Sunday, 28 September 2008

Those Lazy, Hazy Days of ...... Autumn

I spent yesterday in the garden and it was glorious. Exactly what summer should be. Blue skies, still air, birds, butterflies and bees wandering about their business and the quietness of a sunny afternoon, occasionally broken by a child playing a few houses away, or a training plane puttering across the sky from nearby Blackbushe airport.

The cats seemed as delighted as I was, and spent the whole afternoon drifting around investigating plants and insects, interspersed with lying on their backs gazing dreamily at the vapour trails in the sky.

We have been waiting for days like this all summer, but somehow when one did arrive yesterday it felt so precious that the months of rain and cloud didn't seem to matter.

Three cheers for Indian summers.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

A Surfeit of Shakespeare

Life has been a bit hectic lately, although I have still managed to see three Shakespeare productions in the last few weeks.

The first was the RSC production of The Taming of the Shrew at Stratford, with a surprising and absorbing performance by Michelle Gomez as Katerina. The external play has a modern setting and Christopher Sly is retrieved from a wheelie bin to be treated as a lord and watch the central play which uses seriously over the top elizabethan dress and outrageously hammy acting. He joins in, taking the role of Petruchio after just a few minutes then behaves abominably towards Kate for the rest of the play. Any humour or flirtatiousness is kept well away from the interactions between Kate and Petruchio, all of which are unremittingly grim; although laughter does continue during the first half of the production when I think we aren’t quite sure that he means it… There were a lot of laughs to be had elsewhere throughout, particularly in the first half, and the outrageous accents, and the ever more inventive sexual exploits of Bianca and her beau particularly come to mind.

I was a bit bemused by the change of dress after the interval as the costume gradually became more and more modern, until Bianca’s wedding scene where everyone looked as if they were attending a wedding in 2008. Thinking about it afterwards though, I think it was one of the ways in which the crushing of Kate began to feel so real. The hammy acting gradually diminished through the final acts as well, tightening the pressure, so that by the end, when Lucentio vows that Bianca will obey in just the same way as Kate, it sounds totally believable and not in the least flirtatious or amusing. The reintroduction of the framing plot came as a blessed relief,as the Lady steps in to remove Petruchio from Kate, strip him of his remaining finery and return him to the gutter, whilst Kate picks herself up and leaves with the players

It is the ending though, and the ‘play within a play’ bit which is giving me so much trouble. I have often muttered about the ‘it’s only a play after all’ type of ending, and this is a case in point. The ending makes a lot of sense, establishing the whole misogynistic strand as the fantasy of Christopher Sly. But it also seemed to say is ‘it’s ok, this is just a play and this guy is a creep’. Was this letting us off the hook and making light of Katerina’s subjugation? I still don’t know the answer, but it still has me thinking about it, which is surely the sign of a great piece of theatre.

Whilst I was still mulling this over, I headed over the Globe for a double bill of Timon of Athens, followed by The Merry Wives of Windsor. I hadn’t seen Timon before, and I wonder why this isn’t produced more often. Although it is a bit wordy, this play is right on the button for contemporary issues, as a satire on greed, wealth and what happens when you run out of cash and places to borrow from. I thought of this play a number of times this week as the Lehman Brothers and HBOS debacles unfolded, and I wonder whether the Globe had forseen the extent of the credit crunch when planning their programme for this year. The costume was generally traditional, but with a wonderful twist - all of the company except for Timon and his faithful Steward were wearing capes that looked pretty unremarkable at first, but turned into crow-like wings as soon as an arm was lifted.. A rope mesh had been strung across the heads of the groundlings at roof level, allowing various members of the company to spend time lazily, menacingly, loitering above our heads, watching for an opportunity to swoop and make a killing as weaknesses became apparent.

Simple, but savage and absolutely brilliant. It is playing until 3rd October - See it if you can.

I saw the Merry Wives of Windsor after Timon, and we planned it to be a bit of light relief. It certainly was that, although perhaps the contrast was too great on one day. I found myself groaning a bit at the old jokes before I realised how ridiculous my complaint was. Often described as the first sitcom, it was played with such lightness and a modern sensibility that could easily have fitted into My Family.

Just three plays, but what a range – I reckon this Shakespeare bloke might just have something.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Finally... Elbowed into fashion

I was chuffed to see that the Mercury Music Prize was won by Elbow, accidentally making me on-trend, as this was the only band on the list that I actually actively like or have seen live. As is the usual way with these things, someone will quickly realise their mistake and Elbow will now plummet rapidly from favour to make way for a band that someone like me couldn't possibly have heard of or liked.

Still, I'm enjoying my moment while it lasts, and I hope they are too.