All the year’s a stage…

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.)

midsummerI 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.

tumblr_mpdukq33xs1qzhcjro1_r1_500On 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.

twelfth-night-on-stage-seating1But 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.malvolio 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!

25 best sites for literature lovers

themillionsFlavorwire, as regular readers know, is one of my favorite websites, where I’ve been known to spend too much time (thought because it’s about all things literary, artistic etc I don’t feel too guilty). Recently, Jason Diamond, one of their writers,  came up with The 25 Best Sites for Literature Lovers. I expected that I’d know most of them, but I was intrigued and surprised by the list. It included stalwarts like the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Paris Review Daily, and Granta, but there were many others I hadn’t heard of, like The Millionsrecommended_reading_logoElectric Literature’s Recommended Reading and the Public Domain Review – even a couple of literary podcasts. Well worth a look when you need to take a break from whatever you’re supposed to be doing…

P.S. Last Monday’s headline post was An English Room: Photos of Benedict Cumberbatch, Stephen Fry and more in their favorite rooms. What’s not to like?

Why we need to invent new words

Andrew Kaufmann of the Guardian newspaper in London has an interesting POV. He thinks that instead of criticizing new words in the language and trying to squash them, we should be welcoming and even encouraging them.  He has a point. There’s nothing more aging than constantly saying “why can’t people talk properly, the way they did in my day?” Stephen Fry reminds us that if that attitude had prevailed, we’d all still be speaking Shakespearean English. Whereas, with the evolution of language, we can use the many words Shakespeare invented and enrich the language with new ones. Here’s the beginning of Andrew Kaufmann’s article:

Why we need to invent new words

Don’t let the dictionary define what you say. Make up your own words. Here are rules you need to follow

'What a cidiot!' Country folk know how to handle snow, unlike this urban driver. Photograph: Philippe Huguen

‘What a cidiot!’ Country folk know how to handle snow, unlike this urban driver. Photograph: Philippe Huguen

Do not be afraid to make up your own words. English teachers, dictionary publishers and that uptight guy two cubicles over who always complains about the microwave being dirty, they will all tell you that you can’t. They will bring out the dictionary and show you that the word isn’t there – therefore it doesn’t exist. Don’t fall for this. The people who love dictionaries like to present these massive tomes as an unquestionable authority, just slightly less than holy. But they’re not. A dictionary is just a book, a product, no different from Fifty Shades of Grey and only slightly better written. But you must be careful. Every new word must be crafted. It has to have a purpose, a need. A new word cannot be created with a fisted bash to a keyboard. Like every other word in the language, your new word should be a mashup of pre-existing words. You can steal bits from Latin and German, like everybody else did. Or you can use contemporary English in a new way. But you must capture something that already exists, which for whatever reason has been linguistically mismanaged. Here is an example:

Blursing: noun

When an event, gift, or circumstance presents qualities and consequences that are simultaneously positive and negative: Jenny was made partner but it was a blursing because her hours were so long that her husband left her.

Why not just say “curse and blessing”? Well, for one thing that is cumbersome. But more importantly, something that is both a curse and a blessing is different from a blursing.

And he’s got more words (cidiot, oprahcide, and bironical among others) in the rest of the article. Read it here.