Sunday, September 25, 2016

And likewise, a missing Alison!

We are trying to contact a lady named Alison Hewson who used to belong to the Shakespeare Club of Western Australia. However, her old phone number is not working. There are several Facebookers of that name, but I haven't found one who lives in Perth. Any help in tracing our mysterious Alison will be appreciated!

And Alison, if you see this, please contact the Shakespeare Club ASAP. We want to invite you to a special function.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Audrey, where art thou?

Calling Audrey Molloy! Audrey, you sent your entry fee for the sonnet competition but we haven't received an entry from you. Has it gone astray in the mail, I wonder? If you resend your entry at once you will still make the deadline for the judging.

(S'OK. folks - Audrey got back to us and the matter was sorted out.)

Friday, July 29, 2016

Othello revisited: a character sketch of Emilia

Almost exactly a year ago, we posted a commentary on Othello, and recently May-Lee asked in a comment if someone might be able to write a character sketch of Emilia, the villain Iago's long-suffering wife. Our president, Frances, has obliged with the following fascinating post.

My impression of Emilia is of a warm-hearted and spirited woman unfortunately trapped in a miserable marriage. She is confident with Othello and Desdemona, her “employers”, and is capable of answering back sharply when Iago provokes her. She is kindly concerned for Cassio and readily tries to help him.

Her first appearance is on arrival at Cyprus. Iago’s reception of her after a period of separation is hardly welcoming; he accuses her of being a nagging wife and talking too much, and goes on to speak disrespectfully of women in general. What a contrast with the joyful reunion between Othello and Desdemona.

With no possibility of divorce and no financial independence, Emilia has to obey Iago. She cannot imagine why he so eagerly wants Desdemona’s special handkerchief, but when it comes by accident into her possession she relinquishes it to him. Once again he shows his surly nature and treats her very rudely. Their relative status is reflected when she says to herself: “I nothing, but to please his fantasy.”

Emilia is very fond of Desdemona, but she dare not say what she has done with the handkerchief, despite Desdemona’s extreme distress. Emilia’s low opinion of men is strengthened by Othello’s outburst of rage, but she wonders how he could possibly be jealous of Desdemona and stoutly defends her mistress against any imputation of wrongdoing with Cassio.

When Othello directly accuses Desdemona of whoring, Emilia is appalled and stresses the cruelty and unfairness of such a charge. Furiously she realises that Othello has been misled; as she thinks: just as “someone” misled Iago into thinking that she herself had been unfaithful with Othello. But even while discussing all this with Iago it does not occur to her that Iago is the instigator. She is too honest to imagine how anyone could so dupe another.

The scene with Desdemona in the bedroom shows Emilia’s fondness for the younger woman as she tenderly helps her to prepare for the night, and their conversation highlights the differences between their life experiences and attitudes: Emilia the realist and Desdemona the romantic idealist. Emilia believes that women’s feelings and senses are equal with men’s and that they should be able to retaliate in kind to bad treatment or infidelity (even though in fact circumstances prevent this for her.)

She is genuinely grief-stricken on discovering the dying Desdemona. At first incredulous, she finally understands Iago’s role in these events and turns her fury first on her husband: ‘May his pernicious soul rot half a grain a day’ and then on Othello.

With her heart breaking for Desdemona and the full realisation of Iago’s villainy she at last grasps the significance of the handkerchief episode. Even as her husband murders her, she attests to Desdemona’s innocence and love for Othello.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Sonnet competition again

Our sonnet competition has received some very good entries - but not enough of them! While we are delighted with the standard of the entries, we do hope more people can be encouraged to send in their sonnets.

Originally, we barred members of the Club from entering, but entry numbers to date suggest that perhaps most of the people who write sonnets are already members of The Shakespeare Club of Western Australia! Therefore, the Committee has decided to open the competition to members of the Club. Members are advised that they must not enter under their own names, but use a nom-de-plume, so that the judging can take place on a level playing field.

So come on, members! Pay homage to our beloved bard by putting pen to paper. Or, rather, fingers to keyboard!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Shakespeare 400 film

Several members (see an earlier review below, from our president) have seen this film and enjoyed it, and Natalie has also written a review:

I went along to the Windsor cinema to see the film Shakespeare Live! from the RSC, not knowing what to expect, but convinced that I would be in for a wonderful few hours. It was full of surprises and though realizing at the end that I was out of touch with many of the new ways of presenting things, I left exhilarated. 

The film began with scenes of Stratford, the theatre & its history and a few places associated with Shakespeare’s life; then brought us into the theatre with an audience. From time to time throughout the show, a film would be thrown on a screen at the back or above the back of the stage, and it worked smoothly on the whole. The gang fight and ‘Tonight’ from West Side Story began the performance, followed immediately by the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. This prepared us well for a program consisting of scenes from the plays plus extracts from the works of artists from other countries in varied forms such as dance, opera and music – all inspired by Shakespeare!

Comperes David Tennant and Catherine Tate
The show was compered by David Tennant, and featured many notable thespians including Dame Judi Dench, Sir Ian McKellen, Dame Helen Mirren, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tim Minchin, Rufus Wainwright, John Lithgow, David Suchet, Rory Kinnear and Joseph Fiennes. Artistic Director Gregory Doran is to be congratulated on assembling such a notable cast. We got a marvelous ‘Brush up your Shakespeare’ from Cole Porter’s Kiss me Kate, complete with a Jimmy Durante; a melting duet from Berlioz and a chuckling chorus from Verdi’s Falstaff as well as the straight plays. 

R&J: Natey Jones and Mariah Gale
The balcony scene was the highlight for me: the young actress had charm & a young voice full of light and shade. She is surely an up-and-coming to look out for. The actor playing Macbeth impressed me very much and the murder scene was another highlight. The death of Cleopatra seen at close quarters was certainly another. I thought Paul Schofield had walked on to join the group of former Hamlets in the ‘To be or not to be’, skit but it turned out to be Ian McKellen when he turned full face. Still, nothing wrong with that, and a lovely moment!

One scene that surprised me and made me wonder why it had not been done that way always was the proposal in Henry V. I wonder what others who have seen the film thought? Olivier & Renee Asherson were banished forever by these young independent young royals; yet I was puzzled as to how the scene would fit into the play when seen as a whole.

Words in the Hip Hop theatre were lost on me because I could not keep my attention from the dancers’ fascinating trousers. My companion singled out Malvolio’s combined embarrassment and ambition as a highlight and I was sorry this act was over so quickly.

Overall, I missed most of the words of the sonnets, luxuriating in the nice, slow delivery of the Royal Shakespeare players. Some of the effects that particularly caught my eye were the out-of-this-world fairies (blue) on Titania’s float, Bottom’s ears, Macbeth’s dangling tie, the Prince of Denmark’s ruff, and the snake in Cleopatra’s hands. How I would love to see those productions in full, I thought as I left, compiling my own little program!

PS: Photos (by Helen Maybank) are from the Royal Shakespeare Company's website. And if you can't get to see this amazing film, you can buy the DVD from the site.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Shakespeare Live - well, on film, anyway!


Once again, Frances, our Fearless Leader, has turned her sharp and probing mind to a film performance, this time of the Royal Shakespeare Company's 400th anniversary tribute. Here's what she has to say:

What an absorbing and invigorating experience it was, to see on screen the RSC’s tribute to Shakespeare, exactly as it was performed in that magnificent one-off concert on 23rd April.

The programme was clearly planned not only to show Shakespeare’s work, but also to reveal that work’s influence on so many other art forms. Mingled with many of the best-known and best-loved scenes from the plays we had excerpts from musicals, ballet, opera and even hip-hop: something for every taste and every age.

There was so much packed into three hours that it’s impossible to comment on everything.  I prefer to indulge myself with remembering my favourites.

If I were presenting awards, equal first would go to Antony Sher for his rollicking but very subtle Falstaff, and Rory Kinnear for his intensely horror-struck Macbeth. Harriet Walter would be right behind them for her fine Cleopatra, and Ian McKellen, who gave us a passionate and topical passage from Sir Thomas More.

Other highlights: Paapa Essiedu’s delivery of “To be or not…..” It would be a major challenge for any actor to follow the hilarious discussion on the appropriate placing of emphasis in the soliloquy’s first sentence, but Essiedu took it beautifully in his stride, allowing the audience to settle and then holding us with his thoughtful interpretation. Alex Hassell’s Henry V made the king’s proposal to Catherine funnier and much more appealing than most versions, and in another scene, as Prince Hal was a perfect foil for Sher’s Falstaff.  Al Murray’s portrayal of Bottom made a lovably cuddly and comical character.

For me special items from other genres included: the love scene from the ballet Romeo and Juliet with Prokofiev’s music; a modern ballet version of Desdemona’s murder, to Duke Ellington’s Black and Tan Fantasy; and the smoothest “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” (from Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate) which Henry Goodman and Rufus Hound performed with soft-shoe insouciance and infectious enjoyment.

There were some quirky items. One was a hip-hop performance, in which a speaker? reciter? chanter? “spoke” well-known phrases from the plays in a seemingly random order. In fact I realised by the end that it wasn’t random;  there was a planned sequence of repetition.  He controlled the pace of his delivery sufficiently to allow much of the content to be heard and I think it was probably very cleverly put together, but I need a lot more practice in listening to this art form. (A printed script would have helped.) The accompanying dancer? gymnast? was fascinating to watch but rather a distraction from the spoken words.

Another oddity (to me) was Sonnet 29 (“When in disgrace with fortune…”) composed and sung by Rufus Wainwright. He is certainly not the first to set sonnets to music, but I’m sure he must be the first to need such a Big Band to back him. The music swelled to such an extent that it almost overwhelmed the sense of the words and seemed to require a Cinemascope screen of images to accompany it.

The programme was arranged to follow Shakespeare’s literary life from the earlier to the maturer comedies, through the great tragedies to the late plays. The perfect choice for a prologue, therefore, was The Seven Ages of Man.  Each age was illustrated with an appropriate modern character, but for me the impact and the poignancy of the speech came when it was revealed at the end that each was not a Type, but a “real” inhabitant of Stratford  --  from the baby born in the local hospital, to the “lean and slippered pantaloon” who was a retired backstage employee of the theatre.

The conclusion was equally well chosen, with Oberon and Titania (played by David Suchet and Judi Dench) and Puck (David Tennant) giving us the fairies’ blessings. I confess to having been slightly taken aback by such elderly royal fairies, but in a moment common sense re-asserted itself:  of course, fairies are ageless, or are older than time.

These are just some of the impressions remaining with me, and I may well have omitted scenes which others would have picked as the high spots. Unfortunately I am relying on my shaky memory; cinemas don’t provide a printed programme. I hope my remarks will provoke other club members who saw the film to offer their own opinions, and to comment on (and probably correct) my thoughts.   

Friday, April 1, 2016

The Winter’s Tale and The Gap of Time

 Our president, Frances, has once again written a thoughtful and detailed review of a Shakespearean film and book. Read on to be informed, educated and entertained!

A few weeks ago I saw and very much admired the film of The Winter’s Tale presented by the Kenneth Branagh Company.

Every member of the cast perfectly suited his or her role and the action was enhanced by the excellent sets and particularly by the lighting.

For days afterwards my head was absolutely full of the play and its progression. We watched the transition from the genial warmth of family love and long friendship, through doubt and suspicion to conviction, and on to murderous obsession and sadistic cruelty. After the horrifying result of this pathological jealousy there was the inevitable but futile remorse and the long winter of regret.

To go from that to the Bohemian spring could have been quite a jolt, but here we slipped easily into the new scenes, thanks to the beautiful tenderness with which Antigonus (Michael Pennington) left the baby Perdita to her fate; and then the gentle humour and spontaneous delight of the shepherds when they discovered her.

The sheep-shearing celebrations were all youthful energy, filled with the promise of a fruitful future. We saw the temporary shadow cast by Polixenes’s threats and the lovers’ escape, leading finally to the stunning finale. This was an absolutely magical scene, thanks mainly to the effortless authority of Paulina’s (Judi Dench) ‘stage management’, the brilliant lighting creating mysterious, almost other-worldly shadows and gleams, and the costuming and pose of Hermione, all supported by the music and the rapt attention of the onlookers. We could certainly be convinced that here was a woman finally emerging from the frozen waste of grief and just able to see a way to forgiveness.

Judi Dench as Paulina
While I was still absorbed in the impressions of the play I got hold of Jeanette Winterson’s new book The Gap of Time. Winterson is re-telling the story of The Winter’s Tale in the form of a novel, for a modern reader. And it certainly is up to the minute: set right in the second decade of the 21st century.

With only minor name changes, the characters are the same – Leontes becomes Leo, Hermione is Mimi and Perdita is unchanged – but much more importantly, their status, in the world and relative to each other, is retained. Clearly we can’t expect to see too many kings and courtiers, so Winterson has found the modern equivalents. Instead of ruling a country, Leo is head of a huge financial organisation; Xeno (Polixenes) has made a fortune as the inventor of wildly successful computer games. Autolycus is no longer a pedlar who picks pockets; he is now a used car salesman who cheats at cards. Bohemia has become a large city in southern USA – New Bohemia – and who are the disadvantaged there? Not struggling shepherds but poor black people. And so on …

 It is fun to note the clever ways in which the author has transposed the characters and situations from four centuries ago, but the main interest of the book lies in her skill at creating a fascinating new work in its own right, while remaining faithful to the themes of the original play.

As the writer of a novel, she has certain advantages over a dramatist. A play (nearly always) shows us events in the order in which they occur, but in this novel Time is frequently re-arranged. We are taken back and forth to get a new understanding of causes and effects. Thus, the central turning point of the play, the abandoning of the baby during the storm, is made the strikingly dramatic opening event of the novel, and much later we catch up with what led to it.

The novelist can give her characters back stories, which playgoers have to conjecture for themselves. So Winterson can provide explanations for how individuals met, in what their formative experiences consisted, why they behave as they do. She provides absorbing backgrounds for Pauline and Perdita’s adoptive father, for instance, as well as stories to explain the attachment between Leo and Xeno.

Going even further, a novel can show us the characters’ inner unspoken thoughts. Admittedly Shakespeare used soliloquies, asides and direct approaches to the audience, but there are not many in The Winter’s Tale. Winterson lets us right into Leo’s mind when he is in the grip of his ‘tremor cordis’ with confrontingly explicit (and entirely believable) language, as he spies with the help of CCTV on his wife and his old friend.

It struck me that modernising The Winter’s Tale presented three particular problems: the Oracle, the death of Mamilius and the statue.

What today constitutes an absolute and unquestionable authority equivalent to the Delphic oracle? Well, that proved a minor stumbling block. We all place our faith now in medical science; DNA tests provide certainty; anyone rejecting their results would seem to be irrational.

With modern marriages seldom regarded as life-long commitments, it is hard to believe that a young boy would die of shame over his parents’ separation, even when domestic violence is involved. Winterson keeps us tantalisingly in suspense over the fate of the boy, Milo. We know that he is no longer with Leo but almost to the very end there is the question: what happened to Milo? The mystery is eventually neatly and entirely plausibly explained.

The final and (to my mind) the most difficult feature of the tale is the device of the statue. However, thanks to the incidental information scattered through the book, the reader knows what has happened to Mimi. The means by which Pauline brings her back and persuades Leo to attend her return follows logically from the subtly established indications of her breakdown and withdrawal from public life. The ‘effect’ of a statue is cleverly implied.

This is a book which could be read as a gripping and beautifully written story by anyone, even without acquaintance with The Winter’s Tale. However, familiarity with the play provides an extra dimension to a reader’s appreciation. I think that the novel’s greatest strength is that, while able to stand alone on its own merits, it stays true to the play. Thinking about the book brings us constantly back to the characters, the events and the insights into human psychology of the play. 

And here is a little bonus in the form of poem, especially written to honour the film by Frances's friend Erica Jolly.

She has very kindly agreed to allow us to put it up on our blog, as another, completely different, take on the play.

A Real Birthday Present

After seeing "The Winter's Tale"
brought live from London
to a cinema in Adelaide.

Can we face the stretch and expanse of time
the aching grief, the agony we need to feel
the price, the awful price, we have to pay
for decisions made in rage or jealousy?

When will we learn, take in the fearful truth
of the impact of abuse of power and fury
of minds quite lost to kindness and mercy
demanding underlings fulfil their orders?

How many babes must be lost on shores
left, perhaps, to the surge of an incoming tide,
to be food for scavenging bears and wolves or,
with luck, to be found and given the chance to live?

I am asking these questions thinking of Perdita saved
from death by the love and daring of two old turtle doves.