Five reasons to love Shakespeare (the lowbrow way)

Sometimes I wonder how I got here. I certainly didn’t have the aptitude, the background or the education for it. And I don’t believe it was inevitable or necessary. But what’s not necessary can be vital, and once you breath it, you can’t give it up. And when it comes to Shakespeare, who is neither my job, my livelihood or my educational background, someone has to make the case for the lowbrow, unscholarly pleasures of his plays.

So here are my five reasons for loving Shakespeare.

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Review: Richard II (with David Tennant), Royal Shakespeare Company, RST – Stratford upon Avon

Before seeing the new Royal Shakespeare production of Richard II, I wasn’t sure I should review it. I made no secret of the fact I was excited about it but the dark side of anticipation is it builds fortresses between what you want something to be and what it is. Could I be open enough and would the production be strong enough to guide me away from misguided preconceptions? I shouldn’t have worried. In the hands of Greg Doran and his talented cast, the story of a king’s fall from grace takes flight in interesting directions, opens doors I hadn’t seen opened before and more importantly it’s a dramatically thrilling ride.

David Tennant as Richard II. Photo by Kwame Lestrade

David Tennant as Richard II. Photo by Kwame Lestrade

David Tennant’s Richard is not merely a king among men, he is truly the God’s representative on earth and his actions and understanding of himself come from that. For us as a modern audience, it’s an unpalatable notion and Tennant’s Richard is an unpalatable character. He has no moral considerations or understanding of limitations. When he starts to lose support, it’s the start of a transformation process on a molecular level: Continue reading

At rehearsal with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Richard II

Unfortunately, the title of this post doesn’t reflect my personal experience but the multimedia and audience engagement work done by the Royal Shakespeare Company and Illuminations around the upcoming production of Richard II. (Yes, I am referring to the David Tennant / Greg Doran Richard II, and if you still don’t know what I am talking about, you definitely found your way here by mistake).

Richard II opens in less than three weeks – have they started feeling the pressure yet ? I might be taking too much pleasure in this thought – and the RSC has posted a series of production video diaries, of which the most recent is my favourite, as it provides a rare glimpse into the rehearsal process.

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From the archive: David Tennant talks about working with Greg Doran (audio – 2008)

I have never hidden (or moderated) my excitement for the upcoming Royal Shakespeare Company production of Richard II. David Tennant’s most recent work in Stratford – with Hamlet but also Love’s Labour’s Lost – holds some of my best theatre memories and I am unashamedly overexcited by the prospect of seeing him again in a favourite Shakespeare play under the direction of Greg Doran. (Very few names of the remaining cast have been announced, but if Michael Pennington and Oliver Ford Davies are any indication, I won’t be disappointed).

In place of a countdown – or just because I was poking around my archives – here is a short audio clip of David Tennant talking about Greg Doran and the way he works with the actors. Continue reading

What does it take to advertise the arts? And does theatre have an image problem?

Ballet as you have never seen it before.

Ballet as you have never seen it before.

I still like print papers. I like to see the article position in a page, the space it takes, the section it appears, the print ads that surround it. It’s not unusual for this ecosystem to throw unexpected partnerships and hidden meanings.  As it happens (and to the surprise of no one), I spend much of my time in the Culture sections of the weekend papers. And inevitably, I pay attention to the ads.

Last weekend I noticed a great new advertising campaign by the English National Ballet. It doesn’t advertise a specific production, but it aims to shake preconceptions about ballet itself (uptight people in tutus). It shows the company at its disheveled decadent best. Open shirts, untied bow ties, beautiful bodies draped over furniture, a hotbed of sensuality. The theatre establishmet should take note: theatre, similarly to ballet, has an image problem. Stuffiness and boredom are often mentioned when the conversation turns to plays, and funding problems won’t be solved until this image changes. Continue reading

Richard II: Who is fit to abdicate the crown?

davidtennant_richardIt’s been coming for a while, but at last, this past week, it was formally announced that David Tennant will return to the Royal Shakespeare Company to play the title role in Richard II. Greg Doran starts his time as artistic director with an exciting season that, in addition to Tennant’s Richard II, includes stage adaptations of  Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies at the Swan theatre. But undoubtedly the big media story is Tennant as the deposed king.

We have several months to debate actors, performances  and who is going to play Bolingbroke, and Lyn Gardner at the Guardian kicked off the game with a collection of her favourite Richard II moments. It’s breathtaking to see such rich tradition, with the technology providing image and sound at our fingertips. Continue reading

Theatre aesthetics in a digital world

Getting straight to the point, why are many theatre sites so appalling to look at? Organisations, like the National Theatre or the Royal Shakespeare Company, have sites that are visually fine (although often too fiddly for the users) and theatre blogs, naturally, span a huge range, but theatre news outlets, like Whatsonstage, Playbill and Broadwayworld, are consistent in their aesthetic: garish, loud, like being screamed at by an old lady while repeatedly hit over the head. If you get past that assault, there is a lot of interesting content, but I still feel I am in the wrong place: normally I wouldn’t be caught dead in a place as naff as that. Continue reading