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!

A 49,00 word play

I don’t know how I missed this when I was in London last week, but it seems that there’s an eight-hour play currently running in the West End of London. And to rave reviews. Sounds ambitious? It is. It’s an off-Broadway hit called Gatz, that has transferred to London and is now wowing the audiences who can spare the almost eight hours to watch it. The reason for the length of the play is that it’s a reading of the entire 49,000 words of Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby.  London critics have generally loved it. Michael Billington, in the Guardian says: “A great American classic has been captured with total, transfixing fidelity by this dedicated ensemble.”

Sarah Crompton in the Telegraph said that “the other appeal of Gatz is that you go into a theatre early in the day, and emerge late at night, having devoted a day to one single cultural pursuit. This type of marathon is always a joy.”

The play is presented in a 1990’s office where one of the employees is waiting for a computer repair man to fix his computer. He picks up the novel while he’s waiting, and begins to read. As he does so, the workers around him begin to turn into the characters he’s reading about.

What fascinates me about this is the fact that it brings yet one more rendition of this famous book to the public. I’m not sure that someone who wasn’t already familiar with the novel would sign up to see it, but I like the idea that books can live on, not just in paper or eBook, but in films (although, of course, adapted) and now as a stage performance. Do I yearn to see it? I think I’d go if I were in London.

What do you think? Is this idea pretentious or brilliant?

A theatre-going innovation

Here’s an interesting development in the world of books and writing. Our local theatre, the Westport Country Playhouse, a venerable institution, is starting a new “literary salon series” called Books Worth Talking About!  The program starts in June and consists of a pre-show discussion with an author whose writing complements the production. I’ve not heard about this kind of collaboration before, but it makes perfect sense to have writers and theatre-goers discussing what they have in common. In particular, the first in the series relates to memoir as a healing medium. Those among us who write memoir will surely find the comparison between two different authors’ work helpful.

Nina Sankovitch

The first discussion, on June 13, will feature Nina Sankovitch, author of  Tolstoy and the Purple Chair:  A Year of Magical Reading,” a memoir in dealing with the death of her sister. She’ll be interviewed from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. by Tessa Smith McGovern, memoir collection editor,  writing professor at Sarah Lawrence and founder of eChook Digital Publishing.

Maureen Anderman

The play that follows is The Year of Magical Thinking, based on the National Book Award-winning memoir by Joan Didion.  Featuring Maureen Anderman, the play is about hope and renewal following the author’s loss of her husband.

If you have a ticket for the play in that evening, you can attend the salon.

Two more salons are scheduled – on  July 18, prior to a performance of Molière’s “Tartuffe”; and on August 29, before the world premiere of the comedy “Harbor,” by Tony Award-nominated playwright Chad Beguelin.

If you’re interested in this new collaboration, you can buy a ticket by calling the box office at (203) 227-4177, or toll-free at 1-888-927-7529. Tickets are available online 24/7 at