The Hollow Crown S01E01; Richard II (2012), Rupert Goold (director)

26 Aug The Hollow Crown series is just what the brawler ordered. Watch it.

Daniel J. Rowe 

The Hollow Crown series kicks off the tetralogy with a bang on the backs of incredible acting talent, savvy directing and an overall appreciation of just how great the histories of William Shakespeare can be.


 

It has long been a question tossed around in the vaunted halls of the Bard Brawl: Why doesn’t anyone produce Shakespeare’s histories?

It seems the only ones who appreciate the brilliance of the history plays are certain medieval re-creation societies, monarchy scholars or the basketball and hockey fans who mistake the Kings in the titles for the sports franchises in LA and Sacramento (though who in their right mind is supporting the Sacramento Kings these days? Am I right?)

The Hollow Crown series answers the question with an exclamation point that looks a lot like an bullet hole. The tetralogy of Richard II, Henry IV part I and II, and Henry V is produced with style, substance and power.

This humble brawler gives his official thank you to whoever pitched the idea first and second to those involved with the project.

Rupert Goold directs Richard II, the first episode in the series, and dang is it good.

Ben Whishaw plays the arrogant, naive, and ultimately tragic king, who first sits comfortable on the throne in glory and pomp, and then laments his kingdom’s passing into the hands of his cousin Henry Bolingbroke (Rory Kinnear).

I know many of you are asking, “why would we ever need more out of Richard II than what the Bard Brawl has already offered us?” To answer: I know, I know, but to watch simply adds to the overall genius of the Bard Brawl’s audio podcasts. That’s all.

Goold’s episode is fantastic.

The performances in the episode are fantastic.

The sets, scenery and style are all, yep, fantastic.

The actors from the leads all the way down to the Gardener (David Bradley), who for some reason gets lead billing, leave no opportunity to show their quality unchecked. The opening scenes between Richard, Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray (James Purefoy) can be really confusing and a little boring. It’s hard to understand what the offence is (CCCCEO Eric Jean explains the whole thing if you’re still confused). The three actors with subtle movements and clever reactions put the turmoil in the kingdom into such clear focus it makes those that miss some of the language and real politic of late 12th century England understand what’s going on. These are real people fighting for their honour in a system where the king is head and his subjects below.

There’s a beauty bit early where Mowbray is pleading his case before Richard, and Richard turns to his pet monkey and feeds it. Very nice.

Then there’s this scene:

Shivers. If I don’t meet Captain Picard before I or he dies, I will be sad.

Whishaw and Kinnear’s performances are brilliant. As one’s power crumbles and the other’s rises, their personas and gravitas do the opposite. For one actor to pull this effect off is great, for two in the same production is simply brilliant. Actors out there should study these two talents. I just watched Kinnear in Southcliffe, he was great. Whishaw is in one of my favourite series, the Hour.

Whishaw is tasked with three great soliloquies (never an easy task) starting with the following where the series gets its name:

For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown (BING!)
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!
– Act 3, Scene 2

A certain brawler I know loves this monologue and it’s not hard to see why.

Richard’s final scenes as king, and following where he’s forced into advocating the crown are incredible. Goold does not spare on the Christ imagery including a shot of the crownless Richard riding a white donkey to meet the new king Henry IV. It may border on heavy handed symbolism there, but it works (particularly because Whishaw seems destined to be cast as Jesus at some time in the future. It’s the all in the hair and beard).

Oh, and there are heads falling into rivers, and rolling all over the ground for all you gore fans.

As a side note: Al Gore fans might also appreciate the anointed king being supplanted storyline as well. No, tea party members, I am not suggesting your beloved U.S. president is in any way shape or form similar to a king or that dynastic rule full of courts dominated by powerful families is what the land of stars and stripes is destined for. Wait a second…

After watching the first episode of the Hollow Crown, the appetite for more is unavoidable.

Listening to, and reading the histories can be tough. The characters’ names are hard to follow and the plots can be very convoluted. However, that does not mean they are not as great as any of the big gun, seat filling tragedies or comedies.

Richard II is rarely done (although I found this trailer for one that looks crazy interesting). The Hollow Crown episode one was the first time I’d ever seen the play on film or stage, and Goold makes it utterly compelling, incredibly interesting and as powerful as Lear or Othello.

I have, gentle brawlers, become a fan of the Hollow Crown series.

 

BB: King Richard II, Act II

24 Aug 'Zounds! scene ii described by someone as "the greatest follow up to anything anywhere since Italy's 1938 World Cup run."

Greetings Brawlers!

Those of you keeping up with our Twitter page will know that with summer (sadly) winding down (dang I still have to put up that birdhouse), we’ve finally been able to gather the crew and record the next act of Richard II.

However, the next episode isn’t going to be ready for a few days so in the mean time, we thought you might like a little refresher on what’s gone down for the first two acts of the play.

Feel free to check out reviews of some of the Shakespeare Plays the brawlers have checked out over the summer.

Here’s act II again. If you haven’t already, go ahead and check out Act I.

Enjoy!


 

(Podcast recorded and produced by Daniel J. Rowe, blog written and edited by Eric Jean)

This week we have act II of Richard II where you might just see exactly how not to act if you’re an unpopular ruler in search of money.

Listen to or download the podcast, or better yet subscribe on iTunes.

With John of Gaunt (the Duke of Hereford) on his deathbed and his son Henry Bolingbroke banished, King Richard swoops down on Ely house in scene 1 to listen to the dying words of the most popular man in the kingdom.

(BTW, it’s pronounced ‘Eel-y’ House. So says Bard Brawler Niki Lambros whose expertise on the subject of places named after eels we are willing to stipulate to while admitting that zero effort has been made by myself to verify its authenticity. But sounds plausible.)

When the king does arrives, Gaunt has just finished telling the Duke of York that he’s got some harsh words for Richard. Gaunt thinks that the fact that he’s dying is going to make Richard pay attention but the Duke of York’s not so sure that Richard wants to hear about how he’s gone and ruined England.

Yup. Richard doesn’t really dig being called “landlord of England,” that his father would be ashamed of him, that… well, you should really just click on the video of Patrick Stewart here and have a look for yourselves.

After his speech, Gaunt’s carted off and pronounced dead. In the words of his most caring lord, King Richard II, “So much for that.”

Time to cash out!

Richard declares that he’s taking everything Gaunt owns to fund his wars. Problem is, Gaunt has a son, Henry Bolingbroke, and this stuff’s supposed to be his by law.

Now, I’m no expert but stealing someone’s inheritance might just get a few people thinking, “Well, what’s to stop him from taking my lands whenever he wants to.” York tries to talk some sense into Richard but I guess Richard figures he’s got 6 years to come up with a convenient excuse to fix this.

Except for the fact that the way news travels in some of these history plays, there’s a small chance that Bolingbroke will have heard of this even before Richard announced he was taking the money.

Why, who’s that disembarking with an army at Ravenspurgh?!

We’re not even done with the act when a few of the other lords at Ely House decide, “To hell with this chump!” and head off to Ravenspurgh to give their support to Henry Bolingbroke… with the sole intention of helping him reclaim the lands he hadn’t yet lost when he set sail. And in no way shape or form do any of them have any plans to back him should he decide to take the throne.

That ought to work out perfectly.

But what if Henry, supported by a cast of rebellious upstarts like the New York Rangers does in fact have his eye on the crown? Can this Henrik “The King” Lundqvist truly challenge what Mike Richards‘ so-called Kings have taken for granted is theirs? (Ed. So that joke seems a little less timely now… Dang that LA Kings team is good.)

Anyhow.

Change of scenery in scene 2. Richard’s yes-men Bushy and Bagot are trying to comfort the queen. Seems she’s got a bad feeling that things aren’t going to work out for King Dick II. Then Green arrives and informs everyone that Bolingbroke’s back and bleeding Richard’s support so things look damn shitty. And the Duke of York, who’s been left behind to keep the peace while the king is in Ireland, knows it. In fact, he’s torn up: on the one hand, he took and oath to the king. On the other hand, Richard’s an asshole and Bolingbroke is kind of awesome.

Still, he commits to fighting the rebels because that’s the kind of guy he is. The king’s cronies – Bushy, Bagot and Green – just bail of course and go into hiding hoping they’ll still have heads when this is finally done.

Meanwhile, in a forest somewhere in Gloucestershire, Henry Bolingbroke is leading a growing army towards Berkeley. (Here, not here.) He’s joined along the way by some of the other lords who think he’s been shafted by Richard. His main allies are Earl of Northumberland and his son, Henry Percy. It just so happens they hate Richard’s guts so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to stick it to him.

The Duke of York arrives and demands to know what he #$%@ is going on. Smooth-talking Bolingbroke tries to talk his way around the problem but York’s not having any of it: he accuses him of treason. Henry tells him that he’s come to take his lands by force only because the king can’t be reasoned with. And of course he pinky swears that he’s not at all interested in the crown “no sir, just my lands please and thank you.”

York’s not convinced but he knows that he can’t beat them so he just decides he’s going to stay out of it… but there’s no harm in inviting everyone in for tea and a sleep-over, right?

Finally, just when we thought it was looking bad enough for the king, we learn in scene 4 that some of the last of his supporters are sick and tired of waiting around for what is going to be a fight they’re bound to lose. The earl of Salisbury, one of the few nobles still loyal to Richard, calls the fight before the first round even starts: seeya later Dick.

Welcome back to the land of the brawlers Jack Konorska, who lends his musically blissful voice to sonnet 32.

So now what? I bet you’ll find out in the next episode of the Bard Brawl.

And hey! Buy ‘Zounds! You’ll never regret or forget it. Volume II is OUT NOW.brassknucklestshirt1.png

Stay in Touch Brawlers!

Follow @TheBardBrawl on Twitter.

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Email the Bard Brawl at bardbrawl@gmail.com

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Weather the Tempest and you will not regret the storm

20 Aug Jennifer Lines shines as Ariel in The Tempest.
Photo and image design - David and Emily Cooper

Daniel J. Rowe

In the final trip to the Bard on the Beach for the Bard Brawl the Tempest awaited. It is an entirely unique play in William Shakespeare’s cannon and has the potential to be one of the most entertaining, provoking and touching. It can fall flat or be incredibly moving.

Did director Meg Roe pull it out under the tent?

To quote Omar from the Wire, ‘Indeed.’ (That was Shakespeare right?)

Meg Roe's Tempest finds the balance between wonder and soliloquy at Bard on the Beach. Photo credit - David Blue

Meg Roe’s Tempest finds the balance between wonder and soliloquy at Bard on the Beach.
Photo credit – David Blue

Roe’s Tempest executes the most difficult of things in live theatre: balance. The play bounces between incredible design, action, and intrigue and the subtle and powerful monologues of the play’s centre: Prospero (Allan Morgan).

Indeed the isle was full of noises, sounds and sweet airs that gave delight and did not hurt (wink), but first we have to get there.

Relinquishing solitude and embracing the brave new world is a wise model for theatre goers who should take in the Tempest. Photo credit - David Blue

Relinquishing solitude and embracing the brave new world is a wise model for theatre goers who should take in the Tempest.
Photo credit – David Blue

The staging of the opening ship wreck was very clever, loud, and set the play perfectly as it destroyed the ship carrying the King of Naples and left him and his crew on the island inhabited by the exiled wizard, his naive daughter and a sprite name Ariel (no, not that Ariel. She’s a mermaid).

The balance between stylized action and solitary poetry is the Tempest at its best, and Roe does not miss an opportunity to exploit this juxtaposition (even if she spells her last name wrong. Shouldn’t it be R-O-W-E?).

Morgan is great as the aging Shakespeare getting ready to say goodbye to theatre. Er I mean Prospero saying goodbye to the island and his daughter. He is lucky (or unlucky depending on your style), as he gets a handful of the most famous of Shakespeare monologues. You can bet there were a few nights when a few theatre grads had copies of the text in hand and mouthed along to:

Our revels now are ended.

These our actors, as I fortold you, were all spirits and

are melted into air, into thin air.

Gotta love theatre grads. Wait a second. Most of the cast is theatre grads. Forget I said anything.

The only thing I can ask for is what Morgan was able to give me. Even though the lines were familiar and I knew they were coming they still had that sad melancholy of an artist hanging up his quill. He made them memorable and meaningful. It’s especially difficult to draw and audience in to that level of intimacy after some of the spectacle scenes that preceded and followed the lines.

And the spectacle can’t be understated. Roe’s Tempest is full of some really incredible design and style that added as much magic to the island as any Puck infested forest.

Speaking of whimsy and wonder, Ariel (Jennifer Lines) has a dramatic and powerful presence throughout the play. She pulls a little Galadriel out in one of the most impressive scenes of the whole production. Shivers.

Go see the play. You’ll get it.

Props has to also go to the Miranda (Lili Beaudoin) as Prospero’s naive daughter flitting around the island after love of her life (you know, the third guy she’s met in her life) Ferdinand (Daniel Doheny), while having her eyes opened to the brave new world (wink) that awaits her. Oh that world is a bunch of conniving, back-stabbing, flaky aristocrats Miranda. Sorry. Welcome to reality. Have a wonderful wedding.

Trincula (Luisa Jojic) and Stephana (Naomi Wright) threw me off a bit, but showed their quality in the end; just like Faramir. The jester and drunkard were great at playing off Caliban (Todd Thomson), and gave the audience a more than a few laughs even if they were of the ‘ha ha she’s drunk’ variety. For me, I could have taken a little less from the scenes, but, hey, who am I to criticize what everyone else is enjoying? More poop jokes!

Ariel pulls out a little Galadriel in the midst of the Tempest, no complaints here. Photo credit - David Blue

Ariel pulls out a little Galadriel in the midst of the Tempest, no complaints here.
Photo credit – David Blue

Sitting waiting for the play to start both myself and my brother noted the set. The design was perfect. Not too much, not too bare. The players worked their way through the set with ease, and were able to shine and wind their way through the design. The trap door was used sparingly and to great effect.

On a side note I would like to congratulate myself for not geeking out when I saw sound designer Alessandro Juliani walk by before the play. It’s hard to resist bringing it up, and insist on going over some of the decisions Felix Gaeta made in season four of Battlestar Galactica. He used to come into a restaurant I managed in Vancouver about seven years ago. Very nice guy. What a great show.

The Tempest is one of those plays Shakespeare theatre troupes can’t resist adding to the bill especially in the summer. The play can be very entertaining or mind-numbingly boring based on choices the director makes and the performances that accompany. Bard on the Beach pulled this one off not adding too many overly clever bits and adding just enough style for the wow factor. Props to the cast and crew.

Do yourself a favour if you’re in Vancouver between now and the end of September and check it out.

 

BB Rerun: King Richard II, Act I

17 Aug

(Podcast recorded and produced by Daniel J. Rowe, blog written and edited by Eric Jean)

Greetings Brawlers!

Those of you keeping up with our Twitter page will know that with summer (sadly) winding down, we’ve finally been able to gather the crew and record the next act of Richard II. However, the next episode isn’t going to be ready for a few days so in the mean time, we thought you might like a little refresher on what’s gone down for the first two acts of the play.

Here’s act I again, and we’ll repost act II in a few days so.

Enjoy!

Welcome Brawlers to the Bard Brawl’s tenth play! To celebrate our historic achievement, we bring you Shakespeare history play The Life and Death of Richard the Second. It’s also called Richard II.

Listen to or download the podcast, or better yet subscribe on iTunes.

We haven’t even started yet and you’re already confused, aren’t you? You’ve listened to our Henry VI part I podcasts and thought “I like that all these heads are rolling but I just wish I knew who they belonged to!”

I hear that.

Lucky for us, Shakespeare learned quite a bit about writing history plays between writing his first tetralogy (Henry VI parts I, II and III, and Richard III) and the second tetralogy (Richard II, Henry IV part 1 and II, and Henry V)

If you need a reminder about the chronology of the plays, check out the first part of introduction to Shakespeare’s history plays about the War of the Roses.

Here the short version though: first tetralogy was written first but describes events which happen at the end of the War of the Roses (ie: Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings). The second tetralogy was written later but the events take place at the start of the War of the Roses (The Hobbit).

Boom. Now you know everything.

Turns out that fewer characters, clear motivations for characters and a stronger plot arch combine to make a much better play. Don’t worry though, there’s still plenty of death and betrayal.

The play starts at King Richard’s court. Henry Bolingbroke (the Duke of Hereford) is accusing Thomas Mowbray (the Duke of Norfolk) of treason. Specifically, Bolingbroke accuses Mowbray of the murder of the Duke of Gloucester as well as stealing royal funds. The two men want to be allowed to settle the matter with a duel. They play a little ‘he said, she said’ and the king asks his uncle John of Gaunt (who is also Henry Bolingbroke’s father) to help calm everything down. When that fails, the King sets a date for a trial by combat, the only civilized way of putting an end to the finger-pointing and the name calling.

The Duchess of York is pleading with John of Gaunt to take a direct hand in avenging the death of Gloucester in scene 2. She’d like nothing more than for Gaunt to grab a buddy like Carl Weathers or Bryan Genesse and go Street Justice on Mowbray.

He tells the Duchess to forget the uncouth vigilante curb stomp. They’ll just have hope that Bolingbroke kills Mowbray for them.

So scene 3. We’re at the Coventry grounds which is the jousting a duelling field where the big trial by compact is about to take place. Henry Bolingbroke and Thomas Mowbray are all armoured up, on horseback, lances levelled at the opponent’s chest, ready to charge. The herald-ringside announcers introduce them, the intro music plays and the trumpet sounds the charge, this is it!

And then the king stops the fight and orders the fighters back to their corners.

Instead of a nice clear fight where this would be settled once and for all, one way or another, the king decides he’s just going to banish both of them. Seeing that he’s such a fair guy though and doesn’t want to play favourites (we know he’s fair because King Richard tells us, right?) he decides that he will banish Mowbray for life and Bolingbroke for 10 years. Of wait! Is that John of Gaunt I hear crying? No worries, let’s make it six years for Bolingbroke.

I’m sure everyone will agree that this is totally and completely fair and that no bad feelings whatsoever will ever come out of this.

As soon as Henry Bolingbroke leaves in scene 4, Richard starts thinking about how popular Henry is with the common people of England. He starts wondering if this is going to be a problem when Henry comes back in 6 years. (It will be.)

What do the King’s right hand men do?

Change the subject.

“Hey, remember all this fighting we need to do in Ireland? We might want to get started on that.” The king agrees with him but, seeing as he’s short on cash from throwing too many parties, he sets up an aggressive taxation scheme which I am sure will not at all make him more unpopular with the people of England.

Before they leave, however, Sir John Bushy arrives with an announcement that John of Gaunt is on his deathbed. Did someone say free money? Seeing as John of Gaunt is one of the richest men in England, King Richard “The Vulture” flies to Ely house, ready to scoop up his lands when he dies.

If you’re still having a hard time following along, here’s a list of the major characters which appear in this act:

  • King Richard II: The king of England and a cousin of Henry Bolingbroke. He’s got a reputation of spending money irresponsibly and trying to recoup the loses in taxes. Not a very popular guy with the people
  • John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster: One of the most popular nobles in England, he’s also stinking rich. He’s Henry Bolingbroke’s father and Richard II’s uncle.
  • Henry Bolingbroke (sometimes spelled Bullingbrook): He’s the son of John of Gaunt. He gets banished from England but when the King snatches his lands away from him, he comes back to England to take back what’s his. He will become Henry IV by the end of the play.
  • Thomas Mowbray: The Duke of Norfolk. He’s accused of treason by Bolingbroke and banished from England for life.

I wonder how Henry Bolingbroke will feel about the king taking his inheritance away from him like that?

And hey! Buy ‘Zounds! It’s the Bard Brawl’s first ever journal. You’ll never regret or forget it.brassknucklestshirt1.png

Stay in Touch Brawlers!

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Equivocation packed with energy and intrigue on the beach

15 Aug Bob Frazer as Shagspeare in Bill Cain's Equivocation.
Photo and image design - David and Emily Cooper.

Daniel J. Rowe

(Read in honest trailer voice) An attempt on the king’s life has been made, a plot is unveiled, the traitors are captured and the kingdom must be calmed. The hopes of all England ride one one man, a man who can sway the public and restore order.

He is…

A playwright?

William Shakespeare goes from writer to character at Bard on the Beach's production of Equivocation by Bill Cain. Photo credit - David Blue

William Shakespeare goes from writer to character at Bard on the Beach’s production of Equivocation by Bill Cain.
Photo credit – David Blue

Vancouver, BC’s Bard on the Beach sole non-Shakespeare written play for 2014 is Bill Cain‘s Equivocation, a perfect fit to the season even if the play is not a curtain-t0-curtain masterpiece. Director Michael Shamata puts on a thoroughly enjoyable and energetic piece on the Bard on the Beach studio stage.

Rather than the author of the play, William Shakespeare or Shagspeare (Bob Frazer) is the central character struggling late in his career to, well, write a play.

Think Shakespeare in Love, Jacobean Style.

In Cain’s play, we have the dark and serious playwright reflecting on a career built on piling up bodies on stage, rewriting courtly love, changing the nature of the theatre forever, and altering history with a hump here and there. He is under pressure to equivocate from political pressures in King James I’s court that want him doing more of what they want. They get it. The play is the thing. It can change things.

Shagspear (Bob Frazer) given lessons on the shady grey area of truth by Sir Robert Cecil (Anousha Alamian). Photo Credit - David Blue

Shagspear (Bob Frazer) given lessons on the shady grey area of truth by Sir Robert Cecil (Anousha Alamian).
Photo Credit – David Blue

The machiavell of the the play is Sir Robert Cecil (Anousha Alamian) who would like Shagspeare and his players to write the very current history of the gun powder plot of December 1605 in which a group of Catholics most notably Guy Fawkes (yes, the guy from V for Vendetta) sought to destroy parliament complete with the intolerant Scottish king in it. Can the greatest playwright in all of English history pull the play out, or is his quest for the capital ‘T’ truth to much of a barrier?

Who’s telling who lies? Who is really behind the plot? What are the characters’ motivations, and why are they motivated to act them out?

Consider the question central in the play:

The Spanish army invades England and a soldier is at your door asking if the king is hiding within. He is. Do you remain loyal to the crown and lie to save the king or do you tell the truth and betray he you swore to protect?

You may want to use the subtle art of equivocation.

equiv·o·cate

verb \i-ˈkwi-və-ˌkāt\

: to use unclear language especially to deceive or mislead someone

Thank you Merriam-Webster.

Cain, a Jesuit himself, is incredibly clever for the most part, weaving Shagspear’s crew of actors, King James’ politicians, clerics, and the playwright himself together to tell the incredibly complicated, but thoroughly enjoyable plot.

*Spoiler alert: he writes Macbeth.

Actors, like in Bard on the Beach’s Cymbeline, play multiple roles sometimes swapping costumes onstage. On the whole the players pull off the swaps with accuracy and style, and rarely do the roles blend into each other.

A chink that stood out in the armour of Cain’s play is the side plot involving Shagspeare’s daughter Judith (Rachel Cairns), whose scenes lack the energy and pop of the rest of the play. Cairns is a fine actress and it’s unclear whether the 21st century sarcasm her character broods the stage with is the fault of the script or the performance. I want to say it’s the former. The “I hate soliloquies” lines are a little weird as they’re typically uttered while she delivers her various soliloquies. There’s also an odd line near the end where she says that after “the Scottish Play” (ha, ha. Theatre people are superstitious about saying ‘Macbeth), her father only wrote six more plays. Six more? Those plays were Antony and Cleopatra, Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, Cymbeline, Winter’s Tale and the Tempest (maybe Pericles). King Lear’s also around that time. Just those six? I can think of a playwright or two that wouldn’t mind if that list was their complete canon. She is meant to be the Debby Downer to the Bard, and winds up being the same for the audience.

Judith (Rachel Cairns) struggles to keep the energy left on the stage by her fellow players. Photo credit - David Blue

Judith (Rachel Cairns) struggles to keep the energy left on the stage by her fellow players.
Photo credit – David Blue

 

The Judith scenes might have been a bit more forgivable if the rest of the play wasn’t so intriguing, full of fine pace, and entertaining. The scenes between Shagspeare and Cecil are very strong and bursting with wit, as is the theological back and forth between Shagspeare and Father Henry Garnet (Gerry Mackay). Mackay pulls double duty as Shagspeare’s forever partner and friend Richard Burbage, and is great in both roles.

Oh and there’s a few heads that get cut off on stage. Always dramatic.

Bard on the Beach was wise to chose Cain’s play for 2014. Having one play that addresses the man rather than the work is always a treat. Those in Vancouver who sit in the ‘I don’t really get Shakespeare’ lawn chair would do well to check this one out, as well as those who sit on the ‘what was it really like in Shakespeare’s time’ hardback chairs.

It gives a great glimpse into a vision of what the time may have been like, and the struggles of an author to produce work that is both true, poetic and will have lasting appeal.

You know, unlike a few parts of the Henry VI trilogy.

 

Would you equivocate for your king?  Photo credit - David Blue

Would you equivocate for your king?
Photo credit – David Blue

… and Robin Williams as Osric. Wait. Who is Osric?

13 Aug

Robin Williams as Osric in Branagh's epic production of Hamelt (1996)

Robin Williams as Osric in Branagh’s epic production of Hamlet (1996)

Eric Jean and Daniel J. Rowe

Near the end of Kenneth Branagh’s epic version of himself Hamlet, a character named Osric trots on camera played by the veritable comedian Robin Williams.

Never heard of the character? Neither have most, but there is no doubt you’ve heard of the actor.

It’s always sad when the screen and/or stage loses a thespian and the Bard Brawl is especially sad when one of those has taken on Shakespeare. Williams was only in the one screen version, but when you think about it, he would have been great in so many roles.

He would have been a great brawler.

I immediately thought first of the Dromios from Comedy of Errors as an ideal dual role for obvious reasons, and of course any Fool or Clown would do. But wait a second. Wouldn’t he make a rad mad king? Or a depressed prince? Or a female character?

One of Williams’ greatest (if not thee greatest) performances is in the Fischer King. It’s probably his closest role to a classic Shakespearean character. Parry is bombastic, energetic, mad and fragile.

The more you think about Williams’ body of work, the more of the Bard’s roles you can start to slide him into. He has that presence that theatre and movie lovers are always eager to search out. Energy like that is indeed a rarity.

Can you picture him as Timon of Athens setting the table for his so-called friends? Or frantically running around Venice and Cyprus as Iago trying to keep his schemes on track? Imagine him speaking the words from Clarence’s speech from Richard III:

O, I have passed a miserable night,
So full of fearful dreams, of ugly sights,
That, as I am a Christian faithful man,
I would not spend another such night
Though ’twere to buy a world of happy days–
So full of dismal terror was the time.

It’s really so sad that he’s gone. Such a talent.

The scene in Hamlet is simple and short, and is actually one of the many scenes that often gets cut from productions (Hamlet is a very long play).

I couldn’t track down the full scene, but did find this one of him refereeing the fencing match. It’s pretty good.

Clever, funny, and, in the end, a very sad person.
Rest in Peace Mr. Williams. You will be missed.

 

Puck to Bottom a Midsummer Night’s Dream pops

9 Aug Scott Bellis as Bottom.
Photo and image design - David and Emily Cooper.

Daniel J. Rowe

Steam punk, Chuck Taylors, umbrellas, a lion and Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky,” and you’ve got yourself the ideal play by English Renaissance playwright William Shakespeare.

Wait. What?

Bard on the Beach, like almost every theatre company, just can't resist the midsummer allure of a certain play. Photo - David Blue

Bard on the Beach, like almost every theatre company, just can’t resist the midsummer allure of a certain play.
Photo – David Blue

The Bard on the Beach started its successful run as Vancouver, BC’s premier Shakespeare performance troupe with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, so it’s no surprise that in celebrating its 25th year, the players were at it again.

Actually, it’s no surprise that any troupe is doing the play during the summer; it gets put on a lot.

It’s glaringly obvious why. Midsummer has fairies, love triangles, wacky actors, and invites a style directors like Dean Paul Gibson can push and play with. Bard on the Beach has done the play six times now. Gibson’s done it twice. This one’s got a marionette.

A certain Brawler who may or may not be me, and another who may or may not be the other c0-creator of the brawl often gripe about the fact the play gets put on way too much. However, every time either of them read or see the play, they admit that it’s a pretty fun play. Gibson’s is no exception.

The Bard on the Beach production amps up the pop music, goes all-in on a melange of styles for the costumes, and misses no opportunity to push the whimsy and fun of the play. My dad and sister, who admitted to never liking Shakespeare, and who would rather pay for a six pack than a ticket to a play, both LOVED the production. My sister couldn’t believe how funny it was.

Purists poring over heavily dogeared and highlighted copies of the play probably will complain about Gibson’s use of Top 40 songs and some of the style choices. They complain about most things. Can’t please everyone. So it goes. Back to the library with you.

One critical friend of mine thought the choices bad, and suggested the director added the music to draw a bigger audience. Maybe. Then again, Midsummer always draws an audience.

Founding Bard on the Beach member Scott Bellis steals every scene his has in Midsummer. Photo - David Blue

Founding Bard on the Beach member Scott Bellis steals every scene his has in Midsummer.
Photo – David Blue

Bottom (Scott Bellis) and Puck (Kyle Rideout) steal the show. Both actors chew up the scenery when onstage, and act head-to-toe with the energy that must make all directors feel warm at night.

Bellis, as ‘lead’ in the theatre troupe rehearsing for the wedding of Duke Theseus (John Voth) and Queen Hippolyta (Adele Noronha), is a standout missing no chance to push his farcical talents. His hair, makeup and costume only add to the character.

Rideout, as the fan favourite Puck, wears that tutu and pair of Chuck Taylors like a pro. Though purists will not appreciate the selfie he takes when accidentally self-medicating with a love potion herb, the audience loved it. In a particularly clever scene as the play is coming to a close that even the ultimate purist will appreciate, Puck mimics walking a tightrope down the middle of the stage cleverly highlighting the fine line between chaos and normalcy, love and hate, reality and fantasy, theatre and the real world: brilliant.

Eyeshadow, check; striped tights, check; tutu, check; time to play Puck. Photo - David Blue

Eyeshadow, check; striped tights, check; tutu, check; time to play Puck.
Photo – David Blue

The official program describes the plot as such:

Oberon, King of the Fairies, is upset with Queen Titania. He commands his servant Puck to produce a magical nectar that will cause love at first sight. The mischievous sprite arranges for Queen Titania to fall for Bottom, a simple weaver (now transformed into an ass) while hilariously misdirecting the affections of four runaway lovers.

Nothing is untrue in the description, but the more experience one has with the play, the more one gravitates to Bottom and Puck, and whatever they’re doing. The Lysander, Demetrius, Hermia, and Helena cat-and-mouse/love potion stuff is fun, but is upstaged by Bottom and Titania (Naomi Wright), and their wierd fairy-loves-donkey, Puck orchestrated subplot. I won’t lie. Writing that sentence was fun.

Gibson also chose to stage the “Indian boy” as a marionette puppet, which was a very clever touch even if it was a little confusing to some in the audience like my dad and sister, who hadn’t read the play. The choice added to that blurred line between reality and fantasy the play is always treading.

The purist in me (yes he is there scowling and shaking his head all the time) did have a touch of pshah at the opening scene when Theseus delivers the following line as if he’s Romeo:

Hippolyta, I woo’d thee with my sword,
And won thy love doing thee injuries;
But I will wed thee in another key,
With pomp, with triumph, and with revelling.

I tried this line on a girl once. Big mistake. Not a ton of romance there.

Bard Brawl Sonneteer and ‘Zounds! contributor Maya Pankalla told me the other day the play was her favourite.

‘It’s just so me,’ she said.

Those that know this particularly talented recently married brawler/zoundser (sorry boys) will get it right way.

For those that don’t: Midsummer is a must see for all who like the bard, fairies, whimsy, comedy, romance, and donkeys whenever it is produced. The Bard on the Beach production adds marionette aficionados to the list, and pulls the whole thing off with style.

Go see it. You have until the end of September.

The fairies of Midsummer may draw you further towards chaos than you are comfortable with. Bard Brawl advice: let them. Photo - David Blue

The fairies of Midsummer may draw you further towards chaos than you are comfortable with. Bard Brawl advice: let them.
Photo – David Blue

 

 

A conversation with the director, Cymbeline

5 Aug Anita Rochon took on Cymbeline in all its facets from comedy to drama to action to romance and all else in between.
Photo Credits: Rachel Cairns as Imogen
Photo & Image Design by David Cooper & Emily Cooper

Daniel J. Rowe

Anita Rochon took on Cymbeline in all its facets from comedy to drama to action to romance and all else in between. Photo Credits: Rachel Cairns as Imogen Photo & Image Design by David Cooper & Emily Cooper

Anita Rochon took on Cymbeline in all its facets from comedy to drama to action to romance and all else in between.
Photo Credits: Rachel Cairns as Imogen
Photo & Image Design by David Cooper & Emily Cooper

The 2014 Bard on the Beach run included the not done often play Cymbeline. It’s a dramatic and exciting play that bounces between comedy, drama and sometimes shocking plot turns, and is one of the Bard Brawl’s favourites.

Director Anita Rochon discussed the production with the Bard Brawl.

Bard Brawl: Why did you pitch Cymbeline (to Bard on the Beach)?

Anita Rochon: It was a couple of things. It was a play that was really interesting to me and also interesting why it isn’t done very often… The last time it was done at Bard on the Beach was 2002, so I also saw that it wasn’t done in a long time, and with the particular casting breakdown I was working with, which was one women and five men (I asked for a sixth) because we were paired with Equivocation, I had to work within a particular cast breakdown, and I saw that Cymbeline had this women who was at the axis point of all these different narratives, so she really was the centre. That was a play that I could imagine staging with a smaller cast and having a women at the centre of it all.

BB: What was the direction you were trying to lead this play?

AR: One of the motifs and themes that was very strong for me in reading it was the idea that one can change. The idea that you may get forgiveness, that you may get a second chance. So the idea of changing, and changing identity, and not just going in disguise – as happens in a lot of Shakespeare’s plays – but even the idea that you sometimes have to change your idea of who you are in order to keep living in a way that’s satisfying, but also to receive forgiveness is something that I really emphasized, and took it quite literally to this idea of people changing identities right before our eyes.

BB: The one thing that I was surprised with was in the first half of the play, it was a lot lighter. Cloten and his mother, there were a lot of laughs where you or they pushed the humour. Was the difficult to rectify seeing as how dark it (the play) gets at the end?

The ensemble guides the performance of Cymbeline.  Photo credit - David Blue

The ensemble guides the performance of Cymbeline.
Photo credit – David Blue

AR: I think what every director does is just try and do what the playwrite is telling us to do, and so that’s what I was trying to do. I didn’t feel like I was attempting to push any humour. Shakespeare has written those weird scenes between Cloten and the lords where you get such a clear dynamic of how the whole kingdom thinks of Cloten, and the queen has those fantastic asides to the audience. She’s really written like an evil stepmother in fairytale tradition.

So many speak about how it’s such a crazy play, and has so many things: comedy, romance, drama, tragedy. The only way that I could understand dealing with that was just playing everything for what it’s worth. Just playing everything for how it’s written. We can’t squeeze the whole thing into being a comedy; why would we try?

I think there is a precedent for that now, we’re used to that now with shows like Game of Thrones or probably better example would be Breaking Bad where sometimes you have these scenes that are almost clown-like and then you have high drama, and then you have a stylized scene. A show like Breaking Bad has all of those things, and so I just tried to commit to each scene from what I understood from each scene and put them all together with a container of this ensemble telling us this story.

We see the ensemble coming out presenting themselves, presenting the narrative they’re about to tell us, and then, at the end, with that little button where Rachel Cairns (Imogen) takes centre stage again and finishes up the play, and then throughout with the ensemble sometimes sitting upstage, I just had to believe that the ensemble telling us the story that contained comedy, contained tragedy, contained drama, that if I played each scene for what it’s worth and asked the actors to do the same that we’d be okay.

BB: Everything in the production is almost monotone, greys and beiges, as far as the design goes, but the tempo is very fast. They move quickly. How did you get all of these elements to work together.

AR: I think I took it similar to how I was saying I took the scenes scene-by-scene. I probably took all the elements element-by-element. The costumes for instance, we based them off of fencing uniforms, for three reasons. I wanted the ensemble to feel like a team. I wanted them to feel athletic. I wanted the production from the very beginning to feel athletic and muscular and fast-paced, and sometimes masculine, but with a feminine presence in there. Certainly the Rome scenes I wanted them to feel masculine, so that kind of athletic, nimble feeling was a priority for me. I began to think, we need a base costume because they’re switching between all of these different characters, so what can I have as a base costume? The worst idea would be a black turtleneck and black pants.

I was scouring all these books, and I came across this amazing image of a fencing uniform from 100 years ago, and I thought, ‘this is really interesting’ because we immediately associate it with a particular time. It feels a little bit old timey without it feeling specifically old timey. It references a period without it saying, ‘this takes place in 1409.’ Yet it encapsulates a little bit of that team feeling, that play fighting feeling, that we’re going to play at something in front of you. Of course, fencing is in preparation for a real fight. Like this play is a representation of a reality or a true story.

In terms of colour, we just wanted a fairly neutral palate, so that those other costumes could live off of there, but also be complimented by it, and of course, fencing uniforms are in those light grey tones.

In terms of the set, I was really interested in highlighting the theatre in its raw form, so the stage really nice and bare, and we used similar material…

I kind of just went element-by-element, and then try to keep the look of it all similar. Keep it all clean and always ask myself, what is the essential here. Let’s try and boil everything down to its essential and not have a lot of extra props and extra props and extra sets.

Anita Rochon artistic co-directs The Chop in Vancouver with Emelia Symington Fedy, which has produced numerous new works including KISMET one to one hundred and How to Disappear Completely which continues to tour internationally. She frequently collaborates with some of the city’s most celebrated companies including Theatre Replacement, Théâtre la Seizième, Vancouver Opera and Electric Company Theatre. She is a graduate of Studio 58 (Acting) and the National Theatre School of Canada (Directing). Anita is the recipient of a Siminovitch Protégé Prize and a Mayor’s Arts Award.

 

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Bard on the Beach tackles Cymbeline; directed by Anita Rochon

4 Aug

Daniel J. Rowe

It’s romantic, it’s tragic, it’s funny, it’s violent and it’s intriguing and gripping from cover to cover.

Gerry Mackay's Cymbeline is stoic and angry, Shawn Macdonald's Queen duplicitous at Bard on the Beach. photo credit - David Blue

Gerry Mackay’s Cymbeline is stoic and angry, Shawn Macdonald’s Queen duplicitous at Bard on the Beach.
photo credit – David Blue

Vancouver, BC’s Bard on the Beach picked Cymbeline in 2014 as one of its four productions, and  this humble brawler let out a booyeah to be sure. It is one of Shakespeare’s most underrated, exciting and shocking plays.

It was the play I was most excited to check out this year, and the first one I took in.

Anita Rochon directs this late Jacobin-era Shakespearean play (fifth from last) set in the young Roman province of Britain during the imperial reign of Caesar Augustus at the Shakespeare festival this year.

Rochon pulls back with her choice of sets, costumes, and colours, and keeps things simple, while she pushes the energy and rhythm of the performance. She guides the ensemble cast like a team that fences its way through banishment, international struggle and redemption.

…and, you know, what happens to Cloten.

Dang this play is fun.

The six male actors swap roles and circle the female lead Imogen (Rachel Cairns), the daughter of king Cymbeline (Gerry Mackay), who tries along with his queen to force Imogen to marry her stepbrother Cloten and abandon her true love Posthumus that she’s already chosen. You know, standard boy meets girl then girl’s dad gets involved with new wife kind of stuff. Cairns is a standout in the production balancing the swirl of male actors that make up the rest of the ensemble with a steady and powerful presence on stage.

Anton Lipovetsky plays Posthumus, Cloten and Arviragus. Yep. All three. For those that haven’t read or seen the play, Lipovetsky is the romantic lead, the villain and the prodigal son in the same play. Yikes. Someone’s high school drama teacher is proud.

The audience’s laughs at the scheming queen (Shawn Macdonald) and bumbling Cloten soon dry up when the play takes a dramatic dark turn in the second half. I didn’t know what to make of the comedic tone when I first saw it. Cloten and his mother are Cymbeline’s answer to Joffrey Baratheon and Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones; deceitful, despicable characters, and need a touch more evil running through their lines than Macdonald and Lipovetsky gave them I thought originally.

After thinking about it for a while, however, and speaking with the director, I kind of liked the chaos the contrast created. Rochon compared the play to Breaking Bad; sometimes funny, and sometimes so horribly tragic you want to close your eyes for the next week. I like the comparison.

The audience, at points, were laughing at lines and scenes that had no comedy at all. Now who’s going crazy?

Cymbeline/ jailor Mackay got a few of these, which kind of made me laugh. I’ve seen Mackay play Cassius, Alcibiades, Leontes and Achilles in various productions in past years, and was excited that he would be the king this year. He’s always an intense presence on stage.

Take those that were smiling and chuckling as Cloten delivered this monologue:

Posthumus, thy head, which now is growing upon thy shoulders, shall within this hour be off; thy mistress enforced; thy garments cut to pieces before thy face: and all this done, spurn her home to her father; who may haply be a little angry for my so rough usage; but my mother, having power of his testiness, shall turn all into my commendations. My horse is tied up safe: out, sword, and to a sore purpose! Fortune, put them into my hand! – Act IV, i

If you’re laughing at that, you may have already broken bad.

Shakespeare broke bad half a millenia before Vince Gilligan did in Cymbeline. photo credit -

Shakespeare broke bad half a millenia before Vince Gilligan did in Cymbeline.
photo credit – David Blue

Cymbeline is a crazy mosaic of plot points, locale switches, emotional shifts and reveals that come together so nicely in Rochon’s production I like it more and more as I think of it.

If you like to brawl with the bard (BING), you’ll like this play.

The crowds will always flock to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, and one of the joys of Bard on the Beach is that the troupe always balances the seat fillers with lesser known selections from the Bard’s cannon.

I sometimes wonder why great plays like Timon of Athens, Troilus and Cressida and Cymbeline aren’t more popular, but, in the end, that probably has something to do with why I like them so much.

Indie cred; always important in the oh-so-hip Shakespearean appreciation societies.

Those in Vancouver would do well to catch this production before the summer sun has left and the rain set in on the west coast.   Bard Logo triangle

Repercussion Theatre’s Harry the King, Directed by Paul Hopkins

28 Jul
Repercussion Theatre's Harry the King coming to a park near you until August 3rd!

Repercussion Theatre’s Harry the King coming to a park near you until August 3rd!

Eric Jean

In case you didn’t know it yet, Repercussion Theatre is proving that Henry IV parts 1 and 2, and Henry V are damned funny.

Like bust-your-gut, pop-a-button, get-dirty-looks-on-the-Metro-because-you’re-laughing-so-damn-hard funny. And, as my wife Rachelle “The Butcherette” can testify, that’s if you don’t understand a word of Shakespeare besides ‘Zounds!

I know you’ve just verified our chronology of Shakespeare’s plays on bardbrawl.com and were getting ready to write an angry email about how we obvious morons have left out one of Shakespeare’s great, immortal and immutable work: Harry the King

“Peace!”, says this moron!

See, here’s the deal with this summer’s edition of Shakespeare in the Park: Harry the King is actually a play adapted from Henry IV parts 1 and 2 and Henry V. Specifically, it grabs up a bunch of the bits involving prince Harry’s rise from being a good-for-nothing lay-about who spends all of his time in Eastcheap’s taverns drinking with his buddies to his ascension of the throne and eventual conquest of France.

At least that’s what it looks like at first but the whole thing never actually makes it out of the tavern.

The entire play takes place inside the tavern with Hal, Falstaff, Mistress Quickly, and company playing out all of the roles in Hal’s story. As such, you’ll see actors doubling up on roles in the same scene, frivolous funny voices and accents, whimsical posturing and funny walks, criticism and praise of the actors performances and of course off-the-cuff comments about what’s happening to the audience who is a stand-in for the other tavern patrons.

So really, the whole thing is like an epic and uproarious Bard Brawl on stage if the Bard Brawl had a budget, some sound and lighting equipment, a stage and a live audience!

On an unrelated note, we still have a donate button and plenty of copies of ‘Zounds! for sale.

If you’re a purist who likes their Shakespearean histories untouched, their iambic speechifying solemn and formal, and their Salic law needlessly obscured and overly complicated to all except for those 2 guys in the front row who have been involved in 15th century Renaissance re-enactment for 20 years, maybe this won’t be the production for you.

But if you’re a person with a pulse and at least a few friends, particularly if you are a person subscribed to the Bard Brawl, there’s a good chance you’ll be thinking to yourself as you fold up your lawn chair or picnic blanket: “Well that was well worth the price of admission.”

Shakespeare in the Park is free so that was a free joke. (You’re welcome.)

But don’t be like that guy who refuses to tip: Repercussion Theatre lives on donations so when the actor who just made you pee your pants at the end of the first half of the play comes by with a hat during the intermission, hide your shame and drop a few bucks in please. (Or you can click here and donate.)

Pack up your cooler with a few snacks and a couple of drinks, bring a blanket and go see Repercussion Theatre’s Harry the King in a park near you before it’s too late! I won’t come to your house and force you to go see this (because I don’t know where you live, mostly), but I’ll just leave this last remark here for you to do with as you please.

This is the one play that made my wife say, for the first time ever since I have known her: “I want to go back and see it again!

The Harry the King tour ends on August 3rd. You can check out Repercussion Theatre’s website for dates and locations of upcoming performances.

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