An About Face

November 26, 2010 at 3:21 pm (Film Adaptations, Love's Labour's Lost, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , )

I’ve changed my mind. I like Love’s Labour’s Lost now. It’s been months since I posted about it, but I really disliked this play before. I found it so pretentious and annoying, all the characters seemed smarmy, overly-wordy and self-important. Blech.

It’s all changed now. I watched Dominic Dromgoole’s production of Love’s Labour’s Lost from Shakespeare’s Globe and all is well. I couldn’t be more surprised at how this video of a stage production at London’s Globe Theatre could change my perspective on this play. This passage from the notes that accompany the DVD explain the difference:

During the play, Shakespeare makes fun of pedantry and pompousness, of wordiness and worthiness and of academic posturing in general. Any literary dons that recognise none of themselves in Love’s Labour’s Lost are at best unsporting and at worst obtuse. But anyone new to Shakespeare, perhaps worried about being confused or intimidated by the language, would probably not be grateful for the play’s obscure allusions, knotted wordplay and long passages in Latin. A good production, then, must ensure that such qualities are presented as the butt of the joke, rather than crucial pieces of plot. This, thankfully, is the approach taken by Dominic Dromgoole’s production, and it plays no small part in the production’s success.

All I can say is three cheers for Dominic Dromgoole! Instead of getting weighed down by the wordy wit and wordplay I found myself just enjoying the farce of the situations and the wonderful silliness of the characters.

The cast of zany characters in this play really shines. Costard (played by Fergal McElherron) is over-the-top fun throughout the play. This take on Costard whispers to me of Michael Keaton’s bizarre portrayal of Dogberry in Kenneth Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing. But where Keaton’s Dogberry seemed to me distractingly weird, McElherron’s Costard seems on the money. I get a big kick out of Costard’s scene about remuneration (the money he takes from Don Armado for delivering a love letter to Jacquenetta). I had seen the scene analyzed in Playing Shakespeare, where it was an example of the Elizabethan love for words and language. Great fun!

Dull (played by Andrew Vincent) is sincerely (to great comic effect) dull. Don Armado (Paul Ready) is hilariously goofy. Boyet (Tom Stuart) is a nosy sycophant, often dismissed by the princess with an eye roll. And I love the princess here (portrayed by Michelle Terry)–her strong personality shining through in every scene.

What’s lost in this production? The pedantry. And good riddance! The silly banter between the boys making their oath to study and give up food, sleep and women for three years is hilarious! The ridiculous conversations between Holofernes and Nathaniel are dealt with lightly — they are a minor part of the show and there is no labour lost worrying about what the heck they are talking about.

Unfortunately, I think some of the banter between Berowne and Rosaline is also lost here. I don’t see much chemistry between the two in this production. I like Trystan Gravelle’s Berowne, but I find Thomasin Rand a bit mechanical in her delivery of Rosaline’s lines, and the interchanges lose their sizzle.

Speaking of mechanical, the play within the play here, The Nine Worthies, is really funny. The set up is very like the set up for the mechanicals’ production of Pyramus and Thisby in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (an ironic twist that the supposedly-learned Halofernes, Nathaniel and Armado are among the “rustics” made fun of here). As with P&T, there is much heckling of the players from the royal audience. It’s very funny and ends in total chaos here, with wrestling and a food fight.

I thoroughly enjoyed this production. It’s great entertainment, the staging is fun and imaginative, the set is simple, but lovely, the costumes are luscious, the music beautiful. If you’re looking for a good video representation of Love’s Labour’s Lost, look no further. It’s not on Netflix yet, but is available on Amazon and eBay. Enjoy!

© All Content, Copyright 2010 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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In Search of Shakespeare

November 16, 2010 at 8:46 pm (Asides, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Life) (, , , , , )

I watched the 4-part 2004 PBS series In Search of Shakespeare with Michael Wood over the past few weeks and found it really enjoyable. It is lively and fun and brought the Bard to life for me. I am not vouching for its scholarship, but the series paints a plausible portrait of the man from Stratford. It’s very entertaining, at least. The series feels sort of like a travel showy-documentary-whodunnit with plenty of drama and excitement. It’s fun!

So, the tale told here is of Shakespeare, son of a Catholic family, and how perhaps his closet Catholicism (in the era of the Reformation) plays out in his life and work. Interesting!

The story is fleshed out with a great deal of documentation. Michael Wood is off to all corners of England, going through the Elizabethan paperwork that still exists in dusty corners of libraries throughout the land. I was kind of fascinated at the thought of scholars poring through all these old papers. It would seem a needle in the veritable haystack to come up with any reference to Shakespeare (with all its many spellings) in 400 year old documents in any random corner of England, but there  you have it. Somebody’s got to do it, I guess.

That sounds like it would be boring to watch, but it’s not. Wood is excitable and he gets ramped up about all this stuff he finds, and he lays the land very convincingly — you get a feel for the context of everything he presents and the possible implications for Shakespeare.

The Royal Shakespeare Company joins in the fun, presenting various Shakespearean plays in various places reminiscent of or actually where Shakespeare’s players played. There are a lot of bits and pieces of plays sprinkled throughout the series.

I recommend the series for some light entertainment. Like I said, I don’t vouch for the scholarship, but Wood presents a life of Shakespeare that seems very reasonable and understandable. He places the plays in the historical context and within a plausible life journey of Shakespeare. I found it convincing!

I enjoyed it and maybe learned quite a lot about what life was like back then, and maybe even what life was like for William Shakespeare. I have a picture in my mind now of a charming rake, with quite a bit of drinking and carousing and living the bachelor’s life in London and suffering a midlife crisis and falling in love with a married woman and dying a bit young after a drunken binge.

As Gavin Wilson, a reviewer on Amazon put it, “It is one of the regrets of so many adults that they wished they liked Shakespeare more … if only it wasn’t so much work to appreciate him, compared to ‘Friends’ etc. Here Michael makes him very digestible.” I agree wholeheartedly!

The PBS website is interesting and has quite a bit of information on it. There are lesson plans and other tools for teachers who want to use this series in the classroom. I think kids (say late elementary and up) would like it. PBS also sells the DVDs or you can watch it on Netflix.

© All Content, Copyright 2010 by Blog Author, Or What You Will. All Rights Reserved.

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