‘Tell us what hath chanced today’

30th March 2012

Monday morning, five days ago. Just after ten o’clock on the top floor of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s south London rehearsal rooms the cast and creatives of Julius Caesar meet for the first time. Our chairs are set in a circle that just about squeezes into the space. Director Gregory Doran, the newly announced Artistic Director-designate of the RSC, introduces first the post’s incumbent, Michael Boyd. Michael expresses his pleasure that Greg (as he’ll be from now on in these blogs) is taking over from him. He talks also about the excitement and ambition of the World Shakespeare Festival, of which Julius Caesar is a central component. The stage version opens in Stratford-upon-Avon at the end of May, but when Greg introduces me, I remind him and everyone that exactly four weeks from now we will have turned over on principal photography for the film version. Four weeks. That’s, er, just twenty-eight days. read more »

The week’s links 25-31/3

25th March 2012

I enjoyed across last week adding links to the previous post, and I’m going to repeat the experiment this week. But I am going to do away with the headings and include the new links at the top of the post each day, so that if you return you do not have to search to find the new stuff. Included here as I find them are things that interest me in the areas that are of concern to Illuminations: film and media, the development of television, contemporary performance and theatre history, visual arts and culture in general. [Latest updating: Friday at 23.30.]

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The week’s links 18-24/3

18th March 2012

I have been thinking about how to create a new form of my links page that is useful but also sustainable (in the sense that it doesn’t take too much time to post). Here is the first outing for a variation in which I intend to build up an extensive list of links, divided into categories, across the coming week. By Saturday there ought to be a lengthy list of recommendations that reflects some of my reading and interests across these seven days – and that I hope you’ll find interesting. If it seems to work, then I’ll start a new one next Sunday. Across the jump you will find links under the following headings: Film, Television, Performance, Visual art, Digital media and what I choose to call Waifs and strays (the most recent update was at 20.30 on Thursday). read more »

Where there’s a Will

8th March 2012

Simon Callow’s one-person show Being Shakespeare today makes a triumphant return to London’s Trafalgar Studios. The production plays until 31 March before transferring to New York (for tickets, go here) but today is also the release date for our DVD of the production (click here to buy a copy). Retailing at £14.99, the DVD features the full 90-minute theatre show, and also has an exclusive interview with Simon Callow and performances by him of three of his favourite Shakespeare sonnets. With a host of extracts from the plays – some familiar, many not (and no ‘To be or not to be’) – Being Shakespeare is an exceptionally good introduction of the life and work of the world’s greatest writer, but it is also sufficiently smart to offer much to those steeped in the plays and, such as we know it, the biography. read more »

Close, but no cigar

7th March 2012

I blogged a fortnight back about how Points, our proposal for Arts Council England/BBC initiative The Space, lost out in the final funding round. Today I had a kind of post-rejection counselling session with a solicitous man from Arts Council England. In a scheduled phone call he explained how and why Points had come close – but not close enough. There’s a little more on that below, but I also want to sow the seed of a modest proposal. Which is that we make this blog a focus for discussion and critique of The Space across the summer months. (For background, see Mark Brown’s ‘Watch this space’ for the Guardian.) It is such an important attempt to find new media forms for the arts that it deserves concentrated critical attention during the six months from 1 May. So that’s what I intend to give it and its many projects – and I would love your help, whether in the form of discussion comments or in the contribution of more substantial reviews. I’ll return to that idea here in the coming weeks, and I hope we can together make the Illuminations blog a go-to place for thinking and talking about The Space. read more »

Lord St John, our saviour

6th March 2012

The late Lord St John of Fawsley, whose death was announced yesterday, is not perhaps the first person who you might expect to find celebrated here. As Norman St-John Stevas, he was a Tory minister for the arts and an early confidante of Margaret Thatcher. His politics were hardly ours, nor his religion – he was a prominent Roman Catholic. As for his personality, Edward Pearce, in his obituary for the Guardian, captures this well: ‘Mannered, self-applauding, with an aura of camp and given to tiffs and squabbles, he had outstanding intellectual gifts, vitiated, despite an underlay of real scholarship, by eternal public performance.’ Yet for several years he played an important part in my life, and in the development of Illuminations. Indeed, there is a very real sense in which LSJ, as we came affectionately to refer to him in private, was the company’s saviour. read more »

‘Shakespeare’s Africa play’

29th February 2012

The first day of the location shoot for our film version of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new Julius Caesar is now just over seven weeks away. We have found our location and we are putting together our crew. BBC Four’s funding is in place and everything is moving forward in very exciting ways. The RSC have just released further details of the stage production, which is set (as is the film, of course) in modern-day Africa. The RSC’s release includes a great statement from our director Gregory Doran about his sense of the play. I have included that below, along with the full cast list. read more »

BBC: ‘bastion of mediocrity’

27th February 2012

I have been reading the late Tony Richardson‘s memoir Long Distance Runner. (I know I promised a Julius Caesar update, but that waits on a RSC press release – tomorrow, I hope.) It is not clear whether Richardson’s book, which was published posthumously by Faber and Faber in 1993, was intended for publication, for his daughter Natasha discovered it hidden away in a cupboard on the day he died. It was probably written around 1985, perhaps – as Natasha Richardson suggests in the Foreword – at the time that he was first diagnosed as HIV positive. It is a compelling, seemingly honest, sometimes angry, often very funny book about theatre and about cinema. What it is not – although this is what I hoped it might be – is a book about television, even though Richardson made a number of distinctive dramas for the BBC in the mid-1950s. It is typical of his attitude towards the small screen that the best he can say about his television output is that ‘this work was better than doing nothing [but] I was dreaming of other things.’ read more »

A Dickens of a day

26th February 2012

We cried, we cheered and we clapped (a bit), and then we cried some more. At 11.30 in the morning we set out with Nicholas, Kate and friends, plus a few enemies, on the wonderful journey that was (and, in one way, still is) the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. At my side (in the next seat but one) was co-director Sir Trevor Nunn, and he was still there nearly twelve hours and one panel discussion later. NFT3 at BFI Southbank is perhaps slightly less comfortable than I think the Aldwych Theatre was more than thirty one years ago, but did I care? June 1980 was when, on another magical Saturday, I first entered the world that Sir Trevor, co-director John Caird, adapter David Edgar and of course Charles Dickens had conjured up for me (and around a thousand others). That day was one of the great theatre experiences of my life, which I re-lived when Channel 4 showed its screen translation in late 1982 – and which I was engrossed by and felt angry with and thrilled and laughed and wept at once again yesterday. read more »

Nickleby & co

25th February 2012

To BFI Southbank later for all eight hours of the Channel 4/Primetime version of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby. I’ve said before that the stage production, seen over a Saturday in the Aldwych Theatre in the late summer of 1980, remains one of the defining theatrical experiences of my life. And the television adaptation that followed two years later, after the theatre show had enjoyed an extraordinary success, is also pretty good. But it’s a long time since I watched the whole thing, which is what I’m to do today – in addition to chairing a panel with co-directors Trevor Nunn and John Caird, writer David Edgar and David Threlfall, who was such a moving Smike. As the show was coming together, The South Bank Show secured good access to the rehearsals – and much (although frustratingly not all) of Andrew Snell’s documentary is on YouTube, in what appears to be an off-air recording. For this post I have gathered up the four sections and written a few notes on each. read more »