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Well, write this one on the calendar. I saw a production of Henry V that I didn’t like. This makes me incredibly sad for a lot of reasons, but most of all because it’s my favorite play and I desperately want to love it every time I see it. And I tried, I really tried.  It’s even more distressing because Jude Law played Henry, and I feel as if I really ought to like it.

But nope.

There were times when the play (and the cast) really did shine: the English lesson between Kate and Alice; Henry trolling the shit out of Williams and Fluellan; Fluellan forcing Pistol to eat the leek; and Henry wooing Kate at the end. The thing you’ll notice about that list is those are all the really comedic sequences of the play. And particularly the last scene, with Henry attempting to woo Kate, Jude Law and Jessie Buckley just killed it. I couldn’t stop laughing.

(Aside: This also reminded me that when the play is trimmed down for production, it’s often the more comedic scenes that get excised, particularly the ones that involve Fluellan…who I actually really enjoy.)

There was so much life in the comedic scenes. In contrast, it felt like that energy was completely lacking in the more serious parts, particularly the scenes around the battles. Now, I know battles themselves aren’t the easiest to stage (particularly not when we’ve all been spoiled by movies) but I’ve seen plenty of plays manage it and do so with a lot of tension, some recently. (*coughcoughCoriolanuscoughcough*) The acting felt very self consciously “Shakespearean,” and much to the detriment of the play. (This effect not helped by the costuming, which at times made me wonder if a renaissance festival had exploded nearby.) I didn’t get drawn into the story, and while I certainly wanted to laugh with Jude Law, I sure as hell didn’t feel like charging after him into battle.

I heard Jude Law was really excellent in Hamlet, and I can believe that very much after watching this. He’s got great timing and was at his absolute best when he was playing with the language…which is the sort of thing that serves Hamlet very, very well. Not so much with Henry, though, who needs to be courageous far more often than he needs to be clever.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Back from Coriolanus. All I can think right now:


Okay I’m sorry. I know. I KNOW. It’s a very serious play. And it is. There is a definite non-zero quantity of fake blood that gets used, to great effect. But goddammit people, I’m only human.

First off: these tickets were acquired by queueing at the box office in the pre-dawn depths of the morning. The tickets I got via Barclay’s Front Row are for two weeks hence, at which point Mike isn’t going to be with me. And Mike likes him some Shakespeare too, so he wanted to try to see the play while we were in the UK for Christmas. I wasn’t sure if it’d happen since I’d been getting a kind of scary impression about the queue. Well, just to add a data point, we walked over to the Donmar and got there around 6:50. We were something like 17th or 18th in line, and by the time we got in to the box office there were still a couple of returns seats available in each show for the day, and what sounded like a decent amount of standing room. The biggest problem was really that it was cold, so if you want to try to nab tickets and don’t mind standing in line for about three hours, you ought to be good to go. Just wear some wool socks and bring a book to read. (And if you go to the Cafe Nero nearby to get a tea to warm your hands, tell Bruno the adorable trainee barista I said hello.)

I’m feeling very scattered about the play in general for several reasons. I’m familiar with Coriolanus, but not as much as I am with, say, any of the Henries, so I spent half the time just keeping up and rolling around in the language like a dog in a nice grassy yard. And during intermission while I was waiting in the toilet queue someone who recognized me from the internet came up and said hi, and told me she likes my work and that just kind of filled me with so much squee I still haven’t recovered. GAH I LOVE YOU SO MUCH.

Anyway. Coriolanus. I’m still really thinking about the set design, the sound, the costumes, all that. For all I joke about the aggressive rearranging of the furniture, that was used to great effect throughout the play. I’m less sure about the bit at the beginning, where everyone was on stage, seated at the back. It was nice in that it let us put faces to characters–which is very helpful since the characters have unfamiliar names, and many start with the same letter (eg: Volumnia, Valeria, and Virgilia, whom I ultimately gave up on and just kept mental track of as Mom, Wife, and Their Ladyfriend) which is the sort of thing that normally makes editors scream at writers but Shakespeare can do whatever the fuck he wants; he’s dead, and he’s Shakespeare for god’s sake.

Some of the sound (particularly musical cues) I found kind of distracting in a bad way, and some of it was very interesting, like this staticky sound that I want to try to track when I get to see this play again at a later date because I have thoughts. But I actually liked the moments of complete silence scattered throughout the play best; they were used to incredible, often heart-wrenching effect.

The costumes took some getting used to, since it was this kind of funky mishmash of very modern looking stuff with added leather armor bits, but that’s the kind of thing I can roll with. I’m not sure if I’ll ever forgive Coriolanus for causing me to have the following conversation with Mike, however:
Mike: Okay, so Coriolanus’s wife. Just… what was with her shoes?
Me: …what do you mean?
Mike: Just, they looked like they wanted to have laces like boots, but they didn’t. Why is that?
Me: I don’t know, I guess they were designed that wa–wait a fucking minute, are you asking me about women‘s shoes? Oh for fuck’s sake.

And of course the chairs. They were basically 85% of the set, and for all that I’m giggling like an immature little shit about them now, when you’re in the moment and just riding along with the actors it’s excellent stuff. The chairs do a lot of actual furniture duty, but they also play walls, shields, objects waved in the air in celebration, etc. They got kicked and thrown around by the actors, and I can say with all conviction that I saw no stunt chairs being used. Hardest working furniture in London, hands down. That the chairs didn’t get a credit in the program book really makes the entire exercise a sham.

Okay Rachael stop being an asshole now

Mixed feelings on some of that or no, it was very visually interesting. And of course since it was the Donmar (god I love that theater), we were all practically sitting on the stage anyway so you could see everything.

I’m going to go on and on randomly about story and character a bit now, so… spoilers I guess? But come on, it’s not like we all don’t already know how the play ends. Or at least you know if you’ve read it, which I always recommend you do first when you’re going in for Shakespeare unless your bard-fu is strong. (And if it is that strong, you’ve probably already read it, eh?)

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Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Thanks to the wonders of magical, lying VPN services, I got to sneak in a watch of Muse of Fire [Warning, video begins to automatically play on the site, SHAME ON YOU DAN AND GILES.] on the BBC iPlayer. I really wanted to watch this slim little documentary because I was in on interviewing Dan Poole for The Reel Britain and it sounded like great fun. And also, I’m a giant Shakespeare nerd, for all that my Shakespeare nerd cred is often called into question because I cannot memorize for shit.

The documentary is excellent. It’s very personal, since it’s all about following Dan and Giles on their journey, and it’s done with a lot of love and humor. Hopefully it’ll be available to American audiences who don’t want to engage in internet cheating relatively soon. And the interviews they got–aaaa! Dame Judi Dench! (I got to shake Dan’s hand, so does that mean I’m now one degree separated from Judi Dench oh my god I’m hyperventilating.) The topic is framed as Dan and Giles getting over their own fear of Shakespeare, so it goes to why people find his work so intimidating and how it can be made more accessible.

Anyway, good documentary, watch it when you can, Dan and Giles are both adorable and adorkable and they put the film together in a very fun way.

One point they bring up is often, how someone first comes to Shakespeare is really what colors their feelings for the rest of their life. (Though when you put it like that, it sounds like when people talk about how they came to Jesus, and it becomes quite evangelical.) I’ve always been bothered by how Shakespeare is presented as so intimidating and impenetrable, because I never really found him to be so… but I also got into Shakespeare entirely because of Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 Henry V movie. He got me when I was young.

Which was for the best, come to think of it. When we hit Shakespeare in school, the first (and sometimes only) play that seems to get done is Romeo and Juliet. I don’t know why. Maybe teenagers are supposed to identify with the characters more, since they’re teens as well, but ugh. I just thought they were very stupid, to be honest. (I can appreciate the play more now, but as a bitter and angry teenager, not so much.) I think if that had been my first exposure to Shakespeare, I wouldn’t like him nearly so much now.

But instead, thanks to Branagh’s Henry, I’m stuck on Shakespeare. I was even excited to take a Shakespeare for Non-Majors class as an undergrad, despite the fact that it was an 8am class (yes, those are things that exist and proof that we live in a godless universe of pain) and the teacher constantly used the word problematize. I read and re-read plays all the time now, though the funny thing is, I still have difficulties with Shakespeare when I’m just reading it to myself.

Which is why I read it out loud to my cats. Shut up, that’s totally normal. I’m teaching the furry little bastards to love Shakespeare too.

Originally published at Rachael Acks: Sound and Nerdery. You can comment here or there.

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Joss Whedon really has managed to find himself the only love gods. That movie is fantastic. If you like Shakespeare at all, hell if you like Joss Whedon at all, you should go see it.

And it’s definitely a Joss Whedon movie, for all that it doesn’t contain the patented Whedon snarky dialog. (It’s not like Shakespeare needed Whedon’s help with Beatrice and Benedick.) It’s all in the staging and the subtle (or not so subtle) actions of the actors. It’s the brofist, the iPod, Beatrice falling down the stairs with a basket of laundry, the clever take on Sigh No More, Ladies.

I love that this movie doesn’t even pretend Claudio and Hero are more than window dressing for the two lovers we really want to see. And Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof do them justice.

Really, the entire cast was excellent. And hey, we got a genderbent character out of the deal–Conrade is female in this one. Though some day I would love to see a film production where Benedick and Beatrice are both women because reasons.

This isn’t your average Shakespeare movie. For the most part, the actors deliver their lines like they’re just speaking the language normally rather than declaiming something in the Globe. And it really works. I’m well versed in watching Shakespeare now, but this was more easily comprehensible than any other movie I’ve encountered. (So I definitely recommend it for Bard beginners.)

And a special shout-out to Nathan Fillion. This is the first production of Much Ado About Nothing I have ever seen where I could actually understand what Dogberry was saying. I now understand that the character is fricking hilarious, and it has nothing to do with a comedic and incomprehensible accent and everything to do with the fact that he has no idea what words actually mean. It was wonderful.

Oh yes. And Clark Gregg because… Clark Gregg. Saying, “This naughty man,” and shaking his finger at Borachio.

I must own a copy of this.

Originally published at katsudon.net. You can comment here or there.

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Yes. Not only am I surrounded by delicious biscuits and all the milky tea I can drink, yesterday I went to Stratford. And saw the Royal Shakespeare Company perform Hamlet. (And also went to Shakespeare’s birthplace, which was cool too.) Then today I went to the Newark Park House, which is just ridiculously beautiful.

Ready for some pictures?


More under the cut.

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Originally published at katsudon.net. You can comment here or there.

katsu: (Tragic cherry on my woe cake)
Originally at blogger.

I have been in a state of nerd DEFCON 2 all year, I swear. 2012 is starting to feel like the apology for the (other than Thor) rather thin offerings of things that to watch in 2011. But I haven't just been vibrating with barely controlled glee over the various extravaganzas of shit blowing up and bad things getting punched in the throat (slow motion optional). I've been counting the days until the start of the BBC's The Hollow Crown, which is their presentation of four of Shakespeare's history plays: Richard II, Henry IV part 1 and part 2, and Henry V. The name "The Hollow Crown" actually comes from a line in Richard II (act 3 scene 2):

For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison'd by their wives: some sleeping kill'd;
All murder'd: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits...

Nice pick for three plays about the life and death of kings.

I love Shakespeare. I have since my mother had me watch Kenneth Branagh's Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing. I regularly go for plays in Boulder's summer Shakespeare festival, though unfortunately none for me this year since I'm in Houston. But hey, the BBC is helping me out with this one.

I actually took Shakespeare for non-majors to get my upper division literature credit for my BA. We ended up reading Richard II and both parts of Henry IV, though to my eternal sadness didn't continue on to Henry V which is still my favorite out of all the plays. That class is also the source of one of the worst sentences I've ever written in my life (in a paper about Macbeth) but I digress. We did get to watch a video of the production of Richard II that Derek Jacobi starred in, and I liked it well enough.

Full disclosure: I probably would have just been at nerd DEFCON 3, if it weren't for the fact that Tom Hiddleston is playing Prince Hal/Henry V in the next plays. Favorite actor in favorite play ever? Gosh BBC, I would have just been happy with a box of chocolates and a stilted love letter, you didn't have to go to all this trouble, but THANKS.

I will admit that of the four plays listed, Richard II is probably my least favorite. I'm not really wowed by the fact that it's written in full verse, since I feel like the rhyming gets a little tedious or strained at times. I feel like it's got some structural weaknesses in the plot - for example, I've been trying for years to actually give a crap one way or the other when Richard's sycophants get put to death, but it's pretty hard to do so when they don't actually do anything as far as we can tell. We only hear about their misdeeds as a quick litany right before the head chopping happens. (I'm thinking this might have been less of an issue for audiences who were historically closer to the events being described, and also likely less picky.)

There's also the fact that it ends up feeling very uneven; Richard is basically deposed at the end of Act 3, and it takes two more acts (which feel a bit drawn out) of him emoting before the thing is really done. I watched the #TheHollowCrown twitter tag the entire time the play was going, and saw quite a few people who were unacquainted with the play feeling very confused that Richard was deposed with something like another 40 minutes to go, because that really does feel like the end right there. A lot of action happens offstage that makes it much less satisfying than what we get out of Henry IV and Henry V. And so on.

Which is not to say that I dislike the play. Obviously, I was still utterly geeked to sit down and watch it via streaming. I'm just setting what I feel are flaws of the play out because I went in expecting those flaws to be in evidence. They're structural to the play and can't really be escaped.

So with that in mind, I thought the production was excellent, and I enjoyed it even more than I expected to.

Costumes and sets were just fine for my untrained eye; to me it looked better than a lot of BBC shows I've seen in the past thanks to the magic of PBS.

Really what blew me away was the casting. There wasn't a single actor in there that I'd even begin to complain about. There were actually several non-white actors cast, which I thought was excellent. Lucian Msamati was the Bishop of Carlisle, and I thought he did great. Someone actually complained on twitter about it, which gave me some serious rageface1.

Ben Whishaw did an absolutely amazing job as Richard, handling all of his lightning fast swings between manic hope and rage and utter despair deftly. On one hand he made me want to punch Richard in the throat for being such a self-absorbed, petty tyrant, and on the other he still managed to make Richard a sympathetic character at the end, because you really could feel his complete loss of all hope. There was some commentary on twitter that he was getting a rather effeminate treatment; maybe a little, but that seems pretty in keeping with the play, I think, particularly since it makes Henry look like more of a badass.

David Suchet made an amazing Duke of York. I loved him to pieces in every scene he was in. He had all the internal conflict of choosing between Richard (the rightful but total crap king) and Henry (the usurper but much better king) and it came through very powerfully.

And of course, Patrick Stewart as John of Gaunt just stole it completely. Which I guess is what you'd expect from Patrick Stewart. John of Gaunt's big speech in Act 2 scene 1 just gave me chills.

The only thing for the production I really didn't care for was I felt like the divine imagery got hammered on a little too much. Yes, I get it. Richard being deposed was a massive blow against the idea of the divine right of kings. And he certainly felt himself persecuted. But somewhere between him laying out on the floor of the throne room in his white robe and being tucked in a coffin with some very well-placed wounds, it got to be just a bit too much for my taste. At the point the coffin was open and we got a full view of mostly naked Richard with his knees bent in a bit in a rather familiar post, I turned to Mike and said, "He just went the full Jesus. Never go the full Jesus." So obviously, this did not have the desired effect on me as a viewer if my reaction was sarcastic paraphrasing of Kirk Lazarus.

Anyway, if you like Shakespeare, definitely give this one a whirl. If you want to try Shakespeare out, it's not a bad place to start, though the verse can be a little rough if you're not used to it. The actors are all excellent, though, so you can get a good idea of what's going on even if you have a hard time following some of the dialog - though I'd recommend perhaps reading a summary of the play first just in case since that does help.

What this has really done is given me a massive case of anticipatory squee for the next three installments. If they managed to impress me this much with a play I'm pretty lukewarm toward, I may just explode in a shower of sugary sparkles of happiness by the time we get to the Battle of Agincourt in Henry V. 

1 - Obviously in his day, everything was about white dudes, and all the actors were white dudes, because duh. I'm really happy that non-white actors are finally scoring parts, and within the context of the plays it's being treated as a complete non-issue. I just keep wondering when women are finally going to get that chance in mainstream productions. There are obviously some places where that wouldn't work, but for example in Richard II it doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of a difference if Bagot is played by a man or a woman. This is just a thing I think about on occasion, because if this were fantasy mirror world where I could actually magically be an actress, I would still never get to play any of the parts Shakespeare wrote that I love best, because back in his day women didn't get to do a whole hell of a lot. (Including acting, so hey at least we've gotten that far!) So it just makes me sad. Not that it stops me from reading scenes to my cats when no one is around and I feel like making dramatic pronouncements.


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Tetsugawa Katsuhiro

September 2017

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