Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

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Interview on Shakespeare with Yvonne Murphy, Omidaze Director

April 23, 2017

Romeo and Juliet OmidazeTo celebrate Shakespeare’s official birthday, director and producer Yvonne Murphy has shared with us some thoughts on Shakespeare and the latest Omidaze (Oh My Days!) production of Romeo and Juliet, coming to Cardiff later this month. In 2008 Yvonne founded Omidaze Productions, which now has a reputation for exciting Shakespeare theatre and generally shaking things up a bit.

What is special about the Romeo and Juliet production this year?

When the referendum happened last year I watched and listened to our country fracture. British society is at a crucial point in its history and I believe we need space and time to have a proper conversation about what kind of society we want to live in. We are a generation away from the Second World War after which we reshaped our society for the better. I would like to think we are enlightened enough that we can make the necessary fundamental steps, which are now needed without conflict as a catalyst.

I struggled post the referendum to know what I should do next. I felt silenced and fearful. I questioned the role and direction of theatre and the arts generally and what Shakespeare had to do with anything anymore. I went a long way away to come back round to Romeo and Juliet. A story of society. A morality tale of how a broken and dysfunctional society puts at risk the futures and lives of our young people. If Romeo and Juliet had felt empowered, felt able to influence those in power and listened to, then they may have made better and more informed choices. We ignore our young people at our peril. It is all of our responsibility to ensure there is no conflict on our streets and our society is a place which values equality, knowledge, tolerance and understanding. And above all it must be a society in which no one feels fear for themselves and those they love.

What is distinctive about putting on productions of Shakespeare in Wales?

Shakespeare takes time to do well. I have fought for that time. Unless the actors understand the verse structure and every syllable of what they are saying how can they hope to communicate it to an audience? Especially a non-traditional theatre audience who are not used to hearing the language? A four-week rehearsal period is not an artistic decision, it is an economic one and one which needs to change if we are to produce classics of quality. I feel very privileged that the Arts Council of Wales and all our partners felt able to invest in Omidaze to do this work in this way.

Wales is a small nation and one which I think would benefit from less catergorisation of art forms and more breaking of boundaries – I am interested in melding artforms. I am interested in what entices audiences across class, ability, race, gender and age into a circus tent and what creates barriers to the same people for theatre. In all my shows I attempt to blend and break boundaries of different artforms, (circus, stand-up comedy, dance, visual art) to allow as many people as possible a route into the work.

I also made a conscious decision to cast as diverse a cast as possible. If I want to reach a non-traditional audience for Shakespeare then the people on stage must reflect the people on the streets of Wales and Britain. Much work is needed to increase and diversify our casting pool in Wales and then create enough strong quality work and development opportunities to keep talented actors and creatives here.

Omidaze is not just about putting on a show: you are also involved in educational projects. Do Shakespeare’s plays offer room for ‘inspiring change’ or are you always reacting against them?

I am never reacting against the text. The text is my absolute starting point and what I begin and end with. It is a story which needs to be told. I do not come with a concept which I want to squeeze the play inside. I read and read a text and let it resonate within me and find the story which I feel strongly needs to be told right now.

I am however reacting against how Shakespeare is often done. My starting point for the trilogy was to ask who is Shakespeare for and where and how can it be staged, by who and for who and why?

Shakespeare is a gateway art. It opens doors, raises expectation and ambition levels and it belongs to all of us. It is a gift which we must share because to close that door is to shut off a light to people.

I was deeply concerned by the lack of gender equality in the theatre industry and I knew Shakespeare was a good starting point to raise awareness around that discussion. However, conversation of equality cannot and should not be confined to gender. Equality is all about power sharing. There are no villains. Just years and years of doing things a certain way and years of lists being created of people to use whether that is a lighting designer, production manager, voice coach or actor. It takes time, energy and conscious effort to change those lists and so that is what I decided to do. In my own small way.

The educational aspect of Omidaze is at our very core. It is not an add on. We rehearse live in schools in front of young people to break open the process. We create workshops to accompany the work and invite young people from disadvantaged areas into our dress rehearsals. We open the doors to young people looking for work experience and we hold Q&As whenever we can. Theatre and the arts in general are in a state of emergency. If we only see arts subjects in schools as vocational and then see a career in the arts as too precarious for anyone not from a stable financial background the voices and work will not represent modern Britain. The arts and culture belong to everyone. We must value them and their impact and create a strong society with them at its core. Whoever heard someone tell a child to only study Maths or Science if they want to be a Mathematician or a Scientist?

As Churchill so famously supposedly said (or is it an urban myth?) when asked if the money ring-fenced for art and culture should be put into the war effort – ‘Then what are we fighting for?’

Yvonne blogs at omidaze.wordpress.com

Read the Cardiff Shakespeare review of last year’s Omidaze Shakespeare production.

Visit the Omidaze website

@Omidaze

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff

27 April – 14 May, 2017

Find out about tickets.

If you would like to contribute Shakespeare-related news or reflections, please get in touch with me (Johann Gregory).

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Hamlet at the Almeida: A review by @EmiGarside

April 2, 2017

Hamlet Almeida

A review by Dr Emily Garside

Hamlet is a play that is familiar even to those with no direct experience of the play – whether it’s a general knowledge of a much-adapted plot or the countless lines that have made it into common usage. So it is an achievement of a director and cast to not only make the production feel fresh and innovative but also for lines so often uttered they are virtually cliché to sound new.

Robert Icke, former artistic director of Headlong, now associate of the Almeida inserted new life into Oresteia last year, and it’s in a similar vein he has approached Hamlet, starring Andrew Scott as the Danish Prince. The production is modern dress and makes use of video technology but it’s period is indistinct, at times feeling in the present moment, others having a slightly futuristic air.

The major change it feels Icke has made is a shift in pace to the expected ebb and flow of the piece. Gaining infamy for a nearly four hour running time, it doesn’t feel like the theatrical marathon it is. There is a natural pace to the overall piece, and within each scene, down to each line that Icke seems to have taken apart and put together again. Although the first segment is familiar in its staging, approach and length, there is a clattering towards a finale that despite some additions – some from the first Quarto lines, some dialogues additions to staging – that give this take a freshness.

The contemporary staging – so often nothing more than some suits and contemporary furniture – is woven into the staging effectively. The play opens with news footage of King Hamlet’s funeral, and across the play video is used, from a Skype meeting with the ambassadors, to filming The Mousetrap, through to war footage and final evocative images that show integration and addition of film and stage at their most effective. Most engaging of this is the staging of play-within-a-play The Mousetrap in which when Claudius storms out, disrupting both the staged performance and the filming of the royal family, the ‘Pause’ created is so realistic for a moment it feels like there is something genuinely wrong. These elements of meta, thrown back onto the audience across the play, make for an engaging and challenging reading of the well-worn Hamlet.

Of course, any Hamlet is only ever as good as the actor playing the title role. And again, Andrew Scott brings to light elements of the part that even in those moments that usually feel so familiar, there is a different slant to Scott’s performance that creates a freshness. The early and end scenes are emotionally charged and made for the most moving portrayals of the part in memory. In the early scenes, Scott veers from quietly grief stricken to unhinged and over the top from moment to moment. Scott’s balancing of the two elements of grief stricken and depressed works, and although at times the moments of exuberant grief and madness may seem ridiculous, it is because Hamlet himself is indeed at times ridiculous. The intimacy of the venue works in favour of this portrayal as well, with the loud, abrasive Hamlet feeling too close to be comfortable, and the quiet, reflective Hamlet feeling intimate and moving.

Robert Icke’s production has successfully re-invigorated Hamlet in his staging, using the contemporary elements rather than simply creating a backdrop of them. Meanwhile Scott’s Hamlet offers a different take on the classic role, and perhaps one unexpected from the actor. He is a contemplative, but emotional Hamlet, caught in a changing world on both a personal and political level. It’s an intellectual challenging Hamlet for the audience, but also one which resonates with the underlying emotion of the piece.

Visit the Almeida website

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream @NewbridgeMemo – March, 1st-4th

February 20, 2017

a-midsummer-nights-dream

Marvellous Pretenders are a newly formed professional theatre company, based in the Newbridge Memo.

The group, who are fronted by director and actor Suzie Rees, are the only professional producing company in the area and will be bringing classic plays to Newbridge over the next few years…the first installment being the Shakespearian classic: A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Wednesday, March 1st – Saturday, March 4th

Tickets on sale now: £8 standard | £6 concession.

Ballroom Bar Open: 6.30pm | Theatre Doors: 7.00pm | Event Start: 7.30pm.

Find out more

 

If you would like to review this production for Cardiff Shakespeare, please get in touch with Johann Gregory.

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So why come and see the show?
It’s going to be great fun as the company have approached it as a Shakespearean farce so it’s quite fast and furious. Also, it’s the first opportunity to see classic theatre by the Memo’s own professional theatre company.

Is the show accessible and up to date? What can people expect?
The actors have spent a long time working on understanding the language so that the audience will be able to understand it too.  Our version is a long way from the stuffy, static performances many people associate with Shakespeare.

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RSC Live The Tempest – Encore Screenings 7 Feb @theRSC

February 3, 2017

tempest-banner_0

If, like me, you’ve yet to see the RSC Tempest, there is a chance to catch it in Cardiff next Tuesday. I was lucky enough to hear the co-producer Sarah Ellis talk yesterday in Cardiff at an event on digital and the arts, where she discussed the RSC’s collaboration with Intel and Imaginarium Studios. Last semester I was teaching the play on a Late Plays module at Cardiff University and in seminars we discussed what the masque in the play would look like in the twenty-first century, so I’ll be interested to see how this scene is staged especially.

Johann Gregory

Find the nearest cinema screening to you.

BBC NEWS: Shakespeare’s Tempest gets mixed reality makeover

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Review of Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona @RWCMD

December 3, 2016

verona-web-image

Royal Welsh Colege of Music and Drama, Cardiff

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Director: Caroline Byrne

Review by @LucyMenon

The Two Gentlemen of Verona is considered to be one of Shakespeare’s first works and as such is often held up as an example of the immature playwright experimenting with ideas that will later return in his more established comedies.  To an extent this is true as we are presented with a love triangle, a disguised boy-heroine and an escape to the green world of the forest where all the knots can be untangled and the correct pairs can be united in marriage.  These are plot devices that will be used in later comedies such as As You Like It and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  This play however, also causes consternation in its seeming disregard for women and the value it places on homosocial bonds between men and the importance of friendship over and above that of male-female relationships.

A reflection from Johann Gregory:

Shakespeare’s play speaks to our own time in a very unsettling way. Near the opening of the play, for example, the heroine Julia is represented wishing she hadn’t returned an unread letter via her servant:

And yet I would I had o’erlooked the letter.
It were a shame to call her back again
And pray her to a fault for which I chid her.
What fool is she, that knows I am a maid
And would not force the letter to my view,
Since maids in modesty say ‘No’ to that
Which they would have the profferer construe ‘Ay’.
(1.2.50-56)

Julia says that she wishes that she had read the letter and hadn’t rejected it. The servant is a fool, she says, not to force the letter on her when the servant knows that she must for modesty’s sake say no to something, even if she really wants it. Of course, this moment of ‘forcing’ something on a maid could be easily read differently without too much of a stretch of the imagination. ‘What do you mean?’ is Justin Bieber’s highly popular song, controversial for arguably promoting a rape culture. Sofia Lyons wrote in a blog for The Huffington Post that

the lyrics perpetuate the idea that unwanted advances or sexual misperceptions are at the fault of the woman because she wasn’t clear about her intentions or a man thought she wanted it because she couldn’t ‘make up her mind’.

How ‘What do you man?’ Promotes Rape Culture

So in a year that saw such a high profile case at Cardiff Crown Court concerning a charge of rape that rested on the issue of consent, the language and actions presented in Shakespeare’s play are uncomfortable to say the least. Of course, it remains an open question how disturbing this ‘comedy’ would have actually been in its own time to those who viewed it – apparently many, now, will listen comfortably to Bieber’s song.

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Two friends, Proteus and Valentine each have their own love, but when Proteus meets Valentine’s paramour, Silvia, he seems to forget his own beloved, Julia.  He reveals Valentine’s plot to elope with Silvia to her father and this results in his friend’s exile.  In the meantime, Julia, who has been at home, decides to risk her reputation and follow Proteus to Italy, disguised as a page boy.  The play culminates in the attempted rape of Silvia by Proteus.  After firstly chastising Proteus for his behaviour and vowing to sever friendship, Valentine is quickly swayed when Proteus begs forgiveness and within a few lines, the men have reinstated their friendship and, most disconcertingly, Valentine has promised that ‘All that was mine in Silvia I give thee’ (5.4, line 81).  Frequently, this line is cut from productions as it is at odds with Valentine’s earlier behaviour and also emphasises the uncomfortable ease with which men can consider women as possessions and commodities.  The resultant marriages, or implied marriages at any rate, are therefore troublesome as we are left wondering whether or not the commitment to the women will be true and if the love the women bear the men is indeed, well placed.

With such a depth of characterisation to explore and treacherous issues to negotiate, I was interested to see how the cast at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama would interpret this play.  Using an interesting mix of the ancient world, through the use of stone-effect and pillars in the set and contrasting it with a more contemporary feel through the use of costume and music, the production quickly established the idea of incongruity that runs through the play itself.  The start of the play opens with Proteus (Joe Wiltshire Smith) bidding farewell to Valentine (Aly Cruickshank); this was played for laughs and in a sarcastic tone that reflected well the notion of the masculine bravado of youth which was strengthened further with the secret handshake the two had which was a nice touch.  This gesture was repeated throughout and served to show the close bond between the two friends which later makes Proteus’s betrayal even more shocking.  Julia’s tumult over receiving a letter from Proteus was extremely well delivered by Lola Petticrew and bringing the letter to members of the audience to show it off was a source of amusement.  The fact that Proteus also did this was a nice mirroring move.  Having the lovers exchange rings with an echo-like voiceover for their lines added a dreamlike quality to proceedings and made Proteus’s departure seem part of a fairytale which obviously is later undercut by his infidelity.

As with all good comedies, we have the scenes with the servants, and in this particular play, we have Launce (Charlotte O’Leary), complete with his dog, Crab.  Here, Luke Rhodri, completely excelled himself by having the tricky task of playing Crab, but executing it well.  The use of music was good, with a tense background sound of something like a police siren and radios to create a jarring atmosphere while Proteus debates love and friendship and what he is meant to do with his feelings.  When he screws up a letter and throws it to the floor, coupled with the line of Julia being dead, the action is heavy indeed.  I feel a special mention should go to Tom Murton who played Silvia’s father, the Duke of Milan.  Throughout, he delivered his lines well and commanded a very believable relationship with each character he encountered whether that was his daughter, his friends or Valentine.

Unfortunately, there was quite a lot of confusion as to whether or not there was an interval in this production.  The house lights went down and several people got up, but the actors were back on stage very quickly and the lights then dimmed.  Valentine and Speed (Elysia Welch) were shown in slow motion fleeing to the forest in exile and in the foreground, Julia was changing her costume to become a boy.  Whilst it is very probable that this was a time-filler, as there was no need for either of these processes to be staged for so long, I found it uncomfortable that the audience was leaving and entering and actually missing a silent showing of the despair and the lengths to which lovers will go for each other.

In the second half, we were treated to an entertaining spectacle of a band and song sung by Thurio (Louis Carrington) and Proteus to try and woo Siliva (Hannah Barker) who was sat in the balcony with the audience.  There were many instances where the characters came into the audience and I felt that this worked really well as it made the audience feel more involved and complicit with the action.  In order to be with Valentine, Silvia enlists the help of Sir Eglamour (Luke Rhodri) who is supposed to be a man of great virtue and chastity who still mourns the death of his love.  Silvia asks him to help her and, in this production, also kisses him deeply.  I felt that this was an incongruous interpretation as the very point was that there was somebody truly chivalrous left to rely upon and that he does aid Silvia out of genuine care rather than seeking any kind of gratification.  Silvia is also constantly confessing her love for Valentine, especially when rejecting Proteus’s advances, so it seems unrealistic and at odds with what should have been intended here.  It would also be incredibly tragic if Silvia was meant to feel obliged to offer herself in this way to ensure Eglamour’s help.

However, as the play moved towards its disturbing denouement of Proteus attempting to take Silvia’s love by force, the four central characters held their roles incredibly well.  It’s difficult to maintain the tension in this scene when the emotions alter so drastically in the space of a few lines.  Both male leads convincingly delivered their lines, even though we are left feeling that it is an inappropriate reaction to events: is it really so simple to excuse your friend for nearly raping your partner just because he says “Forgive me”?  Valentine’s line of offering Silvia to Proteus was kept in and served to cause distress and both women were shocked by the way the friends seem to value each other over them.  Even though each couple was united in the end, the women did an excellent job of showing little enthusiasm for getting married.  Silvia wraps her robe around Julia and continues the show of female solidarity that has been displayed throughout and Julia walks sombrely towards Proteus and in the final moments looks out into the audience, away from him, though he is gazing at her.  Even Silvia and Valentine are at different ends of the stage and exit off different sides: promised to each other yet distanced by events.

A troubling play, dealt with in varying degrees of success in this production. But, ultimately, this was a thought-provoking staging that didn’t gloss over the unsettling aspects of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, instead opting to leave the audience with a complex set of emotions and unanswered questions.

This production runs until December 10th. Find out more and book tickets.

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Taking Flight with Romeo and Juliet in Cardiff: A Review

June 18, 2016

Review by Emily Garside @EmiGarside

Taking Flight Theatre are back for their annual outdoor Shakespeare, this year with Romeo and Juliet. Taking Flight are an inclusive theatre company, meaning all their productions are accessible for audiences and performers alike. Unlike other theatre companies who treat accessibility as an add-on for Taking Flight accessibility is a part of the performance.

This means for Romeo and Juliet, there is live audio description as well as BSL interpretation and dialogue. Juliet and her Nurse converse in BSL and Romeo must attempt to learn some to communicate with his love. Meanwhile inventive and witty audio description serves to enable accessibility and move the narrative along.

Set in 1963 against a boarding school backdrop, a combination of swinging 60s design and music gives the show an energetic lift, and the promenade performance allows the performers to really engage with the audience and make the story their own.

This is an energetic and youthful interpretation of Romeo and Juliet and one that would serve as an excellent introduction to the text or indeed Shakespeare as a whole to audiences young and old. Set against a backdrop of Wales’ most beautiful venues on its outdoor tour Taking Flight have devised another inventive and engaging take on Shakespeare that all audiences can be included in.

Taking Flight @takingflightco

Touring Wales June 16-August 1st

Thu 16 – Sun 19 June Thompson’s Park, Cardiff

Tue 21 June Caerphilly Castle

Thu 23 – Sat 25 June Denbigh Castle

Sun 26 June Loggerheads Country Park

Wed 29 June Tintern Abbey

Thu 30 June Cyfarthfa Castle, Merthyr

Wed 6 July Tretower Court

Thu 7, Fri 8 & Sun 10 July Blaise Castle Estate, Bristol   Tickets for this venue can be purchased here: www.bristolshakespearefestival.org.uk

Fri 15 – Sat 16 July Valle Crucis Abbey, Llangollen

Sun 17 July Rhuddlan Castle

Tue 19 July Cilgerran Castle

Wed 20 – Sat 23 July Stackpole, Nr Pembroke

Sun 24 July Hilton Court, H’west

Tue 26 July Clyne Gardens, Swansea

Thu 28 July Elan Valley

Fri 29 July Kidwelly Castle

Mon 1 Aug Beechenhurst Lodge, Forest of Dean

 

Find out more.

 

 

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All’s Well That Ends Well @ShakespeareatTF – A Review

May 1, 2016

All's Well Tobacco Factory

A review by Thomas Tyrrell (Cardiff University)

During a lecture on the medieval sources of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well, Professor Elizabeth Archibald digressed so far as to recommend the current production at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol. I was suddenly reminded that it was eight years since I saw my first ever Hamlet there; seven since I last went, to watch Anthony and Cleopatra. High time I went again.

The clue’s in the name – the Tobacco Factory is not a purpose built theatre. Forget the stalls and the boxes, the Gods and the proscenium arch. Everything here is staged in the round, with a few bare props, no scenery – and no, the cast will not be familiar to you from the latest Hollywood blockbuster. It’s an intimate space, where every seat gives you a chance to appreciate the play from a literally unique angle.

At the interval I cast an eye over the audience survey. The three key points the theatre was interested in were, in order:

  • Did you understand the plot?
  • Did you understand the language?
  • Did you think the play was well-performed?

I was concerned that the quality of the acting came so far down the list, especially while talking to the woman on the neighbouring seat as we waited for the lights to dim. She was not a Shakespeare loyalist, though she’d come with a woman who was, and she was finding the play a struggle. For her, so much of the drama of the play was lost in the language – beautiful poetic language, she was willing to admit – but which through its very invention and complexity obscured the character’s emotions and motivations. It wasn’t relatable for her.

I had some sympathy. The theatre was obviously concerned that the plot and dialogue of the play, one of Shakespeare’s least known, should be clear and understandable, but in the process I thought they’d sacrificed some of the drama. Helena, heroine of this play, is one of Shakespeare’s most resourceful, witty and determined female characters. Like Rosalind in As You Like It, you should fall in love with her at once. Eleanor Yates as Helena tends to put the language before the emotion, though, and declaims rather than declares her love for Bertram, Count of Rossillion (Craig Fuller). You don’t feel the ache, the yearning, the uncertainty of the infatuation of the physician’s daughter with the man from the higher social sphere. You don’t feel Helena’s nervousness as the wily but well-meaning Countess of Rossillion teases her secret out of her. It’s a superb performance by Julia Hills in a wonderful choreographed scene where two women in full Victorian mourning dress circle one another like dreadnoughts at sea, but still – you just don’t feel it on Helena’s part. You don’t sense her triumph as she heals the King of France of his troublesome fistula, and (in a witty reversal of the usual fairytale) demands Bertram’s hand as her reward, nor her growing anxiety as it emerges that something is seriously awry in their marriage. Only when she finds by Bertram’s cruel letter that he refuses to consummate the marriage and would rather spend the rest of his life waging wars in Italy than share her bed do we see her composure break and her tears pour out.

One the other hand, this emotional void gives unusual room for the other parts in the play to shine. Paul Currier’s Parolles entered with the casual drawl, false swagger and waxed moustachios of George MacDonald Frazer’s Flashman, wearing an unbelievable jacket apparently stolen from a playing card, and amused throughout. The charm and common sense of Diana (Isabella Marshall) as she fooled Bertram into a reconciliation with his wife in part made up for the lack of affect in Helena’s performance. Craig Fuller put great effort into the thankless, sulky and brooding role of Bertram and succeeded in giving me a sense of how nightmarish the play’s final scene is for his character, when all his hypocrisy, deceit and selfishness is dredged up in full view of his mother, his King and his prospective father-in-law.

Helena enters to save him, revealing the bed trick that has been played upon him – instead of villainously seducing the innocent Diana, he has lawfully consummated his marriage with her and fathered a child. The couple reunite, but the play as Shakespeare wrote it leaves us with the nagging feeling that Bertram hardly deserves this mercy. The great emotional moment (‘my eyes smell onions,’ sniffles a courtier) is the reunion of Helena and the Countess, and this seems appropriate for the conclusion of a play in which the women characters are unusually numerous and active in guiding their foolish menfolk in the direction of a happy ending.

This performance has a surprise hero however, for the Countess’s clown Lavatch, vessel of much crude humour, has been reinvented as a prissy dancing master. Marc Geoffrey plays him as a cross between C-3PO and Ophelia and it’s either a tribute to the smoothness with which the new material has been grafted into the play or my dodgy memory of the text as a whole that I could hardly spot the joins. When he recovers from the madness that dogs him in the second half to lead the characters in a closing dance (a Renaissance tradition revived at Shakespeare’s Globe and now, it is heartening to see, spreading to other performances), I found myself deeply and unexpectedly moved. After seeing a fractious character like Bertram slighting his partner and trampling on everyone’s good nature, it added a new conviction to Bertram and Helena’s reunion to see them move, for once, in time and measure: and I was reminded, in the word’s of Shakespeare’s contemporary Sir John Davies, that ‘Dauncing is love’s proper exercise.’ In the hurry for the exit, I missed the chance to find out how my neighbour enjoyed the second half, but I hope she too found something moving in it.

 

 

Dr Charlotte Mathieson

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