Shakespeare Solved® versions of these plays solve the mysteries surrounding them by taking us back in time to see the plays as they were performed for the first time in history.


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Monday, March 31, 2014

Ewan McGregor and Shakespeare


Should Ewan McGregor do some Shakespeare?

Absolutely!





It’s been a long since he played Iago on stage with Chiwetel Ejiofor as Othello at the Donmar Warehouse, from 2007 to 2008.


Chiwetel Ejiofor as Othello and Ewan McGregor as Iago
Donmar Warehouse 2007-8



Don’t you think it’s about time he did some more?

The first time I saw Ewan McGregor on screen was in Trainspotting.

To my dying day I will never forget falling out of my seat and gagging almost to the point of vomiting as he plunges headlong into a toilet! 

Since then, I have seen just about every film he has made, and he’s made quite a few.





There are few actors who are as versatile and fearless as he is. I don’t know a lot of actors who could have gone from The Pillow Book to starring as Obi-Wan Kenobi. 

When I saw him in Velvet Goldmine, I was astonished. I thought he should forget about acting, and become a rock star. He is that good. 

I was not surprised when he was cast in Moulin Rouge. I knew from Velvet Goldmine that he could really sing.

Since then he has made some remarkable films, and he is always exciting to watch. You never know what to expect from him as an actor. He was great in the more recent Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. He gives a very moving performance.

I am not surprised that he did Othello for Michael Grandage in 2007. I’m just surprised that he has not done any since.

There are so many roles he would be perfect for: Hamlet, Richard II and Richard III, Henry V, and so forth. Why he has not done Macbeth is a mystery.

I do hope that he decides to do some more Shakespeare, on stage or on screen. I think he would find it very rewarding. I know that he has a busy film schedule, but I’m sure he could do more Shakespeare.





But what Ewan McGregor in some Shakespeare Solved?

I think he would really enjoy acting in the Elizabethan period. 

I could easily see him as one of Shakespeare’s fellow actors, playing different parts in the plays, and sometimes multiple parts in the same play, as was common in Shakespeare’s acting company.

The playhouses were far from polite and quiet, they were very noisy and exciting, and the plays were not like we see today. There was more energy, and the audience was part of the show. The actors played to and played with the audience, encouraging them to make noise and respond to the action on the stage.

I could easily see Ewan McGregor with other great actors, like his former Othello castmate Tom Hiddleston, performing Shakespeare like this. 


With Tom Hiddleston as Cassio



I could see Ewan McGregor as one of the Elizabethans whom Shakespeare knew. He had a brother named Edmund who was an actor. He had a childhood friend who was a book publisher.

Or, what about Ewan McGregor as King James? 

I am writing a version of Othello, which was originally written for and about King James, that features King James very prominently. We know very little about who he really was, and we know very little about Shakespeare. But when their stories are told together, as I am doing, both of them are revealed in new and very surprising ways.

I think an actor as adventurous and talented as Ewan McGregor would love to tell a story like that.





What do you think?

     If you agree with me that he should do some Shakespeare, please 
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Cheers,



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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Shakespeare and Sting


One of my favorite parts of learning and writing about Shakespeare is discovering music from the Elizabethan world in which Shakespeare lived.

It is one thing to read Shakespeare’s plays. It is great to see his plays live in a theatre.

But it is something entirely different to listen to music that was composed during his lifetime and which he would have heard himself.

When you listen to the music of John Dowland, the most famous of all Elizabethan composers, it seems to transport you back in time.

I will write more on this blog about the other albums and artists that I listen to, that are relevant to Shakespeare, but in the meantime I highly recommend Sting’s album ‘Songs from the Labyrinth.’





He performed and produced this album of the music of John Dowland, with the lutenist Edin Karamazov.


Edin Karamazov and Sting


You can learn more about the album here:







And you can learn more about John Dowland here:


This music was played and performed for the most important figures of the time, including Queen Elizabeth, and it is a great insight into that world.

The Queen’s Favourite, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, is one of the people who figures in my versions of Hamlet, Richard III and Merchant of Venice. He was Shakespeare's friend, patron and the inspiration for many of Shakespeare's characters, like Henry V and Hamlet.


Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex


On this album there is a song whose lyrics are attributed to him, ‘Can She Excuse My Wrongs’ also known as ‘The Earl of Essex Galliard.’ It seems likely that Essex wrote the song for the Queen, and while we don’t know why he wrote the song, he is clearly in trouble with her — again.


Robert Cecil



Sting has even included spoken excerpts of a letter from Dowland to Robert Cecil, who was Queen Elizabeth’s right hand man, and her spymaster from 1590. Cecil was the most powerful person in England at that time. 

In my version of Hamlet, he is figured very prominently. If there was one man who was Shakespeare's nemesis, it was Cecil.

It even seems that Dowland even acted as a spy for Cecil!





Overall, Sting’s album is quite good. I do think he emphasizes the singing a little too much. But he has such a great voice, and it makes sense since he is trying to translate this music for today’s modern audience which is accustomed to music with an emphasis on the vocals. 

When I go to see a Shakespeare play, I am sometimes confused why the director and music director decided to compose new music. Often the music is very good and works with the play, while at other times the music doesn’t seem to fit. Why don’t they include more Elizabethan music? They could even make it more contemporary with modern instruments.

It was a treat to see the Shakespeare’s Globe productions of Twelfth Night and Richard III, accompanied by several musicians playing 17th century instruments.

I hope that more productions look at the Renaissance music like Dowland’s, and help to continue to introduce new audiences to this fantastic art.

Cheers, 



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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Michael Pennington as King Lear

I just saw Michael Pennington as King Lear at the Theatre For A New Audience in Brooklyn, New York.

It was excellent!

If you are anywhere near New York, you should go see it!


Michael Pennington
all photos by Gerry Goodstein



The play runs through May 4. Here is the link to their box office:


I am not a professional theatre critic, but I do want to share some of my thoughts about this production.

This is the second production in the new Polonsky Shakespeare Center which is a great space. I saw the theatre’s inaugural production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream there recently, and I look forward to see more Shakespeare there in the future.

It was fun to see some familiar faces in the cast. I recognized Rachel Pickup (Goneril) whom I had seen play Olivia in Twelfth Night last year at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. 

I recognized Jake Horowitz (Fool) who was great as Lysander in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at TFANA, and Lily Englert (Cordelia) who was a very funny Hermia in the same production.

I recently saw Michael Pennington’s superb portrayal of John of Gaunt in the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Richard II, starring David Tennant, and I couldn’t wait to see him as Lear.

Overall the cast was excellent, and the performances were solid. I don’t want to single anyone out, because they were all so good.


Rachel Pickup (Goneril) and Graham Winton (Albany), in rehearsal



I know the play rather well, and I don’t expect too many surprises in the performances. I just want Cordelia to be good, her sisters sinister, the Fool wise, and King Lear to lose everything. In that respect I was not disappointed.

Ms. Englert was fine as Cordelia and not only did she look truly related to Mr. Pennington, but she was truly convincing as this man’s daughter. She made both her initial defiance and her eventual tenderness towards him very moving. I expect to shed tears when she is reunited with him, and I did in fact cry.


Bianca Amato (Regan)



Bianca Amato and Rachel Pickup as Regan and Goneril were as sinister as I wanted, and I did enjoy the fact that they were so matter of fact about it. It was as if they have always been manipulative daughters and cruel sisters, and they have no intention of changing. 


Jake Horowitz (Fool)



I really enjoyed Jake Horowitz’s performance as Fool, and I thought the chemistry between him and King Lear was very good. I often watched how Mr. Pennington reacted to his Fool, and his pleasure at being teased, by the one and only person who can get away with it, was very genuine. Despite what his Fool says, no matter how critical, they seem to enjoy each other’s company.


Jacob Fishel (Edgar) and Chandler Williams (Edmund), in rehearsal



What can I say of Michael Pennington as King Lear? He is a master at performing Shakespeare, and he has such a command of the part that I can find no fault. He makes it seem so effortless, even when he is being torn to shreds by his evil daughters, or when he is caught in a terrible storm. His emotional range is remarkable, the control he has over his voice (when he is in command of himself, to when he is pitiful) is brilliant, and the connections he makes with all of the other actors is truly rare. 

There is a vulnerability to his performance that I didn't expect. It would seem that it is easy to be a bossy King Lear, and speak and act like royalty. I think the harder part is to be the King Lear who is falling apart, and make that pain truthful, make it feel like real emotion rather than just acting.





King Lear is probably my least favorite Shakespeare play because if it is done properly, it makes me feel hurt. There is no catharsis in this play. It has no closure, and leaves me feeling wounded.

Well, Mr. Pennington was excellent, and by the end of the play I felt far more weak than I did when it began. I know that sounds like a backhanded compliment, but there it is.


with Lily Englert (Cordelia)



Arin Arbus, the director, has done an excellent job of making the play honest, and frightening. It doesn’t pull any punches, and the violence (such as Gloucester’s blinding) is as horrible as it should be. The play moves rather quickly, and I hardly noticed the time passing. The stage is simple, the effects (like the lightning and the thunder) are great, and by the end of the play, you feel that you have witnessed something rather special.

If I am not mistaken, this is the first time that Mr. Pennington has played King Lear. It is clear that he has prepared his whole career for this moment, and for that reason alone the play is worth seeing.

Cheers,


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