I am so happy to be in Kingston, don’t get me wrong, but alas, I can’t be in two places at once! Sometimes I miss London so much that I get a digging sense of missed opportunities, a feeling which usually sets in when I find out that my favourite actors are performing the best Shakespearian roles on the West End. I was feeling really down about not being able to see Derek Jacobi perform King Lear at the Donmar when I got the most wonderful surprise: on February 3rd, 2011, there will be a live screening of his Lear at select movie theatres! I was overjoyed and am, as ever, impressed with the current state of technology in bringing great Shakespeare that much closer to those of us who don’t live in the GSA (Greater Stratford Area).
Another residual obsession from my time in England is reading The Guardian. It’s important to read several reviews in order to get a better-rounded understanding of the plays I can’t see, but I think that Guardian reviewer Michael Billington’s columns are a good place to start. Although he lacks the roguish flamboyance of the late Kenneth Tynan, I genuinely respect his attention to detail and ability to reflect on each production as unique as well reflective of the greater trajectory of Shakespearean performance history.
Today, Billington wrote an especially relevant blog post (is it silly how excited I am to consider myself as his contemporary/peer in terms of mutual Shakesblogging experience?) about the future of Shakespeare’s transition from stage to screen. In particular, he reflects on the very popular televised adaptations of the Gregory Doran/David Tenant production of Hamlet (with Sir Patrick Stewart as Claudius) and Stewart’s own starring role in Rupert Goold’s Macbeth. What’s awesome about these productions? They have the biggest names in British acting! Tenant is well-known in the UK for his role on Dr. Who and the rest of us know him for playing Barty Crouch Jr. in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; Stewart had memorable roles as Professor X in the X-Men films and commanded the Enterprise as Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation. High-profile actors bring in mass numbers to the theatres, and those who live outside of the cities or don’t have the spare cash to throw around can cozy up in front of the tv and watch these stage-to-small-screen adaptations from the comfort of their own homes!
But Billington suggests that even this isn’t successful. Why? Because the plays are being aired on unpopular channels during the very popular timeslot that hosts X Factor, the UK equivalent to American Idol. Thus, Billington laments: “we live in a barmy, upside-down world where Simon Cowell is considered to be more significant than Shakespeare.” Is this true? Has weekly television prevailed over the timeless works of Shakespeare, or is it that we’re forced to study Shakespeare in school, thus increasing our favour of reality television as a guilty pleasure?
Now, I’m not going to judge you, but which would you prefer to watch? Even without being a bardolator, I’m so starstruck that I would rather see Capt. Picard kill Duncan than watch a nobody kill a classic show-tune, any day!
So you tell me: free Shakespeare, offering us a connection with a golden past of culture, or free music, watching the history of democratically chosen music stardom unfold before us?
And possibly even more important: who wants to come see Lear on February 3rd in Kingston???