Monday, May 25, 2020

Nights in and days out...

Once again this week's round-up opens with a gang of blokes in Elizabethan-style dressing-up-clothes, shouting and romping dramatically in the open-air: The Lord Chamberlain's Men have now released for free online viewing their 2019 version of A Midsummer Night's Dream, an incredible 425 years after this theatre troupe was first created.  It's really good.  There's huge potential for buffoonery in this play, and the three squabbling story strands - lovers, fairies, and buffoon 'mechanicals' - are separate enough for seven men to create each strand without confusion. They are excellent in all of them,  and bring big energy and laugh-aloud-in-the-livingroom humour to the mishaps in the forest as well as the legendary story of Pyramus and Thisbe.   My screenshots here show the spat in in the forest when the young lords - who've been relishing the cat-fight - leap in to drag Hermia off her rival,  and a moment from the mechanicals' tragic play-within-a-play. The soldier Pyramus, aka Bottom the Weaver, also played lovely Hermia in one of the best multi-tasking switches I've ever seen. Recommended viewing.

Thursday was a busy night, with a 2018 Royal Shakespeare Company production of Macbeth followed by Ibsen's A Dolls House adapted by Tanika Gupta, with additional dialogue, into an Anglo-Indian drama for Lyric Hammersmith. Perhaps this evening schedule was a little ambitious, especially after the hottest day of the year so far, and a smattering of fast-forward was involved but, in my defence, many in Shakespeare's day never saw his plays in their entirety, and apparently Chinese theatres used to double as tea-houses where people ordered refreshments and carried on chatting during the shows. A darkened room with serried rows of silent spectators is a comparatively recent development in the history of theatre, and perhaps on-line at-home viewing will find new audiences for live - ie filmed in one live take - performances as the rules of how to watch are inevitably relaxed - there's a great article here about how 'stupid' silent reverence is killing theatre for the future. Anyway, here's the wonderful Christopher Ecclestone hallucinating the friend he murdered while watched by his wife Niamh Cusack in a strong 2018 production directed by RSC which manages to make the witches really scary by presenting them as creepy children.
And here for contrast is Elliot Cowan with Anjana in Ibsen's exploration of gender politics transposed to 1879 Calcutta in a set that looks neither Russian nor Indian, just a place for dour argument and mind-games. Dark, but well-reviewed by critics as an expose of the consequences of English colonialism, racism and sexism
One final theatre recommendation, as you probably have your own choices by now: A Streetcar Named Desire on Friday as presented by the Young Vic for National Theatre, a superb production that also highlights the problem with my hope that home streaming may revive live drama - the difficulty of recording a night of intense interaction. Brilliantly acted with atmospheric set and dynamic direction, but the negative aspect of filmed productions was overwhelming: endlessly altering angles, close-ups and lens-elected choice of observation all worked against the theatrical experience, controlling the interaction that makes theatre live, fragmenting the experience and wasting a clever set by isolating areas of attention.  That’s just my take, many will disagree - you have till May 28 to decide.

In Poetry Corner: Liv Torc -whose amazing Haiflu Project is collecting responses to the coronavirus in haiku from around the world - this week created a Zoom version of her Rainbow Fish Speak-Easy, with some splendid contributions from the floor as well as guests including a set with piano accompaniment from Francesca Beard. And Steve Pottinger, who like Liv has been a popular guest at Frome's Poetry Cafe, had an online launch on his facebook page for his new poetry collection with the delightful title thirty-one small acts of love and resistance -'celebration and defiance in politically turbulent times' he claims, which sounds right for now, though are there ever others?
In other 'word' news: when not walking from my house in every direction on a daily basis while this glorious weather persists, my lockdown focus has been to complete a novel about Belfast at the start of the 1970s 'troubles', a time when I lived there. The characters are imagined, but the events aren't, as there's no shortage of historical accounts of this era of simmering conflict to supplement my memory. Anyway it should be out next month, published by Hobnob Press, with a powerful cover image created by Paul (Mutartis) Boswell. Sneak preview here...

Ending this week's rather late posting - I blame the distraction of tracking Dom Cummings as he darts like a Hermes parcel van around the country humming 'doo da dee, lockdown's not for me' to the tune of the conga song - with a couple of photos from my permitted-exercise explorations along the river Frome.

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