In London recently we saw the Almeida Theatre’s interpretation of The Merchant of Venice. Concerned that I hadn’t seen it before, I set out to watch tIn London recently we saw the Almeida Theatre’s interpretation of The Merchant of Venice. Concerned that I hadn’t seen it before, I set out to watch the film version with Pacino and Irons first – half way through there was a hitch in reception and I was happy to abandon the exercise as by then it was clear that this was a straightforward exercise by Shakespeare, background research not needed.
Imagine my surprise, those of you who might also have watched the first half of Pacino’s Shylock and Iron’s Antonio, to discover that this is a comedy. The production in Islington was in a long line of productions that serve to demonstrate the incredible robustness of Shakespeare’s work. It is set in Las Vegas, complete with an Elvis look-a-like performing Elvis songs. Portia is a southern belle, an absolutely hilarious performance with, as the play demands, the capacity to wear an entirely different hat as well.
For one who professes distaste for biography/autobiography, I’ve been reading a lot of it lately. But it was easy to make an exception in this case.
I’For one who professes distaste for biography/autobiography, I’ve been reading a lot of it lately. But it was easy to make an exception in this case.
I’ve read Anton Chekhov’s letters, a form of writing which might distinguish itself from autobiography by being both more honest and of greater literary worth. Letters are, after all – or where when people used to write then, at any rate – small literary gifts. I had a friend who used to send me letters hand-written and tied with a ribbon in a bow. They insisted upon being read in a special place with some degree of devotion. The experience is the very opposite of receiving an email and scanning it while logging onto facebook.
So when I saw this book half-price at The London Review Bookshop, I had to buy it, fully expecting it to add to my reading of Anton’s letters.
The book does not pretend to be more than it is: various pieces published over a period and now cobbled together. If you are expecting the book itself as a whole to be some sort of technical triumph, a remastering of the very idea of The Book, it isn’t. It’s a cobbled together collection of bits and pieces. But what marvellous bits and pieces they are.
So there are all these expressions we use that we don't really understand. Take 'glued to the spot'. We use it, we know what it means, but I would saySo there are all these expressions we use that we don't really understand. Take 'glued to the spot'. We use it, we know what it means, but I would say virtually nobody has ever actually seen somebody 'glued to the spot'. I have. I have watched somebody being so transfixed that he had to be forcibly taken away. My understanding of the expression is now completely different from what it was.
Then there is 'beside herself with grief'. You say it. You think you know what it means. But then something happens and you realise the true horrific nature of it. So, I wonder how many people actually really understand Ophelia. Me, I've lived for 50 years, had some things happen in life that you'd call pretty awful, but only right now do I understand it.
Too early one morning. I always thought Ophelia was a woose. I'm really so dreadfully sorry for having not understood. I'm about as empathetic as a plank of wood.
Fucked if I know, Hamlet. You might be lying there wondering if you should have taken advice from your friends about what to do, you might be thinking that things couldn’t have ended up worse that way, but I don’t know, mate. I’m with you, I’ve always done hard things alone, but I no longer seem strong enough to do that. My heart is plastered all over my face and although for a few weeks lately that’s been a good thing, mostly it has been quite terrible. Actually, most of my friends can’t even see my face or my heart, but they can hear it. And they are bombarding me to save me.
Marcia says to me ‘you are carrying an intolerable sadness, you have to go to a doctor and get drugs’. I say ‘But Marcia, All I have to do is sort my life out…’ and she laughs – genunine peals of laughter. ‘My dear Cathy, the point is that the drugs will give you the strength and balance to do that. You can’t do it on your own.’ And I say ‘When I get home, Marcia, maybe I’ll see –‘ and she says ‘Today. You go today. It doesn’t matter who the doctor is. It doesn’t matter if he knows you. He will know what to give you. And it won’t be forever, it will just be something to get you straight now. Then you fix your life up.’ We hang up. I make an appointment. Later, curled up in bed, I call to cancel.
Nick, wise, and a good chess player says to me to have the strength to do it on my own and when I squeak out that I’ve never been in a situation that makes me feel so weak, that if I was ever strong, now I’m not, he says ‘You’re a chess player, be a chess player. A chess player faces the worst and fights his way out. You know that, how many times have you done it? You are in a dark, terrible place, but impose your iron will and your iron mind.’ And all I can think of is that I’m a crap chess player, I was always a crap chess player, I think back on how often I have lost. I’m weak, I’m not strong.
Andrew writes ‘Suicide is a powerful consolation, said Nietzche, by thinking about it one gets through many a bad night. Hesse picked up the same idea in Steppenwolf, although it's not the most robust of his books…as consolations go it's not the first choice. Tea seems better. But the kitchen can be a long way from the bedroom, that's something I do know.’ And suddenly I feel so much better about what has been occupying my thoughts. I hadn’t realised it was a consoling thing to do. Then he adds the things he has tried to get out of such places. Psychiatrist. Exercise. Choir.
James tells me I have to have sex with somebody else ‘You go on about how wonderful the sex is with the person you’re in love with, but maybe it isn’t really.’ You may observe that this is simply a self-serving argument on James’ part since he wants to go to bed with me, but James is constitutionally incapable of saying anything other than the truth. I close my eyes and can’t imagine anything better than the sex I’ve lately had. That does not mean, however, that he isn’t right. Eyes still closed, I wonder if I had sex with James, or anybody, and it was better or worse, which of those scenarios would be more horrible. And why would it fix things up either way. It isn’t like it is just about sex.
Harry says ‘fight’ and when I say I think it is against my principles, I have presented myself and if I am found wanting then how can it be right to fight, he says ‘when you are on your deathbed, what will make you happy is not that you were principled, but that you fought for what you wanted.’ And I say, but Harry, I have nothing to fight with. Nothing. This man can just turn me off, make me not exist with a flick of a switch. Harry is still thinking about that.
So, Hamlet. The stuff you had to go through may have done your head in, but look at all this most excellent advice. It is all different, it is from the hearts of friends who love me, it is all…impossible. You want my honest opinion? Nothing else you might have done would have helped. But I don’t know, Hamlet, fucked if I know. ...more
Finished. What an achievement. Writing it, not reading it.
I marvel that he has written a book with no character for which one could have a shred of s Finished. What an achievement. Writing it, not reading it.
I marvel that he has written a book with no character for which one could have a shred of sympathy and yet somehow we sit there caring what happens. I mean, really caring, reading through breakfast caring.
I kept thinking of The Great Gatsby when Nick says to Jay "They're a rotten crowd...You're worth the whole damn bunch put together." and isn't that what makes the book work, that there is somebody worthy of our caring. But here there isn't one character to redeem the story and yet, even so, even though they are rotten without exception, still Flaubert gets you to care. Amazing.
And then again, I marvel that the book is a complete shambles -
My mother and I were talking about Shakespeare this morning. Having seen Megan Dansie’s brilliant production of Richard III, she is going to see her R My mother and I were talking about Shakespeare this morning. Having seen Megan Dansie’s brilliant production of Richard III, she is going to see her Romeo and Juliet this week. Megan said to her about this ‘After West Side Story and Baz Luhrmann, I can only think of one way left to do the play’ and when my mother enquired as to what that might be she said ‘As Shakespeare would have done it.’ Romeo and Juliet is the play. THE play by Shakespeare. If it is necessary to demonstrate this, how better than my mother recalling when a movie version of Hamlet was put on at her local cinema years ago with the billboard outside emblazoned:
I adored this when I was little. So, it didn't particularly surprise me when my sister-in-law, Sarah grumbled to me 'You Depasquales'. '?' 'The otherI adored this when I was little. So, it didn't particularly surprise me when my sister-in-law, Sarah grumbled to me 'You Depasquales'. '?' 'The other day James was whining to me that I had to read this this picture book because he couldn't.' James is maybe six years old and her son, my nephew. 'And today? He's been following me around all day telling me every single detail of The Odyssey. The adult version. He's just finished reading it.' She glared at me....more
Frayn is on record as regretting his fate - to be an all-rounder inspired in limitless ways. If he were only a translator or columnist, only a novelisFrayn is on record as regretting his fate - to be an all-rounder inspired in limitless ways. If he were only a translator or columnist, only a novelist or philosopher, only a playwright his talents in any of these would see him more highly regarded than he is today for being wonderful at all of them. He would make more money too. If only he lived in a period where a man was admired for talent that went in many directions, instead of in a period in which specialisation is worshipped and we view with suspicion those who are constitutionally unable to live the narrow life, or think the narrow thoughts, that result from specialisation.
This collection of writings about his theatre work, both his own plays and his translations, being a renowned Chekhov translator in particular, spans his career from the very beginning. And I do mean very beginning, with hilariously charming accounts of his productions as a small boy in which he took on all roles - writer, producer, set designer and maker, cast maker in the case of his puppets. The diversity is astonishing, from his discussions of the difficulties in developing his farces to a detailed behind-the-scenes look at the history that inspired one of my favorites, Copenhagen. Throughout, however, two things stood out for me.
I don't understand why anybody would be surprised that this guy could be a Nazi.
Super easy to read, a few hours, no more. The guy understood that a onI don't understand why anybody would be surprised that this guy could be a Nazi.
Super easy to read, a few hours, no more. The guy understood that a one-idea book with no plot has to be short. I don't mean that to be deprecating. It's gripping, on the edge-of-your-seat-stuff. Well, I read it on the bed, lying down, but....more
I’d been hearing about Megan Dansie for a while, so I was pleased to be able to see her splendid production of Much Ado About Nothing at Adelaide UniI’d been hearing about Megan Dansie for a while, so I was pleased to be able to see her splendid production of Much Ado About Nothing at Adelaide Uni during a recent visit. Talking with her pre-performance, I gained an insight into the setting of Shakespeare out of period. I’d always thought it was to satisfy the creative monsters inside directors, but she made the point – obvious, though I’d never thought about it – that it could be about budget. The trappings of Shakespeare in period cost more and for a small group like hers are out of the question. She had hers set at the end of WWII, the men in uniform, which seemed to me to be neither here nor there, incidentally, in terms of affecting the interpretation of the play.
I was really taken by the depth of acting, no weak points and some marvellous comic performances. It’s a fun play and easy to follow. My mother reminded me in the interval that we first saw it when I was about nine, and I’m the eldest of four.