Shakespeare Solved™ versions of these plays solve the mysteries surrounding them by taking us back in time to see the plays as they were performed for the first time in history.


This blog explains these new versions, and explores the life and times of Shakespeare, in order to build support for my new film versions of the plays.


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Articles Written For:


The University of Oxford's Bodleian Library & The Royal Shakespeare Company


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1. Shakespeare's Shylock SOLVED 2. Shakespeare's Othello Finally Identified 3. Shakespeare In Love Sequel SOLVED 4. The Real Romeo and Juliet 5. Shakespeare's Schoolroom

Monday, October 20, 2014

Christopher Moore's Serpent of Venice Shakespeare Mash-Up

I just read a very funny book, which I recommend.

Christopher Moore's The Serpent of Venice is a very funny, bawdy, tongue-planted-firmly-and-permanently-in-cheek mash-up of Shakespeare's Othello, The Merchant of Venice and Edgar Allan Poe's The Cask of Amontillado.





I have often wondered how the boys of Monty Python would lampoon and have fun with Shakespeare. Well, I don't have to wonder anymore. Christopher Moore lives and breathes the madcap Pythonesque air, and just about every page is filled with laugh out loud jokes.

Where else can you find Othello, Desdemona, and Iago in the same story as Shylock, Portia, Bassanio and Antonio?

Don't ask me to explain the plot of the book, but trust me when I say that the (anti-)hero of the story is the unlikeliest character you can imagine, a mischievous, puckish, irreverant fool by the name of Pocket of Dog-Snogging.

What is very ironic is that while Mr. Moore is simply and effortlessly having a laugh with Shakespeare, he actually captures some of the humourous (especially the bawdy humour) spirit of Shakespeare better than most scholars and theatre companies.

For example, I love the fact that he correctly understands that when Shylock wants to cut a pound of Antonio's flesh, Shylock is thinking of a particular part of his anatomy -- found between Antonio's thighs.

He also, which comes a pleasant surprise, understands correctly that Portia is not fair and wise, but actually a brat, and based on her attitude towards the black Prince of Morocco, a racist. 

In my version of Merchant, I discovered that Portia is also a glutton, since her name is from the Latin "porcius" or "porcus" which means "pig."

I recommend this book, especially to anyone out there who likes a good joke. 

If you are easily offended, if salty language upsets you, and you loathe coarse politically incorrect  humor -- then you should definitely read it twice!

Cheers,


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Friday, October 17, 2014

Shakespeare's Globe Taming of the Shrew Review


I just saw Shakespeare's Globe Theatre's production of Taming of the Shrew On Screen.

It was brilliant!

It is one of the very best productions of any Shakespeare play I have ever seen, and you can not miss it.





There are still some dates for it in cinemas in the United States, so please hurry:


Unfortunately it is not being shown in Canada at the moment, nor in the UK, but there are other productions coming soon, like Macbeth, Tempest, and Midsummer:


I am not a professional theatre critic but I would like to share some of my thoughts about this spectacular production.

I have to confess that I am very fond of this play. It was my father's favorite play of Shakespeare's, primarily because of the highly politically incorrect and unconventional nature of the romance between Katherine and Petruchio. Also, it made him laugh and laugh.

Well, this production will have you out of your seat, and rolling on the floor laughing.

I can find no fault in the production. It was funny, and touching, and full of brilliant stage-craft.





Samantha Spiro is a force of nature. The energy she brings to the role is astonishing, and completely unique. Her Katherine is just inspired. But more importantly than playing Katherine as a shrew, she also easily finds how to portray a woman whom Petruchio would really fall in love with, fight with and fight for. 

The moment when she first meets him is incredible. The look on her face is priceless. I'm not spoiling the moment, I just want you to look really closely at her as she sees him -- and her shrewishness implodes, it short circuits.





And when Simon Paisley Day as Petruchio sees her for the first time, his defenses fall, and he exposes himself as perhaps a decent man, buried deep within a scheming opportunist.

I have always considered Petruchio almost impossible to perform right. An actress can get away with performing Katherine as a loud, brash witch, but to play Petruchio is a much harder task. Why put up with her? Why bother?

Well, because he is in love, and to perform the act of falling in love is just about impossible.

But Mr. Day does it. He shows the vulnerability underneath the exterior, and he does it almost effortlessly.

One of the wisest lessons my father ever shared with me is that in order to tame the Shrew, you must first love the Shrew.

Well, Mr. Day acts as if he is smitten with her, and would do anything to win her forever. And for her part, Ms. Spiro acts like a woman worth taming and loving.

The chemistry between Ms. Spiro and Mr. Day is priceless. They were truly born to perform this play together, and every moment is electric and funny.





As much as the story centers on Katherine and Petruchio, I find that when Shakespeare is done very well, there are no stars, every last character is important and given opportunities to shine.

So, as much as I enjoy and applaud Ms. Spiro and Mr. Day, the others in the cast were fantastic, and made the most of their roles.










In fact, without trying to outdo each other, each actor stole the show in turn. It was hilarious how one actor could completely own a moment, and then hand it over to another in order for them to own their moment too, and so on.

I applaud the director, Toby Frow, for this superb production.  Not only did he, in my humble opinion, find probably ever last bit of comedy in the text of the play, but he added to it, and these additional moments of humour are perfect, such as the gag with the bucket.

If you enjoy Shakespeare, you can not miss this production.

If you miss it in the cinemas, you can still buy it online at the Globe shop, here:


Or on Amazon, here:


Cheers, 




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Friday, October 10, 2014

Shakespeare's Globe Taming of the Shrew ON SCREEN


Shakespeare's Globe Theatre's production of Taming of the Shrew will be shown in cinemas from Tuesday 14 October in the USA and from Saturday 20 December in Canada.





Don't miss this chance to see this production, with Samantha Spiro as Katherine and Simon Paisley Day as Petruchio.

I've read so much about it, and it sounds very funny. I can't wait to see it myself.





Here is a link for more information and showtimes:



, it is no longer shown in UK cinemas, but there are still Macbeth, Tempest and Midsummer right now. Here's a link for those showtimes:



Cheers, 



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Monday, October 6, 2014

Shakespeare's Globe Henry V Review


I went to see Shakespeare's Globe Theatre's production of Henry V On Screen.

It's fantastic!

It's the best production of Henry V I have ever seen, and I doubt it can be surpassed.





It is being shown in cinemas in the United States and Canada, and there are some upcoming dates for Henry V -- so don't miss it!

Here is a link for more information and tickets:


I am not a professional theatre critic, but I would like to share some of my thoughts with you.

Simply put, you will probably never see as satisfying, as funny, as complete a production as this one.

I could be wrong, but it seemed like the production didn't cut anything from the original text -- and yet it still managed to run just under three hours.

By including much of what Shakespeare originally wrote and intended to be performed, the play as a whole comes to life like never before.

What is really missing most from other productions -- even great film versions like Laurence Olivier, Kenneth Branagh, and Tom Hiddleston -- are all the minor characters, and the little moments.

I have seen Henry V three times in film, and 4 times on stage, but this is the first production that allows us to see all the great moments with characters like Fluellen, Pistol, and the French courtiers.


Sam Cox and Brendan O'Hea


In fact, Brendan O'Hea as Fluellen and Sam Cox as Pistol are so funny and they steal so many scenes, that they just about steal the whole show.

There have so many funny moments, and gags that you almost forget that the play is about King Henry's war with France.

I have never particularly found the scene with Princess Katherine learning English words with her maid very funny. Until now. 

It's hilarious, and I really applaud Olivia Ross and Lisa Stevenson for bringing it to life.

Jamie Parker as Henry V is just superb. 


Jamie Parker


He makes a very convincing hero, strong in battle, wise in his handling of the traitors, Scroop, Grey and Cambridge. 

Perhaps my favorite moment is when he reads the record of the dead French and English soldiers. His amazement, his joy, and his sadness was very moving, and revealed an all too human dimension to Henry that most other actors miss.

His later scene with Katherine was the funniest I have ever seen. They found so many funny moments that other versions just never discovered. 


Olivia Ross as Katherine and Lisa Stevenson as Alice


The comedy in the play is just perfect. The director Dominic Dromgoole and the actors obviously have worked very hard to explore the language and the interplay between the characters to deliver such a funny and satisfying entertainment. The play has an enormous energy, and I didn't even notice as three hours flew by.

When I read the play some years ago, it was hard for me to understand the comedy in the play. So, watching this, I was overwhelmed and delighted with how very funny the play can be, and should be.

After all, without the comedy, the drama suffers. Every other version of the play I have seen emphasizes the drama, and cuts out most all of the humour, which is a terrible mistake.

Also, when I read the play, it was clear to me that Shakespeare was not writing a vehicle just for one actor. He was writing for an ensemble of the most talented actors of the time, and he gave them all very significant roles to play. 

In fact, it seems in the text that Henry himself is arguably the least important figure in the play. It is the commoners, like Mistress Quickly, Bardolph, Pistol who are the stars.


Lisa Stevenson as Mistress Quickly and Sam Cox as Pisol


This makes sense, since Shakespeare wrote the play at at time when English soldiers were marching off to war with Ireland. In a way, Shakespeare was trying to inspire his fellow countrymen, and prepare them for whatever wonderful victories they might enjoy, or tragic losses they might suffer.

So, while Shakespeare was trying to write a play to celebrate the history of Henry V, he always had the audience at the front of his mind.

Therefore the members of Shakespeare's audience must have looked a lot like the characters on stage like Nym and Bardolph and Mistress Quickly. He is holding up a mirror to this audience, so they can see themselves in the play, in the war, with a heroic King.

If there is anything wrong with this production, it is that they missed the opportunity to involve the audience more.

For example, there is a good moment when Henry V speaks "Unce more unto the breach, dear friends" to the audience, as if they are his fellow soldiers, his friends. It's a great electric moment, between the actors and the audience.





There needed to be more of those kinds of moments.

Perhaps the greatest missed opportunity for this kind of electric moment is in the French camp the night before the Battle of Agincourt, when the French Dauphin and Orleans, the Constable and others talk about the coming fight.

It is a short scene, and there is even another even shorter scene in the French camp not long after that one.

In this production, these two scenes are well acted. But they seem rather out of place, and a little boring.

But perhaps the reason Shakespeare wrote them was not so the audience could eavesdrop on the French. 

Shakespeare may have written these scenes so the audience could hiss and boo the French -- and perhaps even throw some food at them!

When Lord Rambures says that the Dauphin "longs to eat the English" and the Duke of Orleans says that "We shall each have a hundred Englishmen" the audience in Shakespeare's time would probably have cursed and yelled and nearly cause a riot to get on stage and beat up the actors playing these Frenchmen.

So, if there is one thing missing in this production, it was the opportunity for the French to insult the audience and the audience to insult the French -- which arguably would have been the most electric moment for Shakespeare's audience.

Do yourself a favor and don't miss this production. You can see it on cinema screens, and if you miss that, you can always order the DVD here: 


Cheers,


BUY NOW from Amazon




Monday, September 29, 2014

American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse


I had the pleasure of visiting Staunton, Virginia this past weekend, where I saw two excellent productions -- Christopher Marlowe's Edward II, and Shakespeare's Pericles -- at the American Shakespeare Center.

I would like to share with you some of my thoughts about my trip, and the shows I saw.


inside the Blackfriars Playhouse
photo by Lauren D. Rogers


It was my first visit to Staunton, and as soon as I arrived, I regretted not having visited sooner. It's a lovely town, with very friendly people and set in one of the most beautiful areas in the world -- the Shenandoah Valley.

Needless to say, I look forward to going back as soon as possible.

The American Shakespeare Center's Blackfriars Playhouse is arguably the world's only authentic recreation of Shakespeare's Blackfriars in London, which was in operation from 1608 to 1642.

The ASC was established in 1988, and the Blackfriars Playhouse was built in 2001. In that time they have performed every last Shakespeare play, and many other works, by Jonson, Marlowe, and others.

When you visit the ASC in Staunton, do yourself a favor and take the Playhouse Tour, so you can go backstage and learn about the history of Shakespeare in general, and the Playhouse in particular.

I took the tour. The guide, Molly, is terrific. Her knowledge and enthusiasm about Shakespeare, and her passion for the Playhouse was wonderful. 

There is so much to say about the Playhouse, but to me what was most remarkable is the fact that the theatre never "goes dark." There are 16 plays performed each year, 52 weeks a year!

Next week, for example, they are performing Macbeth on Wednesday, Macbeth in the afternoon and Pericles in the evening on Thursday, Macbeth on Friday, Edward II in the afternoon and Comedy of Errors in the evening on Saturday, and Cyrano de Bergerac on Sunday.

And, the entire cast is limited to 12 people! Incredible.

They might very well be the hardest working Shakespeare ensemble in the world.

I saw Edward II on Friday night, and I was delighted at seeing the Playhouse in person. The pictures I have seen online don't do it justice.

Also, the Playhouse's productions are performed in Original Practices. There are no house-lights that go dark during the performance. The stage is lighted as naturally as possible, even with some candles, and the actors can see the audience, and the audience can see each other.

There are even some "gallant seats" on stage, which gives the actors a chance to really interact with the audience, and it definitely makes the performances more fun and lively.

But in my opinion, perhaps the most original practice is serving beer and wine inside the Playhouse. In my humble opinion, Shakespeare's original audiences were rarely, if ever, sober.


Sarah Fallon, René Thornton, Jr. and Patrick Midgley
photo by Michael Bailey


The production of Edward II was excellent. It was fast-paced, exciting, funny, and engrossing.

René Thornton, Jr. was a remarkable King Edward. Playing Edward II was a personal dream come true for him, and he gave a tour-de-force performance. It was exciting to see such a talented actor perform something so personally meaningful, and I feel priveleged to have seen it.


René Thornton, Jr. as Edward II
photo by Michael Bailey


But he was not the only star of the production. The rest of the cast is superb. They have great chemistry with each other, and perform together seamlessly.

It's always hard to list all of the great moments and performances, but I do have to mention Patrick Midgley as Gaveston. He was excellent. He's funny and endearing, and yet despicable, too.

Sarah Fallon as Queen Isabella was great, too. Her turn from sympathetic to villainous was very entertaining.

I could go on, but suffice to say that the play is wonderfully directed, and if you have the opportunity to see this production of Edward II, you can not miss it.

The next day, after the Tour backstage, I saw Pericles.


Gregory Jon Phelps as Pericles
photo by Jay McClure


It was just wonderful. I can't say enough to praise this cast, as they did an amazing job of capturing the zany screwball spirit of the play.

I don't the audience ever stopped laughing the entire way through. 

I can't remember the last time I watched a Shakespeare play without thinking about it critically. I just enjoyed watching this show so much. 

Gregory Jon Phelps was a winning Pericles, both strong and vulnerable, a perfect leading man. It is such a demanding role, going from young and hopeful, to old and lost, and he carried the demands of the role with ease. When he reunites with his long lost daughter Marina, it was very moving. I don't think there was a dry eye in the house.


Sara Hymes as Thaisa
photo by Jay McClure


Sara Hymes is perfect as the ingenue Thaisa. Her journey from princess, to wife, to dead wife, and then back from the dead wife, was very entertaining. For me, it is the love she has for Pericles, and his love for her, that binds the play together. Hers is arguably the hardest part in the play, and Ms. Hymes makes it seem effortless.

One of my favorite moments is when her father Simonides permits her to marry Pericles. It is such a funny moment, and Jonathan Holtzman (as Simonides) just nailed it. The whole audience erupted in applause -- twice!

Of course, the pirates are always entertaining, but the real scene stealers were Allison Glenzer as Bawd and James Keegan as Bolt. These two priceless actors were born to play these roles. They were hilarious and it was a lot of fun to watch them act so silly on stage.


Allison Glenzer as Bawd and James Keegan as Bolt, in rehearsal
photo by Jay McClure


The rest of the cast was perfect, and they all played their parts with a humourous abandon that is too lacking in most Shakespeare productions I have seen.

The director of both plays, Jim Warren (who also co-founded the ASC) deserves a great deal of credit. Not only has he brought together a superb cast, and gets great work out of them, he also seems to understand how entertaining Shakespeare's plays can be, and gets the most out of them.

In conclusion, I strongly urge you to visit Staunton, and when you do, you should plan to see as many plays as you can. 

It is only about 2 hours from Washington, D.C. 

I promise that it is well worth the trip. You won't be sorry.

Cheers,



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Friday, September 26, 2014

Shakespeare's Globe Henry V On Screen


Shakespeare's Globe production of Henry V will be playing in US theatres next week, beginning 30 September.





This is the first time that this production will be shown in the United States, as part of the Shakespeare's Globe On Screen series.





Here is a link for more information and to find theatres near you:






Directed by Dominic Dromgoole, this production stars Jamie Parker (best known for History Boys) as King Henry V, who earlier played Prince Hal at the Globe in Henry IV, parts 1 & 2.

Please check back for my review next week.

Cheers,




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Monday, September 15, 2014

Shakespeare's Venus & Adonis by Isango Ensemble


I went to see the Isango Ensemble's production of Venus & Adonis at the Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington D.C..





It's a fascinating and fun show. And it only has a few more performances left, ending on 20 September.

Here is a link for more information and tickets:


Isango Ensemble is based in Cape Town, and the word "Isango" means "gateway" or "port" in the isiXhosa language.





This production inaugurated the Globe-to-Globe Festival at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London in 2012 -- which included 37 theatres from around the world perform on that hallowed London stage.

The Ensemble sings Shakespeare's original verses interspersed with dialogue and singing in different native languages -- Zulu, isiXhosa, Sotho, Setswana and Afrikaans.





It brings the language of Shakespeare alive and makes it resonate is very interesting, funny, and very engaging.

The dancing, the music, the acting, the costumes, the set design are all quite unique and added a depth to the story of Venus's seduction of Adonis. I also felt like the it brought the story out of the Western world, to make it more international, and even more timeless and universal.





If you are anywhere near Washington, D.C. you should really go see it!

Cheers,



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