Thursday, 4 June 2015

Sinister and Dexter

Laburnum in June

Good foot is still needed to go to heaven, but bad foot going to hell is already miles better; it was ever thus, the road to perdition is so much less stony than the way to heavenly bliss. 

It was sheer bliss limping to the theatre, though. First to a Live Screening of the National Theatre's performance of Shaws Man And Superman and then to Stratford and the Royal Shakespeare Companys Merchant Of Venice. No two plays could be more different.  The Merchant with its Bond of Flesh plot is truly sinister. Its a disturbing story, even today, more than 500 years after Shakespeare wrote it  - or perhaps particularly today when anti-semitism appears to be on the rise again.  Suffice it to say that neither the Jew nor the Christians come out anything other than morally obnoxious.

The stage at the end of the play, taken from the front row.
(We are very fortunate, Jeremy being disabled
gets us excellent seats at reduced prices)

Synopsis:-  In the melting pot of Venice, trade is God. With its ships plying the globe, the city opens its arms to all - as long as they come prepared to do business and there is profit to be made.
When the gold is flowing all is well - but when a contract between Bassanio and Shylock is broken, simmering racial tensions boil over.
A wronged father, and despised outsider, Shylock looks to exact the ultimate price for a deal sealed in blood.

Shaw’s Man And Superman is a sharp comedy, philosophical musing and surreal drama, a philosophical comedy of manners, if such a thing exists. A bearded Ralph Fiennes was excellent as John Tanner, who unwillingly accepts guardianship of a sly and manipulative young woman who is out to snare him in marriage. Fiennes rolls across the stage, slightly bent and swaying, apparently propelled by the fountain of his own words. Never once did he falter - there are over 57,000 words in the play and the majority of those are spoken by its intensely loquacious anti-hero. The play lasted the best part of four hours; I was never bored and laughed like a drain.

I have a new crush: it’s Ralph Fiennes; he may be ageing and his hair may be thinning but his triumphant vigour and versatility, not to mention the perfect delivery of his lines, have won me over. It is so refreshing to be able to understand each word; TV actors mumble and stumble through their lines as if they’re ashamed of them.

Finally, let me recommend to all of you who are interested in theatre (and now, opera) to make use of Live Screenings if you have the chance. Most of us can’t get to London, Stratford, Glyndebourne, or even New York - the Met does transmissions - but many of us can see performances locally at vastly reduced cost. The recordings are for the archives, so the actors are on top form. Performances feel intense, you know that all around the world people are watching the same show as you. And as you are seeing the show on a big screen  instead of from a cheap seat at the back of the Stalls, you have the added thrill of being the first to notice a  fluffed line or an actor corpsing.

We’re off to ‘Julius Cesar’ tonight, which won’t be a bundle of laughs.


  1. When I was in high school we read Julius Ceasar, David quotes it regularly. Happy to see Ralph Fiennes working. The best actors begin on the stage. Occasionally PBS here broadcasts a stage play. Love those Irish playwrights, and actors too!

  2. Ommnia Gallia, divisa in partes tres....I think he remembers that from Latin class.

  3. ... the first pic of yours is "Goldregen" ... ya ... omg, so beautiful, Friko ... me? enjoying our short summer here in Alberta ... Frost will come soon ... mid August for sure ... Love, cat.

  4. Confession time. I skimmed through (some might say "skipped through") The Merchant of Venice back in uni. It was part of my course reading material, English Literature, and I just couldn't get into it. Othello? Still my favourite Shakespeare's play. Hamlet? I even taught it the year after I studied it. Macbeth? I have re-read it a couple of times, love it. But the other works, amongst which I include The Tempest (which I finally read recently) and The Merchant of Venice did not go down well. It was only when I saw Al Pacino a few years back that I was able to get into the play a little bit. Just a little bit.

    However, I would have loved to see the play in Stratford. What an experience that must have been!

    Another confession: I love (in the way a straight, married man loves) Ralph Fiennes. Please, rent Coriolanus. He is magnificent in it. :-)

    Greetings from London.

  5. You are certainly having a dose of culture.
    They do have those Met Opera transmissions here, and while I've never been to opera - or know much about it, for that matter - I've always been curious.

  6. Friko, let me first send along to you my best wishes that your recent injuries continue some sort of steady recovery. No fall backs...just steadily forward, please.

    Now, on to letting you know how much I enjoyed your reporting of recent theatre going. I started feeling envious, and then got a grip and realized that I just seem to procrastinate buying some tickets myself for some of the fine shows on view a subway stop away from my apartment. Perhaps your post will jolt me into a seat on the aisle....


  7. I'm glad Shaw is surfacing again.....
    We get opera screenings here, but not - as far as I am aware - theatre..

  8. Ah, wonderful! I absolutely agree about live screenings, and also the increasing availability of online offerings. There is a new site called the opera platform offering free live screenings, and archived screenings for 6 months for each offering. 15 opera companies across Europe are involved. Meanwhile, I have been thinking of you, as we last week went to the theater for a live performance 2 nights in a row (in NYC). We've had so many disappointments that we've sworn it off, but the RSC's extraordinary performance of Wolf Hall Part 1 has made it a necessity to go back in to NYC for Part 2 and also to be on the lookout for screenings and live RSC performances. Your laburnum, by the way, is exquisite, and a brilliant counterpoint to the marvelous photo of the stage at the close of Merchant of Venice. Ralph Fiennes has seemed to me, from film, to be a treasure, so I'm delighted he measured up in the Shaw.

  9. Here in the states they have a different name but you can indeed check out the National Theatre screenings. The two scheduled are "The Audience" next week and "Hamlet" in October. How I envy you the opportunity to see these wonderful performances live and in person. I've always been rather fond of Ralph Fiennes from "The English Patient" through "The Grand Budapest Hotel" and many roles in-between. I can see why he would become a new favorite of yours!

  10. The laburnum picture is so... prachtvoll, is the first word that comes to mind.
    What you say about the way actors deliver their lines is something I have observed here, too. Not just actors, but also newsreaders, journalists, moderators - anyone who speaks on telly. There is a tendency towards a certain way of slurring their speech, and I don't like it. What a difference, for instance, if you watch the main news on ARD or ZDF as opposed to any of the private channels. I must confess I am rather oldfashioned in that way and still prefer to watch good old Tagesschau, which is much less boulevardesque than the other programmes.

  11. Ralph Fiennes is only 52, so he's probably on top of his game. I have really liked him in everything I've ever seen him in (movies) and he's always had perfect diction. Excellent actor! I like that he hasn't been trying to hide the balding head and his aging like so many actors do. Maybe he gets more meaty character roles that way? ;)

    I have always loved live plays, but haven't seen one performed in a couple decades now. Not that I went often, but each one was memorable. What a wonderful way to spend your evenings. :)

  12. So sorry to hear of your injury, but good theatre sounds like a nice piece of compensation. Wishing you a good recovery, and more good theatre.

  13. One of the things I truly enjoyed as a student at Kings College in London, was "students got tickets all the time to the theaters". Most didn't go, but I took advantage of them for sure and saw many a play or musical, opera, etc. I loved the theater life and believe it or not - I came all the way from my hometown in Canada to study nursing in London, England and some 8 months later "Anne Of Green Gables" was playing in the "West End". Yep, I went and got very homesick.ha,ha
    Its lovely that you are getting out to so many and hope you are mending well. Have a lovely day.

  14. I do get some of the older videos of Shakespeare from England on our TV...big screen but not the same as in a real theater.

  15. I just found out this week about National Theatre Live, and lo! The one Houston-area movie theatre that I go to on rare occasion is the one that will be offering the screenings. I already have my tickets for "Hamlet," and plan to take a friend for her birthday. Just think, Friko -- we'll be going to see a play together!

    I'm so glad to hear that The Foot isn't preventing a little out-and-about-ness. Now, I'm going to have to go explore that Laburnum a bit. What an extraordinary tree -- and what a pleasure it must be so have such in the neighborhood.

  16. What wonderful theatre experiences you're having! I was aware of the Met live and will have to check out other possibilities. I'm going to New York for a speaking engagement in two weeks and have tickets to five Broadway shows -- a 70th birthday present from a dear friend who is very rich and who knows how much I love theatre. When I see the prices of the tickets, I'm shocked and fearing that live theatre in major cities of the world is becoming largely unavailable to many. Perhaps the live telecasts will remedy that.

  17. Out here on the Edge these theatre events are sorely missing so I envy you these opportunities. Having said that, I lived in Toronto for so long and saw so much, my soul was sated.
    Enjoy it all my friend - for me too.

  18. Oh, how I envy you! We rarely go even to a film and live theater is a once decade experience. But I saw Burton as Hamlet and Gielgud as Polonius in New York half a century ago and still treasure the memory.

  19. Julius Caesar - it ends badly.

  20. Hi Friko - the CineWorld has the live shows here, and Bexhill put on Glyndebourne one year .. lovely. I must remember to put them back on my map. I'm so pleased you've been able to get to Stratford and to see the local 'live show' ... and have that 'advantage' of getting front row seats ... Sinister and Dexter ... love the title ... and the Laburnum ... enjoy these outings .. Bexhill is a wonderful setting over the sea ... the cinema distinctly not so in a supermarket park ... Cheers Hilary

  21. That Laburnum tree is stunning.

  22. I feel I am always playing catch-up with my favorite bloggers. Your posts are well worth the wade-through, Friko. You're ability with words, with story framing, with wit, make for such great reading; even when your subject matter is not always humorous you handle it with grace.

  23. Live screenings have really taken off. I have been to a couple but the cinema always has the sound up too high for me. Perhaps I should sit in the back row :)

  24. What an interesting and gorgeous tree!

    Not a fan of opera, I have to admit. I know - I'm a peasant.


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