Saturday, 24 October 2015

Autumn Orgies

Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness

Autumn is my favourite season and the orgy of sensations brings me profound pleasure: soft golden light, cooling breezes, falling leaves, burning tints, shades of red, yellow, orange, brown and darkening green. Why is Autumn my favourite season? (“The teeming autumn, big with rich increase” from Shakespeare's Sonnet 97) Is it because, as an ex-teacher, Autumn heralded the new academic year, the fresh start, the new beginning (supplanting Spring as the metaphorical dawn of the year)? Is it because Autumn brings the last blaze of colour before “Winter is Coming”? Or is it because I was born in October? October is the source of my nativity and maybe Autumn imprinted its seasonal DNA in my own DNA.
Odd Autumnal goings-on at Bolton Abbey

An Autumn twas/That grew the more by reaping*

(*from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra)
As well as the Autumn orgy of sensory delight, I also had an orgy of Shakespeare last week. On Tuesday I saw the new film of Macbeth at the cinema. A difficult play to get right and with notoriously tricky bits of staging, I think Justin Kurzel did an excellent job and certainly created a film that holds up well against Polanski’s, Kurosawa’s and Welles’s cinematic versions. Fassbender was solid, though became a bit one-note, I think, from about half way through (apart from his brilliant delivery of the scene after the death of his wife.) The photography, design and music were, I thought, fantastic, capturing the play’s brooding, violent and disturbing imagery. I also admired the performances of David Thewlis as Duncan, Sean Harris as Macduff, Paddy Considine as Banquo and Jack Reynor as Malcolm. But the bits that jump into my brain four days later were the decisions around the women of the play – the way the Weird Sisters were filmed, the fate of Lady Macduff and the portrayal (and interpretative decisions) focused on Marion Cotillard’s heartbreakingly disintegrating Lady Macbeth.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers

On Wednesday I attended the RSC Live screening of Henry V, a production I’d seen with daughter Emily in Stratford with the understudy cast. I partly wanted to see it because I’m a huge fan of Oliver Ford Davies and his delivery of the play’s Chorus lines were wonderful, I think. The production is the end of the sequence of four histories directed by the assured and talented Greg Doran, ex-actor and current Artistic Director of the RSC. The staging, design, music and performances were all compelling and I look forward to the completion of the history Octology in the near future.
The cast of the RSC Greg Doran production of Henry V

The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!

And so to my third Shakespeare production of the week: the NT Live screening of Lyndsey Turner’s Barbican production of Hamlet. I had managed to avoid reading most of the commentary about the production so went in with Sally feeling open-minded but not especially fired up. Reader, I loved it. I thought the production was a magnificent version of the play (a play that I have directed and seen many times and hope to see many more times.)
My production of Hamlet

My enthusiasm for Lyndsey Turner's production could have been because I think (and have always thought that) Ciarán Hinds is a tremendous actor and his Claudius was at first magisterially plausible and finally cowardly and evil. Anastasia Hille’s Gertrude and Sian Brooke’s Ophelia were two of the best portrayals of those roles I’ve ever seen and the way Turner directed them both in the lead-up to Ophelia’s death I thought was very moving. “There is a willow grows…” was as good as I’ve ever heard. Cucumberpatch hooked me from the start and I thought the editing of the text(s) was absolutely legitimate in revealing new aspects of the play. The disintegration of the production’s world through the blowing in of the war detritus at the end of the first half was vivid and admirably utilised by the actors. Most of all, though, I think I enjoyed it because I could see the close-ups of the actors’ faces. Would I have enjoyed it as much live on the vast Barbican stage? I’ll never know, but as a cinematic experience, it gripped me from haunting start to brutal finish.
Lyndsey Turner's stimulating production of Hamlet