And being an absolute Johannes fac totum…

I have been blogging elsewhere – serious Shakespearean stuff for the mighty Globe, and some slightly more irreverent (okay, downright childish) musings on some of the lesser-known and bizarre plays of Shakespeare’s time for the lovely salon: collective.

So I thought I’d share them all with the world in one go.

The Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre

Shakespeare: The lone genius?

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Although many people imagine Shakespeare writing alone, the solitary genius. He collaborated throughout his career with some of London’s greatest, and strangest playwrights…

Anniversary of King Henry IV’s death

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Henry IV’s usurpation of Richard II is the presiding event of Shakespeare’s history cycles. This piece, written to mark Henry’s death, reflects on his melancholy, troubled reign…

The Salon: Collective

Theatre of Blood – Halloween Special (part one)

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A two-parter written for Halloween 2012. Part One: how to bash out your brains and the world’s most futile (and creepy) kiss of life….

Theatre of Blood – Halloween Special (part two)

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Part Two: a dog that thinks it’s Satan and smashing up a talking bronze head with a hammer…

Die Hal! Die Haller! Die Hal with a Vengeance!

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The Famous Victories of Henry V is nasty, brutish and short. It’s also unfairly maligned and a fascinating piece of theatre history. Not that I talk about that here…

The secrets of Twelfth Night

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A comic piece for the theatrical programme for salon: collective’s 2012 production of Twelfth Night. 

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But understand these acts are no mere jests…

You may or may not know the story of Cardenio, or Double Falsehood. Briefly, and avoiding the repetition of claims of forgery, mis-attribution etc, it runs that late in his career William Shakespeare may have collaborated with the younger playwright John Fletcher on several plays, one of which was the lost Cardenio.

These late collaborative plays pose a problem to the romantic, shapely arc often assigned to Shakespeare’s writing career. This suggests that, having written the theatre’s greatest histories, comedies and tragedies, Shakespeare’s art rarefied to romance, a second childhood of shipwrecks, fathers and daughters reunited, evil queens and gods descending from the heavens to untangle confusion. This theory crests with The Tempest, where Prospero – virtually Shakespeare himself striding onstage to put everyone straight about a thing or two – rounds off two miraculous decades in art by ‘drowning’ his book and renouncing magic (for which read writing plays). Prospero/Shakespeare then retreats to Stratford to a dignified retirement of grain hoarding and minor litigation.

Except he doesn’t. Instead, he writes one, possibly two, possibly three plays with John Fletcher. Continue reading

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She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist…

By 1968, we are commonly told, the Summer of Love had ended. The Beatles responded with the fractured, insular and troubled ‘white album’, the Rolling Stones issued sneering, provocative anthems, Street Fighting Man and Sympathy for the Devil, Dylan had almost disappeared completely save for 1967’s sparse, biblical John Wesley Harding and rock groups in general were beginning to favour the dark, the heavy, and flirting with ever-more extreme (and schlocky) satanic and otherwise unsettling imagery.

The approved narrative, of course, brings things to a head in 1969, with Altamont and the Manson killings, the end of the 60s etc. What I’m interested in is the way that the emergence of explicit darkness into popular music seems to correspond with the significant influence of several powerful women artists on their more famous male partners during that time. Arguably, the exploration of dark, chthonic sounds, themes and textures by many leading artists of the time seems to correspond with their relationships with several significant, cultured, powerful and self-determined women for whom the rock spotlight either held no place or no interest. Continue reading

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Henry VIII

Henry VIII, by Shakespeare and John Fletcher, is a strange play. It is rarely performed these days, the play’s Arden editor Gordon McMullan notes that its decline in popularity since the nineteenth century has matched the decline in theatre’s unquestioning pageantry and celebration of royalty.

Certainly, it offers us grand characters on a grand stage: Henry himself, Anne Boleyn, Cardinal Wolsey and a scene-stealing, visionary Katherine of Aragon. There are falls from grace, deceptions, seductions and intrigue and yet the play is not a parade of crowd-pleasing grotesques such as Shakespeare’s earliest history plays, nor a redemptive portrait of flawed power, as so many of Shakespeare’s later works are. It is something in between, barely touching on the characters’ inner workings, and the Globe’s current production offers little illumination.

The Globe, along with the RSC, has a near-duty to perform plays such as Henry VIII, those too uncommercial for less prestigious companies, so that we get to see the lesser-know byways of our greatest poet’s works. Sometimes these are a triumph – the RSC’s history cycle at the Roundhouse in 2008 revealed Henry VI as a monumental theatrical achievement. Sometimes, however, we can experience first hand the limitations of a text in performance. Such with Henry VIII. Continue reading

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Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain…

In writing a couple of thoughts about William Blake I am engaging in a very minor piece of family heritage. My great-great-great grandfather, Alexander Gilchrist, wrote a biography of Blake, published in 1863. In fact, Alexander died of scarlet fever aged 33, before the book was completed. His wife, Anne, finished the work.

Prompted by an interest in Anne, I was recently drawn to Peter Ackroyd’s biography of Blake. I discovered that his life was sadder, and far funnier, than I had known. The archetype of the struggling artist is a cliché in our time; wander through Soho, Whitechapel or any arts college and you’ll see several dozen who might, in their cups, confess themselves a hidden genius. But the popular vision of the overlooked genius seems to prefer the saintly gazer into eternity, careless of worldly recognition. Not the angry, embittered rationaliser of their own defeat, enervated by disappointment which so many who strive can become. Blake, as Ackroyd observes, was both. He saw his work as of and for eternity yet railed against those who overlooked him, the fashions of the time that prevented any chance of his wider success and recognition. One of the saddest moments in Ackroyd’s book comes when detailing a private journal entry of Blake’s. Having outlined the worldly successes of his peers, Blake concludes ‘I was hid’. At a later time, or as an afterthought, he crosses through was and writes am: I am hid. For a man who was clear enough in his genius to emphatically and publicly compare himself to Michelangelo and Raphael and to declare his verse the greatest since the Iliad, the humiliation of being overlooked, passed over, must have been of hellish intensity. Continue reading

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The Road

Warning: contains spoilers

I’ve not read The Road by Cormac McCarthy, but last year I was introduced to his work. I read Outer Dark, which I’ve written about before, and Blood Meridian. Blood Meridian is an extraordinary, unrelenting descent into the kind of temporal hell that the fortunate amongst us will only ever fear, never experience. Its biblical language, sense of creation being somehow corrupt at root – a kind of inverted gnosticism – is operatic and visceral; its depictions of savagery are unflinching.

I am easily frightened by post-apocalyptic movies. The first hour of 28 Days Later, Day of the Triffids, the parts of Threads I managed to sit through, even scenes in I Am Legend leave me nervous, claustrophobic and aware of the vast, overpopulated urban space surrounding me. I remember, years ago, alone and drunk, watching Things To Come late one night and feverishly wondering where I could get my hands on a firearm.

So, when a friend asked me if I wanted to see the film of The Road, I said yes – with reservations. Post-apocalyptic McCarthy? Did I want to start the weekend preoccupied with planning escape routes from Clapham or wondering how best to transport water on foot? As another friend told me this week: “Since I read The Road I keep a store of food and supplies in my house. And so do three other people I know.” Continue reading

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More new-fangled than an ape…

That the internet is a singularly wonderful thing was again proven for me when I renewed contact with a schoolfriend I’ve not seen for almost twenty years. Of course, this happens all the time. That’s what Facebook’s for, who cares, etc…

Ah, yes, but this friend has a secret identity.  He is Organ Monkeys. And he sounds like this:

ORGAN MONKEYS

I love Beefheart. I once spent several weeks only listening to Trout Mask Replica. I wanted it to become so familiar that it would become my default setting for ‘normal’ music and thereby transform every subsequent auditory experience into some avant-garde trip. I love Funkadelic, the squelchy bass and keys, the exuberance and, like Beefheart, the courageous wisdom that humour can deliver a serious message. Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense changed my life when I was 13, replacing any latent idea of becoming an author with dreams of jerking around in a big suit with Bernie Worrell getting up on his bad thing behind me. I also love Ivor Cutler, the gnomic (and gnomish) surrealism, the darkly child-like wordplay and the concision of his vision. Organ Monkeys, I think, shows all these qualities and (Joe, correct me on this if I’m wrong), he plays it all himself.

Further, he builds banjos. I urge you to visit his site and learn of his quest. Here’s an appetiser:

I looked for an old guitar. I needed one which was really really bad. Eventually I saw a white acoustic hanging on a guitar shop wall. “METALLICA” was stencilled in tiny writing on the body…

The guitar shop guy didn’t want to sell it to me as it was so bad…I said “it’s OK” in Japanese and did my best to mime sawing motions with sound effects. He looked a little bit shocked.

Read more here

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