This suspense is terrible: I do hope it will last

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Does it count as a spoiler if the text is over a century old?

When we went to see the current RSC production of Hamlet, the chap was reading the programme and suddenly muttered “spoiler alert”. I was surprised he didn’t know the end but it turned out he just didn’t know the details and the programme had given it away. Oddly enough, I don’t count the end of Shakespeare plays as something to keep secret. They’ve been around for a lot longer than, say, the Mousetrap (and does anyone not know the end of that these days?). When I was raving about the RSC production, I did keep some details of how they do certain scenes back as I know several friends who had yet to see it in its Stratford run or who have tickets for the London run and I didn’t want to spoil it for them. There are some bits of stagecraft that took my breath away – and I don’t just mean the very delicious sight of Tennant’s bare midriff.

Sorry, where was I?

Years ago, when the BBC ran their adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, I was amused to watch newly converted fans rushing to buy the video in order to find out the end sooner (the video being released a few days before the airing of the final episode). I wanted to point out they could have got the book for a couple of quid. I also once resisted the urge to turn around in Rymans and tell someone how The Lord of the Rings ended to stop her wittering on about how she had to wait a year to see the ending. The book’s been around for fifty years: if it matters to you that much, go and read it.

On Thursday night, I used wikipedia to find out the end of Little Dorrit. I am so ashamed. I have spoilered myself because I was impatient to find out what happens between Arthur and Amy. And now I know, and wish that I didn’t because I won’t be held on the same tenterhooks for the rest of the adaptation. I briefly looked at the text on Project Gutenburg but, guilty, I popped into Waterstones on the way home on Friday and bought the book. The edition has an introduction which starts with the note “new readers are advised that this Introduction makes the details of the plot explicit”. So spoiler warnings now appear at the start of Penguin classic editions.

I am very annoyed with myself.

***

Tangent: I wonder what the second half of Hamlet was like on the night Tennant resigned from Who live on air during the interval? And the insanity of seeing a Doctor resign live on ITV1 via a link from the Royal Albert Hall (where there was wailing) and the stage door of the RSC (“I’ve got to go and kill Patrick Stewart”) made me wonder what world I am living in. I’m a fan, and I never expected things to become this big…

Monkey and money

Thursday, 7 August 2008

I’m so focussing on the novella that I forgot to write up what we did in London the other week. We went to the opera.
Monkey magic!Admittedly, we went to see Monkey: Journey to the West, which has music by Damon Albarn and design by Jamie Hewlett. It was only having seven performances in London, and we’d been trying to see it for a couple of years. We missed the Paris and Berlin runs by days or weeks, but there was no way we were missing the London run.

The chap, who had also never been inside an opera house before, pointed out that he never expected his first criticism of opera to be “there were too many fight scenes”. There were quite a few, and being a wuxia fan, I thought there were just the right amount of them. My main criticism is that there were issues with scene transistion. At the start, there are long animated sequences between scenes and by the end it’s more the traditional thing of stage hands rapidly moving the fake rocks about a bit. I’d have preferred short animated sequences for each transistion.

I think the chap was mainly interested in the music but I was there for the design, having been a fan of Hewlett since the Deadline days. And it was gorgeous. There were clever little things like Monkey’s outfit – a yellow tracksuit with a dark stripe down the side – being an echo of the infamous Bruce Lee one. Hewlett’s Monkey designs, are being used – in a somewhat toned down version – by the BBC for the Olympics. But all the costumes were superb. And the fight sequences were wonderfully choreographed. Princess Iron Fan’s head soldier, a swordswoman, got a massive round of applause at curtain call because she was so good (only Pigsy and Monkey got more). Monkey was superb, really playing the trickster element up for the audience.

Skimming the reviews afterwards, I noticed The Times’ reviewer remarked:

At the first night, the Covent Garden foyer heaved with crowds who hadn’t the faintest idea where they were going.

Combined with the pre-review sneers about the RSC stunt casting Tennant as Hamlet (the reviews have taken it all back – see the Independent, the Times and the Guardian), there’s just the faintest idea that theatre critics don’t like the idea of the masses attending what still gets called ‘high culture’. Or perhaps it’s railing against the idea that ‘high culture’ is inviting the masses in (desipte that being a stated aim of the RSC). Given it costs much the same to see a West End musical as it does for a seat in the gods at the Royal Opera House, such hints of sneering at the masses are a bit hypocritical. The RSC and the ROH both get Arts Council England and/or National Lottery money in order to survive, money primarily raised via income tax or cheap gambling. A 2005 report by the Lottery operators, Camelot, indicates that there is higher participation in the lottery by people in the C2,D and E social demographic (percentage participation being higher than percentage of population) with higher average weekly spends by the same groups than those in the ABC1 demographic. So these places of ‘high culture’ survive thanks to the gambling habits of the very people the critics don’t like in their shiny citadels.

Conjure the wandering stars

Sunday, 20 July 2008

So, Tennant’s Hamlet. The press are already writing of it, and Jonathan Miller sneered at it for ‘celebrity casting‘. Last week, I saw the PR shot for it, and it instantly brought to mind another image.

Friedrich’s The Wanderer Above the Mists (or The Wanderer Above a Sea of Fog). It’s an arresting image, from the Romanticism period in art (painted around 1817). The same period which saw the rise of the sublime as a form of beauty, and concepts of nature v nuture emerge from post-Revolutionary France. It was also around the time when Shakespeare went through a massive revival, led in part by the Lambs’ Tales from Shakespeare (1807), and Hamlet became a tragic hero (rather than a whiny emo boy back from gap year to find ‘Uncle’ Claude has moved in with mum). All this suggests the tone the production intends to take with the play: a Romantic who ends up caught up in that fog that he looks down on.

The military coat (as well as making me go “Captain Jack!”), also recalls Branagh’s Hamlet, which looked to create a strong sense of both the political/military forces waiting on the borders, and the idea of a Germanic stoicism – Hamlet having studied in Wittenberg – in the face of the threats Hamlet faces (real and imagined).

It opens next week, and I shall read the reviews with no end of trepidation. Naturally, I have tickets for September but I can’t work out if I’m more excited by seeing Tennant as Hamlet, or by seeing what looks like it’ll be a smart production of Hamlet with Tennant as the icing.

I picked a quote from Hamlet over the other possible title for this piece, which suggests the latter reason for the excitement. The other title? “Don’t cry, emo Dane prince!”

Much Ado About Nothing

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

I don’t do resolutions as they are a set-up for failure. Here are this year’s guidelines, however:

  1. No using the interweb in the lunch hour
  2. Finish short stories started last year and sub them
  3. Start posting more on design etc rather than waffle about cats, shoes and miscellany, although:
    • Shoes are allowed if it’s about the design of them
    • The same goes for handbags

I did fulfil a long cherished shoe dream this weekend, by getting a pair of heels from L. K. Bennett. Ever since I started to wear shoes again, after years in combat or biker boots, I wanted a pair of L K Bennett shoes. I finally have a pair! Lilac suede with brown leather edging and toe caps, round toes and 2″ dark brown wood heels (narrow but not stiletto). For special events only but I adore them.

My other sale purchase was a pair of contrasting brown leather shoes from Accessorize, with a 1/2″ Victorian heel, round toes and a strap across the foot. I look suspciously like I’m about to dance a foxtrot in them, especially when worn with socks, but they were an emergency buy due to the zip in a boot buggering up. That was embarassing, in part because it happened whilst in the front row of the Novello.

We went, after much pitiful “Can we, huh? Huh? Pleeeeease?” pleading from me, to see the RSC’s production of Much Ado About Nothing in its London run. This was based on the fact a) it had Tamsin Grieg as Beatrice, b) it was set in pre-revolutionay Cuba and c) it is my favourite Shakespearian play and the only one I quote from extensively. As always, the allegedly comic scenes involving Dogberry suffer when played to a modern crowd, but the remainder of the production sizzled.

There were readings of lines which hadn’t occured to me (noteably Don Pedro’s proposal to Beatrice which was played straight by him without her realising). There was exquisite comic timing both verbally, including an ad-lib when someone in the front row got in the way of Benedict, and physically. The relocation worked very well, turning Balthasar into a female Blues singer in a bar who spoke her lines with a patois accent, and making Don John a guerilla fighter at the end. Even Hero and Claudio, the rather wet romantics who contrast with the merrily warring Beatrice and Benedict, came over as plausible and sweet. The whole was painfully funny and moving.

The run ends on the 6th of January and if you can get tickets (we got front row returns by major luck), I recommend it thoroughly.

Brush Up Your Shakespeare

Saturday, 27 August 2005

The MartiansThis is the only photo of any performers that I took at the Festival. These are the Martians and they do comedy covers of classic pop songs. See the guy standing on a bollard? He sings like Pinky &/or Perky whereas the other two have good strong (Scottish accented) voices. I stopped at the first line of Hard Day’s Night just out of curiousity, because a Scottish accent in a performer is a rarity on the Fringe, and stayed for their whole set. Then I eventually got to the free comedy I had been on my way to, and got a load more Scots comics. I suspect the fact I’ve visited Dundee helped with their set.

Otherwise, and apart from Serenity, I mostly saw Shakespeare. But no straight theatre performances, oh no. Firstly, A Midsummer Night’s dream from the East which was the play transplanted to Korea. And in Korean. Actually very funny and smart – not least by dumping the rude mechanicals in favour of a rude old woman. I recommend seeing the theatre company if they tour your area.

I don’t know what it is about old Shakespeare but he insisted on putting in notoriously unfunny bits. Like the gatekeeper’s scene in Macbeth which remains, well, dull. We saw that too, in a walking production. We got the promised foul and fair day, with a sudden torrential downpour during Act V and then a double rainbow as Burnham Wood came to Dunsinane. And there was Shakespeare for Breakfast who this year performed I’m Julius Cesaer, Get Me Out of Here. That’s one for which you need to have at least a passing knowlegde of the key plays.

Not quite sure why I ended up seeing so much Shakespearian stuff. Maybe it was the bad influence of chocolate schnapps at a quid a shot in the underbelly. I’m blaming my rough voice and mild temperature on that and not on getting damp during Macbeth or sitting for an hour in what someone later told me was “one of the most haunted parts of the under city” (a.k.a. Baby Belly 3). The very name of the venue confuses me: part of me wants to start singing the Babybel theme that was a version of Barbara-Ann and another part, due to it being shorted to “BB1″, “BB2″, “BB3″ etc was wondering if one particular venue within it was more evil than the others.

So, anyway, yes. I’m back. I’m going to curl up under a rug and either watch Casanova again or finish reading some books.


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