This is simply, a very sad story about some people in Denmark. Where this production draws its metaphysical extra dimension from is from a rather dizzying feeling of this living act of theatre connecting you tangentially with 400 years of culture, and the fact of just how good it is.
Andrew Scott’s performance is extraordinary, but I have seen extraordinary Hamlet’s before; what makes this one so truly remarkable is its ensemble work, the consistency of approach and commitment and attention across the entire cast and the aesthetics of acting and design. And that doesn’t come out of the blue, it can’t happen overnight. It requires growth over time, it requires the building of a shared vocabulary and a shared set of experiences, a familiarity with other performers’ instincts and habits, boundaries and freedoms.
Long ago, back in 1971, I went one Sunday afternoon to what was then The Tate Gallery to see the exhibition of work by Eduardo Paolozzi. It was one of the very first contemporary art shows that I had ever been to – I was 16 – and I was thrilled and excited to discover that an artist could fill the central Duveen galleries with toy robots and pages torn from comics and shiny geometric blobs. That day remains a special memory, and flashes of it came back as I visited Eduardo Paolozzi at the Whitechapel Gallery this morning. The show is somewhat austere, but full of fascinating things, especially from the late ’40s and early ’50s, and is accompanied by an excellent catalogue.
I have been wrestling with how best to contribute regularly to this blog while I am much preoccupied with a number of productions and several more extended pieces of writing. The Sunday links columns have been the only ones that I have managed to post in recent weeks, and now I am going to try a variant of those, spreading them through the week and contributing each day a group of – as it were – linked links. There will be times when I’ll feel I can write something a little more substantial, but for the present I want to try to find a rhythm that involves a short post each day which builds over a week to something more substantial.
I know it’s pointless gently flagellating myself in public for failing to post more regularly. So I’ll save that for the privacy of my keyboard (as well as being both rueful and grateful for how busy I am), and offer up instead a group of links to articles and videos that have engaged me over the past fortnight or so. Many thanks to those who alerted me to a number of them.
• The Empty Screen: a compelling video essay by Mark Rappaport (below) which he introduces like this:
The screen is a neutral element in the film-going experience. Or is it? It projects dreams but is also the receptacle of our dreams. It’s the vehicle for delivering the image to an audience — but does it also watch the audience at the same time? Is it a complicitous membrane which audience members can penetrate and which interacts with the spectators, despite its seeming passivity? Maybe — to all of the above …
Since I have failed for the past two Sundays to compile a list of links to things that have interested or intrigued me recently, let us begin today’s (acknowledging the usual thanks to those who have alerted me to many of these) with a couple that take on the burning cultural question of the day. Whether the movie wins big or not tonight at the Oscars, what after all the fuss do we think of La La Land (above)?
For the last few years I have been invited to give a group of classes for the Royal College of Art’s Critical Writing in Art & Design MA programme. Across four weeks a group of super-smart students help me explore some issues about the history of television and the current state of digital media, mostly as they relate to the visual arts. For the final class, course tutor David Crowley and I ask the students to contribute a short film or fragment of online media about the arts that they find distinctive or stimulating or especially engaging (or all three). Following are three pieces put forward today, plus a perennial favourite with Ice Cube.
A Brief History of John Baldessari
Tom Waits narrates this dazzling brief bio of the LA-based artist (pictured above in the film). Directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the makers of Catfish whowork collectively as Supermarché, this was produced for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s inaugural Art + Film gala. read more »
John Wyver writes: Earlier today I spoke on a panel at the Archives, Access and Research conference at BFI Southbank. Co-organised by the Centre for the History of Television Culture and Production at Royal Holloway, University of London, Learning on Screen and the BFI, this proved to be a valuable and ultimately positive day of discussions. Contributing to the first panel I wanted to offer a provocation about how limited is our access to the BBC archive – and that’s the text that follows. I recognise that there have been important advances in recent years and the current state of play is perhaps not as bleak as I paint it here. So in a follow-up post I’ll outline some of those welcome changes.
I want you for a moment to imagine a library filled with the books of four nations. Published over the last seventy years, and paid for by a hypothecated tax on the people, these books contain much of the political and cultural and social life of those nations. They record fleeting appearances by hundreds of thousands of those who lived and who still live in those nations. They feature humans of every age, of every class, of every sexual orientation, of every religion and of every ethic background. Animals too, they feature lots of animals. read more »
On Monday Alice Saville wrote an article for Exeunt about streaming and filming theatre. ‘Why theatre needs to love film, not fear it’ is intended as a provocation, so perhaps unsurprisingly I found interesting and irritating in about equal measure. Similarly predictable is my wish to respond, which is what this post is intended to do. Let me start with this from near the end of the article:
Theatre’s relationship with filmed media has historically been defined by fear.
Which, with respect, is nonsense. There is an incredibly rich tradition, both in Britain and elsewhere, and across more than a century, of theatre, film, television and digital media collaborating and collectively exploring and enhancing performance, and together extending its audiences and engaging them in new ways.
The partnerships go right back to Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s King John (1899, illustrated above), which appears to have been shot to bring audiences to the eminent actor’s forthcoming stage production. This is really a topic for another piece, but I am certain that the more we know about the intimately intertwined histories of stage and screen then the richer is our understanding of the possibilities and potential now. That said, let’s consider the finer grain of Alice Saville’s argument. read more »
On Sunday afternoon Beware of Pity, an adaptation of a Stefan Zweig novel created by Complicite and Schaubühne Berlin, was live-streamed from the stage of London’s Barbican. The much-praised show sold out its theatre performances but along with around 1400 others looking in on the YouTube page, I happily watched the feed on my laptop at home. I was delighted to do so, although the experience felt somewhat reduced, at least when compared with viewing a full-blown, fully resourced live broadcast of a theatre show in a cinema.
As this perhaps suggests, I want to offer some comparative points about the Beware of Pity stream and the live broadcasts that I produce for the RSC and that NT Live similarly takes out into the world. I am going to be critical about aspects of yesterday’s stream, although I hope in a supportive way. I’m cautious about doing this, not least because I recognise the budget disparities between the approaches, but also because I don’t want simply to appear to be justifying my practice and that of the RSC. And pleasingly you can make up your own mind, since the stream recording remains online until Sunday 26 February. read more »