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Thursday, 13 September 2012

Beards and The Shakespeare Delusion

Right, The Shakespeare Delusion, the next show from Milk Bottle Productions.  Sort of.  I'm only doing it once - this year anyway.  Just one little performance in my home village of Lavenham.  (Well, technically it's a town, but it's a village, just look at it, it's very picture postcard.)  Then I'm off to do ghostly things till next year, before picking up the ashes of the one off, blowing on them a bit, popping some dry grass on top and hoping for the best.
So what, for those of you coming on October 12th (and yes, this blog is SUGGing you - don't know what that is, look it up, it may help you get through this commercial world), is The Shakespeare Delusion about?
Well, primarily it's about a beard.  An increasingly long and annoying beard.
And hair.  Head hair.  Increasingly long and annoying head hair.
Yes, this is the play that makes me hairy.  And it's annoying me.
Basically, the story is about a man who slowly, practically before your eyes, looses his grip on reality.  He started off as an ordinary man and then, the more he delved into the various 'theories' about Shakespeare's life, began to lose his grip.  By the end of the play he is quite doolally, in a fairly comic way.  Which means, naturally, he must have a lot of hair.
It is a universal law that a mass of hair, back combed and unkempt, possibly dust covered, is clear evidence that the mind has snapped.  Perhaps the longer your hair grows the more of your natural born sanity is pulled out of your brain.  It's either that or hair acts as a cosmic lightning rod for those alien signals that control our brains, unless you have the good sense to wear a tin foil hat.
Like I'm doing now.
I have got quite a lot to say on the subject of the play itself, for a future blog a little closer to the show up date.  For the moment I just want to point you in the general direction of The Space.  It's an Arts Council / BBC project thing online, where a complete set of Shakespeare plays are available to watch here.  Only difficulty for purists is that none of them are in English (the exception being the hip-hop Othello, but I think I'd class that as a new language) as they were recorded at the Globe to Globe season at the... Globe Theatre.
I've watched about a third of them now, whilst recovering from a bout of illness over the summer.  I can recommend heartily As You Like It, brilliant, first ten minutes are a bit dislocating but once in the woods it's a joy; King Lear, fast and loose with the text towards the end but the storm scenes is amazing; Love's Labour's Lost, performed in sign language and truly fascinating; A Midsummer's Nights Dream, which played a little fast and loose with what is one of Shakespeare's few original plot compositions but to a purpose, was quite deliciously scatological and played to the audience very well; Othello, in the aforesaid hip-hop, which I thought I'd loath and really, really enjoyed.
Watch for a few minutes the truly amazingly awful Coriolanus.  He wears a basket on his head for almost the whole play and clutches a french stick.  Skip ahead two hours, yup, he's still wearing it.  (In fact, I heard on the grapevine that the only reason the actor took the basket off for any length of time was because the artistic director at the Globe begged the director of the production... "You know the basket... maybe it would be good if he took it off... occasionally."  "No."  "No, see that it's important, but maybe, once the audience has got the convention, you don't need to have it quite so much?"  "No."  I might be putting words into other peoples mouths, but for once the grapevine sounded oh too true to not be.  And it is funny.)  I've read impassioned defences of this production, claiming we don't get the cultural conventions associated with it and so can't judge.  Oh we do.  The arms of the twentieth century are long and within them cultural exchange is not pretty much standard.  People tour, there are DVDs - we have YouTube.  Trust me, this isn't cultural relativism, it's just very bad.  I know Coriolanus very well, it's one of my favourite plays, and the play was fully subtitled (not all of these are) and yet it was frankly baffling half the time what was going on.  Once the patterns felt into shape, it didn't make it anymore enjoyable.  In fact, I'd argue the staging was fundamentally elitist as only a smart-arse like myself, who knows the play backwards, has a hope in hell of understanding what is going on.  I watched the whole thing, as I'm a masochist that way, and I could see what they meant to be saying (Coriolanus isn't noble, he's a petulant child grasping his french stick... there was more, but that was the basic thrust), and it just wasn't done well.  The same point was rammed home with monotonous rapidity and I lost the will to live.
There are other interestingly noble failures.  Julius Caesar, appropriately enough performed by an Italian company, had some very interesting elements to it, but was lost amidst some very bizarre additions which seemed completely random.  You had scenes from the play, which I recognised and then the show would go on a tangent which made no sense at all - definitely one production that needed full subtitles rather than scene breakdowns.  Again, a sense of elitism (though a more reasonable one, people do tend to know the gist of the story from history as well as literature) abounds, as you are expected to know things without the production explaining them.  For example, the production used a chair to represent Caesar himself.  It solves many problems, not least that the part of Caesar is as interesting as a chair, and it leaves room for satire.  In practice, and theatre is all about practice, this stroke  was ineffective and 'his' death was deeply underpowered.  (The actors 'killing' 'him' were underpowered, not the chair.  The chair sustained its energy levels throughout the performance.)
These criticisms aside, I loved the use of red chalk throughout and, though mixed, the performances were fascinating.  (I'm making a bit of a study of Italian acting at the moment... well, I'm watching Inspector Montalbano on B.B.C. 4 on Saturdays, which is close enough.)  Difficult to recommend, it was hard work, but worth a skim through, if, for nothing else, to look at the arrangements of doors and the death by chalk.
Then there were the productions that we alright... of which the rest that I have watched broadly fall.  I will tweet updates of my viewings of these productions in the run up to the world premiere of The Shakespeare Delusion.
More thoughts and opinions on Shakespeare will follow next Thursday (Tuesday will see my continuing series of blogs with one word titles - last Tuesday was Sex, next Tuesday is Offence), when I will be looking at the general flurry of the bard over the B.B.C. this summer.  Some of us do not come out unscathed.



Milk Bottle Productions Presents...
The Shakespeare Delusion
A Comic Tale Written and Performed by Robert Crighton

Professor Ashborn invites you to share in his latest discoveries and lead you through the terrible secrets behind the man people call Shakespeare.  Did he really write the plays?  Was he really bald?  Did he like cheese?  Using recently uncovered documentation Professor Ashborn can finally tell the true and completely true, truly true, utterly true, true story of the Shakespeare delusion!
Last year’s show – The Ghosts of Lavenham – sold out, so book early to avoid disappointment!

Performing on Friday 12th October at 7.30pm
The Lavenham Guildhall, The Market Square, Lavenham
Tickets £8, available from the Guildhall from April. 
To reserve your tickets in advance email: contact@milkbottleproductions.co.uk
Or call: 07704 704 469

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