31 Adrian Lester

Hamlet played by Adrian Lester.
Directed by Peter Brook.

Sometimes when I sit down to record my impressions of these productions, I feel as though its my duty to give them good record because often there isn’t another record at least not one as detailed as I attempt. On this occasions, I’m trumped by Michael Billington of The Guardian, whose 2000 review of the original production at the Bouffes du Nord covers all of the main points and offers few things that I could disagree with so if you’re particularly interested I must direct you there. This isn’t a cop out, I don’t think. Just seems silly to repeat the work of a master, especially when he also includes such good historical context.

This is a very sombre Hamlet. Lester delivers much of his dialogue with a bitter lilt right from the off, his apparent madness minutely modulated to the extent that his familiars notice but we can’t always. What few moments of levity Shakespeare has injected are coldly rendered, the fishmonger becoming a genuine attempt by Bruce Myers’s intellectual Polonius to see inside the prince’s skull. Even when the Gravedigger incongruously sings The Belle of Belfast City, the moment is flooded with irony because Myers is doubling the part, effectively digging his own daughter’s grave having just dug his own.

I agree with Billington that the reason we accept the lack of political context is because unlike other productions what we’re seeing is Brook’s adaptation of the text rather than omission for duration's sake. He’s experimenting, offering a kind of improvisational jazz version of Shakespeare, showing how by moving the speeches or scenes about a whole new set motives and reactions can develop. Certainly with its three available texts and various placements for its most famous speech anyway, the play is perhaps the most malleable and indeed Brook shunts it as late as possible making us wait for the release.

One of the dangers with this approach is to demonstrate how well thought through the original structure is. Like Welles, Brook cuts Laertes completely from the first half of the play and the first inkling we have that Ophelia has a sibling is when he comes thundering in later from who knows where like the tragedy equivalent of a deus ex machina, to bring about the hero’s destruction rather than the usual reverse. When he’s confronted with the tragedy of his sister’s condition, I’m not sure we’re empathising with him, no matter how good Rohan Siva’s performance is because we’ve not seen them together earlier.

Yet over and over Brook surprises.  During the first emergence of the players, Hamlet’s idol’s monologue is offered in full. In Japanese. Which means that for once we really are concentrating on the performance, swept up in the breadth of emotion that Hamlet later envies so that when Lester later cries himself at the thought it’s devastating, particularly given the calculating stoicism he expresses elsewhere.  The Mousetrap later becomes unplugged Noh Theatre and though the speech is recognisably Shakespearean, the shadow of Kurasowa is still evident, as Jeffery Kissoon's often quite broad performance as the King finds a natural home.

Billington’s review is also especially helpful in pointing to some of the difference between the original production and the television presentation I’ve just enjoyed. He mentions a two and half hour duration without interval – BBC Four offered up about two hours ten in 2001, which even accepting edits for scenes changes still leaves a bit of room for omission. Is this where Yorrick and much of the rest of the Gravedigger scene, the spirit of which now remain in Hamlet’s utilisation of two skulls to represent the fate of “his excellent good friends”?

He also notes that the version he saw ended on Horatio and the question “Who’s there?” which on tv was also entirely absent, closing instead on the poignant image of the prince dying with his eyes open after whispering his final epitaph, “The rest is silence”. The former does perhaps speaks more the theatrical experience, directed as it often seems to be to the audience as much as the relief guards. The television production makes full use of the close-up and teasing out in this case the strength of Adrian Lester’s central performance that we can see the lights in his eyes extinguish.
Elsewhere I've reached my thirty-first Hamlet.

Rebellious Subjects Theatre in The Theater at the Tank, New York.4th until 16th May 2011.

The Pitch:
"Rebellious Subjects Theatre brings its lively and eclectic classical work to The Tank in May 2011 with a reimagining of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Using both of The Tank's theaters and the areas in and around as their largest playing space yet, the company delves into a modern world of Elsinore where cameras, both hidden and exposed, surround the players, blurring the boundaries of performance and privacy, exploring the nuances of appearance, deception, exploitation, and action within the world of the play."
Time and ticket details.

What's in a name?

Whilst it's true that the Hamlet we know, both the character and story have their origins in Scandinavia (from Saxo Grammaticus), Dr Lisa Collinson, a medieval Scandinavian expert based at Aberdeen University has found that perhaps the name at least traveled from elsewhere:
"Exploring even earlier, she discovered the name Admlithi (the "d" is silent) in an Irish story entitled The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel thought to have been compiled in the 8th or 9th century. The tale recounts the story of a king who breaks social taboos and consequently meets a grisly end.


"The name Amlothi is highly unlikely to be Norse in origin," Collinson said. "There really is no convincing way to explain its form with reference to any known Norse words – although this hasn't prevented fine scholars from trying in the past.

"By contrast, the name Admlithi could certainly have been used by sailors to describe grinding seas, and it's likely that sailors played a critical role in its transmission to Scandinavia. The Icelandic poet Snow Bear was probably a sailor himself."
The story itself is not a new discovery; there is a translation available online and a thorough wikipedia page. But I do like that Dr Collinson's brave attempt to imply an extra connection with the play, that it can't be a coincidence that a character whose name may have its origin in an old Irish word for whirlpool would himself refer to that in his key speech ...
"To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them."

an air traffic control tower with arms

That Day I've been catching up on my reading. A couple of weeks ago I audited all the books on my shelves and made four piles. Books read that I wanted to keep, books read to go, books unread and books unread that I decided I didn't want to.  I discovered, as a result of the exercise, that I actually owned more books that I hadn't read than otherwise. So after rationalising everything I created a backlog to work through, generally in no particular order, leading to this rather murky art project:

I'm working through the oversized volumes first and have discovered that Klimt was a rascal by most accounts, that one of the original concepts for a moon suit looked like an air traffic control tower with arms, Samuel L Jackson's favourite film in 1995 was What's New Pussycat and that Uma Thurman once dodged a early career bullet (pity about the many that hit her later on).  I've also finally finished this Doctor Who novel.  What's next?  Ah, Dr. Fegg's Encyclopeadia of All World Knowledge.  My education continues.

a better second go round

TV After decommissioning Whites and Zen, the BBC have bizarrely confirmed there will be a second series of Episodes.

Generally in the wry smile area of comedy, the first series was only ever laugh out loud funny when directly referencing Friends and Matt LeBlanc's subsequent career, coming across as an HBO version of the spin-off show Joey, never quite comfortable in its own skin.

Assuming an emotional reset button isn't pressed, however, there is the potential for a better second attempt now that an element of proper bitterness has been injected thanks to the events in the final episode of the first series.

we could talk @Paul_Cornell into giving us some more from the Shalka Doctor?

Books The Liverpool Echo's Live Read 2011 live chat with Stephen Baxter happened yesterday and I inevitably asked a question, two in fact, as you can see from this exchange. And yes, I know, me and my one track mind:
Hi Stephen. I was just wondering what happened to the Doctor Who audio you were writing for Big Finish. Is that still happening?

Stephen Baxter:
Sadly no. This would have featured Colin Baker. They liked the script but everything changed for Big Finish when the new Who took off, and I got canned! But I used the idea in a (non-Who) story called Project Hades in Asimov's SF Magazine. Also I'm doing a Who novel! Out in 2012, featuring the 2nd Doctor. Always my favourite.

Wow. If I'm allowed a follow up, is this a one off or are BBC Books beginning a whole new range of past Doctor novels?

Stephen Baxter:
I believe it's a whole range featuring the old Docs and written by the likes of me - but I'm not sure who else is involved.
So there we have it. One of the reasons the BBC withdrew the book license from Big Finish was because they're launch some new range of Past Doctor novels and it with some prestigious authors at the helm, or whoever he means by "the likes of me".  Despite my initial excitement, this isn't a scoop, Baxter has mentioned this before in interviews in places like SFX Magazine.

Nevertheless it does open up the intriguing prospect as to what BBC Books now consider old Docs and if as I hope this means Eighth, Ninth and Tenth.  Ninth's tenure was so short he barely generated a couple of dozen stories in total including the tv episodes and it'll be interesting to see how they deal with Eighth, if we'll have stories set in the old BBC Books run or something totally new.  I expect the latter.

What about tone?  My assumption would be that they'll skew toward something similar to the recent Michael Moorcock number, for the slightly older reader but not with much that would worry kids who are interested in reading about the adventures of the weird looking men who keep flashing up in the Moffat era.  Or I don't suppose there's any chance we could talk @Paul_Cornell into giving us some more from the Shalka Doctor?

Our Read, The Reader Organisation’s big shared read

Books Another book related event in Liverpool I thought might be of interest:
From Bootle to the British Library

World Book Day, Thursday 3rd March, marks the launch of Our Read, The Reader Organisation’s big shared read and this year, it’s bigger than ever. There are 50,000 copies of a brand new book, The Unforgotten Coat, written especially for Our Read by Frank Cottrell Boyce be given away.

The Unforgotten Coat is about a young girl from Bootle, who begins to see things differently after she befriends two new Mongolian boys, who turn up suddenly at her school and tell her of their travels, was written especially for The Reader Organisation.

To celebrate the start of the world’s largest shared-reading project, The Reader Organisation will be taking 25 young people from Liverpool to London onboard a Virgin Train, accompanied by Frank Cottrell Boyce who will be reading the story aloud to them for the very first time. Many of these young people have never travelled outside Liverpool before, let alone visited London. The journey will culminate in a trip to the British Library.

Trains, and journeys, are very important themes in the story of ‘The Unforgotten Coat’ – and in its creation. Last year, after being asked by The Reader Organisation’s Director, Jane Davis, to write a new story for their book giveaway, Frank penned the first draft on the very same Virgin train route to London that the project will be launching from on Thursday. Frank says:

“I'm not sure what it is about trains - maybe it's that sense that you're going somewhere, or maybe it's that your time is limited, or maybe it's that magical thing of the world rushing past your window while you are sitting still which is a bit like dreaming. Whatever it is, I always have my best ideas on trains.”

The train journey marks the growth of this huge initiative, which began in Liverpool in 2003, under the name ‘Liverpool Reads’.

Aimed at encouraging more young people between the ages of 10-16 to read for pleasure, and share reading with others around them, Our Read begins with a huge book giveaway and a chain-read of the book at the Bluecoat on 3rd March.

Director of The Reader Organisation, Jane Davis, explained that the project is a hugely exciting new venture for the charity:

“Ever since 2003 we have had an annual book give-away, and this year, we can share our Liverpool-grown project with the rest of the country, which makes it very special indeed.”

“We really want people to read and share The Unforgotten Coat with friends, family, neighbours and teachers. You can find Our Read on Facebook and Twitter and tell us your stories: what you think of the book, who you’ve been reading it with, uploading photos – don’t keep it to yourself! Keep your eyes open for Our Read postcards hitting the streets and write to us telling us where you’ve from and who you’ve shared the book with”

Thousands of copies of The Unforgotten Coat will be available from 3rd March and people can pick their copy up from any library on Merseyside and the following city-centre locations:

Liverpool City Library at World Museum;
Waterstone’s (Bold Street and Liverpool One);
Costa coffee (Bold Street and Liverpool One);
Brew tea bar (Bold Street and Old Hall Street).

The books will also be available to pick-up from selected Merseytravel locations across Merseyside – this includes major train and bus stations such as Liverpool Central, Lime Street and Moorfields, as well as Merseyferry terminals at Seacombe, Woodside and Pier Head - and The Beatles Story.

at variance with sanity

Film Having faced the bitterness of not being able to see the ceremony for another year (though from what I hear I didn't miss too much this time), let's see how well I did in predicting Oscars 2011, of the categories I bothered to make prediction about (keeping in mind I still haven't seen most of these films):

Best motion picture of the year
I said: Inception
WINNER: The King's Speech

Performance by an actor in a leading role
I said: Colin Firth (The King's Speech)
WINNER: Colin Firth (The King's Speech)

Performance by an actress in a leading role
I said: Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
WINNER: Natalie Portman (Black Swan)

Achievement in directing
I said: Tom Hooper (The King's Speech)
WINNER: Tom Hooper (The King's Speech)

Art direction
I said: The King's Speech - Eve Stewart (production design), Judy Farr (set decoration)
WINNER: Alice in Wonderland - Robert Stromberg (production design), Karen O'Hara (set decoration)

Achievement in cinematography
I said: Matthew Libatique (Black Swan)
WINNER: Wally Pfister (Inception)

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
I said: Amy Adams (The Fighter)
WINNER: Melissa Leo (The Fighter)

Best animated feature film of the year
I said: Toy Story 3
WINNER: Toy Story 3

Adapted screenplay
I said: The Social Network - Aaron Sorkin
WINNER: The Social Network - Aaron Sorkin

Original screenplay
I said: Inception - Christopher Nolan
WINNER: The King's Speech - David Seidler

Best foreign language film of the year
I said: I didn't on the basis that Of Gods and Men wasn't there.
WINNER: In a Better World (Denmark)

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
I said: Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right) or Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech) it's unclear.
WINNER: Christian Bale (The Fighter)

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (original score)
I said: Inception (Warner Bros.) Hans Zimmer
WINNER: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (The Social Network)

Achievement in costume design
I said: Antonella Cannarozzi (I Am Love)
WINNER: Colleen Atwood (Alice in Wonderland)

Best documentary feature
I said: Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy and Jaimie D'Cruz)
WINNER: Inside Job (Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs)

Achievement in visual effects
I said: Inception (Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb)
WINNER: Inception (Paul Franklin, Chris Corbould, Andrew Lockley and Peter Bebb)

Achievement in film editing
I said: 127 Hours (Fox Searchlight) Jon Harris
WINNER: Angus Wall and Kirk Baxter (The Social Network)

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (original song)
I said: We Belong Together (from Toy Story 3, music and lyrics by Randy Newman)
WINNER: We Belong Together (from Toy Story 3, music and lyrics by Randy Newman)

Seven. Not bad. But some of these decisions are rather at variance with sanity as ever, not least giving The Social Network best score over Inception. At least sanity reigned in the Visual Effects category.

Faking the Classics on BBC iPlayer

Lend an ear if you have half an hour in the next six days to Faking the Classics, an iplayer hosted BBC7 documentary about "how fraudsters and tricksters have set out to fool us with counterfeits passed off as the Bard's" which has an excellent central experiment in which two RSC actors are asked to tell the difference between proper Shakespeare, a passage from Ireland's hoax Vortigan and presenter and academic Jonathan Bate's own hash-up.

an excellent central experiment

Theatre Lend an ear if you have half an hour in the next six days to Faking the Classics, an iplayer hosted BBC7 documentary about "how fraudsters and tricksters have set out to fool us with counterfeits passed off as the Bard's" which has an excellent central experiment in which two RSC actors are asked to tell the difference between proper Shakespeare, a passage from Ireland's hoax Vortigan and presenter and academic Jonathan Bate's own hash-up.

LiveRead 2011

Books Just a couple of days to go until the start of LiveRead 2011, Liverpool Daily Post & Echo's online literature festival which runs from March 3-5, 2011. Their press release offers a taste of what we can look forward to. Doctor Who fans should keep their eyes peeled:
WILLY RUSSELL has added his name to the list of major writers supporting the Liverpool Daily Post’s online literature festival.

The Blood Brothers creator will be giving a rare video interview on his life and work that will be featured in this week’s three-day event.

LiveRead is a celebration of Liverpool writing and writers, hosted on a dedicated section of the newspapers’ websites.

Whiston-born Russell said: “I’m delighted to once again be involved with the innovative LiveRead festival.

“I think it’s a terrific initiative – one which I’m sure will go from strength to strength.”

A playwright, screenwriter and novelist, Russell’s works for the stage include John, Paul, George, Ringo . . . and Bert, Educating Rita, Blood Brothers, Stags and Hens and Shirley Valentine, most of which have since been made into films.
His reworked musical, Our Day Out, enjoyed a second successful run at Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre and is tipped for the West End.

A live-streamed book group discussion about Russell’s 2000 novel, The Wrong Boy, was a highlight of the inaugural LiveRead festival last year.

This year’s discussion will be based on Wirral writer Kevin Sampson’s Awaydays, the story of two teenagers drawn into football hooliganism that was made into a film in 2009.

World-renowned science fiction writer Stephen Baxter, a former pupil of St Edwards School, in West Derby, will be answering readers’ questions in a live online interview.

As will Ormskirk-based screenwriter John Fay, who started his career on Liverpool-based soap opera Brookside, and is currently working on the new series of Doctor Who spin-off, Torchwood.

Local authors Jane Costello, Jon Mayhew and Marc Gee will be reading from their latest books, while writer Cyan Dorman will be working overnight to create each episode of a brand new serialised story, Monsterocity, according to readers’ votes.

There will also be daily book giveaways, podcasts of music inspired by literature and photo galleries of illustrations.

Ebooks of poetry and short stories by Daily Post readers are also available to download free of charge.
So John Fay is in it from Doctor Who.

There is already plenty to look at on the LifeRead websites both at the Daily Post and Liverpool Echo. Good luck everyone.

Almost Doctor Who: Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

Film This late noughties slice of post-Wonka wimsey wasn’t well received on released, largely by disappointed reviewers clutching their nostalgic memories of director Robert Stevenson’s bursts of Disney confection, the magical fantasy of Mary Poppins and Bednobs and Broomsticks. Despite that, this story of Dustin Hoffman’s titular ancient magician training his composer employee, Molly Mahoney, sparkly played by Natalie Portman, to take over the running of his toy shop is the kind of film that deserves to be rediscovered, not least because the script is one of the most literate and passionate of the noughties.

If you’ve not seen the film, I’d urge you to seek it out now then come back again because necessarily there will be spoilers. It’s best watched as I did without much foreknowledge, the series title for this new run of articles more than enough. Part of the problem some people have had is that writer/director Zach Helm (who also penned Stranger Than Fiction) is so determined not explain the origins of Mr. Magorium or his shop and the need for the unfolding circumstances, the viewer left to imagine whatever the back story might be. For some this was a distraction. But I had an easy answer.

Mr. Magorium is a Time Lord. As he says in the film he’s 243 years old, small fry in comparison to the Doctor perhaps, but not bad longevity. Like the Doctor he’s a kind of magician, absent minded and above all wants to please the children. Unlike the Doctor he doesn’t seem too concerned with getting messed up in the world’s problems, though the Doctor is quite unique in that regard. He adores humanity but doesn’t really understand us or our customs as we discover in the charming sequence when Molly takes him out into the world. His clothes are at once contemporary yet don’t quite fit, which is very nu-Who.

He says some very Doctorish things. Try:
“I fell so completely in love with these shoes, I bought enough pairs to last my whole lifetime. This is my last pair.”
“We Breathe. We Pulse. We Regenerate. Our hearts beat. Our minds create. Our souls ingest. Thirty-seven seconds, well used, is a lifetime.”
The Wonder Emporium is his TARDIS. Like Professor Chronotis’s TARDIS in the Douglas Adams penned story, Shada, it has transformed itself to mimic part of the architecture of its environment and though initially the external and internal size seem to reflect each other, there are sections, like the ball room, which inexplicably exist outside of normal space. He even talks about it changing location. When Mr. Magorium dies (presumably having reached the end of his regenerative cycle) the toy shop turns grey and fades too, the link between him and it having been broken.

Molly Mahoney is his companion, though more in the manic pixie dream girl realm of Susan or Amy Pond than Jo Grant. Magorium teaches her about the world and she’s the one he’s forever trying to impress. But like many of the Doctor’s companions she’s also the one who’s the public face on whatever madness and baggage he’s carrying around with him and the only one who can tell him off or tell him to stop. Jason Bateman’s accountant Henry Weston (nickname “the Mutant”) is the rarer third wheel figure, the Harry Sullivan, Mickey or Rory standing on the edge of this odd relationship, staying as detached as they can until they become caught up in the lunacy themselves.

Searching for confirmation online, I’ve found little in Zach Helm’s publicity interviews to suggest a direct connection. He mentions his influences in this piece at Movie Maker, saying that Magorium is based on a vaudeville joke though a bit more complex than that. Helm also says that he was fired as the writer on the film and someone else came in to rewrite the script he was directing, so perhaps some of this is from that mystery person. Either way, it’s certainly worth reassessment in this light. It’s impossible for me not to look this speech which might have been transcribed from a 90s Eighth Doctor novel and is one of my favourite comments on this particular play I’ve read anywhere:
"When King Lear dies in Act V, do you know what Shakespeare has written? He's written "He dies." That's all, nothing more. No fanfare, no metaphor, no brilliant final words. The culmination of the most influential work of dramatic literature is "He dies." It takes Shakespeare, a genius, to come up with "He dies." And yet every time I read those two words, I find myself overwhelmed with dysphoria. And I know it's only natural to be sad, but not because of the words "He dies." but because of the life we saw prior to the words."

like Morgan Freeman, Clint Eastwood, and Edward James Olmos

Museums How should you behave in an art museum. Apparently looking at the art isn't always at the top of the list of priorities:
"Basically, a covert class-mobility agenda. I knew my kids might cause problems, but when it comes to doing that hard-ass inspirational routine that people like Morgan Freeman, Clint Eastwood, and Edward James Olmos do in movies, I’m hopeless, so I told them to meet me in the lobby in two hours and not get into trouble. I wandered off to have my usual neurotic museum experience. Occasionally I’d see the kids dart by at a speed not really appropriate for a place that housed fragile, invaluable objects, and I’d think to myself: well, nobody knows that I brought them here."
People like this writer, Timothy Aubry, are the reason I have to spend every museum visit listening to classical music in an attempt to concentrate on what should be the main reason for being there [via].

the colour positioning

Film MovieBarCode appears to be a record of the just the colour information from a range of films. Some reflect the palette more than others.  But no one could mistake this for anything other than The Matrix and some of the best actually double as a synopsis for the plot. Witness the colour positioning in Pleasantville and Amelie [via].