Wednesday, May 09, 2007


It's been some time since Germaine visited Stratford [see my Germainia blog of 3.9.06], but absence doesn't seem to have made her heart grow any fonder. She went to King Lear; some of her more memorable observations are below.

" you have to understand that the 1,000-strong audience is composed of a minority of geriatrics who haven't got out of the theatre-going habit, [that presumably includes Germaine?] and a majority of teenaged school-trippers bussed in from various grim hostelries in the environs of Stratford."

"Most of the members of the audience don't have English as their first language."
Lucky she didn't come to any of the Complete Works performances, as she would have discovered that not only are some of our audiences like that, but some of our acting companies - Titus, Lear, Henry V, Twelfth Night, Dream, Othello, Hamlet, Richard II and III, Macbeth and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Foreigners all.

Her most bizarre comment was this,
".......the Royal Shakespeare Company long ago gave up simply saying the lines for mouthing, gnashing, yelling, snarling, munching, spitting, gritting, grinding, shrieking, slobbering, snapping and gobbling them."
Given the care and effort that the RSC puts into speech this is almost inexplicable; I'd send the old girl a hearing aid if I thought she could master the technology.

Monday, May 07, 2007


April 28th and 29th saw Shakespeare's birthday celebrated in wonderful weather and great style. There was the ancient [well, at least 40 years old, they say] ceremony of unfurling the flags; Michael Boyd, Richard Eyre and I were entrusted with The Theatre banner, ably assisted by a Scoutmaster and Scout; we then processed to Holy Trinity and laid our wreaths on WS' tomb, followed by a long lunch. Good speeches, particularly by Harriet Walter and Richard, but too many of them, so we didn't rise till 4.15.

The RSC Open Day on Sunday had something for everybody; a John Barton seminar with Ian McKellen and Judi Dench, a session with Trevor Nunn, Terry Hands, Adrian Noble and Michael Boyd [and Peter Hall on video], in which some of Michael's predecessors revealed a surprising and late conversion to the wonders of the Memorial Theatre stage, an hilarious quiz compered by Gyles Brandreth, sonnets on the ferry, fight and makeup sessions for children, and Montagus v. Capulets at football.

In the evening the RSC bade its own private and final farewell to the Memorial Theatre stage. This was an extraordinary and moving occasion, skilfully put together by Greg Doran, with 34 jewels performed by - well, some of, and perhaps even most of, the best Shakespearean actors in the world, including Antony Sher, Sinead Cusack, Juliet Stevenson, Judi Dench, David Warner, Michael Pennington, Donald Sinden, Anton Lesser, Barbara Leigh Hunt, John Woodvine, Harriet Walter,Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and Simon Russell Beale. Followed by fireworks that lit up the Avon, and a staff party into the late reaches of the night. Quite a weekend.

Friday, May 04, 2007


I'm not able to review King Lear, as the critics cannot see it until Frances Barber recovers from her accident and is able to play Goneril. But Melanie Jessop, Frances' understudy, whom I saw on her first night [the aborted Press night] is excellent.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


While the RSC was performing the Complete Works on several stages, in a parallel universe Professor Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen were preparing the first corrected and modernised Folio-based edition of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare since, depending on your interpretation of editing and modernising, either 1685 or 1709. And if you imagine this is relatively straightforward stuff, read Ron Rosenbaum’s The Shakespeare Wars, and marvel at the ferocity of the academic rows that can develop over the minutiae of textual analysis. As an example of the tasks of the Shakespearean editor, here is an extract from Jonathan Bate’s blog.

“The first printed text of Much Ado about Nothing was the quarto-format edition of 1600. Since it is a good quality text and since the 1623 Folio text derives from it, all modern editors use Quarto as their ‘copy-text’ for Much Ado. But it is in the Folio text alone that we find a very nice Dogberryism (malapropism) -“statues” in place of “statutes”. The quarto, presumed to be based on Shakespeare’s original manuscript, has “statutes”, which is semantically the right word but dramatically the wrong one. We simply do not know whether the folio editor restored a Shakespearean joke that had been obscured by a quarto misprint or inserted a joke that Shakespeare should have made but didn’t. Shakespearean editors agonise about this distinction and 10,000 others like it. Because textual orthodoxy demands that they follow quarto, they leave out the joke. I say relax: it’s a good joke, it’s there in the Folio, an editor should print it and an actor should speak it. If that means accepting the anonymous folio editor of Much Ado as one of Shakespeare’s ‘co-authors’, along with his actors and the other dramatists with whom he sometimes worked in collaboration, then all well and good.”

The new edition was published last week, a fitting climax to an extraordinary year. It has received extensive and enthusiastic reviews

The RSC Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen. Macmillan. £30


In May 2004 the Royal Shakespeare Company was beginning to emerge from one of the more turbulent periods in its history. It had fled expensively from the Barbican, had an unhappy season at The Roundhouse, and run up a substantial deficit. Its plans to demolish the listed Memorial Theatre in Stratford on Avon and replace it with an entirely new building had been received with less than utter rapture. Under a new team the RSC was beginning to find its feet creatively, and had made a healthy financial surplus. It was a time for caution and consolidation.

Against this background, the RSC’s Artistic Director Michael Boyd clearly recalled the attitude of Marshal Foch at the battle of the Marne in 1914, “Hard pressed on my right. My centre is yielding. Impossible to manoeuvre. Situation excellent. I am attacking”. So he decided the RSC should stage the Complete Works of William Shakespeare in a single international Festival year. A brave RSC Board agreed, allocated £3 million from reserves to cover the cost, appointed Deborah Shaw as Complete Works Producer, and embarked on an extraordinary twelve months.

My contribution as Chairman was to undertake a sponsored Complete Works Marathon and see them all – 38 plays, The Rape of Lucrece, Venus and Adonis, The Phoenix and The Turtle, and some of the sonnets. Just over twelve months, 884,647 words, 589 scenes, and £133,344 later I breasted the tape at the press night of the Trevor Nunn/Ian McKellen King Lear. Not alone – 100 fellow completists had paid £1,000 for season tickets, and most of them had lasted the course. Shakespeare anoraks are a hardy breed. A glittering press night is one thing, but turning out in The Swan for a 3 o’clock rehearsed reading of The Two Noble Kinsman [rarely performed, and for good reason] quite another.

What were the highlights? The RSC’s companies demonstrated the strength of the ensemble in a glowing Much Ado, a powerful Tempest, a dazzling Antony and Cleopatra, three Henry VI’s on a single day followed by a memorable Richard III. A production of Henry VIII in Holy Trinity, Shakespeare’s church, that raised the hairs on the back of
my neck, in which brilliant direction and a strong cast triumphed over the narrow nave-length stage. Soprano voices from the choir, thunderous knocking on the church door, the candle-lit sanctuary, stained glass windows [replaced since their destruction in the Reformation] provided an extraordinary backdrop. And a beautiful baby, the infant Elizabeth I, behaved impeccably as she was christened, like Shakespeare, in the Holy Trinity font. She stole that show. An erotic Venus and Adonis, a strong Coriolanus, the last play to be performed on the stage of the RST before its transformation, and a climactic King Lear in the 1,000 seat temporary Courtyard Theatre.

There were some disappointments. Romeo and Juliet didn’t work. In Kneehigh’s Cymbeline the plot and most of Shakespeare’s words had been lost, and the good jokes were drowned in sloppy paraphrasing. say, loved it. The Sonnets performance was a gamble that failed. The first four sonnets were competently read and beautifully sung, but it was a mistake to entrust the rest to a menacing, pierced, platform-heeled Goth, who made it impossible to hear a word. The words matter.

There were some delightful surprises. An all-male production of Twelfth Night in Russian under the Cheek by Jowl banner was a triumph of the unexpected. A brilliant, ancient Feste, a handsome young Malvolio, a vodka-sodden Toby Belch, a feminine Olivia, combined with a ferocious Russian melancholy to produce a memorable evening. In an Italian version of Henry V Pippo Delbono, looking like a middle-aged, overweight, part-shaven biker with a beer bottle, turned into Henry V and dominated the audience through his powerful stage presence and the beguiling use of movement and music. His dance of triumph and despair remains one of the most compelling images of the Complete Works season. The RSC’s King John was a terrific performance of a rarely seen play; it is hard to imagine it better. The Ninagawa Titus Andronicus was terrifying and beautiful, the German Othello a violent, disconcerting and adventurous experiment that belonged in an adventurous season.

Good and bad, adventurous and conventional, I saw them all, and raised over £133,000 for the RSC thanks to the generosity of many kind friends. It was a fantastic year, a tribute to the imagination and energy of Michael Boyd, Vikki Heywood and Deborah Shaw in particular. The whole of the RSC and the many visiting companies created a unique and memorable Festival. 60 gallons of stage blood, 1,000 specially created scars, 1,300 costumes and over 3,000 props were used.

In the last twelve months Stratford has had Shakespeare in Japanese, Russian, Italian, German, Chinese, Portuguese, several South African languages, Arabic, seven Indian dialects, Shakespeare performed by Bunraku puppets, and by Tiny Ninjas bought from an Oregon vending machine, Shakespeare sung and Shakespeare danced. The cumulative effect has been an extraordinary reminder of the timeless and international appeal of the Heart of All England’s Elizabethan man, a reminder, in Hazlitt’s words, of “ the sweetness, thought, gravity, grace, wit, artless nature, copiousness, ease, pathos, and sublime conceptions of Shakespeare’s Muse.”

Thursday, April 05, 2007


It is difficult to overstate the contribution of the Flower family to the RSC. Four chairmen, Charles Flower [1879-1891], his brother Edgar [1891-1903], Edgar’s son Archie [1903-1944], and Archie’s son Fordham [1944-1966] presided over the company’s fortunes in an unbroken line for 87 years. Charles provide most of the money for the first theatre and subsidised the company thereafter: Archie led the campaign to raise the money [most of which came from America] for the Memorial Theatre: and Fordham chaired the Company through its transition from what was virtually a private undertaking to the publicly-supported organisation that exists today.

Here is how Sally Beauman describes Archie Flower’s style of chairmanship in her excellent history of the RSC,

“Archie ruled the Stratford theatre – managed is too gentle a word - totally. Every decision, artistic, financial, bureaucratic, was referred to him. Archie appointed the directors of the festivals, and – when they resigned – their successors. He checked the books; he fixed the production budgets; often he decided which plays should be put on, and who should appear in them. He was involved in the casting, contracts, salaries, touring, advertising, the design of the theatre, and any changes to its structure. No set could be made, or costume sewn, until he had previously vetted the cost.”

What a lot I have to learn.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


On Saturday night we had the last public performance in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. A Grade II* listed building, and the first theatre designed by a woman architect, Elisabeth Scott, it opened in 1932. The RST replaced the 1879 french chateau by Dodgshun and Unsworth that burnt down in 1926, leaving only the shell of what is now The Swan. Although the Scott theatre was never loved by actors or directors [ performing there was memorably described by the actor-manager Baliol Holloway "You can just about see the boiled shirts in the front row; it is like acting to Calais from the cliffs of Dover"], its listed art deco interiors are wonderful, and the mass of the building seen from across the River Avon has an Atlantic liner-like strength. To see the plans for the new theatre that will be created within the Scott shell, go to the RSC website.

There have been some wonderful performances in the 75 years of the theatre's history. Here are some of the great actors and actresses that have trod the Memorial Theatre boards:

Donald Wolfit * Robert Helpmann * Michael Redgrave * Paul Scofield * Claire Bloom * John Gielgud * Anthony Quayle * Richard Burton * Lawrence Olivier * Ralph Richardson * Robert Hardy * Vivien Leigh * Peggy Ashcroft * Charles Laughton * Edith Evans * Paul Robeson * Mary Ure * Albert Finney * Ian Holm * Ian Richardson * Alex McCowen * Diana Rigg * Dorothy Tutin * David Warner * Donald Sinden * Patrick Magee * Glenda Jackson * Patrick Stewart * Janet Suzman * Alan Howard * Judi Dench * Helen Mirren * Ben Kingsley * George Baker * Ian McKellen * Alan Badel *Geraldine McEwan * Patrick Allen * Eric Porter * Patrick Magee * Vivien Merchant * Roy Kinnear * Colin Blakely * Richard Johnson * David Suchet * Derek Jacobi * Sinead Cusack * Vanessa Redgrave * Kenneth Branagh * Michael Pennington * Jeremy Irons * Charles Dance * Robert Stephens * Imogen Stubbs * Corin Redgrave * Antony Sher * Simon Russell Beale * Toby Stephens * Ian McKellen * Rachel Kempson * Claire Luce * Margaret Leighton * Laurence Harvey * Michael Hordern * Peter O'Toole * Max Adrian * John Wood * Francesca Annis *

In Prospero's words,

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

Sunday, April 01, 2007


"How far that little candle throws his beams
So shines a good deed in a naughty world"

This was the last and arguably the best of the Complete Works American imports. An outstanding performance by F. Murray Abraham, the Oscar-winning star as Salieri in Amadeus 22 years ago, managed to earn our sympathy without glossing over Shylock's unreasonable insistence on revenge. And there were some unusual, and not invariably successful, nuances - Jessica's ultimate isolation, a high camp Balthazar, a perpetually angry Lancelot Gobbo, a repressed homosexual Antonio, all set in a Wall Street environment of dealing screens and Blackberries.

Charles Spencer wrote,

"This is a notably fresh, unexpectedly entertaining production of a deeply unattractive play."

Personal Star Rating [out of five]****

Sunday, March 18, 2007


" For him being dead, with him is beauty slain,
And, beauty dead, chaos is come again."

This is a masque for puppets, a joint creation of the RSC and The Little Angel Theatre. It was first performed in The Other Place almost two years ago, and now makes a welcome if brief return to The Swan. Greg Doran's enchanting realisation was inspired by a visit to the Bunraku Puppet Theatre in Osaka when on tour with the RSC. The puppets are beautiful, and come alive thanks to the magic hands of the Little Angel puppeteers. Harriet Walter reads the text with great clarity and balance. If you miss it in Stratford, catch up with it in London. [The link to the Little Angel is]

Personal Star Rating [out of five]****

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Eric Griffiths, no doubt heeding my earlier grumble that no-one had covered this wonderful production, gave Pippo Delbono's Henry V a highly intelligent review in The Times Literary Supplement on March 9th.

"People are uplifted by the strangest things. Glum land girls in the 1940s, aching after a day pulling beets, and with little to look forward to but a powdered egg or passing GI sleek with brilliantine, were stirred to summon up their blood again by Laurence Olivier’s Technicolor Henry V. When Pippo Delbono learned in 1989 that he was HIV-positive, he took courage from Kenneth Branagh’s recently released film of the same play, in particular from the King’s speech on the eve of Agincourt with its bitter thoughts about how little “ceremony” can do for royalty on its sickbed, and from Henry’s bluff homily to the effect that “There is some soul of goodness in things evil / Would men observingly distil it out .......

Patches of verse have been lifted from the play and laid side by side to produce the theatrical equivalent of an AIDS memorial quilt. It’s touching, like memories of the nursery, and the audience in the Swan was quite roused. They may have had no notion of the sharp, autobiographical poignancy of the enterprise, which doesn’t shout at you from the stage and went unmentioned in the RSC’s publicity materials, though you wouldn’t need a queer theorist’s nostrils aflare for any scent of a subtext to begin to wonder if this procession of manly men on the verge of tears about their deceased buddies didn’t remind you of something. You might not have guessed the particular application, if Delbono, who stresses the interpenetration of art and life in his work, hadn’t chosen to bring out its relevance to his own case."

Thursday, March 08, 2007


"Dead shepherd, now I find thy saw of might:
Who ever loved who loved not at first sight?"

This was a youthful, exuberant production, full of ideas, like a helium balloon that lit up to become the moon, and a sheep on wheels. It felt curiously old-fashioned, like a drama school production, albeit a very good drama school. Perhaps Sam West hadn't murdered enough of his darlings [not his cast, but his inventions] but in the end I was completely won over, in particular by a well-paired Celia and Rosalind and by Jaques.

And I love the two lines above, in which WS pays tribute to Christopher Marlowe. Here is Marlowe's poem in full.

It lies not in our power to love or hate,
For will in us is overruled by fate.
When two are stripped, long ere the course begin,
We wish that one should love, the other win;
And one especially do we affect
Of two gold ingots, like in each respect:
The reason no man knows, let it suffice,
What we behold is censured by our eyes.
Where both deliberate, the love is slight:
Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?

Personal Star Rating[out of five]***


"For you, the city, thus I turn my back;
There is a world elsewhere."

If any production could make you mourn for the Memorial Theatre, Greg Doran's vivid direction and Richard Hudson's powerfully appropriate set would do just that. William Houston is a classically ferocious Caius Martius, Michael Hadley an excellent Cominius, and the two best known members of the cast, Timothy West and Janet Suzman, managed to be both ensemble players and very,very good.

Robert Hanks praised the production in The Independent,

"Doran and his cast are winningly alive to all the play's crosscurrents of feeling, the extent to which Coriolanus is both hero and self-destroying victim. The RST is going out on a high. "

Nicholas De Jongh in the Standard was as bilious as ever.

Personal Star Rating [out of five]****

"What is love? 'tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;

An all-male production of Twelfth Night - in Russian - even under the Cheek by Jowl banner, didn't seem that compelling. In the event, it was yet another Complete Works triumph of the unexpected. A brilliant, ancient Feste, a handsome young Malvolio, a vodka-sodden Toby Belch, a feminine Olivia, combined with a ferocious Russian melancholy to produce a memorable evening.

Margot Channing wrote,
"a piece that's bursting with visual eloquence and performed with stunning fluidity by an all-male, all-Russian company that manages to display not only all of the play's humor, but also its melancholy emotional core."

Personal Star Rating [out of five]*****

Wednesday, February 28, 2007


" Weary with toil, I haste thee to my bed"

This was a game of two halves; the first exhilarating, the second depressing. It was a mere 13 out of the 154 sonnets, set to music; the first four were competently read by actors and then beautifully sung by Anna Maria Friman and John Potter, with the fifth sonnet strikingly intoned by former Virgin Prunes frontman Gavin Friday, a menacing, pierced, platform-heeled Goth.

So far,so good. However, the reading of all eight sonnets in the second half was rashly and ruinously entrusted to Friday; he performed at a desk huskily hunched over the microphone, cupping his spare hand close to his face like a Berlin night-club singer. As a result, it was impossible to hear a word, and the words matter. Gavin Bryars' music was good.

Michael Billington wrote in The Guardian,

"Bryars heads for the sonnets dealing with memory and mortality, establishing a dark sound-world based around violas, bass clarinet and electric guitar. A video accompaniment by Pippa Nissen adds a further atmospheric dimension: yet no amount of cross-genre eclecticism will ever match the richness of the sonnets themselves."

Personal Star Rating [out of five] First Half ***, Second Half *

There are three new entrants to the list; the grand total is now a magnificent £133,344.

* Stuart Rose * Jeremy Coller * John Napier *

Thursday, February 22, 2007


"Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,"

This was avant-garde work in progress, and should be judged accordingly. The Polish Song of the Goat Theatre performed in English, using often acrobatic, stylised movement and dance effectively, with some dazzling flag work. They spoke against a near-continuous background of highly atmospheric intonation - which made Shakespeare's words sometimes impossible to hear. This combination worked very well in the haunting of Lady Macbeth, and in the delivery of the "She should have died hereafter" soliloquy by Macbeth. But the gymnastic tumbling by Malcolm, Macduff and Ross when the latter brings the news that Macduff's wife and children are dead, while impressive physically, is nothing but a distraction from the terrible message,
"What, all my pretty chickens and their dam,
At one fell swoop?"
It will be interesting to see whether the passage survives in that form. It shouldn't.

Personal Star Rating [out of five]**

"The sorrows of winter have given way to the lazy warmth of spring"

Thus the Arabic version of the winter of discontent in Sulayman al-Bassam's Arab tragedy, a wonderfully political version of the play set in the Middle East. A strong cast, with a particularly good Catesby, clever use of music, television footage and emails gave a modern menace to the production. "They know how to play history,these British" got an apologetic laugh from the audience; and the Arabs, in another sense, can play history too. It is an ironic comment on the Middle East political situation that this production will not be seen there.

Dominic Cavendish wrote in The Daily Telegraph,

"For the gripping two-hour duration.. we see not dukes, earls and queens but turbaned sheikhs and women in burkas. We hear not alarums but strange beguiling ululations. Shakespeare's language comes to us as though through secret service intercept: in Arabic, with surtitles"

Personal Star Rating [out of five] ***

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Here is a seasonal sonnet, Number 105

Let not my love be called idolatry,
Nor my beloved as an idol show,
Since all alike my songs and praises be
To one, of one, still such, and ever so.
Kind is my love to-day, to-morrow kind,
Still constant in a wondrous excellence;
Therefore my verse to constancy confined,
One thing expressing, leaves out difference.
Fair, kind, and true, is all my argument,
Fair, kind, and true, varying to other words;
And in this change is my invention spent,
Three themes in one, which wondrous scope affords.
Fair, kind, and true, have often lived alone,
Which three till now, never kept seat in one.

Sunday, February 04, 2007


"In pace nulla si conviene all’uomo
quanto la calma e la moderazione;
ma se risuona lo squillo di guerra,
s’ha da imitare quel che fa la tigre:"

This was a complete surprise. 65 minutes of the Compagnia Pippo Delbono's version of Henry V, not an obviously perfect way of spending a Saturday afternoon when I could have watched England beat Scotland at Twickenham, was pure pleasure. An almost full house in The Swan saw Pippo Delbono, looking like a middle-aged, overweight, part-shaven biker with a beer bottle, turn into HenryV and extract a range of emotions from the audience through his powerful stage presence and the beguiling use of movement and music. His dance of triumph and despair will remain one of the most compelling images of the Complete Works season.

Sadly,nobody seems to have reviewed the production yet, but here's Pippo speaking about his work in La Repubblica.

"They are actors, who I chose for their truthfulness. But be careful: the fact that I am bringing real homeless people on stage is not most important. I do not want to be a hyper-realist, neither to show the «cases». From the fifteen members of my group six are university graduates, and one of us is an excellent true-born actor Pepe Robledo with whom I have been working for twenty years. I am after theatre which involves all the differences. As life: I live in one village in Liguria, where you can meet a beautiful girl in bikini, a little further you meet a beggar, then a businessman, an immigrant, group of children. Life is full of differences and also the theatre must be such. In my company there is a man called Bobó, who does not speak nor hear, but he is a lively authentic personality, and whenever he is present on the stage, he can just look around - and he is important. He used to live in an asylum, but now he is out - thanks to theatre - and he lives with me, he can travel, he found his place on earth again. So the art is also the possibility which offers emancipation to those who are rejected by society for being different."

Personal Star Rating [out of five] ****

"Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,
Have no delight to pass away the time."

This was an extraordinary production, a tribute to the power of ensemble and a demonstration of the strength in depth of the RSC. Jonathan Slinger lived up to the promise in Henry VI Part 3 that he would deliver a bravura performance as Richard, and was strongly supported by a cast that gets better and better as the Histories move on. The critics, excepting Nicholas de Jongh, who has reverted again to liking little that the RSC does, were all enthusiastic.

Kate Kellaway wrote in The Observer,

".... it is not entirely fair to dwell on individual performances - for this is, above all, a virtuoso ensemble piece. I shan't forget the beautiful staging of the night before Richard's death: a collective haunting by the people he has killed. The ghostly little princes whom he has arranged to have suffocated in the tower hold up their pillows like shields and white feathers fall from on high: down comes the down."

Personal Star Rating [out of five] *****

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


"We're going to get bladdered up, loved up, drugged up"

Roy Williams' powerful new play is a response to an RSC invitation to "embrace the imaginative power of Shakespeare and go wherever his imagination took him." It took him, and the promenading Swan audience, to a market town on Friday night, to Basra, and back again, in an extraordinary and unexpurgated exploration of ASBO England and the motivation behind love and war. There are some links to Much Ado in the verbal sparring between Ben and Trish, some early moments of real and almost shocking tenderness as Jamie and Hannah dance, violence in Basra, and an unresolved [and too drawn out]series of moral and emotional conflicts. The acting is wonderful.

The Daily Mail's Quentin Letts was bizarrely left with "the metallic, bitter taste of treason." Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard, in contrast, wrote

"...Maria Aberg's brilliantly acted, in-yer-face and get-out-of-the-way promenade which the audience mingles with actors on a stage of torn posters, barbed wire and a burger stall, comes as a shocking revelation of underclass turmoil.."

Personal Star Rating [out of five] ***

Sign on bathroom door backstage at The Courtyard Theatre. [Note: Chuk Iwuji is currently appearing as Henry VI in the RSC's Henry VI Parts 1, 2, and3]

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


"She at once displayed such consummate art with such bewitching nature, such excellent sense, and such innocent simplicity, that her auditors were boundless in their plaudits."

Dorothy Jordan [1761- 1816] was one of the most famous actresses of her day. She was my kinswoman, born Dorothy Bland, the daughter of my great[x7] grandfather, Captain Francis Bland, by his first wife, Grace Phillips, a marriage subsequently annulled. The Blands were proud squireens on 40,000 acres of bog and mountain in remote County Kerry. And there had already been trouble with actresses. John Bland, Francis' uncle, had been disinherited for marrying an actress and going on the Dublin stage; he was hissed off "by the merited indignation of his father's friends".

She had many children, including ten by her last and most famous lover, the Duke of Clarence, who later became King George IV. Her statue by Chantrey, rejected by Westminster and St.Pauls, now sits in the gallery in Buckingham Palace, not far from an allegorical portrait of Dora by Hoppner as the Comic Muse repressing the advances of a Satyr - something she failed to achieve in real life.

She was a brilliant and versatile actress. Joshua Reynolds wrote of her Viola, "she does as much by the music of her melancholy as the music of her laugh". Queen Victoria quotes Lord Melbourne in her Diaries as saying of Dora's Rosalind "...her acting was quite beautiful." He added "And her legs and feet were beautifully formed, as this statue is" - they were in Chantrey's studio at the time. The attached picture is of a plaster cast of Chantrey's statue, which sits in my hall. Judge her feet for yourself - and read Claire Tomalin's excellent biography, Mrs. Jordan's Profession.

Monday, December 25, 2006


The total is now a staggering £122,844; latest additions to the Hall of Fame are

Roger Davis * Andy Green * Peter Walker * John Whitney * Barry Cox * David Currie * Roger Jones * Anthony Bolton * Paul Reynolds * John Weston *

Thank you all very much - Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


"Give me a gash, put me to present pain,
Lest this great sea of joys rushing upon me
O'erbear the shores of my mortality
And drown me in their sweetness!"

I promenaded for the first half; it is a unique and extraordinary experience, although I failed to get a seat at the banquet, in spite of placing myself as close to the action as possible - next time I'll sit down before I'm asked. And I had a moment of pure and Pooterish fantasy. The contest for Thaisa's hand is a modern pentathlon - I could have moved in and, as a former Captain of the Oxford University Modern Pentathlon Team, defeated Pericles for the prize. The moment passed.

It's a good production, with some outstanding performances - Joseph Mydell as Gower was particularly compelling.

Peter Kirwan, a fellow blogger [see link], wrote online in The Bardathon,

"We started the play being pushed into lines and held at gunpoint by the rebel soldiers of Antiochus. Audience members were invited to join Simonides’ banquet. Gower stood among us throughout and ushered us, hushed, to sit before a platform and witness the reunion of Pericles and Marina. Throughout, the audience were continually energised and unsettled, and as a result completely gripped by the events. It’s a very clever trick, as a production doubles its pace by keeping its audience moving as fast as the actors."

Personal Star Rating [out of five]****


This is one of the highlights of the RSC year; Holy Trinity, one of England's most beautiful churches, absolutely full with RSC people in holiday mood, great carols, an RSC choir cajoled and elevated by John Woolf's baton, lovely solos by Christopher Colley and Robert Burt, readings by Judi Dench, Joseph Mydell, Greg Doran and others, a blessing by Martin Gorick, the vicar and our chaplain, made yet again a perfect start to Christmas.

Personal Star Rating [out of five]*****

"You may know by my size that I have a kind of alacrity in sinking".

This was a spirited and enjoyable evening - any production in which Judi Dench does a cartwheel and Simon Callow is crammed into a laundry basket has captured the spirit of Christmas and of pantomime. We, the audience, loved it - several of the critics, clearly expecting something else, did not.

The most generous of them was The Times; Benedict Nightingale wrote

"Gregory Doran’s adaptation and production of The Merry Wives of Windsor is what the title promises: light, larky and, with Paul Englishby composing and Ranjit Bolt providing the lyrics, packed with music evoking everything from Gilbert and Sullivan to Verdi to American Hoe-Down to, well, Shakespeare.
It’s good seasonal stuff and extremely well cast....."

Personal Star Rating[out of five] ***

Sunday, December 10, 2006


The latest additions are

Greg Dyke * Michael Abrahams * John Calvert * Hanif Lalani * Martin Sorrell * Neil Canetty-Clarke * Phil Hodkinson * Peter Gershon * Alan Harper * Clive Hollick * Neil Balfour * Ian Odgers * Tristan Garel-Jones * Simon Turton * Christopher Tugendhat * James Joll * Will Wyatt * Stuart Lipton * Jeremy Young * Bill Montgomery * Michael Lynton *

Many thanks.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


On Sunday Jennie and I went to the Theatre Royal, Winchester [Jennie was its Chairman for many years and led the campaign to stop the site becoming a shopping mall] to see our old friend Michael Pennington's one man show, Sweet William. Michael is a wonderful actor, is steeped in Shakespeare and wrote the script.

He quoted a remarkable extract from Hector Berlioz' Memoirs, written on discovering Shakespeare for the first time at a performance of Hamlet in Paris in 1827. Berlioz wrote,

"Shakespeare, coming upon me unawares, struck me like a thunderbolt. The lightning flash of that discovery revealed to me at a stroke the whole heaven of art, illuminating it to the remotest corners. I recognized the meaning of grandeur, beauty, dramatic truth...I saw, I understood, I felt...that I was alive and that I must arise and walk".

He went on to marry Ophelia, the English actress Harriet Smithson, after a stormy courtship. Michael closed with Sam Goldwyn's response on being asked his views on Shakespeare

"Fantastic! and it was all written with a feather."

Saturday, November 18, 2006


"My father named me Autolycus; who being, as I am, littered under Mercury, was likewise a snapper-up of unconsidered trifles."

The Swan was transformed for this production; the ground floor seats have vanished to create a promenade space, with a curving ramp to the circle level and a revealed space across the full length of the back of the stage. Promenaders can dance with each other and, if they get lucky, the cast, share in the shepherds' feast, and become successively the jury and the sheep. This is a brilliant production, a glorious leaving present from Dominic Cooke [who becomes the Artistic Director of The Royal Court in the New Year] , one that makes dramatic and coherent sense of the two contrasting halves of the play. The performances are without exception excellent.

Michael Billington wrote in The Guardian,
"...the play's climax is overwhelming. There is genuine wit in the treatment of the reported father-daughter reunion as a live outside broadcast. And the reconciliation of Lesser's penitent Leontes and Fleetwood's wronged Hermione prompts one's tears as her statue comes to life. Is there a more moving moment in all Shakespeare? "

Personal Star Rating [out of five] *****

"For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings:"

The Courtyard had been converted into a proscenium arch stage for the Berliner Ensemble's Richard II. This was the first time I had heard Shakespeare's words in German [Othello earlier in the year wasn't a translation], and it was easy to hear how the cadences and rhythms of the languages are close enough for comfort. The production seemed in part a homage to Clockwork Orange; white make-up, and the Bolingbroke faction wore dark suits and bowler hats, while Richard and his courtiers were all in white until the mud got at them. But the strength of the ensemble and an excellent Richard made this a good, if not great performance.

Personal Star Rating [out of five] ***

Thursday, November 16, 2006


"As flies to wanton boys, are we to the gods,
They kill us for their sport."

Lear, Goneril and Regan spoke Mandarin, and the rest English, which produced an odd counterpoint. The first half of the play, set in a modern Shanghai, was a little clumsy; after the interval the power of the play and a compelling Lear took over. "Hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade" morphed into "the businessmen that walk along the Bund"; otherwise the production was sensibly faithful to the text.

Personal Star Rating [out of five] ***

Thursday, November 09, 2006


"Beauty, truth, and rarity,
Grace in all simplicity,
Here enclosed, in cinders lie."

This was first published in 1601 as a supplement to a poem by Robert Chester, "Love's Martyr: or Rosalins Complaint. Allegorically shadowing the truth of Loue, in the constant Fate of the Phoenix and Turtle"; the latter a turtle dove, not a shelled reptile.

Chester's long allegory is followed by short poems by the "least and chiefest of our moderne writers, with their names sub-scribed to their particular workes". These include, in addition to Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, George Chapman, John Marston and "Vatum Chorus" and "Ignotus".

All this, and more, was engagingly explained by Michael Wood to an audience of around 400 last Sunday in The Courtyard Theatre at 9pm; afterwards we walked up to Holy Trinity Church, where we had a lovely combination of the poems, read by Peter de Jersey, Joanne Pearce and David Troughton , and music organised by the RSC's Director of Music, John Woolf. All in candlelight - the setting and the strange allegorical poems made the evening seem as much a ritual as a dramatic performance.

You can find Shakespeare's poem in full at

Personal Star Rating [out of five] ****

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


"Such duty as the subject owes the prince,
Even such a woman oweth to her husband"

Well, up to a point, Lady Copper. Propeller's uncompromising , all-male production left the audience in no doubt about the absolute triumph of the Taming School. It was uncomfortable, funny, and an excellent demonstration of the power of ensemble acting, bringing, through confidence and courage, an edgy clarity to the play.

Personal Star Rating [out of five]****

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


"Though this be madness, yet there is method in it".

To the Cube, a curious building strangely constructed within the Memorial Theatre, wherein I saw Hamlet in 55 minutes [that's enough Pepys: Ed.] Dov Weinstein plays all the parts, or rather he voice-overs his Tiny Ninjas, recruited from an Oregon vending machine, in a rattlingly-fast American accent. You get to see the murder of Polonius [called Corambis, as this is the Bad Quarto version] from behind the arras, and Ophelia drowns in real water, and it all ends...well, I won't spoil it for you. It's a fantastic evening of pure and serious pleasure. And it is Shakespeare.

Here's Dov's recent comment on star casting,
"Some companies, when transferring a show to Broadway, would attempt to fill the title roles with big-name actors to boost sales. We're just not that kind of company."
You can create your own Tiny Ninja scene via his website - see link.

Personal Star Rating [out of five] ****

Monday, October 30, 2006


"Who can speak broader than he that has no house to put his head in? Such may rant against great buildings?"

Cardboard Citizens gave a complex, thought-provoking Timon in the Shakespeare Centre; the audience was asked to classify themselves by annual income, with a red dot for the Timons, and then in an antechamber to the theatre put through a rather mild interaction which never really took off [perhaps to the relief of us red dots]. The play itself was effectively intercut with filmed scenes of evictions, and Timon, played by three different actors in styles ranging from the polished to the raw, ended up as a Cardboard Citizen himself.

The Times commented,

"It was an inspired idea to ask Cardboard Citizens, a company that works with and partly consists of the homeless, refugees and asylum seekers, to make this play its contribution to the RSC’s Bardathon. Was there ever so absolute a drop-out as Timon? One moment he’s rich, secure and complacent, and the next he’s living in what here is less a cave than an improvised box; filthy, embittered and ranting."

Personal Star rating [out of five] ***

Thursday, October 26, 2006


The target of £100,000 was reached today; many thanks to all of you who have helped so generously, and to the latest members of the Complete Works Hall of Fame

Stanley Kalms * George Robertson * John and Sally Ashburton * Carolyn Fairbairn *Vincent Tchenguiz * Richard Lapthorne * Khalid Aziz

I am well aware I still have to complete the course; I'm 25 plays down, 13 to go.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Liam Fisher-Jones wins the bottle of champagne for spotting the exorciser misprint [see previous post]. But perhaps WS did have a personal trainer?
Liam also spotted a "will" for "ill" in the final verse, which had escaped what I thought was my proof-reader's eye. Unless that's the correct version, to persuade us that WS wasn't the Earl of Oxford, or Marlowe, or Jonson, or...

Friday, September 29, 2006


For the record, here are the correct words [see my grumbles below about Kneehigh's text tampering] of "Fear no more the heat o' the sun" ,one of WS' most beautiful poems. Incidentally, the downloaded text contains a wonderful error which I have kept - there's a bottle of champagne for the first RSC person to identify it. email me at

Fear no more the heat o' the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages;
Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone, and ta'en thy wages:
Golden lads and girls all must,
As chimney-sweepers, come to dust.

Fear no more the frown o' the great;
Thou art past the tyrant's stroke:
Care no more to clothe and eat;
To thee the reed is as the oak:
The sceptre, learning, physic, must
All follow this, and come to dust.

Fear no more the lightning-flash,
Nor the all-dreaded thunder-stone;
Fear not slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finish'd joy and moan:
All lovers young, all lovers must
Consign to thee, and come to dust.

No exerciser harm thee!
Nor no witchcraft charm thee!
Ghost unlaid forbear thee!
Nothing ill come near thee!
Quiet consummation have;
And renowned be thy grave!

Thursday, September 21, 2006


"On her left breast
A mole cinque-spotted, like the crimson drops
I' the bottom of a cowslip"

A grave disappointment, as the reputation of Kneehigh, and the clips we had used in our Complete Works promotional video, had whetted my appetite. But there was little of Shakespeare here, the plot had been lost, and the good jokes were drowned in sloppy paraphrasing. You can muck about with WS, as our Othello and Dream proved, but you had better know what you are doing. So if you change the words of "Fear no more the heat o' the sun", and make chimneysweepers into dandelions, it needs to be an improvement. It was not.
The mole cinque-spotted was a buttock tattoo - that was OK. There were a lot of bangs and explosions in the second half; a good cockerel and owl, and some neat work with a toy car. The play was three hours - two would have been better. The audience, I am happy to say, loved it.

Michael Billington wrote in The Guardian [possibly after reading my comments]
"...I felt we were being asked to celebrate Kneehigh's cleverness rather than explore Shakespeare's own mysterious, experimental genius."

Personal Star Rating [out of five] *

"Come the three corners of the world in arms,
And we shall shock them:"

A terrific performance of a rarely seen play; it's hard to imagine it better. A triumph of ensemble acting, the Much Ado company was augmented by Richard McCabe as a excellently repellent King John. There were no weak performances, and two excellent child actors, in spite of W.C.Fields, who liked children "fried", and would have been egging Hubert the executioner on.

Michael Billington was a little grudging in The Guardian, writing,
"A resourceful production that does everything possible to animate a neglected play which it is possible to respect without ever genuinely loving."

Personal Star Rating [out of five] *****

"We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep."

This was a powerful, imaginative and highly moving production, with an extraordinary beginning, marred only by the about-to-be-shipwrecked mariners standing unswaying and upright throughout a Force 10 hurricane. It was set in the Antartic, so there were no yellow sands. Patrick Stewart was magical, Ariel intriguing, Miranda too stiff. The music was brilliant, although Ariel's rendering of "Where the bee sucks there suck I" lacked the power of my own treble rendering on Jamaica Radio in 1948.

Personal Star Rating [out of five]****

"They say best men are moulded out of faults,
And, for the most, become much more the better
For being a little bad."

This was the first in a five play weekend; Peter Hall's Bath production kicked off the sequence in The Courtyard. It's a difficult and ultimately unconvincing play, spoilt by some inaudible actors whose poor diction was compounded as our seats were in the stalls underneath the circle overhang. We need to improve the acoustics in The Courtyard, which range from the sublime to the ridiculous. I saw Measure at the National last year, and this was better - but still unsatisfactory.

Personal Star Rating [out of five]**

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


New members, who have helped to bring the total to over £97,000, are

Stanley Wells * John Heyman * Michael McLintock * Charles & Susanna Swallow * Dick Munton *

Thank you.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006


"Time's glory is to calm contending kings,
To unmask falsehood, and bring truth to light".

This was a Sunday afternoon rehearsed reading, expertly directed by Greg Doran and beautifully read by, amongst others, Jane Lapotaire in a most welcome return to the RSC. The completists were out in force in a packed Swan.

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers"

On Saturday we saw the trilogy entire, starting at 10.30 am and finishing twelve hours later - a marathon within a marathon. It was a wonderful experience, and anyone who misses them will "think themselves accursed they were not here", in the words of an earlier Henry. It was a tribute to immensely skilful direction, using the Courtyard to best advantage, and an ensemble approach in which there wasn't a single weak performance. It should be compulsory for George Bush, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to see them all.

Dominic Cavendish wrote in the Daily Telegraph,
"..among the most unmissable events of the year...the crowning glory of the RSC's Complete Works festival so far."

Personal Star Rating [out of five] *****

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


"I have had my labour for my travail"

Brian Tesler once described "Les Miserables" to me as the only musical he's ever come out of humming the scenery. There's some of that about this production - my main feeling was relief that the 22 tonnes of set hadn't jammed, or killed an actor. The two half tents that waddled towards each other like a pair of mating Daleks made the audience laugh, but little else did. A talented cast was let down by the direction, the design didn't work, and Achilles was so out-matched by Hector that no referee would have allowed them into the same ring. The fight sequences were terrible. Maybe the critics will like it. I did not.

Personal Star Rating [out of five] *

5 different drama schools are performing their own pared down productions in the Swan. Minimal sets, limited rehearsal time and an hour and a quarter for each play are considerable constraints, but they have the advantage of forcing actors and audiences to focus on the text. And for a marathon runner short can feel pretty good.
I saw the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama's All's Well - a lovely and convincing Diana and a sturdy king stood out in a workmanlike and enjoyable production. And on the following day Emma Clifford was a brilliant Beatrice in the Bristol Old Vic's Much Ado, nearly as good as our own.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


Germaine Greer's bilious article about Stratford in a recent Guardian is good example of bad journalism. Many of her statements are wrong or misleading, and give a distorted picture of one of the most charming small towns in England.

She is woefully ignorant about the RSC, appearing to think that charitable status exempts us from publishing annual accounts. Utter nonsense. She professes to be amazed that the RSC has charitable status, presumably unaware of the importance of public and private subsidy in reduced-price tickets for young audiences, for educational projects, extended rehearsal and training for actors, and the ability to put on less well known plays.

She is utterly unfair to the Birthplace Trust, who do a marvellous job in balancing the needs of modern tourism with the historic integrity of the 6 sites they own and manage. Their gardens are lovely, their furniture good, their exhibitions imaginative. She seems to have missed Hall's Croft, Nash's House, Shakespeare's Birthplace, Mary Arden's House and Harvard House altogether. She got the admission charge for Anne Hathaway's Cottage wrong. She didn't have time for Holy Trinity or the Guild Chapel. And didn't notice the eclectic and largely unspoilt mixture of architectural styles that makes most of Stratford delightful.

She did get one thing right. Stratford could do with a good boutique hotel. But as a basis for writing off a town, that's hardly enough.

Perhaps she should get about less?

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Back from wrestling with the Sutherland Hamlet to the real thing at Stratford - a weekend of three contrasting plays in three different RSC venues, The Swan , Holy Trinity Church and The Courtyard. It was the Bank Holiday weekend; the RSC's 4 venues [the three I've mentioned plus the main RST] played to 97% of capacity, a record.

Love's Labour's Lost

"Your wit's too hot, it speeds too fast, 'twill tire."

We began with a matinee in "the posteriors of the day; which the rude multitude call the afternoon" in The Swan. Washington D.C.'s Shakespeare Theatre Company gave us an immensely enjoyable LLL set in an ashram, with the King of Navarre as the Maharishi and Berowne, Longaville and Dumaine as three guys in a succcessful band - endless excuses for rocking and rolling, all of which were seized. There were Vespas, pith helmets, a joint-rolling Costard[presumably illegal in Scotland?], the three guys appeared disguised as Russian astronauts, and the production rattled along with tremendous pace and spirit. The audience, including us, loved every minute and laughed a great deal. It's perhaps a little ungenerous to say that half an hour later I had that Chinese meal feeling - but I did.

Paul Taylor in The Independent had no such reservations, writing
"delectably funny...the fast-paced production manages the transition to chastened sobriety with true emotional depth. A joy"

Personal Star Rating [out of five] ***

Henry VIII

"Had I but served my God with half the zeal I served my king, He would not in mine age Have left me naked to mine enemies."

AandBC's production in Holy Trinity, Shakespeare's church, raised the hair on the back of my neck .Brilliant direction and a strong cast triumphed over the narrow nave-length stage. Soprano voices from the choir, thunderous knocking on the church door, the light from the sanctuary and the stained glass windows [replaced since their destruction in the Reformation] made an extraordinary backdrop. And the beautiful 7 month old Alice Wood as the infant Elizabeth behaved impeccably as she was christened, like Shakespeare, in the Holy Trinity font. She stole the show.

Michael Billington, who gave it four stars in The Guardian,wrote,

"...the real star, apart from the baby, is Holy Trinity, which lends this rarely seen late play a sombre, melancholy grandeur"

He is absolutely right. This wonderful church needs to raise £2.5 million to restore, in particular, the spire, currently surrounded by scaffolding, and part of the nave. Their website is in my links on the right; please help if you can.

Personal Star Rating [out of five] *****

Two Gentlemen of Verona

"Much is the force of heaven-bred poesy"

This was a solo performance by Nos do Morro from Brazil, with whom Cicely Berry has been working for many years, combining with the Birmingham-based Gallery 57. Both are projects that help, through the theatre, young people who have had a challenging start in life. The production was emotional and energetic throughout, with wonderful dance, song and movement that made the most of The Courtyard. Spoken mostly in Portuguese, with surtitles, the packed house loved every moment. My only regret was lacking the stamina to go to the party at the Dirty Duck afterwards.

Personal Star Rating [out of five] Hors Concours

Friday, September 01, 2006


The grand total is now a magnificent £95,200. Thank you to the new members of the Hall of Fame, who are

Michael Bishop * Peter Bottomley * Kieran Poynter * John Varley * John van Kuffeler * Adrian Swire * Keith Butler-Wheelhouse * Tim Hoult

Monday, August 28, 2006


I thought that in our remote fishing shack in Sutherland, 15 miles south of Cape Wrath, it would be possible to escape the bard. Wrong. Our gravity-fed [we have no electricity, so no pumps], oil-fired cental heating system is called Hamlet, made by some long-defunct Irish iron founder in the 1930's. Perhaps there's a whole family of boilers [the Ophelia, the Polonius, the Rosencrantz?]

Anyhow, when we arrived the boiler wasn't working. Unresponsive to exhortation, "Good Hamlet, cast thy nighted colour off", Jennie and I had to clean it, a filthy job, as the attached picture proves. On the boiler lid it says, "Do not attempt to remove this lid when under fire" .

Sunday, August 06, 2006


I came across this quotation in Jonathan Bate's review of Stanley Wells' Shakespeare and Co this Sunday

" The sweetness of Dekker, the thought of Marston, the gravity of Chapman, the grace of Fletcher and his young-eyed wit, Jonson's learned sock*, the flowing vein of Middleton, Heywood's ease, the pathos of Webster, and Marlow's deep designs, add a double lustre to the sweetness, thought, gravity, grace, wit, artless nature, copiousness, ease, pathos, and sublime conceptions of Shakespeare's Muse. They are indeed the scale by which we can best ascend to the true knowledge and love of him. " Shakespeare's Contemporaries, William Hazlitt.

* OED definition - a light shoe worn by comic actors on the ancient Greek and Roman stage; hence allus. comedy or the comic muse 1597

Now I'm off on holiday to the far North of Scotland for 2 weeks, with Wells and Hazlitt in my baggage. Back for a three play weekend at the end of August.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


The RSC's temporary theatre, built on the TOP car park site and with its services provided in the old TOP, opened for the paying public with a performance of Henry VI Part I on Monday night. It was built in a year for the relatively modest budget of £6 million.Designed by architect Ian Ritchie, who is an RSC Governor, with theatre consultant Charcoalblue and considerable RSC input led by Flip Tanner, it is the perfect template for what we hope to achieve in the RST.

On the try-out night the previous week Tim Piggot-Smith spoke Prospero's words,

" The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind."

Well, it is a temporary theatre, but "gorgeous palace" might be going it a bit, [although gorgeous was Michael Boyd's immediate adjective], and the cloud-capp'd tower is still to come in the new RST. Nevertheless, it is a really exciting space, and actors and audiences have warmed to it immediately. I sat in the furthest seat from the stage and could see and hear well , although the acoustics still need some work. No longer will our companies have to act "from Dover to Calais" once we have built a similar auditorium in the RST.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


The total has now reached ***£89,510*** - many, many thanks to

Agata Belcen * Mary Weston * Susie Pasley-Tyler * Michael Blakenham * Tom Kenyon-Slaney * Michael Thomas * Rosemary Brown * William Wells * Simon Barrow *

Sunday, July 23, 2006


"Therefore, my Harry,
Be it thy course to busy giddy minds
With foreign quarrels; that action, hence borne out,
May waste the memory of the former days. "

This was a muscular and pacy production by the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, curiously old-fashioned but arguably none the worse for that. A good Falsaff, a great Shallow and Silence, and a somewhat unconvincing Prince Harry, with Part II improving significantly on Part I.

Charles Spencer wrote in the Daily Telegraph,
"This Henry IV is far from great, but it is palpably sincere, and no time spent in the company of these great plays can ever be counted as wasted."

Personal Star Rating[out of Five] Part I **
Part II ***


We have banished these ignoble emotions from the RSC - or, to be precise, we have sold our picture called Innocence Beset By Ignorance, Envy and Jealousy, painted by Thomas Ward in 1837, for a handsome sum via Christie's. In our collection because it was erroneously thought to be Miranda and Caliban in The Tempest, modern art historians say it has nothing to do with Shakespeare. The welcome proceeds will be used to improve our collection. You can judge from the attachment whether it will be greatly missed. Our innocence we have retained.

Thursday, July 20, 2006


"Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus; and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs, and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves."

This production was full of interest, although it never touched the heights, and suffered from a comparison with A & C next door. It had a wonderful opening with a cast in multi-coloured costumes beating drums and blowing horns [Charles Spencer thought it "more like the opening number of Hair" - and what's to dislike about that?]. The audience on the night I was there loved it - I sat next to a 35-year old gardener who had been to the Ninagawa Titus, his first ever Shakespeare play, and was encouraged by the experience to come and see a Roman play in English. The critics were generally harsh.

Personal Star Rating [Out of Five] **

Friday, June 23, 2006


At 0620 on June 23rd seven balloons took off and floated gently over Stratford - in the balloons the Sky orchestra played music specially composed for the occasion by Dan Jones, the music interspersed with readings by Patrick Stewart and Janet Suzman from The Tempest and The Midsummer Night's Dream.
All right, I have to confess this is hearsay. I missed the event, not through over-sleeping but because it was postponed from Midsummer's Day because the wind was forecast as too strong. [In fact, Midsummer morning was warm and calm]. Anyhow, Sonnet XXXIII seems appropriate

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my sun one early morn did shine,
With all triumphant splendour on my brow;
But out, alack, he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath mask'd him from me now,
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven's sun staineth.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


"Why, there they are both, baked in that pie;
Whereof their mother daintily hath fed,
Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred.
'Tis true, 'tis true; witness my knife's sharp point."

This was a beautiful production of this terrifying play - although the blood was red ribbon, the deaths and mutilations were more shocking than a simulated version of the real thing. Even Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard, who rarely finds much pleasure in Stratford, praised the production.

"The stage, possessed by atrocity, never ceases to look eerily and ironically beautiful, thanks to Tsukasa Nakagoshi's amazing design, which encloses it in a white frame, dominated by a white wolf and the infants she suckled. When Lavinia's rape and off-stage mutilarion and the murder of her husband Bassanio are effected in a dream-struck, dazzling white woodland of unnatural beauty where mushroom-like plants grow as tall as humans, the effect is grotesquely disturbing."

N de J slightly marred his enthusiasm by beginning his piece "At last the Royal Shakespeare Company's Complete Works takes off" - did he miss the Dream and Antony and Cleopatra and Much Ado? - but even grudging praise is, I suppose, to be welcomed.

Personal Star Rating [out of five]****

Thursday, June 15, 2006


The grand total is now £82,000. Many thanks to

Michael Stone * Archie Norman * Robert Horton * Colin Marshall * David and Debbie Owen * James Blyth * Brian Williamson * Clive Cowdery * Margaret Jay * Keith and Theresa Grant-Peterkin * John Sacher * Bill Janeway * Roy and Aisling Foster * David and Ann Fitzwilliam-Lay * Hady Wakefield * Lawrence and Liz Banks * Ken Costa * Finn and Mary Guinness * Delia Smith * Roger Flynn * Andrew Roscoe * Melvyn Bragg *

Thursday, June 08, 2006


"The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man's hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was."

This was an extraordinary and delightful evening in The Swan. An Indian multi-lingual production by Dash Arts, funded by the British Council, Tim Supple's Dream is a sensual pleasure from beginning to end. It deserves its rave reviews, and was rapidly sold out - but it may come back to Stratford and to London. If it does, DON'T MISS IT!

Gordon Parsons wrote in the Morning Star,

" ...a cultural remake of the Dream, totally true to the spirit of the play we know.
... through its colourful vivacity, its strangeness to the British eye and ear, and the total commitment of a cast to a play largely untrammelled by the weight of tradition, it must be the kind of theatre experience that the Bard's first audiences must have relished."

Personal Star Rating [out of five] *****

Thursday, June 01, 2006


The total is now a heady £67,000; many thanks to

Martin Jay * Trevor Chinn * Brian and Sue Barnes * Nick Elliott * Charles Miller Smith * Ben Verwaayen * Stanley Hubbard * Gill Carrick * Lindsay Bury * Tony Watson * Oliver Pawle * John Vogelstein * David Finch * Gerry Murphy * Joe Schull * David Mayhew * Bob Phillis * Miriam Gross * Brian Tesler * Michael and Lucy Vaughan * Linda Kelly * David and Sandy Scholey * Alex Wilson * Charles Douro * Stanley and Jenny Johnson * John Parker * Ian Hay Davison * Susie Sainsbury * Bill Janeway * Mike Stone

Friday, May 26, 2006


The RSC's Director of Voice, Cicely Berry, celebrated her eightieth birthday on Wednesday. She has been the RSC's principal voice coach for 36 years, and deserves much of the credit for establishing the RSC's fine reputation for speaking Shakespeare's lines really well. She is small, tireless, soft- and clear-spoken, with a lively wit; she has just returned from working in Rio de Janeiro with the disadvantaged young people of the favelas; their company, Nos do Morro, is coming to Stratford to perform, on August 27th, The Two Gentlemen of Verona with apprentices from Birmingham's Gallery 37 project.

I hurried down from London to catch her birthday party, ran into horrendous traffic, and arrived at the Town Hall to find Deborah Shaw and Jeremy Adams carrying out a half-eaten birthday cake, the party over and Cis gone home.

So Jeremy and Vikki and Tara and I [feeling cheated] went off to dinner. Jeremy, ringing Cis to check she'd got home [her driving style is, I would say, punchy], found her suffering from serious anti-climax and needing little persuasion to join us for dinner. So we celebrated further and in great style; the evening ended with Cis and Jeremy heading off to the Duck for a final drink, leaving Vikki and me to marvel at her stamina. I want to be like that when I'm 80, please

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts my self almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Archie Bland [see links at the side] thinks my blog needs jazzing up. As none of the rest of you [except there aren't any rest of you out there, because I've had zero comments so far, except a nice e-mail from Bamber Gascoigne] have commented, I may take his advice. Archie says

"Hey my dad has a blog which is a pretty amusing prospect in my view. There's an excellent photo of him wearing a wreath looking like a hawaiian flower girl, a bit. The RSC's doing every Shakespeare play in a year and he's going to all of them and asking for sponsorship. All right so it's not exactly a bath in baked beans or a marathon but it's an epic undertaking nevertheless. So far it mainly consists of Shakespeare related business, cuttings from reviews, and dad's personal star ratings, but I'm confident there'll be bowel movement descriptions and vigorous swearing and all that good stuff before you know it."

So please comment - or watch out for bowel movement descriptions and vigorous swearing and all that good stuff.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


"New plays and maidenheads are near akin:
Much followed both, for both much money giv'n
If they stand sound and well. And a good play,
Whose modest scenes blush on his marriage day
That after holy tie and first night's stir
Yet still is modesty, and still retains
More of the maid to sight than husband's pains."

What made Sunday extraordinary, in addition to the splendid simile with which TTNK begins, was that The Swan was packed - for a 3 o'clock matinee. The Canterbury Tales company preceded the rehearsed reading of TTNK with The Knight's Tale, on which the Shakespeare/Fletcher play is based, and there was a discussion of the two versions afterwards. You could argue that this was Shakespeare for anoraks, or completists [in the latter's ranks I proudly stand], but it turned out to be immensely enjoyable.
Will it matter if it's not performed for another twenty years? Probably not. But I was there.

The DCMS held a meeting of the Chairs of most of the Arts and Sports organisations in the UK last week - it was marginally more useful than most of these occasions, although its main purpose was to give us the opportunity of being spoken to by the Secretary of State, the Minister for the Arts and, highlight of the day, a "Treasury spokesman".
The morning began with Sebastian Coe, who was both eloquent and effective. But the billing wasn't accidental; it is clear that the Olympics are top of the DCMS agenda, and that there is a real danger that the 2012 Games will suck all the oxygen out of the system, to the detriment of the funding of the arts. We've been well treated during the last 10 years; it will be a waste of that investment if we have to suffer because of 2012.
I came away with a strong feeling that we were being softened up for some lean years, and that we in the arts need to start arguing the case collectively and individually with the Chancellor, or cx as the Treasury spokesman affectionately called him, now.

A further 27 have contributed, and the grand total given or pledged is now a heady £44,466. Many thanks to

Norman Lamont * Michael Forsyth * Leon Brittan * David Varney * Christopher Chataway * Alistair Cole * Julian Lamden * Peter Erskine * Anthony and Rosemary Tennant * David Verey * Hugh Williams * Alan Budd * Georgia Byng and Marc Quinn * Geoffrey and Olwen Cass * Philip Remnant * Ian Livingston * Marcus and Sandra Edwards * Anna Mann * David Bradstock * Roy van Gelder * Mark Byford * Michael Green * Matti Alahuhta * Jamie and Elizabeth Byng * Mark Amory * Viv King * Terry Wogan *

Thursday, May 18, 2006


"A victory is twice itself when the achiever brings home full numbers"

This production will play to full houses in The Swan, else there's no justice - Marianne Elliott's debut at Stratford as the director, and Tamsin Greig's as Beatrice, and a wonderful ensemble, and great music all deserved their glowing reviews.

Michael Billington wrote in The Guardian,
"Comedy has been in short supply in this year's bulging Stratford season. On a day when the Midlands was at its most sodden and unkind, you could feel the audience falling with delight on Marianne Elliott's colourful, Cuba-based production. Whatever niggles one has, this is a striking Stratford directorial debut.
Why Cuba circa 1953? One is tempted to ask, Why not? Given that I've seen the play set in British India, Renaissance England, and even, on one daring occasion, in Sicily where it takes place, Latin America seems as good a choice as any. What it offers is a plausible military context, a raffish glamour, and endless opportunities, gloriously seized by Olly Fox's score, for rumbas, sambas and congas. It is a touch gratuitous to suggest that the villainous Don John, who precipitates Hero's disgrace, should turn into a rifle-toting revolutionary; but otherwise the chosen setting gives the action a seedy exoticism."

Personal Star Rating [out of five] *****

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


31 of you have already contributed a total of £25,876 - and I am very, very grateful for your support. Thanks to all of you

Bernard Taylor * Anthony Greener * Henry Keswick * Charles McVeigh * Nigel and Anna McNair Scott * Roy Gardner * David and Kim Stewart * Robert Swannell * Richard and Caroline Ryder * Jeremy and Kirsty Hardie * John and Sarah Riddell * Jane Asher * Mark Baring * William Waldegrave * Robin Fox * Max Hastings * Tim Chessells * Dominic Shorthouse * Richard Macaire * Tony Gibson * Richard Eyre and Sue Birtwistle * Bamber and Christina Gascoigne * Larry Stone * Gerald Corbett * Mark Zetland * Maarten van den Bergh * Gavyn Davies * Dalip Pathak * James and Alyson Spooner * Maurice Saatchi

Thursday, May 04, 2006


Montagus 3, Capulets 1

RSC 21 runs for 7 in 10 overs, Baxter Company 22 runs for 6 in 9 overs.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


The Complete Works Festival was officially launched at Stratford over the weekend of April 22nd-23rd; the Sunday was Shakespeare's 442nd birthday. There was the usual slightly dotty and hugely enjoyable procession to Holy Trinity, preceded by the [ancient, some say] ceremony of raising the flags in the middle of the town. Janet Suzman and I , aided by a Boy Scout who knew which toggle was which, were in charge of Shakespeare, and hoisted him without incident. The Bevin Boys unfurled Love's Labour's Lost, lots of foreign ambassadors and High Commissioners raised their flags, and then off we marched to lay our wreaths on WS' tomb. As you will see from the photograph, Michael Boyd and I adopted the Hawaiian method for the arduous carry.

There were many wonderful events over the 2 days. Lectures [Marina Warner on Hamlet], seminars [Patrick Stewart and John Barton on the sonnets], sermons [the Archbishop of Canterbury comparing poetry and prophesy], recitals [ sonnets on the Avon ferry], conversations [Janet Suzman and Harriet Walter on Playing Cleopatra], and an opportunity for children to raid the costume cupboard or acquire horrendous facial scars via the RSC's make-up department. An RSC party with fireworks in the evening. And "soda-water the day after."