London Theatre, Nicholas Hytner and Antony Sher Bring Forth a Dud
Back to earth with a vengeance. The best theatre in the world, one of the most highly regarded directors and a famous actor…and together, they bring forth a complete dud. A drama without drama. Acting that would embarrass the Ku-ring-gai Town Players. A script that would win any contest for frog-marched cliche and over-sugared sentimentality. It is called Travelling Light by Nicholas Wright, a fairly undistinguished playwright. Tonight it premiered at the National Theatre with the drawcard of Antony Sher.
My God, it was awful.
There is that terrible moment when you are trapped in bad theatre. It may happen five minutes after curtain rise. Oh no, this is a mistake…it is not happening, you think….but yes, you have queued for the first night of…a horror. An evening wasted. You sit there thinking how much better to be at home watching The Wire.
Interesting to me that atrocious writing and lamentable acting can get a forum, even in as lauded an institution – even in this temple of fine theatre, the UK’s National Theatre.
The play is about the origin of the motion picture business in the shtetl of Eastern Europe, of Jews playing with Lumiere brothers equipment in the 1890s, then immigrating with it to the US, ultimately to Hollywood where Sam Goldwyn and Louis B Mayer and other poor but brilliant entrepreneurs gave Amerida and the world an entertainment revolution and a vast new industry.
Our forebodings came to the surface when Sher, playing a timber merchant who funds a young man’s experiments with the camera, starts sprouting lines written to denote ethnic cuteness. “Me, no like Tsar’s army” is about the level. “Words…words I no like! Me, I like pictures!” How did Sher sign up for such a lifeless role, this fine actor who has given us such memorable performances in Macbeth and Winter’s Tale or, at this same National Theatre, as Primo Levi?
Surely we have ways of telling stories about East European Jewry without the sentimentality and nostalgia of Fiddler on the Roof. The musical appeared in the mid-60s. All these years on, Travelling Light refuses to rise above Fiddler’s folkloric myths.
Hytner ought to accept some responsibility for quality. The National, founded by Olivier, has been the wellspring of some of the world’s finest theatre. We have walked across Waterloo Bridge after a Volpone or an Orestia or Mourning Becomes Elektra and been happy to be alive. Thrilled by the professionalism of this theatre tradition.
Yet tonight as we left dejected at interval the real reason this play has been produced dawned on me. This play was been done with one purpose: to be taken to New York where it will fill a Broadway theatre with gullible crowds from all over, thrilled by shtetl coziness, adoring of Sher’s stock ethnic characterization and happy with an obvious, see-it-coming-a-mile off plot. It has been written and produced to be a facile commercial success in New York.
Ten plays this Christmas in London. A couple of disappointments but, all in all, none that would leave you angrier – with a company and talent that should have a better collective antenna.
London Theatre: The Best
Robert Hughes said he would come back after death as a rat in the Prado. I think my goal would be to return as a rat in London theatres, scuttling across the river to The National, then when the reviews justified it, to the West End, with big river journeys to get to Stratford.
The two most astonishing plays in London are these.
First Jean-Paul Sartre’s Huis Clos, written in 1943, produced by the Donmar in the tiny Trafalgar space which is the smallest theatre I have ever sat in – must have been 50 of us in the first night audience. Where I sat there was one row in front and none behind. I couldn’t move my trapped legs. The action starts when a valet shows a man into a room with a few sticks of second empire furniture. The man in his double breasted suit seems to be some kind of prisoner expecting torture. Or is it house arrest? By the time they have bantered and a woman is shown into the same room we realize this is hell. A third is shown in…here they will be confined in this room – without even toothbrushes – for eternity. No exit. And the hell is that they will have to relive the deed they had them condemned and live out conflict with one another. The acting was riveting. In the tiny space we were confined with them.
Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth is dominated by the defiant maverick presence of a “gypo” caravan-dweller in a pocket of forest near a new housing estate. He is Johnny “Rooster” Byron, banned from the local pubs, a dealer in drugs to the drop-out kids who hang on him, vaguely in touch with mythic worlds of the English forest. The title is from William Blake’s And Did These Feet in Ancient Time. Johnny Byron is played by Mark Rylance, who we saw do a National Theatre Hamlet 20 years ago and who has been artistic director of the Globe. Bloody, done-for, his camp site about to the bulldozed by the council and the Wiltshire police, he belts out an occult message on the drum he was said was a got from one of the giants who built Stonehenge. His presence in this role is dominating London theatre. The crowds line-up for this show which has triumphed in London before, then on Broadway. He is a colossal presence but every actor in the cast measured up.
Heaven for me would be an eternity of theatre at this level. And that Richard II at the Donmar (see below) was reason enough to subscribe to Shakespeare, and perhaps theatre in general, as a private religion. Theatre as sacrament. I take it that seriously.
Shakespeare – at a Standard I Approve
The theatre is so small that downstairs seated in the second row we had only another three rows behind us. So it was if we were on the stage. Indeed when one of the characters knelt on the walkway he was next to me. We were part of the action. (A big contrast with that Kevin Spacey Richard III in a 2000 seat Sydney Lyric Theatre).
You enter this, well, chamber theatre and there is a shadowy half illuminated Gothic facade. The boy king Richard sits meditating on his throne. Swathes of incense flavor the air. There are distant tolling bells. There are candles. This is 1399 and Shakespeare’s history cycle is about to begin with the deposing of a king that will plunge the country into 85 years of civil war, peace only coming with the Battle of Bosworth shown at the end of his Richard III, which Shakespeare wrote in 1592-3. That is, it preceded Richard II written in 1595-6.
Last night at the Donmar, with Eddie Redmayne as Richard and Derek Jacobi an earlier Richard a few seats away, the drama was enacted again. Outstandingly, and any Australian director should be flown here to watch the production 10 times before receiving a cent of government funding ever again. Once again on the English stage I witness a living theatrical culture, fed by years of working these texts and acting so authoritative and precise I admit of only one cavil and that is about the star.
Richard II is, first, an anatomy of a political deposition. A king rules but we see him through inexperience and petulance and overconfidence make an error of judgment in resolving an issue between two barons. Then, in embarking on an invasion of Ireland, a second error of judgment that compounds the first (it arises from that oldest challenge, how to pay for a war). The king suffers “a thousand flatterers within your crown” as old John of Gaunt warns him. We see grievances at work about those who are “in” at court from those who are “out”. There is a quick gathering of the aggrieved, to mount a threat to the king – we see how it gather force with lightning speed. The king is a bad king – he gossips girlishly about how the banished Bolingbroke handled his ride into exile, he ignores the warning from wise old York that if he seizes Bolingbroke’s inheritance “you pluck a thousand enemies”. There is the politics of the rebel camp, of York standing between the two sides, having seen the boy-king’s foolishness but also seeing rebellion as an act against god.
Shakespeare’s vision accommodates all perspectives. Yes, a bad king but an unattractive usurper.
Yes, a bad king but a great metaphysical poet. Richard’s soliloquies point to those of Hamlet they are so lavish, so self-pityingly good they may even – here I invoke Harold Bloom again – have influenced John Donne. I love the way Richard is self conscious about this very characteristic, his propensity to spin off verse. “Mock not my senseless conjurgation,” he says apologetically. And later, “I see I talk but idly and you laugh at me.” The self-awareness of these characters, Shakespeare’s protagonists, is one of the features of his mature work just like the multi-sidedness I praised above. As a ” brilliant fantasia” (Bloom again) overtakes Richard’s mind his poetry becomes more extravagant, climaxing in his last soliloquy in his cell before his murder. Bloom says the play is one long lyric poem. It is all verse, of course.
Poetry, but politics as well. A study of a deposition. Even down to this question: do you put the deposed leader on trial for his crimes, in this case, the murder of Gloucester which was the subject of baronial disagreement in the first scene. No, says Richard, unless you usurpers confront the bigger crime of overthrowing a sovereign, “the deputy elected by the Lord.” He protests as a deposed sovereign being accused of crimes, “must I ravel out my weaved-up follies?”
Let me make the point. There was no jerkiness and shouting from these actors. There was no lack of harmony in the authority and flexibility of the voices. God forbid, there were no flat, untrained voices being hoisted on us – think of those we suffered in the Sydney Theatre Company’s Uncle Vanya. One felt here was a theatrically-educated intelligence informing all aspects of the production. For those who think these things important the costumes were (unobtrusively) medieval. Harmony, in all respects. Nothing jarred. So herd every director and aspirant director, every know-all graduate of NIDA, on the next available flight and make them queue at 5am outside the Donmar to get prized tickets. Absorb how director Michael Grandage does it and no more excuses.
I thought Eddie Redmayne may have tilted a tiny bit too far toward the fey, boy-king side of Richard. Were his range of responses – nervous smile, terrified eyes – too stylized and limited? His range of gestures too textbook refined? I have seen Fiona Shaw, Ralph Fiennes and Derek Jacobi perform the role…and, well, I don’t know. But nothing fell short or jarred. This was an entirely believable king – a bad ruler and inspired poet.
Oh, why do I nag about voice? Because I want to luxuriate in the words. To hear York say, “To be a makepeace, shall become my age” or to have Richard’s favorites branded “the caterpillars of the commonwealth”.
To savor every word of Richard’s “Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings…” soliloquy. Or hear him decant on how,”Not all the waters in the rough, rude sea can wash off the balm from an anointed king”. Or the lament, “Bring back yesterday, bid time return…” And of course there is dying John of Gaunt’s rant about “This royal throne of kings, this scept’red isle…” never more of a sick man’s rave and less of a wartime lyric, than in this performance by Michael Hadley last night. There is reference to “plume-plucked Richard” and much more of the Elizabethan word richness that can live if spoken well.
Friends, we have got to aspire to this standard.
And when I get time, a review of Juno and the Paycock, Irish theatre from 1924.
Spacey’s Richard III: Left at Interval
Annoyed by this Richard III, we bolted at interval – it didn’t come soon enough – bought some kebab in a Turkish grill in the casino and got back to Maroubra to watch half an hour of Woody Allen’s Annie Hall.
If you like Shakespeare, don’t see this. If you liked Kevin Spacey in American Beauty (1999) don’t see this. If you like the fun of Shakespeare’s villain Richard, Duke of Gloucester, don’t see it. Instead watch Ian McKellen in Richard Loncraine’s Richard III (1995) set in an alternate 1930s fascist England. It is the best around.
The crude over-acting by him and his colleagues was reflected in too many shouted lines. Words are lost in the upper registers. Resonance and enunciation are thrown away and Shakespeare’s words go missing. Some of this might be due to the relatively large theatre. The Lyric Theatre in Sydney’s Star Casino seats 2000 and we were sitting in the rear. But there’s something more profoundly wrong when you sit through the performance of a play dreaming of the fine production you’ve got at home on DVD and wishing you were watching that instead.
I don’t know why Sam Mendes thought he had to place an outsized “NOW” on the rear of the stage as the action commenced. Audiences are accustomed to Shakespeare being performed in mixed old-new dress and accustomed to suggestions of the contemporary world. No need to announce it, just let Shakespeare’s language, characterisation and plot take over.
But they only take over with voices charismatic with flexible range and insinuating resonance. Crude shouting is monotonous. Seen too much of it when Australians do Shakespeare. Give us slyness, suppleness, subtlety. Here’s a lesson for the Bell Shakespeare Company and other Australian companies: give us better voices. Shakespeare’s language demands them.
I find myself wishing the whole cast and their director would sit down and look at those fine British actors in Loncraine’s Richard III. In that production, the language is not lost. We can savour such expressions as “the censures of the carping world”; or Richard’s soliloquy, “I am myself alone”; or the gamey suggestion of “secret mischiefs” or “black magician”; much of it with suggestions of the flavours and language of Shakespeare’s world as in “I run before my horse to market” or “I was a packhorse in his great affairs”.
Even though the play has elements of vaudeville and can’t claim the status of Richard II or Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2, it deserves to be performed – more today than ever – because of its portrayal of villainy. Richard’s relish for evil-doing and his running commentary on his own tricks (as in “Was ever woman in this humour woo’d?/Was ever woman in this humour won?”) makes me think of Stalin’s humour. When I commended the play in My Reading Life, I said these lines, given by Shakespeare to Richard, remind us of how Hitler chortled about his gobbling up of small nations:
I must be married to my brother’s daughter,
Or else my kingdom stands on brittle glass.
Murder her brothers, and then marry her –
Uncertain way of gain! But I am in
So far in blood that sin will pluck on sin;
Tear-falling pity dwells not in this eye.
We enjoy this villain because like Macbeth he is physically brave and defiant till the end, an existentialist who – again, like Macbeth – announces that he’s too far in blood to go back. And because he’s over-articulate and coldly intellectualising throughout:
There is no creature loves me,
And if I die, no soul shall pity me –
And wherefore should they, since that I myself
Find in myself no pity to myself?
I feel sorry for people who, drawn by Spacey, will see this production and come away thinking that all of Shakespeare is stale, crude, overblown. Thirty years ago we left a New York theatre when Al Pacino murdered the same role. Hands off, Hollywood, is my advice.
Derek Jacobi’s Lear Doesn’t Live Up
I missed it in London at Christmas time. Nobody could get tickets. The Donmar Theatre is a small space (251 seats). It gets high praise for its productions and they are generally booked out before they open. Compensation, however, in the form of a simulcast beamed into Australian theatres last weekend.
Simulcasts in my opinion work very, very well with opera. See my reference in the opera section of this blog to Don Pasquale, a simulcast late last year from the Metropolitan Opera in New York and for Wagner’s Das Rhinegold, simulcast in October last year, also from the Metropolitan Opera.
But I’m beginning to doubt that it works that well for theatre. And that may be the problem I had with Jacobi’s Lear.
It was extravagantly praised in reviews. The Telegraph in London wrote, “Michael Grandage’s production proves outstanding, the finest and most searching Lear I have ever seen, and in this small space it often achieves a shattering power.” The Guardian wrote, “…the miracle of Michael Grandage’s production is that it is fast (under three hours), vivid, clear and, thanks to a performance that reminds us why Derek Jacobi is a great classical actor, overwhelmingly moving.” Paul Levy writing in the Wall Street Journal (December 10 – 12) opened flatly, said “Derek Jacobi is the finest performance of King Lear we are likely to see for some time”.
I, however, found it distinctly unmoving and I’m not sure whether it was the limitation of the simulcast. Perhaps it is a slight tininess in the sound. Perhaps it over concentrates our attention: Jacobi enlarged on the screen delivers monologues that work better live on stage especially if the theatre is of a Shakespearian scale.
I’m reminded in the reviews of how Jacobi bought his own qualities to bear on the role. He actually whispers in a hoarse voice, “blow, winds and crack your cheeks! Rage! Blow!” It’s hard to imagine any earlier Lear being as flamboyantly misogynistic as Jacobi in the speech about women – “down from the waist they are centaurs”.
But I found that the lyricism of the battered old king on the heath was too removed from the raging and manic king we meet in scene one, rationally dividing up his kingdom and seeking protestations of love from his daughters. I know drama is all about seeing a character change but the later had little relation to the earlier.
The daughters are a problem. Regan and Goneril are wooden. Can anyone believe the black actress Pippa Bennett-Warner playing Cordelia is really a daughter of the thoroughly Caucasian Derek Jacobi? I seem to recall seeing more sympathetic Fools than the one played by Ron Cook. What I look for in English performances of Shakespeare is the uniformly fine acting style that one so often gets in National Theatre productions and sometimes in the Royal Shakespeare Company. I didn’t have a sense of experiencing that here.
The last English theatre Lear I saw was Ian McKellen in 2007 with the Royal Shakespeare Company which was altogether more satisfactory (yes, and a large part of that may have been seeing it live and not beamed into a cinema). I thought John Bell’s performance at the Opera House in April last year gave me more to think about too.
And I expected to be overwhelmed. After all, it has claims on being the finest tragedy in all literature.
Cleopatra Dies…On London Stage
London has the best English speaking theatre in the world and it’s the main focus for our holidays here. But it is pretty disappointing this Christmas. Take the Royal Shakespeare Company’s offerings.
Antony and Cleopatra, which Shakespeare wrote in 1606, is saturated with poetry. The two protagonists are drunk with it. This has been discussed by the formidable critics Bloom and Kermode. Bloom considers it the richest of the 39 plays. In fact, the poetry flows on even when the plot – the defeat of Antony’s eastern empire by Octavian (Augustus), the triumph of Rome over Egypt – is played out.
Therefore you need splendid voices, voices that soar and swoop. In the audience you do not want to miss any of it. But with inadequate voices (that is, inadequate for these roles) from Kathryn Hunter and Darrell D’Silva I found myself consulting the paperback text on my knee when I could.
As I argued in my chapter on Shakespeare in My Reading Life, this play has marvellous words.
The two lovers are engaged in “lascivious wassails” and, when their rule over Egypt is coming to an end, opt for “one more gaudy night.” Even as they are forced to concede that after the defeat at the Battle Actium, “We have kissed away kingdoms and provinces.”
“Authority melts from me,” laments Antony and we have a sense of the eclipse of the empire of the East, of the end of an independent Egypt on its way to becoming a mere province of the Roman emperor (not even, if I’ve got my ancient history straight, of the Roman Senate ). We are witnessing as well the rise of one of Shakespeare’s cold young pragmatists in Octavian and the politics of the play are almost a parable of the old leader being supplanted by the younger.
The succession of scenes devoted to the geo-politics are compelling. It’s as tight as a good TV documentary drama. We see the shades of opinion on both sides and overhear the arguments over strategy, even see Octavian execute an erstwhile ally, a fellow triumvir Lepidus. We see the dramatization of Agrippa and Maecenas, two of the great loyalists to the young Caesar, and the actors responsible are sound, in the tradition of the Royal Shakespeare Company. The leads let us down and I found myself longing for an Antony and Cleopatra as charismatic, as Timothy Dalton and Vanessa Redgrave in a production we saw in London in 1986. I remember their flexible, wide-ranging voices which you can capture if you get it on the video which came out in 1983.
Meanwhile in the midst of my disappointment – I yearned for them to be good, this is my favourite acting company, my favourite writer – I still loved the politics and the language. “Let the old ruffian know…” says Octavian of Antony. He talks of the “old ruffian” the way a Paul Keating may have spoken of Bob Hawke in 1991. “Fortune and Antony part here,” admits the sad, flawed hero. And why?
Because of a tragic misjudgement. He ignored the strong advice from his own commanders (more of that attention to the strategic discussions in each camp that is a feature of the play):
“Trust not to rotting planks.” In other words, don’t fight by sea – “rotting planks” – fight on land.
Cleopatra asks Enobarbus what do we do now? Just as an Evita Peron or Madame Ceausescu may have inquired of an adviser as their regimes wobbled perilously. He replies:
The Winter’s Tale
In an essay in the RSC’s program for this production, Maria Tatar writes about The Winter’s Tale as a melding of three fairy stories : the incandescently beautiful child abandoned by a cruel parent, the mad jealous rages of a brutal husband driving away his wife and the catatonic or frozen woman revived by love.
That’s useful but more so is Harold Bloom’s reminder that the play’s not a tragedy but a pastoral romance. That renders comprehensible the scenes of rustic comedy and the role of the subversive clown, Autolycus, whom Bloom almost puts in the category that includes the exalted Falstaff. I’m quoting here Bloom’s provocative and grand Shakespeare The Invention of the Human. For all the flamboyance of its Shakespeare- worship it is an erudite and thought-provoking guide and one you will want to consult before performances like these.
This production has the RSC pro Greg Hicks, who I’ve seen as Macbeth and Julius Caesar, in the role of Leontes, the king of Sicilia who suddenly falls into a pit of pathological jealousy over his wife Hermione, suspecting her of an affair with his childhood friend and ally, Polixenes, king of Bohemia. Watching the roller coaster of his madness is as unsettling as watching any mental illness and its portrayal is Shakespeare at his most acute. It is like Othello’s jealousy only worse in that his condition is not fed by an Iago. As Bloom remarks, Leontes is his own Iago.
Hicks is not as powerful and as eye-popping a Leontes as the remarkable Antony Sher whose version you can track down on DVD. Sadly Perdita, his daughter, was not played strongly enough by Samantha Young, lacking the personality the role needs. I doubt if the role of Paulina delivered by Noma Dumezweni came close to what that needs either. She is the noblewoman who talks truth to power, confronting the insane king with the enormity and injustice of his actions.
It is being performed in the Roundhouse theatre in the inner suburb of Camden. Given the thrust stage, the production lost a lot of its poetry when a line got delivered by an actor facing in the opposite direction. Compared with the acoustics for Hamlet on the traditional proscenium stage of the Olivier (see below) which is pretty much perfect this is frustrating. You cannot enjoy poetic drama if you miss every third line. Still we can look forward to the new complex being built at Stratford-on-Avon which I recall is close to completion.
The Masterbuilder, performed at the small Almeida at Islington – acoustics fine – was a disappointment. Perhaps this was because Hendrik Ibsen goes beyond the terrain of his earlier plays, from historic or realist drama to the symbolic. I was not sure what his message was. The difficulty with the production may have compounded the problem. The point of setting the actors in a sandpit? My disappointment is all the more because I recall powerful Ibsens in recent years in London: a Hedda Gabler in the West End and The Wild Duck at the Donmar.
As for Sheridan’s The Rivals at the Haymarket… nothing unifying the performances, no style, no zest and, as a result, not a laugh in it. Any audience member will be left as I was wondering what Sheridan’s much-vaunted genius was all about.
Penelope Keith as Mrs Malaprop and Peter Bowles as Sir Anthony Absolute were obvious venerable comics to be harnessed to carry the thing but to no effect. One of the lessons of this very dull evening is that the hallowed name of director Peter Hall can carry no guarantee of quality.
But at least there was The National Theatre’s Hamlet…
The Best Play in Town
The best play in town is The National Theatre’s Hamlet with Rory Kinnear as Hamlet, directed by Nicholas Hytner.
The setting is modern, a surveillance state with guards in suits and with ear pieces lining the corridors, as in the White House, and being witness to all the action. Don’t dismiss this as a gimmick. It is supported by the text which defines Elsinore as a palace of spies – Polonius sends Reynaldo to spy on his own son in Paris, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are sent for by the king to spy on Hamlet, the king and Polonius spy on Hamlet and Ophelia. It is not, therefore, altogether wild to have Ophelia hide a tape-recorder in her book for her conversation with Hamlet as he feigns madness and Polonius and the king listening, not behind a wall, but on headphones in another room.
But this never gets in the way of the action. Rather it simply fosters another view into a play grown dangerously over-familiar.
There is a force and directness here, conferring clarity on a piece notoriously difficult to make work on the stage as distinct to working as a poem, a “poem unlimited” in the words of the lordly critic, Harold Bloom. There were moments when I could have been seeing it for the first time, such was the freshness, and I was hanging on every word.
Especially for the seven soliloquies.
Hytner in the program notes says that when Hamlet returns to Denmark after being rescued by pirates “there is a mystical, even spiritual, element to him. He has discovered something mysteriously enough for him to be unable to explain it in a soliloquy. Famously the soliloquies stop.”
The best stage Hamlet I can recall up to now was the one Hytner acted, done for the National in 1988 or 1989. I remember the graveyard scene with the conversation about death hanging in the frosty air. What is Hamlet, after all, but a meditation about death ( and life ) set in the form of an Elizabethan revenge drama ?
With familiarity you become still more fond of the language of the play, even as you feel you are close to knowing it by heart. “Coagulate gore” is an old friend and the line, “How all occasions do inform against me and spur my dull revenge”. I like Hamlet’s quick suspicion that his friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern had been recruited to spy on him: “Were you not sent for?” and their alacrity at changing the subject to that of the visiting players, knowing that will thrill Hamlet who loves the theatre.
Shakespeare gives Hamlet the speech advising actors on their craft (and here we are never more certain anywhere in the 39 plays that we are hearing Shakespeare’s personal voice : “Speak the speech…”).
The king after the commotion with the players is “in his retirement marvelous distemp’red”. Such words and sentences have become old friends.
There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will.
Yet I’d never absorbed before Hamlet’s reference to his “aunt mother and uncle father”, again an example of the endless wit and paradox of the prince’s “wild and whirling words.”
But to keep charming us the play has to be performed with clarity delivered by flexible, commanding, charismatic voices. Never – I take issue with Australian directors on this – in flat, Aussie accents. Good voices are what this production gives us. I liked it more than the heavily praised 2008 RSC production with David Tennant and, in its more modest way, I think it makes Kenneth Branagh’s ambitious 1996 movie a little overblown – although Branagh gave us, uniquely, the full 4000 lines and four hours. This by contrast, like all other productions, had something like 500 lines removed and runs for three hours 35 minutes including a 20 minute interval. It is Shakespeare’s longest play but suffers little from being tightened, as Mel Gibson’s excellent movie version confirmed. And Laurence Olivier’s 1948 film even removed Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and Fortinbras.
And 500 years after it was first performed we haven’t been able to better it- that is, as a writhing, galloping commentary on life and death with pulsing, flawed humans getting things muddled and freezing at crucial moments and judging one another ceaselessly and, every now and then, making sense of the flow of events that can at anytime overwhelm.
As we applauded I thought of Will. Of that brain with it’s 20,000 word vocabulary and colossal capacity to summarize human complexity. Samuel Johnson wrote, “His works may be considered a map of life.” There are too few synonyms for genius.
A brisk 45 minute walk through London, another delicious curry at the best house in the city ( see below ) and on TV Verdi’s Rigoletto with Placido Domingo, from the ducal palace in Mantua. Verdi, the master of humanity and compassion in music drama was a profound admirer of Shakespeare. How many words for genius?