Play Previews: May – August

I usually write a preview post every four months or so. It’s that time again…

MAY is a busy month. I’ll be in London later this week where I will try to see The Globe’s Merchant of Venice starring Jonathan Pryce as Shylock. I’ll also definitely see the RSC’s A Mad World My Masters at the Barbican. I was finishing my PhD when this was on in Stratford, so completely missed it, so I’m happy to have another chance to see the Constable of the Commonwealth. I’ll be in Stratford later this month too, where I’ll look forward to seeing Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta and, if possible, Ford’s Love’s Sacrifice. If I can, I’ll also go back to London for Ninagawa’s Hamlet at the Barbican. It will be busy, then, and there will be a lot that I won’t see. I won’t get to the York International Shakespeare Festival and I’ll miss the Malone Society’s staged reading of King Leir at Somerville College, Oxford. Last year’s event, which I wrote about here, was really good, so I’m sad to miss it.

JUNE sees the opening of two of my favourite plays: Measure for Measure at the Globe and Othello at the RSC. I’ll hope to see both. It’s also an interesting month for staged readings of John Ford. The Globe’s Read Not Dead will produce The Queen in May and follow that up with The Lover’s Melancholy and Perkin Warbeck in June. You can see the full list herePerkin Warbeck is really wonderful, so I’ll try very hard to see it (in the meantime, someone please do a full production). I’ll be in Canterbury at the end of the month for the John Fletcher conference at which there will be a script-in-hand performance of The Two Noble Kinsmen at St Mildred’s Church. The full details, including the conference programme, are available here.

JULY involves another exciting Fletcher event: a script-in-hand performance of The Scornful Lady at The Shakespeare Institute. Middleton’s A Game at Chess also gets a script-in-hand performance in July, at an interesting symposium in Canterbury. I also look forward to the opening of the RSC’s Volpone and to the National Theatre of China’s Richard III which is at the Globe.

AUGUST is harder to preview – I’m sure lots of things will pop up between now and then, but I’ll hopefully also see The Merchant of Venice at the RSC and I’m interested in Carol Ann Duffy’s adaptation of the medieval Everyman at the National. I’m sure there’s lots that I’ve missed out or don’t know about and there are some that I’ve ignored (I can’t write about everything!) Let me know what you think!

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The Fair Maid of the Exchange: Malone Society Staged Reading and Symposium

Here’s a blog I wrote about The Fair Maid of the Exchange for the Malone Society

Malone Society

This guest post comes from Dr Eoin Price, who recently gained his PhD from The Shakespeare Institute, where he currently works. He is preparing a book about the meaning of the terms ‘public’ and ‘private’ in Renaissance theatrical discourse and has work forthcoming in Literature Compass and The Map of Early Modern London [http://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/]. His reviews of Renaissance drama can be read at asidenotes.wordpress.com and Reviewing Shakespeare [http://bloggingshakespeare.com/reviewing-shakespeare/author/eoinprice/]

The Fair Maid of the Exchange

Are comedies meant to end happily? We’re often told this, but it’s easy to cite examples that don’t fit the bill. In Shakespearean comedy, we are left with unaccommodated figures like Shylock or Malvolio, while in Love’s Labour’s Lost death postpones the expected marriage. Jonson’s Volpone ends with punishment and the happy ending of Marston’s Antonio and Mellida turns out to be a ruse: in the tragic sequel, Antonio must avenge Mellida’s death…

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Fawning

The Globe regularly produce stage readings of rarely performed plays from the period, under the banner ‘Read Not Dead’. Considering I claim to like a broad range of Renaissance drama it is perhaps a bit shameful that, until this month, I’d never been to one of their productions. I shudder to think of all the stuff I’ve missed since I started my PhD in 2009, but I’m glad, at last, I got to see one their productions. I’m glad, too, it was a play I’d already read; indeed, it was one for which I have a good deal of affection: John Maston’s early Jacobean disguised duke drama, The Fawn.

Unfortunately, I’ve lost my programme and I can’t find a cast list on the internet so I can’t properly praise the actors for a variety of entertaining performers (though I can credit James Wallace with a strong performance as the disguised Duke Hercules). What I can do, however, is praise the play and, in particular, Marston’s brilliant, perverse poetry of the body.  Here’s Herod, talking about Hercules, not realizing he is also talking to him:

By this light, I’ll swear he said his father had the hipgout, the strangury, the fistula in ano, and a most unabideable breath; no teeth, less eyes, great fingers, little legs, an external flux, and an everlasting cough of the lungs.

And here’s Hercules, proposing to find a ‘modest, matron-like creature’ for the jealous Don Zuccone:

She has three hairs on her scalp and four teeth in her head, a brow wrinkled and puckered like old parchment half burnt. She has had eyes. No woman’s jawbones are more apparent. Her sometimes envious lips now shrink in, and give her nose and her chin leave to kiss each other very moistly. As for her reverend mouth, it seldom opens, but the very breath that flies out of it infects the fowls of the air, and makes them drop down dead. Her breasts hang like cobwebs. Her flesh will never make you cuckold. Her bones may.

‘She has had eyes’ earned a great laugh, as well it might, though I was especially enamoured with the image of halitosis so bad is causes birds to fall from the skies. And yet, while The Fawn is interested in the lecherous, the ugly, and the corrupt, it also celebrates the young love of Tiberio and Dulicmel. At the start of the play, Hercules resolves not to be ruled by ‘nice opinion’ and hopes to enjoy the ‘wild longings’ of youth by temporarily divesting himself of power and travelling in disguise to a foreign land. His son, Tiberio, is sent to win Dulcimel’s love for his father, so, initially, Hercules does not seem quite so different from the lusty figures that fill Duke Gonzago’s court (perhaps that is why he is able to play the part of the fawn so well). But Hercules genuinely learns about himself by pretending not to be himself. In a funny and tender scene, Tiberio shows Dulcimel a picture of his father as Hercules watches on in disguise. In the Read Not Dead production, the picture was an old cover shot of Wallace; rather wonderfully, Hercules had to look back at a younger version of himself, as his poor lovesick son tried to pass off the image as ‘the perfect counterfeit’. Later, Hercules wistfully acknowledges he ‘never knew till now how old I was’. It’s a poignant tonal shift which offers a striking reminder of Marston’s ample dramatic talents. Just as well that there will be more Marston soon, as the Globe’s fully-mounted production of The Malcontent opens at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse next month.

ReadNotDead.jpg

Ghostbusting

Readers may notice that the background to this blog depicts a scene from The Spanish Tragedy.* It’s chosen, partly, because it’s a nice picture (insofar as an image of a hanging can be described as nice), but partly to recognize that a blog about Renaissance drama must pay due reverence to Kyd’s seminal play. Accordingly, I felt, despite my negligible acting experience, I couldn’t pass up the chance to be in a staged reading of it. So, this week, in performances at The Shakespeare Institute and at the University of Birmingham, I played the Ghost of Don Andrea.

Hieronimo

I wanted to play Don Andrea because I like that he is both integral and detached. On the one hand, the play is ostensibly about his revenge and, in our production, he was visible at all times, watching amongst the audience at The Shakespeare Institute, and at the front row of the lecture theatre at Birmingham. He opens the play with a long, knotty, challenging speech and he is there at the close, preparing to extend the ‘endless tragedy’ of his enemies by acting as their judge in Hell. On the other hand, he spends relatively little time centre stage, and he only interacts directly with one other character: the mysterious Revenge. I enjoyed the challenge of tackling some of his difficult speeches and liked thinking about the nature of his relationship with Revenge; I also got to see the play from a perspective which, while not quite equivalent to that of an audience member, was nonetheless quite different to that of the other members of the cast (Revenge excepted). I’m going to try and make sense of some of my experiences rehearsing, acting, and watching the play on the production’s official blog (which you can access here) but I wanted, first, to make some general observations about what was, to me, the most bizarre scene of the play, in which the Ghost tries to rouse Revenge from his slumber.

By the time Revenge figuratively or literally falls asleep, Don Andrea has already shown his irritation at Revenge’s circuitous methods. He’s initially puzzled as to why his enemies end the first act banqueting, and he’s vexed again at the end of the following act by the death of his friend, Horatio. He and Revenge are absent from act three, by far the longest of the play’s four acts, until the final scene, by which point he’s presumably really quite pissed off. In rehearsals, we (Robert Ball, the director, Hannah Hickman, who played Revenge at The Institute, José Pérez Díez, who was Revenge at Birmingham, and I) discussed the extent to which we found this scene comic. The earlier scenes, we thought, might work if played humorously, as there’s something to be said for playing Revenge as increasingly patronising (‘Be still’ he tells the Ghost in 1.5 and 2.6) and Andrea as increasingly bewildered. We toyed with the possibility of a huffy Ghost, trudging petulantly back to his seat to watch the play, but, while I think that could work, it would require a more confident comic performance than I would have been able to muster. Nonetheless, we decided that the sleeping scene is, or can be, funny, and in different ways, both Hannah and José got laughs here. ‘Content thyself, and do not trouble me’ said Hannah’s Revenge, before placing the script over her face and falling back asleep; ‘Awake? For why?’ asked José’s drowsy Revenge, having perturbed us all with his loud snoring. There were a few laughs, too, at the dumb-show, one of several performances within the play which require their authors to gloss the events for their auditors.

Yet, by the end of Revenge’s explanation of the dumb-show, Don Andrea is apparently calmed and contented: ‘Sufficeth me; thy meaning’s understood’, he says, before returning to his seat to watch the the final act. Here, I felt, was a tonal shift, and my instinct was to try and play the line solemnly. Out of confusion the Ghost gleans some degree of understanding and comfort. If his attitude is shared by the audience, who, at this point, might equally desire the closure of revenge, then it may be a peculiarly disturbing moment. I don’t necessarily think I transmitted that to my audience, but the play certainly transmitted it to me.

*It used to, before I changed it!