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That was the deal in the court of Oberon and Titania; 90s party-goers with  members of Little Mix and the cast of Mad Max thrown in here and there. Russell T Davies' addition to the Beeb's Bardic celebrations needed nothing but glow sticks and a tardis.  I enjoyed it,though I'm not sure Nonso Alozie's warmly poetic Oberon  really needed to fire random lazer beams up into the night sky,  or that Maxine Peak's Titania had to be so testicularly obsessed. The actress spoke no two lines to our donkey man without pausing suggestively, rolling her eyes, or touching his [pause... breathe heavily...move hands over Matt Lucas' body...] tail. Or something else just as [pause... lick lips...trickle fingers...] heeyoooj. No innuendo was left unturned. Bottom's bottom was one of the most unsafe body parts I have ever encoutered courtesy of the BBC.  The juice from that pansy turned Titania into such  a fairy-bestiality porn punter that even when the spell ended,I still wouldn't trust her in a farmyard.

Anyhooooo, natch, Davies' hobby horse  appeared in  familiar glory. This production didn't suffer for it, in fact it kind of matched the classic Elizabethan genderbendery frisson and  the sense of  fairy waywardness, lasciviousness and chaos. But I do wonder about Davies. Was he a virgin before Dr Who? Cos he acts like he just had sex for the first time last week and he's dying to tell everyone about it. He's on the verge of getting tedious - but not quite yet. It was a cute clever production with a few too obvious tropes. Every time Matthew Tennyson's  Potteresque gap year Lysander appeared I wanted to shout,'You're a wizard,Harry!' at him.

A more serious problem could have been  the addition  of super heavy elements * about Theseus being a proper - and very nasty -  tyrant with Hyppolyta as his prisoner bride.  Due to a magical twist and a plot that had nowt to do with Shakespeare's original, it all worked out fine, but it was weird to see these humans we were supposed to like being favoured collaborators(?) alongside such an unpleasant character. Still, the fairies made everything right, and the feel good factor at the end was amazing. So  hey,not perfect, but still a lot of fun.

* Yes, I know. RTD's not the only one who can be too smart for his own good.
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Still trying to find some headwear for the wedding, with help from the Best Lady.  I have a hat that will do nicely, but it isn't extraordinary, so I'm keeping an eye out for something too special to resist. Found two huge fascinators, one like a satellite dish, the other like a windmill... and they are so vast, so totally diva, I almost can't resist having one. One actually rocked on my head as I moved, though I am assured the motion wasn't visible. There are environmental factors to take into account, like getting through doors or not being swept out into the Bristol Channel by an impudent wind. Still, I am tempted,as much by the look I can imagine on my groom's face, as my secret hopes that we might get messages from Alpha Centauri if we point and aim me in the right direction.

I am still caught up in Emily Carding's Richard III, and wonder why it was so much more vital, so much more alive than the Beeb's version in the Hollow Crown series*.  Of course it has the novelty value, and it requires a different kind of concentration, being much shorter, in the round, very prop-light and almost without set. It all creates intimacy, but then so does a close-up camera shot. Why then, does Carding's Assange-alike Richard resonate so much more than that of the mighty Cumberpatch?

I suppose its the interactive quality of the piece - the audience 'play' members of the cast, not by reading aloud but by... well, responding really.  No pressure but very engaging. I couldn't help thinking that for all the production's ingenuity, Carding's characterisation didn't need it per se, that her Richard could work perfectly well in an 'ordinary' production of the play. But this is as much fun as any of them, so why bother?

 The production allows the audience a chance to be involved; people could talk, and very occasionally did, though we were largely mute and immobile by our own choice. Some entered the actors space, invited and adapted to by this remarkably deft Richard. The part I got was that of Elizabeth of York,a character I have always written off as a pretty woman with a lucky break.  But this  gave me a chance to think her through. Though I stayed silent and seated because I couldn't dismiss the convention  of not getting in the actor's way, I could feel the dismay - more than dismay-  of the queen as her allies fell around her like skittles, with far worse to follow. Her character began to form in my mind, not from her own words but from Richard speaking about her and to her. Fascinating from start to finish, I was engrossed watching Richard spin his web around the court, and Emily spin hers around the audience.

I think this may be the most successful Shakespeare adaptation I have seen in years.

*Enjoyed it, but it wasn't the best...
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Went to see this last night:

Not without trepidation; the actress performing has connections to friends of mine, but RIII is one of my favourite plays, and I had already decided that if I couldn't enjoy it, if I didn't find her up to the task of expressing this extraordinary character, or if it was some kind of deconstructed dumbing down,  I wasn't going to pretend otherwise.  The most tactful thing I could do would be to smile,clap, then never speak of it again. But that's not what happened at all.

Suited like Frost and drinking like Nixon... shifty and funny and witty, with a crooked sparkle sadly missing from BC's version...I was delighted to see the subtlety of Richard's inner collapse after gaining the crown, and the structure of the piece made me wonder how Emily Carding would cope with his terrible dream on the eve of battle, a scene formed almost entirely from other people's ideas of him. The result was beautiful,moments of frozen gazing at the dead, trembling, reaching for the bottle... a very modern anguish.

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Cat-sitting at least gave me the chance to watch the last in the Beeb's 'Hollow Crown,' series, Richard III with Benedict Cumberpatch in the lead role.  It's the second Shakespearian play I've seen him in, one on stage, one on screen. And he does seem to be saddled with the curse of over-mannered productions.

Not that that's always a bad thing; Henry VI parts II and III are weak plays. In a way that's freeing, because any gain is good, so why not play with ideas and chop things around? Nobody cares and at least it will be interesting.

But Richard III is not a weak play, and cutting speeches in half or out completely is a chair leg sawing activity.  This play is about the charm of evil.  Richard stopped from speaking has no charm.

His physical charmlessness is thrust upon  us with shirt-free abandon almost immediately. He's saying something  about the Sun of York which we can ignore, while oohing and aahing at the cold eyes, the sneering jeering mouth and the prosthetics that make his deformity of spine positively draconic. It's all a bit Deep Space Nine. So where then, lies Richard's charisma? Act 1 Scene ii, where Richard  successfully woos Anne Neville is one of the most compelling points of the play, where a strong actor can display the magnetism, the cunning, the fascination that this character holds. The scene was eviscerated, the dialogue was chopped to pieces, rendering the whole Anne Neville subplot pointless, and showing us little about either character except that Richard is stunned to have achieved his objective. Well, he might be, but we should not quite share his bafflement. We should be beginning to understand what it is in Richard that convinces others. We should have been captivated, all the while knowing that he is desperately dangerous, a 'bottled spider.'

And so it went on throughout. Many of the lighter touches were lost, as when the younger of the two princes is being a bit of a wee shite with him.

York: I pray you, Uncle, give me this dagger.
Gloucester: My dagger, little cousin? With all my heart.

But much heavier stuff was lost too; Margaret's curses were halved I think,glossed over so quickly that we really needed people's reminders about them coming true. And I can appreciate that time is a constraint, but we spent long enough watching Richard play chess with himself, -  a cliche by now surely - along with the endless and very irritating reverberations of his drumming fingers,and bizarre close ups. I can't help thinking that just letting the guy act would have had more effect.

Good Buckingham though.  But I won't be buying the box set.
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Regarding the Hollow Throne; some Ukipper moron has complained because Margaret of Anjou was played by a black actress.

Sophie Okonedo was excellent in the part. If we wanted to be true to Margaret's family's background she should have feathers growing out of her arse,seeing as legend claimed her ancestry from a swan. if we wanted to be true to Shakespeare, she'd be played by a bloke, but this is all well and good. Margaret of Anjou with a beak, fine,  with a penis, fine,with a black face, noooooo! Suspension of disbelief falls apart!Cats and dogs, living together! Chaos reigns! Some dick on facebook was talking about the production in terms of 'naturalism.' Naturalism? What people wandering around speaking in verse?
Here's her face.


Is she not a right and proper wolf? As Richard III is a play far more beloved than the Henry VI trilogy, old Margaret is better known than her young self; Here's old mellow Margaret:

Richard  III Act 1 scene 3

What were you snarling all before I came,
Ready to catch each other by the throat,
And turn you all your hatred now on me?
Did York's dread curse prevail so much with heaven?
That Henry's death, my lovely Edward's death,
Their kingdom's loss, my woful banishment,
Could all but answer for that peevish brat?
Can curses pierce the clouds and enter heaven?
Why, then, give way, dull clouds, to my quick curses!
If not by war, by surfeit die your king,
As ours by murder, to make him a king!
Edward thy son, which now is Prince of Wales,
For Edward my son, which was Prince of Wales,
Die in his youth by like untimely violence!
Thyself a queen, for me that was a queen,
Outlive thy glory, like my wretched self!
Long mayst thou live to wail thy children's loss;
And see another, as I see thee now,
Deck'd in thy rights, as thou art stall'd in mine!
Long die thy happy days before thy death;
And, after many lengthen'd hours of grief,
Die neither mother, wife, nor England's queen!
Rivers and Dorset, you were standers by,
And so wast thou, Lord Hastings, when my son
Was stabb'd with bloody daggers: God, I pray him,
That none of you may live your natural age,
But by some unlook'd accident cut off!

Have done thy charm, thou hateful wither'd hag!


And leave out thee? stay, dog, for thou shalt hear me.
If heaven have any grievous plague in store
Exceeding those that I can wish upon thee,
O, let them keep it till thy sins be ripe,
And then hurl down their indignation
On thee, the troubler of the poor world's peace!
The worm of conscience still begnaw thy soul!
Thy friends suspect for traitors while thou livest,
And take deep traitors for thy dearest friends!
No sleep close up that deadly eye of thine,
Unless it be whilst some tormenting dream
Affrights thee with a hell of ugly devils!
Thou elvish-mark'd, abortive, rooting hog!
Thou that wast seal'd in thy nativity
The slave of nature and the son of hell!
Thou slander of thy mother's heavy womb!
Thou loathed issue of thy father's loins!
Thou rag of honour! thou detested--








I call thee not.


I cry thee mercy then, for I had thought
That thou hadst call'd me all these bitter names.


Why, so I did; but look'd for no reply.
O, let me make the period to my curse!


'Tis done by me, and ends in 'Margaret.'


Thus have you breathed your curse against yourself.


Poor painted queen, vain flourish of my fortune!
Why strew'st thou sugar on that bottled spider,
Whose deadly web ensnareth thee about?
Fool, fool! thou whet'st a knife to kill thyself.
The time will come when thou shalt wish for me
To help thee curse that poisonous bunchback'd toad.

This is the She-Wolf grown old and toothless. She shrieks her imprecations at Heaven and all around her. She fears nothng but she can do nothing.*  There was a time she could do plenty. Here's young Margaret;

Henry VI part  III act 1 scene 4

Brave warriors, Clifford and Northumberland,
Come, make him stand upon this molehill here,
That raught at mountains with outstretched arms,
Yet parted but the shadow with his hand.
What! was it you that would be England's king?
Was't you that revell'd in our parliament,
And made a preachment of your high descent?
Where are your mess of sons to back you now?
The wanton Edward, and the lusty George?
And where's that valiant crook-back prodigy,
Dicky your boy, that with his grumbling voice
Was wont to cheer his dad in mutinies?
Or, with the rest, where is your darling Rutland?[his son]
Look, York: I stain'd this napkin with the blood
That valiant Clifford, with his rapier's point,
Made issue from the bosom of the boy;
And if thine eyes can water for his death,
I give thee this to dry thy cheeks withal.
Alas poor York! but that I hate thee deadly,
I should lament thy miserable state.
I prithee, grieve, to make me merry, York.
What, hath thy fiery heart so parch'd thine entrails
That not a tear can fall for Rutland's death?
Why art thou patient, man? thou shouldst be mad;
And I, to make thee mad, do mock thee thus.
Stamp, rave, and fret, that I may sing and dance.
Thou wouldst be fee'd, I see, to make me sport:
York cannot speak, unless he wear a crown.
A crown for York! and, lords, bow low to him:
Hold you his hands, whilst I do set it on.

Putting a paper crown on his head

Ay, marry, sir, now looks he like a king!
Ay, this is he that took King Henry's chair,
And this is he was his adopted heir.
But how is it that great Plantagenet
Is crown'd so soon, and broke his solemn oath?
As I bethink me, you should not be king
Till our King Henry had shook hands with death.
And will you pale your head in Henry's glory,
And rob his temples of the diadem,
Now in his life, against your holy oath?
O, 'tis a fault too too unpardonable!
Off with the crown, and with the crown his head;
And, whilst we breathe, take time to do him dead.'

Lady MacBeth is terrible for her invocation of cruelty. She forces herself to do evil,she invites the dark spirits of murder and cruelty to possess her and remove all pity from her; Young Margaret of Anjou needs no such help, and would laugh at all that midnight hand-washing. She is a visceral bloodluster. Neither guilt nor kindness trouble her; you'd fare better in the hands of the Scottish lady until you slept.

For the purpose of the drama, Anjou can be no swan. She must be fierce, ambitious, clever but  not subtle, a queen of swords sharp in word and sharper in deed,  most alive in battle, very brave and very cruel. Okonedo portrayed, not a swan's grand-daughter but a boiling feral soul.

And some idiot wants to talk about  her complexion?

* Having said that, all her curses come to pass.

**Speaking of idiots,I can't make this formatting work at all. Ah well. And somehow 'Chaos reigns,' became 'Chaos rains'. Perhaps it does. God, I'm tired.

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A friend had bought two tickets months ago. Her PC had been 8 hours in the queue. Then she broke up with her partner, and asked me to come along instead, keeping the name of the production a surprise. I have almost wanted to cry off after the news about Dad, but to do so would leave her either alone at the theatre, or with very little time to shift the ticket. So I went.

It was Benedict Cumberpatch's Hamlet at the Barbican.

At first she was mortified, it being about a dead father and all, but when she saw that I was genuinely enjoying it, she got past wincing, and we had a great time.

Benedict is slighter and lighter than he seems on screen. I have never considered him handsome - the lower part of his face and the upper part always strike me as belonging to two different people - and if he wasn't very telegenic and a fine actor, you probably wouldn't notice him. But he is a fine actor. His is not the most dynamic of Hamlets (none of David Tennant's frenzied bouncing around) but he tries to be like a clear glass to the prose, and the result is natural, unforced... he is not trying to 'be'. It makes the language accessible and it adds pace to the already swift movement of the production. There's a lot of running around. The duel is very personal, a real fight not a gentleman's arrangement. But what is his Hamlet like? It's hard to tell. He is a basically decent bloke. More than that is hard to ascertain because any attempt to find him keeps tripping over his toys.

That's the problem with this whole production; here's the programme:

If the idea was to present Hamlet as a sullen, too-discerning half crazy brat with a mother/nursery fixation, that's OK,if a bit old. In such a case, the opulent set and the pantomime of his behaviour - dragging out an enormous play castle with giant soldiers a la nutcracker around it, trying on an indian head-dress out of a costume chest (his 'antic disposition' geddit?)- would fit perfectly. But the set is telling a very different story to the one the actors are giving us. It's the most cluttered thingful Hamlet ever. In this land of vast toys, Hamlet's meeting with Ophelia can make him look puerile and little-boy shifty. It makes sense of Laertes' and Polonius' warnings, implying that Hamlet has always been a bit emotionally underdeveloped, and Ophelia really does need to be very careful. But BC's Hamlet isn't that guy. He's just in the wrong Elsinore.

As to the prose, well, no chance of such mere stuff as words being allowed to stand alone, clearly the director doesn't trust the play, or the audience. There's all manner of tweaking, cutting and shifting of speeches, and by god, if an effect can be added, it's there. At one point we were faced with the terrifying spectacle of Laertes' death in slow motion surrounded by interpretive dance. It didn't last long, but it didn't need to.

Still, it was enjoyable for the most part. Benedict was rapt in concentration. He did not stir us - how could he, given such a raucous playground? - but he did engage and make us watch, and we had a grand evening. I am so glad to have gone. It makes me feel better about doing stuff this coming weekend, a prospect that I have dreaded since the news. My sick friend is now stable, having had a second tracheotomy, friends are inviting me out and about and though even reading the invitations exhausts me, it's time to do what I can, if I can. Life is coming back in, and I want to make room for it.


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