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Posts Tagged ‘Tragedy’

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This production of King Lear was broadcast live from The Globe Theatre to cinemas around the world – the first time The Globe has done this, but hopefully  not the last. I went to see it at Showcase Cinema, Dudley, in the West Midlands.

King Lear is one of Shakespeare’s best loved tragedies – it starts with the title character demanding that his three daughters demonstrate how much they love him. While the eldest two, Goneril and Regan go over the top with waxing lyrical about how much their father means to them – all the while with their eyes on his riches – youngest daughter Cordelia refuses to bow to his vanity. She, of course, is the most loyal and loving of all three, but Lear, in his anger at her refusal to kowtow, banishes her from his kingdom and his life.

Meanwhile, Edmund, son of the Duke of Gloucester, is angry at his illegitimate state and plans to get rid of his older, legitimate brother Edgar. He tricks his father into believing that Edgar wants to overthrow him.

The play depicts Lear’s descent into madness, and his journey to actually becoming a better man. Kevin McNally, in the title role, was excellent. He was alternately terrifying and sympathetic, funny and pathetic. He plays Lear as a vain old man, blinded by his daughters’ words and unable to see past the deception of Goneril and Regan, who have cleverly played to such vanity.

The supporting cast were all wonderful too – Emily Bruni and Sirine Saba as Goneril and Regan were standouts, and I also liked Burt Caesar as the Duke of Gloucester. Joshua James and Ralph Davis put in strong performances as Edgar and Edmund respectively. Finally Saskia Reeves put in a terrific turn as Kent, Lear’s faithful friend (a male character in the original play), who is also banished from the realm when she expresses anger at his treatment of Regan.

Played out in modern dress, I found this production relatable and enjoyable. It was also surprisingly funny in parts, which I wasn’t expecting given the nature of the play.

Overall I would have to highly recommend seeing this King Lear if you get chance.

 

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The play may be called Othello, but iconic villain Iago is by far the bigger role, and needs a great actor to carry it off. The RSC certainly picked such an actor in Lucian Msamati, who is also the first black actor to play the role in an RSC production.

The story of the play is one of manipulation, jealousy and murder – Othello is happily married to Desdemona, but Iago, furious that renowned soldier Othello has chosen the younger Cassio for promotion to lieutenant over Iago himself, hatches a plot to rid himself of his rival. He sows seeds of doubt about Desdemona’s fidelity in Othello’s mind, insinuating that Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair. Unfortunately, the consequences of his plans are far reaching and horrific when Othello becomes so overcome with fury that he kills his wife, and then kills himself when he learns that Desdemona was true to him all along.

Hugh Quarshie was ideally cast as the titular character – his good looks and charisma make it easy to see why his young wife has fallen in love with him, and make his subsequent breakdown all the more shocking. However, earlier scenes of him tacitly endorsing waterboarding a prisoner of war suggest that he was never as benevolent as he initially appeared. Msamati also fits perfectly into the part of the villain of the piece – he’s funny and clever, but his scheming is never far below the surface – for the audience at least, if not for his fellow characters. In this production, more than some others, Iago actually is – at times – a fairly sympathetic character. It is easy to understand his dislike of Cassio, and his real belief that he has been passed over for a promotion that was rightfully his. Joanna Vanderham was also excellent as Desdemona, combining a visual fragility with heart and pluck.

The production is modern – to an extent. Laptops, mobile phones and computers are all used, and this may not please some of the audience – a couple behind me said that they would have preferred a traditional performance. However, I personally liked that aspect, as it is a reminder that Shakespeare is as relevant to modern audiences as to those of his lifetime.

The action is gripping, and there are no dull moments – strong performances all round and genuine tension on stage make this a highly recommended production of a classic play.

(Click here for more information about this production, or the Royal Shakespeare Company.)

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Well, it worked for Baz Luhrmann, when he updated Romeo and Juliet to a modern day setting.  In this film, director Michael Almereyda updates Hamlet and shifts the action to corporate New York in 2000.  Hamlet (Ethan Hawke) is mourning the loss of his father, who was the CEO of The Denmark Corporation.  He believes that his father was in fact murdered by his Uncle Claudius (Kyle McLachlan) who has gone on to marry Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (Diane Verona) in distasteful haste, and is also the new CEO of the corporation.

Hamlet is determined to avenge his father’s death.  Meanwhile, he struggles with his own loose grip on sanity, as does his former girlfriend Ophelia (Julia Stiles).

I’m not completely sure what to make of this adaptation.  I like the idea – I like Shakespeare’s plays in their own settings, but I do like to see them in new and unfamiliar settings, which may entice other people to try them out.  This version comes in just shy of two hours, which is pretty short, considering that Hamlet is Shakespeare’s longest play (the very faithful Kenneth Branagh adaptation is four hours long).  Certain parts have been cut out, but the essence of the story remains intact, and Shakespeare’s original language is used throughout, although not in its entirety.  The cast overall were strong – Ethan Hawke is an under-rated actor, and he captures Hamlet’s fine line between grief and insanity very well.  I also liked Julia Stiles and Liev Schreiber as Ophelia and Laertes respectively.  Kyle MacLachlan did a fine job as Claudius, while Diane Verona was excellent as Gertrude, and really captured the character.  Hamlet’s ‘friends’ (if you have seen the play, you will understand why I use the term loosely) Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are played by Steve Zahn and Dechen Thurman – who is the brother of Ethan Hawke’s then wife Uma Thurman – and Zahn in particular shone in his role.  I also really liked Karl Geary as Horatio, Hamlet’s true friend until the end.

The cast was not perfect however – unfortunately, the usually excellent Bill Murray seemed lost as Polonius.  I’ve seen Murray in straight roles before and he is normally great in them, but I didn’t think he suited this particular character at all, and just seemed to be reading his lines with no inflection or meaning whatsoever.  It’s a shame – Polonius could have been great with a different actor, but overall this did not detract from my enjoyment of the film.

What did occur to me however was that if I didn’t know the story of Hamlet, I think I would have had trouble following what was happening.  It’s not the language; it was more that scenes seemed particularly disjointed from one another, and it seemed to me that it was jumping about a bit – first concentrating on this, then concentrating on that.  On that basis, I would definitely recommend that anyone planning on watching this familiarises themselves with the story first.

On a positive note, New York City is actually a very good backdrop for the story…aesthetically it looks perfect, and I also loved the music.  I’m not sure that I can forgive the famous To Be Or Not To Be soliloquy being recited in voice-over while our hero roams a Blockbuster video store.  There was probably some symbolism there, but it escaped me.

Overall, if you are looking for an adaptation of Hamlet, this is not the best one to start with.  However, if you are a fan of the play and want to see this version for that reason, you might find more to enjoy than you expect.

Year of release: 2000

Director: Michael Almereyda

Producers: Jason Blum, John Sloss, Andrew Fierberg, Amy Hobby, Callum Greene

Writers: William Shakespeare (play), Michael Almereyda

Main cast: Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan, Diane Verona, Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber, Julia Stiles, Karl Geary, Steve Zahn, Dechen Thurman

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Click here for my review of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2013 production of Hamlet.

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Ralph Fiennes is Heathcliff in this adaptation of Wuthering Heights, and Juliette Binoche is Cathy.  The story is well known, but in essence, Heathcliff is an orphan rescued by Cathy’s father, and they grow up together and fall in love.  However, Heathcliff is treated like a servant by Cathy’s brother, and Cathy ends up marrying Edgar Linton, a decent man, who she unfortunately does not live.  Heathcliff is both furious and devastated, and wreaks a revenge that will last well into the next generation.

The problem with Wuthering Heights, for me anyway, is that Cathy and Heathcliff are basically horrible, selfish people. He runs off for two years without a word to Cathy, and then gets a huff on when she marries someone else.  She cuckolds the man she marries, and is incredibly disrespectful to him, especially when Heathcliff takes it upon himself to return, and declare it all her fault.  He gets married himself, but treats his wife terribly, beating her up, amongst other things.  Obviously, that is essentially the way the characters are written in Bronte’s novel (sorry, but I don’t buy into all that tragic, undying love story – they both just wanted what they couldn’t have and didn’t care two hoots about who they hurt in their selfishness), and there is only so much that an adaptation can do to make the characters sympathetic.  That all said, there have been enjoyable adaptations of this book, but this was not one of them.

Ralph Fiennes is a fine actor, and does a reasonably good job as Heathcliff.  He is quite menacing, and pretty hateful.  Juliette Binoche however, seems wildly miscast as Cathy.  Her French accent can often be heard, and while she does have a lovely voice, she is very unconvincing as the Yorkshire born-and-bred Cathy.  Also, the point at which Heathcliff strops off and Cathy decides to ruin Edgar’s life (sorry, can you tell that these characters annoy me?) by marrying him, comes far too early in the film, so this great love that supposedly exists between Cathy and Heathcliff does not really seem to be all that deep, or great (or lovely).  Also, there is an annoying, but thankfully only occasional voiceover which narrates part of the story (in particular the parts where there is a jump in the timeline), which is supposed to be that of Emily Bronte.  Bronte herself actually appears as a character, played by Sinead O’Connor, bookending the film, by appearing at the beginning and ending of it.  Her narration at the beginning actually serves to remind the viewer that this is a fictional story.

On the positive side, Simon Shepherd did a great job as Edgar Linton, and Sophie Ward was very good in her minor role as Isabella.  However, the standout performance for me was Ellen, Cathy’s maid, played by Janet McTeer, who shone in every scene that she was in.

I think maybe there is a bit too much story to fit into a film of one hour and 45 minutes, and some of the storyline does seem a bit rushed.  Overall, I would say that this is not a terrible film, but it’s not brilliant.  Worth seeing for McTeer and Shepherd’s performance, but be prepared to want to throw things at the screen every time Heathcliff or Cathy bemoans their lot.

Year of release: 1992

Director: Peter Kosminsky

Producers: Simon Bosanquet, Mary Selway, Chris Thompson

Writers: Emily Bronte (novel), Anne Devlin

Main cast: Ralph Fiennes, Juliette Binoche, Janet McTeer, Sophie Ward, Simon Shepherd, Jeremy Northam, Jason Riddington

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Shakespeare’s goriest play is by no means his most popular one, and I can imagine that some people would find it too distasteful to watch (I had my reservations, initially), but as this production, directed by Michael Fentiman proves, it can be successfully brought to the stage.

Briefly the storyline concerns the titular character who has returned triumphant from the war against the Goths in Rome.  He slays a son of Tamora, queen of the goths, in revenge for his fallen soldiers.  She in turn urges her two remaining sons to rape Titus’s daughter Lavinia (which they do in the most horrific fashion, also cutting out her tongue and cutting off her hands so that she cannot identify her attackers).  Titus’s sons are then framed for this grievous crime, and executed.  When Titus discovers the truth, he swears revenge on Tamora and her sons, and – well, it’s safe to say he gets it, although it’s also safe to say that there are no real victors in this play, which ends in a bloodbath (a bloodbath that is as uncomfortably amusing as it is wince-inducing).  Sounds bloodthirsty?  It was, and at the time that it was written, there was a great public appetite for such plays, and Shakespeare was obviously happy to provide one.

This production certainly made me grimace on occasion, but it was extremely compelling and watchable, and even managed to include some dark humour – no mean feat in such a gory play.

Stephen Boxer made an excellent world-weary Titus, whose descent into madness is clear to the audience.  The rest of the cast were also superb in their roles, especially Katy Stephens as the vengeful Tamora, John Hopkins as a very amusing Saturninus, and Kevin Harvey as Aaron – a truly detestable, and strangely charismatic character!  Rose Reynolds was also heartbreaking as the tortured Lavinia, who never finds the happiness she is owed after her brutal attack, and the murder of her husband.

Titus Andronicus is not a play for everyone, and I would recommend that people are aware of the storyline before going to see it.  However, I found it extremely watchable (even if I watched some parts through my fingers!) with excellent performances all round.

(For more information about the Royal Shakespeare Company, or this production, please click here.)

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This film spawned two sequels, the most famous of which was An Affair To Remember  (1957) which starred Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr, and which, like Love Affair, was directed by Leo McCarey..  This original version stars Charles Boyer as French playboy Michel Marnet, and Irene Dunne as Terry MacKay.  They meet on board a cruise ship and fall in love, although both are engaged to other people.  Michel and Terry make a pact that they will meet at the Empire State Building in six months, if they both still want to pursue a relationship.  However, tragedy strikes on the day they are due to meet.

Given that Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr are two of my favourite stars, I didn’t think that this film could match up to it’s better known (thanks to being heavily referenced in 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle) remake.  But, while I enjoyed An Affair To Remember a lot, I thought that Love Affair was the better film, and definitely the more moving of the two.  The reason for this (to me anyway) was because of the two outstanding performances of Boyer and Dunne – both of them are able to convey so much emotion with just one look or one small gesture.  Additionally the chemistry between them is almost palpable, and I felt as though I could actually see them falling in love during the cruise.

The film has its comedic moments, but is far more of a romance – and my goodness, it ticks all the boxes in that area!  It had me sobbing at the end, and immediately wanting to watch the whole film again.  Truly lovely, and highly recommended.

Year of release: 1939

Director: Leo McCarey

Producer: Leo McCarey

Writers: Leo McCarey, Mildred Cram, Delmer Daves, Donald Ogden Stewart, S.N. Behrman

Main cast: Charles Boyer, Irene Dunne, Maria Ouspenskaya

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Last time I saw Jonathan Slinger at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, he was playing Malvolio in the comedy Twelfth Night – and he very nearly stole the show.  Here, he takes on an entirely different role – that of Hamlet, the tortured, grieving young Prince of Denmark, who seeks to avenge the death of his father, who Hamlet is convinced was killed by Claude, the brother of Hamlet’s father.  Claude is now married to Hamlet’s mother Gertrude, and is also King of Denmark.

This particular performance seems to have divided the critics and the audience; I fall firmly on the side of ‘loved it’.  The play was enthralling throughout, and the whole cast were excellent.  Slinger was outstanding – his Hamlet teetered on the thin line between sanity and madness; his grief and fury at the loss of his father, and the subsequent rapid remarriage of his mother were all too believable.  He also injected some humour into some of his exchanges and mannerisms.  The whole cast was actually wonderful – as well as Slinger, I loved Pippa Nixon as Ophelia, who loved Hamlet but was tragically caught up in his extreme emotions, and who eventually suffered a breakdown with terrible consequences.  Alex Waldmann was perfect, and very endearing as Horatio, Hamlet’s kind (and rational) friend, and Robin Soans provided some great comedy as Polonius.

For this production, the play was set in the 1960s, with one character wearing a CND symbol on his coat, and Hamlet sharing a spliff with his old friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  The stage was made to look like a gymnasium, complete with the necessary fencing equipment needed for the final scenes.

My favourite scenes were the famous ‘To Be or Not to Be’ soliloquy, and the final devastating scenes.  After the tense build-up, the showdown needed to be dramatic and shocking – and it was.

All in all, a wonderful production, and I recommend it whole-heartedly to fans of the play, and fans of good drama.

(To find out more about this production, or about the Royal Shakespeare Company, please click here.)

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Click here for my review of the 2000 film adaptation of Hamlet.

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