is what my forefathers (or at least the Welsh ones) would have called Bardsey Island, a place I rather fancy visiting one of these days. However, given the rash of productions of his plays and documentaries about his life at present, I think perhaps the whole of Great Britain could be considered “Bard see island”. Given that 2012 does not seem to represent any particular anniversary for old Will, I assume this is driven by the Jubilee and/or Olympics.
Not that I’m complaining (about the Shakespeare: the Jubilee and Olympics themselves do little for me, but I don’t begrudge others their fun – which may make me unique in the blogging community) – for a start, I’ve enjoyed several of the documentaries spread across Radio 4 and BBC4. Talking of TV history documentaries, I felt compelled to watch the first quarter of Simon Schama’s recent contribution to the oeuvre without being able to see the screen as I was fighting with a model at the time in pursuit of my day job (for the avoidance of doubt, the model was of the computer rather than the human variety). This highlighted the extent to which many (if not, most) of the visuals from TV history documentaries are unnecessary: the radio with a fairly short, synchronised slide show would be sufficient unto the material, and probably rather cheaper to produce in these days of declining budgets. Surely, this sort of approach should be readily achievable in this modern technological age?
As well as taking in a couple of productions the plays by each of the National and the Globe, I have also seen the RSC’s take on the shipwreck trilogy at the Roundhouse. This wonderful building, I discovered yesterday, used to be an engine shed with a turntable to rotate steam engines (or to play very large vinyl records). There is little need for such turntables these days as most modern rolling stock is symmetrical (and development of the MP3 player) – with no real distinction between bow and stern (to borrow the nautical terminology). The only exceptions I could think of are the Class 91 Electric Locomotive and the Class 82 Driving Van Trailer (DVT) – and I have seen a 91 back-to-front – so I wonder how they turn these round? Also, would a pair of DVT socks help when driving a 225 rake south? (Yes, that was a joke for any train spotters who have stumbled here by mistake).
Back to the Bard, I saw the shipwrecked based plays in the order The Comedy of Errors, The Tempest and finally Twelfth Night. It was rather interesting seeing three plays with similar premises, and sharing the same production, basic staging and cast. All could be recommended, though my favourite was Twelfth Night and coincidentally this made the most extensive use of the ‘ocean’ which formed part of the set. This also provided the answer to a question which had been puzzling me for some years. In a piece about Greenfleeves (a passing melodious roundalay), Michael Flanders mentions a number of plays from the 16th century – including something I have previously interpreted as Gorba Duck (he introduced perestroika to many a pond, you know). However, now I know it was the play Gorboduc (thanks to the surtitles provided at the Roundhouse for the hard of hearing, or in my case, understanding) by Norton and Sackville. Subtitled Ferrex and Porrex,with hints of Antigone in the plotting (I’m thinking it wasn’t a comedy, for laughs you should look to Ralph Roister Doister) it was considered quite controversial back in 1562 – but sadly would not have been in existence (and neither would RDD) when Henry VIII (allegedly) took a brief break from wife-swapping to pen Greensleeves (yes, I am fact-checking the beloved dead). Still, I’m willing to forgive Flanders and Swann for taking minor liberties with history given the enjoyment their output has given me over the years.
Anyway, documentaries and plays by the Bard of Avon are stacking up on my PVR thanks to the BBC and Humax, so I ought to watch some of them. If the first 45 minutes of the RSC’s all black production of Julius Caesar is anything to go by – which were quite incredible, and not a sign of Kenneth Williams (whose portrayal I have relied on heretofore), though I have yet to reach the famous Infamy speech – I am in for a treat!