Cooper’s London

Creatures Onstage

One of the best theatre pieces in London at the moment is Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein. It has been praised elsewhere copiously, especially for the casting of Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch alternating in the roles of Dr. Frankenstein and the Creature. It deserves all its high praise. It somehow conveys the moral questioning and deeper philosophical concerns of the original Mary Shelley novel. With any luck the play should drive you back to read or re-read this remarkable and almost Jungian novel produced by a young woman of about 18 and then published when she was about 21 in 1819. 

Like Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, like Dorian Gray and his portrait, a man and his shadow are embodied in a tale that resonates mythically for us all and also shows the fine line between the creative and the dark sides of human nature. Though specific details are missing, the understanding of the novel is vividly present in this play adapted by Nick Dear. Add to that the immensely vivid theatricality of Boyle’s approach, the visual excitement of the production and the completely compelling and superb acting on all fronts, and it’s worth queuing for day seats if you are in London – and/or seeing the broadcasts to cinemas of the live performances. Hopefully, one day there will be a DVD. 

Vintage Wine in New, Distressed Bottle? Stratford Redux?

I went off to Stratford for the official opening of the new theatre, where I saw revivals of King Lear and Romeo and Juliet. If anything, Greg Hicks is now even more substantially living the part of Lear; and Romeo and Juliet is just as glib, but glitzy and showy as ever. The audience still loved it. I still thought that it would be better as a staging of the Gounod opera. 

For me, the building itself is a bit disappointing; I am in a minority here. I guess I’ve been spoiled by the really pleasant atmosphere of The Courtyard and that is not quite achieved in the new main theatre. I’m not certain about all the distressed architectural features of the rebuild. The restaurant at the top of the building serves good food that is not too wildly expensive, but is shaped like a long corridor or crescent moon, so that the poor waiters keep running along it from the kitchen at one end–though the views over Stratford and the countryside are worth it. Also, in my opinion they have put the bookshop, bars and coffee shop in some peculiar spaces that make them more cramped than one would like. 

The thrust stage in the main auditorium is a mirror of the one at the Courtyard, but the auditorium is a bit more cramped, there are overhangs to contend with, and the acoustics didn’t seem to be as sharp as they could be. But in the end these are all merely quibbles. It’s good to have the old place open again; the new design is certainly an improvement on the old one, even if it does not reach breathtaking perfect; and the play is the thing. You will enjoy the surroundings, they are certainly serviceable; and since The Courtyard is supposed to be dismantled, it will not be there for comparison for very long.

Meanwhile, the season coming up looks very interesting indeed, especially the Greg Doran realization of Shakespeare’s lost play, Cardenio. See what’s coming up at the RSC web site:

And, Speaking of Shakespeare…….

One of my real pleasures of the past few weeks is coming across Reading Shakespeare’s Sonnets, a new commentary, sonnet by sonnet, by poet Don Paterson. Paterson is himself quite a considerable and well-recognized writer with a lovely, easy and accessible style; and nothing could be more accessible – or help you with the sonnets – than this commentary. 

Discussing each poem in a conversational and cheeky style, Paterson gives you the feeling of being talked to by someone who is very smart, very witty and quite easygoing. I’ve been reading the text a few sonnets at a time. Read the poem, read the commentary; re-read the poem (which now makes much more sense); re-read the commentary and get some of the jokes you missed before, re-read the sonnet; move on. Three a day is my aim. 

Paterson is very frank about the poems he hates and the ones he loves; and goes into little conversational asides with earlier commentators whom he admires but often disagrees with. He is also very straightforward about the homoeroticism in the text. Basically, he reads the poems as if he were Shakespeare’s contemporary who really gets all the allusions and jokes. Take the opening of his gloss on Sonnet 20 (A woman’s face with nature’s own hand painted,/Hast thought, the master mistress of my passion; …), for example:

Dude, as Aerosmith sang with such vacant gusto, ‘looks like a lady’. OK: this is as good a place any to clear this up. I feel I will scarcely be believed, but this poem has been often cited as evidence of William Shakespeare’s non-homoerotic intent. No–really! As levels of denial go, this is right up there with the health benefits of Marlboros. …”

See what I mean? It’s at times a bit like having Monty Python’s Comments on Shakespeare’s Sonnets – but the commentary seems not only witty, but genuinely illuminating–and, most of all, fun. 

I am having a great time with this book and with re-reading each Sonnet and then having it retold by Paterson. And you know what? It’s driving me to read all of his poetry and other writings too. Highly, highly recommended, Dude!

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