Stars Playing Shakespeare
Part of the challenge in enjoying Shakespeare, is actually getting to see a good production. Theater critics therefore act as important gatekeepers for audiences, since with their practiced eyes (and professional obligation) they can not only steer audiences to better performances, but also provide valuable historical perspective to any modern production. But of course, critics differ (everyone's a critic, right?) so in this post we provide links to two reviews — one favorable, one less so — of the RSC and Christopher Ecclestone's current production of Macbeth. Seeing two contrasting reviews helps us further understand both the play, and audiences who consume those plays. In the unfavorable camp: The Daily Telegraph's Dominic Cavendish review. The favorable camps is represented by The Guardian's Michael Billington. Here is his review.
The Royal Shakespeare Company's Macbeth came to a New York movie screen yesterday, and the effect was not quite as electric as the Julius Caesar of three weeks ago. The good news, perversely, is that the problem lies not in the medium, but the performance. Although some of the acting and staging worked well, the overall impression was somewhat heavy and lacked subtlety, particularly from the supporting cast. The reason this seems like good news to me, is that the filmed-play-in-a-cinema medium seems sufficiently good to allow viewers/watchers to make such judgements. So bravo to the whole concept of filmed plays shown in movie theaters — yet another stage on which Shakespeare's works can shine!
Film, TV star, singer, and entertainer Donald Glover, (stage name Childish Gambino) has put out a grim and troubling music video (This is America). What caught our attention was an article comparing the piece's multi layered messaging and overall complexity to Shakespeare, and the Bard's tendency to write on multiple levels about complex issues — graft, intolerance, cruelty amongst others. The article, from Heidi N. Moore writing for NBC news is well-written and thought provoking.
Beyond the references to Shakespeare, this video also reminds us of the different ways in which critics can make their points. Slate and The New Yorker choose writing (with embedded videos), while Art Insider chooses a deconstruction of the video with voice over and words and diagrams overlayed on the video. Both approaches work well, but Art Insider's approach seems to us slightly more effective overall. Judge for yourself!
The classic "gotcha" Shakespeare question: "What is the Merchant of Venice's name?" — not, as many think, Shylock, but Antonio, which in itself indicates how Shylock has dominated our imagination about the meaning and nature of the play. But, as this interview with Howard Jacobson (talking here in 2016 about his book Shylock Is My Name) reveals, what we think about the play — and Shylock — is extremely hard to pin down. Which reveals, yet again, the genius of Shakespeare…
There's a usual crew of actors we expect with Shakespeare (Gielgud, McKellen, Stewart, Dench, etc…) This list of 12 unexpected actors playing Shakespeare makes a change, even though the list does contain one person at least with whom we very much associate Shakespeare — Dame Helen Mirren. Still, there are some unexpected names on the list — the image above gives you a clue to three of them, and the visual answer is below. Enjoy.
Hard on the heels of a favorable review of the latest RSC version of Macbeth, an altogether less kind review, which suggests that success in staging Macbeth is comparatively hard, as opposed to -- say -- Hamlet. An interesting comparison, and a thought provoking review. Two Macbeths currently in production — one at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the other at The National Theatre — get reviewed, and neither fares well
Well-reviewed in London, we were able to at last see the National Theatre's Julius Caesar performance beamed from London to a movie theater in Manhattan. As a quick comment on the experience — and not to offend ardent theatergoers — a friend of the blog commented that the advantage of watching a "live" play on a screen in a movie theater seems similar to the advantage of seeing a sports game on TV - multiple camera angles, perfect sound, and a greater sense that one is seeing absolutely everything to advantage. The long and the short of it is that watching Julius Caesar via The National Theatre Live program provided an excellent experience, and we recommend it to anyone who might be curious.
Margot Robbie, who has come to prominence through performances in movies such as I Tonya, will be producing ten of Shakespeare's plays with a focus on female perspectives, as well as an Australian emphasis. Yet again, Shakespeare provides the fertile loam for experimenting with story telling in entirely new venues.
A great interview with Christopher Eccleston, an English actor perhaps best known for being the ninth doctor in the storied Dr. Who series. The interview has two great talking points — the fact that accents matter very little in performance (take note those who say that only the English can perform "true Shakespeare"), and also, now that it has been announced that the 13th Doctor Who will be a woman (Jodie Whittaker), that a time is coming when women can — and should — take on the great (traditionally male) roles in Shakespeare's plays. A very humane and thoughtful discussion. Eccleston will play Macbeth in a new RSC production opening in March.
Michael Dorn (Worf in Star trek) is set to play Marc Antony.