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review 2017-11-24 21:55
A great resource for writers of historical fiction, historians, and people who love social history and the Victorian period.
Life on the Victorian Stage: Theatrical Gossip - Nell Darby

Thanks to Alex from Pen & Sword for providing me with a review paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

If you have been following my reviews for some time, you will be aware that I have read a number of the historical books published by Pen & Sword. I tend to be more interested in social history and how historical changes affected the lives of those who don’t always figure in the big History treatises. Being a lover of plays and a kin theatregoer, I was very curious about this book. Yes, theatre gossip was intriguing, but getting a sense of what life on the Victorian stage must have been like was my main interest. Although sometimes we discover that life has changed dramatically in a reasonably short period of times, some things do not seem to change much. And human curiosity and the love of gossip are among those things. If Victorians had no access to social media, there were plenty of newspapers and periodicals to keep them entertained, and actors were as much a subject of interest then as they are now.

The author does not follow a narrative or chooses a few big cases in this book, but rather illustrates the sheer amount of theatrical news that occupied the Victorian press of the time, not only in London but also in the provinces. As communications improved, newspapers even started featuring stories about actors in America (either natives or British authors touring there) and although sometimes the features lacked in detail (in some cases a suicide or a death would not feature the name of those involved) they were always after items that would attract the public’s attention. Darby divides the book into three parts: Part 1 deals with the business side of things (including such matters as licenses, libel, bankruptcy, breach of contract…), Part 2 looks at criminal lives (from blackmail and assault to prostitution and murder), and Part 3 delves into the personal lives of the actors (what we would probably consider gossip proper, although not all of it is gossip. The chapter on death and disaster deals with serious matter and also makes us look at security measures and disasters in theatres, bigamy seems to have been much more common than it is today, and personally I was fascinated by the chapter on breaches of promise, as I had not realise that there were laws that offered more protection to women in those circumstances than I would have expected).  Each chapter shares both, examples of standard cases of what would usually find its way into the newspapers (brief pieces with hardly any detail) and it dedicates more space to others that were better known, but no single case gets all the limelight. In many ways, this book is like a sampler, where people interested in the subject can learn more and be pointed in the right direction to research further.

The author’s style of writing is direct, and mostly allows the sources to do the talking. She provides sufficient background (on legal matters, the nature of performances, technical issues…) for readers to appreciate the items she discusses, and also some reflections on her own take on the materials. She notes how some periodicals, like The Era, were in a double-bind of sorts, as they tried hard to defend the profession of acting on the stage (that had a pretty bad reputation, especially in the case of women), insisting that actors were honourable and true professionals, whilst at the same time featured “sensational” news to attract readers. Although these days respectability is not a concept many people are worried about, it is true that the press has a hard time trying to reconcile the ideal of protectors of the truth, whilst fighting to keep the attention of the public by any means necessary. Is it possible to keep the moral high ground whilst publishing gossip and innuendo?

Although this is not, perhaps, a book for the general reading public, as I read I kept thinking about how useful this book would be to writers of historical fiction interested in the period (and not only for those considering using a theatrical background in their story but also for those thinking about the press of the time and even society at large) and to historians. Darby provides end notes full of details, both of the sources of her research and also of further information available. Although she mostly uses newspapers, she digs on the archives to confirm details such as names (as many actors and actresses used stage names and some of those were fairly popular) and discovers that Mark Twain wasn’t the only one whose death had been grossly exaggerated (deaths, marriages… were often misreported). The paperback also contains pictures that allow us to put faces to some of the names and help transport us to the era.

In sum, this is a book that will greatly assist writers, historians, and people passionate about the Victorian era and the history of the stage in the UK. It is a good starting point for those who want a general view of the topic and/or are looking for inspiration for their next story or research project. And if you just want to confirm that people’s love for gossip about the stars has not changed over the years, this is your book.

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text 2017-10-08 03:53
Produce your own Theatre - Free Scripts and Production rights

This time of year is when theatre groups, big and small, amateur and professional, experimental or conventional unveil their new season.

 

I love live theatre. I was even a member of the Vancouver Playwrights Theatre Centre and under their mentorship wrote two plays.

 

One of the biggest thrills I ever experienced was to have professional actors perform a reading of my one-act play, Harry’s Truth. It was truly mind-blowing to witness other people interpreting my work in ways I never imagined while still staying true to the script.

 

To celebrate live theatre I’m offering the scripts of Harry’s Truth and End of the Rope free until December 31, 2017 to any individual, drama class, amateur or professional theatre group to read, workshop or produce. Here’s what one reviewer had to say about Harry’s Truth.

 

“You show the interactions between the five of them and let us have a glance at everybody’s past. A lot gets revealed in every scene. I like the detailed stage instructions and the symbolism in the last scene. One can read Harry’s Truth as if it were a short story. I’d really like to see this play on a stage someday…”

 

Often theatre groups are inhibited by the price of mounting a production. I will sign off on all production rights during that period and also authorize you to reproduce the copies of the script.

 

As the reviewer I quoted pointed out, these plays also make entertaining reading even if you’re not a theatre buff.

 

If you send me an email I’ll forward the website address and the coupon codes so you can download your free e-book scripts of Harry’s Truth and End of the Rope.

 

rod_raglin@yahoo.com

 

If anyone would like to take advantage of this offer I’d love to be involved as a script consultant or in any other aspect (no, I won’t pay to produce the production). Who knows maybe I’ll even come and see it.

 

Stay calm, be brave, watch for the signs.

30

 

Website:   http://www.rodraglin/com

Amazon Author Page:   https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00SD6LEU

Facebook:   https://www.facebook.com/Rod-Raglin-337865049886964/

 

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review 2017-08-07 00:22
And Furthermore (Dench)
And Furthermore - Judi Dench

"Do not consider this an autobiography. I have neither the time nor the skill to write one," warns Dame Judi right at the beginning of her introductory remarks. She points to the 1998 biography by John Miller, and it is that same John Miller who has the "as told to" credit on this book. That said, "And Furthermore" is chatty and not obviously ghost-written in tone, and the assistance to its celebrated author seems to have been chiefly rendered in keeping names, dates and projects straight. Unlike a later-in-life memoir with a similar title, Lauren Bacall's "And Then Some," this book does not confine itself just to the years since the last biographical outing, but instead covers off, in an orderly and comprehensive, if fairly superficial way, all of Judi Dench's long life. There is a solid emphasis on her performing rather than her personal or emotional life, though of course she talks a bit about major events like the passing of her much-loved husband, Michael Williams. The narrative is mostly anecdotal, sometimes funny but not exclusively so, and very generous to her co-workers in theatre, film and television. She also reveals a somewhat surprising penchant for misbehaving on stage or set - practical jokes and the like.

Dench, if she is generally apt to suppress criticism of other people, makes no secret of her dislike for certain material. She loathes "The Merchant of Venice," for instance. And even at the distance of more than 40 years, she has no hesitation in pronouncing a minor play from French, "Content to Whisper," "the most terrible play known to man."

The names are not so much dropped as just wonderfully, gloriously omnipresent. Judi Dench has worked with everyone from Gielgud onwards. She can say of two productions of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "What was so uncanny for me was hearing Rachael Stirling as Helena, the part her mother Diana Rigg had played with the RSC when we did it before." She knows and has worked with all the British classical actors who have crossed over to Hollywood celebrity - Ian McKellen, Anthony Hopkins, Jeremy Irons, Kenneth Branagh, Daniel Craig, you name 'em. A little to my surprise, she also has a solid resume in musicals; she was only prevented by a rehearsal injury from being in the original London cast of "Cats" and she played big houses in "Cabaret" and "A Little Night Music."

Judi's right though, in a way. This is an autobiographical work, but it's not "the autobiography" or "the biography." Like many actors, she shies away from analyzing or even watching her own work. And, likeably enough, she doesn't indulge in a lot of introspection, at least not for public consumption. I shall probably end up trying Miller's 1998 biography in hopes for more insights to add on top of this entirely amiable work.

Oh yes, there's a decent collection of photos from her collection too, including some in colour. Definitely a keeper.

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text 2017-07-09 15:53
Multidisciplinary Show in Lisbon: "Once Upon a Time" at Maria Matos Theatre by LX Dance Group

 

Just as a cats brain appears to be tickled by certain types of movement, so the brains of many humans appears to be tickled by beauty - giving us a sense of pleasure that I tend to think once served some primordial purpose. Perhaps it still does.

 
I've also noticed that not everyone appears to share this sensation; humans divide themselves in many ways and one quite striking division is between those who think we ought to survive at any cost, however cramped and crowded, ugly and distasteful the world becomes; and those who prioritize the quality of human life and the life of all other flora and fauna. For the former, beauty appears to me to be a lesser consideration. For the latter, it is of paramount importance.
 
So if you have beauty in art, for me, you need no other excuse. If you 'deprioritize' beauty and dismiss it as 'sentimentality' you do need some other excuse.
 
 
NB: This show will be presented on the 12th of July by my friend Fátima Veloso, LX Dance's director. The "Nossa Senhora do Amparo" sacred music choir to which I belong will also make an appearance. Yours truly as male tenor will also sing his heart out...
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text 2017-06-26 00:05
Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford, and London: Shakespeare, Hogwarts, and Shopping
Shakespeare's Gardens - Andrew Lawson,Shakespeare Birthplace Trust,Jackie Bennett
Shakespeare and the Stuff of Life: Treasures from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust - Tara Hamling,Delia Garratt
Hamlet: Globe to Globe - Dominic Dromgoole
Year of the Fat Knight: The Falstaff Diaries - Antony Sher
The Lives of Tudor Women - Elizabeth Norton
The Gap of Time - Jeanette Winterson
Vinegar Girl - Anne Tyler
And Furthermore - Judi Dench
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind - Yuval Noah Harari
The Wrong Side of Goodbye - Michael Connelly

Stratford

 

A Scene at the RSC Book and Gift Shop

 

The date: June 17, 2017. The time: Approximately 10:00AM.

 

TA and friend enter; TA asks for a shopping basket and makes straight for the shelves and display cases. An indeterminate amount of time is then spent browsing. Whenever her friend points out something and asks "Did you see this?", TA silently points to the steadily growing contents of her basket.  Finally, with a sigh, TA makes for the cashier.

 

Shop assistant: I can see why you asked for a basket when you came in ... So, do you come here often?

 

TA: I try to make it every 2 or 3 years.  [With a sheepish grin:]  And yes, my shopping basket does look like that pretty much every single time, I'm afraid.

 

TA's friend: I can confirm that ...

 

TA: Yeah, she's seen my library at home.

 

TA's friend: Err, I can confirm the shopping sprees as well.

 

Shop assistant (ringing up and bagging one item after another): Well, enjoy your, um, reading ...!

 

Similar scenes, albeit minus the above dialogue were repeated at two of the book & gift stores of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Henley Street (WS birthplace) and Hall's Croft (home of his daughter Judith and her husband, Dr. John Hall, a physician) -- where we actually did spend a fair amount of time talking to the museum assistants, too, though, about everything from visiting Shakekspearean sites to Wimbledon tennis.

 

That being said, we "of course" paid our (well, my) hommage to the Bard, from Trinity Church to the two above-mentioned Shakespeare family houses (return visits all to me, though Hall's Croft was new to my friend), and just as importantly, we had tickets for two of the current "Roman plays" season productions:

 

(1) Antony & Cleopatra, starring Josette Simon and Anthony Byrne in the title roles, with Andrew Woodall as Enobarbus:  One of the best productions of this particular play that I've ever seen.  Josette Simon alone was worth the price of admission ten times over, plus she and Byrne played off each other magnificently, and Andrew Woodall was unlike any Enobarbus I'd seen before, wonderfully highlighting the ironic subtext of his character's lines and giving him more than a hint of a laconic note.  If you're in England and anywhere near Stratford, run and get a ticket for this production ... or if you don't make it all the way to Warwickshire, try to catch it in London when they move the production there.

 

(2) Julius Caesar, starring Andrew Woodall as Caesar and James Corrigan as Marc Antony.  I liked this one, too -- how can any RSC production ever be bad?! -- but by far not as much as Antony and Cleopatra on the night before.  Woodall was a fine Caesar, even if actually a bit too like his Enobarbus (which I might not have found quite as obvious if I hadn't seen both plays practically back to back, on two consecutive nights), and the cast generally did a good job, but this was clearly a "look at all our up-and-coming-talent" sort of production, with almost all of the play's lead roles given to actors who were easily 5, if not 10 or more years younger than the parts they played, which didn't quite work for me -- these people are Roman senators and generals, for crying out loud, and for the most part the requisite gravitas simply wasn't there (yet); even if the talent clearly was.  What a contrast to the very age-appropriate and, as I said, just all around magnificent production of Antony and Cleopatra ... Still, I'm by no means sorry we went to see this, and it's obvious even now that we'll be seeing a lot more of these actors in years to come.

 

We also managed to snag last-minute tickets for a "behind the scenes" tour -- I'd done one in 2014 already, but was more than happy to repeat the experience!  Now I only wish our own opera and theatre company had half the resources that the RSC has at its disposal ...

 

    
Photos, from top left:

1. Shakespeare's bust, above his grave in Trinity Church

2. Shakespeare's epitaph, on his gravestone (photo from 2014, since I didn't get a really good one this time around. N.B., the photo is actually upside down, for somewhat greater ease of reading the inscription.)

3. Trinity Church -- the graves of Shakespeare and his family are located in the part to the left of the tower.

4. River Avon, with RSC Theatre and, in the background, the spire of Trinity Church

5. RSC Theatre

6. Shakespeare's Birthplace (Henley Street)

7.Shakespeare Birthplace Trust centre, next to the actual Henley Street Birthplace building

8. Hall's Croft, garden view

9.New Place and Guild Chapel (photo from 2014)

10. New Place gardens, looking towards RSC and Swan Theatres (also a photo from 2014 -- we didn't make it inside New Place this time around, though we did pass by there on our way from our B&B to the RSC theatre and to Henley Street and back).

 

Now, since Manuel Antao elsewhere insisted on "the full list" -- the grand total result of the above-mentioned shopping sprees, plus a brief supplementary foray into an airport W.H. Smith, was the following:

 

CDs:

* William Shakespeare: Antony & Cleopatra: Music and Speeches from the 2017 Royal Shakespeare Company Production

* William Shakespeare: Julius Caesar: Music and Speeches from the 2017 Royal Shakespeare Company Production

* William Shakespeare: King Lear: Music and Speeches from the 2016 Royal Shakespeare Company Production -- which alas I had to miss, but it starred Antony Sher as Lear, whom I saw as Falstaff in 2014 ... which in turn was just about all the reason I needed to get the audio version of his Lear, too.

*  William Shakespeare: The Tempest: Music and Speeches from the 2016 Royal Shakespeare Company Production -- which I also had to miss, but I figured even if I was a year late ... (plus, Simon Russell Beale as Prospero and directed -- like the 2016 Lear -- by Gregory Doran ...?!)

*  William Shakespeare: King Richard III, full cast audio recording starring Kenneth Branagh -- a long-time must-have from my TBR or, err, "to-be-listened-to" list.

The British Library, with Ben and David Crystal: Shakespeare's original pronunciation: Speeches and scenes performed as Shakespeare would have heard them -- there's a video version of this on Youtube (I think Lora posted about it here a while back), and if you haven't already seen it, I highly recommend remedying that sooner rather than later.  It gives you a whole new insight into Shakespeare's use of language ... down to lingusitic puns, allusions and images that you really only pick up on once you've heard what the Bard and his original audiences would have heard in the delivery of the respective lines.

 

Books: 

*  Jackie Bennett, with photographs by Andrew Lawson: Shakespeare's Gardens -- a lavishly illustrated coffee table book-sized guide to the gardens Shakespeare knew (or might have known) both in Stratford / Warwickshire and in London, as well as on the gardens of the five Shakespeare-related houses in and around Stratford, with an introductory chapter on Tudor gardening in general.  THE find of several great finds of this trip.  (And it's even an autographed copy ... as I only discovered when I unpacked the book back home!)

*  Roy Strong: The Quest for Shakespeare's Garden -- similar to the above (though smaller in format) and a great complementary book, with plenty of historical illustrations and leading up to a focus on the New Place garden, which has painstakingly been restored in period style in recent years.

*  Delia Garratt and Tara Hamling (eds.): Shakespeare and the Stuff of Life: Treasures from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust -- an illustrated guide to Shakespeare's life and times in the style of the recently-popular "so-and-so [insert topic] in 100 objects" books, with 50 representative objects covering the key aspects of Shakespeare's life from cradle to grave.

*  Peter Sillitoe & Maurice Hindle (ed.): Shakespearean London Theatres -- what the title says, but with a handy walking map allowing the aficionado to trace not merely the locations of the various theatres but also get a sense of the areas where they were located ... or at least, their respective modern incarnations.

*  Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells (eds.), with contributions by, inter alia and in addition to the editors, Graham Holderness, Charles Nicholl, Andrew Hadfield and John Jowett, and an afterword by James Shapiro: Shakespeare Beyond Doubt -- a scholarly refutation of the various "alternate authorship" theories.

*  Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells (eds.), with contributions by, inter alia and in addition to the editors, Michael Wood, Graham Holderness, Germaine Greer and Andrew Hadfield, and an afterword by Margaret Drabble: The Shakespeare Circle -- a collective biography of Shakespeare's family, friends, business associates and patrons; a bit like Stanley Wells's earlier Shakespeare & Co., but not merely focusing on the other key figures of Elizabethan theatre, and with individual chapters / essays designated to individual persons (or families), instead of the continuous narrative contained in Shakespeare & Co.

*  James Shapiro: 1606: Shakespeare and the Year of Lear -- pretty much what the title implies; a follow-up to Shapiro's earlier focus on Shakespeare's life in 1599.

*  Frank Kermode: Shakespeare's Language -- also pretty much what the title says, with a joint examination of the pre-Globe plays' poetic and linguistic characteristics and a play-by-play examination of the last 16 plays, beginning with Julius Caesar.

*  Dominic Dromgoole: Hamlet: Globe to Globe -- the Globe Theatre Artistic Director's account of their recent, 2-year-long venture of taking a production of Hamlet to (literally) every single country in the world.

*  Antony Sher: Year of the Fat Knight: The Falstaff Diaries -- a must-read for anyone who's been fortunate enough to see the RSC's 2014 productions of Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2, and still a rioting good read if you haven't.  Plus, the most amazing sketches by Sher himself ... the man is an artist several times over!

*  Antony Sher & Gregory Doran: Woza Shakespeare! Titus Andronicus in South Africa -- not new, but it's been on my TBR for a while and I figured while I was at it ...

*  Sheridan Morley: John Gielgud: The Authorized Biography -- comment unnecessary.

* Jonathan Croall, with a prologue by Simon Callow: Gielgoodies! The Wit and Wisdom [& Gaffes] of John Gielgud -- a frequently hilarious complementary read to the above bio.

*  Harriet Walter: Brutus and Other Heroines: Playing Shakespeare's Roles for Women -- plus, I might add, plenty of insight into Shakespearean theatre in particular and acting in general.

*  Harriet Walter: Other People's Shoes: Thoughts on Acting -- as the title implies, more of the above, though minus the near-exclusive focus on Shakespeare. (Instead, however, also a professional autobiography of sorts.)

*  Judi Dench: And Furthermore -- her memoirs.  Very much looking forward to this one.

*  Jeanette Winterson: The Gap of Time -- Hogarth Shakespeare adaptation series, The Winter's Tale.

*  Anne Tyler: Vinegar Girl -- Hogarth Shakespeare adaptation series, The Taming of the Shrew.

* Howard Jacobson: Shylock Is My Name -- Hogarth Shakespeare adaptation series, The Merchant of Venice. (I could have gone on and gotten more of those, but I figured I'd limit myself to three to begin with ... :) )

*  Ian Doescher: William Shakespeare's Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope -- I know, I know.  Everybody but me has already read it at this point.

*  Elizabeth Norton: The Lives of Tudor Women -- a(nother) proximate choice, since I've spent so much time in their world (and that of their Plantagenet sisters / ancestors) recently, thanks in no small part to Samantha [Carpe Librum]!

*  Robert Harris: Imperium -- Cicero trilogy, book 1.  And yes, there is a Shakespeare connection even here ... think " 'twas all Greek to me."  (Also, as was to be expected, the RSC bookstore had Harris's complete Roman series on their shelves as companion reads (of sorts) to their current Roman  plays season.)

*  Yuval Noah Harari: Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind -- no Shakespeare connection here; unless Harari should be (justly) citing to Shakespeare as an exponent of human genius, that is.  Anyway, this is where the airport W.H. Smith came in handy.

*  Michael Connelly: The Wrong Side of Goodbye -- see Harari above! :)

 

Plus a blue RSC silk scarf, a Macbeth quote T-shirt (can't have too much of the Scottish play, ever), a First Folio canvas bag (had to get something to carry all my new treasures home in, after all), a couple of Shakespeare- and Tudor-related postcards, and of course a few more Shakespeare quote mugs and refrigerator magnets for my respective collections.

 

Oxford

On the way from London to Stratford, we'd stopped by in Oxford: This being merely an extended weekend trip, we didn't have a lot of time, but since our last attempt to visit this half of Oxbridge had literally been drowned by floods of torrential rain (so we ended up spending virtually all the time in the Museum of Natural History), I'd promised my friend a short visit at least -- all the more since I myself had actually spent a few days in Oxford in the interim with my mom. Well, with the weather cooperating this time around, we at least managed a stroll along Broad Street and down Catte Street to Radcliffe Square, then past St. Mary's Church to "the High," a brief climb up Carfax Tower, and finally a visit to Hogwarts, err, Christchurch College (Tom Quad, Chapel, Great Hall and all).

 

 



Photos, from top left:

1. View from Radcliffe Square down Catte St.: Radcliffe Camera and Bodleian Library to the left; Hereford College to the right.

2. View from Carfax Tower towards St. Mary's Church, Radcliffe Camera, Hereford College, Magdalen College, and New College.

3. / 4.: Christchurch College: Tom Quad with Tom Tower (left photo) and Chapel and Great Hall (right photo).

5.: Christchurch College, Chapel.

6.: Christchurch College, Great Hall.

 

(We had, incidentally, also been planning for a stop in Cambridge on the return trip from Stratford, but that had to be cancelled ... which is a story for another day.  Also, this will now obviously necessitate yet another joint trip to England at some point or other!)

 

 

London

London, where we actually started our trip, was the first scheduled "shopping spree" stop: Since we've both visited London repeatedly before, no mad bouts of "mandatory" sightseeing were included; rather, merely being there tends to make both of us pretty happy campers in and of itself.  Since we've also more or less worked out a route covering the stores that we tend to hit on a routine basis whenever we're visiting, it took us all but five hours to complete our program, from Neal's Yard Remedies (at the original Neal's Yard location in Seven Dials) all the way to Fortnum & Mason's, with various other stops thrown in on the way, chiefly among those, Whittard of Chelsea and, this time around, Crabtree & Evelyn (which we actually do have in Germany, too, but the London branches had those irresistible sales ... (sigh)).  Since I knew I was going to spend a lot of money buying books in Stratford, I decided -- with a somewhat heavy heart -- to forego my usual Charing Cross Road stops on this occasion; though towards the end of the aforementioned five hours (1) my left knee started to give me serious trouble, and (2) we were already laden with our other purchases to such an extent that even I had to admit there would have been no way we'd be able to carry back books to our hotel on top, so I was grudgingly reconciled ... though only for the moment, and with the effect of instantly resolving to return to England sooner rather than later; a resolution that has since blossomed in fully-blown plans for a longer (and solo) follow-up trip, from the England / Wales border all the way to the Norfolk coast -- and in addition to plenty of sightseeing, I've also promised myself plenty of book store stops along the way.

 

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