Props, Plays, Masters, Makers

Ask not for whom the bell tolls

I’m in the final push to complete my forthcoming monograph, Shakespeare’s Props: Memory and Cognition, out with Routledge in 2019. While writing this book, I’ve enjoyed talking to actors, propmakers, and prop masters about the props that have shaped their  careers. Some of this has been facilitated through Twitter – I’ve tended not to talk much about it here, although those of you who’ve heard me talk about the book will know I’ve had particular luck discussing prop babies with guest actors on the BBC’s Call The Midwife, or exploring severed heads, body parts and babies at the National Theatre workshop.

Even though the project’s (gulp) nearly over, I’m always looking for new contacts and interviews, and thought it might make sense to consolidate the Calls-For-Propmakers here, with the kinds of things in which I’ve asked people throughout the book, and which I still want to hear/think about now. Thus:

  • Have you made, sourced, or worked with a prop baby, either in theatre, television, or film? Would you be willing to talk about it?
  • Have you made, sourced, or performed with a prop that had to be broken onstage in the course of a live theatre performance? What was that like?
  • Are you a propmaker or do you run/work for a theatre or company with its own prop shop? Would you be willing to answer some questions about that, and/or send me an image of your workspace or storage system (or can I come and visit)?
  • Do you collect theatre, film, or television props, whether historical or contemporary? May I please ask you some questions about your collection?
  • Are you a performer who’s worked with props that have meant a lot to you? Actors – which props have you kept (bought/borrowed/forgotten to return…) over the course of your career? Total anonymity guaranteed!
  • Are you a theatregoer particularly wowed/disturbed/impressed by an example of prop use in theatre or on screen? Seen a great play with a baby or something that got broken onstage? Please get in touch!

All discussions can be anonymous or fully credited, as you wish. I’m very happy to provide credentials. Please get in touch below, or email me at sophievduncan [at] gmail [dot] com. Thank you!



Advent 21: Pitchmas and the Candle

we-wish-you-a-merry-pitchmas-and-a-happy-new-yearThis evening we went to see Pitch Perfect 3, the final installment of the college-a capella (“aca-stravaganza”) trilogy/franchise with which my wife is so obsessed that at one point I started having dreams about its star Anna Kendrick. This film is magnificent. The writers have freed themselves from the tyranny of plot, and someone has attacked post-production so savagely that 80% of the promotional trailer isn’t actually in the final film. There is a musical number approximately twice a minute, and it’s glorious. The key elements of close harmony,  choreography, syncopated hysteria, and strongly-implied lesbianism survive from the first two films, plus this time Rebel Wilson has learned how to act. I laughed aloud at so many lines, not normally but in my trademark Cinema Laugh, where I emit an involuntary whoop and then laugh again at the same line, from memory, five to eight seconds later. The Sun tells us that Pitch Perfect 3 is a “bad, bad film”, so I expect you to buy tickets forthwith. This film isn’t for The Sun. It’s for people who really like a capella and neurosis. Happy Pitchmas.

That aside, one actress who didn’t make it into the Pitch Perfect franchise is Emma Stone, key member of my ongoing list of “size zero Hollywood heroines who turn are revealed as having been incredibly under-used by absolutely slaying on Saturday Night Live” (the top two spots go to Gwyneth Paltrow and Lindsay Lohan). Tomorrow is the penultimate shopping day before Christmas, a.k.a. Panic Friday, and here is Emma Stone with Kate McKinnon with some essential advice on how to deal with last-minute Christmas shopping and That Person Who Just Gave You An Unexpected Present.


[REVIEW] Dunkirk (2017), Christopher Nolan

Dunkirk is 106 minutes long and consists of approx. 103 minutes of drowning, in such profusion and at so many camera angles that it makes Titanic look like Lawrence of Arabia. Mark Rylance and Kenneth Branagh, as head civilian and military heroes respectively, leave some impressive pauses, through which Spitfires could be and indeed are flown. Branagh’s general is Henry V in middle age, eyes set to Agincourt, unsubtlety unenhanced by Nolan’s Churchill-by-numbers script. At one point it looks like a plane might land on Branagh’s head, but it doesn’t. I might have felt more charitable if I hadn’t just seen his trailer for Poirot.

Harry Styles is on the left. Or on the right. Or in the middle.

As Brown-Haired Boy Soldier No. 3, Harry Styles is far more competent than I’d been led to expect: truly, he is the Lillie Langtry of our time. The further cast includes one black soldier, shoved to the front of a single crowd scene as in the brochures of a left-wing private school, before disappearing forever (as in the brochures of same). A nurse has one or two lines about making the men a cup of tea before she gets blown up, which is historically accurate but also typical Christopher Nolan. I caught about 15% of the Spitfire pilots’ dialogue, but thanks to the Enigma-thumping score, I wept copiously at every appropriate moment. What with that and the UEFA Women’s Cup, my jingoistic shallows are more visible than ever.

The film’s dedication, given at the end since the beginning is mainly exposition that sets up the telescopic time-plot – is to all those whose lives were ‘impacted’ by events at Dunkirk. I suspect that some of the generation who remember Dunkirk would be horrified by the verb, not least the Oxford tutor who once censured me for using ‘prioritise’ with the comment ‘You are not writing for the Guardian’. And of course nor is Nolan, not yet.

A friend of mine was cast in Dunkirk, but they cut his scene, so by rights I should pan the thing entirely. However, he’s still in the credits (at which I gladly whooped and applauded), and the cinematography is stunning, so if I went in for stars, Dunkirk would probably get three out of five. However, I should note that since I am in re. David Suchet what Jane Austen was to English history (i.e. partial, prejudiced, and absurd), Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot is already scheduled for minus ten.