Shakespeare’s Globe On Screen

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I walk past Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre almost everyday on my way to and from my office. The crazy thing is I’ve never gone further than the bookshop. It’s been on my list of “must got and see something there this season” , but I’ve never quite got round to booking a ticket. (to my shame, I know!)

So I was delighted to have the chance this week to actually go inside and see the theatre but also to find out more about the Globe on Screen season. Globe on Screen enables those not able to come to this theatre a chance to see productions that have been put on here in their local cinema. They are also released via DVD aswell.

I firstly got to see the technical crew setting up and getting ready to record that evening performance of The Taming of the Shrew. I knew it must be a special theatre but to actually sit in it and see the space was wonderful. I’ll certainly be aiming to see something here before the season finishes, if not it’ll be top of my list for 2013.

I got to chat to Technical Manager Paul Williams and he explained how the production is filmed twice and then edited due to the surprises that an outdoor venue can provide such as helicopters circling and the beloved British weather. They also want to give a flavour of how the audience are such and integral part of plays at the Globe and so the technical demands are different to incorporate them as well as the action on stage.

I was pleased to hear that they also record the whole production via a static camera and so can I selfishly suggest they put a static camera version of the show on the DVD too? As I’d love to have the opportunity to see it presented like that rather than via the directors cut.

I also got to meet the director filming The Taming of the Shrew Ross MacGibbon and he explained how he goes about filming these unique productions. His meticulous and highly organised way of dealing with the plays is the reason I think he captures them so well. He explained that the advances in HD technology now make it possible to record live outdoor theatre and enable it to capture the essence of what it really is like to be there. Take a look at the trailer to see how well they’ve done it;

I got to see clips from each one of the upcoming plays in this Globe on Screen season, All’s Well That End’s Well kicks off the season on September 26th. Much Ado About Nothing continues the run from October 10th and Doctor Faustus concludes the season from October 24th. As you can see above, the quality is superb and they really had managed to capture the way the audience is part of the appeal of productions at the Globe. I kicked myself for missing Doctor Faustus when it was on last year and so I’m chuffed I can now see this production at a cinema near me.

Artistic Director Dominic Dromgoole was away in Washington with a production of Hamlet but he had a left a video message which explained why they wanted to share their productions in this way. His passion for what goes on the stage here and wanting to share it with as many people as possible is admirable. I also salute them for then sharing them via DVD, as he was keen that these productions be kept for posterity and shown for many years to come which I was so pleased to hear. If only other theatres followed suit and allowed their recorded productions to be released on DVD.

So if you live too far away to come to the Globe or like me have been tardy in getting to see something there, catch these at a cinema near you, or order online and watch in the comfort of your own home. These are some of the premier versions of these classic plays, getting to see them at the Globe is a real treat, for those that can’t this on-screen season will be the next best thing.

The Tempest – RSC – Royal Shakespeare Theatre – Review


Jonathan Slinger – Prospero

I finally made the obligatory pilgrimage to Stratford Upon Avon this week, to see a few of the Shakespeare sites and to visit the Royal Shakespeare Theatre / Company. I saw the RSC do the Histories Cycle at the Roundhouse way back in 2006, and I was excited to see the new theatre and my favourite play of Shakespeare’s, The Tempest. Even more so as Jonathan Slinger was playing Prospero. His performance as Richard II back in 2006, is one of my all time most memorable pieces of acting I’ve seen.

The new Royal Shakespeare Theatre
(picture courtesy of

The new RST is a wonderful venue. We dined in the Rooftop Restaurant which was a wonderful venue with delicious food. I only have two gripes about the theatre – firstly the bookshop leaves a lot to be desired, a really poor selection I thought. Send one of your team to the National Theatre’s bookshop to see how to do it! Secondly, the seats in the theatre are also pretty uncomfortable. The Tempest is “only” two and a bit hours long, I dread to think what it’d be like sitting on those seats for Hamlet! It seems a shame that in all the effort and money that’s been spent on the theatre in the upgrade something as basic as seating was ignored.

Anyway “The Play’s the Thing”…

As I’ve said The Tempest is my favourite play of Shakespeare’s the magical Prospero, the comedy trio of Caliban, Trinculo and Stephano, the mystical Ariel, the lovers of Miranda and Ferdinand and the obligatory baddies of Sebastian (here played by a female) and Antonio, make for a dramatic play. It also contains some of Shakespeare’s finest lines, along with my all time favourite:

“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”

No one does Shakespeare like the RSC and I’m pleased to say I wasn’t let down last night. I especially liked how Ariel was a mirror image of Prospero. Sandy Grierson, gave Ariel a nymph like poise and presence. Looking exactly like Prospero gave their relationship much more tension I thought. They both desire freedom, and that freedom is linked by what each can do for each other.

Jonathan Slinger gave his Prospero a complex range of emotions, not averse to snapping into a rage, we saw the confusion of the conjuror trying to manipulate the world via his magic to try to bring about the restoration he so strongly desires. Prospero is a hero, but with faults aplenty. Especially his treatment of the native Caliban. Prospero is a reflection of us all, trying to make our way through this life I feel, we all make mistakes, are blinded by our prejudices, but we are caught up in our own goals sometimes that we forget others around us.

The comedy was provided perfectly by Amer Hlehel as Caliban, Bruce Mackinnon as the drunk Stephano and Felix Hayes as Trinculo. Their physical and verbal comedy provided a great relief to the serious nature of this dark and melancholy comedy.

Emily Taaffe was a beautiful and fragile Miranda, whose love for Ferdinand was tangible. Solomon Israel played him with suitable amounts of dashing and desire. Their otherworldly wedding with conjured up spirits was a highlight for me.

I loved the haunting use of music throughout  as Ariel put some of the characters under his spell.

I came away with a greater appreciation for this mysterious and sublime play. Many of the words and images are still floating round my head, 24hrs later. I’ve come under Prospero’s spell once more and feel I shall always be so.

STARS : * * * *

Anonymous – A few thoughts (they’re not written by me though)


I headed off to the cinema today to watch Anonymous. An Elizabethan yarn that seeks to present the idea that Shakespeare was a fraud.

It’s 2 hours of fun, some great performances and a few twists and turns that keep you guessing. All in all a fun period piece. I loved seeing the Elizabethan world brought to life. I also think it showed us powerfully the devious and scheming world of the Elizabethan Epoch. Also the power of the playwright is shown, do they still have this power?

What of its controversial premise though? Not surprisingly it goes to a rather extreme end of the debate, and paints a portrayal of Shakespeare as a crude and illiterate actor. The focus of this film though is very much on the Earl of Oxford – as it purports that he wrote the plays, as it follows closely the Prince Tudor Theory (itself a derivative of the Oxfordian theory). The film offers nothing new to the debate, but I’m sure has brought it to a wider audience. It certainly got me to revisit my tomes and references on the subject, and as I did my Shakespeare module 4 years ago at college, I’m a bit rusty on the bard.

To me it is a fascinating idea, I know many feel it is elitist to propose that Shakespeare wasn’t educated enough to write what he did, but for me that’s not been a problem, as it is unusual (not impossible I hasten to add!) that Shakespeare could write such wonderful works.

Personally, I think the truth probably lies somewhere between the two. The fact that as far as we know, Shakespeare never was imprisoned even though some of his plays were highly political has always bothered me. He certainly had friends in high places to avoid a stay in the Tower. Also I’m sure he must have been given suggestions and informed of the histories by someone more schooled than him. However as an actor, I think Shakespeare had a superb understanding of what makes good drama and great plays (with the exception of Hamlet 😉 ) . That’s what I feel he brought to the table. As stated on this blog previously, I’m sure he collaborated more than we’re aware, with other actors and playwrights. None of this is to denigrate his work, in fact I think that is the hallmark of a shrewd and wise writer.

I enjoyed it, it’s not convinced me that Shakespeare was a fraud, but it’s certainly brought the Oxfordian Theory debate into the 21st century, which I’m sure will annoy many who wished to consign it to the 20th!

The Barefaced Bard?


It’s been the subject of speculation amongst scholars for years, and over the last few it’s seeped into the general public, with the conspiracy theories of Dan Brown and most notably the book The Shakespeare Secret by J. L. Carrell.

I've not read it, but it's on my wishlist - perhaps Father Christmas will bring it to me?

On walking through London Town I’ve seen many posters for the film Anonymous which I assumed was a conspiracy film, based on the current mask wearers situated outside St Paul’s Cathedral.

Could this be old Bill?

On seeing a trailer, I was surprised to see the idea of Shakespeare as a fraud was the basis of the film. The film certainly has a stellar cast and looks like it will contribute to the debate about what Shakespeare did or did not write. (I for one wish he hadn’t written Hamlet!) So it looks like the debate will become public domain for a few months, which will be interesting. I’ll try to catch the film as it looks like my kind of film, and I’ll comment here on what I think.

I’m intrigued in how the Bard himself has become a “fictional” character, with Shakespeare in Love, and now this film, we’re fascinated not just by his work, but by the man himself (of which scant is known). I’m sure some purists and tutors will not be happy with this portrayal, but if it gets people interested in Shakespeare I can’t see it being a bad thing.

The best biography I’ve read on Shakespeare is 1599 by James Shapiro, I found myself engrossed in the story, and time that he brings to life. I also like the idea of focusing on that one year. If you’ve not read it, I recommend it to you.

Best book on the Bard

Rehearsing a Right Rollicking Revue

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Come one, come all...

This will be a short and sweet blog by me as I’m currently a very busy boy rehearsing the next production I’m in. (see the poster above)

This is proving to be a real hoot, we’ve a fab cast who share a common sense of humour and silliness, which is essential for a Revue. It’s not without its challenges, the score has some demanding harmonies and I’ve got a solo to sing too. Aswell as appearing as a Fairy, Just William and various Elizabethan folks. Well I best get back to my script and score and “Brush up my Shakespeare…” (yep, we’re singing that too!)

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – The Lord Chamberlain’s Men – Dyrham Park – Review

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As I sat down in the beautiful grounds of the National Trust’s Dyrham Park, I was hoping the rain would stay away, which thankfully it did. Which meant I could enjoy The Lord Chamberlain’s Men and their production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the open air, rather than under an umbrella.

As hot air balloons glided past and birds sang and swooped above it was the perfect backdrop to this magical tale.

Although this comedy was written 400 years ago, it is still hilarious and a great piece of comedic theatre. The cast threw themselves into it, and were clearly having a great time which was infectious for the audience. The Lord Chamberlain’s Men are an entirely male cast, and the 7 men carried the entire play. With their chameleon like skill they seamlessly acted their roles switching from male to female and then to fairies! It was also wonderful to hear actors that could project their voices so not a word of this script was lost. Roddy Peters as Bottom is to be commended as he did this whilst wearing a donkey’s head too.

With a basic set which is creatively used and excellent costumes, they managed to transport us back in time and out of this world into theirs. The simplicity of acting, some music and costumes actually shows that a great script and cast is all that is really required, yes it’s nice to have all the whistles and bells sometimes, but this was so refreshing and actually more effective than some of the effects driven theatre I’ve seen. Andrew Normington, the director utilised the talent he had and let that and the play shine.

The play opened with a traditional Elizabethan song, followed by the cast serenading an audience member who was there on her Hen do. I love touches like this, theatre is at its strongest I feel when there is an acknowledgement by the cast of the audience, Shakespeare in particular.

Oliver Pengelly was a powerful Oberon and the perfect foil to Morgan Brind’s short and comic Puck. Their interplay as they realise Puck has mucked it up (try saying that fast 10 times), was perfect.

Peter Bray was a fabulous fairy. As Titania the Queen Fairy he floated in his gown and his falling for Bottom after he’d been changed to a donkey was very funny.

For me though, the highlight was the scene where the characters act a play for Hippolyta and Thesus. It literally brought tears of laughter to my eyes. Thomas Judd as Snout, had the audience in the palm of his hand with his portrayal of “Wall” and then “Lion”, great facial expressions and asides to the audience.  Jonny Bower as “Moonlight” likewise had great reactions from the audience. Tristan Bernays added the final flourish to this scene with Roddy Peters as the tragic double suicide was completed with some great laughs along the way. As Hippolyta says, “This is the silliest stuff that ever I heard”.  The comic timing by all in this scene was just stupendous.

It was great to see a mixed aged audience laughing and enjoying this play, I think many of the young people were not expecting to have such a great time, no doubt dragged along by parents (with the best of intentions).  As we all left chuckling and smiling, Shakespeare had worked his magic again thanks to this bewitching bunch of fairies.


Back to The Bard

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Well, its been 2 months since The Matchgirls, and so onto my next theatrical project which is…….. The Shakespeare Revue. This is a revue show based on The Bard and contains, sketches and songs by such writers as Victoria Wood, Stiles and Drewe, Cole Porter, Sondheim, Fry and Laurie, amongst others.

We had the read through last night which was a hoot, and I can see this its going to be a very funny show for the cast and the audience.

I’m the Production Assistant for it, which means I’m assisting the Director and doing lots of the general dogs-body work! We have the auditions in a few weeks and I wasn’t sure if I’d go for a role in this, but after last night I most certainly shall. (Whether I get cast is another matter, but still being involved as the PA will be great).

So it’ll all be go again soon, but the buzz of being involved in a production is worth it.

Is Hamlet the “Emperor’s New Clothes” of Theatre? – Hamlet at The National Theatre – Review


Rory Kinnear and Yorick

I LOVE the National Theatre and everything it stands for and I’m a massive supporter of it. I LOVE Shakespeare, he is a genius in the truest sense of the word, with a highly developed sense of humanity. (I also did rather well in my Shakespeare module at college so that warms me to him too!) I LOVE Nicholas Hytner’s directing skills and have enjoyed his previous work tremendously. So I should have been in for a treat last night as I settled down at the National to see Hamlet.

On reading Hamlet for college I had a feeling that this wasn’t a very good play. It’s overlong, turgid in places and seemed to me to be a tad self-indulgent by the Bard. On re-reading it, I still felt this, and on subsequent readings still have that thought. However, as so many seem to think this is the greatest play of all time, I thought I’d hold off my heretical thoughts until I’d seen it visualised on stage, as so often it’s easy to miss something when reading a play text.

Last nights production was “special” in the fact it was filmed live and beamed to 14 different countries and to a large number of UK cinemas as part of the NT Live initiative, which I think is a brilliant idea and I commend the NT for such foresight to be doing this. Before the play we were treated to a 10 min video where Nicholas Hytner and the cast talked about the play and we were shown lots of clips from the rehearsals. In this Nicholas Hytner talked about his vision for setting it in a modern time and in a totalitarian state where “everyone is being watched” just as they were in Elizabethan times. I was intrigued by this and thought – “aha, this could be the thing I’ve not ‘got’ in Hamlet before”. The lights dimmed and off we at the National and the thousands throughout the world went into this vision.

Two hours later, I was pleased the interval had arrived, I was literally numb and desperate to stretch my legs and have a drink. As I looked around, I wasn’t the only person trying to hide the fact that this wasn’t much fun. However most were saying how marvellous it was and how Rory Kinnear was playing Hamlet like this…. but Tennant had done this…Oh and had you seen Jude Law’s? I kept my lips tight, maybe the security cameras on the set were now being trained on us. I dare not be informed on. For the first time EVER in my theatrical experience, I was pondering leaving at half time, could I really put my buttocks through another ninety or so mins? In the interests of this being an important play and that I couldn’t write a review unless I had seen the whole play I returned. Often Act 1 can be a bit slow but Act 2 makes up for it, such as in Women Beware Women. Alas poor Yorick this was not to be.

The end finally arrived and the audience clapped, whooped and a few even stood. I was just pleased it was over and I am considering making watching this an endurance event for the Olympics in 2012.

So what made this such a bad experience??? Firstly I truly believe this isn’t a good play. It’s far too long and needs editing to up the pace. Yes, it does have some WONDERFUL sayings in it that have found their way into our everyday speech. To quote from it, “The play’s the thing”, and this isn’t Shakespeare at his best in my opinion.

The modern setting also was lost on me, this is a “surveillance society” so why don’t any of the numerous guards around the set, ever report what they’re overhearing?? Is no one watching the CCTV cameras? Also it was rather convenient that when Hamlet kills Polonius, there are no guards or cameras watching. If they had it would have saved us about 30 mins of the play.

Shakespearean Product Placement

Was it the cast? Well here’s the rub. I take my hat off to them for doing this demanding play. It truly is a marathon and they deserve to be congratulated. However I have an inkling that the reason Hamlet is touted as “the greatest play ever”, is because it allows the cast and especially whoever is playing Hamlet to be totally self-indulgent for 4 hours. It reminds me of a juggler, musician, dancer or magician who is talented but spends most of their act showing off and entertaining themselves rather than the audience. Rory Kinnear’s Hamlet while accomplished and clever, left me cold. His wearing of a T-shirt with “Villain” written on it seemed a bit shallow and I wasn’t surprised to see them for sale in the foyer, but such “product placement” isn’t necessary. Hamlet is a character with few (if any) traits that help you like him, and I didn’t so perhaps Kinnear did his job, as I couldn’t stand Hamlet. When he asks, “Am I a coward?”, if it wasn’t being filmed I probably would have yelled out “YES!”.

A friend asked if the filming was intrusive and put me off, not at all, the film crew were actually fairly inconspicuous and unnoticeable which is amazing. I’d definitely see a NT Live event at the National again.

So I’m left in a quandary really. I’m not trying to be contrarian or controversial for the sake of it. I just don’t like this play and seeing it, reinforced that, despite me hoping the opposite would occur. This “emperor” of a play certainly has no clothes as far as I’m concerned.