The Greatest Hamlet of Our Time

(c) Kate Beaton, who is my favourite comics artist ever
(c) Kate Beaton http://www.harkavagrant.com

I love Hark, a vagrant more than is seemly for someone who won’t read graphic novels and ‘doesn’t like comics’. Every one’s a winner, but this… this is a fucking comic about nineteenth Shakespeare performance history, guys! It’s my DPhil in a line drawing!* I love it.  I include it because it reminds me of working for the RSC. Although David Tennant’s fans (self included) were usually a lot better behaved (apart from the guy who chased him backstage during one interval, or the people who hid behind his car. Or the two Chinese girls who sat outside the stage door, all day, every day, for a week).

The cartoon hysteria’s not unmerited. Edwin Booth was pretty awesome. As well as introducing a sorely needed note of introspection to mid-Victorian Shakespearian acting, he saved Abraham Lincoln’s son from going under a train, perfected the Charles Kean Crawl (the traditional moment in a Victorian Hamlet when Our Hero writhes about on his stomach, at his uncle-father and aunt-mother’s feet…. okay, so, less introspective) added some rug-rumpling, and was the brother of the guy who SHOT ABRAHAM LINCOLN (see start of paragraph). It makes me want this book. Even by the Macready-fancying, death-fetishising, Shaw-obsessing, gender-bending standards of my usual Victorian theatre favourites, Booth’s exciting.

I think he’s also the earliest nineteenth-century actor whose voice is still available to us in recorded form. More famous is Ellen Terry reciting Portia’s “The quality of mercy is not strained […]”, dating from 1912, and which I first heard at the British Library, during marginally related research into Wilde. But Booth’s 1890 recording of Othello Act I, Scene 3 is 22 years older (and 9 years older than the first silent Shakespeare film, Beerbohm Tree’s 1899 King John). You can download here (the embedded file begins “Most potent, grave and reverend signiors”), or listen to a slightly cleaner extract at YouTube (clip 1 begins “My story being done”). I love hearing nineteenth-century actors at work, although as yet it doesn’t affect my critical methodology. I wonder if it will. It makes me think about the possible impact of audio and film recordings on the “archaeological” approach to performance stories: I’ve never yet read a performance studies work on nineteenth or even early twentieth-century drama that seriously considered audio recordings as a source. Perhaps that’s because, as far as I can tell, these records seem to exist outside theatrical performance (I seem to remember reading that Ellen Terry’s recording was part of a lecture – although those, of course, married academic and theatrical experience for her listeners, and are key to my doctoral research), or perhaps there simply isn’t enough material. It’s still worth investigating. Note to self, then.

*I wish this comic were my DPhil.‡

‡Be careful what you wish for.

Living In The Future

…but awesome (thank you, XKCD). I may slightly mistrust Skype (or rather, keep forgetting it exists) but otherwise I welcome our Web 3.0 overlords. Mostly. This post was brought you by the discovery that my friend Emily (erstwhile cast member, poet, noted beauty & author of American Amazon) has an underwater mp3 player. PROBABLY THESE ARE WELL-KNOWN TO YOU. Probably I am being like Adam Lambsbreath in Cold Comfort Farm when Flora offers to upgrade him to a little mop with which to wash the dishes (he’s previously used a stick. Go with me). But I had never heard of underwater mp3 players, and should they turn out to be made by Apple, I’m going to have to invoke the Mad TV iPhone sketch.

And who would you listen to? The choice would have to be made carefully. Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On might suit masochists in unheated pools. Nothing too grim, though, or you might decide to stay down there. I’d also have to rule out Jeff Buckley, for obvious reasons. Perhaps you’re better off with Disney? What about Yellow Submarine? I thought my top choice would be Pure Shores, but I was 13 the last time I heard it, and it’s, well, a lot more shit than I remember (or perhaps it’s just the scary Blair Witch video. Actually, if you have a spare five years and a fist with which to muffle your hoots, just YouTube the All Saints back catalogue. The video for Never Ever is one of the funniest ever made. That bulldog’s the child of a broken home!).

I don’t want to visit the Moon or wear a silver jumpsuit (or, indeed, live through a parabolic plane arc for weightlessness), but now part of me really does want to swim underwater while listening to Bach. Or  audiobooks. Though, should a read version exist, Chuck Palahniuk’s Guts should definitely stay off shuffle…. [for god’s sake, don’t google if squeamish. Mum, I cannot overstate how much this means you. Nightmares. Worse than Criminal Minds, I promise.]

Anyway. What would you listen to, while swimming (Em, if you read this, what do you listen to)?

Also, if you could have any gadget, which would it be?