Tag Archives: Kenneth Branagh

Shakespeare’s Birthday Resolutions: 2014 Edition!

With mirth and laughter, let old wrinkles come.

images-2Happy birthday, Mr. Shakespeare! Also, happy birthday to me! Today I turn 28, but the milestone birthday goes to the Bard himself, who turns 450! Every year on our shared birthday, I like to reflect back on the amazing ways that I’ve experienced Shakespeare over the course of the year, and my goals as a Bardolator (unabashed Shakespeare lover) for the coming year. Take a look back at my Shakespeare’s Birthday Resolutions from 2012 and 2013 – I can’t believe how quickly time flies!

 

Up till now

The past year’s shakespeareance (I had to – just once) most dear to me is my trip to England. There, I presented my research alongside my peers, and I got to go on a mini tour to visit some of my favorite people in London, Oxford, and Cambridge. I feel so lucky to be able to gallivant around England for a few weeks every year or two; however broke I am afterwards, I still think of it as one of the top perks of being a scholar. I love being able to work from where I want, when I want, be it in the promised land of Shakespeare himself, or working away at my desk with a sleeping cat next to me for moral support. Both are part of the lifestyle that I’ve come to savour over the past year.

Some of National Theatre Live's best offerings!

Some of National Theatre Live’s best offerings!

As ever, I cannot express the extent of my appreciation for the technology and arts funding that brings the best of England’s theatre live to my local cinema. This year, I got to see Rory Kinnear’s Olivier-winning turn as Iago in Othello; Tom Hiddleston’s Coriolanus, which was just as sexy as I’d hoped; and Kenneth Branagh’s outstanding Macbeth, which I am over the moon to be seeing in New York this coming June!

Professionally, I am always striving to strike a balance between working hard and having fun. This year, the fates aligned when my Victorian ecocritic boyfriend got assigned to TA Shakespeare with me; to have a boyfriend who can quote Shakespeare is pretty much all I’ve ever wanted…and far be it from me to stop our students from calling us the Brad and Angelina of the English department 😉

Thanks for the Bardie, Shakespeare Standard!

Thanks for the Bardie, Shakespeare Standard!

But enough of the lovey-dovey stuff! This year, I’ve been working to keep on top of my blogging while doing my research, which isn’t always easy but is nonetheless immensely rewarding. This morning, I found out that I won two Bardie awards on behalf of The Shakespeare Standard, where I discuss my grad school experiences in the Secret Diary of a PhD Candidate. Winning the award is such an honour, and reminds me that it’s worth it to keep writing because there are people out there who will keep reading! I thank you! I continue to strive to make your blogging experience better, which is why I’ve finally done away with the dusty bardolator23.wordpress.com domain and have finally locked down TheBardolator.com. Stay tuned for some exciting updates over the course of this year, too; as I get closer to the job market, I want to make this place shine!

And finally, the dissertation: I’m proud and relieved to have made some substantial progress on my dissertation research this year. After years of grappling with The Merchant of Venice (relationship status: it’s complicated.), it finally hit me that it is the beast that I was meant to tackle in my dissertation. I’ll be presenting the first nugget of that research at a symposium at the University of Toronto this weekend: wish me luck!

 

What’s to come

This past year, I’ve been building up my teaching skills by taking a course on teaching and learning in higher education. Teaching at the university level doesn’t require a Bachelor of Education, but the methods I learned in the course have already proved indispensable for my marking, and I can’t wait to see how they influence my teaching. In September, I will be teaching my own course. This is an experience that has been no less than five years in the making, and I can’t be more excited about it. Word docs with creative ideas abound!

Got an idea for my Shakespeare course hashtag? Leave it in the comments below!

Got an idea for my Shakespeare course hashtag? Leave it in the comments below!

But as much as teaching is a time to pass on my knowledge, it’s still very much a time for me to grow. In the past, I’ve been known to ride what I would call the “textual high horse” – I’ve argued that Shakespeare must first and foremost be understood through reading the text, and then only afterwards should students watch the movies. While this is one of my ideals, I recognize that undergraduate study habits don’t always work that way. For my course, I will be screening each of the films and I really hope all students, whether they’ve had/made the time to read the text or not, come to these screenings and engage with the material in whichever ways they can. I want to make these screenings a party- popcorn potlucks! I’ll know that it works if the students develop a course hashtag. I’ll be sure that it works if the students turn that hashtag into t-shirts – fingers crossed!

On the vein of performance, my goals for this coming year are, as always, to immerse myself in more Shakespeare! I’m particularly excited for what’s to come in Shakespeare performance this year. Much to my joy, the Stratford Festival is fulfilling one of my dreams: to stage more than one production of the same Shakespeare play to show the variety of interpretations that can spin out of one major dramaturgical difference. This year, they’re staging two productions of Midsummer Night’s Dream!

Benedict is primed for performance!

Benedict is primed for performance!

There is one production, though, that I’m more excited about than any other, excited enough to book another trip across the pond for it. What’s that? Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet at the Barbican, August 2015! It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve read or seen that play: I can’t wait to see how Olivier award-winning director Lyndsey Turner will spin it! Will Benedict act like Sherlock, or Kahn, or think outside of the box? We’ll have to wait and see! So what’s the plan till then? My plan is to use that trip as my brass ring, the goal that pushes me to finish my dissertation and then take a much-needed vacation!

And with that, let’s celebrate! Happy birthday, Mr. Shakespeare! To another 450 years!

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Filed under Current Events, National Theatre Live, Shakespeare, Stratford Festival

Shakespeare and Thor

Thor and Loki

Thor and Loki

I have a confession to make: I’m pretty obsessed with the Thor franchise. Of For some reason, watching the 2011 film and the 2013 sequel has become downright therapeutic; the end of the semester is hectic and stressful, but re-watching these movies for the fifth, eighth, tenth times just relaxes me. At first, I figured it was the lineup of sexy male leads: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba…but then I thought that it’s the rainbow runway known as the Bifrost that boosts my mood. But then today, I was IMDB-stalking this film that I mindlessly love, and it turned out that it might be more subconsciously mindful than I had thought: Thor is immensely Shakespearean!

Feore as Laufey the Frost Giant

Feore as Laufey the Frost Giant

Today’s initial curiosity was to check IMDB for who played King Laufey, King of the Frost Giants. I squealed with delight when I found out that under five hours’ worth of makeup is Colm Feore. Feore is American-born actor who gets mad props for choosing to be a Canadian one. He consistently performs in distinctly Canadian (re: lower-budget and publicity) drama, such as his recurring role in the second season of Paul Gross’s Slings and Arrows, or headlining as King Lear at this year’s Stratford Festival.

Falstaff in comic form: Volstagg the Voluminous

Falstaff in comic form: Volstagg the Voluminous

The main draw for me to start watching these films was that Kenneth Branagh, who is known for directing and starring in Shakespeare films, directed the first installment. The big question, then, is why, aside from obvious financial reasons, would a Shakespearean heavy-hitter devote his time to directing a superhero blockbuster? To Branagh, it seems, it all came down to the script. In an interview with daily science blog io9, Branagh discusses the similarities between Henry V, a character he had once played, and Thor. Branagh notes that both characters struggle with to prove themselves to their fathers as part of their coming of age, and suggests that Thor’s banishment and later redemption by his father Odin (Antony Hopkins! squee!) is not unlike the younger Prince Hal’s selfish, disrespectful self. Heck, Thor even has his own Falstaff! In a line that combines my research interests of affect and food, the distraught Volstagg defends his stress eating by shouting: “Do not mistake my appetite for apathy!”

And of course, we can’t forget Tom Hiddleston, whose performance trajectory suggests that he’s looking to fill (and dare I say, outgrow?) Branagh’s Shakespearean shoes. Hiddleston most recently received an Olivier Award nomination for his lead role in Coriolanus at the Donmar Warehouse in London, and got his professional Shakespearean beginnings at the same theatre, in the role of Cassio, next to Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Othello and Ewan McGregor’s Iago. In the same year as he performed Othello, Hiddleston was also featured in the play Ivanov, starring Branagh. The two developed a strong working relationship and a short while later, Hiddleston auditioned for the movie’s lead role, but was cast as Loki instead.

Hiddleston developed his character based on his own Shakespearean influences. He tells GeekExchange.com:

When I created Loki with Ken Branagh (Director of Thor) we talked about Edmond the bastard son, someone who’s grown up in the shadow of another man. And in King Lear, Edgar is the legitimate son, the favored son. Edmond is the bastard, the illegitimate, the one who’s less loved… underloved, which feeds his lack of self-esteem.

Loki as part Frost Giant

Loki as part Frost Giant

Hiddleston sees much of Edmund in Loki, when his character learns that the reason why he is overshadowed by his blonder, handsomer brother is because he was cast-off as a baby Frost Giant, and Odin took pity on him, opting to raise Loki as his own back in Asgard. While Odin doesn’t follow Gloucester in taking liberties to rub his son’s bastardy in his face (which I’ll be blogging on in the coming month!), Loki nonetheless seethes with resentment because he thinks that he would be a better king than Thor.

Themes of growing up and “manning up”; power hunger; the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil are not, of course, restricted to the fantasy realm. This is why Stuart Moore, co-author of the Marvel tie-in book The Art of Thor: The Dark World reminds us that “despite the low-culture trappings of comic book films, they’re the closest thing in modern entertainment to the kind of grand-scale melodrama that Shakespeare trafficked in.” He’s right. Just like Shakespeare wrote to put bums in seats, so did Branagh, in directing this blockbuster. And with that, I say: Go on, then! Bring on the third installment!

 

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Filed under Characters, Performances, Roles, Shakespeare

National Theatre Live: Macbeth

Last night, I had the privilege of seeing Kenneth Branagh star in Macbeth, the production that has brought him back to the Shakespearean stage after a decade. As I’ve mentioned before, this production was very sold out; before going to England this past summer, I tried to pull every Shakespearean string I had, and still no luck! No amount of Googling, even, could find me a scalper to sell me overpriced tickets to this hyped-up production. Lucky for me, the wonderful National Theatre Live screened a live[1] performance of the play. I got to pre-order my tickets without panic, all for the low cost of 23 bucks! Not surprisingly, it was well worth it.

Macbeth telling his wife to "Bring forth men-children only"

Macbeth telling his wife to “Bring forth men-children only”

Branagh has only gotten more attractive with age, and while he held his head high as a redheaded Scot, I respect his decision not to parrot Shakespeare’s words in a put-on Scottish accent. That being said, some of the characters stayed true to their authentic Scottish accents, and I have to say: iambic pentameter has never sounded so sexy!

The reason why I continue to see Shakespeare’s plays re-produced, after reading and seeing them so many times before, is because each production has the potential to open my mind to ideas within the play that I haven’t yet considered. Branagh’s performance was excellent, although I wouldn’t say it shed significant light on aspects of the character that I haven’t already thought about. He pronounced the speeches well, but sometimes a bit too quickly; I would have appreciated a pregnant pause here and there to allow the gravity of Macbeth’s thoughts and actions to set in. For example, when Macbeth ponders his prospective murder of Duncan, he says:

                                  I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself
And falls on the other.

I would have loved it if he had paused at the expression “vaulting ambition”, providing maximum dramatic effect so that we knew that this is his ultimate reason for murdering the king.

Can Macbeth be redeemed for his crimes?

Branagh as a director, though, is another story. The production was exceptionally well directed. It was set in a deconsecrated church, which brought up some really interesting parallels between the cross, symbolizing redemption; swords, symbolizing the battles that bookend the domestic interior plot; and the dagger, that Macbeth uses to kill Duncan. One of the most impressive moments in the production was Macbeth’s “Is this a dagger which I see before me” soliloquy, when he begins to mentally unravel. This speech provides every director with a choice: do you show the dagger? Is the dagger real, hovering above Macbeth, or is it, as Macbeth says, “A dagger of the mind, a false creation, / Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?” The impressive moment came when Branagh began this speech, speaking to a beam of light that seemed to reflect from behind the church’s giant cross, onto the muddy battlefield that is stage floor. Never before did the notions of murder and redemption seem so…illuminated. This is the most literal manifestation of my notion of “shedding light” on different meanings within the play. Does Macbeth kill his king and curse himself forever? Or is eternal damnation worth it for the sake of becoming King himself? That being said, after this impressive sight, it seemed almost bathetic[2] when we finally did see a dagger, hovering from above on a not-so-invisible fishing wire.

Duncan in the mud, fighting for his against the initial uprising

Duncan in the mud, fighting against the initial uprising

All in all, the most impressive element of this production was the set. Rather than a stage at the front of the church, the action was set in the nave, the central aisle of the church, with the audience sitting in rows across from each other. The initial battle scene was set in the rain, and much of the killing was done up against the boards, providing a terrifying shock to the audience present in Manchester the night the performance was filmed.

What was really interesting was that they did not cover up this set when the plot turns to Macbeth’s castle at Inverness. Lady Macbeth is a domestic goddess; she plays the role of gracious hostess, all the while convincing her husband to kill the king. I got a new sense of her significant part in this treachery when Alex Kingston waded through the mud, saying: “The raven himself is hoarse / That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan / Under my battlements”; this castle is indeed Lady Macbeth’s battlement.

Malcolm fighting in the mud

Malcolm fighting in the mud

If I had to apply one adjective to this production, I’d use the word “raw.” When Macduff cried over the death of his wife and children, he cried from his eyes, nose, and mouth. With the help of filmed close-ups, I was able to see the tears and mucus flowing out of his twisted, grief-stricken face. When Banquo was stabbed (in the back, appropriately), we saw the blood flow out of his mouth. And when any character died in battle, they lay face-down in the mud for minutes on end, no matter how unpleasant it was for the actor himself.

All in all, this is a performance that you don’t want to miss. Luckily, you don’t have to! See your local cinema listings for the encore presentations of National Theatre Live’s presentation of the Manchester International Festival’s Macbeth.


[1] We watched it “as live” – the live performance was filmed over the summer.

[2] The tumbling of the profound into the absurd.

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Filed under National Theatre Live, Reviews

Kenneth Branagh’s New York stage debut as Macbeth

Last night, I found proof that the theatre gods exist. That’s a pretty big claim to make – what event could be so huge?? I’ll tell you: in June 2014, Kenneth Branagh is making his New York stage debut!!!

Why is this a big deal? For a number of reasons!

Branagh as Macbeth

–       First off, Branagh has brought so much to the world of Shakespeare in performance. He has directed a number of Shakespeare films, including As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing, and has performed some of the greatest Shakespearean roles, including Hamlet, Richard III, Iago, and Henry V. At the rate he’s going, it’s no surprise that people (myself included), consider him the Laurence Olivier of our generation.

–       He’s just getting off an eleven-year hiatus from the Shakespearean stage. He has spent the interim busying himself by directing small art house films like Thor, you’ve probably never heard of it.

–       Branagh’s initial return to the Shakespearean stage was this summer, where he co-directed, and delivered a critically acclaimed performance of Macbeth for the Manchester International Festival. The incredibly short run, only 18 performances, was fuelled by such high demand that it sold out instantly. I was so excited when I found out that he’d be performing in England at the same time that I was there, but no matter who I begged, what scalpers I Googled, or which favours I tried to call in, the response was the same: sold out.

–       Despite the demand, the audiences were limited to less than 300 viewers per performance. To appease disappointed Bardolators, the production was at one point relayed on giant screens outside the theatre in Manchester, bringing in no less than 5000 people!

–       For those of you who indulge in the “Mackers Myth” (the rubbish superstition that saying the name “Macbeth” will bring your production bad luck), according to some shady reports, one actor in Manchester was struck by Branagh’s sword, and needed to go to the hospital after final curtain.

–       In an age of unique Macbeths, this one made its presence known by being staged in a deconsecrated church in Manchester. And while I have every intention of dashing to the movie theatre on October 17 to catch National Theatre Live’s broadcast of the Manchester production, I am still going to jump on the opportunity to book tickets for the New York production. As opposed to making his New York stage debut on Broadway, Branagh’s Macbeth will be staged at the Park Avenue Armory. Rather than replicating the original production, it will be re-imagined to best suit the vast, 55,000-square-foot Wade Thompson Drill Hall.

–       Although Branagh calls this setting “epic”, Charlotte Higgins of The Guardian teases us by saying that the space has a capacity for audiences sized anywhere between 200-5000! I can’t tell if I’d prefer the former or the latter, as long as I can be one of them!

So: where will you be in June 2014?

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Filed under Current Events, Performances, Plays, Roles