Monday, March 31, 2008

Want to meet?

The good thing about this post is that typing no longer makes my hands hurt, after last week's attenpt to find out whether I can still climb rocks (which did make my hands hurt).

Anyway, this time next week I will be in LA - anyone out there in Lala land want to meet for a coffee/cocktail/lunch/whatever? Drop me an email if so.

Last Friday V+B+I went to see "The 39 Steps" at York Theatre Royal - can honestly say, have not had such a good laugh in a long time. It's a parody of, yet also a homage to, the original 1930s film (complete with Hitchcock cameo) but its very sweetly done, so you're laughing at the take off of the style, which is great, whilst also enjoying the story. A cast of four act out the whole "film" - and I have to admit that the Robert Donat version of this tale is for me the original and best, so to pull off such a clever and knowing parody while also remaining true in some way to the spirit is a remarkable feat. Well worth going to see, if it tours near you.

Until LA .....

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!

Monday, March 17, 2008

That's it, then

Am back home, still reeling in awe at the brilliance of the Histories cast, and revelling in the sheer joy of spending a chunk of time with a bunch of people who love the same stuff as me. Hello Kathy in D49 and E10, Paul in D46, Jenny occasionally in D47, Steve in M62, and also hello B28 who left me a comment. By Sunday, it really did feel like being amongst a band of brothers, we few, we happy few who were lucky enough or privileged enough to have shared this wondrous experience. As Michael Boyd said on Sunday, "gentlemen in England now abed shall think themselves accursed they were not here." Absolutely.

I will write considered and fully thought through reviews soon, possibly tomorrow, but meanwhile check out Jenny at whatsonstage, and courtesy of the fantastic resource that is the RSC website, gaze upon the very lovely Lex Shrapnel aka Harry Percy, John Talbot, and Richmond/HenryVII:

Am currently severely tempted to go for a trilogy day at the Roundhouse in London, to see H IV pt 1 and 2 and HV again. Oh, what to do! (You just know I'm going to be on the phone in the morning, don't you?)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Almost done

Sunday morning, and there's only one play left to see, plus a talk from Michael Boyd, which I'm looking forward to. It's funny, there was a point on Saturday when I felt rather overwhelmed at the thought of another 5 plays to see, but now, it seems to have flown by.

I sat next to someone on Friday who was blogging after each play for, so it'll be interesting to check her reports out in due course. I didn't have computer access to blog after each one, so here's my notes, briefly:

Just over half way (Saturday morning)
Five plays in, 9 hours in a theatre yesterday and 3 so far today with 6 to go - still magical and engrossing. Everyone doing the full cycle has a Histories bag, so other "Gloriosi" are easily identifiable. Henry V was fab, Geoffrey Streatfield really nicely shifting from feckless Hal to
regal Henry. Ace battle scenes, really liked the foppish French and earthy English characterisations. Henry VI pt 1, v good, loved the French court as a fashion parade.

Beginning to flag (Saturday afternoon)
Just finished Henry VI pt 2 and am beginning to flag a little - definite post lunch slump. Nothing to do with the acting, which is superb, more feeling tired in a warm dark room. Had a fabulous seat on row J (have been shifting about a bit as I complained about my original seat - K64, its obstructed view, don't buy it!) sitting next to John Shrapnel, father of Lex (with whom I am still smitten, but I didn't tell his Dad that).

One puzzle - the last two nights, some women have thrown daffodils onto the stage at the end of the play - why? And will Daffodil Women be back again tonight?

Nearly the end (Saturday night)
Can't quite believe 7 plays have gone by so fast. Henry VI, which I've only ever seen as the two part Rose Rage by Propeller a couple of years ago, as a whole makes a very detailed and compelling picture of England's fall into the Wars of the Roses - and you can't doze off for a moment otherwise you lose track of which lords are which and who's on which side. Brilliant stuff. Sustained and enthusastic applause for ther actors at the end, which is so well deserved.

Daffodil Women were tonight transformed into Carnation Women - what's that all about?

And now I'm heading back to SuA, brunch, talk, play (Richard III) and reception. Proper and more thoughtful reviews tomorrow, probably.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Two down, six to go

Am in Stratford for the Glorious Moment weekend, 8 Shakespeare history plays in 4 days, and typing very fast in SuA library because play #3 begins at 3!

Proper reviews later, when I have time for contemplation- Richard II last night was very good - Jonathan Slinger a wonderful verse speaker if a little on the foppish side as Richard. The staging is wonderfully bare, with a few idiosyncracies - rope-born saddles for the Bolingbroke/Mowbray duel, for example. Period costume, and some of the costumes are amazingly lush and detailed.

Henry IV part 1 this morning was fabulous - I am completely smitten by Lex Shrapnel as Harry Percy, Hotspur - his verse speaking is completely wonderful, he is so physically present in his role, he is fabulous to watch. The play itself feels very much like "part 1" - it ends quite abruptly, and I can't wait to get back in and see part 2 - and on that note, must dash!

More later ...

Saturday, March 01, 2008

I tag everyone

I read this set of questions and answers on Far Away's blog, and tag everyone who reads this to answer.

• Why did you start blogging and why do you continue?
I started just before going to Cannes in 2006, because I thought it would be fun to chart the experience, and also because I thought a blog would be an easy way for family and friends to follow the process, rather than lots of bitty emails. I continue because I like writing reviews, and I like feeling part of something, and the scribosphere is something.

• How do you decide what to blog about?
I usually try to blog reviews of everything I see, theatre and film wise, and things I do that are writing related, plus a sprinkling of posts about the garden, the chickens, and cooking, mainly because my blog is a personal blog rather than a screenwriting blog. I wouldn't presume, in my position, to tell people how to do it - I'm happy charting what I do, and whether or not I'm sending stuff off and whether it gets accepted, and I think that one of the good things about blogging is the sharing of experiences.

• Do you write straight out or pre-plan what you’re going to write?
Bit of both. Sometimes when I'm at a play or a film I'm already forming the sentences that will make up the review. That tends to lean to it not being a great review. Sometimes I just sit down and start to type.

• Do you censor yourself?
Yes. (a) some of my family read it (b) some of my family don't want to be in it (c) I try not to be really rude about stuff that in other circumstances I might be rude about.

So, what about you?

Short stuff

Lucy Vee has news of a short script comp: full details here; as she says, it's cheaper to enter than the BSSC, and both have early deadlines which make it even cheaper.

The call has also gone out for one minute plays for GI60 (Gone in 60 seconds). Details here, along with the videos of last year's plays in both New York and Harrogate, so you can have a look at the potential competition. Mine's in the Harrogate section, and is the sixth play, beginning at about 7:36, if you want to skip forwards. I didn't go to see it, so I'm pleased to see what they've done with it - a minor change in the script which works well - and also that the audience laughed. Phew.