Tag Archives: STRATFORD-UPON-AVON

WRITING ABOUT WOMEN IN SHAKESPEARIAN PERFORMANCE: 11-12 SEPT 2010

Hosted by The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, in partnership with the University of Warwick and Nottingham Trent University

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, registered charity no. 209302WRITING ABOUT WOMEN IN SHAKESPEARIAN PERFORMANCE: The Shakespeare Centre, Stratford, 11-12 Sept 2010.

Join a gathering of writers, Shakespeare scholars, theatre critics, actors and fellow enthusiasts as we explore this fascinating theme. Confirmed speakers include Penny Downie (RSC Associate Artist), Professor Laurie Maguire, John Peter, Professor Carol Rutter and Anne Ogbomo. This two-day conference also includes a performance of 1623 Theatre Company‘s production on Ellen Terry, and a drinks reception. 

This conference will also be available online as ‘webinar’: log on and experience our event virtually, wherever you are in the world. 

We ask: 

  • How do we write about women in Shakespearian roles, past and present?
  • What is the impact of the female presence on the Shakespearian stage?
  • Why are there so few women reviewers?
  • What is the place of single-sex companies in a culture which outlaws sex discrimination?
  • Do men and women see the same show differently and what difference does this make to an audience’s response?
  • What is today’s experience for female actors on the Shakespearian stage?

Registration: £65 (£60 concessions); £57 for Friends of the Trust; £50 students. Please note: ‘webinar’ attendance costs 25% off your appropriate registration fee. 

For more information, or to book, email education1 [at] shakespeare [dot] org [dot] uk. Join the conversation now at Blogging Shakespeare, and follow @ShakespeareBT for the latest updates. 

Going out on a limb here: this is the most exciting conference in the world. I’m delighted to be working with Paul Edmondson to promote the conference, which has to be absolutely the best place IN THE WORLD to be on September 11 & 12. The conference (to quote my friend C, ‘BEST LINE UP EVER’) will tie in with SBT’s exhibition on artefacts relating to Women & Shakespeare, which runs from 3 July. 

Modernism and High Theory did their very best to destroy the relationship between the actress and the academy – L. C. Knights’s first named target in How Many Children Had Lady Macbeth? was Ellen Terry, for daring to lecture on Shakespeare to (as I discovered) “packed houses of women”. Scholarship and stage histories have (largely) privileged tragedy over comedy and male over female, which is why conferences like this are so important, and so exciting. And, er, why I’m writing my DPhil. 

I’m especially interested in the women of the Late Plays, but my favourite Shakespearean heroine will always be Kate, from The Taming of the Shrew. I’m hoping the conference includes lots of discussion of the comedies – the best parts in them, like the romances are female. Would you rather play Rosalind or Orlando? Orlando gets to wrestle, but nobody remembers As You Like It for the wrestling. Innogen or Posthumus? Viola or Orsino? Helena’s much too good for Bertram in All’s Well That Ends Well, and although Leontes is one of Shakespeare’s most fascinating characters, Paulina and Hermione can act him off the stage in Act V. 

Miranda rarely outshines Prospero, and it’s hard to choose between Beatrice and Benedick, but even in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the best-beloved ‘festival comedy’ of British theatre, Helena and Hermia shriek, scratch and claw their way through Act 3 – Lysander and Demetrius, too often, are left behind. 

You can expect to hear a lot more from me between now and September, sharing preparations for the Conference, and the Trust’s experiments with new media. I sometimes wish I could Tweet from the Birthplace, while guiding – we get the most amazing (and often hilarious) comments from visitors. I’m slowly expanding my French/Italian/Japanese/Armenian (no really) vocabularies by working with group bookings and their interpreters. I think I’d look pretty good wielding a Tudor Blackberry. My favourite languages to date are Indonesian and Armenian, neither of which sound ANYTHING like you’ve EVER heard before (unless you’re Indonesian or Armenian, obviously). I’m always pushing people to sign the guest book – they date back to 1812, and 20 to 30 nationalities sign every day. 

The Trust will soon release another, even greater piece of news. It’s huge. My scruples (read: direct orders) prevent me saying more, but it’s stunning, exhilirating, don’t-talk-to-the-press-about-this stuff. Shakespeare geeks and Stratfordians (no overlap there, then), get ready. I just hope the press release arrives soon, so I can gloat…

BNP contest Stratford-on-Avon seat in General Election

According to local media reports, the BNP will contest Stratford-upon-Avon’s seat on 6th May. The candidate is Stratford-born George Jones, now living in Kenilworth. Anti-fascist blog Norfolk Unity has the following scary detail on Jones, from when he unsuccessfully contested the Lawford & New Bilton local election in 2006:

George has a long history in extreme right wing politics. In the late-1970’s he was a member of the British Movement, then run by “Mad Milkman” Michael McLoughlin, but somehow became associated with former members of the National Party splinter group in Coventry and Warwick – notably with Michael Cole, the National Party’s hyperactive (and not entirely trusted) Warwick organiser, and also with Robert Relf, the Leamington “race rebel” imprisoned for displaying a sign declaring his house for sale to “English people only”.

Relf had long been associated with the British Movement and Colin Jordan (who lived in nearby Coventry), while Cole, who – like Relf – made no secret of his Nazi views, eventually found his way to Denmark to help in the running of a now forgotten Nazi organisation.

Jones, Cole and Relf were also close associates of the hardline elements within Coventry National Front, who followed John Tyndall into the BNP’s New National Front predecessor.

Like most of the racists in the Coventry/Warwick area, keen rambler George had an abiding interest in all things Nazi. We feel pretty sure that if George’s interest in such dubious matters is on-going then he may well have neglected to mention as much to the electors of Long Lawford and New Bilton – as he may well have neglected to mention the contents of a letter published by the Leamington Courier all those years ago, still existing as yellowed archival hard-copy, wherein George suggested that the release into the air on a favourable wind of a few grammes of a certain noxious substance would solve the problem of Third World overcrowding at a stroke.

Ho hum.

A man like this cannot represent Stratford. Home to the world’s greatest theatre company, and birthplace of a man whose plays – whose writings on humanity – transcend gender, race and time, we’re not a town for racists and fascists. By its nature, its economy and its history, this town survives by welcoming international visitors & international residents. I’m so embarrassed that the BNP think they stand a chance here, but after the racist responses to Nadim Zahawi, I’m not surprised.

The BNP website has no definite news on Jones’s campaign, as yet (and to be honest, I’m not ecstatic about checking back too often).  This blog (from May 2006) seems to contain an example of George Jones’s 2006 campaign literature. I’ve reproduced it below: if accurate, then Stratford’s non-fascist, non-racist, non-lunatic residents perhaps have little to worry about…

Whose idea was the picture? It makes him look like an effeminate Dr Crippen.

Obviously, much has changed since 2008. The BNP has learned to use Blogspot, for one thing, and – apparently – developed a spectacular sense of irony. West Midlands BNP Press Officer James Whittall said the BNP was “certainly not targeting ethnic minorities”, in a press release equalled only by papal claims of being “not even a bit Catholic” and the Bear Council of Great Britain’s assertion that members “no longer shit in the woods”. I have a nasty feeling this might be BNP ‘rising star’ James Whittall, celebrated by various far-right Midlands blogs (to which I’m unwilling to link). Doubtless we shall hear more from him in due course.

Rob Johnston: have you seen this man?

I’d  like the chance to vote Labour, but  was beginning to doubt the Labour Party even had a PPC for Stratford. It seems they do: Rob Johnston. A man who doesn’t have a personal website, a significant online/news presence, or any obvious policies.

What he’s got is a Facebook group. And that’s all.

Perhaps I should be grateful. Apart from attending one save-the-fire-stations rally, Johnston’s total lack of visibility may help swing the small Labour vote towards the Lib Dems. In combination with the fact the Stratford Tory vote will now be split between two (or potentially three) candidates, this might be enough to help the Lib Dems outrank a weakened, disparate Tory party.

One point in Johnston’s favour: he does appear to be UNISON Area Organiser for Birmingham (not sure how he does that, from Derbyshire, or how it sits with the comrades that his FB photo shows him sitting next to Mandy). And he’s probably a perfectly nice bloke. But there’s still no way he can do significant damage to either of the other parties if he doesn’t make himself known in South Warwickshire.

Graduate unemployed during recession shock!

Friends, I am unemployed. But not, please God, unemployable. This week has brought not one but TWO (count ’em) job rejections, to add to the small but perfectly-formed pile of guarantees that I spend my whole life on JSA, at least until David Cameron gets in and harnesses me to some sort of moat-draining, cash-burning chain gang. It is almost as if two (count ’em) Oxford degrees do not magically guarantee one a life of affluent joy.

I am not dismayed (this is a lie). I have until 1ST JULY to find paid work. This is sort of a lie too, actually. Gather round. My lease, in a total departure from undergraduate Oxford leases, which force you out every holiday, runs from now until September 10. This is standard for one-year-Masters leases, because most Masters degrees have dissertation deadlines in September; mine, however, is due in mid-June. You have to give one month’s notice to break your lease. When I leave Oxford, I will return to the West Midlands, official home of the worst unemployment figures in the country. Now, I bow to noone in my love for the West Midlands, or indeed the Midlands in general. Only today, I engaged a Regents fresher in conversation because in her dulcet tones I detected the LAND OF MY MOTHERS, i.e. Netherton and/or Dudley (home of the amazing castle/zoo combo of Soviet-like depression). My great passion for Stratford-on-Avon is also well-documented. It contains my wonderful parents. My charming cat. The best theatre company on the planet. Any number of beloved schoolfriends are there, being gainfully unemployed at their parents’ expense.

However, there’s one bus an hour and everything closes. If I go home and don’t get a job offer/Distinction/DPhil funding/Lotto win, I will be there forever and I can’t even fall back on the safe Shottery standby of marrying a KES boy and getting a flat north of the river. I can’t do it.

The current plan is that, should I still be jobless and hapless by 1 July, I will give notice on my lease, and go home on 1 August. I am of course returning to the bosom of parents and rent-free living, which of course twists me into the twisty knots of middle class guilt, because it really does take a very special snowflake to worry about dole-penury when she’s got the promise of a warm bed, a stocked fridge and any number of paperbacks set in Cornwall about A Family And What Happens To Them (mother’s preferred reading. I do have sneaking fondness for same). Then again, I do have a friend who shops at Toast then complains she has no money (CHLOE) without spotting any kind of connection, so.

I intend to document my struggle. It will be stirring. It will be inspiring. It will doubtless become very obvious where I’m going wrong. Please tell me when it does. Tomorrow is for an eight-week TEFL contract, based in Oxford. I am hopeful, not to say desperate, and if I tell you all my hope is founded on the fact that the administrator was once an ASM in my biggest Oxford show, you’ll realise just what sort of situation this is. I have also just applied for a tutoring job in – of all places – California.

We shall see.

In the meantime, job tips! Websites! Inspiring stories of how you were once unwaged hopelessness, but are now smug and wealthy! If only in the noble coinage of job satisfaction etc etc etc. Also, please give me a job. I am good at all sorts of things. And I have only once had a job which paid double figures per hour.

In other news: The Costcutter across the road has stopped selling Haribo, and started selling ‘Last Will & Testament’ kits. I don’t want to believe that the two are related.

Stratford in bloom.

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The newly-reopened Bancroft, looking towards the bridge and the boathouse.

Back in Stratford. Effects of the recession: we are getting a Lidl, parking has gone up (70 pence for half an hour), and everyone who graduated without a law-conversion-training-contract is on Job Seekers’ Allowance. Unemployed at the start of last summer, I passed the time filling in my little dole book & trying not to weep over the kind public sector workers who told me that, what with my double first in English Literature, I should keep from setting my sights too high, and aim for retail. Having been turned down by Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and (you-bastards-the-money-I-have-spent-in-you) Waterstones, I got the best job of my life at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the issue of crippling penury was solved. Now, however, loud sing cuckoo, and I am even a little bit sunburnt – spring is here, so summer soon will be, which means a) I am going to have to Leave Oxford, and b) I really, really need to find a job.

Rad Cam & old Bodleian, seen from Exeter Fellows' Garden

Rad Cam & old Bodleian, seen from Exeter Fellows' Garden

Worse, this time I am actually leaving Oxford – whereas last year, there was the word-made-flesh possibility of a First and my Masters (mercifully realised), this time I have not applied for DPhil and so definitely shan’t be returning. I never intended to apply this time round, but it turned out that not even my best friend believed I would stick to it,  and instead assumed my reiterations of ‘but darling, I shan’t be here next year’ were just another form of mental torture. Considering our past relations, etc.

At the moment, I have three job applications current, three possibilities for work experience (one incomplete, one under consideration & one offered but logistically difficult!), one begging letter sent off and another to write. I have a chapter of my thesis due in next Friday, but did manage to spend today partly on the river. Stratford is beautiful – the air is much cleaner than Oxford, as I keep remarking – and since blogging, email & facebook keep me in touch with my Oxford friends, it’s possible to have the best of both worlds.

Stratford – despite the profusion of unemployed twentysomethings largely indistinguishable from holidaymakers, the unabating frothy fury of the local press, and the Tories – really is blooming. We even have a new community radio, with whom I hope to do some work over the next year (quick plug: presenter Debi Ghose, Friday mornings > anything on Radio 1). If I am going to be in Stratford for a while, I want to find out all the cool stuff that’s going on – there must be stuff I missed when I was at school. As far as religious feeling goes, I am apt to be indiscriminate in attaching it to churches, theatres, and libraries; Oxford in summer does look a lot like Heaven, and lamp-lit twilight in Radcliffe Square can be as sacred as anything in the college chapels. The morning after Barack Obama’s election, the Cowley Road Methodist Church (just down from where I live – I was there last Sunday!) changed the Scripture on its noticeboard to the first line of Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims His handiwork”. It was perfect, perfect; perfect for a perfect day and a fact, a single proof of human goodness in appetite and action, that still makes me happy, five months on. The new RST building is taking shape, and the actors performing in the Courtyard now are those who’ll take the stage on the new theatre’s opening night. When I was home at Christmas and in February, the site was still a mess; now, the scaffolding’s shaping a building and not a building site. There must, surely, be new jobs and renewed tourism when the site is finished, for some people, at least. It was great to be back with my friends, on an accommodating river, in a suitably battered boat. And to me, the emerging theatre looked like a symbol of hope.

The RST, seen from the river.

The RST, seen from the river.

P.S. Happy Easter, to those who are celebrating!

I am like the flower of tamarisk that must remain inviolable.

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (which also seems to employ most of the RSC’s FOH team!) has announced a Shakespeare Hall of Fame for the Birthday celebrations in April. Twelve names are in, with the thirteenth to be chosen from the poll here. Current inductees are (in chronological order): Ben Jonson, David Garrick, Charles Dickens, Ellen Terry, Laurence Olivier, Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh, Patrick Stewart, Akira Kurosawa, Sam Wanamaker and Paul Robeson. The candidates for the thirteenth place (a competition which the Guardian poll suggests a certain DTennant will win) are: Peter Brook, John Gielgud, Boris Pasternak, Sarah Siddons, Peggy Ashcroft, George Bernard Shaw, Goethe, Sarah Bernhardt, Virginia Woolf and David Tennant himself.

Predictably, this has enraged me.

Firstly, I think it was bloody stupid putting Tennant on the list for thirteenth place, since he will obviously win – far better to have excluded him completely, or just given him a place among the original twelve. I don’t think it’s exactly justifiable when GIELGUD (let me say that again, GIELGUD) and Peggy Ashcroft (PEGGY ASHCROFT) didn’t make the cut, but if bloody Leonardo di Caprio is up there (for a bad performance in a bad film), presumably on grounds of bringing-new-audience-to-Shakespeare, then David Tennant (who, you know, is a much better actor and encouraged lots of people who’d only come to see HIM in Hamlet to book again, to read another play) should definitely be included. More importantly, if Patrick Stewart is in there, Harriet Walter should be too (this is perhaps a not entirely unexpected conclusion for me to draw. Harriet! Look at her beautiful face).

Secondly, my list would also only stick to theatre practitioners (there could be a separate list for writers & academics), partly because I am biased (Shakespeare wrote plays, not books) and partly because there are just too many good actors and directors. So out with Dickens (why is he even there?) and Woolf, and in with Brook, and either Ashcroft or Gielgud (and why Jonson? Why Jonson?). Given the location of the exhibition (Stratford-on-Avon), the Trust’s failure to include either Michael Boyd or Greg Doran seems, to me, a little misguided. The achievement of both is comparable to that of Wanamaker, arguably – but then, living in Stratford and not Southwark, I would say that. I don’t begrudge Wanamaker his place (unlike bloody di Caprio) but Boyd and Doran deserve as much recognition as he does.

I think it would almost have been better  just to put ‘the RSC’ as one of the items, or to make a separate RSC Hall of Fame (Jon Slinger, Alexandra Gilbreath, Anton Lesser, Juliet Stevenson, Alan Rickman, David Suchet, Chuk Iwuji, Clive Wood, Ian Richardson, Donald Sinden, Trevor Nunn – oh my goodness, Trevor Nunn‘s not on there, Fiona Shaw oh my goodness she’s not on there…). I voted for Ashcroft, although Shaw (even if Shaw had never written a line of drama, I’d break my own rules for his rehabilitation of lovely Helena, whom even Ellen Terry hated) or Brook would do.

On a far less infuriating note, have another Shakespeare link; hilarious version of the 25 facts meme that’s been going round Facebook et al: Five And Twenty Random Things Abovt Me. It sounds awful, it’s not. It’s the cure for what ails you, seriously. Also lovely – a post Jenny showed me summarising a medievalist’s reading on ‘how to write love letters in the fourteenth century: The Rules’ – I am like the flower of tamarisk that must remain inviolable. Yet again this afternoon I had a brief burst of why am I not studying Shakespeare more than I already am.

Have also added two blogs to the blogroll (Eat Your Sherbert and The Jenny Times). The former is (awesome, rational) feminism (Katy and I divided feminisms into four sorts on Saturday – radical, woolly, nice and useless) and music reviews, the second is (one of the four) best friend(s) a girl could possibly ask for. My love for her manages to transcend her beauty, intelligence & talent (which is pretty much a pattern with them), which in anybody else would sicken me.

The readiness is all.

Ed Bennett, former Laertes and new leading man

Ed Bennett, former Laertes and new leading man

It’s news like the fact that David Tennant has been invalided out of the London run of Hamlet with a bad back that makes me wish I was back at work. Or showering the hospital and/or Ed Bennett with flowers. I was so excited to see the first picture of him as Hamlet today, though. I didn’t see the understudy run of Hamlet back in Stratford, but am sure he’s as great as the media reception says. It’s an amazing opportunity (and couldn’t happen to a nicer person), but god, being told you’re filling for David Tennant in an audience which at any given moment is 40% screaming fangirls? You could really be forgiven for wanting to vomit out your own spleen.

Fortunately, so far the press coverage (and punter comment) seems to have been as gracious as both Tennant and Bennett deserve. I was braced for people to start demanding their money back, berating Tennant or making snide remarks about celebrities in stage shows (of the Martine McCutcheon/My Fair Lady variety). Nobody who has seen Tennant, much less worked in the same building (even briefly and lowly as I did) could doubt just how hard he works – he never stops working, thinking or running (and, of course, he was bloody good). The man bolts on and offstage. It’s exhausting, even when your only related responsibilities are to stop the audience chasing him backstage (which happened), stealing the props (which happened repeatedly) and thwarting the patrons who inexplicably decided that the time when he’s behind the stalls doing a full costume change (note: this doesn’t happen at the Novello, don’t even try) is when they need to start roaming the auditorium in search of a loo.

There’s been a little bit of the first sort of idiocy, though. Some people are idiots who don’t seem to grasp that going to see Hamlet is not like going to see, say, Take That: if the band aren’t there, you get a refund. You’re paying to SEE A PRODUCTION OF HAMLET. You’re seeing Hamlet. The RSC has a full understudy policy, and virtually everyone understudies something (hence the slightly ridiculous matinee where Jim Hooper had hurt his back and Oliver Ford-Davies played both Polonius and the Priest, thus burying the daughter who’d killed herself because he’d died. If you follow). I definitely did not want to see Hamlet in London before now; a prosc arch? Why? And, of course, I’m a Stratford girl who’s never quite got to grips with the idea of the RSC in London. Hamlet in Stratford was my holiday romance as much as a summer job. But now, I’m intrigued – I want to see this ‘moody teenager’ Hamlet, Tom Davey as Laertes, and Rob Curtis as Lucianus, and, most of all, Ricky Champ as Guildenstern. All the same, I’m sorry for all the people who were looking forward to seeing David Tennant – I’m sorriest of all, though, for him. I can’t imagine how he must feel, apart from, you know, disappointed, embarassed and in presumably quite dreadful pain.

(And why yes, this is my first post written on WordPress as opposed to imported from Blogspot. I’m excited. Don’t know how I’ll get all the widgets to work, but looking forward to finding out).