Sunday, July 31, 2011

Aye, there's the Rub

I do confess to being a nerd. I am a nerd of the near highest order. When it comes to nerdliness, I'm up there with Sheldon from the Big Bang and some fo the characters in Dilbert.

Okay, I'm not into Star Trek, though I do a good line in Buffy (which I watch for the Spike character - like phwoar!). At a push, I can decipher Unix and the odd bit of machine code. I'm great with sort of fixing electrical things - mind you over the last few years I've had a lot of engineers around who I've been able to bat my eyelashes at and say things like, "Oh, you're so clever, I could never fix/do/sort that. How great are you! Here have a biscuit/ meal / beer," and things magically get done. I swear I could have put the blind up myself - whether it would have stayed up is another matter. I really can open my own beer bottles and jam jars, but why should I when there are engineers around to fix things. Having engineers around is like having a group of semi-competent teenage boys around - just with a few less hormones and gormlessness. Engineers are also like old pussycats. They often bring you things whether you want them or not ("Gee thanks, I always wanted a dead rodent placed at my feet...")

But back to being a nerd. I know I'm a nerd. I know how to define an Oxford comma. I growl at people for using split infinitives and misplaced apostrophes. I am a true word nerd - and I'm fine with that. But my outer nerd goes further.

I can still recite the first twenty elements of the periodic table, do the odd bit of triganometry, I know Pi to around six decimal places and the difference between astrophysics and quantum physics.

But all this pales into insignificance when my true nerdliest offering comes to the fore.

I am a Shakespeare Boffin.

Gasp, horror, shakes of incredulity.

Life would be incomplete without Shakespeare.

Of his 33 plays I've either seen on stage, on screen, taught, tutored or read 25 of the plays.

I saw Kenneth Branagh's "Henry V" eight times at the cinema.

And Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo + Juliet" and Ian McKellen's "Richard III" three times a piece.

When I was in England, I tried to get to a Shakespeare a month - which you could fairly easily - though in all my time in England, I never made it to the Globe Theatre or Stratford -Upon-Avon - must put that on the bucket list.

In Melbourne, I have a choice of the Bell Theatre Company who have been a bit hit-or-miss of late or the Melbourne Theatre Company - who do a Shakespeare a year - and for the last two years they have been of a world class calibre - mainly due to the presence of one Ewan Leslie - but I will get to him soon.

I reckon I've seen Hamlet twenty times over in the twenty years. There's was Mel Gibson's Hamlet in the early 90s, which wasn't too bad - it made Shakespeare accessible to a wide audience - never a bad thing. There's Branagh's marvellous four hour affair, which doesn't cut the play at all - I love it - it's incredible to see the whole thing done from end to end - and Branagh is a legend. I also love how they gave English actor, Ken Dodd the part of Yorrick - then gave the skull his remarkable teeth.

On the stage, one of the better Hamlets I've seen was Stephen Dinnane's utterly barking gloomy Dane which was on down Shaftesbury Avenue about fifteen years ago. Brendan Cowell did and adequate job a few years ago. This one, on Friday night, was very, very good - overly cut for my tastes and Ewan Leslie carried the show - though the cast was great and the set amazing.

Of the best Shakespeares I've seen, the RSC's Midsummer Night's Dream in a bit umbrella was wonderful back in the mid-nineties. There was another production of the same play done in six inches of water on the stage - and Puck was played by a French contortionist - baffling and brilliant all at once. Ian McKellen as Lear last year was fantastic - though I'm still scarred from seeing him wander around the stage in the buff. His movie of Richard III is superlative as well. Iain Glen as Henry V was great at the Barbican - especially after some really unfortunate prop malfunctions had him ad libbing Act V Scene I to hillarious effect. Bell Shakespeare did a very, very funny Midsummer Night's Dream a few years ago at the Athnaeum - set in WWI, the play within a play had the audience rolling in the aisle. Oh, and I can't forget Steven Berkoff's Titus Andronicus - all physical theatre and gore - stunning.

There have also been the misses - Roger Allam as Macbeth with some strange bearded witches was just wrong. And I remember a Bell production of Troilus and Cressida which was pretty woeful.

I still think there's plenty of merit to Baz Luhrman's Romeo and Juliet - he got Mercutio just right! Even some of the adaptations - 10 Things I Hate About You - is one that's just lovely

However Ewan Leslie's portrayal of Richard III last year at the MTC - utter, utter brilliance. I really reckin this short arse, Snape haired, bow legged actor from Perth really is the next John Guilgud or Kenneth Branagh. A truly amazing Shakespearean actor. If you get a chance - go see him - though tickets are as easy to find as chicken milk.

What is it about Shakespeare that has me in paroxyms of joy? Many many things. The poetry, the humanity, the timelessness. You never quite know how a Shakespeare will be interpreted - what a director or an actor will do with the material.

There is a joy in the parsing, the thought and the absolute rationale that something nearly five hundred years old is still so pertinent.  And the fact that so much of what he - if it was in fact one person or Kit Marlowe or who ever - is still in modern language and diction.

And that in 33 plays there is only one stage direction - "Exit, Stage Left, Pursued by a Bear" (The Winter's Tale) Leaves much to the imagination!

Shakespeare is my never-guilty nerdy pleasure.

And if you really, really, really want to put a smile on my face. Find me man with a decently trained voice to read me parts of Henry V in bed.

Kenneth Branagh can park his boots under my bed any time he wants....

Nerd fantasy.

You wouldn't understand.

Blush, mutter, mutter, better go back in my cage before they call the nutty police.


PsychoCat said...

Are you kidding me? No white coats for you. Thee speaketh perfect sense.

The Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Pand,

As you know - I am an engineer who is a Unix boffin, an Oracle guru and a Star Trek nerd. I can also recite most of the first 20 elements of the periodic table and love gadgets - any gadgets even the crap ones.

But I hate Shakespeare. Have you read my "Shakespeare Is Rubbish" post? That says it all.

Sorry about that ...




Kath Lockett said... an English major, ex-English teacher and present writer, I must admit that I hate Shakespeare. Hated it, hated it hated it!

I never 'got' the beauty of his words (let alone understood them without the help of Monarch notes) and loathed the stories.

And yet, I did see Henry V at Stratford Upon Avon back in 1991.....

magical_m said...

Totally with you on all things Bard. And Ewen Leslie. Not only is he a damn fine actor, but having known him for a number of years now, I can say he is a lovely, lovely man to boot. Not like some of his contemporaries, who are so far up their own... well. We'll leave it there. Suffice to say, Mr Leslie is in a class of his own, both on stage and off.

I just returned from London where I was lucky enough to see Much Ado with David Tennant and Catherine Tate. I expected nothing less than brilliant from Tennant - I'd seen his Hamlet at Stratford in 2008 and was blown away by his ease with the language... every bit as comfortable with it as Branagh. I wasn't expecting much from Tate, but she totally surprised me. Best Beatrice I've seen on stage... and I've seen a few, Much Ado being my favourite Shakespeare. The production was set in 1980s Gibraltar, which was a novel twist... Hero's wedding dress was modelled on Princess Di's and the music was in the vein of Wham and Madonna (but not actually their music). Utterly brilliant.