Friday, 25 February 2011

Shock news: Shakespeare is funny

If I am absolutely honest, Shakespeare is not my first preference when it comes to theatre. I realise this confession has destroyed any chance of  maintaining the illusion that I'm remotely 'cultured', but it's the truth. I enjoyed studying and reading his plays at school but there's something about that reverential vocal style often used in theatre productions of Shakespeare that turns me off. Or productions are so self consciously 'alternative' - set in lunatic asylums, or Nazi Germany - that this gets in the way of the drama itself. I certainly have never enjoyed Shakespeare's comedies. At least with his tragedies you can enjoy the dramatic tension of the remorseless turning of the wheel of fate towards the final reckoning.  In his comedies, as far as I could see, there were just lots of mistaken identity plot devices and sometimes some fairies. And the jokes aren't funny.
Well. I was wrong. We went to see a production of the Comedy of Errors by Propellor last night - and frequently laughed out loud. It was definitely not a reverential approach. Set in a South American version of Corinth, complete with mariachi band in sombreros, it was Shakespeare meets panto meets a Ray Cooney farce. The comedy was broad and often physical, but it was smart and imaginative and knowing. All the slapstick - accompanied by the requisite live sound effects - was delivered with perfect timing. 

Propellor is an all male company, which meant the female characters were drag turns.  There was quite a lot of knowing humour drawn from that - not least in the appearance of the Mother Abbess in fishnets and boots, to the strains of Madonna's Like A Prayer - but it didn't undermine the power of the characters. And let's not forget, when Shakespeare wrote his plays, he was writing for all male companies.

As a bonus, the mariachi band played raucous versions of Eurythmics hits in the interval.

Photo by Manuel Har / Propellor
I hope I haven't made this sound naff or dumbed down. Because in amongst all the cross-dressing and running gags, the language was Shakespeare's and was brought to life in such a way that not only did the plot and narrative tension come through, but the verbal humour made sense. It is a production that embraces and celebrates the original play and injects it with new theatrical energy.

Propellor are touring this in the UK and the US until July. If you would prefer something with a bit of gravitas, they are performing Comedy of Errors in rep with Richard III. Both productions have had rave reviews, and if I didn't have other commitments, I would be going to see Richard III this weekend. They were that good.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Hello Old Fruit

I'm just recovering from a lengthy bout of laryngitis. What should I make of the gales of laughter that greets this news when any of my friends hear about it? As if they cannot conceive of my existence without the power of speech. I know I talk a lot but ..... Actually, they have a point. However, it's been surprisingly peaceful, resisting speech. I've discovered it's possible to have a thought, without immediately vocalising it. Who knew. I suspect my other half has been having a peaceful time of it as well.

Clearly, I've been suffering from an even longer bout of virtual laryngitis. So my sincere thanks to Isabelle for her well-timed comment on my last post, which happened to coincide with my own stirrings of interest in trying to pick up this blogging lark again.  I also finally managed to install and operate the software for my new camera. Only taken me 3 months.

Last weekend, we were lucky enough to be invited to share the birthday celebrations of our dear friend R. A 'biggie'. There's no bus pass involved, but he may find himself on the SAGA mailing lists.

We spent the weekend in what is probably the most unusual holiday cottage in the UK.

This is The Pineapple - a Landmark Trust property near Falkirk. It was built in 1761, as part of an elaborate summerhouse, along one side of a walled garden. It is flanked by gardeners' cottages which have now been converted into a 2 bedroom  holiday property.

No one really knows the reason for Lord Dunmore deciding to build a massive pineapple shaped folly in central Scotland, an area not renowned for its tropical fruit harvest. Pineapples were something of a status symbol in the 18th century, imported by the wealthy from the Caribbean. I remember seeing special pineapple growing glasshouses at Chatsworth House.  So I suppose he was just showing off.

The cottage is quite bijoux - and you have to go outside to get between the living area and the bedrooms, and more to the point, the toilet. So take a kaghoul. It was fine for a weekend though. And you get to sit in the Pineapple itself, which is like a very glamorous conservatory. It must be marvellous in the summer. Even in the chill and drizzle of a Scottish February, we managed to brave it for about half an hour, to drink birthday champagne by candlelight.

And we saw our first snowdrops of the year.

Best of all, I got to enjoy all the pleasure of birthday cake and champagne, without being the one turning 50 - yet.