Shakespeare’s Stratford

December 8, 2010 at 12:54 pm (Asides, Film Adaptations, Shakespeare's Life) (, )

I know. I need to start reading Shakespeare again. I will. Maybe next week. In the meantime, I watched a travelogue tribute to the Bard’s hometown. Shakespeare’s Stratford is a 3-hour tour of Stratford. A 3-hour tour. (I’m humming the Gilligan’s Island theme.)

This video takes us to various locations all around Stratford, including properties owned by the Shakespeare birthplace trust. We tour the birthplace. We see his mom Mary Arden’s home (which it turns out was misidentified with a neighboring house for years and the actual Arden home was saved by chance). We see his wife Anne Hathaway’s cottage with its cozy-looking thatched roof. His daughter Suzanna’s house. His granddaughter’s house. The school he went to. The church where he was baptised and buried. Along the way, we hear the stories of each place told by the people who work there. It’s fun. It’s informative.

Okay, I will admit to having a nearly superhuman tolerance for historic home tours. Seriously, I have walked through hundreds of houses. I like it. I like looking at the old furniture, hearing the old stories, wondering what it was like way back when. And… I’ve visited Stratford and been to most of the places featured in the show (over 20 years ago, but still). I would go again. I don’t get tired of the whole thing.

Yet there’s something oddly off about this show. It’s very low budget. I think I could have filmed it. It looks like it was made all in one day — a really windy, gray, ugly winter day. The audio is often bad, especially on the docents and people being interviewed. The host, Stratford native Sue Sutton, is an odd duck. Poor thing, she is forever windblown. She really could have used a stylist (or at least a comb through her hair).

Sutton purposely asks unusual questions at nearly every location. It was sort of like taking my 9-year-old son on the tour and hearing him ask cringe-worthy toilet-related questions and then giggle as the tour guides deal neatly with the queries they’ve probably heard a zillion times. For example, Sutton gets into an extended discussion of Shakespeare’s son-in-law’s hemorrhoids. We hear about the purges (both upward and downward) that doctors prescribed back then. We hear how the privy slosh got poured on the gardens as fertilizer. And now I know why there were canopies on beds (to keep bugs, rat droppings, etc. from falling from the organically active thatched roof into the open mouths of snoring sleepers!).

It goes on in that vein. There’s a lovely explanation of the clothing worn by various members of a well-to-do sixteenth century farming household. And then Sutton asks a costumed reenactor to explain the mechanics of the codpiece on his pants. We learn that scientists identified the year that the timbers were felled for the Hathaway cottage (1460something) and then we hear how cow dung was essential in its wattle and daub construction. And finally (by then, not surprisingly!), Sue Sutton tells us she was named for Shakespeare’s daughter Suzanna, because like her, she was conceived several months before her parents married (when her father, an RSC actor, saw a ghost of William Shakespeare). Alrighty.

Worth my while? Yeah, I liked it. Except now I feel cold. Worth your while? Maybe, maybe not.

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

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A Luminous Winter’s Tale

December 4, 2010 at 6:24 pm (Live Performances, Shakespeare's Plays, The Winter's Tale) (, , )

I had a Saturday afternoon free and noticed that The Winter’s Tale was being performed nearby, so I jumped at the chance to see another Shakespeare play. I had never heard of Lumina Studio Theatre, but was impressed with their work. The enormous cast (over 50 people!) in this play was almost entirely children. And they have two separate casts performing this show over two weekends! That’s a lot of kids interested in playing Shakespeare! From its mission statement:

Lumina Studio Theatre’s mission is to provide unique opportunities for young and adult actors of all levels of experience to perform Shakespeare, other plays of the classical repertory theatre, and modern plays that focus on the beauty of language.

The setting for the telling of the tale is an abandoned theater during the blitz in London during WWII. There are air raid sirens at the start and then the people taking cover in the theater are entertained with the story.

It was a fun performance, lots of energy and excitement, beautiful costumes, very nice music, and lots of cute kids doing a great job. There were a couple little glitches. One boy fainted onstage and amazingly the other actors didn’t miss a beat, the speakers kept delivering lines, and the couple of adults on-stage carried him off quietly. I thought it was part of the play! It was only at intermission that I heard people in the audience asking if he was alright (he was).

It was fun. I may have been one of the few people in the audience not related to one of the actors, but the 150-seat theater was full for this show. Lumina Studio Theatre performs at the Round House Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland outside Washington, DC. If you are in the area, you might try to catch a performance. The show continues through December 12.

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Silent Shakespeare

December 1, 2010 at 1:24 pm (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Asides, Film Adaptations, The Merchant of Venice) (, , )

I love his words. But I also love the stories, and so I can thoroughly enjoy a ballet based on Shakespeare.  I saw Netflix offered The Milestone Collection: Silent Shakespeare and I thought I’d give it a try.

It was interesting. It includes brief (most are one reel — about 10 minutes) renditions of seven plays: King John (Britain, 1899), The Tempest (Britain, 1908), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (USA, 1909), King Lear (Italy, 1910), Twelfth Night (USA, 1910), The Merchant of Venice (Italy, 1910), Richard III (Britain, 1911).

I enjoyed the pace. I found the silent movies, with their lovely music, very relaxing to watch. Yet because the plots are so abbreviated, the stories move right along. Some of the films are incomplete or jump around, but they’re interesting to watch. I like the stylized acting and the facial expressions. It’s fun to watch. Such a different era.

The costumes are nice. I liked seeing actual Athenians dressed in Greek attire in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I enjoyed seeing the Merchant of Venice filmed on location in Venice! Beautiful! Two of the films, King Lear and the Merchant of Venice are tinted with beautiful colors. I don’t know what the process was they used, but the skin remains black and white–only the clothing and some of the backgrounds are vivid. It’s an interesting contrast!

Okay, let’s face it… this is an oddity. I could not always follow the story lines and I admit to fast-forwarding through some of it, but still, I thought it was pretty cool to see these early films!

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