Review: RSC live King Lear

Review: RSC live King Lear – 14th October 2016

Guest post by Emer Murphy

As the centenary year marking William Shakespeare’s death nears its close, audiences around the world continue to delight in the wonders of his work. Despite the evolution of both time, and culture, his plots and characters demonstrate true resilience as they poignantly reflect the most basic of human instincts and injustices. But while the twenty first century moves into unchartered territory, there remains an almost striking familiarity. With millions of people displaced as a result of violent conflict and western politics catapulted into a state of chaos, history appears to be repeating. It is against such a backdrop that the RSC production of King Lear, directed by Gregory Doran, becomes all the more resonant for its audience, as the story of the great King’s fall offers lessons to even the most sophisticated of cultures.

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Lear and his daughters  (Image credit: RSC website)

With the stage awash with golds and browns, Lear’s downfall is instantly foreshadowed by the overt use of autumnal colours as he makes his magnificent entrance, wrapped in huge furs and hoisted aloof. He is instantly set apart from everyone else, elevated to a god-like position and encased in a glass box to highlight his utter detachment from his subjects (much like the political elite of today). Anthony Sher’s Lear speaks with controlled authority, almost complacency, as it becomes clear that he is significantly removed from reality. He has become too comfortable atop his throne, something Sher captures so perfectly with his body language, sinking into it with such effortless ease as it appears to be an extension of his being. Lear clearly occupies a realm of his own and is seemingly untouchable, until the moment he makes his most fatal mistake – the banishment of his beloved Cordelia – the catalyst for his fall.

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Sher as Lear  (Image credit: RSC website)

As Lear succumbs to his baser instincts, letting jealousy and egotism rule him, winter colours of grey and black come to prominence on stage and the set becomes more barren and bare. The leaves have withered and gone, just as Lear’s reign has rotted from its roots, leaving him to the mercy of those he scorned. While Sher’s performance displays an understanding of the wayward king, it lacks a little chaos and, to echo Susannah Clapp, it remains contained. He never loses control. He never truly gives into the flames of passion, despair and madness, and because of that the performance lacks a certain spark. Even at his lowest points – his isolation in the forest, his suffering through the storm, and the death of Cordelia – he remains somewhat detached from his emotions, bottling up his inner turmoil instead of releasing it. In short, the explosion never came. But for all that Sher was not, he nonetheless remains an intriguing Lear, spitting venom at his daughters, sitting in despairing silence with his Fool and muttering lovingly to Cordelia’s limp corpse. He captures the quiet, contemplative Lear with the ease of a skilled and experienced actor, and instils in the audience powerful human emotions that can only be triggered by the demise of a great character.

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Edgar as Poor Tom  (Image credit: RSC website)

The stand-out performance, however, goes to Paapa Essiedu for his stunning portrayal of the calculating Edmund. Essiedu brings a refreshing burst of villainy to the role with his mocking irony and humorous disdain, transforming Edmund instead into a most likeable villain. His tantrum-like foot stamping and immature jealousy make him a character the audience can relate to as he manipulates his way into his father’s favour. Strangely, but most satisfyingly, it is he who prompts the most laughter. Likewise, Oliver Johnstone excels as Edgar/Poor Tom. His agile, nimble movements allow him to move energetically around the stage in the image of a wild animal as Edgar slowly transitions to Poor Tom. His startled facial expressions and fleeting looks capture the peril of his situation as he appears more mad than Lear ever does. Covered in a layer of dirt and dust, wearing only a filth-stained loincloth, Poor Tom makes Lear, in his white undergarments, appear as though he is merely on a hike through the wilderness.

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Lear and Goneril  (Image credit: RSC website)

In a similar vein, Goneril’s progression from decent daughter to murderous villain is fluid and measured. She the product of Lear’s contempt, moulded from his cruel, hateful words as she refuses to be governed by his dictations. She does little to warrant or provoke such anger in her father and yet he rejects her so thoroughly, cursing her with infidelity in a scene that would make even the harshest of critics flinch. Her distress is palpable and resounds throughout the theatre as Lear’s treatment of her forces her to become cold and unforgiving in nature. Regan’s progression, by comparison, is not near as convincing. In the most vicious and violent of all Shakespearean scenes, Cornwall and Regan tear out Gloucester’s eyes, but here their actions seem too rushed and instead take from the horror of the scene. Regan maintains her distance from the action and is more of a spectator than an active participant in the violence. The glass box in which Gloucester is bound has echoes of Lear’s opening entrance, but this time the sentiment was very different. It comes to symbolise the utter destruction of his reign as, ultimately, it comes to be stained and spattered in the blood of his closest acquaintance.

Overall, the production captivates from the moment of Lear’s entrance to the moment he breathes his last, but somehow it fails to fully ignite.

Guest post by Emer Murphy. Emer has recently completed her studies on the MA Texts and Contexts: Medieval to Renaissance at University College Cork.

“Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles, Prince of Tyre” – reading and symposium in University College Cork 14th-15th November

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and commemorations have been taking place around the world to mark the occasion. University College Cork will make a unique contribution to this commemorative programme through the “Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles, Prince of Tyre” project. Funded by the Irish Research Council New Foundations scheme, the project comprises a public staged reading of Shakespeare’s Pericles (c.1606) and a symposium exploring this critically-neglected play. Notably, as far as records can determine, the play reading will be only the second ever performance of Pericles in Ireland and the first in Munster.

Led by Dr Edel Semple, Lecturer in Shakespeare Studies in UCC’s School of English, the project involves actors from UCC’s Drama and Theatre Studies and the LittleShoes Productions drama group, as well as scholars from UCC, the UK and USA. The play reading is directed by Sinéad Dunphy, a UCC graduate and Festival Manager of the Cork International Choral Festival.

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The staged reading is a free but ticketed event and takes place on Monday 14th at 6pm in the Unitarian Church, Princes Street, Cork. The symposium exploring the play’s sources and critical and performance history, will take place on Tuesday 15th November in UCC, and will conclude with a special public lecture by Dr. Peter Kirwan (University of Nottingham).

Overall “Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles, Prince of Tyre” will explore and enhance our understanding of Shakespeare’s drama, his sources, the world he lived in, and his legacy; introduce his late drama to new audiences; and will make a distinctive contribution to the year-long global celebrations of Shakespeare’s life and work in 2016. For further info, please see the School of English website and social media (@EnglishUCC), and for queries contact Dr Edel Semple (email e.semple@ucc.ie).

The “Celebrating Shakespeare 400: Performing Pericles, Prince of Tyre” project is funded by the Irish Research Council New Foundations scheme, with additional support from UCC’s CACSSS Graduate School, the UCC Information Services Strategic Fund, and the School of English, University College Cork. The project is also part of the British Council’s Shakespeare Lives programme for 2016.

Tickets for staged reading of Pericles on Eventbrite here.

A detailed schedule for the symposium / graduate masterclass is available from UCC CACSSS Graduate School here (see event listed for 14-15th Nov.)

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The 1609 quarto of Pericles

Report – Launch of Centre for Early Modern Studies, Limerick, and “Early modern Ireland” lecture

 

Shakespeare 400 has kept myself and many Irish Shakespeareans busy these past ten months. With many stage productions, screenings, conferences, public lectures, festivals, and workshops to organise, participate in, and attend, both here and abroad, these wonderful events can seem like a burden and the associated demands on one’s personal finances, time etc. present a substantial challenge. (If Shakespeare is sat merrily in a pantheon of literary gods somewhere, I hope he appreciates all the fuss! And while I’m at it, I hope that Jonson, Beaumont, and Cervantes, who have their own anniversaries this year, are giving him a right ribbing!)

Thus, it was a joy to find that the recent launch of the Centre for Early Modern Studies, Limerick, offered an array of pleasures for the weary early modernist. The launch took place on one of October’s prettiest autumn evenings in the inviting surrounds of the Glucksman Library’s Reading Room. Against the backdrop of the green surrounds of the University of Limerick campus, the audience were warmly welcomed by Dr. Richard Kirwan, the chair of CEMS, and his colleagues. Dr. Kirwan paid tribute to the Irish Research Council for their support of CEMS (via a New Foundations grant) and to his scholarly and administrative collaborators across the disciplines in Mary Immaculate and UL who were instrumental in establishing the new Centre.

The importance and value of collaboration and networking seemed to be something of a theme for the evening, as Prof. Jane Ohlmeyer (TCD) touched on this subject many times during her lecture on “Ireland in the Early Modern World”. The author of several influential monographs, including Making Ireland English: The Irish Aristocracy in the Seventeenth Century (2012) and Ireland from Independence to Occupation, 1641-1660 (2002), Prof. Ohlmeyer presented the audience with many insights into the seventeenth century and into her approaches to and aspirations for early modern research in Ireland.

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Prof. Ohlmeyer and Dr. Kirwan in the Glucksman Library, UL  (Photo credit: Alan Place)

Prof. Ohlmeyer, who has been recently appointed as Chair of the Irish Research Council, highlighted how collaboration can enrich our studies, enabling us to broaden our knowledge and share it with a national and global community. The lecture and post-Q&A discussions reminded me too of the value of encouragement to and role models for emerging scholars; sometimes only senior scholars can take on new initiatives and create opportunities in our fields and the importance of their leading by example cannot be underestimated. Prof. Ohlmeyer continued to urge the audience to apply for funding for research projects and to take advantage of the excellent resources which Irish research has already produced. Should we need inspiration, the fruits of such successful bids were in evidence before us – the foundation of the Centre for Early Modern Studies, Limerick and the digitisation of the 1641 Depositions (a project funded by the IRC, AHRC, and TCD), which Prof. Ohlmeyer discussed during her talk. Prof. Ohlmeyer stressed too the significance of the Bolton Collection; not only do its treasures make Limerick a desirable place to conduct research on the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Collection can help us to reconstruct and understand Ireland’s place in the early modern world.

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Prof. Ohlmeyer (TCD, IRC) speaking in the Glucksman Library, UL

Prof. Ohlmeyer’s wide-ranging, illustrated talk on the position of early modern Ireland and its global connections combined a ‘big picture’ approach with fascinating detail. The audience learned of the exotic items found in a washpit in Rathfarnham Castle in 2014. This treasure trove of objects, including shoes, buttons, jewellery, and jars of cosmetics, demonstrated that the Loftus family were fashion conscious and on top of the latest trends. The Castle’s inhabitants were also consumers of luxuries from far flung lands; the pit contained evidence of tea, coffee, and sugar from the West Indies, and dozens of pipes were found, the tobacco likely sourced from South America. A Spanish coin made of silver mined in Peru was also found in the pit.

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Rathfarnham Castle hoard  (Photo credit: Alva McGowan/IrishArchaeology.ie)

Prof. Ohlmeyer discussed Ireland’s maritime connections, including pineapples arriving in to Ireland in the 1660s and the voyages of Irish sailors to Asia and the Americas. Questioning what did it mean to be ‘Irish’ in the seventeenth century, Prof. Ohlmeyer examined the complex identities of social groups such as Irish Catholics, the Old English, and New English. Prof. Ohlmeyer closed her talk by examining the impact on Ireland of the European global empires in the Atlantic and Eastern worlds. The political, social, and economic effects on Ireland were both large and small. For instance, the audience was much amused to hear of Bailey, an inhabitant of Hacketstown, Co. Carlow, who irately complained to the authorities of the loss of his spices and who suspected that the local insurgents who had stole his cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon were using them to flavour their morning droughts!

The launch of the Centre for Early Modern Studies, Limerick, concluded with a convivial gathering and looked forward to the next such gathering in Limerick for the Irish Renaissance Seminar in November.

Report by Dr Edel Semple, UCC.

Shakespeare Day at Trinity College Dublin – 8th October

To commemorate Shakespeare 400, Trinity College Dublin will hold a “Shakespeare Day” this Saturday 8th October 2016. The schedule is as follows:

WELCOME  1pm  Dr. Ema Vyroubalova and Dr. Emily O’Brien

KEYNOTE  1:10-2:10pm  Prof. Nicholas Grene (TCD): “An Accidental Shakespearean”

ROUNDTABLE 2:15-3:15pm  “What Does Shakespeare Mean to Me?”

Prof. Danielle Clarke (UCD), Dr. Ema Vyroubalova (TCD), Dr. Edel Semple (UCC), Dr. Kevin De Ornellas (Ulster), Dr. Stephen O’Neill (NUIM)

Break with Refreshments

POSTGRADUATE / POSTDOCTORAL RESEARCH SHOWCASE 3:30-5pm

Dr. Kate Harvey (NUIG) Shakespeare for Children

Matthew Wiliamson (QUB) Hunger and Appetite in Shakespeare

Shauna O’Brien (TCD) Persian Shakespeare

Kaitlyn Culliton (TCD) Shakespeare and Fairies

 

The Shakespeare Day will be followed by an optional dinner in the city centre (location TBD), 6pm

For more information and to register your interest in the event, please contact Dr Ema Vyroubalova at vyroubae@tcd.ie

 

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TCD: Parliament Square, the Campanile

Talk: Shakespeare & Music

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Literary Lunchtimes – Shakespeare and Music with Samantha Lin (QUB)

Shakespeare and Music with Samantha Lin

Date: 13 Apr 2016
Time: 1pm
Venue: Ulster Hall

William Shakespeare once described music as the `food of love.` This Literary Lunchtime discusses several Shakespearean passages about music and explores how composers have, in turn, responded to Shakespeare`s plays. Musicians from the Ulster Orchestra perform the Adagio from Beethoven`s 1st String Quartet, inspired by the tomb scene from Romeo and Juliet.

Samantha Lin is a final-year PhD student at Queen`s University where she is researching the role of the soundtrack in Shakespearean movie adaptations.

Free admission – booking required, call our box office on 028 9033 4455.

More info here: http://www.belfastcity.gov.uk/events/Event-59116.aspx

Symposium: Shakespeare 400 Ireland, NUIM, 21-22 Oct 2016

“Shakespeare 400 Ireland”

Date and time: 21 and 22 October 2016

Location: Iontas Building, Maynooth University

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In this year of commemorations, from the centenary of the 1916 Rising to the quatercentenary of Shakespeare’s death, this two-day symposium at Maynooth University will explore historical and cultural connections between Shakespeare and Ireland. “Shakespeare 400 Ireland” will feature a keynote lecture by Professor Willy Maley (University of Glasgow) ‘”They are rising, they are rising”: Shakespeare and 1916’. Other invited speakers Professor Mark Burnett (Queens University Belfast), Dr Jane Grogan (UCD) and Professor Patrick Lonergan (NUI Galway) will present papers on Shakespeare in Irish writing, film and theatre. The symposium represents an opportunity to examine Shakespeare’s Irish reception contexts and to critically reflect on the interrelations between national literary traditions, history and memory. As part of the event, an exhibition of a 1685 Shakespeare Folio will be held in the University library.

Organiser: Dr Stephen O’Neill, Maynooth University Department of English.

Supported by Maynooth University’s Commemoration Committee.