Sunday, February 21, 2021

Non-contact Shakespeare, virtual sleuthing, and various walks

As the English Puritans discovered in 1642, you can close playhouses by law but you can't keep theatre down. We've seen the emergence of zoomed & streamed performances and now there's a filmed version of Romeo and Juliet available on a laptop near you. It's set in a the near future in a depleted world with all its traditional rivalries plus unused theatres intact - a kind of Mad Max II where the disaffiliated youngsters lounge about in red plush velvet auditoriums. Shakespeare's play is about passion and intimacy, giving producer Nick Evans a major problem in these pandemic times: the chosen solution is computer-generated imagery with cast members all filmed individually against green screens. Considering this is an early foray into a new form, it seems churlish to complain that the result lacks dramatic impact, but it does. The overall story-telling is laborious, with too much intrusive music and speeches slow and heavy as if lingering for translation. My main problem was my usual gripe about filmed productions being too selective - i.e. not showing the whole scene the way the playwright envisaged but going instead for a close-up of whoever is speaking.  This inevitable consequence of separate filming is a major problem since the plot hinges on intense sexual encounters and a deadly dual, plus a community in rowdy discord with two rival gangs running wild in the streets. This contextural tension was a major casualty in this production, and the Prince's solemn hope that these deaths would inspire societal control was barely audible under the finale music. Technical problems aside, this is well acted in the circumstances but insensitively directed and with unimpressive scenery & costumes (who wears a bra for their night of passion?)  Juliet (Emily Redpath) is lovely, but Romeo (Sam Tutty) while charming has a disconcerting resemblance to Joe Lycett.  Anyway I don’t want to put you off, have a go if you fancy it, for the fx at least - it's on till the end of the month.  

And now for something completely different: another zoomed dramatic gem from that clever young Sharp Teeth team with Bristol Old Vic this week as Murder on Ice challenged its audience to find the killer on a stricken Antarctic expedition where the leader has been found mysteriously murdered. 
Technically, this spoof show is superb in terms of organisation & timing, and the five-strong team of young actors are all quirkily brilliant. The concept is demanding for anyone who prefers the anonymity of a silent darkened auditorium since, apart from the characters' passionate protestations of innocence (& hints of others' culpability), much of the dialogue of the drama is up to the viewers to create via their impromptu interrogations until the big reveal at the end...  It's great fun, with all the essential essence of theatre. Hopefully this unexpected bonus of performance-in-lockdown will continue in some way after the buildings have reopened, maybe moderating the sacrosanctity of silence in the auditorium since the more interactive days of Shakespeare, when interjections from the pit provoked much of the wit. (I've posted this 2013 article before but it's still relevant.)

With the continuing rain, my walking has tended to be confined to the lanes around Frome: this field is surrounded by posters pleading for a halt to the massive commercial project that will convert it from an idyllic view to massive housing estate, probably annually battling with the consequences of building on a floodplain - you can read more about the project & the protest here.  Inappropriate invasions of our fragile ecological environment are still shadowing Frome's life:  Easthill Field has now been officially designated priority habitat requiring conservation action, and Frome Town Council are supporting their application for this land to be designated an asset of community value. Plans to build here are now halted but to ensure its future safety there's a petition to Mendip District Council you can sign here. And Save River Frome Pathway has successfully delayed a controversial planning application and temporarily at least saved this important final stretch into the town. Huge respect to all the committed Fromies who dedicate so much time and energy to protecting the town from loss of its treasures and inappropriate development.   
Here's a picture of local river walk threatened only by its own popularity and the rain: Vallis Vale. My Sunday afternoon walk took nearly three hours, and cleaning my boots took nearly as long, but the luminous green landscape of sculpted moss made it all worthwhile.

Regular readers will have noticed there's very little reference to televised shows in this chronicle, since presumably you all have your own favourite channels & programmes, but I can't let  It's a Sin leave our screens without note - if you're not sure why Russell T Davies' series about the 'gay plague' of the 1980's is an important contribution to a mostly-secret aspect of our own lifetimes, this article is a reminder.  
And on the subject of demonising,  a salutary tale from Northern Ireland: Human rights activist Mark Ashton, who died in 1987 of Aids, is scheduled for a memorial in his hometown of Portrush but the project has met Unionist Party protests that Mark - a catholic - was an IRA supporter. Considering he went to London to cofound a movement to support striking Welsh miners (featured in the film Pride) this seems a dubious claim but it suggests that the Brexit border issue has breathed life into old hostilities once again. See The Price of Breadmy novel set in Belfast in the 70s, for how it happened last time, and what followed last time. 

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