Review: Julius Caesar – National Theatre Live

The National Theatre’s Julius Caesar, screened in cinemas around Ireland on March 22nd, opened with the usual live screening announcements. Microphone in hand, the announcer informed us of the running time, advertised upcoming NT events, and cautioned us about the show’s use of strobe lighting. Rather than being bland or routine however, these pronouncements were presented in the manner of a roving reporter caught in the middle of Caesar’s raucous political rally. Standing amongst the audience, and almost drowned out by the rock band playing in the background, the announcer even signed off by declaring that she was “off to join the rabble. Hail Caesar!” With the camera moving amongst the audience, the action seemed immediate and pointedly familiar. From the get go then, this production of Julius Caesar was captivating and creative.

The early scenes smoothly introduced the main players. A triumphant Caesar entered surrounded by flags and banners espousing his campaign slogan “Do this!”. Sporting a leather jacket and baseball cap, and assuredly pressing the flesh, Caesar resembled the American presidential candidates we’ve seen on our screen in recent years. Wearing a “Do this!” t-shirt, Marc Antony was clearly in Caesar’s camp and had a strong filial bond with the elder statesman. Brutus, ever the intellectual, signed copies of his book, worked late in his study, and emphasised his thoughts on tyranny by gesticulating with his spectacles.

Michelle Fairley as Cassius - Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre - Photo Credit Manuel Harlan

Michelle Fairley as Cassius – Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre – Photo Credit Manuel Harlan

As strong as these performances were, by David Calder, David Morrissey, and Ben Whishaw respectively, Michelle Fairley’s Cassius was an absolute revelation. Fairley will be familiar to many as Catelyn Stark in Game of Thrones, and her performance as Cassius was no less compelling and formidable. On several occasions, Cassius’ scenes were the stand out moments of the production. The gender switch enabled Caesar’s complaints about Cassius in 1.2 to assume new significance. Cassius rolled her eyes as Caesar, for the umpteenth time we imagine, commented openly on her appearance and qualities, begging to have “men about me that are fat” rather than slim women who think too much and are hungry for freedom. Meeting the sardonic Casca, played by Adjoa Andoh, the conspiring pair seemed to channel both the femme fatales and hard-bitten heroes of film noir to produce a scene heavy with gloom and menace. When Cassius and Brutus squabbled after the assassination, they recalled the Macbeths, dismayed at the turn of events and unable to wash the blood from their hands. (In the squalor of their ruined shelter, Brutus still found time to apply some hand-sanitiser!) In her suicide, Cassius was as proud, defiant, and pitiable as Cleopatra in her death.

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David Morrissey as Antony – Julius Caesar at the Bridge Theatre – Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

As Brutus ascended the stage of the Forum to explain the conspirators’ actions, it seemed his work would be cut out for him. Citizens – co-opted members of the audience and stagehands – waved posters of Caesar and shouted their displeasure. Gradually though, as Brutus’ speech continued, the posters were lowered as if the protesting citizens were won over or, more likely, the audience was simply tired holding the images aloft. Whereas Brutus had gripped his microphone like a TV evangelist, Antony quickly discarded it, preferring to speak his eulogy directly to the audience. In his pose as a simple man reluctantly moved to defend Caesar, Antony was wholly convincing. Only later, when he was pleased at the citizens’ planned “mischief” and when he swaggered in his combat gear with Octavius, did Antony suddenly seem two-faced. With deafening gunfire, the debris of urban warfare, and the uniforms and weapons of modern armies, the production’s battle scenes recalled those of Fiennes’ Coriolanus (2011). These action scenes came to a swift end as Antony and Octavius discovered the bodies of Cassius and Brutus. With victory secured, Octavius showed himself to be every inch the arrogant commander. Standing at the stage’s highest point, he stripped off some of his combat gear and, Nixon-like, gave peace signs to his people as celebratory balloons fell. The production ended as it began, with a PR exercise by a savvy politician and Rome’s fate standing on shaky ground.

It was evident that the NT Julius Caesar gripped the theatre and the cinema audience from beginning to end. With superb performances from the main players, supporting cast, and the co-opted audience members (volunteers? victims?) and with a running time of just over 2 hours, this is a pacey and timely production certain to entertain.

There will be encore screenings of the National Theatre’s Julius Caesar at:

Light House Cinema, Dublin, on Tuesday 27 March.

Cork Opera House on Wednesday 28 March.

For tickets here and in other locations, see the NT Live website here.

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Theatre: “Macbeth” by Icarus Theatre Collective – touring now

[From Icarus Theatre’s Macbeth press release]

The vicious, barbaric undercurrent in Shakespeare’s fear-filled tragedy erupts in Icarus Theatre’s kinetic and blood-thirsty production. Unrivalled on the battlefield, Macbeth is rewarded with rank and favour by a grateful king but the war has left its scars. With each enemy Macbeth butchers, his lust for power takes a more menacing grip. Spectres slaughtered on the battlefield drip poison in his ear, and passions erupt as he ferociously seizes the throne. But, violence breeds violence, and a reign born in blood quickly spirals out of control as Macbeth’s demons return to destroy him.

Set in the 11th century and culminating in an epic battle filled with revenge, justice, and beheadings, Icarus Theatre blends the traditional and the physical to bring to life some of literature’s most vibrant language and characters.

This production centres around the idea that Macbeth himself is suffering from PTSD. Director Max Lewendel comments:

“War is hell, and medieval warfare even more so. There is something in the psychology of PTSD that resonates here in a very Hitchcockian kind of way. This world is a supernatural nightmare for Macbeth and I wanted to explore the idea that the horrors of what he has done and seen lurk in every shadow, in every corner.”

In addition to this new psychological element, many of the traditional male roles are here cast as female characters, stressing the importance of gender parity on stage. This is a patriarchal world, but one that is being challenged by powerful women pushing forward change.

For more information and to book tickets, see the Icarus Theatre Collective website here.

Lawrence Stubbings (Macbeth), James Heatlie (Banquo)

Lawrence Stubbings as Macbeth and James Heatlie as Banquo  [Image credit: George Riddell and Icarus Theatre]

“The Winter’s Tale” at the Lir, Dublin

Performances at the Lir on Pearse Street, Dublin, from Friday 1st December until Thursday 7th December, at 7.30pm. Matinee: Monday 4th December, 1pm.
Tickets: €15 and €10 concession

The dark dramas of violent jealousy, sexual slander and death at the court of Sicilia, lead to a small baby girl being abandoned in the wild reaches of rural Bohemia. There, sixteen years later, the hot midsummer festivities are the background for delight, disguise and denunciation, which in turn carry the tale, replete with runaway lovers, a scalliwag, an old shepherd and his clown son back to Sicilia. The icy mourning of King Leontes begins to thaw as these two contrasting worlds meld, and in a magical finale full of revelations,  Shakespeare shows us his delight in such a vivid, motley collection of characters and his ultimate belief in forgiveness and redemption.

For more information on the production and to book tickets, see the Lir website here.

 

CFP: Borderlines XXII: Sickness, Strife, and Suffering at Queen’s University Belfast 2018

Call for papers for Borderlines XXII: Sickness, Strife, and Suffering. This conference will be held from 13-15th April 2018 at Queen’s University Belfast.

Proposals for both papers and panels are welcomed from postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers in the fields of both Medieval and Early Modern studies.

Sickness, strife and suffering punctuate many medieval and early-modern narratives. When viewed by the modern eye, however, these experiences can be difficult to comprehend and empathise with, without resorting to anachronisms. Indeed, in her landmark treatise on pain, Elaine Scarry contests that ‘[p]hysical pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys it’ (Scarry, 1985: 4), thus rendering any description or explanation of pain practically impossible, regardless of era.

In the light of Scarry’s work, the specific difficulties posed by the expression and understanding of pain in the Middle Ages have been expounded upon and theorised by numerous scholars. Esther Cohen’s work on the various symbolisms of medieval pain (Cohen, 2010), in addition to Robert Mills’ adumbration of translative pain theories, mapping the medieval experience of pain onto that of the current day and vice versa (Mills, 2005), are just two examples of scholarship exploring this fascinating area of research connecting the human experience of the present with that of the past.

It is in this light that we are pleased to invite abstracts of ca. 250 words related to pain in the Middle Ages and early modern period. Topics may include but are not limited to:

  • Collective pain
  • Depictions of pain
  • Explanations of pain
  • Judicial literature
  • Medical literature
  • Memory and painNarratives of suffering
  • Pain and creativity
  • Pain and pleasure
  • Psychological pain
  • Social pain
  • Religious literature
  • Suffering in the afterlife

Please send all abstracts (along with a short academic biography) to borderlinesxxii@gmail.com by 5th February 2018.

Review: Hamnet at the Peacock/Abbey – Dublin Theatre Festival

Hamnet, as the play’s programme informs us, is just one letter away from greatness. It’s a predicament that haunts the play’s central character, Hamnet Shakespeare, who is based on the real-life son of William Shakespeare. In the play, Hamnet is close to great things – his father, literary fame, knowledge, life, death – but is tragically trapped on their margins. In one hour and with just two actors, Hamnet plucks its titular hero from the side-lines and makes him the centre of attention to tell his story.

From his opening lines as the eleven-year old Hamnet, Ollie West arrests the audience’s attention and never lets go. As a ghost and in asking the audience “Who’s there?”, before telling us “I’m not allowed to talk to strangers”, Hamnet recalls the opening of Hamlet and indicates that fourth-wall breaking will be par for the course. The audience will be both spectators to and participants in Hamnet’s working through of some big and very personal questions – What makes a man great? Why do we suffer? Why do we make art? Why would you choose “not to be”? Are some people born bad? When they’ve never really lived, why do children die? Does his father prefer him or Hamlet? Why did they see so little of one another? It is remarkable that in spite of the gravity of these questions and of Hamnet’s situation, the play is packed with comedy. For instance, Hamnet’s youth is highlighted as he energetically knocks out a Johnny Cash tune on his keyboard, gives a new friend tips on how best to play dead (the key is to stay still and not breathe – wannabe actors take note!), and stuck for answers he pulls out his phone to ask Google. As the play’s authors have crafted a fine balance between tragedy and comedy, West has plenty to work with and he ably shifts between the tones and the media (stage and film) of this production – no small feat for any actor, never mind a pre-teen boy.

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Hamnet sees himself on the video – Image credit: DeadCentre.org

Exploring the performative and critical history of Hamlet, David Bevington observes that the play “has now evolved into a cultural expression of what we as a society have become today” (Murder Most Foul, 2011: vii). Like its more famous ancestor then, Hamnet tackles not only existential questions, it seeks in part to express and examine the state of contemporary society (“to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature” [Hamlet, 3.2]). Hamnet and his father Will are trotted out for our entertainment, but the play frequently forces the audience’s gaze back on itself. This is achieved both literally through the backdrop of a live video that shows the theatre and metaphorically as the play pokes at the suppurating wounds in modern life. Hamnet’s targets are near universal and many hit close to home; the ongoing refugee crisis in Europe, Donald Trump’s presidency, celebrity culture, the double-edge sword that is technology, and child-rearing practices (including the Work/Life balance which is an ideal but more often another source of guilt for the working parent), all fall within the bounds of the characters’ discussions.

Hamnet 2017 - H in white makeup - deadcentre.org

Hamnet faces the video screen – Image credit: DeadCentre.org

Throughout, Hamnet offers several opportunities to play “spot the reference”. Hamnet’s speeches are peppered with Shakespearean quotations and allusions and at other times the play lifts wholesale from the canon. Hamlet is the key source, but we also hear most of Constance’s “Grief fills the room up of my absent child” speech from King John; as Hamnet misses his sister there are echoes of the separated twins of Twelfth Night and Comedy of Errors; Falstaff and Hal’s play acting in Henry IV Part 1 springs to mind when Hamnet plays at being Hamlet meeting Old Hamlet; and there are touches of Act 5 of Antony and Cleopatra when Hamnet worries whether in the future some actor will play him on stage, but botch the job.

The play is more than a tapestry of Shakespearean references though, and even as it draws on Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, it is something fresh, original, and striking. In the days since I have seen Hamnet, I’ve thought about it again and again – it is a prismatic work, turning the play over in my mind I keep seeing new facets, questions, and ideas – and I’m only certain of one thing: I want to see it again.

Hamnet is a Dead Centre and Abbey Theatre co-production and is written by Ben Kidd and Bush Moukarzel, with William Shakespeare. Cast and production details here.

Hamnet runs as part of the Dublin Theatre Festival until 7th October – tickets here –  before touring to Europe and Asia. There will be a Post-Show Discussion on Thursday 5th October, with members of the company.

Theatre: Hamnet, Abbey Theatre

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Hamnet

An Abbey Theatre and Dead Centre Co-production

From the Abbey website:

Grief fills the room up of my absent child
King John, Act III scene IV

William Shakespeare had one son. He named him Hamnet. He then left home to pursue his career in the theatre, effectively abandoning his family. In 1596, he was told that the boy – who was then eleven years old – was seriously ill. By the time Shakespeare reached Stratford, Hamnet had died.

In 1599, Shakespeare wrote a play called Hamlet.

Hamnet is too young to understand Shakespeare. And he is one letter away from being a great man. We are too old to understand Hamnet. How close are we to greatness? We meet in the middle, in a theatre, in purgatory: youth reaching forward to a life it will never know, an audience reaching back to a life it has forgotten.

A solo work for an eleven year old boy, Hamnet uses live video and dead video to bridge the gap between two generations, asking each other what they want to pass on and receive.

BOOKING INFORMATION FOR HAMNET

Dates: 26 September – 7 October
Previews: 26 & 27 September
On the Peacock stage

Times: Mon – Sat 8pm, Matinees Sat 2.30pm
Tickets: €18 – €25 / Conc. €16 – €20

To book for a group of 6+ call (01) 87 97 266

More information: https://www.abbeytheatre.ie/whats_on/event/hamnet/

Irish Renaissance Seminar at UCD – “Conflict and Contestation in the Early Modern World “

The first meeting of the Irish Renaissance Seminar for 2017 will be held on Saturday 22nd April in the School of English, Drama and Film, University College Dublin.

The theme for this meeting is Conflict and Contestation in the Early Modern World. The meeting will convene in Room J207-8, John Henry Newman Building, UCD, and the schedule is as follows:

1-1:30pm: Welcome

1:30-3:00pm: Panel
Chair: Dr Jane Grogan

Dr Marc Caball (UCD): ‘Hugh O’Neill and his Gaelic and Renaissance Cultural Context’

Professor Andrew Hadfield (Sussex): ‘James Shirley’s The Politician: Anglo-Irish Literature and Politics in the 1630s’

Dr Ann-Maria Walsh (UCD): ‘The Boyle Sisters and the Familial Correspondence Network: A Life-Line in Times of Civil Strife and Beyond’

3:00-3:30pm: Refreshments

3:30-4:30: Keynote
Chair: Dr Colin Lahive

Professor Nicholas McDowell (Exeter): ‘The Poetics of Civil War: Shakespeare to Marvell (to W.B.Yeats)’

4:30-5:00: Roundtable
Convener: Dr Naomi McAreavey

Early Modern Studies in Ireland: Current Locations, Future Directions

6:30: Dinner

The event is generously supported by the School of English, Drama and Film, UCD, and the Society for Renaissance Studies.

For further details on this meeting of the IRS, contact Dr Colin Lahive (colin.lahive@ucd.ie)

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