Shakespeare in our society

Since it was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on Saturday, I thought it might be appropriate to write a little thing about him to commemorate his work.

I love Shakespeare, as a pioneer and founder of British Theatre. A playwright who has influenced countless generations of practitioners. His work still stands strong in today’s society. I thought I would work through my experience of Shakespeare, and his work in theatre. The first interaction I had with Shakespeare, was my end of primary school production, my teacher wrote a musical, based around Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It was set during one of the final live shows of the X-factor, and it was 80s night, so all the music was from the 80s, I played the equivalent of Lady Macbeth, a pushy mother of the main contestant of the show. It sounds better than it actually was, and that is saying something, because it sounds terrible.  It’s funny that now, Lady Macbeth is one of my dream roles, when I played her 7 or so years ago. I then went on to study ‘The Tempest’ in my first year of secondary school, then ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Macbeth’ again, in my third and fourth year. In those two years, I also performed in the Shakespeare schools festival in ‘Midsummer Night’s dream’ and ‘The Winter’s tale’. The most vivid things I can recall from those past five plays of his, is that I hated Romeo and Juliet, and still think it is one of his worst plays, despite it being one of the more famous ones. I love the others though. Macbeth is still one of my favourite plays of his, along with Hamlet, which I saw in August last year. Now Hamlet, for me is my favourite tragedy of his. I love the characters, and the story, but the thing that stands out for me, more than his others plays his the language. The metaphors and imagery provided in the piece is so vivid and beautiful. Throughout all his work, the writing is iconic. And something must be said for his insults, which is a work of genius, exhibit a: Villian, I have done thy Mother, and exhibit b: Away, you starvelling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish! His work is full of sass and is just brilliant.  And then there is the more recent stuff that I have done recently, helping out with Macbeth and Midsummer Night’s dream,  my audition pieces and playing ‘Beatrice’ in Much Ado About Nothing. Every piece I have seen or been a part of, has influenced me as a practitioner, and as a person. I have chosen to go study Drama at Queen Mary, because the head of Drama there, is renowned for her work in Shakespeare, and I cannot wait to go study under her guidance.

Bu, I don’t want to talk about myself for 500 words or so. I wanted to explore his work throughout contemporary theatre, however that will be near impossible. Shakespeare is seen in almost all aspects of theatre and our society. Take for example, King Charles III, not my favourite play, however you can see Shakespeare’s influence embedded throughout the piece, or if you walk down the royal mile during peak season you can see wide assortment of different Shakespeare or Shakespeare related pieces, one notable one that has just transferred to the west end is ‘Shit-faced Shakespeare’. His work is surprisingly relevant, when it is staged the right way. And is iconic, in almost every sense. When people think of theatre, and British theatre, usually the first thing they think of his Shakespeare. And it’s not just plays Shakespeare has inspired, if you look at the lyrics to ‘Take a break’ from Hamilton:

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
I trust you’ll understand the reference to
Another Scottish tragedy without my having to name the play
They think me Macbeth, and ambition is my folly
I’m a polymath, a pain in the ass, a massive pain
Madison is Banquo, Jefferson’s Macduff
And Birnam Wood is Congress on its way to Dunsinane

You can clearly see how Shakespeare’s ideas have been woven throughout this piece, and all theatre really, and society. And his words have been an inspiration to people everywhere, especially aspiring theatre practitioners. One of my favourite quotes, from Hamlet,  which I have on my favourite mug remind me to keep going.

‘We know not what we are, but we know what we may be’

Signs and Doubts

I had been feeling really tense and stressed today, probably because I’m back at school and the impending doom of exams is looming. But there were a few things.

Firstly, as usual, after I’ve seen a couple of good productions, I go into a whole existential crisis. Wondering if I am following the right path, if I am talented enough, determined enough to follow that path. When I see extremely talented people on stage, all I want to do is perform with them, however I never know if I ever will. I came back to my boarding house yesterday, and left my family for a few weeks on Saturday. I wasn’t feeling the best on Saturday, and when I arrived in Edinburgh, I just wanted to sleep and do nothing else. And I had a mini-existential crisis, as I didn’t have one after In the Heights or Jersey Boys. Plus a couple of other things, just made me tired.

And today, I just felt like nothing was going right, I couldn’t revise, I had a list of things to do. And I got some of them done, I got my Drama dissertation in, so that’s the end of AH Drama for me. The second/third thing on my list was to order, Hamilton: A Revolution by Lin Manuel Miranda from the drama bookshop NYC. He is going there for a signing, and I thought there might be a chance, if I could ask the staff to ask him to sign a copy before they post it. But, when I tried to order it, it wasn’t working, the website. I couldn’t get it delivered, and when I called the shop they explained that they do deliver, and then the call dropped out. It sounds ridiculous, but it felt like a sign. I thought that if I could get a copy of the book, signed by one of my heroes, it would almost be like a sign, that if I tried hard enough I could do anything, for example get a signed copy of a book, from half way across the world, even though I won’t be there for the signing. And I couldn’t get it, I couldn’t even order it. And it feels like a sign. I am constantly doubting if to go into the theatrical route, if I should, what pathway do I take? I want to perform on stage. To be in the west end- but it seems so ridiculous and far away. And my backup subject (non-creative one)- Biology? It is just going terribly. It just all feels a bit distant. I work hard in drama, but I feel like it’s never going to pay off. I know it’s ridiculous to feel like the fact a website didn’t work is a sign and now making me rethink my whole future, but it does. Anyway, I’m just rambling and, I just needed to write this down and get it out.

-Charlotte

Jersey Boys- Piccadilly Theatre

Last night, I saw Jersey boys at the Piccadilly Theatre in London’s west end. Jersey Boys is a musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, based around the music they are most famous for. It follows the formation of the band, their biggest hits and their eventual demise. Now I don’t know much about the music of the four seasons, and I had heard good reviews of the show and was looking forward to a fun night.

It took me a while to get into the musical. When it started I was slightly skeptical of it for some reason. The first half of the first act was quiet slow but had fast character development. The rhythm of the piece was quite odd, however I did like the narration of the story by the members of the four seasons. I thought the actors were very talented, Dayle Hodge, who played Frankie Valli, had a magnificent voice, just like the original Frankie. Simon Bailey, who played Tommy DeVito, was also very good. The whole cast had very strong Jersey accents, and portrayed the archetype of Jersey Italians very well. There is no doubt that the cast was talented, musically and theatrically.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the music for a musical. I like the music, don’t get me wrong. And there were a lot of numbers that I didn’t realise were by the Four seasons. My favourite song, and the reason I wanted to see the show, was ‘Oh What a Night) December 1964’. However I felt it lost its effect, as it was played three times throughout the musical, even though it was performed very well. I felt like it wasn’t so much a musical, more of a play with songs, but that is due to the music not being of musical genre, which is understandable. This is also aided by the fact the numbers weren’t portrayed as huge musical numbers like they may be in other productions. Because of this, I, personally think it would be better presented through a film.

The first thing you see is the set, nice and simplistic, with a raised platform at the back, which worked as an effective prison. The backdrops were really effective method to convey the location to the audience. The lighting was very good, dramatic and really clever. A scene I really appreciated, was when they were performing in a big stadium. To portray this, they removed the backdrop and revealed, I assume, a lighting board, to make it look like an audience, this was furthered by the frame of the stage, creating the effect that the audience were backstage, behind the group, looking out onto a huge stadium. The scene transitions were very slick, and clever. The use of multi-media was very effective. With comic style pictures projected onto the back of the stage, and videos of the 50s & 60s, showed the time period very well. There were a few technical hiccups with the microphones, but you can’t really blame them for that, microphones are fickle and temperamental. Overall technically it was a very good production

Overall, It’s not my favourite musical. It had good music, and it was fun to go to, but I felt very distant from the piece. That maybe due to the staging and where I was sitting, but I wasn’t engaged in the production. It didn’t have the same effect for me as ‘In the Heights’. With which, I was immediately engaged from the first number, and knew I was going to see something amazing. With Jersey boys, it was a bit of a slow burner. But it was a great night, and would recommend for someone who wants to see a musical, but doesn’t really like the cheesiness of musicals.

 

 

 

 

In The Heights – Kings Cross Theatre

Last night I saw In the Heights, down at the Kings Cross Theatre – A refurbished old train platform converted into a theatre. In the Heights is written by Lin Manuel Miranda, set in Washington Heights, following the story of this Latino community in New York. It won four Tonys in 2008 and Lin Manuel Miranda just received an Olivier award for outstanding achievement in music for In the Heights.

The theatre was interesting. I have to say I’ve never been to a theatre that was also a train station. They used traverse staging and you were extremely close to the action and had the actors singing directly to you. It was very different to Barbarians however, where Barbarians was intense and dark, In the Heights was fun and enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong; it definitely addressed political issues as well. It looked at immigration and poverty in New York, with topical references to Donald Trump. The staging made me feel like I was a part of the community; I cringed for what the characters said, as if they were my friends, I rejoiced when they did, and cried when they did. This also meant that when they were performing the huge musical numbers, for once I didn’t want to run up onto the stage to be with them, because I already felt like was. When I heard the opening number, I knew I was going to watch something amazing. I knew it was going to be brilliant. And by the end of Act 1, I couldn’t wait for the interval to be over.

The set was really realistic, because you were so up close you could notice the attention to detail which I loved, and made it that little bit more immersive. One thing about the lighting I loved was the act 1 finale. As it is set on the 4th of July, there are fireworks, and the lighting designer managed to re-create the lighting effect of fireworks on stage, really well. Getting the right lighting on the cast perfectly. The act 1 finale was amazing.

The actor who played Usnavi, Cleve September, was actually the understudy, And reminded me so much of Lin Manuel Miranda himself, who took the same role when the show opened on Broadway in 2008. When he was standing, rapping directly to the audience, to me, I must admit I fell in love with him a little, be that Usnavi, or Cleve. I really liked his acting style and the character Usnavi, this slightly awkward, dorky, hopeful shop owner, who is extremely proud of his heritage, and will do almost anything to get to his home, the Dominican Republic. Josie Benson & Lily Frazer, who played Abuela Claudia and Nina, complemented him beautifully. The whole cast had amazing voices which was shown through the amazing music, now I love Lin Manuel Miranda’s music, so it is no surprise I love the music. The complex lyrics with Latino roots were a perfect way to show the core inspiration of the piece. Full of energy and soul, coupled with some extraordinary choreography, it made the whole night and production astonishing.

There is so much more I can say, about the symbolism in the piece, with the heat, building up tension and the blackout, making everyone powerless, with electricity, but also showing that they are powerless as a community. However I will stop there, before going into full essay mode. I honestly could not stop smiling throughout the show; I had sore cheeks by the end of it. I implore you to see it if you have the chance. It’s £15 for under 25s. And if you are not sure about it, listen to the opening number. ‘In The Heights’, or ‘Blackout’ They’re both on youtube.

I am Thomas -Lyceum Theatre

On Wednesday 30th March, I went to see I am Thomas at the Lyceum. I am Thomas is a described as a brutal comedy with songs. It begins in a meeting of the Edinburgh council trying to decide whom to choose for a statue in Edinburgh. And then goes back to follow the story of Thomas Aitkenhead from the late 18th century, a man who was just searching for the truth. He was the last man in the UK to be hung for blasphemy. The whole piece embodies the issues of identity and freedom of speech.

‘It is dangerous to be right in matters where established men are wrong’ (Voltaire, 1752)

Overall I loved this piece, with it’s political roots and comedic pop culture references. The first thing to talk about is the set: It was simplistic and innovative. The use of levels was very effective, having a stage on a stage, plus another barrister level on the second stage. Along with the large drapes that were used to set the scene, providing a simple, and effective way to portray the locations. The actors in character, generally ones in authority, also pulled them away. The piece was set in the 18th century, around the 1770s, because of this, the director, I assume, decided to portray that time like the 1970s. This made the whole issue of freedom of speech more relevant and harder hitting. Tying in the idea of music, like The Sex Pistols, being the ‘Devil’s music’ and a method of rebellion. This also opened up a huge range of pop culture references to be made throughout the play. From Rocky and Fight Club to Match of the Day. Which just added to the comedy throughout the piece.

One thing that is notable for this piece was the general vision for the piece, pulled together by the actors. Throughout the whole piece each of the ensemble played Thomas Aitkenhead at one point. This was really effective as a symbol for identity and the idea that this matter affects everyone no matter of your belief, colour or creed. This idea was followed through in the second act, when the whole cast were in t-shirts that said ‘I am Thomas’. This scene in particular was extremely powerful. The actors passed around a noose, when the actors didn’t have a noose they were playing, when they were handed the noose the body language of them changed completely and turned from very playful to very solemn. Along to a song where the lyrics said ‘playing to the hangman’s song’. The last actor to have the noose and to be hanged, had a T-shirt that said Je suis Thomas. This brought the story to today. Making it topical, and hitting the audience harder, especially with the recent Brussel attacks

The music brought most of the symbolism to the piece. It started off with an upbeat pace, providing comedy and laughs throughout the first act. A special mention must be made for John Pfumojena. He was amazing. His voice was angelic, with Nigerian roots in the music, creating a beautiful compilation that complimented the piece perfectly. The music also furthered the symbolism of the Heron, which had been mentioned throughout the piece. ‘What’s that on the horizon. A prehistoric Heron’ A Heron often symbolises Conviction, determination and intelligence, all qualities possessed  by Thomas Aitkenhead.  Emotionally charged, and darkly humorous, this piece was amazing. It explored Scotland’s unsung hero for our freedom of speech, by creating a relevant piece of theatre, which is particularly tricky for a piece set in the 1770s.

For an excerpt of the music watch the trailer for the show, it is definitely worth it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6u8wK6EovFg