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Archive for April, 2012

I’ve only seen Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) once or twice. I’ve never cared much for this play and found the film to be pretty underwhelming, but as I was looking into masquerades and carnivals in theater, this scene from the movie came to my mind. I think it captures the essence of the film and the play very well. These two people came to a fancy dress party in two of the most boring, unimaginative costumes one can come up with. Romeo could be forgiven; he’s crashing the party and one would think he came up with the costume on the fly. But this is Juliet’s home. This is her parents’ party. Surely, she could have gone out and spent a few extra bucks on something a bit more sophisticated than a pair of angel wings and a white dress.

If we’re going to look for hidden meaning, I supose the intention was to make her look incocent and pure and to make him look bold and chivelrous. Thank you for reafirming gender roles there, Mr. Luhrmann. Though, it is the lack of any creative thought on the part of these two characters that seals the fate of the film for me. They are just two very boring people. Granted, they are very young, but even as teenagers their whole world revolves around a very ill-conceived love affair. There’s not much else to them.

Ah, if only there were a cute stalker I could fall in love with

To be fair, many people love Romeo and Juliet and think it’s a wonderful play as well as the one of the greatest love stories ever told.  And the two protagonists don’t have to be quite so bland. A lot of their interactions are fun and flirty and, if done without the heavy-handed gravity or wide-eyed naivete, could add to the dramatic ending. Usually these scenes are played with so much passion as if the characters already know that they’re doomed. But wouldn’t these scenes play out so much better if  they were lighthearted and maybe even slightly silly? Wouldn’t that make their end even more terrible?

What’s more, and this has been noted before, Romeo and Juliet may not even be about these two individuals. It could be that the play is more of a commentary on petty feuds that lead to pointless loss of life. The two families can’t even remember why they are fighting, it has become a habit and their young pay a heavy price. After all, the play doesn’t end with the death of Romeo and Juliet, it ends with their two families reconciling and putting aside their differences to avoid more loss of life.

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King Lear and the fool in a storm

John Gilbert, from The brothers Dalziel, by George and Edward Dalziel, London, 1901.

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She Stoops to Conquer, written by Oliver Goldsmith in 1773, is currently playing in London’s National Theater. It’s a hilarious comedy of courtship and chaos directed by Jamie Lloyd, and something I recommend to anyone who needs a good laugh.

Here are some behind the scenes pictures:

The cast of She Stoops to Conquer is rehearsing the musical number

Pretty, witty Kate Hardcastle (Katherine Kelly)

Hastings (John Heffernan) is clearly channeling retro Doctor Who

Actor David Fynn is taking it easy as Tony Lumpkin

Cush Jumbo (Miss Constance Neville) is a serious young lady

Oh, Tony, don't push her away!

Director Jamie Lloyd with the concept board behind him

Tony has no love for his cousin Constance

Mr Hardcastle (Steve Pemberton) takes his place in a large leather chair

That shirt. That jacket. The combination is priceless.

Miss Kate is deep in thought

For Tony, ladies of quality are always in the background

The concept board for this play is amazing

Sophie Thompson as the loud and vulgar Mrs Hardcastle

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Last week I went to see a play. At a movie theater. London’s National Theatre came up with a very high-tech way to bring their shows to a broader audience, many of whom live abroad. Their plays are broadcasted live in a number of theaters around the world. Last year I went to see their production of Frankenstein which was absolutely mind blowing!

This year I missed a few of their shows, but last Thursday managed to get a ticket to Oliver Goldsmith’s  She Stoops to Conquer. And what can I say? It was hilarious! And I don’t mean a chuckle here and there or a pleasant smile at a witticism. I mean out-loud, roaring laughter for 3 hours straight.

The story is as follows, a wealthy country gentleman Hardcastle (Steve Pemberton) wants to marry his daughter Kate (Katherine Kelly) to the son of an old friend. But because of a  practical joke played  by his stepson Tony Lumpkin (David Fynn), he is mistaken for an innkeeper and his daughter is take for a barmaid by the perspective bridegroom Marlow (Harry Hadden-Paton). This turns to be a blessing in disguise because while Marlow is incredibly shy around upper-class women, he’s quite the charmer with girls of a different sort. As Hardcastle  grows more and more incensed by the rude behavior of his prospective son-in-law, his daughter is quite taken with her confused suitor. At the same time, her cousin Constance (Cush Jumbo) is trying to claim her dowry and run away with her sweetheart Hastings (John Heffernan), as Mrs. Hardcastle (Sophie Thompson) schemes to marry her off to her son Tony. Chaos ensues.

Hastings (John Heffernan) surrounded by servants who all want to give him boots

This is definitely one of those plays that has aged well. Even though it was written in the 18th century, it feels as fresh and as funny today as it must have been two hundred years ago. Director Jamie Lloyd went for very broad humor. Every one is hamming it up to the max; there is no subtle acting in sight.

Hardcastle (Steve Pemberton) and his daughter Kate (Katherine Kelly)

Kate is a wonderful heroine – funny, saucy and resourceful.  ‘Stoops to conquer’ really defines her personality; Kate is very much a negotiator. She gives a little to get a lot both with her father and her groom. Marlow, on the other hand, makes for a wonderful neurotic (did they have neurosis in the 18th century?) hero. He’s a bumbling fool around high-class ladies, but quite the rake among the simple folk. Sophie Thompson, whom I loved in Emma, plays a wonderful Mrs. Hardcastle. She speaks in a strange bellowing accent, probably imitating what she thinks is a way a fine lady in London would speak, and has the most peculiar gestures and facial expressions. Tony Lumpkin is a lovable buffoon. But the person who really steals the show is John Heffernan as Hastings. He is sweet, devoted to his beloved, a bit dopey and naive but very kind and generous. To me he was the emotional core of the whole play; and with his almost equally dopey, though determined sweetheart Constance, in many scenes outshone the main couple.

I was really glad that they decided to go with an 18th centurylook for the play. First, because I love 18th century costumes. And second, because this play just doesn’t need to be updated. Though the theme can easily translate into a modern setting, it works just as well as a historical play.

Rich heiress Constance Neville (Cush Jumbo)

The costumes were absolutely gorgeous! Everything from powdered bouffant of Mrs Hardcastle to the richly embroidered but distressed outfit of Tony Lumpkin to the exquisite dress worn by Constance made from sari fabric and decorated with tiny bells, looked absolutely perfect. I can write more about the costumes, but I feel like they deserve their own post.

What are they doing back there?

I often get very uppity about classical plays being remade for a modern audience with excessive amount of sexual innuendos and nudity, but unlike many other productions, She Stoops to Conquer really works as a bawdy comedy probably because it was written as one. There is no shortage of cleavage on display or very suggestive gestures and poses, but they work very well and only add to the general atmosphere of confused and rowdy fun.

If you haven’t seen this play already, I highly recommend you check it out.

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