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April 27, 2011
Writing about web page http://www.shakespeareexchange.org/
Any Shakespeare buffs on the East Coast should check out this rehearsed reading of Mucedorus alongside The Comedy of Errors at the New York Exchange. Now, I'm not convinced about the pairing of plays. I'd be far more interested to see it in conversation with a late play like Cymbeline or The Winter's Tale (if nothing else, for the bear comparisons!) because these are the plays that shared the stage with Mucedorus following the revisions made to it c.1610 (first printed in the 1610 quarto). I'm not sure that the relatively civilised farce of Errors and the romantic folk narrative of Mucedorus really have anything in common. However, I wish very much I could be there, and fascinated to hear from anyone who can make it!
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Apocrypha [uh-pok-ruh-fuh] - writing or statements of doubtful authorship or authenticity
Could Shakespeare have written the little-known Elizabethan comedy Mucedorus? Some say he did and that the play should be a part of the canon...but the debate still rages on. In this concert reading series wepair Mucedorus, in its first-ever New York presentation, with Shakespeare's rollicking comedy of mistaken identity A Comedy of Errors in an exploration of what really makes a play feel like Shakespeare.
Hear the poetry. Laugh at the comedy. Compare the two plays.
January 13, 2011
Writing about web page http://news.sky.com/skynews/Home/Showbiz-News/Shakespeare-Lost-Play-Is-Shown-On-Stage-For-First-Time-Since-18th-Century/Article/201101215894029?lpos=Showbiz_News_First_UK_News_Article_Teaser_Region_3&lid=ARTICLE_15894029_Shakespeare%3A_Lost_Play_Is_Shown_On_Stage_For_First_Time_Since_18th_Century__
This is a link to a Sky News feature on the upcoming production of Double Falsehood at the Union Theatre. Its claims to be the first production since 1793 are VERY tenuous - a full (amateur) production, of course, took place in the same venue, the Union Theatre, only a few months ago; and productions of the play have been around for quite some time under the name Cardenio, usually with a certain amount of adaptation. This is, therefore, properly The First Professional Production Of The Play Under The Name Double Falsehood Since 1793.
The Sky article is also riddled with mistakes, as it fails to distinguish between Cardenio and Double Falsehood. Let's be clear - Double Falsehood is Lewis Theobald's play, BASED on what we believe to have been a collaboration between Fletcher and Shakespeare called Cardenio. To say Shakespeare and Fletcher wrote Double Falsehood is very misleading; as to is the claim that the RSC is producing Double Falsehood when it's actually producing a Cardenio, based on several sources including Shelton's Don Quixote and Theobald's Double Falsehood.
These might sound like pedantic points, but they're key to the controversy. The kneejerk reaction against the play from academics and critics alike is based on the impression that this play is being presented as a lightly-touched-up version of a true Shakespeare play. The fact is, even if it ISN'T a forgery (and Tiffany Stern's forthcoming article raises some serious questions), Double Falsehood is removed by several stages of transmission from the putative Shakespeare/Fletcher play, making the reality far less sensational than the claims.
Those are all asides - however, I'm hugely looking forward to the production. The KDC production at the Union was fine and took some interesting decisions, but suffered from being a bit ponderous. I'm hoping this one will be a bit livelier and fight the case for the play's worth - it was, after all, once quite popular.
September 24, 2010
Writing about web page http://www.warehousetheatre.co.uk/cardenio.html
Very excited to see today that Aporia Theatre are presenting a take on Cardenio at the Warehouse Theatre in November.
But wait, what's this?
Written by William Shakespeare and John Fletcher or Thomas Middleton
What's Middleton doing there? Hang on, there's more...
In an unnamed state, the adored ruler Cardenio has been dethroned by the tyrannical Fernando for dubious reasons. What is the cost to the people when their new leader pursues his own dark desires without any check or balance? And just how far can our suspicions govern our judgements? In 1611 a play was submitted to print with highly intriguing penmanship.
They haven't, have they? Yes they have. This isn't Cardenio at all - it's The Lady's Tragedy or The Second Maiden's Tragedy by Thomas Middleton. In his book Cardenio, or, The Second Maiden's Tragedy (Lakewood, 1994), Charles Hamilton made a case - based on palaeography - that this was, in fact, Fletcher and Shakespeare's lost play with the names of characters changed, despite the fact that a) the plot bears no resemblance to the "Cardenio" story and b) we don't have sufficient handwriting samples of Shakespeare to justify these kinds of claims on palaeographic evidence alone (see also - Thomas More). There IS an early connection between Shakespeare and this play - he was one of three possible names pencilled on and then crossed off by George Buc, apparently unsure as to who the author might be - but there is nothing to connect it with Cardenio.
Hamilton's thesis has been widely discredited, and no reputable scholars (that I'm aware of, anyway) follow this argument. Universal consensus accepts that Cardenio only survives (if at all) in severely adapted form as Double Falsehood; and that Lady's Tragedy/Second Maiden's Tragedy is by Middleton alone. However, Hamilton's ludicrous but publicity-friendly claims have survived into commercial culture, and this isn't the first production (apparently oblivious to scholarship) to tout Middleton's play as Shakespeare's/Fletcher's.
It's a real shame. I love Lady's Tragedy, it's one of my favourite of Middleton's tragedies, and it can stand quite well without the Shakespearean "help." It's a frustrating instance of authorship taking priority over play - particularly as, in order to fulfil the "Cardenio" claims, the play has to be entirely repackaged, not least in the renaming of characters. It also sets up a promise which people will ultimately find to be false, particularly if they've been following the ongoing high-profile arguments over the nature of Cardenio in the press this year - of all the times to revive the old spurious argument, to present Lady's Tragedy as Cardenio just as the wider public has become more aware of the strength of Double Falsehood's claims seems the worst.
If you go to this, go to see whatever remains of one of Middleton's finest and most rarely-played tragedies after the adaptors have finished trying to make it fit the theory. Don't go expecting to find Shakespeare, except in the dubious and baseless claims of marketing campaigns.
June 26, 2010
Following yesterday's rehearsal, a question was brought up as to whether we should be trying to block so much of the action; we don't want it to look like a "bad" production as opposed to a "good" reading. I think the audience will forgive a lot if my introduction explains we're experimenting a bit and offering them what we can, but it's a very good point. There's a full run tonight (which I can't attend), and if there's too much action, to a point where it's making things more rather than less complex, then we'll rethink those scenes (particularly III.ii, the wedding, where there might be potential to make things a lot simpler, including having Leonora simply faint directly into her chair).
Act 1, Scene 1
In the absence of Josh Cockcroft, we've skipped over rehearsing this short scene for now, and it'll be done at the full run later. The most important aspect of this scene is in establishing Roderick (Sam Sturrock) as embodying some of the Duke's authority by proxy, which he'll carry for the rest of the play.
Act 2, Scene 3
We lacked Lawrence Gibson (Camillo) today, so the closing comic duologue between he and Nick Collins's Don Bernard was omitted from rehearsal. This scene will establish the dynamic between them which is inverted in III.iii following the disappearance of the children.
Henriquez (Simon Neill) begins this scene by picking up the letter discarded by Jo Foakes's Violante at the end of the previous scene. He scrumples it up and throws it away, allowing him to begin the scene with direct reference to Violante as he denies her ever having charms. Simon, as ever, has got Henriquez's mixture of guilt and reckless passion down to a tee, as delivered in his opening soliloquy.
Nick's Don Bernard all but drags in Emma Taylor's Leonora for her meeting wih Henriquez. Bernard is amusingly sycophantic with Henriquez and embarrassed by Leonora's behaviour in not immediately bowing to his authority. Henriquez attempts to kiss her hand at first meeting, which is refused. This is the scene which establishes Leonora's reactions to the new forced marriage, and so Emma struck a pleading tone, first kneeling to her father and then appealing to Henriquez's good nature. The transaction between the men is already completed though, so her woes are brushed aside. Simon drew out a really nice moment of conscience following her complaints, which I'd love to explore further if we had time - is "I was to blame to parley with her thus" meant to be particularly dark, considering he just raped Violante rather than "parley"? Bernard's dismissions are far more galling, including the point where he tells her to change her affections at his behest. Leonora, in the same speech, is continuing her negotiation with her father's authority, which here is far less of a joke than previously.
As Leonora's passions rise, so does she finally appeal to the memory of her mother, which seems to particularly rile Don Bernard, whose commands become far more forceful. It's only after she leaves that we get the comic inversion of the mother story: that Bernard's wife only married him to anger her father. By the end of the scene, everyone is in a state of some anxiety: Bernard of embarrassment, Henriquez of guilt and rejection, and Leonora as she struggles to find a way out of her predicament. The arrival of Camillo, which we still have to rehearse, should hopefully allow the scene to close on a more comic note.
Act 3, Scene 3
The weeping fathers scene, following the aborted wedding. Roderick once more governs the action, and there's a nice tension between him and Camillo that opens the scene - although again, without Lawrence, we've only rehearsed one side of this exchange so far. It gives Sam a great opportunity, though, to establish himself as the character of reason and calm, persuading Camillo to listen to him. Violante hides, though we didn't re-rehearse the closing section of the scene between her and her servant.
We also lacked the Citizen, but his interaction is entirely with Camillo. It's a fitting end to the unnamed but important role to be brushed offstage explicitly without thanks by the grieving father.
The drama of the scene takes off with the arrival of a broken Don Bernard, who stands at the opposite end to Camillo, with Roderick central and upstage - mirroring the later triangle pattern of the final scene, with Roderick in his father's position. As the fathers exchange woes and insults across the stage, Roderick eventually intervenes to interrupt and enforce a handshake (reluctant on Camillo's part). They part in separate directions to begin their search, at which point Violante steps forward to conclude the scene. We decided that an extension to the conceit of chairs being "offstage" would be that actors, when "hiding" onstage, stand behind the chairs.
Act 5, Scene 1
One last short scene, in two halves. Importantly, the actors have to explain at the start what has happened (Leonora has been kidnapped from the nunnery in which she was hiding). Roderick gets up and goes to Leonora's seat, raising her and putting his hand over her eyes. He escorts her downstage left and then takes his hands away from her eyes. Henriquez, meanwhile, stands stage right, in expectation and hope.
This scene was really powerful in action, I thought. Leonora is at first confused and dazed, and Roderick tries to soothe her by telling her the one thing that would scare her more than any other - that she has been liberated in order to marry Henriquez. She turns and sees her persecutor, and immediately rails against Roderick with such force that Roderick is forced to re-evaluate his position straightaway, standing next to Leonora in "defence" of her. Henriquez's protestations of love are by now, of course, utterly abhorrent to her, and she pulls away from him as he kneels before her. Roderick ushers the two offstage, calling after them (essentially so Henriquez behaves himself, we thought!), but is himself stalled by Violante, who crosses the stage and meets him centrally. This is a very short dialogue sequence, during which Roderick experiences two shocks - that Violante is a woman, and that Julio is alive, the second of which is particularly significant to him. Violante escorts him offstage as he promises good faith.
This is delivered by Lily Walker, and is one of the hardest and most complex speeches of the play. It's a "funny" 18th century epilogue to the play, that essentially mocks the action that has just taken place as being overly sentimental. Shockingly, she mocks the characters (especially Violante) for treating rape as a serious crime, and points out that in this enlightened age, thank God rape isn't a problem. She suggests that, if the play was written now, Violante would have taken the "fault" in her stride, married and then, if the Husband had noticed anything wrong, have nagged him for questioning her virtue. She also points out that men nowadays have enough work in hand with their own wives, let alone pursuing any others. Finally, she celebrates the play (and Shakespeare) as emblems of national spirit.
We talked a lot about how we could best stage this in a modern setting, where the same kinds of audience attitudes just cannot be sustained. We decided that what Lily is doing is critiquing an audience who laugh at rape as if it's a distant crime, by ingratiating herself with the shocking beliefs that she feels they have. Thus, her tone is one of mockery both ways, making fun of the play on the basis of cultural assumptions that are projected onto the audience. Lily did a great job with an extremely difficult speech, and I think on this basis we're able to justify the Epilogue, morally sickening as it is.
One of the biggest complications we keep coming up against is the problem of disguises. Happily, Theobald's adaptation appears to have neutered the effect of several of the (extremely numerous) instances of disguise in the play: both Julio and Leonora, for instance, throw off disguises as soon as they enter at certain points. In a rehearsed reading with only suggestive costume, one of the hardest things has been working out how much of this kind of action we need to represent, and how much we can leave to the text to suggest.
Act 1, Scene 2
This long scene introduces several of the major characters and is primarily conversational, so a lot of work for the actors to do. Some really interesting things came out of it though. Structurally, the two socially-ambitious fathers Camillo (Lawrence Gibson) and Don Bernard (Nick Collins) frame this scene. With Camillo, we got some lovely excitement over the idea that his son has been called to court, and it neatly sets up his generally humorous attitude throughout the play. As Julio (Tom Hutchinson) read his letter (downstage, and to himself), so Camillo stood further upstage, exulting in his own future honour.
The relationship between Julio and Leonora is a complex one in its first introduction. Emma Taylor gives a really interesting reading of Leonora which is greatly helping me shape my understanding of the character. She speaks a lot of obedience and filial obligation, particularly in this scene: first she critiques Julio for being too wedded to his father's good opinion, then later she promises her own obligation to Don Bernard. There's something very independent in this reading: she toys with Julio to test his love, and negotiates parental duty only so far as it suits her purpose. Julio, for his part, was frustrated with Leonora's coyness, but couldn't press his frustration too far - we played with his accusation of her "misbecoming" behaviour, quite an assertion for this young lover. This playful tension can't go too far though, and Emma brought out a far meeker and more openly affectionate side as she heard of Julio's summons to court. Her speech warning Julio that her faith may be tested while he is away reads, to me, as a genuine fear, but here it was played as a vaguely taunting threat - one that she has no intention of carrying out, of course, but allowed her prescience here to contrast beautifully with her actions later. Poor Julio, of course, is rather manipulated in this scene, but at least he draws from her those promises of genuine fidelity.
The closing sequence between Don Bernard (beautifully comic in Nick's performance, often smoking a pipe) and Leonora was great, allowing Leonora to continue her dutiful act for her overconfident father's sake. His rambling over other potential suitors not only shows his social ambitions, but reminds us that he feels he is entirely in control of Leonora's fate.
Act 2 Scene 4
This very short scene is simply staged, between Leonora in one corner and Josh Cockcroft's Citizen, who passes and is called over. We've doubled the Citizen with the Duke: the Duke is emblematic of reason and order, while the Citizen contrasts neatly with the false friendships of the play by being a "true" stranger, so there's something nice about the same actor playing two characters defined by their constancy. The dynamic sees Leonora trusting easily, in nice contrast to Violante's later mistrust of her servant. We injected a sense of urgency into the scene - with Don Bernard calling off stage and the unusual nature of the request, the Citizen has to react quickly, and leaves the stage with a sense of purpose.
Act 3, Scene 1
Another very short scene. While Leonora speaks her last words in the scene that has just ended, the Citizen carries his letter around the back of the semicircle of seats, and gives it to Julio at the far end. The two are then able to walk in together in mid-conversation, discussing the contents of the letter. Tom was able to start exploring the "madness" in the character as his anger against Henriquez manifests itself, while Josh continued being the bastion of sincerity.
Act 3, Scene 2
The wedding scene is one of the most complicated from a staging point of view, particularly when the actors are reading - it's one of the more physical sequences.
Leonora has a nice arc at the beginning, and Emma made a great deal of her doubts and paranoia in her opening soliloquy, contrasting them with her genuine relief on Julio's arrival. As soon as she was aware of his presence, she turned to leave without looking at him, negating the need for Tom to have a physical disguise to remove. Leonora took control of their subsequent conversation, while Tom continued the agitation that had begun in the previous scene, both threatening to draw his sword and calling on the gods. Leonora has the practical common sense: she hid Julio behind the semicircle of chairs on which the "offstage" actors sit, in order that he could watch the ensuing action.
As the scene "opens" for the wedding, we suggested that the rest of the cast can stand up, to make this a public scene. Don Bernard and Henriquez (Simon Neill) enter, with Bernard already treating Henriquez effectively as his son. Henriquez's tone in addressing Violante's withdrawal is one of disappointment and some frustration. Leonora will already have had a scene of pleading with the two men; here, she is far more resistant, pulling away from both as they come near. She does not obey Bernard's instruction to give her hand, and is grabbed by her father who puts their hands together.
This is where the more physical section of the scene begins. Julio bursts through from behind as Henriquez and Leonora take hands, and he takes her hand instead, pulling her over to the side of the stage. Henriquez and Julio face off centre-stage, until on "then I'll seize my right", Julio shoves Henriquez back, retreats to Leonora and makes as if to take her offstage. Henriquez immediately beckons to his servant (Tim Kaufmann), who crosses the stage and forces Julio away while Julio shouts his parting words. As this is happening, Henriquez moves towards Leonora, who faints against him and is lowered to the floor. He calls for help, and over her prostrate body Henriquez and Bernard find the dagger and letter that inform them of her plans. Leonora will then be helped offstage by her maid (Lily Walker) while the rest of the actors leave. We spent a while blocking this sequence, which we'll rehearse again during the full run.
Act 5, Scene 2
Very possibly the most complicated sequence to block, but surprisingly coherent in the reading. These multiple-revelation/reunification scenes (notoriously the finale to Cymbeline) compress a lot of information and can be difficult to make clear, so I was really pleased to see how quickly and easily the actors individuated their characters and interpreted the various dynamics and exchanges of this long scene.
Dramaturgically, the key is that the Duke (Josh Cockcroft again) stays upstage as the static "audience" for the multiple revelations, while Roderick (Sam Sturrock), who is stage-managing events, is very mobile. I was extremely pleased to find that the scene lends itself very immediately to a formal and patterned symmetry of revelations, which looked remarkably clear in action.
Bernard and Camillo continue their bickering, with Bernard now a broken man. Camillo continues to be relatively amusing, though with a very bitter, sarcastic tone; while the Duke is sober and formal, and also unknowing. As well as being the bringer of order, his absence from the play since I.i means that he acts as an audience surrogate, forcing events to be retold before him so that he can pass appropriate judgement.
A Gentleman (Sam Jefferyes) has a quick walk on role to introduce Roderick, who then enters to co-ordinate the reunions. Rather than make too much fuss of disguises, he simply beckons on Henriquez and Leonora from their seats, who enter upstage together, walking past the Duke to centre-stage. They immediately go to their fathers, Henriquez kneeling before the displeased Duke and Leonora embracing her father. There's thus straightaway an uneven pattern of two fathers with their children and then one without, which Camillo plays on.
The Duke delivers his speech about the authority of parents - which we might play slightly mockingly, but in context has the ring of patriarchal authority that the 18th century theatre demands. It's important that this speech be significant, as it is followed immediately by Leonora's (perfectly reasonable and appropriate) conditions placed on her obedience, which offer Emma a nice closure to her character's ongoing negotiation with filial duty throughout. We follow that with a bit of comedy as Camillo continues to insult Don Bernard to his face.
Violante, still in boy's clothes, appears at the side of the stage and catches the Duke's attention. At Roderick's introduction of Violante, Henriquez and Roderick begin a spat across the length of the stage (they've both retreated to the edges by this point), which gets increasingly heated as Henriquez denies the conspiracy. Jo Foakes plays Violante-in-disguise nicely meek, and the presence of the Duke makes her words safe, despite Henriquez's protestations. Violante exits, and Roderick reads the letter, at which Simon's Henriquez begins to undergo his shift, as he realises his earlier faults are being exposed. The dispute reaches its head as Sam wonderfully puts down Henriquez with "You are a boy".
Violante, now with hair down, and Julio (still hunched in his mad pose) enter upstage, where Julio remains, out of the semi-circle for now. Violante moves forward to centre-stage, all eyes on her. There's the beginnings of a wonderful pattern here in Henriquez and Violante's reunion, which takes place in front of the Duke, who ratifies their taking of hands with his own hand. The reunited lovers kiss, and move to one side of the stage, the first reunited couple, while Leonora remains by her father. Roderick then brings Julio forward, who stands in some distraction as Leonora moves in wonder towards him. He "comes out" of his madness to greet her, and they embrace, again in front of the Duke. The comedy continues with Camillo: Julio's back is to him, leading Camillo eventually to tap him roughly on the shoulder in order to establish his identity, after which he tells him to get back to kissing Leonora. The Duke joins Julio and Leonora's hands, and the two of them move to the other side of the stage, completing the symmetry. Finally, the Duke orders Julio and Henriquez to make up, and they embrace, again in front of the Duke, completing the three most important reunions.
In the final closing up, the Duke gifts honours to Violante from where she stands next to Henriquez, and moves himself back to centre-stage in order to get verbal consent from the group. Play ends in a nicely-patterned tableaux: Duke and Roderick central as authorities; Julio, Leonora and Don Bernard on their left; Henriquez, Violante and Camillo on their right. I was really pleased, I'll say again, with how the very simple staging really brought out the formal patterns here, and this is the bit I'm most proud of at the moment in terms of what the staged reading is bringing out of the text.
June 23, 2010
Writing about Arden of Faversham (Em–Lou Productions) @ The Rose Theatre Bankside from The Bardathon
Just a note that there's a review of Em-Lou Productions' Arden of Faversham up on The Bardathon now, which I'll hopefully have time to reflect further on on this blog soon. Wonderful production, and another strong argument for the apocryphal plays being newly dug out by theatre companies. If there's one that the RSC are long overdue to give some attention to, it's this.
June 22, 2010
On Sunday 27th June, Warwick's Shakespeare Society are performing a rehearsed reading of Brean Hammond's text of Double Falsehood (quite possibly the first public reading of the text since it was published in March, though there may have been ones I'm unaware of). I'm involved in this as a sort of Assistant Director/Textual Advisor, and we had our first proper rehearsal yesterday.
Time's very tight, so we're only getting to run through each scene a couple of times before the final performance on Sunday. The whole ethos of the thing is experimental. We're staying on-text, using minimal trimmings, but trying to block as much of it as possible, so that even though it's a reading, audiences can get a sense of how it can/might/does look on its feet.
I'm going to use this blog to post some notes from rehearsals. The great benefit for me with doing this is the chance to see some of my plays in action, which is giving me a fantastic insight into its dynamics and dramatic possibilities, and these notes will be a useful reminder for myself of how a play starts coming to life.
We're going for a simple semi-circle of chairs for the first three acts. Actors (in blacks) will sit here when not performing, stand up as they are "arriving", and walk forward onto the stage when entering a scene. Simple conceit, hopefully easy enough for an audience to follow. It also allows for a bit of explication when characters are talking about someone off-stage - they can gesture towards the seated actor.
At the end of Act III, when the action moves to the country, we're going to push all the chairs to the side of the stage, thus opening up the physical space. This will mark the significance of the transition (similar to, e.g., Time in Winter's Tale), and also physically give us more options for the later scenes. If possible, we'll also switch to a different lighting state at this point.
There's a great deal of costume and disguise in the play. Julio's "madness" (which renders him unrecognisable) is something we're going to do physically. Violante will tie up her hair and put on trousers when a boy, and Leonara's veiling in the final scene is only for a moment, so shouldn't be difficult to represent.
Music is important to the play. We're going to approach a musician to see if we can have a bit of live musical underscore for Henriquez's wooing and (more importantly) Violante's song in IV.ii, where it's a significant plot point.
Act I, Scene iii
This scene introduces both Henriquez (Simon Neill) and Violante (Jo Foakes). We're not entirely sure what the staging will be in the ensemble room, but we'll probably use a raised level for Violante if available, with her being on a balcony.
This scene is particularly interesting as an inversion of what's to come. Violante is polite but confident, assured of her own ability to reject Henriquez's suit civilly. Conversely, Henriquez seems to be more nervy - he's not only lowering himself by courting someone so socially beneath him, but he's also going through all the courtly conventions of love-protestations and musical wooing, so there's potential here for a bit of comedy, particularly at the start of the scene as he rushes about organising the musicians. It certainly seems important at this point to suggest that Violante is the one in control, which allows the forthcoming rape to be so much more significant in terms of changing the dynamic between them.
Henriquez's conclusion to the scene allows the character to undergo a change. The next time we see him is post-rape, so this is the actor's opportunity to show that transition. It's prompted as much by outrage that he - as the son of a Duke - has been knocked back by a peasant girl, so across his solioquy he's able to demonstrate an increased pique and rage. At the end of the scene, he turns and walks back towards the chairs - towards Violante - with ominous purpose.
Act II Scene i
Post-rape, Henriquez is in torment over what he has done, and is going through a process of self-justification to try and overcome his guilt. The important things here are that there's a gradual reveal of what happened, which the actor is responsible for communicating to the audience, and that at the end of the scene he reveals the equally shocking truth that he's fallen in love with Leonora. My suggestion for this scene was that Henriquez is perfectly aware of where he needs to end up by the end of it: in a state where he can freely pursue Leonora without guilt, so there's an attempt to purge going on.
At the same time, the action is shadowed by Fabian (Sam Jefferyes) and Lopez (Ronnie Bassett). These two comic characters make the action "safe"- Henriquez is unaware of them, and they listen to and mock him as audience-surrogates. Dramatically, this allows Henriquez to go off the rails in terms of his torment and guilt, while Fabian and Lopez do the work of reining it in. We decided that their role becomes more serious as the scene progresses and they realise the real threat that this man poses to someone. Blocking wise, they stand upstage and either side of him, literally framing the action, while Henriquez delivers his speeches downstage.
There's also a need, we think, for Henriquez's actions to be almost comically galling. His audacity is breathtaking, and his self-justifications unconvincing, although he seems to convince himself. The moment when he announces his new love for Leonora, we think, is one to make you catch your breath.
Act II, Scene ii
The importance of this scene is in making clear Violante's state - we've been introduced to the idea of rape, and now Violante confirms it. Her responses break down into three movements. At first, she is ruined and dishonoured, but with an element of hope; if Henriquez follows through on his promises of marriage, at least she will be rendered socially acceptable. The second movement is one of utter despair as she receives Henriquez's message, during which she pounds her body and invites in desolation. The final movement gives the scene something of an upward lift, as she abjures the company of all men and maids. While this is a defeated moment, there's also a sense of taking control of her own destiny, even if it's a sorrowful one.
The levels of disdain that Henriquez has for her are projected in two ways. The first is in Tim Kaufmann's deliciously snobbish Gerald, who treats Leonora with utter contempt as he delivers his master's message. This anticipates the letter itself, which Leonora begins reading and Henriquez himself completes from his seat, allowing Violante to react to it. At the end of the scene, she drops the letter, and at the start of the next Henriquez will pick it up and crumple it in contempt before asking how he ever loved Violante.
Act III, Scene iii (end)
We quickly ran through the conclusion to III.iii, where Violante announces her plans to disguise herself. The scene is primarily functional, a simple transition. For Violante's character, it's important in terms of establishing both her willingness to trust and the effects that Henriquez has had on that; the moment where she recalls her previous trust in a "serious face" is a great reflective moment.
I was also really struck by the advantage of doubling this servant with Gerald. Where Tim was earlier the scornful servant, now he's honest and sincere; yet Violante's grilling of him acts as a kind of interrogative redemption for this "character". We were worried that people would be confused about the ambiguity of doubling, but I think it works well as a thematic double that allows Violante's response to one servant to colour and shape her relationship with the next.
Act IV, Scene i
The epic! I'm really pleased with how fully-blocked this ended up being, and it's amazing how clear the actors were able to make the flow of the scene after only one readthrough.
The Master (Tim Kaufmann again) and Shepherds (Ronnie Bassett and Sam Jefferyes again) run this open space, and we agreed that it's the Master's environment, his "court". Violante, in boy's digsuise now, keeps herself at something of a remove from the others. In discussing Julio, the Master takes particular umbridge at the news that he steals their food. The attitude towards him on arrival is one of concern and vague fear, with the shepherds keeping their distance from the "madman".
We spent a while discussing the madness of Julio, played by Tom Hutchinson. There's certainly an element at least of "real" distraction in it, which occasions the repeated betraying slips that allow the shepherds to get a sense of what has happened to him. Julio is played hunched and in pain, clutching at his head. We tried to draw out the important lines from the babble, particularly his screams against treachery. His questions to the shepherds are intense and heartfelt. When addressing the second shepherd, he takes on a hopeful aspect, backing the shepherd into a corner as he pleads with him.
Violante approaches Julio with much trepidation. In her presence, Julio becomes noticably calmer, relaxing with her and becoming almost intimate. Violante allows herself to be drawn into it, making the moment where he instructs her to kill herself a real blow, driving an instant divide between them. His reference to her as a woman is mocked by the shepherds, but the Master here does a double-take, as if realising what might be the truth. We had a great deal of fun imagining the Master's character, and decided that he's probably fancied Violante for quite a long time, but been in something of a state of confusion over his own sexuality in loving a boy. The realisation that she might be a girl is therefore both a relief to him and also allows him to act on his desires.
After Violante retreats from Julio (and, in a nice touch, instinctively goes to the Master for protection), Julio's frenzy returns. He thinks he sees Henriquez in the Second Shepherd's face. The actors worked really hard to block the subsequent action smoothly, and I think it actually looked pretty good! Julio slaps the 2nd Shepherd across the face with his script in a lovely little metatheatrical moment which we hope will get a few laughs, and is then restrained by the 1st Shepherd and Master. The 2nd Shepherd is a whinger, we decided, and the others will later mock him for complaining about his nose.
As soon as the 1st Shepherd tells Julio that this isn't Henriquez, Julio instantly leaves off and walks away, not caring, in another comic but also madly unpredictable moment, and he leaves. The Shepherds are similarly sent off, leaving the Master alone. The Master's soliloquy we played for utter creepiness, including brushing back his hair as Violante re-enters. I'm convinced, even if Hammond's edition doesn't note it, that all his questions such as "Have you learnt the whistle yet" are extraordinarily dirty puns, and we're playing them as such. This scene between them is a little amusing, but Jo worked hard to make sure that the audience recognise Violante's real fear and danger at this point - which is, of course, highly reflective of Henriquez's earlier behaviour. She begins by appealing to his own goodness, almost with flattery, before getting more desperate.
Roderick (Sam Sturrock) calls from offstage, distracting the Master, and Violante runs off. This is a "cold shower" moment for the Master, which gave Tim a nicely comic direction in which to take his "frustration". Roderick enters, somewhat over-polite to the Master, and the Master treats him with utter disdain and mockery, which rounded off his section nicely.
The final dialogue between Roderick and Henriquez is a bit more functional and straightforward, but with some really nice touches. We play the coincidence for full laughs: "And, opportune, a vacant hearse pass'd by/From rites but new perform'd!" The main advantage of this scene, though, is that it allows Henriquez to develop his "sincerity" yet further, proclaiming love for Leonora in a way which reminds the audience just how much of a hypocrite he is. Roderick, here, acts as the audience's reminder that Henriquez is not entirely truthful, but Simon brought out a really interesting aspect of Henriquez - just how truthful does he think he's being?
Act IV, Scene ii
The Gentlemen of this scene are, we decided, the Shepherds again. It doesn't allow for full intellectual logic (which this play defies at every corner), but dramatically, it works - they see Julio in a calm state, the 1st Shepherd takes the lead in looking after him, and the 2nd Shepherd continues to rub his nose in petulance! Dramaturgically, we went for a simple cross-stage movement with this scene which I think works really nicely. The Shepherds and Julio crouch in an upstage corner to watch Violante, with Julio still half-mad, and the flanking Shepherds give the impression of keeping him calm. As Violante mentions Henriquez, however, Julio stands in shock, and then later moves across to join Violante. What I wanted to get here was the idea that Julio's state of madness is primarily an externally-inflicted one: it was provoked by his public expulsion from the wedding, and in the final scene it will be permanently revoked by his reunification with Leonora. Violante has a soothing effect on him, though, that allows him to cross from the "protection" of the shepherds to the emotional comfort of Violante's presence, which we were thus able to show with a simple crossing across stage from one group to the other. This also had the nice effect of returning Ronnie and Sam to their original state as slightly detached onlookers, which is how we first met them as Fabian and Lopez.
Violante's song is spoken from her seat, which will hopefully be accompanied by music. Julio sits to listen to the sweet sounds (his Caliban moment), and Tom brought out a really nice admonitory tone as he shushed the shepherds and told them to appreciate the melody. Violante's entrance will see her with her hair down. Her words are pretty sentimental, not the best poetry in the play, but Jo nicely brought out the instructive aspect to them. There's an interesting sense of control in Violante: she interestingly articulates and explicates her own grief, rather than merely succumbing to it. That sense of control and composure was brought out back in I.iii, and it's part of what now helps soothe Julio.
She keeps slightly back from Julio at his first address, surprised to hear her name while not committing himself entirely to him, allowing him to come towards her in the first instance. As he reveals his own identity, she lets her guard down completely, and the Shepherds respond in surprise to one another - this is, of course, a big reveal for them. The final exchange between Violate and Julio I actually found quite moving, and it really reminds me of Lear and Cordelia going off to sing like birds in prison together. There's a tenderness between the two which I think is very important to bring out, and it's the first stage of the gradual rehabilitation of both.
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All for now. As I say, very excited by seeing this on its feet, and this was only about a third of the play on its first rehearsal. More anon.
June 07, 2010
The new issue of Law and Humanities (4:1, Summer 2010) just arrived from Hart Publishing, which presumably means it'll be out shortly. It carries, among several excellent articles, a review by me of A Yorkshire Tragedy at the White Bear Theatre Pub, which began its life as blog entries on this blog and The Bardathon.
While I've had reviews of productions published in a number of academic journals, this one is significant for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it's an interdisciplinary rather than a Shakespeare journal. Secondly, it's the journal's first performance review, as the editorial points out. Finally, it's long enough (c. 3000 words) to be a review article as much as a straightforward account, allowing me to explore a few deeper issues to do with the play. Here's the citation for anyone who follows these things:
" "If The Law Could Forgive as Soon as I": A Review of A Yorkshire Tragedy at the White Bear Theatre Pub, London, January 2010." Law and Humanities 4:1 (2010), 162-8.
March 03, 2010
Writing about web page http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00r0xt5
This Radio 4 afternoon play by Melissa Murray had tangential relevance to this blog. While Vortigern and Rowena was an acknowledged Shakespearean forgery in its own time, and thus has never occasioned any serious critical debate about its authenticity, the story of its first performance in 1796 is an important reflection on Shakespeare's growing cultural status at the time, and about questions of authenticity, value and status.
The play was essentially a backstage drama set during the production's first night. Samuel (Bruce Alexander) and Henry Ireland (Rufus Wright) were, prior to the curtain being raised, praised as heroes by an acting company excited not only by the opportunity to be the first to perform the "lost" play, but also by the prestigious audience attracted by Shakespeare's name. The language used ("A good ghost walks among us") placed the occasion, in its own context, as being of universal significance, a turning point in dramatic history.
Yet this weight of expectation began to crumble even before the performance began. The great J.P. Kemble (Alex Jennings), star actor at Drury Lane, found the play "underbred" and amateurish, while a comic actress given a tragic part complained that it was unspeakable. Yet the promise of Shakespeare forced the play forward. R.B. Sheridan (Lorcan Cranitch), manager of the theatre, had paid £300 in order to outbid Covent Garden for the honour, and had virtually bankrupted Drury Lane in the process.
As the play began, Henry Ireland's forgery became apparent. Early hints, such as suggestions that he might go on to try his hand at writing, gave way to accusation and recrimination. In a great scene, as an actress and his one-time lover challenged him with forgery and the ruining of both the theatre and her personally, Ireland finally snapped and began ranting that he had been possessed by the spirit of Shakespeare, that the words had written themselves, that he had shared souls with the Bard himself.
This led into some funny discussion of the nature of authorship. On the authenticity of the play, Ireland told Sheridan "I gave you my word, not as a gentleman, but as an author." Authors were imagined not to be absolute fountains of truth, but as plagiarisers and collaborators, inspirations and muses.
As the play fell apart and threatened to descend into riot, it was left to Kemble to save the day by turning the play into farce, making a mockery of the lines he was speaking and bringing the audience onside in collaborative jeering at the words. The comedy of this part contrasted nicely with Henry's dismay and the surprisingly touching characterisation of Samuel, who could not be brought to believe that his son was a liar. Denying this to the end, the doddering old man left the stage on a proud, but defeated, note.
A play about ambition and pride, then, but also pleasantly insightful into the business of forgery and Bardolatry. Ireland knew that he could only begin his literary career by attaching Shakespeare's name to the title-page of his own play, and his sense of his own genius just needed the veneer of Shakespeare to get it sold. At the same time, the story spoke of a public idea of what "real" Shakespeare is: despite Shakespeare's name and the authority of Sheridan and Kemble, the audience could tell a fake when they saw it. It leaves open the question: what is our sense of Shakespeare? Is the Shakespearean quality a tangible, recognisable thing? Or are we less attuned to the marketing than we think? It was a long time before people realised that Timon, 1 Henry VI and Henry VIII (to name just a few) weren't wholly Shakespeare's. Are we so sure that we know what "Shakespeare" "is"?
(Thanks to Duncan for flagging this up!)
February 24, 2010
Writing about Arden of Faversham @ The Emlyn Williams Theatre, Theatr Clwyd from The Bardathon
I was pleasantly surprised, attending Terry Hands' new production of Arden of Faversham last weekend, to find that the play not only chose not to sell itself on its apocryphal status, but that none of the publicity material even acknowledged the long-standing Shakespearean connection. The programme cover boldly stated it was "By Anonymous", and left it at that.
To me, that's really interesting in the theatre, an institution which of course prizes authors. It's not often a truly anonymous play gets put on without at least some guesswork as to the author, and in the case of the Shakespeare Apocrypha this is often used as a publicity device (cf the White Bear's Yorkshire Tragedy and the RSC's Thomas More "By Anthony Munday, William Shakespeare and others").
Listening to the comments around me, it was interesting to hear an audience responding to a play without authorial preconceptions. While I'm sure many of them knew it had been attributed to Shakespeare, I didn't hear anyone discussing this. Instead, people were intrigued as to why something anonymous was being revived and what the director had seen in the play to warrant staging it. People appeared to be interested, rather than pre-judgmental, in a way which I've not really felt among audiences before. I remember a post-show talk following a reading of The Two Noble Kinsmen at the RSC during which audience members seemed only interested in asking about which bits were by which author, assuming that the "best" bits were Shakespeare's.
It's inevitable we judge early modern drama by a Shakespearean standard. The canonical plays are so familiar, and have been so formative on our educational experiences, that we're always going to judge plays by other authors, and especially anonymous or disputed works, according to how far they measure up to a Shakespearean standard; which their relative unfamiliarity will inevitably cause them to fall short of. However, I do feel the anonymising of productions may be a big part of the answer to this. For as soon as a play is put on with a promise, or even indication, of a Shakespearean connection, audiences will expect Shakespeare, and then be disappointed when it's quite different. By de-canonising Arden, Hands allowed the play to stand on its own merits, separate from anyone's authorial canon, a work in its own right. That didn't make the production any better or worse, but it did at least allow it to be something, rather than not-be something. The Shakespeare Apocrypha are, seemingly, forever doomed to not-be Shakespeare, so for that alone, it was lovely to see Arden being presented in its own right.