As an Englishwoman, subject of this sceptre isle, this precious stone set in the silver sea, I’m ashamed to say, I’ve spent very little time watching or studying Shakespeare since leaving school.
As a teen, I was besotted by the stage – the lights, the attention, the thrill of stumbling over props and stagehands in semi darkness.
I acted in youth theatre, though this foray into the seedy world of Thespia was in part due to the attractions of the young male lead in my troupe, a loose hipped, loose lipped, self-adoring monster intriguingly named Conan. A barbarian like his namesake, this glorious creature was monstrous in the way only attractive teenage boys can be. I learned my lines (barely), threw myself around rehearsals (embarrassingly) and he hardly flickered an unfeasibly long eyelash my way.
As compensation for my failure as an actress, I trotted along to every school theatre trip going. Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, Edward II, Midsummer Night’s Dream, even Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Coppelia got a look in, though I later decided I’m not a fan of ballet, preferring blood and guts high opera and its tendency towards morbidly extended death scenes over ballet’s pallid and picturesque drowning Swan Princesses.
In a moment of madness, I used my hard earned deli counter wages to buy a pre-loved copy of the complete works of Shakespeare. It had yellowed pages spotted with damp and a spine that crumbled more with every read. Unfortunately, I found it disappointingly impenetrable and soon put it aside in favour of what I viewed at the time as easier prey such as Equus. I must have been a very weird teenager.
As an adult, my
experiences have not improved.
Years ago, I went to see a production of Macbeth (always one of my favourites, due to its high body count and obsessions with personal hygiene and the supernatural) starring an actor from Blake’s 7. Those living in the UK and of a certain age will no doubt remember Blake’s 7 for its shaky sets (imagine the original Star Trek with half the budget), camp costumes, overacting and its terrifically downbeat ending where after following the crew across the universe for four years, all our heroes die in a bloodless laser gun shootout.
The actor from Blake 7 gave a perturbing performance, gurning, sucking his cheeks and staring into the middle distance (a la James Tiberius Kirk) which I think was supposed to convey inner turmoil, but just looked as if he was having trouble with his wisdom teeth.
Hoping for a more positive experience and plumping for ‘proper’ stage actors this time over ex sci-fi telly bods, we saw Twelfth Night a while after that, but though a better production, the story line itself is horrible.
Have you seen it? It’s a ‘comedy’, which is tricky to pull off at the best of times. I for instance, would be a Spaced or My Name is Earl kind of person, where the majority of the world seems to be more Terry and June or Two and a Half Men. I suspect Twelfth Night is the Early Modern equivalent of the latter, having as its central figure of fun Malvolio, a lowly steward who is humiliated and imprisoned by higher status tormentors just for being a bit of a pranny. You had to be there, I guess.
Anyway, I’m hoping an upcoming Shakespeare play will rejuvenate my love of all things Bard.
For I have tickets to see the great British actor, Timothy West as King Lear in a few weeks’ time. Lear’s much more up my street than Twelfth Night. There may not be any witches, but there is madness, betrayal and enough pointless death in the last act to make Hamlet puce with envy.
So, wish me luck and be warned – I may soon be in the market for a second-hand complete works. Though not, be assured, teenage boy actors.
Thanks to dear Kat, founder of W4W.