It’s been quite a year for Shakespeare. I haven’t had a year like this for a long time, perhaps never. I’ve seen 6 different Shakespeare performances, with the accent on ‘different’.
I started in April with Hamlet, starring Paul Giamatti at the Yale Rep. I thought he was a little old for the part, and I found the American accent was getting in the way of my enjoyment, but he gave it the good old college try…
At the end of May it was a terrific production of Twelfth Night at the Hartford Stage. No world famous actors, but an absolutely stunning set design – the whole thing takes place in and around a maze which rose and fell as the scenes changed (see the video below). Completely original, and something I’ve come to expect from Darko Tresnjak, the Artistic Director there. (I’m thrilled to see one of his productions opening on Broadway – he deserves it.)
I was back in New Haven appropriately enough, on June 20th , the day before midsummer, for A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the University Theatre. What made this production by the British company, the Bristol Old Vic, was that it incorporated puppets of varying sizes, made by the Handspring Puppet Company, who made the horses for the stage production of War Horse. It seems odd to start with, since we could see the actors as well as the puppets, but given the dreamy nature of the play, I soon suspended all disbelief and just sat back to enjoy it. You can see the mixture of live actors and puppets on the right.
There was a break until early October, when my son Fred brought home the DVD of Much Ado about Nothing, an absolutely delightful and funny version shot in modern dress and black-and-white. As a Brit, I’m always a bit skeptical about the accents used, but this time the delivery was so good that the accents didn’t matter at all. I highly recommend it as a way of easing young people into Shakespeare.
On the more serious side, The National Theatre in London broadcast Macbeth, starring Kenneth Branagh as the blighted lord. I love these NT Live transmissions from the NT. They’re available in movie theatres and universities around the world, so really feel I can stay in touch with London theatre. This production was staged in a former church, and I can honestly say that with mud and straw spread along the nave, and the fact that it was played without an intermission, made it a unique (not to mention messy) production.
But finally – the best of the best. I saw the London Globe Theatre’s production of Twelfe Night (Shakespearean spelling) in New York. And I had a ticket to sit on the stage (first seat on the left in the photo, right behind the actor…). I was in heaven. The play is performed exactly as it would have been in Shakespeare’s time: all the parts are played by men, and all the costumes are authentic – no zips, but plenty of laces to hold things together. The cast dressed on stage and I was sitting 3 feet away. Some of them come over to chat, and during the play itself, Sir Tobe Belch came over and asked me to hold his goblet for him. Mark Rylance was stunning as Olivia, Stephen Fry was a fabulous Malvolio, and I laughed all the way through, so terrific was the acting. All in all, I had the experience of a lifetime.
From thee, Mr Shakespeare, the pleasure of the fleeting year!