Well that’s it! We’re coming out of the European Union. It was a close call.
No jubilations – even for Exiteers: just an exhausting hangover and the reality of Divorce. We’ll have a short period of chaos and name-blaming. We’ll be on our guard against anyone who may take advantage while we’re down. We’ve a tough time ahead but we will survive! The Dunkirk spirit – Keep Calm and Carry On.
Numb – looking at the headlines from around the world.
I love Shakespeare. Throughout the year Britain is celebrating Shakespeare 400.
Shakespeare died on his birthday, 23rd April 400 years ago. This is also St George’s Day (patron Saint of England). So this weekend there are special celebrations throughout the regions. I am going to many and thought I would highlight Shakespeare and his Southampton connections:
The Earl of Southampton
Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton was Shakespeare’s patron, especially during the era of The Globe theatre. Shakespeare made such a devoted dedication in his sonnet The Rape of Lucrece to Wriothesley, that many thought that there may have been a sexual relationship between the two, though I like others feel that is was just the language of the day.
The Earl’s country seat was outside of the town of Southampton, but still in Hampshire, in Titchfield. Although his wife lived there, Henry Wriothesley spent much of his time in London, as did Shakespeare.
The Earl is also believed to have frequented or owned a pub in Southampton’s City Centre where travelling actors lodged. Some say this was The Bull’s Head(now referred to as The Tudor Merchant’s House); others say it was The Red Lion Inn. It was a council chamber where the trial of traitors from The Southampton Plot took place before it became an inn. In Henry V Act II, scene II, Shakespeare has the king sentence the plotters in the Southampton council chamber, then immediately set sail from the port of Southampton for Agincourt. Shakespeare must have listened to the Earl mention the Red Lion or some believe that Shakespeare may have had a drink there himself.
Shakespearean actors have performed at the Bargate and in theatres around the town since Elizabethan times, including Shakespeare’s own touring actors. Every British monarch has passed through this Bargate on their way to Southampton’s Port. Hangings once took place at the Bargate and according to legend The Southampton Plot traitors, that were written about in Henry V Act II, scene II,were hanged here.
Southampton’s West Gate and Port
The soldiers who boarded ships at Southampton for the D-Day invasion, took inspiration from Shakespeare’s Henry V. Some of Henry V troops passed through Southampton’s West Gate to set sail from Southampton to the Battle of Agincourt.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
Daring Theatre in Southampton
Southampton has a long reputation for modern or innovative theatre, Ira Aldridge is recorded as the first black Shakespearean actor. He had a limited experience of acting when he arrived from New York by ship, on which he worked as crew, in 1824. But following drama lessons and a stint at a University in Scotland, he became one of the highest paid stage actors in the world.
Ira was especially loved here in the South. He performed on stage in Southampton in the title role of Shakespeare’s Othello in 1828.
Many actresses, such as Sarah Siddons(she frequently visited Southampton and there is a theatre group named after her here: http://www.sarahsiddonsfanclub.org ) and sisters Charlotte and Susan Cushman have said to have performed Shakespearean roles in Southampton in the late 1800s. Women were considered too titillating to be allowed to perform Shakespeare at London theatres at that time and certainly would not have been allowed male roles.
Quotes used are from Henry V Act III Scene 1 (Before Harfleur)
I took part in The Victorian Festival of Christmas at Portsmouth’s Historical Dockyard this year. If you have ever wandered why so many British actors get the best parts in Hollywood movies, then perhaps take a look at this year’s festival slide showon YouTube (by photographer Steve Spurgin): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mPDpbDtbO8
With very little rehearsal, over 400 volunteers dressed in Victorian costume to bring this attraction to life, for thousands of tourists from all over the globe.
In the UK, we live and breath theatre from an early age, starting with making costumes to take part in the school’s nativity play. History is now taught by people dressing up and re-enacting the period they are learning about, be it Romans or WWII. To learn Shakespeare for exams we do not just read the play, we act it. More people belong to amateur drama groups in Britain than sports societies.
Portsmouth is the birthplace of Charles Dickens. The Historical Dockyard is where centuries-old ships, such as Nelson’s Flagship The Victory, HMS Warrior and The Mary Rose etc are moored.
The dry dock is also where parts of Les Miserables was filmed. So all these scenes were brought to life by costumed actors, singers, school groups, historical and Victorian interest societies such as steam-punks or the Victorian Strollers.People from 5 to 80 years-of-age played famous Victorian or Dickensian characters for three full days and with very little breaks. It was in the open air while the tale-end of Hurricane Desmond was blowing a gale and in addition there were a few down-pours.
First visitors are greeted by carollers, then those in Victorian Uniforms, dockyard workers, stilt-walking-police, postal clerks, servicemen, sailors. Then by beggars, prostitutes and suffragettes – undertakers, a ruthless judge in a courtroom setting, prisoners, gliding angels, pearly kings & queens singing cockney musical hall ditties, workhouse children being enticed to steal by Fagin and the Artful Dodger, chimney sweeps, a green-gowned Father Christmas. There were snow machines, carousels, a Downton-Abbey type dinner table set with turkey and trimmings, various stage sets. There were three a pubs – one mock, one real with bands singing sea shanties and even an inflatable one. There was a market selling Christmas crafts and fayre from mulled cider to hog roasts.
I was part of Groundlings Theatre that organised around 200 of us. I played an aristocratic snob preaching Victorian manners. “It is the height of rudeness to have one’s elbows on the table.” At the end of each sketch, Charles the Butler pushes a custard pie in my face. I endured around 40 of those!
The finale each year is a parade lead by a full pipe band in kilts and bear-skins and headed by Queen Victoria. We were not allowed to carry phones and cameras, so I could only took a few snap-shots in the Green Room. Most of these photos are from Portsmouth News.
Maxine Peake as ‘Hamlet, which opened at The Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester last year, is currently touring the UK. Cinema versions are also to tour other countries.
I watched this minimalist, cross-dressed version on television last night. When you cannot afford to go to the theatre much (and us Brits love theatre) Sky Arts is such a godsend.
Of all Shakespeare’s plays, the tragedy of this Danish Prince is the most versatile to interpret. Each actor makes Hamlet their own. Stripped to the bare-bones of any set, costumes, props and the cast playing different sexes, races, ages and sometimes more than one role, actors need to be outstandingly good to hold the audience’s attention. All were obviously cast for their amazing ability to act. Not one had help, in their resemblance nor voice, to the traditional characters often played. We had to suspend our disbelief, which could be hard work. As such, this is not one for those unfamiliar with the story.
Synopsis: After murdering his own brother, King Hamlet, the devious Claudius succeeds him to the throne and even marries his widow, Gertrude. Prince Hamlet seeks revenge and sets about to overthrow his evil uncle, which results in tragedy.
Best see Kenneth Branagh’s film version first; then read to play. This is one for Mancunians and those who have seen endless versions. On stage, Benedict Cumberbatch, June Law, Rory Kinnear, David Tennant and Michael Sheen have all played Hamlet recently to varying critical acclaims.
Peake is certainly a star – charismatic and compelling in her fast-paced, fresh and angry-youth interpretation. She is well-deserving of her BAFTA nomination. Full-figured Katie West is not your usual waif-like Ophelia but procures a sense of injustice, Barbara Marten, a little mature in years, comes across more beautiful than voluptuous as Gertude. John Schrapnel, resembling a warm patriarch figure, also had his work cut out to portray the sly Claudius and haunting ghost. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were far from dead in their portrayal by Jodie McNee and Peter Singh. Great performances all round.