Coriolanus -- Venue #13 (Winnipeg Fringe)

William Shakespeare's war-driven tragedy, Coriolanus, is not for the faint of heart. The story of a warrior who is given rule of Rome, but then reluctant to take on the artifice of ruling, Mad Cow productions bring us a brisk version of the lesser known play. It is staged making good use of the long alley in the space leading up to the stage, creating a sense of depth. 

The performances in the cast have a wide range; from the deft verbal swordplay of the more experienced performers, to the murky and unclear delivery from some of the cast's younger members, there are certainly moments where the plot is lost. This is unfortunate, as again, it isn't a terribly well known story, and the physical interpretation of the scenes (save for a few) is quite static, so it won't help audience members along. 

It isn't an easy task to climb this mountain, and overall the production does an admirable job in bringing it to life. 

Review - Cymbeline at RADA

Sometimes, directors make choices to situate a play in a specific place or time, and despite the many logical choices that may ensue, it simply doesn't work for the play. This production was almost completely opposite; picking up on various themes in the words of the text, the production was placed in a no-space, where all objects necessary appeared at the right time, rooms and spaces appeared, and seemingly insane costume or character choices just seemed to work, despite my inability to comprehend them from time to time. It is very rare that a director can make choices that appear so arbitrary, and yet the audience are completely willing to buy and go along with it.

The piece, running a solid 2.5 hrs with no interval, was a marathon for the performers, who each played multiple parts, sang scene changes, and had an epic danced battle between the Romans and Britons. The performances were not uniformly strong, however overall the ensemble shone and worked extremely well together as a cohesive unit.

A very enjoyable afternoon of theatre.

Review - King Lear - Belarus Free Theatre @ Shakespeare's Globe

This is the kind of production that changes your mind about everything. Belarus Free Theatre brought their politics to the fore very clearly on several fronts in this production. First, performing in Belarusian rather than the "legal" Russian of Belarus. Second, in their sparse, minimalist interpretation of the play, proving that you can take away the funding, the building, most everything, but you can't take away the fire of theatre when there is talent and something to say to the world.

When we critique most productions of Shakespeare, we critique the use of the poetry, the selected cuts, the understanding of the play. This production took away our ability to do this by being done in Belarusian, but also in the layering of sound, singing and piano under soliloquies, soundscapes created through noisy tarps and water; despite this, the sounds and images created on stage seemed to evoke the poetry in their very existence. Never before have I felt the cold fury of Lear on the heath in such a powerful manner, or the haunting moment of Lear mourning Cordelia's death. The incorporation of Orthodox religious-sounding songs, beginning with happier folk songs and evolving to dark chants haunting the pace underscored the piece perfectly. Lear's violence toward his daughters and everyone around, and their reciprocal violence toward Lear was frightening and stirring, evoking thoughts of life in an authoritarian regime. When Lear and Cordelia are caught after the French lost the war, the faceless soldiers, speaking in hushed tones sent chills up my spine.

This was my first experience of the Belarus Free Theatre's work live, having only read/heard about them. I will do everything I can to see their work again and again.

Review - Cymbeline by The South Sudan Theatre Company @ Shakespeare's Globe (Globe to Globe Festival)

There is something truly extraordinary about seeing performers so joyous to be performing, that when the curtain call begins, a full-blown dance party breaks out. This company, which has only existed for a year, born in Sudanese refugee camps, was presenting their first international performance, at the much publicized Globe to Globe festival. Working in translation to Juba Arabic, they presented Cymbeline as a story of love and war in Sudan. Accompanied by fabulous drumming (by the co-director and translator), Juba songs and dances were woven into the play, for entrances, exits, and the fantastic war scene. Each performer was fully committed to their character and the presence of each performer was undeniable. 

Now, as a piece of theatre, it was by no means the best thing I have seen. Jumping lines occurred with fair regularity (although in many instances, worked rather well for the energy of the piece), and some scenes felt flat. As well, even softer scenes, such as Imogen reading the letter and learning of Posthumous' location, came across as harsh, simply due to the nature of the sounds of Juba Arabic. . . as a result, some of the colour of the story was lost. Overall, however, the pure joy filled The Globe and infected everyone in the theatre.

 Sometimes theatre isn't about the perfect performance. It is, as a brilliant thinker once told me, about "bringing joy to the peeps". Per Brask, you were right.

Closing Time

My posting has slowed down significantly as classes wind down and assignments pile up. Our performances of interpretations of our Scene Study plays happened this week. First, on Monday, the Measure for Measure group presented their piece. I was really impressed by the way they merged all 8 scenes, individually conceptualized or devised, into a single evening response to the play. Some scenes worked better than others, but on the whole it was a highly enjoyable evening, presented by some talented individuals. I particularly liked the scene that turned one of the early scenes into a brothel; I have felt this seedy underbelly, the netherworld in this play, but so often people producing it are scared to "dirty up" Shakespeare. Kudos to my classmates for letting the Bard get messy!

Tuesday (yesterday) was our performance of responses to The Duchess of Malfi. Our class functioned a little differently, creating 3 separate short pieces on our own themes. I really loved seeing what the other two groups brought out in the text, looking at politics and power, and the other at game playing and fate. Our group's focus on women and power was successful, I think. I have a brief audience-video that I will post a link to shortly. Not the greatest vid, but a sense of what we did with the text, interspersing other plays that lend themselves to this theme. In many cases the text of those plays was undistinguishable from Webster's text; several audience members commented to us that our piece really affected them, made them think about violence and power, and how women even today are subjected to these injustices, these violations.

Elsewhere on my plate has been the portfolio process. I have used this blog as a starting point to create my written response to the course. It is finished!! I will be posting photos of the final creation tomorrow, before I hand it in.

Review - Hamlet, Schaubune Berlin @ Barbican

There is so much to say about this production. I had high hopes, having read at length about Thomas Ostermeier's work, and his penchant for tearing apart then sewing back together canonical texts. This afternoon was in no way a disappointment. His vision of the Danish castle as a gauche, messy, single room was pitch perfect; the set was at once beautiful and ugly, with gold chain curtains and flashy lights, actors in tuxedos juxtaposed against dirt covering the first quarter of the stage, and an increasing amount of mess (literally garbage!) littering the stage as the play went on. The actors, too, began beautiful and we saw them fall apart. Images of consumption were highlighted quite forcibly, with not only the actors being consumed (by guilt, by revenge, etc) but many scenes of actual consumption of water, beer, milk, liquid that looks like blood. The very first introduction to Horatio was with him sitting at the table, eating voraciously, with food all over his face. This symbolic representation of the characters' devolution was quite stunning.

The performances were remarkable: Hamlet (Lars Eidinger) was not the beautiful, brooding Danish prince we have come to expect, but rather a spoiled, overweight, moody brat, forcing his video camera into the faces of his family (and at times even the audience). Gertrude and Ophelia were played by the completely fabulous Judith Rosmair, who played the two women differently and yet the same, characterizing the echoes of these two women so central to Hamlet's life in one another. Her physical work both in the transitions from Gertrude to Ophelia and back, and more specifically in Ophelia's madness was completely transfixing; I couldn't stop watching her remarkable and specific movements and vocalizations. The other four (that's right, only 4) actors were fabulous as well, playing Laertes/Rosencrantz in the same actor and Horatio/Guildenstern as one, along with an actor for Polonius and one for Claudius.

What I found most fabulous was the self-awareness of the production, finding moments to highlight Hamlet's jester-like qualities, coming out to the audience, turning the play into a black comedy. And it did not feel in any way was all those things that flash through your mind reading the play, brought brilliantly to light.

Fabulous. I must try to visit Schaubune when I go to Berlin...and hopefully manage to catch their Measure for Measure in Paris. More!! I want more!!!!!

Shakespeare in a Pub

Spent Monday doing a workshop with one of my classmates' companies, Fine Chisel. They do devised work/new writing, using live music as a binding point, and have had some festival success in Edinburgh and elsewhere. This workshop was to help them work out some ideas about devising a Shakespeare piece they have been commissioned to do for a festival this Winter.

We worked into the text in various ways; initially just on a line, focusing on antithesis, and then lengthening that out into a full prologue, looking for ways to keep the energy and information flow in these prologues going. Tom suggested that the prologue often reads like a sports commentatary on what is to come. We had a lot of fun reading these prologues in this way, and found that this was a great way to really paint the picture in the text.

Finally, we worked on some scenes Tom had selected that they are looking at for the show; the idea is to situate all these scenes from various plays and with various characters in a pub, and see what comes out of the text in this new scenario. What I found really lovely was how easy it suddenly became to use the text conversationally and not just as lines thrown back and forth into space. Listening to the other groups, this was apparent in their work as well.

Generally this was a fun afternoon of light engagement with the same kind of work we have been doing in various ways. I hope I can work with Fine Chisel again in the future.

We're sill friends...

Today's dramaturgy class was great. We were learning about the side of the dramaturg's job that focuses on understanding classical texts, either to defend a decision to portray them in a way (EG as a tragedy) and in terms of managing the length, making informed cuts to the script to meet a production's length requirements.

This was lots of fun. Each group had to construct an argument either to show the play as closer to tragedy as Aristotlte describes it, or to another form; for Malfi it was a Melodrama, and for Measure it was comedy. It was really informative to have to craft an argument to support a side, even when you may not necessarily agree with that position as it pertains to the play. We got a bit snippy with one another in the spirit of debate as well.

Prior to that we rehearsed Duchess. My group has been assigned act 3 scenes 1 and 2, so one of the most juicy scenes in the play, where the duchess is found out by ferdinand. Once again I have been cast as the duchess, which makes me quite happy, as I find her to be a completely fascinating character. We have crafted a very still, frightening scene which clearly illustrates her movement from trying to cover up what is perceived to be her indiscretion, and "coming clean" so to speak. I am really excited about this scene, and hope we can bring something that really surprises and moves the class and Tom.

And you know we are really down to business when I'm reading Nietzsche on the train at 11:30pm. Preparing for my Theorizing assignment which involves writing a questionnaire to engage theoretically with one of the performances we have seen. We don't need to answer the questions yet, but rather do need to provide a bibliography that will support answering the questions....and then for our final assessment in this class will be a questionnaire engaging with two of the performances, which we then need to answer. It is an intereting mix of essay writing, and preparation for the idea that we'll likely one day be in a position to be creating exam or essay questions ourselves. That class has a lot that is structured to position us as tutors and educators, which is exciting. And terrifying.


today was a meandering sort of a day. Spent the morning reading and researching in preparation for Ludus Danielis. Also discovered the greatness of Foyle's bookstore, which is my official favourite place in London, I think. Short of going to a theatre-only book store, this shop has the largest selection of theatre, criticism, and SO many plays.

From here I had various meetings with my groups for Ludus Danielis, and then for Scene Study presentations. I'm feeling a bit anxious about these presentations, if only because of the very loose parameters we are working under. I think I have done my part of the research sufficiently, and we're going to rehearse it over the weekend. Part of me is anxious because I like to be in control, and have things done early....but it is good for me to feel this anxiety. At least I tell myself that.

Finally got to Acting Space. Our course leader, Sue Dunderdale, was observing part of the class today. Today Brian had sent us some Shakespeare texts to review in advance; 1.1 from Twelfth Night, and Marcus' speech upon finding Lavinia in Titus. I was excited, as I really love the character of Viola, and absolutely love that specific speech from Titus, having used it as a starting point for my physical piece Lavinia I created a few years ago. We began with some basics; read the Twelfth Night scene, decode what it means, then get in partners and talk it through colloquially from memory, to get the thought process going. From here, we began to discuss verse and how to approach it. Brian is a believer in understanding the pulse and rhythm of the text first, fully feeling in your whole body how the text moves rhythmically; from here you back off the technical reading of it and feel the emotional content.

We tried this out with a short few lines between Romeo and Juliet. Something Brian really emphasized is the need to fight for each word, and to push through to the end of the line, particularly in scenes, so that you are passing the energy and rhythm to your fellow actor. This was a lightbulb moment for me, as I realized that so much of the Shakespeare I had done previously was on soliloquies and sonnets...and I hadn't really given a ton of consideration to how to share that energy when someone else is doing half (or more!) of the speaking. One thing he had me do, which really worked, was to push against him and try to move forward as I said the line. This made me need to give each word its own space, literally having to fight for each one, and stopped me from grazing over words.

We then worked on the Titus speech; similarly we began by saying the text colloquially. From here we talked about things like technique; Brian was very cautious that any "rules" are dangerous. Anyone saying "always say a line in x way" risks losing the life and vibrancy of the text. It is important to know each word, why it is there, think about its meaning, and always feel the pulse of the da-dum da-dum da-dum underneath...even in cases of trochees or feminine endings. Another important thing is to keep that rhythm going between lines...don't let the ball drop so to speak.

The next exercises were really moving; we did focus work with our partner, just sitting silently and observing whether we were emerging or withdrawing from them. From here, we took a single line of the Titus speech and spent several moments just imagining it with closed eyes, breathing, in intense detail. From here we opened our eyes and said the line. The imagery in the words came to life in a way I have never personally been able to achieve before; my line was beginning "Alas, a crimson river..." and i literally saw this happening before my eyes in my imagination. I want to do more work like this as a way to approach text that is extremely descriptive, something I have always felt just a little detached from.

Shakespeare - Hamlet

Have read this one many times in the past as well, this time as required reading for Birkbeck Scene Study. I think my read this time was influenced by having just read Othello the day before, but i really felt the stagnancy of the pace in Hamlet's first acts this time around. Although much happens, the movement of the play is rather sustained until nearly the point when the Mousetrap is played, after which it spirals quickly.

Sort of fuelled by class discussion today as well, I began to think of where the climax is in the plot of hamlet. I almost feel that the play steadily rises at a crazy level of intensity until one moment; for me, the deaths at the end of the play are a denouement, the inevitable consequence of a decision. The climax, then, is the moment when Hamlet finally reasons with himself to the decision to kill Claudius. From here, the tension between action and inaction is imbalanced, moving swiftly from one action to the next.

Shakespeare - Othello

I have read this many times, for various purposes. It has always stood out to me as one of my favourite of the Bard's plays, simply because of its focus on jealousy and the result of assumption. This time what really stood out was the pace; while some plays take awhile for things to happen, in Othello the events fly by (despite the play's length) and the audience too feels swept away by the lies and deceit, until the moment Desdemona is killed. From here one almost feels suspended in time and the moments take gut-wrenching years, while Othello learns of the error in his ways.

Also really apparent to me this time was the abundance of crowded feet and female endings in the metre, along with the seamless transition between verse and prose as Iago goes from spinning his web to trying to maintain his cover. This is likely influenced by all the Berry I have been reading, but it stood out nonetheless.

Review: Macbeth - Barons Court Theatre, Hiraeth Artistic Productions

Upon entering the dark, low-ceilinged theatre at Barons Court, I was immeidately struck by how appropriate a venue this was for the bewitched Scottish play. The opening of the play did not disappoint; a spooky tableau was created to the sounds of the witches' chants and howling winds, in near dark, setting the tone for what was to come.

Unfortunately from there, I found the pace of the production up and down. At moments, notably those involving the witches, the mysterious nature of the play was fully realized, however at many others it felt lacking. Despite strong design and decent use of the small space, the cohesiveness of the lust within the play was missing. Rather than boiling slowly to the lust for power in the murder of Duncan, then spilling over the sides into disarray, this production seemed to have the fire too hot, then not hot enough over and over again. This was true for the whole of the production, as well as for individual performers.

Some individual choices struck me specifically; MacDuff seemed to be suspicious of Macbeth from the very first time we see them; Macbeth didn't require too much convincing, rather it felt he convinced Lady Macbeth to the deed.

Overall some good things came out of the production, but as a whole it lacked the drive and unyielding desire for power that ultimately leads to Macbeth's demise.