Monday 26 September, 2016

ALEC GUINNESS DOUBLE LOCKS HIS FRONT DOOR

Another astonishing piece of acting. I leave it to you to work out why.

You might want to spend 20 minutes watching the rest of the episode. This is how the BBC used to make drama, with care and detail. Look out for the weather on the car journey, and the lorry. Also you could try to spot any bad acting (I can't find any).

Friday 09 September, 2016

ALAN BATES CLIMBS OVER A STILE

In the first 20 seconds of this clip there is a great piece of acting.

Country stiles are designed with steps so they can be negotiated. But the steps are arranged at odd angles to make it impossible for livestock to get over.

Michael Henchard, the Mayor of Casterbridge, the character, would have been negotiating stiles all his life.

What I invite you to do is visit the countryside, find a stile and attempt to hop over it in the manner of this actor.

I am interested in how many times you need to climb over until you can do it like Bates.

Monday 29 August, 2016

CHEKHOV THE GIANT

or THE MONA LISA, improved by David Hare

 

Oscar, in his slightly florid way, called translation the art of pouring from the golden chalice into the silver, meaning that however wonderful the work there would be an inevitable loss of quality. As a mono-lingual Englishman I can only imagine how difficult or impossible it must be to translate Shakespeare …

The best translator of modern times was perhaps Michael Meyer, of Ibsen. Meyer cut, especially from the first act, took occasional liberties (else A Doll’s House would have a character called Dr Hank) but emphasised always that his attempt was to create an English version, as true as possible to the original, with characters talking and behaving as they would have in the 1890s.

Meyer loved Ibsen. Ibsen remained the star of the show, with the translator his humble servant.

Then there are adaptations. This is when a text is used as the basis for what is essentially a new play. A successful example of this is The Blue Room by David Hare. In 1897 Arthur Schnitzler wrote a series of humorous, light hearted scenes, all with the theme of seduction and sex, and published them three years later under the title La Ronde. Probably because of the subject matter, and possibly the simplicity of casting, the play became successful, infamous and was banned, adapted and talked about. Two films have been made.

Schnitzler himself would have readily admitted that the piece had no particular literary merit. It was this that The Blue Room was based on. Hare retained the shape of the original; the nature of the scenes and the length but everything else is new – the names of the characters and the dialogue, and the play is set in modern times.

It makes for an extremely entertaining and mildly erotic evening. No-one, David Hare (I assume) included, mistakes it for a great work or something that pushes the boundaries of dramatic experience. He is entitled to claim the work as his own as he contributed originality. All writers get their ideas from somewhere. I can’t believe Schnitzler would be offended in the slightest, on the contrary.

What Hare hadn’t done was modify The Mona Lisa.

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The Seagull by David Hare

Leonardo, or anyone who loved art, might not be so happy had he done so.

Now Hare has adapted The Seagull. Not translated – he can’t speak Russian – but adapted.

I, along with many others, feel that the writing of The Drama peaked with Chekhov. The Seagull is a great work, contemporary and relevant, not a light-hearted piece of soft porn.

In the same way that I wouldn’t want a cocky art student to scrawl a moustache on one of Giotto’s frescos, I am uneasy that David Hare wants to muck about with the work of a genius.

In the press release by The National the “play within the play” that Konstantin has written – performed in Act 1 – is referred to as an example of “cutting edge drama” which “changes the lives of all that see it”.

Of the play that Chekhov wrote, this is wrong. It is outside the limits of legitimate interpretation.

The “play within the play” exists so Chekhov can gather all his characters together in the same place in Act 1. Konstantin’s writing is represented by Chekhov as juvenile and of no consequence. Its content changes the lives of no-one.

If, in this version, Konstantin’s play is “cutting edge” and if it “changes the lives of all who see it” then what is being presented may be a good play but it is not The Seagull and is not by Chekhov.  

It is misrepresentation (worse than plagiarism) to say so.

As things stand – this is absolutely key, for me - someone could pull off a bookshelf The Seagull by Anton Chekhov (today, next month, in ten or fifty years) and read a play that is not The Seagull.

I hope it’s clear why this is wrong.

In a free world and with no new ideas of his own Hare is entitled to utilise the shape, structure, characters and themes of another man’s work to create a new piece, and, if he can, to persuade theatres to produce the result. But, as with La Ronde, he needs a new title.

Now, and in the future, it will then be a simple exercise to judge to what extent a pygmy was standing on the shoulders of a giant.

Sunday 14 August, 2016

I love sport, but...

rio logo

Did anyone notice how the drug-tainted (by association) Mo Farah was virtually ignored by his fellow competitors after winning the 10,000 meters gold medal at the Rio Olympics? I think this is quite telling.

The BBC, on the other hand, waxed breathlessly hysterical and referred to him as the greatest ever British athlete … wait for the faux shock to emerge from the same source as various revelations are made about who cheated.

This item goes on my acting blog because I suspect no other commentators will mention the legitimate doubts about “our Mo” until it becomes fashionable to do so.

Wednesday 10 August, 2016

ROMEO AND JULIET AT The Garrick

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

It was an evening where the old met the new and pretended to like each other. The tiny foyer of The Garrick, looking and feeling as it did in 1895 when The Importance of Being Earnest opened down the road, is now guarded by security, square-jawed and muscled, perversely relishing the task of rummaging through innocent handbags. It was the same on stage, where Derek Jacobi showed a few young people how to act.

And it was a very modern beginning when a sheet fell from the programme regretting that Richard Madden, due to play Romeo, was unable to perform. Subsequent research revealed that he has a “bad ankle”. So bad is his ankle that he has left the production altogether. I can’t be alone in smelling a rat; didn’t Brian Blessed play Lear a couple of years ago twenty minutes after having a heart attack? Isn’t the tradition that actors keep their ailments to themselves and just get on with it?

Did the show work? No, there was too much bad casting and too much bad acting. Was it worth seeing? Yes, the company cared and fought, sometimes too hard, for every moment. If they had sore ankles they kept it a secret.

People who know nothing about theatre and care less know the balcony scene. Two serious, shy adolescents, alone in a garden at night, embarrassed and awkward but ardent, each equally obsessed with the other. They inhabit an enchanted, private world that can be visited, if at all, only once.

As far as I know Shakespeare never attempted this kind of scene again; his love scenes, and falling in love scenes, are anguished, unfulfilled (at the time at least), triangle-ridden, painful clashes of unrequited passion. But not here. This scene is devastatingly simple. That’s why it’s so hard.

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Kenneth Branagh and Derek Jacobi

Neither actor got to the garden, nor even bought a ticket. As a dramatic event the evening died here. Lily James is mostly an assured actress; she has detail and an effortlessly rich voice. Only on the balcony did things go wrong. She spoke at a level that could be heard several streets away, never mind by the Nurse behind the curtain. Does Juliet really want everyone in the neighbourhood to know her business?

I wasn’t able to identify any effort to embrace the vulnerability required. It is possible to say “tis almost morning” without breaking stride or glancing at the sky, as she did, and make sense, except she didn’t. It was just another line. By then it seemed the actress was more concerned with getting the tiresome scene over with.

The new (and apparently fully fit) Romeo had an excellent start. He brought on the right kind of energy, listening and thus talking not reciting. Only during and after the balcony scene did he lose his way and become a photocopy of himself. Acting is like that. Each evening is a breathing animal. Once dead there is no comeback, even with two hours to go.

Never have I seen such a dreadful Nurse; a tangled, tension-riddled, inflected travesty of a simple woman. The stage was a mess when she was on it. Lady Capulet I couldn’t hear. She made noise but didn’t breathe. A brilliant female Peter. She listened; every action was a reaction. Where are the leads for this actress? I would like to see her Juliet.

Casting Derek Jacobi as Mercutio was not innovative or courageous, just daft. What needed to be testosterone-filled was instead 77 and camp. It made a nonsense of the exposition. Romeo and Benvolio, young lads up for anything, get into their best pulling gear and head off to a party on Saturday night – and take this old bloke with them?

He should have played the Friar, who was bizarrely cast as a young, anxious man. But … who cares? I suspect Jacobi, who fills every moment and makes it look simple, has never missed a performance due to a slight injury or a worse one.

Did he take the role because he felt his reputation needed adding to, or did he need the money? Why put his old bones through the stress?

I suggest he might just love acting…

His text is interpreted in a way that suits him, but it is an object lesson nevertheless. The talent is greater than the ego, though the latter may be large. When the reverse applies – perhaps to Richard Madden, who seems happy with the absurd justification for his absence, and perhaps also to Lily James, too precious to play a good scene honestly – chaos reigns.

To take a non-publicly funded Shakespeare into the West End is a marvellous, courageous thing. For nearly 50 years the State – by its financial policy – has decreed that only one company should be subsidised to produce Shakespeare and, indeed, uses this justification to refuse funding to others. As a result that company has become complacent and stale. If Romeo and Juliet is a challenge to the status quo then it is to be celebrated. I hope there is more to come.

Monday 01 August, 2016

BRANAGH’S ROMEO

I hardly ever pay to watch Shakespeare. For decades productions – by the subsidised companies at any rate – have done everything they can to escape from the text, to “interpret” or “modernise” (whatever that is). What they need to do is tell the story. For that they don’t need much set or costume, just a generousity of spirit and a love of the text. I am seeing Kenneth Branagh’s ROMEO AND JULIET this week. Branagh’s HAMLET is the best filmed Shakespeare I have seen so I have some hope. Report coming.

Romeo is one of the hardest plays to do. It is the worst tragedy; it relies, as the text endlessly acknowledges, on bad luck and coincidence rather than inevitability. There are three great scenes: Mercutio’s death, the Friar’s sudden rage at Romeo, and Juliet during and after her final meeting with the Nurse.

Anyone want to know what a great scene is?

Tuesday 21 June, 2016

Children of Beslan

Although the subject matter of this documentary is harrowing I find it uplifting to watch. It is also an opportunity for actors to study the behaviour of people recalling trauma. Amongst many breathtaking moments the boy entering the room where his father was killed and then thrown out of the window is to me the most astonishing. Set aside an hour and turn your phone off.

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