Shakespearean Verse Speaking by Abigail Rokison

Cambridge Professor Abigail Rokison has recently been awarded the Shakespeare’s Globe Book Award, an honour I think she deserves considering this woman questioned the way Shakespearean text is translated into a performance by the most distinguished theatre companies in the U.K.

My interest in this subject began when I first learned how to breathe at the end of a verse line in my junior Shakespeare acting class at Cal State Fullerton (2005), taught by Evelyn Carol Case. Professor Case often attended workshops by the RSC and always brought back their wisdom to us sunny Californians. The archaic language and various poetic elements frighten most actors who perform Shakespeare, which can inhibit them from delivering their lines effectively and with meaning.  So anyone who is able to give advice on the subject is usually welcome (or as Rokison said clung to like a drowning man clinging to a rock).

Over the centuries, there have been many ways of interpreting Shakespeare’s text for the stage, and most of it’s history is bound up in how scholars edited the texts that were printed and read in book form. What has been the most recent approach, the one that I was taught at university, and in a Central School of Drama Shakespeare acting class (attended in the fall of 2010), is a fidelity to the earliest texts in existence, the folios and the quartos.  It was thought that since there were no directors in Shakespeare’s day, there were hidden clues in the text that helped the actors interpret their lines. That means every short line, every punctuation, every extra syllable MEANT SOMETHING. The best example I can give of this is a line from Twelfth Night spoken by Olivia to Viola (disguised as Cesario) about her feeling for the Duke:

Your lord does know my mind, I cannot love him.

(Act I, Scene V, Arden Shakespeare, 2005)

Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter meaning there should be ten syllables in a line with a dah-dum stress . There is an extra syllable in this line, ‘him,’ which could be emphasised or de-emphasised, and suggests that Olivia may already be falling for Viola’s disguise. This extra syllable would probably be noted by the director or actor and used to interpret movement or delivery on stage.

The irony in this method is that such intense analysis of the script implies that theatre makers are working from a solid stable text, when in actuality, there couldn’t be a more unstable text than Shakespeare’s. Controversy surrounding the playwright is not limited to the authorial debate. It also resides in the fact that there are hardly any extant play scripts, that actors used roles which only had their own lines (and parts of the character speaking before them), and that the scribes who copied Shakespeare’s papers were probably very lazy and/or sought their own ways of improving the texts, leading to a lot of tampering before the text even made it to the print house.

This is where Rokison’s work comes into play. Her monograph questions the idea that theatre practitioners can make a set of rules that actors should abide by, especially when they are centred on texts that cannot necessarily pinpoint why things like a period (fullstop) is placed where it is, if it is in fact the author that put it there, or the scribe, or one of many (many MANY) editors. Rokison backs up her challenge with evidence from early text versions of nine Shakespeare plays that span his career, analysing how shared and short lines, end-stopping and enjambment might suggest specific ways to deliver a line. What Rokison looks for is a clear pattern that will validate the rules that theatre makers have stressed over the last decade. What becomes exceedingly clear through her research is no pattern actually exists. That isn’t to say that what theatre makers preach doesn’t have any bearing. I think (and Rokison would probably agree) that their methods are probably based more on empirical evidence, which is completely valid in judging what is an effective way to interpret a character’s actions and less on what Shakespeare had to say on the matter. I found Shakespearean Verse Speaking answered a lot of questions I had on how (western) actors today interpret their parts, where their methods come from, and how much faith one should hold in what professed experts say on the matter. It is inspiring to know that there are several diverse ways to perform Shakespeare and all of them can be equally valid according to the time and the place.

Rokison’s book has emerged in a time where more and more scholars are looking at the stage history of the plays, and working more with theatre practitioners to create editions of the plays that encourage performance instead of solely focussing on literary analysis. I think her publication is a great step in marrying these two worlds.


I, Malvolio at the Unicorn Theatre

As we enter the stadium-style theatre, a man in soiled pyjamas squints at us over a paper he is attempting to read. His head tilts from side to side, perhaps questioning us, or the contents of his paper. We are at once uncomfortable, and feel that we are being watched as we find a seat and settle in. We take a long look, trying not to make eye contact.

The man is middle-aged, white, with dirt on his face. There are small holes in his long johns, a brown leather hat with horns and antennae, a sign reading something like ‘bawcock.’ There are 20 or so plastic flies attached to his hat and his clothes. Dirty yellow stockings with thin black diagonal lines cover his feet. The first words he utters is… ‘not mad, not mad, I’m not mad.’

This is Malvolio, the Malvolio audiences glimpse near the end of a production of Twelfth Night. A desperate, suffering man who has been wounded, who has acted foolishly and been made fun of, who has fallen in love with his employer (the Countess Olivia), and become a victim of a cruel joke.

Tim Crouch’s one-man show attempts to flip the deck, and tell Malvolio’s side of the story. But not without berating the audience first.  The house lights stay up the entire performance, and we are found out by this surly puritan. We are put in our place as theatre-goers, as drinkers (for those of us who brought alcohol in), as people too cool to go to church and Malvolio attempts to instill a bit of order into our chaotic lives. An audience member enters ten minutes late and he becomes the perfect example for Malvolio’s argument against us. We laugh at his inflections, his voice rising to make fun of us, his sarcasm coming in thick. Malvolio has us in the palm of his hands. He bends over revealing a leopard print thong between the slit of his long john’s. We laugh in disgust. We try not to laugh, and this makes us laugh even more.

The theatrical conventions’ Crouch breaks, makes his performance piece a breath of fresh air on the London stage. The audience doesn’t know what to expect next. How far will he traverse into the audience’s domain? Will he really hang himself with that piece of rope? And what else can he get us to do for him?

While this piece is clearly designed for a teenage audience, (with it’s exploration in the tactics of self-humiliation and a nice synopsis of Twelfth Night), anyone can enjoy what I, Malvolio has to offer as a piece of experimental theatre. The metamorphosis that Malvolio experiences, the returning back to his former dignified self, makes one question how much it was the clothes that affected our impression of him, and not his actual idiosyncrasies. In a sense, we are all Malvolios, bullied at one point by a Sir Toby Belch.

If you are looking for theatre that has its pulse on everything a contemporary piece should be (unpredictable, enlightening, engaging, and truthful), while still connecting with England’s rich theatrical past, come see this one. If you want to be entertained, thrown and provoked, come see this one. Really, if you want to see what excellent theatre looks like, see I, Malvolio. 

Playing at the Unicorn Theatre until 11th November.


Ninagawa’s Cymbeline at the Barbican

When I took my seat in the cozy Barbican theatre, 5 rows from the front, I was immediately engaged in conversation with a woman sitting next to me, also seeing the production on her own. I’ve never seen a Japanese play before, let alone Japanese Shakespeare, or a production directed by the world renowned Yukio Ninagawa. But this was the tenth production the lady next to me had seen. After watching Ninagawa’s Macbeth in the 80s at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, she was hooked, and had even taken the train all the way from Edinburgh on her own just to see Ninagawa’s latest. While we were chatting, the stage was busy with activity. Actors sat on wooden benches talking quietly to each other, stretching their bodies, engaging in vocal warm ups, and checking their make up in the spotlight mirrors that made up their ‘dressing room.’ Again the lady to my left informed me that this is quite normal for a Japanese play, the actors always warm up on stage in front of the audience, although she’d never seen such an elaborately designed dressing room.

When the lights dimmed, the actors took their places in a straight line before us, bowed politely, and in one flourish their robes were ripped away to reveal their beautiful Roman-Celtic-Japanese fusion costumes. The play had begun.

What distinguishes Ninagawa’s production from any other Shakespeare production I’ve seen is the epic grandness presented, with a film-like quality to the visual pictures he creates. It’s Titanic Shakespeare. Every new scene is presented with fluid movement as flats dance, intermingling before they find their proper place, to the tune of classical European music with a lute, guitar and violin. Curtains sweep across the stage, are felled and pulled away so swiftly, it’s as if a dream has vanished right before your eyes. The fairy-tale element of one of Shakespeare’s later plays, does not escape Ninagawa’s interpretation. Innogen (or Imogen depending on your preference, played by Shinobu Otake) is girlish, sweet, and hopelessly in love. Posthumous (Hiroshi Abe) is tall, dashing and a fierce protector of his partner, while the Queen (Ran Ohtori) is a perfect caricature of the wicked stepmother in any Disney movie one may have seen. The fairytale is also translated into the mise en scene. The seedy vibrant world of Rome, the hollowed cave in Wales, and the gigantic moon (or planet Mars?) suggest otherworldliness where magical things can happen and events can be persuaded by the lining of the stars. It was no surprise when Jupiter (Masanobu Katsumura) made his entrance on the wings of a 2-dimensional eagle. The surreal element is something Ninagawa has mastered in Cymbeline.

The play is a difficult one to produce, hence why many a Shakespeare fan may have never come across it before. The many plot twists are part of this reason, as well as the puzzlement over Posthumous’s heroic personality (which he is described to have, but whether we actually see it is another matter). Also the title character, Cymbeline, is more one-dimensional, and only makes a few appearances. From the reading I gathered a play that could be called a ‘Greatest Hits Shakespeare’. Innogen as a cross-dressing heroine is from the same mould as Rosaline (As You Like It), Portia (The Merchant of Venice), and Julia (The Two Gentlemen of Verona). When Iachimo enters her bedroom to steal a bracelet in order to win a bet with Posthumous, one can’t help but think of when Othello smothers Desdemona with a pillow. When Innogen awakes and mistakes Cloten’s headless body for her husband, we see parallels of Romeo’s Juliet and Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And Cymbeline’s need to prove that England is a powerful country next to Rome smacks of Henry V and various other history plays. No wonder the editors have had so much trouble placing Cymbeline in a fixed genre. It defies definition.

It was interesting to see Ninagawa’s interpretation of Cloten (Masanobu Katsumura), who was played as a child-like clown character with a pantomime physicality. His haircut could have put him on par with Javier Bardem’s famous villain in No Country for Old Men, but was much more Jim Carrey from Dumb and Dumber. He continuously had difficulty sheathing and unsheathing his sword, and would often give people his money, forgetting that it was tied around his neck. This made it difficult to understand why Guiderius (Kenji Urai) beheads him in a duel, considering Cloten is more of a bumbling idiot than a real threat to anyone. Also, Pisanio (Keita Oishi), the Queen, and Iachimo (Yosuke Kubozuka) all seemed like caricatures of their characters. Whether this is the fault of the play, Ninagawa’s vision, or a style of Japanese acting it’s difficult to ascertain.  When discussing the play with my classmates, there were mixed views on those who loved the acting style and those who hated it. The classmates that loved it pointed out that the dramatic posing of gestures is simply not done in the U.K. anymore and would be difficult for modern performers to recreate.

Although I enjoyed much of this poetic and visually breath-taking production, what I felt was missing the most, was the sex.  After reading Stephen Orgel’s review of Danny Schieie’s 2000 Santa Cruz Cymbeline, a production which pointedly cast an attractive Cloten, and had Posthumous naked in most of Act V, I loved the idea of adding real danger to Innogen’s circumstances, of making Iachimo fit the profile of a would-be rapist so we are on the edge of our seats when he pops out of a trunk in her bedroom. Also, this strengthens Innogen’s virtue when she is able to resist both Iachimo and Cloten’s advances.  Ninagawa’s Cymbeline did not reveal any sensuality at all, and even cut the moment when Innogen is reading about Philomel’s rape in Ovid’s Metamorphoses before she falls asleep. The heroine (played by a 54 year old woman), turns from a heartbroken teenager into a young boy (Fidele) and then back into a teenager again when she is reunited with Posthumous. The hint of transformation that Ninagawa gives us before the end of the interval, the image of Innogen, dressed in white, suitcase in hand, venturing down an unknown road, alone and hesitant, is the most we get of a girl about to become a woman. Still, a captivating moment from a largely exquisite production.

Stewarding with Brenda Lee at the Globe

My first stewarding experience begins with a rush to the Globe theatre on a cloudy windy London day, and an encounter with a former Central Acting Shakespeare classmate. We are both at the Globe to steward, with three others, for the very first time. We are excited, our eyes glossed over with the elation one only gets if they’re a Shakespeare junky and they’re about to see the inner workings of a most infamous building, and a free show to boot.

 The company is two weeks into their Globe to Globe season, an ambitious project that embraces 36 foreign theatre companies who have travelled from all over the world to perform a Shakespeare play in their own language. Each company has two to three performances which makes up a complete works bill, and an unprecedented festival, just ripe for 2012 audiences in one of the most diverse cities in the world. Today we are to see Othello, in rap, performed by a Chicago company called the Q Brothers, and one of the only performances that will actually be in English (besides the Globe’s own Henry V, which will close the Globe to Globe festival).

Shortly after catching up with my classmate, Nikki, a friendly Front of House manager, comes to welcome us and give us a short tour of the main parts of the theatre we could potentially be working in. We sneak inside the theatre for a second to hear the Othello group rehearsing, then head up the stairs to the Stewards’ quarters. Immediately, we are greeted by a room full of comfortable experienced stewards having a cup of tea and warming up before the show. Most of the stewards are 50 plus, and have been volunteering for years and years. I am introduced to the person I’ll be shadowing for today, Brenda Lee, and then head out again for fire safety training.

The Globe has over 500 stewards and need at least 40 to help with a performance. They monitor the doors, help people find their seats, the gift shops or the toilets, and administer first aide if needed. They sell cushions, seatbacks, blankets and rain gear, they watch for any unsolicited photography, keep safety paths clear, and politely shush any people who may be disturbing the performance. While they are all volunteers, it is obvious that their role is crucial in keeping a show running smoothly, and allowing everyone (from patrons, to performers, to the staff) to enjoy themselves during the performance.

After fire safety training, signing a few pieces of white paper, and locking my things away, I join up again with Brenda Lee, a fabulous elderly woman with white hair pulled back and clasped at the nape of her neck, and tan eyes with blue around the iris. An original Essex girl, she is positively lovely, gracious and humourous.

In the briefing we learn that the show is quite short with a 35 minute start, 15 minute interval, and 35 minute finish. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. I think this is due to the unusual cold, wet weather we’ve been experiencing this spring that has added a few more sniffles to everyone’s noses. Even though there is an inside and an outside, the Globe is an outdoor theatre and vulnerable to the elements, which means we are vulnerable to them as well.

 I learn that we will be stationed on the North tower in the middle gallery, which is the easiest place to work, because the seats are a bit pricier so the audience is generally more calm, and we have the best view in the house (of course, this is debatable. I still love the groundlings.). Brenda takes me up to our spot with two other Stewards, Pam and Chris, who are equally lovely. We tour the area for fire hazards, and even head into the balcony where the musicians are usually stationed, just to make sure the paths are clear. Then we stand shivering with a draft that’s been created by our double wooden doors, dance to some Kriss Kross and House of Pain (ok, I was the only one dancing), and wait for our guests. They appear hesitantly, tickets in hand, as well as drinks and blankets, with searching eyes. Brenda easily points them in the right direction or leads them to their seats. I follow and learn how to read the tickets for which gallery, bay, and seat.

 Soon, the show begins and we close the doors and stand at different posts to watch. I focus mainly on the show, while Brenda scouts for cameras.  The performance is awesome. Four actors rap in perfect rhythm to the DJ’s beat, who stands on the balcony, overlooking the crowd. They claim their reason to change Shakespeare’s play is directly inline with the Bard himself who borrowed from everybody, and altered the material as he saw fit. The plot is updated to the 21st century, as Othello (Postell Pringle) becomes the head of a rap music label and helps his friend, Cassio (Jackson Doran), gain a better audience, while also falling in love with Desdemona, an unseen diva, who’s heavenly vocal lyrics make Othello stand mesmerised. There is plenty of laughter as two of the male actors take on Emilia and Bianca in silly wigs and dresses, and Roderigo (JQ) is a techno nerd who’s willing to sell all of his action figures in order to woo Desdemona. Despite the humour and smooth lyrics, Desdemona’s demise is just as terrifying and Emilia’s outcry of the truth overtakes her otherwise silly portrayal, bringing this swift performance to its finale. For those who say Shakespeare’s plays are dead, they need to fly to Chicago and see the Q Brothers, who testify that the Bard’s words are more powerful than ever. The audience was definitely in agreement as they immediately stood and clapped, ushering in the cast to take a second bow.

As the audience left in high spirits, we bid them farewell and collected left over cushions. It was a great first Stewarding experience, and a wonderful introduction to the Globe to Globe festival.

Respite, Rewired and on Fire: The Shakespeare Sites

Hello reader,

Wow, it has been many many many months. To say I’ve taken a hiatus would be somewhat of an understatement. More like a sabbatical (if grad students get sabbaticals). In truth, 2012 transpired and my academic career blew into a million different directions. One of them was an entirely un-Shakespearean route; Professor Anna Hartnell taught her first module on Narrating Nation after 9/11, a fascinating enquiry into the national conscious of America, Israel and Palestine through their fictional and non-fictional narratives. The class was enthralling with heart-breaking material that led to a 5, (500) word essay on the Palestinian National Narrative.

Also, I’ve been neck deep in reviewing for a fabulous new start-up website called One Stop Arts. Some of the shows have been Shakespeare, some have been classical, but most have been fringe (the off-Broadway equivalent), which have led me to some of the most fascinating and quirky theatres in London, some on top of pubs, some in warehouses, and some in alleyways next to the West End hits we all know and love (I must see Singing in the Rain sometime soon!). If you live in London, please have a look. The site is reviewing everything you can imagine, from rare classical concerts to the latest art exhibition and dance performances, let alone an entire variety of the hundreds of theatrical performances one would expect London to produce. To read my latest review, click here.

Well despite the respite, I’m back, and with an ENORMOUS desire to fill you in on everything that is Shakespeare in one of the biggest years London has had yet: 2012. With the Olympics, the London 2012 festival, and the World Shakespeare Festival, London has got Shakespeare on its brain in an entirely novel and thrillingly unprecedented number of ways. I must Must MUST tell you about these websites I have stumbled upon in the last few weeks.

First up there’s myShakespeare. A site developed by the RSC and entirely devoted to people’s projects’ on Shakespeare. Some are poets, some are artists, some are performers. All are innovative. One of my favourites (EEEEEHH! Seriously FAVOURITES) is Coloured Water by Konstantinos Mouzakis, a student from Central Saint Martins who has taken the play Twelfth Night and turned it into an ethereal visualization based on each character’s emotional intensity. The video itself is a new way of looking at how a character’s emotional aura, like Orsino or Malvolio, penetrates the space around them, inhabiting other’s emotional states and colouring the mood of an entire act.

Another, mother of a project, Banquo, chronicles the impact Shakespeare has had on the web, by way of measuring Tweets, Ebay items and Flickr images pertaining to Shakespeare and his works. You can watch Banquo live and pause the hundreds of twitter data floating past your screen, or narrow it down to a specific genre or even play. If only this machine also measured Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Pinterest, the Shakespeare hits would be astounding.

There are plenty more fascinating projects to look at, many done with meticulous mathematical and artistic precision. For the fine artist in you, have a look.

Okay, once you’ve geeked out on myShakespeare, have a look at Year of Shakespeare, a site that will definitely be my go-to place to explore all of the international companies that are making an impact in London this year. Led by the Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham, and in collaboration with the University of Warwick, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, and Misfit, Inc., Year of Shakespeare is organized by continent and lists all of the intercultural performances coming from that region with a summary, image, review (if it’s opened yet), and sometimes YouTube clip of the performance. It’s amazing what’s coming out of Africa, and a bit saddening that only one company is coming out of the Australian region. Still, the site attests to how much the world is interpreting and adapting an English playwright’s work, turning him into an international (not just English-speaking) treasure. I’ll be sure to tell you which performances I’ll be covering this summer in a later post (if only I could see them all…).

To top it all off, I have began the first of my volunteer stewarding experiences at the Globe last Saturday, with the Q Brother’s rap version of Othello: the Remix (from this native’s home country, the USA). To say it was rewarding is an understatement, let’s just say I ‘shakespearienced’ it. (For a preview, check it out.) I look forward to regaling you all with the details in the next post. Stay tuned.

Respectfully Yours,

Mrs. Sheekster of the Shakespeare Geeks

aka Jessica Wali

Ostermeier’s Transcendental Hamlet

Thomas Ostermeier’s Hamlet was the first play I saw performed in another language, and it was riveting. I worried that the surtitles would be too distracting and I would be too busy staring at them and writing my notes than actually watching the play. My partner, who’s not an active theatre-goer and has never read Hamlet (although he knows the story, how could you not?), was worried he’d fall asleep. I didn’t mention to him that the production was 156 minutes long without an interval. It turns out both our fears were erased the moment the performance began and we watched a gravedigger struggle to lower Hamlet Senior’s coffin into the ground. The gravedigger slipped in the rich soil that covered the stage floor, he fell in after the coffin tipped upside down into the grave, and he managed to make a mess of the funereal rites after dropping the spade and replacing it with a shovel. Should we laugh? You couldn’t help it. This was one of many moments either created or reimagined in Ostermeier’s production. Hamlet was no longer the well-known good-looking existentialist peering at a skull and alluding to madness. On Saturday, 3rd December 2011, he was a man in a fat suit.

Yes, you read me right. A fat suit. I thought he was just chubby at first. But during the play-within-a-play sequence we see a strangely lithe Hamlet (played by Lars Eidinger), clad in skimpy underwear with women’s black knee-high tights, and an equally near-naked Horatio (Sebastian Schwarz) performing the Murder of Gonzago; Hamlet then steps back into his fat suit and clothes in plain view, while discussing the play with his mother/aunt and father/uncle.  In fact, nothing was sacred or secreted from the spectators. I’ve never seen a production more aware of or engaging with its audience apart from a show at the Globe.  As Hamlet confides in Horatio,

 I have heard

That guilty creatures sitting at a play

Have by the very cunning of the scene

Been struck so to the soul that presently

They have proclaimed their malefactions.


The lights come up on the house and we are peered at by the actors as well as each other, laughing ironically at how the tables have turned against us. One audience member (a fellow Shakespeare MA student) sitting dead centre is made to stand up, turn around and be gawked at. And then Hamlet spots him. A young man sleeping in the left section of the stalls.  His friends immediately wake him up and we are all in hysterics now. Can you imagine falling asleep at a play only to wake up with the entire audience and actors on stage staring up at you? Bewildered, calm, Hamlet asks him what he last remembers, so he can fill him in on what he’s missed. Hamlet has us now. We are like putty in his hands. He does ‘To be or not to be’ for the 3rd time. Suddenly, ‘to die, to sleep’ takes on a new comical meaning with Eidinger gesturing at the young sleepy theatre-goer. We share in this moment of allusion. His earlier rap as a disc jockey (the all too familiar ‘Put the needle on the record’ and ‘Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge’) followed by a 2nd ‘To be or not to be’ (the 1st presentation opened the play) involves empty drink boxes as hands splashed about on the banquet table, the microphone scratched on a plate full of glitter, grabbing the metal fringe curtain that frames the stage and swinging from it in lackadaisical play.

The playing and improvisation are what makes this show come alive. We see everything as if it is happening for the first time in a spontaneous disruption of all theatrical limits. Acting exercises normally confined to the rehearsal room come bursting out with incredible effect. We have no idea what to expect next. And for Hamlet, this seems a rare case. The performers are uninhibited. Judith Rosmair’s Gertrude morphs into Ophelia through strange guttural sounds reminiscent of The Exorcist, pulling her blonde wig and sunglasses off to reveal a suddenly innocent brunette with a ponytail in white jeans and a t-shirt. There’s humour found in eating the food and spitting it back out, in Claudius’s apparent need for Hamlet’s affection, going straight for him with arms out stretched. The actors roll around on the muddy stage (literally covered in soft crumbly soil) and stand in the rain (generated by a hose with a shower spout turned upwards) without flinching. Ophelia pours two gallon sized bottles of water on top of her head while convulsing out songs of madness as if her voice was a record that kept skipping a beat, sliding her hand up and down her body with one breast exposed.

This is sheer madness. Not madness hinted at, but severe cases of turret’s, schizophrenia, and bipolarity and what arises from a complete release into the freedom of insanity. Eidinger’s Hamlet revels in it, dancing and shouting out a gleeful ‘yippie yippie’ to deep bass music, seeing how far he can take us. We go hungrily, we acknowledge the translator Marius Von Mayenburg’s declaration that ‘it’s all just theatre, and yet also reality,’ that ‘they put a mask on every evening and they play the role they have to play.’ As the six-person strong ensemble morph into their various roles, pour blood on their faces, take turns holding the shower spout, push the platform holding the banquet table down and upstage with levers, and lastly, record various soliloquies and moments with a camcorder which are projected onto the fringe curtain in real-time, we are constantly made aware that this is a simulation. And through the act of being made aware, we are acknowledging a truth that can only be found in the theatre.

Before Hamlet fights Laertes in the last scene, he gazes at the audience and slides a hand over his face, changing his expression from happiness to sadness. But after the third time, the pantomime no longer works. His face is permanently stuck in a grimace, a vacant expression. He can no longer tell the difference between his fabricated madness and his true self. What results is a poignant apology to his spectators:

 What I have done

That might your nature, honour and exception

Roughly awake, I here proclaim was madness.

Was’t Hamlet wronged Laertes? Never Hamlet.

If Hamlet from himself be ta’en away

And when he’s not himself does wrong Laertes,

Then Hamlet does it not; Hamlet denies it.

Who does it then? His madness. If’t be so,

Hamlet is of the faction that is wronged-

His madness is poor Hamlet’s enemy.  (5.2.208-217)

Hamlet’s downfall is his own ‘antic disposition,’ an act of playing madness becomes real madness to which he cannot escape. As Gertrude foams at the mouth and Laertes becomes an angel, Hamlet, with blood on his face shouts, ‘I die’ and ‘the rest is silence.’

Ostermeier has followed in Heiner Muller’s footsteps (author of the outrageous Hamletmachine) by creating a production that tears the ineffable playwright’s image into a million little pieces, and begins again. How can we, as a British audience, be affected by this German production? By going to see more foreign performances and engaging in a dialogue with what they have to offer us; which, in Ostermeier’s case, is a production teeming with rousing moments designed to make you feel uncomfortable, shocked, bemused, and alive. The translation did not inhibit this modern audience, instead it permitted us to re-engage with Shakespeare and theatre all over again.

The Schaubühne Berlin Ensemble premiered Hamlet in July 2008 in Athens and has been travelling internationally ever since. The production ran for a week at the Barbican, London, from 30th November to 4th December 2011. All quotations from Hamlet have been taken from the 2006 Arden edition. To see video clips of the production, click here or here.

Forget the Olympics…London 2012 Festival Highlights

As the type of sports person who somehow gets hit on the head whether it’s playing football, basketball, golf, or chess, I’ve  since retreated to the side-lines and become a happy-go-lucky spectator.  And while I am very enthusiastic about watching the Olympic games happen in my own city, the lottery and oversubscriptions to many of the matches have made it nearly impossible to get tickets. And with an expected influx of more than 500,000 people to one of the world’s oldest cities, which already sees too many drunken people in Leicester Square on a Friday night, I was starting to get a bit disappointed about actually enjoying ‘the greatest show on earth.’

 Enter the London 2012 Festival. With less than two months to go until the Olympic year, an explosion of performances, exhibitions, concerts and events are springing up across Britain. They are all a part of the London 2012 Festival, commencing 21st June and finishing 9th September, although some events will start earlier and end later.

The major cause for celebration (at least to this girl) is the World Shakespeare Festival in collaboration with Shakespeare’s Globe, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Barbican, and many more UK theatres. Kicking off on the Bard’s (supposed) birthday April 23rd is the  Globe to Globe season: 36 of Shakespeare’s plays and 1 of his poems will be performed by 35 foreign theatre companies in their own language (The Globe will perform Henry V, and Deafinitely Theatre will perform Love’s Labour’s Lost).  When I heard about this six months ago I almost danced with my computer out of sheer happiness. The tickets are now on sale and include multi-buys, where you get discounts and rewards for the more shows you sign up to see. The mother of them all is the Olympian where you can see all 37 shows for £100 and get a copy of Shakespeare’s Complete Works signed by all of the festival participants, well worth it for the Shakespeare enthusiast who can take off work for 6 weeks in order to see up to 6 shows a week. (Believe me, I’m tempted.)

At the Barbican we have Cymbeline by renowned Japanese director Yukio Ninagawa, and Desdemona, a new work written by celebrated Nobel prize winner Toni Morrison and Malian singer/songwriter Rokia Traoré with a particularly feminine response to Shakespeare’s play, Othello. (Cymbeline: 29 May- 2 June, Desdemona: 19-20 July)

The RSC will be performing a wide range of plays from the Shakespeare canon, most of which will make their debut in Stratford and then transfer to the Roundhouse in London. The most exciting of these productions is Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad. Adapted by director Monadhil Daood and performed in Arabic, this Iraqi Theatre Company production will display the upheaval of conflict between Sunnis and Shias. (26 April- 5 May in Stratford and 28-30 June at Riverside Studios, London)

Are you a fan of Yoko Ono? Her latest work will be displayed at the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park from 19th June to 9th September.

Love the national flower? The English Flower Garden is a rose-tacular exhibit that will tour the UK with a stop at the Southbank Centre (1 May- 17 Sept), displaying 15,000 ceramic blooms by artist Paul Cummins.


Enjoy a surreal environment? The Tate Modern’s oil tanks will open to the public for the first time with performances and event-based art in a circular space. (6 July- 25 Nov)


Love a good musical? Trafalgar Square will be hosting West End LIVE where the performers of the West End’s biggest musicals (Chicago, Billy Elliot, Ghost, Legally Blonde, Mamma Mia!, etc.) will sing and dance for FREE to Nelson’s lions and whoever else comes to watch. (23-24 June)

As the festival approaches, I look forward to covering many of the performances/exhibits for those readers who are too far away to take part. The ones mentioned are my personal favourites, but there are many more events taking place. Find out more at London 2012 Festival. For more on the World Shakespeare Festival, visit