marjorie73: (Default)
 You may remember that I saw the Donmar's all women Shakespeare trilogy in London just before Christmas. The plays were filmed, and the first, Julius Caesar was shown at (a limited number of) cinemas on Wednesday.


 

I was very impressed when I saw it live (which happened to be one of the performances being filmed for this), which is why I wanted to see it again.


It's still very good. I did feel that, as with some other theatre broadcasts I've seen, that the camera was often focused in too close - by zooming in on the face of the person speaking, much of the subtly of the production as a whole was lost, and some of the camera angles, using cameras on the actors themselves, also detracted from the performances, as it made things, to my mind, a bit disjointed, and the production less coherent, which is a shame, as it was a really good production, and I didn't feel tht the filed version did it justice!


That said, it was still worth seeing, and if they show the other two, I will see them as well!

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Phyllida Lloyd first directed her all-female version of Julius Caesar 2 or 3 years ago, at the Donmar Warehouse, and followed up with a production of Henry IV, with a final production of The Tempest.


And all three are now being performed as a trilogy. People can see the plays separately or, as I did, can see all three in one day.


All of the plays are performed in the round (or technically, in the square), and are set in a women's prison, which does add an extra layer to the plays. Each actor plays the role of a prisoner, as well as their roles within the plays, and each play is introduced by  different actor, in character, explaining their character's offence, and there are moments in each play when the prison environment breaks through, and the play is interrupted, by the 'guards' or a person falling out of character. (for instance, in one of the tavern scenes in Henry IV, as Falstaff quarrels with the  'Hostess' (Zainab Hassan), they insult her increasingly personally, until she breaks character in distress and and the 'guards' intervene)


This works surprisingly well, and invites us, the audience, to pay attention to the parallels in the plays with the prisoners own lives, and how the plays may speak to them.


Seeing all three plays together was amazing - for one thing, it allows you to see how incredibly versatile and skilled the actors are, but also to see how their characters develop.


In Julius Caesar, Harriet Walter is Brutus, Jade Anouka is a wonderfully eloquent Mark Anthony, and Jackie Clune a somewhat Trump-esque Caesar, and the prison setting worked very well indeed.

Clare Dunne's Portia was as eloquent as Mark Anthony - every un-heard and ignored woman..


Henry IV (which compressed Parts I and II into about 2 hours) featured Harriet Walter as Henry IV, tired, world-weary, less querulous than is sometimes the case, and obviously a prisoner of his own crown, softening the final scenes as Hal tries the crown.

Jade Anouka was an excellent Hotspur, and Clare Dunne as Hal,resplendent in headphones, baseball cap and Chelsea shirt!


The scenes as Hal draws back from his relationship with Falstaff are made particularly poignant by the setting - Dunne introduces the play in character as a prisoner about to be released after a drug-related sentence, and so the farewells, and the idea of giving up excess and debauchery echoes with the 'reality' of the prisoners' respective positions.


The Tempest was, of the three plays, the one which  was most sceptical about, in terms of whether it would work in the pared down 'prison' setting, given the magical and fantastical content, and of course it was bound to draw comparison with the wonderful (and high-tech) RSC production we saw last week.

Harriet Walter as Prospero (photo from Donmar site)


I need not have worried. Of the three plays this was perhaps the most successful.

Harriet Walter as Prospero gives a searing, heart-breaking performance - she introduces this play in character as 'Hanna', an inmate in her 60s, in her 4th decade of a life sentence - it highlights the way that the Island is a prison, despite Prospero's power there, and her grief and regrets.

The play also draws in the audience - on entrance we were all given tiny torches, which were used to create hundreds of stars, almost the only 'special effect' in the production.

Jade Anouka was again a stand-out performer, as Ariel, and the 'spirits' which guide the shipwrecked mariners were all dressed as prison guards, an insight into the 'inmate's' view of their situation.

As the play ended, rather than bringing the curtain down on Prospero's final words:

And my ending is despair,                      
Unless I be relieved by prayer,              
Which pierces so that it assaults            
Mercy itself and frees all faults.              
As you from crimes would pardoned be,
Let your indulgence set me free.        
     
 

the production leaves Hanna alone in her cell (reading Margaret Attwood's 'Hag-seed') while the other inmates, not in civilian clothing, say their farewells, thanking her for her support and help.

It's an infinitely moving way to end the performance, and the trilogy.

I would urge eveyone who can to see the trilogy, although that may be tricky -the run at Donmar Kings Cross finishes on 17th December.

However, they were filming the performances I saw, so (though the cameras were a little intrusive at times) I think this must mean there must be a reasonable chance that it may be available in cinemas or on DVD at some point in the future. Which is a Good Thing.

I would love for anyone who thinks that Shakespeare isn't relevant to modern audiences, or isn't for them, to see these plays.

(Edited to Add: The company have created more background for the prison Characters, which can be found at Donmarshakespearetrilogy.tumblr.com )

marjorie73: (Default)
Yesterday, 23rd April 2016, was the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare's death, and the Royal Shakespeare Company and the BBC collaborated on a celebration, which was broadcast live on BBC2 and to cinemas.

Naturally, I watched. It was fantastic.

It was introduced by Catherine Tate and David Tennant (who of course, as well as their performances together on Doctor Who, appeared as Benedict and Beatrice in Much Ado about Nothing in 2011)




The evening featured wonderful snippets of Shakespeare's plays, but also other art inspired by him, such as Ballet -  Tyrone Singleton, of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, who danced Othello, was particularly impressive  (I enjoyed that more than the Romeo and Juliet pas-de-deux)


There was also opera (The English National Opera, giving parts of Berlioz's 'Beatrice et Benedict' and Verdi's 'Falstaff') and more music and dance - Akala, Rufus Wainwright, Gregory Porter, Rufus Hound and Henry Goodman performing 'Brush up your Shakespeare', and Joseph Fiennes wandering around Stratford upon Avon with his hands in his pockets, giving a potted biography of the man himself.

Al Murray as Bottom (C) BBC

There were, of course, some wonderful performances - Judi Dench and Al Murray, as Titania and Bottom, Harriet Walter as Cleopatra, Meera Syall as Beatrice.

And, one of the biggest highlights of the evening, Paapa Essiedu (currently appearing as Hamlet at the RSC, and doing so exceptionally well) came in in order to give the 'To be, or not to be' soliloquy, and was, alas, rudely interrupted...



(If the video won't play for you, Paapa is interrupted by Tim Minchin wishing to give advice about the speech, followed in turn by Benedict Cumberbatch (mistaken by all for Eddie Redmayne) Harriet Walter, David Tennant, Rory Kinnear, Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench ("It is I, Hamlet the Dame") and finally, Prince Charles...

I would have loved it if they had managed to get Maxine Peake, too

Sadly, the video stops at that point, and doesn't show Paapa going on to give the full speech, which cannot have been easy, following directly on from the sketch!

Sir Ian McKellen

And directly afterwards, Sir Ian McKellen gave 'The Migrant's Speech' from Sir Thomas More:



Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding tooth ports and costs for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you. You had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another.

It was beautifully done.

I would have loved to have been in the audience at Stratford,but as I couldn't be, I'm glad they broadcast it.I believe the full thing is available on BBC iPlayer for the next month.
Happy Birthday, Master Shakespeare!

( I may also have spent some time watching Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons in 'The Hollow Crown', and am looking forward to the next ones, the first of which is going to be shown early next month)

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