Wednesday, 28 May 2014

'Tis Pity She's a Whore

Third time to the Nuffield in a week, second viewing of this production in a week, second Jacobean tragedy in a day (what is ... happening ... to me?) - on Tuesday I went down the M3 yet again to see 'Tis Pity She's a Whore by John Ford, production by Cheek by Jowl (who are probably better known in the modern theatre world than Ford). C by J founder Declan Donnellan's The Actor and the Target is a bible for modern actors, and it is always instructive to see a production which follows such a carefully-thought-through attention to a text, with acting technique rather than directorial concept the centre of gravity.

This version of 'Tis Pity updates to modern dress, with Anabella a contemporary teenage girl and her bedroom the single setting for the action - not so very different from the bare Jacobean stage where time and space equally collapse into a single platform and the audience are similarly required to 'see' the different settings of the action. Second time around, I noticed the attention to detail in the room: red cd player, red lampshade, red book cover .. Exciting opening choreography, creating a sense of a girl both empowered and controlled by the surrounding male culture. It's easy to get this sort of thing wrong and start with clever staging, but this production had clearly started with deep thought about the language and characters and worked outwards from there.

Every detail of staging had a reason for being there, and though some speeches were given a modern twist (Hippolita's offer of herself in marriage to Vasques becomes a full-on seduction scene, Soranzo's already horrible beating becomes something unspeakable) it was never twisted out of credibility and the business brought out the nastiness that seeps from between the lines of Ford's writing. Easy, too, for frantically inventive staging to become a distraction from the core action and speech, but only once - Hippolita at the party  - did the interpretation take over from the text for me (it took the second viewing to figure out how all the things going on fitted together), suggesting a certain lack of interest in the niceties of remitting breach of betrothal in the seventeenth-century and a desire to give us something busy to look at instead.

Notes. Plenty of circular movement, inevitable when a bed is plonked in the middle of the stage, and devastating deployment of the bathroom offstage. Effective use of onstage singing, an object lesson in juxtaposition (eg something atrocious happening against soft music offstage). Speech hard to discern over the music at times, Friar and Cardinal looked out of place as the Catholic context of the original doesn't belong in the secular hedonistic world of this interpretation (how many students these day go around with a tutor Friar in tow?). There should be some kind of quota on how many tops can be ripped off enthusiastically in the space of two hours, as there was a diminishing return in the constant revelation of torsos. Will Alexander a terrifying Vasques, honey-voiced and brutal; Orlando James and Eve Ponsonby convincing throughout as the doomed brother and sister. Overall impression one of excitement at the spectacle, a creeping sense that, yes, these people are really psychopathically sick, and an overpowering atmosphere of corruption - all in the Jacobean spirit. Or part of it: this production of a not-frequently-performed play omitted entirely the comic subplot and made other cuts, most oddly to the ending - so we were listening to a symphony with sections of the orchestra missing. But what it set out to do it achieved wonderfully well: it yanked this piece out of its cosy heritage habitat and made the material visceral, shocking and affecting to a contemporary audience using the full resources of its company. Hit the target, one might say.

The Duchess of Malfi

A Jacobean day, starting with the very welcome BBC4 screening of John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi, the inaugural production at the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. The theatre is a close replica of Blackfriars, built following drawings in Worcester College, Oxford. It certainly looks sumptuous, a beautiful wooden stage against an elegant three-doored screen with balcony, enclosed by decked seating. And the candles (£400 a day, hmmmm) were gorgeous, even on the telly. The period costumes gleamed and shimmered, as did the make-up. Still don't think I'd want to train it up there and pay London prices (up to £60) to sit on a hard wooden bench at a 70 degree angle to the stage with columns and candelabra in the way, though. Also not sure how well the voice would travel upwards with a balcony of (over-used) musicians tootling away above it, but would have to go to find out. The authentic has a certain allure but engineering has moved on a bit.

Watching it on TV had plenty of advantages: you could see the expressions close up, the sound quality was excellent and the thrilling bareness of the satge had even more impact on a screen, usually so crowded with detail. The production was preceded by a documentary by Steven Shapiro, full of enthusiasm, who offered some unilluminating interviews with star actors and presented the thesis that the author of The White Devil and The Duchess of Malfi might have been someone of a not altogether sunny disposition. Two pages of an Arden / Mermaid introduction would give you more information. The TV introduction by Andrew Marr seemed to be vaguely inspired by the Proms and added nothing at all apart from plot spoilers and a stupefyingly condescending warning not to alter our TV sets when the stage goes dark. Thanks, W1A!

The verse was well delivered throughout: I haven't seen the Duchess for 12 years (Salisbury, 2002 to be precise - excellent show), but the strange similes and distinctive seventeenth-century treatment of the verse line brought it all back: compass, tennis balls, medlar trees, pyramids... what a unique consciousness is here. Throughout I kept realizing what Eliot got from the period, not that he made any secret of it. A world-weary Bosola, going through the motions of seeking preferment and sinking further into self-disgust. Ferdinand was really compelling: that moment when the strange repeated laughs signal he's flipping will stay with me. Gemma Arterton was excellent as the Duchess, upright alabaster among the ruins, far better than the reviews I'd seen had led me to expect (I wonder, by the by, if £60 seats have the effect of turning viewers and reviewers into bogus connoisseurs of how Jacobean drama ought to be interpreted, which is something we know very little about indeed). Shafts of comedy (the doctor) piercing but also drawing attention to the darkness. Only thing I didn't like was the music: it was beautiful and beautifully played, but a distraction from the action - the opening was ludicrously over-extended - and far too sweet to bring out the moods of the piece. But I'm delighted that the BBC are now doing this, sparing us the cost of an NT Live showing, and quiver with anticipation for more.

By the way, have just come across Peter Kirwan's impressive early modern drama in performance blog, Bardathon.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Rich Hall

Twice in a weekend to The Nuffield - after polishing off Tonight at 8.30, back for a dose of stand-up comic American Rich Hall. This was an impulse visit - I don't go to stand-up that much, and I note with shame that 'Comedy' has not even been a tag on this blog hitherto, testament to my sour and humorless attitude to life no doubt. But it was a fantastic evening: Hall has a wonderful deadpan delivery, his material has real bite and the observation was deliriously good. I realise that giving any of the jokes away would be a spoiler, so I suppose one has to write about stand-up in fairly general terms. Presumably most of it is prepared, but it has to sound fresh, so not so different from acting; but the fun Hall had with the front row and the musical responses to bits and pieces of material had a glorious improvisatory feel. (Earlier in the day I'd been musing on whether an actor in a highly orchestrated production like Curious Incident has any room for free manoeuvre whatsoever.) Superb stuff. Memos for my alter self to chortle at: Ready meals ... Unicorn vets ... Shoe Repairs / Key Cutting ...  Bouncers at Kenturkey (what sort of person ...) And thank goodness we got to the grizzly bear story in the end.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Latest NTLive experience was Curious Incident, whose in-the-round staging made it particularly amenable to camera coverage: we did indeed 'breathe the same air' as Christopher, which was the director's intention, the grid-like patterns and enclosed rectangular space simulataneously suggesting his consciousness was both sadly cut off (difficulty with processing emotional reactions and metaphor) and curiously infinite: his hilarious dialogue with the vicar showed how a completely literal interpretation of things can lead to its own exhilarating imaginative posibilities - "they'd have to fire dead bodies into space on rockets ..."

Coming to it from a 'what could we do here?' perspective, there was much to pick up. Simple furniture, expressive use of staging and the immensely powerful deployment of features like the train set and chalk drawing. Loved the physical side, with Frantic Assembly providing some moves that were effective because not over-used. Well-judged music, again economically employed. And of course, the acting was pitch-perfect throughout, Luke Treadaway, although clearly somewhat more than fifteen, making a deeply sympathetic Christopher (his and has been going round in my head all day). The play gave a convincing account of the world from Christopher's point of view and from outside as well. Effective doubling by a small company. All of this is theatre that any school should aim at. But the programmed light systems and the underground scene would take some replicating, I imagine.

It was lovely to to be reminded of the novel's story. There were some deeply moving moments, like the mother's monologue near the end of Act One and the ending, and serious and comic played off each other beautifully throughout. In the novel, the digressions on maths conundrums like Conway's Soldiers and the Monty Hall problem were part of the fascination, but these couldn't really be staged; something like it was left until the problem explanations at the end, but we had to leave before we heard them. How many plots are there in literature? Twenty? Seven? Essentially there's just one, which is always to do with someone trying to overcome obstacles to achieve something - the story of human life - and this novel and play give us an elemental version of this tale. I have no idea how clinically accurate it is. Mark Haddon says he wasn't writing about autisim, but difference. Would seasoned police officers and transport workers really be so nonplussed by a character like Christopher, though? Surely they see all types over a week? Perhaps they're better prepared now than when Curious Incident appeared, and both book and play have something to do with that. No explanation on stage of the title; perhaps it is assumed that a modern audience knows its Holmes stories well enough not to need any.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Tonight at 8.30 (Trio 1)

Happy to catch the first Trio of Tonight at 8.30, having caught 2 and 3 on the opening day(authoritatively reviewed somewhere below). Instead of being a light frothy entrée as I'd imagined, this trio included the heaviest piece of the lot, The Astonished Heart, a shriekingly intense study of tragic obsession  (and an early version of the idea of the psychiatrist being the most messed up of the lot, a topos later to yield Cracker, Frasier and Hannibal Lecter). The core ideas came over clearly and the dénoument(s - one onstage, one off, Coward seems to have a thing with double endings) had real power. Before that, We were Dancing, on quickly evaporating affairs in an ennui-soaked world where substantial relationships are impossible; and to round off the Trio, Red Peppers, in which we see  the eponymous comic duo grinding through their act at a variety palace, then look behind the curtains at bickering among theatrefolk. Across the three pieces music, shifting rhythms, shafts of wit and through it all a palpable strain of misery. Tonight at 8.30 plays with genres, but the keynote is tragic.
Taking these pieces together, one catches Coward at the tailend of a classical tradition in which tragedy is reserved for the privileged and the working man is a clown; and while he is not Ibsen he does subvert this in interesting ways: the Red Peppers acquire a kind of grandeur in  their valiant attempt to 'keep it fresh, keep it fragrant' and the acidic portrait of decadence among the (precariously) privileged makes one think of Ivy Compton-Burnett or Henry Green's Party Going.  Again I was struck by correspondences to later writers: We Were Dancing gave a foretaste of Pinter's The Lover, the minute verbal analysis of emotional currents in An Astonished Heart has something in common with, say, Albee's A Delicate Balance; while Red Peppers could be an early sketch for Osborne's The Entertainer (both were astute critics of a world they were nostalgic for). Coming back to the show after a week, I could better appreciate the mixture of period and modern in the performance: imitating Coward's clipped diction and the postures captured in the programme photos would have drenched it in sepia; while observing Coward's rhythms with the contemporary voice certainly brought out the rawness and immediacy of the emotional situations. Staging was clear and unfussy, the acting wondrously versatile. Hugely enjoyed Tonight at 8.30, delighted it started at The Nuffield, and hope it has a really succesful tour. More good stuff to come at The Nuffield - looking forward to Rich Hall tomorrow, Cheek by Jowl (saw them a few days ago in Oxford) on Tuesday and Catch-22 in a couple of weeks.

Sunday, 18 May 2014


The news that the Milk Monitors troupe of improvising humourists were to perform at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton was greeted in the neighbouring town of Winchester with delight and curiosity; and the suggestion of a short drive to watch their performance on the Sunday evening met with general and excited agreement. The journey along the M3 was as serene as nature could make it; and was concluded with the happy discovery of Gower car park immediately opposite the omnibus stop and the main theatre entrance, Mr H having on all previous occasions driven straight past it in pursuit of a bay at the rear of the campus and as far away from the theatre as possible.

The entertainment was introduced by the eminent academic Dr Sam Patton of Rotterdam, who explained, to the consternation and enlightenment of her rustic audience, that Jane Austen penned as many as 789 lost novels, which are being discovered, chiefly by her, in the most remarkable of places, such as ironing boards and the tail of a dressage pony. One of these lost works, to a title proposed by a member of the audience, was A Lady's Chocolate Priorities (another lost title, Indifference, apparently being improper for public presentation) and the troupe of humourists consequently improvised an hour-length dramatic entertainment to this subject.

The plot, which concerned chocolate addiction, dentistry, and a lake with a golden swan which could only be viewed by members of the Maiden family aged eighteen and over, was unmistakably the work of Miss Austen of Steventon, marked as it was by a perspicacious observation of the follies and foibles of humankind, a tender belief in the triumph of virtue over the ravages of contraband cocoa products and an affecting portrayal of the yearning female heart. The public were much engaged by the good-humoured spectacle and roused from their rustic reveries by the play upon words concerning chocolate, the deft  division of the piece into scenes of plot and sub-plot and the amusing interaction of the performers, identified only as daguerrotypes on the programme, but including the accomplished Miss Cariad  Lloyd (Ms, as the programme has it, not being a title Miss Austen would have recognised), now appearing in a televisual comedy of her own devising. Miss CJ Lodge played upon the violoncello, and the evening afforded much pleasure to an audience not usually treated to such sophisticated metropolitan entertainments.

It is often asserted that Americans are rather more adept at improvising than the English who, as a general rule, are never happier than when being instructed exactly what to do, most especially in their artistic pursuits; yet while this may hold as a general truth, the Austentatious troupe provided a vigorous, and amusing, exception, and both of the Winchester visitors left their new-found car park feeling greatly satisfied with their evening's adventure.

Henry IV Part 1

Henry IV, Part 1 (not Shakespeare's title, or, possibly, even his intention) was conveniently screened at Winchester Everyman just days before older inmates were due to go under the examiner's lash on it. And as with RII, Doran delivered a beautifully clear and well-paced account. Attention drawn by Alex Hassall, who gave us a likeable warm-hearted Hal (though as a result the strategic coldness of  'But herein will I imitate the sun' was lost; and my all-time-favourite Shakespeare line 'I do, I will' didn't have the heart-stopping impact I expect, nay demand, dammit). Jasper Britton was a pinched and bitter Henry, a boxer who's played dirty but comes out of the corner fighting.

The big decisions were to make Hotspur a kind of Midlands psycho - I think there's more humour in the Glendower scene than we got here - and of course star name Anthony Sher as Falstaff. Now here was something different. It's been good to see two parts normally given to bass-baritones - Lear and Falstaff - played by different voices recently (Simon Russell Beale and Sher). Sher gave us a wheedling decayed knight, who loves playing to the tavern; his grin during the exchanges with Hal was lovely, and we got real affection from the various insults directed at Hal for not being fat. I liked the way he didn't hurry the speeches but felt for the balance of each sentence. He got a well-earned laugh just for the way he called out some names: 'Poooiins ..' As for staging, same set-up as for RII, only without any ex machina gallery. Good use of the enormous depth of this set-up. Watching these plays in a modern production makes one realize how they were written for smaller companies. Seeing, for example, the lovely Jennifer Kirby in her one scene - the domestic with Hotspur - and as a crowd member in the tavern and that's it is a bit odd, like a football player being brought off the bench for five minutes then called back in. In the whole of Richard II, Jane Lapotaire has one scene, and can read a book for the rest of the evening. What's that like? Nice work if you can get it, or frustrating? Shakespeare's company would have done much more role-sharing, and that idea is in various ways woven into the plays themselves.

Digressions. A production that relaxed into and relished the multifarious language of the play that has everything, including first tremors of the tragedy to come. Good attention paid to individuating the secondary characters, Worcester and Northumberland nicely distinct. The complex narrative of the conspiracy has never been clearer to me, and with one stroke of business the parallels between court and rebels were brilliantly brought out. Loved the bed gag, but must wait a decent time before stealing it.

Titus Andronicus

Lucy Bailey's production of Titus Andronicus has been revived and is currently on at The Globe. What a spectacular experience, a 16th-century play sending into shock an audience brought up on Saw and Tarantino. The staging effects initially seemed straightforward, nothing remotely scary: a semi-awning over the pit, braziers, weird sounds of hammering and sawing; yet over the evening these grew into something dark and strange. William Houston was electrifying as Titus, suffering from some kind of mental pain at the outset (the soundworld of Django Bates brings this out brilliantly), drawing us into his private hell scene by scene. Superbly judged use of comedy: the use of Aemilius / Bacchus was terrific. The big lesson I got was to juxtapose comedy and savagery, which I suppose is obvious and pure Tarantino come to think of it. Indira Varma chilling as Tamora, Obi Abili charismatic as Aaron. Flora Spencer-Longhurst well-nigh unwatchably affecting as the mutilated Lavinia.

Moving some actors around on scaffolds brought out the political nature of the piece, though at the cost of slowing the thing down: watching extras trundle platforms along is not very exciting. The mob chants and sudden violence around it were properly alarming, though. Effects brutally er, effective, and the vengeful slaughter of the brothers made me think nervously, I trust they've had medical advice on this ... Plenty of press stories of people fainting. I'm sorry to say I didn't see anyone keel over, though I did see a few leave, including one young lady with a hand over her mouth, and the lady next to me (thanks for sharing the blanket, by the way) was moved to shout out on the lines of 'No! What? Why?' on several occasions. Aaron's murder of the midwife is probably the most horrible thing I've seen on a stage. Great stuff. Verse well spoken (for my dodgy ear, Aaron a little soft in one spot), the whole thing stagewise a tremendous lesson in how big things can be made out of simple ideas. Fantastically convincing delivery of this piece. Would have loved to join in the elaborate curtain call more, but had to run for train. Such are the travails of the provincial pedagogue. Managed Creed, Matisse and this all in one day, though. Still in therapy.

Tonight at 8.30

ETT (English Touring Theatre) is coming to have the same illustrious acronymic aura in my world as RSC, NT and ROH. Recently I have seen great productions of Translations and The Misanthrope put together by this production company. Now they have come up with the outrageously bold scheme of putting on all of Noel Coward's Tonight at 8.30, a series of one-act plays comparable to a set of piano preludes, each exploring a different key and atmosphere. We went on the press day / night, enjoying the Nuffield's fantastic 2-for-1 offer, and managed to see two of the three trios, so between 3.30 and 10.00 enjoyed six plays (and a good supper at The Crown Inn in between).

Noel Coward had been vaguely catalogued in my mind as a period writer, author of bittersweet witty drawing room dramas. No longer! There's clearly much more going on than that. Was he kicked aside by kitchen sink drama? No, Osborne is clearly anticipated in the distinctly dodgy Fumed Oak, in which a stifled husband lets go at his womenfolk in a bilious outpouring of grievance and resentment. Was Coward's flow of verbal elegance answered by the still waters of modern drama? No, listen to the silences in Still Life, first outing of the material that became Brief Encounter. Full of evocative space and shadow. Family Album, in which a Victorian grieving family are gloriously deconstructed, still feels fresh in its experiment and sudden launches into song; while the dreamworld of Shadow Play had a bleak raking over of an ashen relationship that made me think of Pinter's Betrayal. Speaking of Brief Encounter, it was odd to hear all the plays in largely modern accents: I suppose it would all have been in Celia Johnson cut-glass speech patterns at the time; but reviving that would simply seem affected today. The limits of so-called authenticity.

Coming back to it... not that Coward needs to be validated by later work. He has his own universe, one of quiet desperation under a genteel exterior, a feeling for dis-connect that can be tragic or comic (the magnificent Hands Across the Ocean), and a capacity for the exalting power of wit that puts him in the tradition of Goldsmith, Wilde and Shaw. What happened to brilliant wit, by the way? Stoppard carries the torch, I suppose, but it's the Americans who are the real champions of the one-liner: see any Sorkin-scripted episode of The West Wing.

Wonderful actors, supported in bringing out the jazz-like rhythms and emotional score by director Blanche McIntyre. The players sparked and sparkled throughout the dazzling day. It's all about ensemble, so wrong to pick out names, but I must grant myself the pleasure of typing out the name of Kirsty Besterman, who moved across roles with immensely charming aplomb, and in Hands Across corpsed and got out of it. Rupert Young took a succession of second-tier parts with great charisma. And simply seeing actors change roles with each piece was a pleasure that theatre-going doesn't normally provide. Ominous that all plays had to be cancelled yesterday owing to an actor's illness, which is the flipside of such an enterprise. Hope it's nothing serious: longing to see Trio 1 next weekend!

RSC Richard II

First in the RSC production of the tetralogy. Here are some notes, more memos to self than any kind of review:
  • Totally loved the floor! Because (a) the thrust / traverse approach just seems to be perfect for staging this kind of work, which craves a public forum space, and (b) the digital design was beautifully effective, creating wonderful transitions and establishing atmosphere without taking over. Really want to learn how to do this!
  • RII and other plays of the period (MND, R&J) are particularly challenging as they have a relish for verse form that a modern audience doesn't share (sorry, everyone, you're all ignorant pigs), and the verse has a regularity that the modern actor bred into naturalistic bend, compression and stretch needs to accommodate. Here the actors found their way into it convincingly (pedant Hebron noted only one missed antithesis), Tennant especially good, and took us on an enthralling psychological journey. One huge homoerotic pause was worked in really well.
  • Close harmony singing and small ensemble playing the perfect music here and in 1H4
  • Lesson: if something's dotty, don't conceal the dottiness. York begging for his son to be executed and the gauntlet-throwing scenes were given their proper comic value (perhaps they are meant to be comic relief?); conversely, thank goodness no funny business was added to the gardener scene which is pure renaissance allegory. In general the comic strain was played well (it was Mark Rylance at the Globe who made this aspect of the play clear to me).
  • Another lesson. One challenge of plays like this is what are the non-speaking characters meant to be doing during the endless speeches (eg York listening to Duchess of Gloucester)? Here the handling of gesture / pose / movement / expression seemed just the right foil for the voice.
  • Execution of the caterpillars oddly tame (perhaps I'm contrasting it to the shudder-inducing treatment of this scene in The Hollow Crown), but then it is pretty clearly meant to happen offstage.
  • Absolutely lovely to see Jane Lapotaire on stage, and her remarks in the interval interview about working in theatre being nurturing and supportive were so moving and so right. At school - or anywhere - a play should never be an opportunity for a teacher-director to boss young people around. So say I, bossily.
  • And touching to see Michael Pennington just after seeing him in younger years in a re-watching of John Barton's awesome Playing Shakespeare
  • Thank you director Greg Doran for telling the story without overlaying it with unnecessary directorial interpretation and for focussing on the emotional narrative.
  • I would very happily listen to Oliver Ford Davies read the phone directory.

King Lear (NT)

Live screening of theatre - the poor man's option (that's me, £50 + travel + food, come orfit!) or is it in some ways actually better than being in the building? Yes, you miss all the chemistry of being under the same roof while the actors are doing it then and there for you. But then if you're at the back of the dress circle wishing you'd brought your binoculars and praying that someone two rows down would stop texting then maybe you're missing out too. Especially when so much of the action is in the eyes ... SRB's staring face in the division scene suggesting he's already a few biscuits short of a full picnic hamper, or Anne Maxwell Martin's orgasmic crumple in the unwatchable bit, to name but two ocular pleasurings.

For me, a production of hits and misses. I liked the approach of showing Lear as bloody impossible and clearly dangerous from the off, the rapid barkthrough of the first big scene, the deep permeating coldness of Edgar and Cornwall. Some sense was made of the loopy Edgar plot and the blank of Albany's character was filled in convincingly. The Stalinesque sculpture of Lear was a good touch and the general sense of a bleak tyranny setting (thanks, Edward Bond by the way) held together. Above all the mad scenes were the clearest I have ever heard, and showed SRB's naturalist clarity at its best. I've never listened so hard to the 'who would scape whipping' scene with Gloucester. The recognition of Kent at the end was oddly more moving than the death of Cordelia. There were some nice Mendes touches ('Tis a good block', 'She cannot deny it').

Misses: I wasn't wowed by the Fool, and the notorious addition to the script to explain his sudden disappearance didn't add much (in any case, there's not much mystery to explain: Cordelia and the Fool were probably played by the same boy, making 'And my poor fool is hang'd' one of the most extraordinary lines in the canon, taking us inside and outside the play world in the same moment; one day I'm going to see a production which gets this, or I'll just have to do it myself). Having rows of non-speaking soldiers is just a rather obvious way of trying to fill in the Olivier stage (what are they actually for in a closed council scene, anyway?). Similarly the storm scene looked like they needed to give the rotating drum an MOT, since - on screen anyway - it served no real theatrical purpose. Stuff like waterboarding is just a theatrical cliché these days. The end was a bit of a mess: Shakespeare gets Edmund and the ugly sisters offstage for a reason, lads! We need that space clear for the ending! Cordelia looked none too convincing with a gun, which anyway worked against her image as the spiritual opposite of her sisters.

And then, I thought, hold on, aren't there things wrong with the play? Would any script editor accept King Lear in its present state? Except as a folk story, on another plane from the warp and woof of real human psychology, the opening scenes make no sense. Lear and Gloucester are in some kind of competition for The Most Stupid Old Man in Britain award, a trait inherited by their beloved: Cordelia's ostentatious sincerity is tiresome, and Edgar bolting off to the heath without even speaking to dad is incredible (as is the jumping off the cliff bit - why not just say who he is? 'Why I do trifle thus with his despair / Is done to cure it' - and how's that going?). And - a question mark which becomes bolder in a production like this with warplanes whizzing around - who's actually in charge of the English army? Cornwall's dead, Albany's in a dither, this lot wouldn't even manage to charter a taxi to the Dover ferry terminal let alone meet an invading an army (and why no re-appearance of France, Mr Shakespeare? Ah, I think I get it. The actor's busy playing Albany!) And Sam Johnson was surely right to find it  flawed. It's not the trite reason that it's too tragic, it's that any aesthetic of checks and balances is offended by the fact that Cordelia's death has no payoff whatsoever: the closing speeches do not add up to any kind of hard-won wisdom and bear no relation to what we have seen (you might think that 'speak what we feel, not what we ought to say' is exactly the wrong moral to draw: that's how all the trouble started, for gawd's sake!). Platitudes anyway (a problem with slavering schoolmaster bardolatry is that people who read nothing but Shakespeare don't realize how many of the ideas are renaissance commonplaces). Anyway, the play is absurdly over-produced and companies should be doing more Massinger, Middleton and Co. and giving Mr Lear a rest for a bit. The blog has spoken!

Henry IV Part One, study links

For those sweating to death and larding the lean earth for a Henry IV(1) exam, here's a gathering of links. Though I'm sure it's all in hand ...

The whole darned thing (Globe production) is available on, and the good news is our ancient foundation subscribes, so you can watch it anywhere on the network:

Radio production with the brilliant Leo McKern as Falstaff:

Andrew Moore's commentary is really good:

Schmoop. Lively breezy commentary:

Useful stuff on Shakespeare online

For the analysis of a passage, this RSC publication is a really good guide to the fundamentals: