production of Much Ado in 2007 which had a large pool on stage. What they didnt know was that jumping into the pool had a deeper significance, in the event that Benedick jumped into it and had to stay in the water, he emerged out of the pool a new man, baptised, born again, not only recognising the love of another person and his feelings for her, but he is also ready for a moral reassessment. SRB goes on about Benedick’s courage, one of the bravest characters he has ever played. Benedick challenges Claudio to a duel even if duelling is something that he hates, and he is not very good at.

In the Q&A portion he mentioned having a bad day and when they were doing dress rehearsals for The Cherry Orchard, he was such in a foul mood that when he tipped all those chairs, he was quite taken aback as to where all this fury was coming from, and regrets that it was something he has yet to discover anew. The lecture ended with him being awarded an honorary fellowship to the Society, previously accorded to the likes of Bernardo Bertolucci and Anish Kapoor.

Addendum:
In the flurry of excitement of what looked to be a very promising day, after finally having cornered Abigail and drinking our glass of wine, somebody approached us and she called me by my name! Oh my, the jig is definitely up, I have definitely been found! After calmly explaining a few things, I would like to say that it’s neither me or Abigail who are SRB’s biggest fans but our new friend, who wants to remain anonymous as she goes back as far as 20 years ago.

I told her that I never claimed I was his number one fan but it was the Times who said so, so take it up with them! As it turned out, she’s such a jolly nice person, who loves the theatre, opera and okay, SRB. To show how a good sport she is, she was the one who took the photo above, even having a go at Simon as he fell on her when she saw Candide at the National some years back, and he surprisingly still remembers! All three of us went to Russell Square (pun not intended!) for a cuppa, shared our most favorite SRB moments and promised to keep in touch.

What else can I say but it seems like our SRB Appreciation Society is definitely growing, when we have enough members, what do you say about maybe inviting SRB to do a lecture?

Theatre Review: The Winter’s Tale

29 May

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Plot: Leontes (Simon Russell Beale), mistakenly believes that his childhood friend Polixenes (Josh Hamilton), the King of Bohemia, is having an affair with his wife, Queen Hermione (Rebecca Hall). In his jealousy, and consumed by “tremor cordis”, he tries to murder Polixenes, who flees, and accuses his wife of adultery and that the child she is carrying is Polixenes’. Imprisoned and put on trial, the Queen collapses when the King refuses to accept divine confirmation of her innocence. The child is abandoned to die on the coast of Bohemia but when she is found and raised by a shepherd, redemption and reconciliation may just be possible.

This is the second time I have watched a company perform in repertory a Chekhov and Shakespeare revival, RSC’s The Seagull and King Lear in 2007 and this time The Bridge Project’s The Cherry Orchard and The Winter’s Tale. Why am I bringing this up in my review? I suppose it’s the fascination to the actors dedication and discipline as they switch characters every so often during a work week than most women have to deal with their mood swings. Both plays deal with tragedy and hope and I’d like to set that tone as I review this piece.

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Now I have never seen such male jealousy displayed here in great magnitude by Leontes. I always thought being jealous is more of a woman thing. Leontes is so angry, that you know he just couldnt think straight and you can see him agonising over it at the same time. I wasnt sure whether to sympathize with him or to gloat that he deserved losing his son and his wife but at the same time you also feel for him, feel his pain for his wrong judgment. This is again, another outstanding performance from Simon Russell Beale who shone the brightest in the first half of this play. His delivery of your actions are my dreams! whilst snarling at Hermione was tortured yet vulnerable. His moments with the baby whom he initially called a bastard was endearing, touched by its cooing but after another momentary lapse of confusion breaks free and wishes the child ill. I mean how he managed to even show fine acting by means of his body language, I will never know.

Not to be outdone is the luminous but talented Rebecca Hall who definitely owned the courtroom as she defended herself of the accusations hurled at her by her King. Their reunion in the end was absolutely moving. Sinead Cusack was excellent as the fierce Paulina. I thought she was better as Paulina than Ranevskaya. The most famous Shakespearean stage direction, Exit, pursued by a bear, describing the death of Antigonus elicited an appreciate laughter from the audience.

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Now Ethan Hawke. I have a soft spot for him having watched most of his films. I was thrilled to find out that he has forayed into theatre and was part of this company. I had a bit of a problem with him as Trofimov in The Cherry Orchard, but as Autolycus, he was sensational! The slow but equally powerful pace of the first half was balanced by a burning second half with great music played by Hawke himself. Richard Easton as the Old Shepherd, Paul Jesson as Camillo, Josh Hamilton as Polixenes and Tobias Segal have done noteworthy performances. I have to say Sam Mendes did it again! If you’re in the UK and a fan of Shakespeare, dont miss this stunning production.

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The Winter’s Tale: 4.5/5
Playing at the Old Vic until August 15

Photos courtesy of BAM’s Flickr photostream and the New York Times

Theatre Review: All’s Well that Ends Well

19 May

alls-well

Plot: The feisty but lowly Helena falls in love with Bertram, a haughty count. To gain his hand she is set a string of impossible tasks. Even if accomplished, they can hardly guarantee his love. He refuses to bed her and yet says he’ll only be hers if she bears his child; and he lusts after another. Nevertheless, our heroine, whether wisely or no, refuses to give him up.

This is a beautiful production helmed by the very effective and highly imaginative Marianne Elliot whose talent as a director I have come to admire after having seen her excellent revival of Ibsen’s Pillars of the Community at the National in 2006. Still not a habitue of the theatre on those days I am kicking myself for having missed her version of the RSC’s Much Ado About Nothing, and the National Theatre’s Saint Joan and Therese Raquin, not to mention that I still havent seen War Horse either! Like Ms. Elliott, I have not seen any production of AWTEW and have decided to skip reading the play text and just relied on my Shakespeare’s companion book. The plot of the woman scorned appealed to me for like Helena, I have experienced rejection quite a few times but my resilience to see it through regardless of the result was a good learning experience (if I ever learned!) and I would like to see how this translates to the stage.

I thought that the performance of Michelle Terry as Helena whom I also saw previously in the raucous yet a lot of fun England People Very Nice was exceptional, you really felt for her when Bertram refused her pointblank, he’s a snob and an idiot, and men of that same sort are sadly still about, and worse! I mean how dare he?! Claire Higgins as the Countess of Rossillion was authoritative yet affectionate, and so was Oliver Ford Davies as the King of France. And I very rarely give credit to the more technical side of the production but kudos to Rae Smith, Gemma Carrington and Jon Driscoll for a superb background of what seems llke a lost fairy land, complete with gothic towers and visual effects of crows and owls.

All’s Well that Ends Well: 4/5
Playing at the Olivier, National Theatre until 30 September

Marianne Elliott article on The Times

Playwright Spotlight: William Shakespeare

20 Apr

I have said somewhere on this blog that I was averse to Shakespeare because no matter how hard I tried, I can’t seem to understand his plays.

I had been to the Bard’s hometown in Stratford-upon-Avon, and my intimate relationship with the man was the souvenir fridge magnet and The Little Book of Shakespeare quotes. My first exposure to his work was the 2004 film adaptation of The Merchant of Venice with Al Pacino as Shylock. It was my young friend Bizarro who convinced me to watch the film, although I didnt need much convincing as Pacino was a good enough reason to give it a try. The experience wasnt too bad at all, I actually really liked that version and was really moved by the events that transpired. But there was still no yearning desire to follow through.

I have had discussions with friends who loved Shakespeare’s work and it wasnt until a work colleague and friend, who’s also a huge theatre afficionado said to me late last year that Shakespeare’s plays are meant to be watched more than read. I was quite keen on watching Ian McKellen in King Lear so I bit the bullet and booked the RSC’s production last year and was gobsmacked by it. The Arden adaptation which came as a gift from the same friend helped eased the pain in understanding the language. I had wanted to book the Donmar’s Othello but I was one of those who were trying to book tickets all day only to be told it has sold out.

So from watching a highly distressing and tragic Lear I moved onto another Shakespeare production, this time the light hearted Much Ado About Nothing staged at the Olivier’s National for their winter offering and boy did that feel good too. Having enjoyed myself so much I bought the play text in the National bookshop and finished reading it the same evening. Since then I have joined the RSC as associate member and I am now looking forward to the staging of Hamlet, Love’s Labours Lost when it comes to the West End at the end of the year, and the Donmar West End’s Twelfth Night. The Regents Park Open Air Theatre productions for the season includes a hefty serving of the Bard with Romeo and Juliet, Twelfth Night, and A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and then of course you’ve got the Globe Theatre with King Lear, Timon of Athens and The Merry Wives of Windsor. There’s also A Winter’s Tale to look forward to in Spring 2009 as part of The Bridge Project and there’s also the RSC Histories currently running at the Roundhouse that got sold out by the time I wanted to book tickets.

So what’s the verdict for Shakespeare? To quote Simon Russell Beale in an interview for Much Ado About Nothing, he said, he’s just the best. I have only seen 2 productions so far but I will have to agree with him. Does the Doctor Who Season 3 Shakespeare Code episode count? I wish!

Theatre Review: Much Ado About Nothing

17 Mar

muchadotheatreposter

Plot: Don Pedro of Aragon, commander of the Spanish army in Sicily, returns to Messina after a victory against rebel forces which included his brother, Don John. Now reconciled with Don John, and in the company of his Italian comrades Claudio and Benedick, Don Pedro accepts the hospitality of Leonato, the Governor of Messina. A marriage is quickly arranged between Hero, daughter of Leonato, and Claudio. Don Pedro resolves to fill the time before the wedding by tricking Benedick into marriage with his old sparring partner Beatrice, Leonato’s niece. Don John, still simmering with resentment, meanwhile plots to destroy Claudio’s faith in Hero.

“I do love nothing in the world so well as you, is not that strange?” – Benedick to Beatrice

Oy!!! It seems like my initial dislike for Shakespeare is clearly unfounded now having seen 2 of his plays and coming out enjoying them. With a tragedy that was King Lear, which left me in tears, Much Ado About Nothing on the other hand, left me in stitches. This Shakespeare romantic comedy may have been written circa 1600, but even in our modern times, it still resonates the same realities that befall our main protagonists, Benedick and Beatrice. I may sound really biased here but this production is owned by both Simon Russell Beale and Zoe Wanamaker. Their wonderful and mischievous attack on their characters were spot on and was a delight to watch. Not having the pleasure of reading the play yet, I initially thought that Russell Beale and Wanamaker were rather older than their stage counterparts, but this is where I think Hytner’s gamble paid off. It’s because even more so now, there are actually more single people whether by choice or circumstance, and most are probably already in their middle age and can easily relate to the joys of singlehood and/or the curse of it.

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I thought Benedick’s mockery of Beatrice when they had their first encounter was delightful, “what my Lady Disdain, are you yet living?”, but you can feel that these two are really in love with each other and just would not accept that fact, this time around though, they would need a little help from their friends. And some of us have experienced that. We loved someone, then for some reason they’ve wronged us and we lose them, and if their really not some big time loser who is mentally abusive, or with no real red flags waving in the air, sometimes an old love can be that someone who is our equal, that one person who is a match for you, that you can not love no one else but him, or her, and this is really what Benedick was for Beatrice and vice versa. You just know they had to end up together and so we watch them how.

One of the most comical parts of the play was Benedick eavesdropping on his comrades discussing how Beatrice really loves him and we see an amused but giddy looking Benedick tiptoeing, avoiding the pond which he eventually falls into and in a quick soliloquy, incredulously asks, Love me? But why? Beatrice follows the same fate after overhearing Hero (Sussanah Fielding) talking about Benedick’s own passions for her. But it’s the scene after Hero has been spurned by Claudio (Daniel Hawksford) that Benedick comes to comfort a distraught Beatrice and asks her, “and how do you?” Beatrice replies, “very ill too”. And Benedick, with a look of love and devotion tells her, “serve God, love me and mend”. Awwwwww!!!

Russell Beale again played against type for he may not be a swaggering kind of Benedick but in my books I loved the way he made Benedick real. Coming out of that pond, soaking wet but elated knowing that Beatrice might still just be in love with him and then he tries to walk erect striking a pose as if some cool, sexy cat really brought the house down. he is such a sweetheart. Wanamaker complemented his performance by allowing us to feel her world-weary Beatrice, showing us the pain of being alone and her masked vulnerability but despite this she remains a strong-willed, independent woman nevertheless that is admirable.

The supporting cast did just great, I thought Mark Addy as Dogberry and Trevor Peacock as Verges provided great comical relief. Rachel Portman’s music (with special mention to Thomas Goodridge playing the role of Balthasar who sung beautifully in his scenes perfectly) evoked the mood and aura of this part of Italy, and Vicki Mortimer’s beautiful set design complimented Nicholas Hytner’s great and fantastic revival of this sweet Shakespearean play.

Much Ado About Nothing: 5/5

Playing at the National Theatre until March 29.

Theatre Review: King Lear

27 Dec

Synopsis: Lear (Ian McKellen), King of Britain, decides to abdicate and divide his kingdom between his three daughters. When Cordelia (Romola Garai) refuses to make a public declaration of love for her father she is disinherited and married to the King of France without a dowry. The Earl of Kent (Jonathan Hyde) is banished by Lear for daring to defend her. The two elder daughters, Goneril (Frances Barber) and Regan (Monica Dolan), and their husbands inherit the kingdom. Gloucester (William Gaunt), deceived by his bastard son Edmund (Philip Winchester), disinherits his legitimate son, Edgar (Ben Meyjes), who is forced to go into hiding to save his life. Lear, now stripped of his power, quarrels with Goneril and Regan about the conditions of his lodging in their households. In a rage he goes out into the stormy night, accompanied by his Fool (Sylvester McCoy) and by Kent, now disguised as a servant.

They encounter Edgar, disguised as a mad beggar. Gloucester is betrayed by Edmund and captured by Regan and Cornwall, who put out Gloucester’s eyes. King Lear is taken secretly to Dover, where Cordelia has landed with a French army. The blind Gloucester meets, but does not recognise Edgar, who leads him to Dover. Lear and Cordelia are reconciled but in the ensuing battle are captured by the sisters’ forces.

Goneril and Regan are both in love with Edmund, who encourages them both. Discovering this, Goneril’s husband Albany forces Edmund to defend himself against the charge of treachery. A knight appears to challenge Edmund and, after fatally wounding him, reveals himself to be Edgar. News comes that Goneril has poisoned Regan and then committed suicide. Before dying, Edmund reveals that he has ordered the deaths of Lear and Cordelia.

King Lear is the first Shakespeare play I ever saw on stage and I know it may sound lame but I just had to see it because it had Ian McKellen playing Lear and it is produced by the RSC, so how can I lose? Having had a taste of the company’s earlier performance of Chekhov’s The Seagull which I thoroughly enjoyed, I was in full anticipation to see this grand production which was also directed by Trevor Nunn.

McKellen’s Lear was a masterful portrayal of power, descent, and tragedy. Having just finished the Arden’s version of the published novel was already much too overwhelming, and seeing it brought into life by a huge and versatile talent as McKellen was a stroke of genius. Towards the end of the second act I was choking and nearly in tears with his tender and dramatic moment with Cordelia.

The other gentlemen in the ensemble, notably Hyde playing Kent, gave another brilliant performance- Meyjes as Edgar, Winchester as Edmond, Gaunt as Gloucester and McCoy as the King’s Fool were just as commanding. I must say that I was a little disappointed with Garai’s treatment of Cordelia, not that Cordelia is a role to die for, but it seems that she played it the way she did as Nina in The Seagull, not so much with Dolan who although was brilliant playing Masha, was in a totally different character as Regan.

I was totally blown away by this performance and was just pleased that I had the chance to see it. I am really looking forward to see more of RSC’s productions in 2008.

Hamlet, anyone?

King Lear: 4/5

Playing at the New London Theatre until January 12