This blog is in association with www.teachyourselfacting.com providing access to an amazing range of presentation and performance skills training.
As this worrying year moves into its closing months, as voices from the dark side call triumph on both sides of the Atlantic, I thought a soothing image of sunset over calm waters might help us feel a bit better. It’s a shot I took a couple of weeks ago in the Arabian Sea – ironically in the most pirate-infested part of the world’s oceans. I was there to run some acting workshops for passengers on a ship, which mercifully slipped through unnoticed by Somalian boarding parties, and peace reigned. Oh that it would elsewhere, but with HMS UK casting off into choppy Channel waters steered by Mrs May with Boris holding the map, and with the rudder of the Free World about to be grasped by Donald Trump, we could dear friends be in for an interesting voyage…
Back here in the UK, as I write there is snow in the north and bitter winds driving sleet across the reservoir at the end of my garden. On either side of dodging seaborne kidnappers in the the tropics, there have been theatre visits and other events in London.
I had the great joy of meeting one the TYA overseas clients, Joann Valley, who has been taking Shakespeare by Skype classes with me for several years, and who was in transit between Ohio and Russia. We met at Shakespeare’s Globe, and saw a matinee of “Imogen”, a new take on “Cymbeline”. This had lots of noise, pulsing blasts of electronic music, lots of young energy, and finished with – oh welcome change from the lumpen hopping about which ruins the curtain-call of many an English Shakespeare production – a really gutsy street-dance, in which Joann joined with glee. She set off for the land of Chekov with warm thoughts of London and our immortal Bard
I was delighted that she had enjoyed her first experience of the Globe, and yet, and yet… I couldn’t help but note my own inner misgivings. There’s always a place for rock’n’roll Shakespeare (is anyone here like me, old enough to remember “Catch My Soul“?) but so much research, so much effort so many pounds and dollars went towards re-creating the Globe on Bankside, pennies raised in response to the magnificent vision of Sam Wanamaker. A vision allowing today’s directors and actors the chance to match their creativity against the genius of Shakespeare and his contemporaries using the same tools, in the same physical environment. This has been the exact opposite of a dry academic exercise – Mark Rylance and Dominic Dromgoole produced glorious, vibrant productions – think only of the Rylance “Twelfth Night”, of Dromgoole’s rich and varied seasons, in which actors of the calibre of James Garnon, Eve Best, Michelle Terry and Jamie Parker took possession of that challenging wooden “O” and made us thrill to the words, to relish the energy and excitement of the stories, often with the most basic of lighting, and without a microphone or loudspeaker in sight.
But days after our visit came a bombshell. Following a series of “controversial” productions, and I imagine a series of quite lively meetings, the governing council of Shakespeare’s Globe announced that Emma Rice – appointed a few short months ago as the theatre’s Artistic Director – is to be asked to stand down at the end of her current two-year contract. Cue howls of outrage in the London arts community. An exciting, innovative talent had been turfed out by the forces of reaction, demonstrating that no worthwhile creative could ever create good work within the stifling limits set by such a theatre. Well sorry chaps, that’s simply not true – see above. A letter in The Guardian, for me, nailed it: “The Globe can embrace all the rampant creativity the plays were designed to cultivate and still to its own self be true as the “radical experiment to explore the conditions within which Shakespeare and his contemporaries work…” “
Quite so. Messing about with Shakespeare’s plays is now the norm, for God’s sake – there’s absolutely nothing radical or innovative left. Every drama group in every college throughout the English-speaking world does “concept” Shakespeare – on bicycles, on pogo-sticks, set in swimming pools, in media-company offices, etc etc. The Globe offers a wonderful opportunity for directors with courage and confidence not to impose, but to allow the magic waiting in those fabulous texts to emerge and do its work.
But, as with Brexit, until 2018 – until which Emma is still in charge – there is still time for doubters to be proved radically wrong. Her previous work with the Kneehigh company was indeed innovative and exciting: her production of “Brief Encounter” gave me one of the best evenings I’ve spent in a theatre anywhere. The timing of the Globe board’s announcement is at least questionable, as she’s hardly had time to hit her stride. She may yet confound them all, her 2017 Shakespeare shows could take the Globe to new and amazing levels, perhaps after all the board will beg her to stay and accept a new contract, whereupon like Coriolanus she may well turn her back on the common cry of curs and seek a world elsewhere.
Moving indoors, I saw a cracking play at the Royal Court – “Torn” by Nathaniel Martello-White – a sharp, clear-eyed breakdown of life in a mixed-race, urban family, rich in character, rich in use of language, resonant and memorable. One of Nathaniel’s class-mates during his time training as an actor with us at RADA – James Hillier – was in the cast, giving a cracking, arresting and wonderfully layered performance. Look out for both these guys – undiluted, disciplined talent, bringing to our trade what the football commentators call “real quality”
And talking of quality, while the London theatre explores kingship through a gender-blind prism (see this blog’s September entry) television drama has been busy with the lives of two famous queens – Victoria and her current descendant, Elizabeth the Second. Cressida my daughter and I became totally engrossed in ITV’s “Victoria”, happily suspending disbelief as a brilliant cast led by Jenna Coleman, Rufus Sewell and Tom Hughes took us through this – of course carefully tidied-up and disinfected – slice of history. Whatever your politics, the life and loves of people in extraordinary circumstances, well chronicled and performed, make great drama – and the British royals of almost any era live in undeniably extraordinary circumstances, begging to be dramatised. Ask Will Shakespeare.
So we sat down to watch the new Netflix series “The Crown” with eager anticipation – after all, it’s the same story as “Victoria”, fast-forwarded a century or so. But alas try as I might, for me suspending disbelief was a struggle. Now “The Crown” has good actors – Claire Foy and Matt Smith as HM and HRH respectively – and reportedly a MASSIVE budget, and it must be said has been well reviewed.
It’s not because I’m old enough to remember much of the story in real life, and indeed many of the characters are still with us. After all, I enjoyed “The Iron Lady”, despite being completely aware of Meryl Streep acting an all too familiar British politician, and I know Jenna Coleman is far prettier than even the most flattering portrait of Victoria. But both those performances are so well-rounded and complete that I gladly went along with their stories. In “The Crown” there is diligent attention to period detail, the research has clearly been extensive: plausible moments like Princess Elizabeth rushing to visit her seriously ill father, and on arrival instantly dropping curtseys to both her grandmother Queen Mary and her mother Queen Elizabeth, protocol observed scrupulously no matter how distressing the family crisis.
However, I have to say I nonetheless struggled to engage in it as drama, and it’s tantalising to try to work out why. My guess is that it’s not the actors, it’s the directing of the actors, and it’s some of the script. I used to run a workshop at the Actors’ Centre on “British Class”. How do you get inside a character from another era and from a sector of society utterly different from your own background? The era bit is often just plain technical – the etiquette of how to cut a cigar, how to curtsey etc But it’s the core behaviour that’s difficult. Without actually having endured the rigours of Gordonstoun School, without having served as a wartime naval officer, without having lived a life surrounded by folk hanging on every word you utter, how do you arrive at that ducal way of walking, that unique way of talking? It’s tricky stuff: you really need lots of support – and of course dialogue that rings true. At one point Prince Philip said to the infant Princess Anne – “Now run along and play and I’ll be right over…” Right over?
Before the memories of the Summer of 2016 fade, here’s one that will last my remaining years on the planet. Recent generations of RADA-trained actors will tell you without hesitation that they owe much of their confidence, much of their success in life to the support they had as students at Gower Street from the Academy’s Registrar. This summer we celebrated twenty-five years of extraordinary service by Patricia Myers OBE, at a lovely event organised by the tireless Chairman, Sir Stephen Waley-Cohen, at the Garrick Club. Pat’s amazing energy, devotion and humour saw off not just many a student crisis, but many a crisis afflicting her colleagues, including me. I was so glad my office opened directly opposite hers: at difficult times Pat could be relied upon to reach into the desk drawer and produce her famous silver wand. One swift wave, and shadows receded.
The Garrick event was actually quite overwhelming – literally hundreds of graduates attended, and more took part in the tributes by video-links from all over the world, including Hollywood. Not many people can be said really to have Made a Difference to others’ lives, and it’s a rare thing for good works to be celebrated on quite such a scale. So huge thanks to Sir Stephen for thinking of it, and with the RADA Council making it happen.
So, OK, what lies in store over the Pond? Leaving aside the uncomfortable truth that Mrs Clinton actually polled overall two million more votes than Trump, has his campaign been nothing more than a pantomime performance?
Trump’s suddenly soothing and conciliatory victory speech had the air of an actor who’s spent months rehearsing Abanazar the Wicked Wizard suddenly deciding he’d rather play Henry the Fifth. Then talking of class…his body language during the “hand-over” meeting with Barack Obama was that of a chauffeur called into the dignified Presidential presence to explain why a puncture hadn’t been fixed.
But this is no time for jokes. Now more than ever we need hope, we need optimism. On the morning the news of Tump’s triumph broke, I opened my curtains to a vista of ominous, grey autumnal drizzle.
But within hours, lo, the heavens cleared and God sent a rainbow….
IF YOU WOULD like to respond, if you disagree with any of the above, or would like to add a comment or two, I’d love to hear from you – you can do so anonymously, if you like – and I’ll happily publish your views. Just click on the word “Comment” in the little box below or you can e-mail me via firstname.lastname@example.org
This blog comes to you courtesy of www.teachyourselfacting.com. If you need help with voice-training, presentation preparation, getting ready for an audition or access to classes and advice from some of the best trainers in the UK, just click on the link.
STAY INFORMED – JOIN THE TYA MAILING LIST! Just send your email address to email@example.com. We’ll send you instant alerts to exclusive special offers on training courses at our and related training sites, and of course to the next blog post.
This blog is in association with http://www.teachyourselfacting.com providing access to an amazing range of presentation and performance skills training
Thank you for returning to this blog, which is now published on two platforms, Blogspot and WordPress. If you know anyone who might be interested in it but who lives in a part of the world with poor access to Google – e.g. mainland China, please send them this link:
It’s been an unusual summer. The hottest English August on record, with comparatively low-key Games in distant Rio, give or take the odd stamped foot in Moscow. We’ve had the weirdly reminiscent sights of Downing Street staff welcoming a new Tory lady boss, of the Labour Party again throwing its lot behind a shambling north London no-hoper, and of Hull City FC clambering, wide-eyed and unsteady, once more onto football’s top shelf.
Me, I went to France. Old friends invited me to stay in Cap D’Antibes, on the Côte d’Azure.They have a lovely quiet house, a few steps away from the beach where in times gone by Picasso sketched, Scott and Zelda drank, and Ernest Hemingway preened, all guests of a rich, hedonistic American couple called Gerald and Sara Murphy. Scott Fitzgerald wrote about it all in “Tender is the Night”. Another member of the group was the painter and ceramic artist Fernand Léger, now celebrated by an exuberant museum a few kilometres inland.
Léger’s work is joyous: I love his wacky ceramic stuff – like the “Walking Sun”, and “The Wrestlers” – the latter perhaps hinting at party games down at the Murphies….
Soon after the end of the Second World War the town of Antibes presented Pablo Picasso (in self-exile from his native Spain, then still ruled by fascism) with a studio in a fine medieval tower overlooking the bay. Now the Picasso museum, it has a stunning terrace hosting work by contemporary sculptors – and it’s not hard to see why they call it the Blue Coast….
On my last evening with my friends Doug and Kate, we sipped wine in their garden while the Bastille Day fireworks crackled and whizzed across the bay in Nice. At one point the noises became very clear loud bangs, and I made a facetious remark about war breaking out. Shortly afterwards we turned on the TV news and discovered the dreadful truth about the horrible terrorist attack.
Mass murder, untold grief caused by religious bigotry – does our new PM really think it’s helpful to exhort religious parents to send their children to exclusive single-faith schools?
After a much-delayed flight back, I set about preparing to work on a drama project in Hampshire, and was rewarded by several glorious sun-filled weeks in one of England’s most idyllic counties. I stayed with my sister in the interesting market-town of Alton, full of Jane Austen associations (as indeed is my sister, a long-serving volunteer at the nearby Jane Austen museum) and on my free days we explored the country and the coast, along the way sampling cream teas, fish suppers and local ales.
The Hampshire seaside options are rich and varied – for example, you can watch cars drown at Bosham, fly kites on Hayling island, or re-paint the Spinnaker Tower at Portsmouth….
For those like me saddened by the closure (or trendy, ruinous modernisation) of so many urban pubs, it’s a joy to report that here flourish still many traditional hostelries, some hidden deep amongst inland forest hills, where it would be no surprise to find Frodo Baggins hobnobbing with Tom Bombadil over a foaming pint, or at least a poet jotting a few bucolic lines by the fireside…
Here’s the Three Horseshoes at Elsted with its garden views of roses and wheat-fields, a secret revealed by Jane Hayward, friend and comrade from repertory days at Farnham.
The harvest evening that seemed endless then
And after, the inn where all were kind.
(Edward Thomas, reflecting on English country life, not by the fireside but from the trenches in Flanders in 1915.)
Many of these inns have stood since Tudor times, and this summer has brought echoes of those far-off days. We took time in Portsmouth to re-visit the Historic Dockyard, and the remarkable Mary Rose, whose timbers have now, after a nigh-on thirty year process, been wax-treated to survive for several hundreds more. Do go – if like me you have an interest in Shakespeare and his days, here’s a window into that world – or rather lots of windows – literally thousands of salvaged objects sit there as if they’d been used yesterday – clothes, gadgets, jewels, tools, weapons, all saved from a ship sunk at the Battle of the Solent on July 19, 1545. There are curiously carved cannon, ornate swords and halberds, and many long-bows as used at Agincourt, all restored with guidance from our country’s greatest long-bow expert, the gloriously nonogenerian actor Robert Hardy.
Returning to another historic county, one nearer to my east London home, my pal Robin and I went into Essex, to see the Tudor Hunting Lodge. Queen Bess’s dad Henry V111 relaxed – between bedding and beheading ladies – by hunting down stags in Epping Forest. Doubtless venison pasties featured on his table, and you can see a rather good display of prop-food at the lodge.
I include a picture of the stairwell, because it seems the original 16th century stairs here were used as the pattern for the staircases at the re-created Shakespeare’s Globe in 1997.
And prop-food and Elizabethan stairs take us, dear reader, back to the world of The Theatre – which is what this blog is supposed to be about. Once again it’s the time of year when I conduct New York University undergrads to London shows – and as I write this the current troupe is braving steady drizzle as Globe groundlings, watching “Macbeth”. I saw it last week – it has Ray Fearon as the Thane, with Tara Fitzgerald as the Lady, and a supporting cast including puppets. There’s a new régime at the Globe, with Emma Rice now artistic director, following several lively years running the Kneehigh company in the the West Country, promising lots of exciting new directions at Bankside. She’s already given a reportedly very funny take on “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, featuring Helena as a chap. Quite where the current rash of onstage gender-bending has come from is difficult to nail. I reported earlier on our Michelle Terry’s impressive “Henry V” – see below for the latest manifestations.
Meanwhile, two other excursions to report. To the National Theatre, to see the Chichester Festival production of “The Seagull” – part of the Young Chekov season – with some fine acting, notably from Geoffrey Streatfeild as Trigorin, Adrian Lukis as Dorn and Jade Williams as Masha. And last week back once more into Essex, to the Queens Theatre Hornchurch. This place is worth watching – one of the very few remaining near-London regional producing houses, with high production values and a strong artistic track record.
They’ve collaborated with the New Wolsey Theatre at Ipswich to produce the first post West-End musical version of “Made in Dagenham”. To be honest, this was a tighter show than the West End one I reported on last year with our Gemma Arterton in the main role, by the Queens artistic director, Douglas Rintoul. There’s neat choreography, gutsy performances by a cast of actor-musicians, and the opening night was given extra resonance by the presence of some of the original Ford strikers (Hornchurch being next-door to Dagenham). It’s a show to watch, at a theatre to watch – on the London Underground (District Line) with sensible ticket prices once you get there.
Now, a heads-up for no less than THREE “King Lears”! Already in performance at Stratford is the RSC one. This is the most eccentric, as it has a man playing the King. Anthony Sher is by all accounts splendid, but I want you to go and enjoy the Unpleasant Sisters, played by two terrific Welsh actresses from my time in charge of the training at RADA, Nia Gwynne as Goneril and Kelly Williams as Reagan.
Meanwhile it won’t have escaped your notice that the great twice-Oscared Glenda Jackson has left politics to return to the boards in the title role of the same play at the Old Vic, due to open next month.
But don’t let that obscure the fact that another distinguished actress, Ursula Mohan, is re-creating the “Queen Lear” we reported on last year, and is performing with an all-new cast at the Tristram Bates Theatre in Covent Garden, starting on September 20th.
I don’t doubt that all three versions of this great work will be wonderfully revealing in different ways. But it may be worth pointing out that the London “fringe” is often the place to find pure gold, at a fraction of the prices you would would pay at the bigger houses. Connoisseurs of intriguing theatre, but especially those on a limited budget, please take note…
And finally, two cheering pictures taken at the end of two streets- one I have called Waltham Forest Flowers, of the blooming displays generated by the borough council on the High Street railings at the end of Coppermill Lane where I live, the other a distant view of the Alpes Maritimes taken at the end of my friends’ street at Cap d’Antibes.
Both for now, heartening local images from within the European Union.
At least for the next two years…
IF YOU WOULD like to respond, if you disagree with any of the above, or would like to add a comment or two, I’d love to hear from you – you can do so anonymously, if you like – and I’ll happily publish your views. Just click on the word “comment” in the little box below.
HELLO – THANK YOU FOR COMING – THIS BLOG IS NOW AVAILABLE ON TWO PLATFORMS.
If you know anyone who might be interested in this blog and who lives somewhere where there are problems with Google (e.g. mainland China) please send them this link: