Saturday, March 22, 2008

Ouch, and other things

Had lunch with J today, and he asked how the chickens were doing since they haven't appeared on here much recently - they're doing very well, producing three eggs a day; if I have a surplus, I've been selling them at work and in fact now they're so popular amongst my regular customers that I don't have to advertise any more - last week, I had more eggs requested than my three chooks could supply! So, they're pretty much paying for themselves right now - I sell just enough to cover their food costs, which aren't high to start with (there's a reason the phrase "chicken feed" exists) while still keeping enough for us to eat. And I picked up a load of seeds today too, so the planning of the veggie garden continues apace. I've already got a request for spare tomato plants, so I'm hoping to set up some kind of mini-LET scheme at work, and/or amongst friends. If anyone wants to get into a plant-swapping thing, let me know, and I'll post a list of what I'm growing.

I have been reflecting on last weekend, and just how fabulous it was to spend so much time intensively experiencing Shakespeare, in such great company of both a hugely talented cast and crew, and a hugely appreciative audience. One of the really good things about last weekend was the fact that the audience were pretty serious theatre goers, (599 passholders doing all 8 plays out of an audience for each play of approx 1000, plus 400 doing each play individually, or queueing devotedly for returns) and so therefore there was no texting, no crinkling of sweetie wrappers, no chattering, no muttering, no generally behaving like a bit of an unsociable thoughtless git, only one mobile phone going off during the whole 8 plays (you moron); we used to like the Members Nights the RSC once did for exactly that reason, that you were in an audience of people who knew how to behave, but sadly they seem to have ended.

There was also a bit of cabin fever, I'm sure, as Jenny at Whatsonstage noticed - by Saturday, the introductions for each play, given by a different actor each time, were getting huge cheers before anyone had even said anything. It was also lovely to begin to recognise people, and see each other between plays, and chat about them - one of the things I miss most as a solo theatre-goer is the chance to sound off afterwards, so Sunday in particular was lovely because I found someone to hang out with.

As for my high points - I will mention a few actors whose performances I particularly enjoyed, but I have to say I don't want this to seem disparaging to anyone in the whole Histories cast, because they were all amazing - that anyone could pull off multiple roles over 7 plays (they all got one play off, apparently, apart from David Warner who only did Falstaff, and threw himself into that role with enormous joie de vivre) is a stunning feat of theatre.

So, high spots:
Lex Shrapnel - I'd never seen Henry IV before, but it really is a fabulously exciting pair of plays, loads of intrigue and plenty of action, but the high point of Friday was Lex Shrapnel and his speech as Harry Percy, "Oh would the quarrel lay upon our heads" - that he could deliver such a speech so passionately and so beautifully, and then launch into some phenomenally physical battle scenes - he took my breath away. Fabulous actor, one to watch.

Geoffrey Streatfield - I really liked the way he was such a fun, frivolous Hal, who then really did assume the role of kingship for Henry V. And he really pulled off the classic Harry speeches, once more unto the breach, and St Crispin's day. I'll remember, with advantages, what feats we did that day alright.

Chuk Iwuji - he made such a sweet, delicate Henry VI -bewildered, tender, and devout - a heart-rending performance. I remember him from Hamlet in 2001, his first RSC role - again, he is one to watch.

Jonathan Slinger - what to say? From deluded but oddly innocent Richard II to power crazed deluded Richard III via one of the best Fluellens I've seen, he was remarkable. A stunningly good actor.

Ropework - one of the things I loved about the whole set of 8 plays was the use of space - it was truly 3D, with some fantasic use of rappeling and ropework in the various battle scenes, some great use of trapeze, ladders, and lowering and raising platforms - it was incredibly dynamic, especially in Richard III just as maybe people were getting a bit tired - suddenly we have the SAS (or equivalent) flinging themselves from the ceiling - fabulous stuff. And I particularly liked the use of space in HV with the English forces largely earthbound and tunnelling while the French floated airily on trapezes. To have one set work for all 8 plays is a tremendous feat of the imagination, and I'm really glad that the crew came out on Sunday to be applauded because they deserved it so, so much.

Language - maybe because the cast have been doing these plays for so long, the language has become second nature to them - certainly it felt incredibly natural in the way they spoke the lines. But what struck me part way through Friday was that having spent 9 or so hours listening to spoken Shakespeare, it becomes natural to the ear, so that I stopped having to think about it. It just became the way that people speak. That mechanism that is sometimes in your brain at a Shakespeare play, that logs the words, then converts them, then decides whether to laugh to cry - not needed. They were good at speaking - more than good, I've never heard better verse speaking - and we were good at listening. And all week, I've been thinking in Shakespeare on my drive to work.

Politics - one of the elements I most appreciated from seeing the plays in their chronological order was the sense of relationships - I see where Hotspur gets his fire in H IVi because he feels his family is spurned after R II; I know why Richard Duke of Gloucester hates Margaret in RIII because in H VIiii he saw her kill his father and brother - and much more - the relationships through the generations, the switching of sides, who is loyal to who; who chooses the red rose and who the white*, and the consequences for England - it all plays out so clearly when you see the plays one after the other, in a way that's missing when you see them in isolation.

The other thing that I found particularly moving was the way that Michael Boyd seemed to pick out family and relationships as a major theme throught the 8 plays. Sure, this is about kings and kingdoms and power; but it's also about families, and love, and loyalty. I think my favourite aspect of the whole series, seen as a whole, was the way that characters reoccur - Clive Wood as Bolingbroke and Henry IV, obv, but also that he reappeared to crown Richard III - so, whose family have a rightful claim to the throne? Which branch, descending from Edward III and his many sons, has rightful claim? Margaret, and her passion, misguided as it might be, but her family loyalty was unsurpassed? But best of all, a genius piece of casting, Keith Bartlett and Lex Shrapnel, first as the Earl of Northumberland and Hotspur, then as Talbot and John Talbot, then as their ghosts, then as Stanley and Richmond ( fair enough the last two aren't father and son, but they do have a paternal relationship on the battlefield at Bosworth). It worked fantastically well, not least because the two actors inhabited their roles with such passion you could not help but believe in them. . And for anyone who says Shakespeare has no relevance to modern life - go and watch "In the Valley of Elah" and see Susan Sarandon's scene where she says to Tommy Lee Jones "couldn't you leave me just one?" and tell me you don't see parallels with Talbot saying to his son "shall all thy mother's hopes lie in one tomb?"

Shakespeare is everything - love, hate, loyalty, treachery, passion, power, fun, bawdiness, war, dirt, humour - and more. It was one amazing and unique experience, and one I will not forget in a long, long time.

*Apparently I'm descended from John of Gaunt (red rose), but I was born in Yorkshire (white rose) - its probably a good job I claim Derbyshire as my county since I grew up there, otherwise I'd be schizophrenic!


Blogger SpiralSkies said...

Chickens and Shakespeare - what a fabulous combination.

12:19 pm  
Blogger Helen Smith said...

It sounds amazing.

I had heard about the rope work from another friend who, like you, saw the whole lot in one go recently.

I saw Ed Hall's condensed version of the War of the Roses 'Rose Rage' a few years ago in one sitting and I saw Henry IV pt i & ii at the National in the same day but I can't imagine 8 plays in one weekend.

Actually,I'm quite jealous!

2:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful review your appreciation and joy of being there shone through Sal and I only wish I could have been there too. I'm really looking forward to our trip in June and woe betide anyone with a mobile phone!! Nina x

9:26 pm  

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