O do not wish one more!

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I have just finished watching the Hollow Crown. What a brilliant and masterful production it has been. Richard II did stand out for me, but all the casting and production has been great, and I can’t wait for round 2!

Henry V is obviously a play that gets done a lot – and like all true Englishmen, I’ve seen both the Laurence Olivier and Kenneth Branagh versions. I said before that I thought it would be possible to find more in it than Olivier’s glorification and Branagh’s denial of war, and it seemed to me this was a more intimate portrayal, focussed on Henry rather than seeking to make a broader statement.

Tom Hiddleston, therefore, had a lot to do and he did it astonishingly well. Well, no, not astonishingly well – I should know by now that he is a very gifted actor. He portrayed a really majestic king, one who was considered, but decisive when he needed to be, not proud, but dignified. And an awesome speechmaker. It was really jolting, to see the brief flashbacks and remember what a wastrel he had been in Henry IV. Now Hal was Henry, a successful king, winner of wars – and ladies.

And what did they do with this? They bookended the film with his funeral. What could be, on the face of it, a rather triumphal (or at least happy) film, they made into a tragedy. What a waste of England, to have and lose such kings as we have seen! What a Hollow Crown it is…

Life’s but a walking shadow

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With no more tickets on the mantelpiece, and no more big London productions on the horizon (no, I haven’t got tickets for Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch, along with most of the world…) I am turning to film for a Shakespeare kick.

A few weeks ago I re-watched Shakespeare in love (which feels like it almost counts as canon) and I am currently watching The Hollow Crown. I totally managed to miss them when they were on in 2012 (too busy watching synchronised swimming?) but I can see why they were so widely praised. Richard II in particular was fantastic – both in dramatic direction and so visually stunning. I had distant memories of having seen it some years ago, with Ralph Fiennes in the title role, but the only bits which had really stuck in my mind were the “sceptered isle” speech and an odd bit of slapstick with various hot-heads running out of gloves with which to challenge one another. This time round it seemed beautifully, wonderfully clear, and I’m looking forward to catching it on stage. Ben Wishaw was outstanding as a fey, unworldly monarch though – I don’t think anyone else could do it as well.

I’ve watched Henry IV as well – both parts – and they seem to have less to them. Perhaps it’s the very nature of a history play, that it won’t necessarily have a perfect story arc, but I found neither the story of the rebellion nor the playboy prince totally compelling. After all, how much can I care about a threat to Henry’s throne, when we know he took it from Richard? And how can I care about the idle doings of a drunken gang, who seem not just hedonistic but unprincipled, and where I cannot but agree with Hal’s father that he behaves very badly? And the final pay-off seems unfair – can Hal only be a good king by being gratuitously rude to his old companion? (Poor Simon Russell Beale, he’s not coming out of this year terribly well…)

I’m still looking forward to watch Henry V – and it will be interesting to see it after the set-up. Like most English people, I have seen both Laurence Olivier’s and Kenneth Branagh’s version (it’s compulsory before they let you have a passport, right?) but I think there is more to be found in it. It’s been a Hiddleston-heavy Shakespeare year, but I don’t think I regret it…

Coriolanus

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Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse

13 Feb 2014

So this was the first in my project to see all 38 plays in 10 years on the stage, and the one that, indeed, sparked the whole notion. Tom Hiddleston played Coriolanus, so the production was sold out, so they had a ballot for an extra week and naturally I won tickets. Well, the chance to pay for tickets. I got two in the front row of the balcony, and then had to find someone to go with. The friend I eventually went with was up for it, mainly because they had stayed up all night on New Year’s Eve to get day tickets and then fallen asleep during the show!

When we met up beforehand, they had said they had been surprised by the queue of fan girls outside when she came – and apparently Tom had been very generous in signing stuff outside afterwards…

Aaaaand on to the show. The Donmar Warehouse is very small, very intimate (which is cool) and the stage production reflected it by being very minimal. Plain floor (although various members of the cast painted squares on it at various times), graffittoed brick back wall, almost all the action carried out with chairs and a lectern. Which worked surprisingly well, for a play about a mob and a war!

The cast was very good – apart from Tom Hiddleston, Menenius was played by Mark Gatiss, one of the tribunes was the bloke who played Don John in Much Ado About Nothing two years ago with David Tennant (clearly has a line in playing evil Shakespearean bit parts. And playing them well.), Martius’ mother was played by one of the old biddies from Cranford, and his wife was played by Birgitte Hjort Sorenson – last seen as a Danish POW/sex pest in Bluestone 42 (somewhat appropriate as all she did, largely, was kiss Tom. We should be so lucky to get paid for it.)

The play was very engaging – I genuinely like it – although I don’t think anyone quite plays up the angles I would around the way he brings about his own downfall by never standing his ground, being incredibly politically naïve even though he is an astute warrior. And the fickleness of the mob. I think you could do interesting/weird/good X-factor references. As , the quality of talking Shakespeare varied. Gatiss, Volumnia, and Hiddleston seemed to understand it the best (and Elliot Levy – the tribune), many of the others were in that annoying “dramatic=shouty” mode, and letting it roll off the tongue rather than get meaning from it.

Hiddleston, I thought, was really really brilliant. Particularly the physical side of things – the scenes where he was wounded actually made me wince with sympathetic pain. There was a shower scene which was impressively un-sexy despite Hiddleston’s naked chest – the mixture of washing off blood, the impressive wound make-up, and the acting of pain were really, really good. He was excellent in the latter scenes where he has to be hard with Menenius and then melt with his mother. The sarcasm when he went through the marketplace, and the anger in the Senate were also awesome.

Gatiss was also excellent – perfect mixing of light and shade – as the light-hearted patrician. And Hadley Fraser gave just the right amount of homoerotic wotsit (but who wouldn’t for the Hiddleston) as Tullius Aufidius –although the decision to make all the Volsciis northern was a bit obvious for barbarians (did wonder if Fraser’s beard was a subtler nod though).

All in all I really liked it. Everyone else was giving it a standing ovation, which I thought was a bit OTT, until I realised it was the last night and we were the only ones not yet standing. So we stood up in a hurry. I hope we weren’t too obvious, but we were in the front row of the balcony so, uh, maybe?

The queues for Tom were not small, and he didn’t come out. Apparently there had been incidents before. Rabid fangirls are clearly dangerous!


 

Guardian review: http://www.theguardian.com/stage/2013/dec/18/coriolanus-review-donmar-warehouse

Rehearsal piccies: http://www.whatsonstage.com/london-theatre/news/11-2013/rehearsal-pics-tom-hiddleston-and-hadley-fraser-pr_32754.html

Fan issues: http://claireyfairy1.tumblr.com/post/71902086315/so-about-the-tom-hiddleston-fans-at-coriolanus, http://www.bubblews.com/news/1778027-my-personal-take-on-the-fan-frenzy-surrounding-coriolanus-and-tom-hiddleston