While there are no gripes here about modern interpretations, different takes and whimsically inspired remakes of Shakespeare plays, there is something entirely satisfying about straight up productions.
“Something wicked this way comes.”
Take the meandering path to the Bard on the Beach tents at Vanier Park, and enter the witches brew of all tragedies found deep in the bogs of Scotland: Macbeth is on, the Scottish play, and you should check it out.
Director Chris Abraham went straight up performance and passion for this take on the bloody and brooding play, and it’s pulled off to great effect.
Casting is on point with Ben Carlson (Macbeth) nicely balancing madness, ambition, regret and power alongside the equally ambitious, unstable and ultimately tragic Lady Macbeth, played with skill and style by Moya O’Connell.
I took my 12-year-old nephew to the play hoping he would get a kick out of some live theatre, while at the same time being a bit nervous he would find it scary or disturbing. I don’t have kids, so never really know what parents think about these things. Oh well. He came. He loved it.
Note: take your kids to Shakespeare plays. They will enjoy.
Things needed to make the Scottish play work well: quality lead couple, cool witches, good choreography, believable death scenes, and a severed head if you have it. This one had them all. Well done.
Though I’ve read and seen the play multiple times (including one unfortunate production in high school that left me feeling very sad for the actors, who my brat classmates kept mocking aloud), Abraham’s staging and the performances kept me on the edge of my seat hoping, hoping, hoping against what I knew that certain decisions were not made that way. It’s such a great play.
Of course no amount of stage style matters in this play if the two leads don’t have chemistry. O’Connell and Carlson embrace the challenge. They are ravenous for each other as they desperately cling to each other and their power with tragic passion.
BOB has extended this play through September. Don’t wait for tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow to see it or it shall be gone in a brief shadow.
We were really psyched about that. And Nick was excited that he’d finally get to see the last two acts of the play after walking out of the last production he saw to protest the death of Caesar. Indeed Nick,
[Caesar] hath left you all his walks,
His private arbours and new-planted orchards,
On this side Tiber; he hath left them you,
And to your heirs for ever, common pleasures,
To walk abroad, and recreate yourselves.
Here was a Caesar! when comes such another?
Unkind cut doesn’t begin to describe it.
As tradition dictates, we arrived just early enough to lay out the blanket and then have assholes set up with chairs in front of us. Then, resigned to not being able to see the very bottom of the stage for the next few hours, I reach for a cold beer to to slake our thirst only to have a petty caesar stop us with an injunction: “No beer here!”
What?!? Shakespeare in the Park, Bard Brawlers, pretzels, but no beer? Well, there was nothing for it. We had our programmes, we’d stretched out blanket, the play was about to begin.
It had to be endured. But be warned: no picnic beers at the CCA.
The setting for this Julius Caesar is a sort of post-apocalyptic pseudo Rome. The set for the first three acts of the play features columns of corroded metal and what looks like a rusted fountain. Peeling posters of Caesar are pasted to the columns and walls. Across the top of the set is a platform with drums and various percussion instruments which would be manned throughout the play by percussionist and composer, Catherine Varvaro.
Scaffolding and ladders also made it easy for the actresses to ascend, descend or perch in-between the two levels. The space was used to great effect, particularly in the scenes where Brutus and Marc Antony address the people of Rome, and the set itself evoked the public spaces of Rome and the Capitol nicely.
The near-constant percussion score really helped animate the play, particularly in the final two action-heavy acts of the play. However, there were times where the music itself was too loud and it became difficult to hear the lines being spoken by the actresses. In the last two acts of the play in particular, the music really set the frantic pace of the action, despite the lengthy slow-motion Capoeira-esque stage fighting which did not add much to the drama.
Kellock also chose to open and close with a song which I feel did not particularly work well with this play. For the last scene in particular, the addition of a song at the end of the play took all of the power away from Mark Antony’s final speech in which he identifies Brutus as the only conspirator who did not kill Caesar out of jealousy but because he believed in the principles of the Roman Republic. It’s a central concern of the play – the conspirators’ reason for killing Caesar are should seem suspect – and moving to a song to close deflates what is a powerful moment in the play.
Repercussion Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar features an all-female cast. To be clear, the characters themselves are not re-gendered (Julius Caesar didn’t become Juliet Caesar, for instance) but rather the roles are played by female actresses. While this may seem to indicate that the artistic director had a specific point to make about the relationship between power and gender in the play, it seems that there was no such vision guiding this choice. The programme just describes it as “an idea whose time has come,” something one should have the freedom to do in order to spark conversation.
For the most part, I didn’t find that an all-female cast changed much of anything to the play, possibly because much of the play involves fights and discussions between characters of the same gender. The casting choice becomes much more interesting when the scene features characters of different genders played by actresses of the same gender.
The scene where Portia asks Brutus to confide in her is perhaps the best examples. Portia’s speech is full of references to her gender and expresses a strong desire to be thought of possessing masculine qualities. When delivered to a female Brutus the speech seems much more poignant and underscores the relationship of gender to power in the play.
This year again, Repercussion Theatre’s production was hindered by unevenness in the acting.
For the most part, the leads of the play were quite good. Deena Aziz delivers an energetic and powerful Marcus Brutus, though her performance is sometimes undermined by a tendency to race through her lines a little too quickly.
Gitanjali Jain was also excellent in the role of Marc Antony, a role made thankless by Marlon Brando’s iconic performance of the role in Mankiewicz’ 1953 production of Julius Caesar. Jain’s Marc Antony’s vengeance seems somewhat more calculated and less impassioned than Brando’s but still well acted.
The titular role of Julius Caesar was ably acted by Leni Parker, who continued to range around the set of the play either as a ghost, or as one of Saruman’s Uruk-Hai. Your pick. (She had a white hand painted on her face,)
A nice way to tie back to Marc Antony’s curse, spoken over Caesar’s corpse. You know, this one:
The performances of the supporting actresses varied greatly. While many were excellent – such as Holly Gauthier-Frankel‘s Portia, or Warona Steshwaelo‘s Casca – others felt forced and over-acted and really detracted from the performance.
In the end, this year’s production of Julius Caesar feels like a better and more interesting effort than last year’s Twelfth Night though it does suffer from some of the same problems. A lack of focus in the direction of the play seems to be one, though Julius Caesar itself can feel like two plays in one, making it hard to bridge the two halves in a way that makes them feel connected.
Still, I am extremely encouraged be the choice of plays which Repercussion Theatre has chosen to tackle in the past few years and look forward to finding out what they have planned for next year!
It was a beautiful July evening and we enjoyed wine from the Vibrant Vine which made it even better. The Villa is set in the hills above Kelowna and the view is amazing as well as the magnificent gardens.
One of the best-known love stories ever written (is it a love story though?), this play has been translated into dozens of languages and has inspired art, song, ballet, opera and film. The challenge in presenting Romeo & Juliet is to breathe new life, freshness and relevance into the production.
“These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which, as they kiss, consume. The sweetest honey
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness
And in the taste confounds the appetite.
Therefore love moderately. Long love doth so.
Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.”
– Friar Lawrence, II,vi
Neal Facey, long time theatre instructor, director and producer has done just that. In his own words, “This production is set in a fictional modern Verona where the Montagues and Capulets are the heads of rival fashion houses. The vibrant looks of haute couture thinly mask the corporate covert wars and rivalry of the fashion world.”
Matt Brown as Romeo brings a strong brooding presence to the character and Sarah Goddard as Juliet brings passion and life to every scene she is in.
“Ah me! How sweet is love itself possessed
When but love’s shadows are so rich in joy!”
– Romeo, V,i
Romeo’s cousin Benvolio (Justin Gaudio) and his loyal friend Mercutio (Alyosha Pushak) display their true devotion to him and also add some comic relief with Mercutio’s pink socks and loud outbursts of devotion.
Fred Way, formerly of MBSS teaching fame, and Bard Brawl co-captain Daniel J. Rowe’s high school drama teacher, was the set designer.
William Shakespeare would have loved this production of Romeo & Juliet, and the story of love, grief and loss, hatred and violence, loyalty and counsel are as fresh today as they were over 400 years ago.
*EDITOR’S NOTE FROM DANIEL: Right on Mr. Way. Right on. Mr. Way was obsessed with Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet, and did a production in tribute of it once. Funny story. Facey didn’t watch it telling me, “film is film and theatre is theatre.” Classic drama teacher line.
Having never seen or read Othello, and only using Iago as a crossword answer for ‘villain’ I was intrigued to find out just what this Shakespeare play, written when he was at the top of his form, was all about.
The Bard on the Beach production of Othello is set in 1864, towards the end of the American Civil War and it fits perfectly with the underlying theme of racism which is evident throughout the play.
Even though Othello has been promoted to Union Army General, he is treated with suspicion and has to wed Desdemona secretly has her father, Brabantio would not approve.
“Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe,”
In the 1600s people with dark non-white skin were put in cages an displayed in the town square as curiosities. Even though the Union Army were fighting for emancipation in the Civil War there was still an acceptance of slavery and racism throughout the north and south.
Kayvon Kelly as Iago, in his fourth season of Bard, was very compelling, and a strong presence on stage. Indeed the play lagged a little when he wasn’t on stage. You could always feel his loathing for Othello.
Othello was an imposing character but easily duped by the cruel Iago.
Why does he “Hate Othello?” It was stated with great vehemence more than once. Iago’s racism is at times very overt and other times subtle and poisonous.
Was it because Othello is black, or is he truly jealous?
It’s part of what makes the play so fascinating, Iago so delightfully evil, and Othello so utterly tragic.
Iago was both jealous and racist and felt passed over as Othello had chosen Cassio as his lieutenant
Even the handkerchief that Iago uses to spur jealousy in Othello was said to have special powers instilled from Othello, as if there was ‘black magic’ involved.
The death scene was a little weak and some members of the audience were even laughing although I could not see the humour in it. It kind of showed that Othello’s character, played by Luc Roderique, was not as strong as Iago although his physical presence on stage was imposing (tall and dark).
Director Bob Frazer says “by setting Othello during the American Civil War, we are shining a light on what many suspect to be the beginning of the new, deep-seated and subtle racism in North America.”
Frazer has been at Bard on the Beach since playing Hamlet in 2005. Since graduating from Studio 58 he has amassed almost 100 theatrical credits both as a director and actor.
He feels Shakespeare’s Othello is a “timeless story that moves audiences on a personal level, all while creating some of the most memorable characters in his canon.”
The folk and instrumental music used throughout the play captured the patriotic fervor of the Civil War and the mournful ballads brought the themes of slavery, loyalty and love to life. Costumes were authentic to the period as well.
A well done and timely Shakespeare experience!
As always, we have to ask ourselves: would the bard approve of this production?
Before we get started though, big congratulations to Bard Brawler Niki Lambros who got to walk across the stage in hooded medieval monk wear to pick up her shiny new Masters diploma!
Here she is looking great and about to make her hasty getaway to meat and booze!
Bard Brawler co-captain Eric Jean (why, that’s me!) was also invited to show but went to work instead and skipped right to the drinking afterwards.
See? Niki and I are both on the same list!
(Feel free to keep calling me the Master of the English Renaissance, Daniel but remember to capitalise that ‘M’ now.)
Alright. So act IV.
You’d think Shakespeare is running out of people to kill, rape and/or mutilate but don’t worry! The fun’s not about to stop now. (Although – and I’m just throwing this out there, Bill – maybe it should. Just a thought.)
Remember Lavinia? Right. She’s got no hands and her tongue was cut out so she couldn’t rat out her rapists, Chiron and Demetrius. Lavinia pointing to a copy of Ovid’s rape-filled Metamorphoses though finally gave someone the bright idea that she might be able to write that out in the dirt by holding a stick in her mouth and guiding it with her arms.
Now that they know who to kill, it’s time for some revenge!
In scene 2 Titus sends Young Lucius over to Demetrius and Chiron to deliver some weapons with a note in Latin. They don’t really get the message but Aaron does and realises that Titus is on to them. Before they can do anything though they hear trumpets sounding which means that Tamora just gave birth to what was supposed to be Saturninus’ son.
Good for him. Except that the nurse rushes in and the kid’s black, which is a bit of a problem for Aaron.
No worries though because Tamora figures they can just kill the baby and then all’s good. Aaron agrees but as soon as he has the kid he decides he’s not going through with it. Instead, he’s going to replace the baby with some other Goth couple’s white baby while they raise his black baby.
Then he kills the nurse so she can’t say anything about it.
Smart. He clearly has everything under control.
Meanwhile, Titus and his allies meet with Marcus and Lucius who fled from Rome and are back now with a sweet Goth army who are mad as hell! They decide that they’ll literally send Saturninus a message by shooting a bunch of arrows with messages from the gods right into the court.
And then, as all great conspirators have done since time immemorial, they recruit a passing clown with a few pigeons to deliver the final message of ‘We’re coming for your ass!’ right to the Emperor for them.
It’s just at this moment that a messenger shows up to tell them that a giant Goth army is about to kill Rome and that it’s being led by Titus’ son Lucius who’s crazy popular in Rome. Saturninus starts panicking but Tamora has a cunning plan: she’ll talk Titus down and then he’ll talk Lucius down.
Guess no one bothered to tell her that Titus knows that she helped her sons rape his daughter.
I’m sure he’ll be reasonable.
Stay tuned for the dramatic conclusion! My gut (and the fact that I’ve read this before) tells me that this act V might be particularly delectable.
Also, welcome back to the pod legendary sonneteer and LA Kings fan Zoey Baldwin with sonnet 56!
Check out the amazing writers and artists in ‘Zounds!
Welcome back Brawlers to the Bard Brawl! Apologies for the delay but we had some technical difficulties with scene 2 of our recording. It got cut off, just like Lavinia’s tongue and hands, and just like (spoiler) Titus’s right hand.
In the end, we wrangled up some designated hitters and powered on through to bring you act III of Titus Andronicus!
Lavinia was raped and mutilated, Titus’s lemming sons Martius and Quintus have been framed by Aaron the Moor for it, and now Titus is begging the tribunes and senators not to put them both to death.
He’s begging his little heart out but they just pass him by and ignore him. He keeps pleading until his son Lucius shows up and points out that he’s standing on the street alone and no one’s there to here him beg for his sons’ lives. It’s not looking great.
Also, bad news: Lucius tried to rescue his brothers so now he’s been banished from Rome. More bad news: Titus sees Lavinia for the first time since Chiron and Demetrius raped her.
Thing’s aren’t exactly looking up for Titus but then Aaron shows up and tells Titus that if either Lucius, Marcus or Titus chops off their hand and sends it to the Emperor, that he’ll spare Titus’ sons.
Good deal, right?
The three of them argue about whose hand should be cut off but then Titus sends Lucius and Marcus off to get an axe to do the chopping and while they’re away, Titus has Aaron cut off his hand.
Why did Lucius and Marcus run off to get an axe? What the hell did Aaron use to cut off Titus’ hand? Come on, Shakespeare. You’re better than this!
Lucius and Marcus come back and Aaron runs off to deliver the hand. And then a few minutes later, a messenger arrives carrying the heads of Martius and Quintus. Oh, and Titus’ bloody hand.
That didn’t go so well. Maybe cutting off your own hand wasn’t the smartest move, dude. Kind of like stabbing your son to death was not too bright.
Well, since Titus pretty much has nothing left to lose, it looks like it’s time for some epic level revenge!
For starters, Lucius flees Rome and plans to recruit an army of Goths to overthrow Saturninus and Tamora. (Not sure why they would want to join the fight with the son of the guy who stomped them into the ground and stole their queen from them, though. Guess when someone offers you a chance to sack Rome, you take it.)
Meanwhile, in scene II, Titus and Marcus plan out how to kill Aaron. Actually, Marcus mostly tries to do that while Titus spends a lot of time whining. Then Marcus kills a fly, a black fly (get it?), and it’s as if the idea of killing Aaron occurs to Titus for the first time.
Heck, if between the two of them they can kill one fly, then for sure they can take on the Emperor, Tamora, Aaron and their cronies. Makes perfect sense.
But before that vengeance goes down, time for dad to read depressing stories to his daughter in a closet, while young Lucius watches.
Yeah. that’s not creepy.
Stay tuned for the next scene, where I’m going to assume some more people die.
Also, welcome back to the pod the Bard Brawl’s original sonneteer Maya Pankalla with sonnet 63!
Check out the rest of the amazing writers and artists in ‘Zounds!
Buy Volume II NOW. Volume III coming soon. Very soon. Like, Thursday, May 14th soon.
There are already a couple of people dead after act I but that’s nothing compared to what happens to Lavinia in act II.
If you’re trying to impress a girl by taking her out to some Shakespeare to show her your cultured and refined sensibilities, you may want to pass on Titus Andronicus. Not my recommendation as a first date play.
She may get the wrong idea is all I’m saying. (I’m also saying that this play is fucked up.)
In scene 1 we meet “Empress” Tamora’s boy toy, Aaron the Moor. He’s pretty excited that Tamora’s slept her way to the top and he imagines that this means his mistress has just graduated to sugar mommy. He’s pretty pumped about that but when Tamora’s sons Chiron and Demetrius start fighting about a girl, he gets worried that they’re about the mess it up for everyone.
Aaron breaks up their fight but when he finds out that the girl they’re both fighting over is Titus’ daughter Lavinia, he sees a way to strike at Titus. So he suggests that instead of fighting over her, they should team up and just rape her in the woods.
As this seems like such a well-reasoned and logical solutions, they sheath their weapons and head off. Mommy will be so proud. (No, really. She will.)
Everyone is gathered in the forest about to go hunting in scene 2 but Lavinia decides she’ll stay behind and chill. Coincidentally, so do Demetrius and Chiron, probably the most despicable characters in Shakespeare.
While her new husband is off with Titus hunting, Tamora finds a little alone time with Aaron. But he’s not really interested because he’s too preoccupied with his plans for vengeance! (Wait. What did anyone actually do to Aaron? Did I miss something?) He hears Bassianus and Lavinia approach so he tells Tamora to pick a fight while he gets her sons to back her up.
The Empress accuses Bassianus of following her, Lavinia calls her a slut, and Bassianus says he’ll rat her out. Enter Demetrius and Chiron who stab and kill Bassianus.
This makes mom very happy, but not as happy as the idea of her sons raping Lavinia.
Lavinia tries to appeal to Tamora to make them stop but she just tells her sons to make sure that once they’re done, they make sure “this prostitute” can’t tell anyone about what they did to her. Demetius and Chiron throw Bassianus’s body into a pit and drag Lavinia off.
What the hell, Shakespeare?
Just then, Aaron leads Titus’ sons Martius and Quintus to the open pit, where one of them falls in, completely by accident (really?), and identifies the body in the pit as Bassianus. Vertigo, or idiocy, must run in the family as the other brother falls in while trying to help the first one out. By the time Aaron returns with the hunting party, they’re both stuck down there with the body, probably covered in Bassianus’ blood, and not worried in the least.
Of course, Saturninus sentences them both to death for killing his brother, but Titus begs him to spare his sons until they can be proven guilty. Too bad Tamora brings out a fake letter implicating Quintus and Martius in the killing of Bassianus.
But no worries. Tamora tell Titus that she’s got his back and she’ll think of something to help him. And off goes Titus with his only remaining son, Lucius. [Cue evil laugh.]
While that has been going on, Demetrius and Chiron have been busy. Once they finish raping Lavinia, they decide that they won’t kill her. Instead, they cut out her tongue so she couldn’t tell anyone about what happened. And just to be sure, they cut off her hands too, to make sure she can’t write about it either… nor get a rope to hang herself.
So yeah. That happened.
Finally, Lavinia is found by her uncle Marcus who can’t believe that someone did this crazy, fucked up shit to her.
Call it a hunch, but my guess is there’s some bad shit around the corner waiting for Tamora, Demetrius and Chiron. And as yesterday was pi day, probably some pie.
You won’t want to miss any of it.
Kayla Cross returns to the brawl and reads sonnet 54 with all pomp and dignity.
Check out the rest of the amazing writers and artists in ‘Zounds!
This play is an early one, probably the first tragedy which Shakespeare wrote, and in some ways it’s kind of a hot mess (pun intended) with the story serving only as an excuse for violence, sex and gore. Think Evil Dead II but with Romans. Or, you know, HBO’s Rome.
Even though it’s the earliest of Shakespeare’s Roman plays, it actually is the one which takes places the latest in Rome’s history. It’s set late in Rome’s history, about a century before the fall of Rome.
Only one scene in act I but it’s a little tough to follow because so much stuff happens that you don’t have time to understand what the hell is going on or why the heck we should care. (My money is that if Shakespeare had a do-over, this would be broken up into several scenes over 2 acts or so so we’d really get the full effect. Or he might mash it up with other historical periods like Julie Taymor did in her cleverly titled film, Titus. Whatever.)
In any event, here goes.
The Emperor just croaked so naturally his two sons Saturnius and Bassianus are trying to get the support of the masses to take over the job. Things look lie they’re about to get ugly but Titus Andronicus shows with his war prisoners in tow. Titus Andronicus is a badass general whose just finished kicking the crap out of the Goths with his sons but unfortunately he lost one of his sons during the campaign. They’ve brought his body home to be buried in the family’s ancestral crypt.
To fend off any angry ghosts which they might awaken by opening up the crypt (as anyone knows), they’ll need to sacrifice the most important prisoner they’ve captured which in this case happens to be Alarbus, the Queen of the Goths’ eldest son. Tamora (that’s the queen) asks Titus to spare her son but he tosses him over to his sons Lucius, Quintus, Martius and Mutius who drag him off-stage to chop him up and throw him on the sacrificial pyre
Titus is about to lower the coffin down when Lavinia, the tribunes, Saturnius and Bassianus show up. Marcus Andronicus (a tribune who happens to be Titus’ brother) suggests that instead of either Bassianus or Saturnius getting the crown, Titus should get it.
Shit’s about to go down again between Bassianus and Saturninus’s supporters but Titus refuses the crown and, seeing as he’s the most popular guy in Rome right now, he names Saturninus Emperor with the support of pretty much everyone.
First order of business for a new Emperor of course is to pick out a wife so he picks out Lavinia. Titus’ daughter. And as soon as that’s agreed, Saturninus turns around and puts the moves on Tamora. But no one really notices what’s going on apparently because Bassianus is busy telling Titus that ‘he loves her more’ and the Emperor should’t have her.
Titus’ sons back Bassianus and while trying to stop them from running off with Lavinia, Titus stabs and kills his son Mutius. And instead of backing Titus, Saturninus turns on him, insults his family and accuses them of having publicly insulted him because they wouldn’t make Lavinia stick around and marry him. (Nevermind the fact that he’s probably got a hand up Tamora’s shirt the whole time.)
But hey, since he’s been dissed, he figures he may as well hook up with Tamora on the up-and-up.
So everyone leaves for a bit and Titus is standing there with another dead son at his feet but he’s so pissed at this one that he refuses to bury him in the family plot. His sons and brother plead with him and he eventually agrees to let them bury him.
Oh, but the scene isn’t finished yet! Nope.
At this point, everyone comes back on-stage: Saturninus, Bassianus, Lavinia, Tamora and her sons Demetrius and Chiron, some Moorish guy named Aaron who hasn’t said a word and ‘others.’ Seems that Bassianus will get his Lavinia in the end but Saturninus isn’t too happy about it, and neither is Titus. Tamora finally speaks up and backs Titus, though she whispers to Saturninus that’s she’s just being politically savvy. Titus is still too popular with the people to mess with and he’s been Emperor for about 5 minutes so he should probably take it easy.
So Tamora convinces everyone to kiss and make up and Saturninus invites Bassianus and Lavinia to get married on the same day they do. (Must be so they can save money on catering.)
In case you need a little help with the characters, here are the most important ones:
Titus Andronicus: A general who kill his son in a fight over who his daughter Lavinia will marry.
Lucius, Quintus, Martius: Titus’ sons (the ones who aren’t dead by the end of act 1 anyhow)
Livinia: Titus’ daughter. She must be the only good-looking woman in Rome because just about evety guy in the play want to get with her. She wants to marry Bassianus.
Saturninus: The emperor who was rejected by Lavinia. Hates Titus and his sons for helping her get out of marrying him..
Tamora: Was the Queen of the Goths, now she’s Saturninus’ wife. Good for her.
Demetrius and Chiron: Tamora’s sons. Yup, they have it bad for Lavinia too.
Bassianus: Saturninus’ brother who wants to marry Lavinia.
Aaron: Tamora’s “friend with benefits.” He’s not too happy about the new arrangement. You’ll see.
So the next scene will be a happy wedding scene, right? With meat pies for all, I hope so.
This week, the lord of St. Leonard Mark Della Posta returns with acclaim to read sonnet 41.
Check out the rest of the amazing writers and artists in ‘Zounds!
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.
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 Jeanexplains 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.