Truth and Lies

Today I want to share some thoughts about a new play in London that has been making headlines among the chattering TP3_Fotorclasses in the metropolis. Adler and Gibb is currently playing at The Royal Court Theatre. Written and directed by Tim Crouch, who is renowned for experimenting with and rejecting traditional theatrical conventions, it has created much debate, about both it’s form and meaning. As I have said before, I tend not to write here about specific plays in production, as there seems little value when most people who read Theatre Room are on the other side of the world.  However, Adler and Gibb has attracted so much attention I thought it merited some discussion. The first article I read about the show, Is this the real life? Is it just fantasy? by Holly Williams for The Independent is a good place to start to get a flavour of the piece. I followed this with an article by Crouch himself for The Guardian, The theatre of reality and avoiding the stage’s kiss of deathwhich begins with:

The old showbiz dictum of never working with children or animals is not because they’re uncontrollable. It’s because they’re too real. Not realistic, but real. And when you’re an actor giving your realistic all, there’s nothing more undermining than performing it next to something real. The set collapsing is real. Your fellow actor forgetting lines is real. I would suggest that full nudity tips the scale of real. Actual sex is right over there, as is actual violence. Even a kiss. In a production of King Lear I did for young audiences, when Edmund kissed Goneril the play momentarily came to a halt because the audience could only see the real.

And ends by noting:

In my play there are children as children and there are children as animals. There is an animal as an animal. There are objects pretending to be other objects, light pretending to be other light, a set pretending to be another set, an actor pretending to be another actor. And a kiss. A real kiss.

It was this argument that caught my attention.  Many times in my theatre journey I too have experienced the ‘real’ that Couch is talking about, which disconnects you from the ‘reality’ of the drama and connects you directly to the real world. I am convinced it is this that has shaped how I make theatre myself, trying to avoid the ‘theatrical reality’.  Crouch also notes that

There’s a danger when, as artists, we attempt to annex the real and put it in our work, thinking that by doing so, the experience we’ll give our audience will be more authentic, more honest, more deeply felt or perceived


In an interview given to Aesthetica, Crouch also says:

It is theatre’s loss not to think more rigorously about form. Visual art has moved beyond all recognition in the last 100 years. Theatre is still mired in notions of realism. There’s a great quote from the American scenic designer Robert Edmond Jones: “Realism is something we practice when we aren’t feeling very well. When we don’t feel up to making the extra effort.” The form of realism is about an attempt to capture reality – and it is this acquisitive aspect of realism that I am interested in exploring.

Not surprisingly, the critics have tended to fall into two camps – love and loath – with regard to Adler and Gibb. Matt Trueman, in his review, writes that

Crouch is, at some level, offering us an ode to theatre: it is dual status as fiction and reality, its honesty with semiology. At its baldest, art just gives us objects. Film, merely fiction. Theatre, the sweet spot in the middle, can hold both at once.

adler-and-gbb-playtextIn her blog, playwright Hannah Silva has written twice about the play, in attempt to answer questions she was left with – both in terms of form and message. Over all she says it is entertaining, strange, provocative, and a masterclass in theatre. She also shares a photo of a page in the programme/playbill (right) which indicates what will happen in the interval and that in itself gives you some idea of the unusual nature of the play. Below is a conversation with Crouch and one of his co-directors, Karl James, in which they talk about various aspects of the play. What has become clear to me as I have been trying to piece together a remote understanding of the play and why it has provoked the reaction that it clearly has, is that Adler and Gibb is one of those plays that keeps the watcher thinking and talking about it long after the viewing is over – a quick Google trawl through most reviews, both professional and personal, will attest to that.


Another writer and theatre-maker, Dan Hutton, writes:

What’s extraordinary here is the way in which Crouch allows the language and emotions of ‘truthful’ representation to take hold even as the play as a whole questions those things. You feel emotion even as you know you shouldn’t, and see truth even though you know it’s fiction. By drawing attention to all these things, however, Crouch demonstrates how the difference between all these things teeters on a knife-edge, with only the framework and context pushing it one way or the other.

Theatre is only a step away from film. Truth is only a step away from fiction. Art is only a step away from reality.

Clearly the bigger questions are about form, One reviewer for PostScript Journal spoke about the fact that the constant reminders of ‘real’ reality meant  that he simply didn’t connect to the characters (although though it did make him think). On the other hand, Beccy Smith in her review for Total Theatre wrote:

Yet, as Brecht discovered, story’s seductive power has the ability to draw us in despite theatrical attempts to confound it. For all the clear and pleasing formal frames of the closing scenes (through cameras, screens, acting theories and film production), what lingers are the emotional realities portrayed.

And I suppose there you have it – or perhaps you don’t!

The Faces Of A Master

Bianlian_FotorIn my school we are in the process of writing a new curriculum for our younger students and one of my roles has been to gather together materials for an online course to compliment and enrich the taught classroom practice. This week I have been working on a Mask unit and it suddenly struck me that there was one particular practice involving mask that would be perfect for that course and one that I have not explored here on Theatre Room. 

Biàn Liǎn (变脸) or Face Changing has a long and traditional history in China, first appearing in Sichuan Opera during the Quing Dynasty, almost 300 years ago. Opera in China, it needs to be understood, takes many forms, depending on where it originated. Here in Hong Kong we have Cantonese Opera, as I have written about many times before. However, Sichuan Opera is a little different to most traditional forms. It tends to be more ‘play-like’ and less constrained, with more entertaining elements to enliven the performance. These included sword fighting, fire eating, beard-changing and Biàn Liǎn. Now if you live outside China it is unlikely that you will have ever seen Biàn Liǎn. It is a closely guarded art form and taught only be a few old masters, although it is seen more often today in other Asian countries. Before I go any further, have a look at this:


It isn’t surprising that information about Biàn Liǎn in english is quite limited, but you can get a decent understanding its history and how it works here and here.

MTMyNTgyODAxODQzMjVfMQThere a number of rumours surrounding Biàn Liǎn which I quite like. Firstly that the secret of Bian Lian leaked out during a 1986 visit of a Sichuan Opera troupe to Japan. Indeed, the Japanese are big fans of the face changer (and see the video below). Secondly, that Biàn Liǎn is one of the traditional arts protected by Chinese secrecy laws although officials of the Ministry of Culture of in China have stated that this is not true. Thirdly, Hong Kong Canto pop star Andy Lau offered to pay Bian Lian master Peng Denghuai 3,000,000 yuan (which is about US$360,000) to learn the techniques. Although Lau did learn the from Peng, both deny any money changed hands. If it did, Lau wasted his cash as he seems not yet to have mastered the art. All three of these rumours are touched upon in a South China Morning Post article from 2010, which you can download here The Secret Art. The SCMP also have a video interview with another Biàn Liǎn master, Wai Shui-kan which is worth a watch:

One more video, from NTDTV is another interesting source:


Although I have not had the pleasure of seeing a full Sichuan Opera, I did see a Biàn Liǎn performance in Nanjing a couple of years ago and it was breath-taking. A captivating, magical theatrical feast.

Setting Free

Valley_326First post of the day is an article published on Friday in The Financial Times.  Sarah Hemming interviews Peter Brook, now 89 and still going strong, about his latest work The Valley of Astonishmentwhich deals with the condition synaesthesia. It’s alway struck me that a theatrical exploration of the experience of a sufferer had potential and the great man himself has delivered the goods. As always he is working with an international cast, including American theatrical legend Kathryn Hunter (a big favourite amongst my colleagues) and avant-garde Japanese percussionist and long-time Brook collaborator Toshi Tsuchitori.

761fcdbc-cede-4460-9c5e-146e8022df94Interview: veteran theatre director Peter Brook

The once-maverick theatre director, now 89, still divides opinion. He talks about his latest creation and his desire to ‘savour life more fully’

Peter Brook picks up a tumbler of freshly squeezed orange juice from the table in front of him and revolves it in his hand. “I look at the glass of orange juice,” he says. “I listen very, very attentively . . . no sound emerges.”

Well, of course not, you might think. But while for most of us colours, sounds and sensations remain obstinately separate, for others the lines between them are porous. The great pioneering theatre director and I are discussing synaesthesia, the extraordinary neurological condition where the senses overlap: a sound, for example, might evoke a colour or taste. We agree that if you don’t have the condition, it is very hard to imagine. Which is precisely why Brook has made a theatre piece about it.

The Valley of Astonishment (which opens at London’s Young Vic next week) draws on the experiences of synaesthesia and attempts to communicate them using first-person testimony and stagecraft. Lighting, for instance, paints the stage in rapidly shifting colours to convey what one man hears when he listens to music. “We’re using the theatre to give life to a research that otherwise has no form or body,” Brook explains.


Not easy. But then all his life Brook has had an appetite for difficult theatrical terrain. Now 89, frail, but still cordial and spry in a black leather jacket and brightly coloured shirt, he meets me in an opulent Paris hotel. The place is full of handsomely furnished spaces but he chooses, characteristically, a quiet corridor where no one else is likely to settle.

Brook has always gone his own way. He blazed a trail through British theatre in the 1960s and 70s, experimenting with form and revolutionising theatre practice with his minimalist staging of Midsummer Night’s Dream (1970). His distillation of theatre to its basics in his 1968 book The Empty Space remains a guiding principle for many contemporary theatre makers. Its simple opening image of a person in an empty space has been the foundation of all Brook’s work in recent decades.

But he still felt constrained by the British theatre conventions of the time. In 1970 he left to travel the world, exploring theatre practices, and has never lived in Britain since. Settling in Paris, he created the International Centre for Theatre Research. He spent months, even years, developing pieces.

His eclectic methods and sage-like aura have produced intense reverence in some quarters and scepticism in others. They have also resulted in some outstanding pieces, one highlight being The Mahabharata (1985), an unforgettable nine-hour staging of the great Indian epic that sent fire licking across the sand and arrows raining over the stage to summon elemental battles. Typically, he responded to its success by changing tack and journeying inwards.


“When The Mahabharata was over, I was swamped with invitations,” he says. “To do Beowulf, to do the Icelandic myths, to do the German myths – all that. Because I was now the Specialist on Old Myth,” he chuckles.

“I said, ‘But I’m not in the myth business.’ People always do that: if I’ve done a play by Chekhov somebody says, ‘Ah your next Chekhov . . .’ And I say, ‘But I’m not doing another Chekhov. This is something for now.’

“So my question to myself and my close collaborators was: what could be a similar research into what human life is about, but from a different perspective and from present-day conditions? . . . We started this research into what the brain is.”

The Valley of Astonishment is the third in a sequence of plays about the mind, initially inspired by the work of neurologist Oliver Sacks. The first was 1993’s The Man Who . . ., based on Sacks’ book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. The new show is also typical of Brook’s recent work in being spare, delicate and distilled.

Before our meeting, I watch the show in Les Bouffes du Nord, the beautiful, dilapidated theatre behind Paris’s Gare du Nord that the director made his home for more than 30 years. The piece is simple in structure, delivered (in English) by three actors and two musicians on a near-empty stage. It’s humane, intensely focused, but also surprisingly light, playing little games with the audience.

A packed crowd listens intently and several linger in the bar afterwards to discuss the show with the cast. Brook says this is common: the piece has touched a nerve with many. One woman recalled that her mother had always had a different coloured toothbrush for each day of the week – a routine that suddenly made sense.


“The people with this condition actually receive moments of their life more richly than we do,” Brook observes. “It’s a reminder to us all that whatever our experience at any moment, there is, in Shakespeare’s terms, ‘a world elsewhere’.”

He talks about one man who lost his proprioception – the inner sense of body position that enables us to co-ordinate movement – and yet learned, painstakingly, to control his limbs again by using his eyes.

“He came to see us when we were doing The Man Who . . . To everyone’s amazement, the door of the theatre opened and he strode in, sat down and crossed his legs. We thought someone would have to carry him in from the taxi. But he says he cannot for one second let go of this acute attentiveness with the eyes. Even today. If, for a moment, the lights go out, he has learnt how to let himself lean backwards against a wall because otherwise he would fall on the floor.

“And the thing that is so moving is that for him the great joy of Christmas day is that he is alone in his house and he sits on his chair and just lets himself go.” Brook demonstrates, letting himself go limp. “Because every moment for him is a marathon. Every moment.”

Brook stops, clearly moved. And this surely is the nub of the show: it is not designed to make audiences gawp at case histories, but to alert them to the out-of-the-ordinary capabilities of the mind. The piece encourages us to empathise with the characters but also to think about the perceptive tools we use to understand theatre. It’s about awareness in several senses: about what it means to be human.

There’s a click of heels on marble and we are joined by Marie-Hélène Estienne, Brook’s long-time French collaborator: a brisk though not unfriendly woman. She’s come to discuss her part in the play but also to keep Brook to his timetable (he is not a man for a short answer).

The two engage in a lively debate about the meaning of the word “compassion”. “I think you have to kill your judgment,” says Estienne. “Open yourself. When we worked on the play, the first thing that struck us was: ‘Who am I?’ Really.”


That undimmed curiosity about what makes us tick seems to be what keeps Brook making theatre after 70 years in the business. The simplicity of his style, once revolutionary, is less surprising now – some have found recent works repetitive or underpowered – but the urge to comprehend remains fresh. His latest bookThe Quality of Mercy, a collection of essays about Shakespeare, finishes by examining Prospero’s final speech from The Tempest, with its plea to be forgiven and “set free”. Tolerance, clemency, mindfulness – late in life these qualities preoccupy Brook.

“What we need more and more is to savour more fully any moment of life,” he says. “And I think the theatre can do this. My only aim in the theatre is that people, after the experience of one or two hours together, in some way leave more confident with life than when they came in.”

An update. A week or so after I wrote this post, this interview was released by Theatre Voice in which Judi Herman talks to Kathryn Hunter and Marcello Magni about Brook and their work on Valley of Astonishment

Because there is not a set the audience have to contribute with their imagination, construct the landscape, and in that sense Peter is almost declaring from the first moment that we are telling a story inside another story inside another story, and I think for him theatre is telling stories.


Kings and Their Fools

A bit of a post script today to last week’s A Shakespearian Smorgasbord. The National have posted a video this week that was made to accompany the cinema broadcast of Sam Mendes’ King Lear – short but really informative.


In the video Simon Russell Beale mentions having to shave off his hair in preparation for the role and he spoke about this in an interview in The Telegraph with Jasper Rees, which makes for a good read.

Why I shaved my head for Lear

When a classical actor plays Hamlet, a clock starts counting down to his Lear. There should, however, be a decent hiatus. Among those who have bagged both of Shakespeare’s twin peaks, there was a 36-year wait for Ian McKellen, 32 for Jonathan Pryce and 31 for Derek Jacobi.

For Simon Russell Beale, the gap between his “O what a rogue and peasant slave” and his “O reason not the need” amounts to a slender 14 years. And if director Sam Mendes had had his way, the interim would have been even smaller.

“Sam came to see Galileo,” says Beale. “We went and had a beer afterwards. Galileo ends with Galileo being quite old and Sam said, ‘I think we should do Lear before it’s too late.’ I said, ‘What the f— are you talking about? I’m 45!’ ”

Mendes persisted and the play was vaguely scheduled at the National Theatre, but the director’s commitment to Skyfall and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has allowed Beale to edge up to 52.

This will be Beale’s seventh Shakespearean role with Mendes in a collaboration that began with Thersites in the RSC’s Troilus and Cressida in 1990. We meet in the National Theatre’s interview room, where the actor looks across at a picture of himself as Hamlet in 2000. Nowadays, with a full white beard and cropped silver hair, he looks comfortably grizzled enough to be handing over his kingdom to his progeny.

The crop was Mendes’s request. “The two nasty characters I’ve done with Sam – Richard III and Iago – for both of them I shaved my head. The first thing he said to me as Lear was, ‘Can you shave your head because it makes you feel more of a brute?’”


You can see why. After Cambridge Beale wavered between acting and singing. As he would have been a tenor, it seems pertinent to ask whether Shakespeare’s canon supplies roles which, if written for a singer, would be considered more of a stretch. After all, English theatre’s most recent Lear, whom I interviewed as he took on the role at Chichester, is the tall booming übermensch Frank Langella.

“Is there a Fach? I love that word. A Faaaaccchhh.” He stretches the vowel and dwells on the percussive consonant of the German word referring to a classical singer’s performing range. “Um, I don’t know. Of course my really weak suit is Frank Langella’s strongest, isn’t it? That sense of power in the first scene is quite difficult to find for me and that’s the bass baritone. But the last beats of the play, that’s tenor, isn’t it? I dunno. It’s a negotiation between a part and an actor. You have to play to your strengths or you slightly adapt them.”

Even Beale’s polite army of obsessive fans may not know that he first played Lear as a 17-year-old schoolboy at Clifton College. “I remember the smell because we had proper greasepaint and spirit gum. I can’t really remember anything about the performance beyond the fact that it was very exciting. And then when I picked it up to learn it for this, when I read the very first speech – ‘Mean time we shall express our darker purpose’ – it was all still there somewhere in the back of my brain. Whereas if you’d asked me to quote any of Timon, it’s gone.” (Timon in 2012 was his most recent Shakespearean role.)


As Beale returns to the role, it feels like the fulfilment of a prophecy embedded in the epithet “the greatest classical actor of his generation” which has followed him around for a couple of decades.

“It’s happening less now, though.” He unleashes a huge cannonade of laughter. “Obviously my ego is massaged when people say it. It’s flattering but embarrassing. And if you believed it, then you’d be in trouble. And I don’t. I seriously don’t. I think actually I’m a bit second-rate a lot of the time, and that’s not coy.”

He mentions actors of the same age for whom he thinks the tag is at least as apt – Mark Rylance, Stephen Dillane, Roger Allam. But none has privileged the stage over the screen with anything like the same devotion.

Does he ever wish he’d had a parallel life in Hollywood like other great titans of British theatre? “You’re talking about Sir Ian and Sir Michael and people like that. And yeah of course I’d love a career like that. Love it.” What’s to stop him taking some meetings in Los Angeles? “I suppose I could. I’ve got an American manager.”

You sense that it’ll never happen. Beale may have a vast army of nieces and nephews – he took all eight of them, aged 22 to two, Christmas shopping along the King’s Road the day before we meet, but his other family is here in this building to whose well-being, it is no exaggeration to say, he is as integral as any actor since Olivier. A tally of around 1,600 performances suggests as much. When the National was looking for a new artistic director, the chairman asked him to name his two preferred candidates (Nicholas Hytner’s nominated successor Rufus Norris was one of them). This, in short, is his home.

“I don’t think anything has ever made me as happy as working on a Shakespeare play in a rehearsal room here. It’s to do with a type of intellectual excitement. I’m sure you do get it in film and television, but it’s something absolutely viscerally pleasurable about coming here.”

So how does he feel about leaving the rehearsal room and doing it in what Katie Mitchell refers to as “the other room”? Would he be happy just rehearsing for its own sake? “No, of course not. You’re responsible for telling a story. It’s a bit like being a monk, praying for the world – sometimes you get into a state where you’re thinking that what I’m doing is valuable even if nobody else sees it. Which is, of course, bollocks.”

Perhaps there is no such thing with the capacious leading roles in Shakespeare, but once he does leave the rehearsal room does he feel he has ever strayed close to giving a definitive interpretation? “The simple answer is no,” he says. “But there were moments where you think, I can’t do it any better than that. Just sometimes it goes like a Rolls-Royce and then most of the time it doesn’t quite.”

He came closest to Bardic nirvana, he reckons, in Much Ado, delivering Benedick’s speech about falling in love with Beatrice from an ornamental pond in which he had plunged to hide during the gulling scene. “I always used to joke that the best performances are done in the bath and there I was literally floating in this warm water and talking to audience.”

That memory may be relegated in the coming months as he performs what rehearsals have reinforced for him is “quite simply the greatest play ever written”. Aside from researching dementia with the help of his mainly medical family, Beale has done his usual rummaging in the First Folio and Quarto and alighted on Lear’s obsession with tears.


“When he comes on wearing his flowers in his hair and mad, his first line is ‘They cannot touch me for coining, I am the king himself.’ Which is a moderately interesting line if you’re interested in the Mint. But the other option is ‘They cannot touch me for crying… The next line is ‘Nature is above art in that respect,’ which seems to be about instinct being more powerful than contrivance. It doesn’t seem to apply to coining at all, but it does apply to crying. So I decided to do that version.” He is eager to make a documentary about Shakespeare textual scholarship. Well if anyone can…

The downside of doing Lear at 52 is that there aren’t many peaks beyond. He was once given a lift to Stratford by John Wood, who was playing Lear and Prospero in the same season. “I remember him saying, ‘I really don’t know where to go now.’ It’s weird but you do feel it’s the end of the road.”

He doesn’t feel “a particular lust to do Prospero”. How about Antony? “Oh nooo, he’s a foot taller. I’d like to do Falstaff on stage. [Beale played the fat knight in the BBC’s Hollow Crown season]. “And Jacques, yes. Actually I’d love to do Angelo. Shylock I’m wary of because I don’t know what I think of the play.”

How about running the show? “I think not any more. There was a time ten years ago that I wanted to be an artistic director but not now that I’ve seen it at close hand.”

There is one other role which remains on his to-do list, having by his own admission got it wrong the first time round. Where Hamlet’s fleet-footed intelligence was a bullseye for Beale, Macbeth was thought by many critics to be a stretch when he played the role for the same director, John Caird, at the Almeida.

“I think the critics were right. That was a lesson about not imposing something from outside. I had a very clear idea of what I wanted to do and it was a result of an essay I did at university. The play seemed to be about a suspension of time which meant that it was very static. And that’s very anti-theatrical. This sounds craven but it’s true: years after the event, most of the horrible things that were said were probably accurate. But I’m determined that Macbeth is in my Fach.”

Beale also talks in the video about research he did into something called Lewy Body dementia in order to create a convincing Lear and he goes into more detail about that in another article for The Telegraph, this time by Hannah Furness, which you can read here.

kinglear20jan2014nine_FotorDespite my dichotomous relationship with Shakespeare, King Lear is one of my favourites. One of the many things I find interesting is the fact The Fool disappears half way through the play without any explanation.  This is often seen as a flaw in the writing, and both directors and actors have to deal with this whenever the play is staged.  In Mendes’ version The Fool is bludgeoned to death in a bathtub by a deranged Lear. Academics have spent much time discussing this sudden departure but the explanation I like best is very prosaic. The Fool and Cordelia never appear on the stage together and it has been surmised that in its original production the roles were double cast, with the same actor playing both parts – so Shakespeare simply begin expedient, then. A question of economics rather that poor narrative construction.

In Mendes’ production The Fool is played by Adrian Scarborough and you can watch him discussing the role here or listen here:


The role of the fool, jester or clown is a familiar figure in most cultures, reaching back many centuries. In its The Why Factor strand, BBC World Service broadcast a fascinating pUntitled_Fotorrogramme this week, by Mike Williams, about the history of the fool (the podcast is embedded below). In China they had a whole range of jesters, one with the fabulous name of Moving Bucket In India, perhaps their most famous jester is Birbal from the 15th Century. Even today the clown is a familiar figure in Bollywood movies, one of the best known films being Mere Namm Joker about a clown called Raju, starring Raj Kapoor.


There is a nice, condensed history of the clown, written by Jonathan Baker on the website Silent Clown.

A Shakespearian Smorgasbord

Today’s post is a bit of a pick and mix of all things Shakespeare that have come my way recently. Firstly, a very recent interview with Sam Mendes, acclaimed director of both stage and screen.  His latest theatrical outing was directing Simon Russell Beale as King Lear at the National Theatre in London. Here he is in conversation with Mark Leipacher about that very production.


Along with Mendes, there are a series of video and audio recordings from the National that talk with the actors about their approach to creating all the major roles in Lear. You can listen to Talking Lear here or watch them here.  Another from the same series, which is really interesting, is a discussion hosted by theatre critic Michael Billington between psychoanalyst, Mike Brearley, and academic, Laurie Maguire, where they discuss Shakespeare’s understanding of the complexities of the human mind and how these would appear to be evident in King Lear.


Finally in connection with King Lear Simon Russell Beale wrote a piece for The Telegraph in April, Whys Shakespeare always says something newin which talks at length about playing the Bard, the dangers of editing the text and why he considers that Shakespeare still has something to say today.


Another production that has been making headlines beyond its rave reviews is Titus Andronicus currently at The Globe Theatre, London. Titus is renowned for its violence – 14 deaths, a brutal rape and scenes of mutilation and cannibalism. Inevitably, stage blood is often used by the litre in productions of the play, and occasionally to great and gruesome effect.  This particular production has clearly pushed the boundaries, being described as full of violence and sick humour in Hannah Furness’ article for The Telegraph, Globe audience faints at ‘grotesquely violent’ Titus Andronicus. The fainting count at the time the article went to press was growing rapidly. If rumours are to be believed, the largest number to faint so far in one performance is 43.


It is clear from the publicity photographs why the squeamish are not faring well at The Globe. Indeed those who faint have been dubbed ‘droppers’ by fellow theatre goers and Globe staff. Furness writes:

One theatre-goer, who watched the show’s opening night, said there had been “quite a few droppers” in the audience, who fainted upon seeing so much blood. Another reported he had “almost puked” by the interval, while a third warned: “You will definitely need a strong stomach”. Others praised the “Brilliantly staged and flawlessly acted” production, but warned of “blood and violence galore”

What is amazing that amongst all the gore, the director, Lucy Bailey has also been highly praised for bringing out the darkly comic elements of Titus and making sense of what is often seen as faltering marriage of knock-about humour and extreme suffering on Shakespeare’s part.


I16iht-lon16-superJumbo_Fotorn her article for The Guardian, There’s method in theatre’s blood and goreMarina Warner talks about violence on stage through history, why tragedies such as Titus bring us face to face with intense violence and how they also carry a vital contemporary message. A great read.

There is some really good related reading on The Globe’s website. One is a great piece wittily entitled Food for Thought by Cedric Watts about the cannibal or anthropophagous banquet scene in the play.  Another is The Sound of Cracking Bone by Robert Shore which looks at the rehabilitation of Titus as a play of substance and how staging it in a theatre resembling its original setting allows it to breath again. It also reminded me of my favourite of Shakespeare’s stage directions, which comes from Titus, 

Enter a messenger with two heads and a hand

The maxim, there’s no such thing as bad publicity seems to have held true for The Globe and they have quietly taken advantage of the ‘droppers’ to garner extra publicity for the show. No one has actually said how much stage blood they are getting through, but it didn’t stop one intrepid journalist heading off to find where it was all made. There will be blood! written by Nick Clark for The Independent visits the suppliers of the fake blood for Titus who make up to 450 litres of the stuff every week and have doubled their production in the last year, largely due to bloody productions of Shakespeare’s plays.

Finally for today, a shout out for The Internet Archive which has recently posted the Orson Welles Shakespeare Collection, a selection of Shakespeare’s plays adapted for the radio by him in the 1930s and which were groundbreaking at the time. Welles is perhaps best known for the movie Citizen Kane, as well as one of the most famous broadcasts in the history of radio, his adaptation War of the Worlds which caused widespread panic when American listeners thought it was real and that an invasion by extraterrestrial beings was taking place

Orson Welles as Brutus in However, he was also a celebrated Shakespearian actor and during the late 1930s, Welles was the toast of Broadway, thanks to a string of audacious revivals of the Shakespeare’s work. The most famous of these was his 1937 adaptation of Julius Caesar. Welles costumed the piece in modern dress with soldiers wearing what looked like Nazi black shirts. The show was lit in such a way as to recall a Nuremberg rally. Obviously this was playing at a time when Hitler’s power was growing, and the production is said to have jolted American audiences and made Welles famous, with Time Magazine even putting him on its cover.

The recordings made available by The Internet Archive are obviously dated and sound quality is not always great, but they have a surprising intensity about them. You can access them here and I have embedded Julius Caesar to give a flavour of what the rest are like.