Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Taming Of The Shrew (2013) DVD Review

If you can’t get to London to see a performance of one of Shakespeare’s plays at The Globe, you can at least watch many of the productions at home, thanks to the Globe On Screen series. The Taming Of The Shrew is especially fun. It stars Simon Paisley Day as Petruchio and Samantha Spiro as Katherina. While this production does rely on a couple of stale devices – Katherina wielding a whip, Grumio acting as Petruchio’s horse – the performances are so damn good that the entire thing is totally enjoyable.

Act I

Interestingly, it begins with a drunk guy outside the theatre, making something of an ass of himself. He ends up with the groundlings inside and eventually makes his way onto the stage while talking on his cell phone. He then passes out. Of course, he is Christopher Sly. The other actors come onto the stage to discuss what’s to be done with him, and before we know it, we are into the play. What a brilliant way of presenting the induction. I’m thrilled that it’s included at all, for it’s often cut. But in this version not only is it included, but it’s handled ingeniously. While Christopher Sly is in modern clothing, most of the others are in period costume, or are getting into period costume. In fact, Christopher Sly is put into period costume as well before he is woken. Christopher bends down to ask an audience member if he is a lord. The guy tells him he is. Christopher Sly and the person pretending to be his wife step into the audience to watch the play.

Lucentio (Joseph Timms) and Tranio (Jamie Beamish) step above as the others enter. Katherina (Samantha Spiro) rushes at Gremio (Michael Bertenshaw) after his “To cart her” remark. She is then violent with Hortensio (Rick Warden). It is clear from the start that Bianca (Sarah MacRae) is full of shit, putting on an act for her father and others. And Katherina is shown to have some cause for her anger, as she is locked out of her own home at one point. That doesn’t stop her, of course. Samantha Spiro sinks her teeth into this role, as well as bares them. Lucentio has a delightful excitement and youthfulness in his spoken passion for Bianca. During the exchange between Lucentio and Tranio, Christopher Sly shouts out a few comments from the audience: “Vile, intolerable, not to be endured!” In the text, Christopher Sly isn’t heard from after the second scene, which some consider a weakness of the play. Petruchio (Simon Paisley Day) and Grumio (Pearce Quigley) enter from the audience. (By the way, the actor who plays Christopher Sly also plays Petruchio, which is great. He disappeared into the audience as Christopher Sly, and reappears from the audience as Petruchio.) Grumio is hilarious with his sometimes dry delivery. Petruchio then uses Grumio’s head to knock on Hortensio’s door. Grumio actually kicks a bucket over when Petruchio says his father is deceased, and again when Petruchio mentions his father again. (Productions of this play love to make jokes about the deceased father.)

Act II

Bianca runs onto the stage, bound and blindfolded. Katherina enters behind her with a whip, hitting the floor near her with it. Katherina unties her hands, but knocks her down. Bianca strikes back, but upon Baptista’s entrance immediately falls down and takes to sobbing. And we get a moment when Katherina seeks affection from her father, but doesn’t get it. Tranio takes great pleasure in his role as master Lucentio, and is a joy to watch. I love Petruchio’s delivery of “Why, that is nothing.” Rather than having the lute around Hortensio’s head, Katherina tosses the broken instrument onto the stage after Hortensio says “Why no” He then finishes: “for she hath broke the lute to me.” And on “And through the instrument my pate made way,” Petruchio holds the instrument up to his own face, looking through the large hole in it. Petruchio gets delight in hearing Hortensio’s story of Katherina’s words to him. There is a nice moment when Katherina first sees Petruchio, and is quiet, clearly curious about it. When Petruchio says “Why, here’s no crab,” he walks backwards on all fours like a crab. Petruchio chases her through the audience at one point. They are absolutely fantastic together.


Bianca clearly enjoys the attention given her by Hortensio and Lucentio in disguise. After “despair not,” Bianca kisses Lucentio. Biondello (Tom Godwin) is excellent when describing Petruchio on the way to his wedding. And eventually he – understandably – drives Baptista mad. Petruchio’s goofy attire includes a cooking pot as a hat. This production borrows the old Monty Python gag of Grumio tapping two coconut halves together to imitate the sound of a horse. After the wedding, Petruchio puts Katherina on Grumio’s back, and away they ride into the audience. Everyone laughs at Bianca’s joke, but of course Gremio’s joke falls flat. The intermission comes at the end of Act III Scene ii. After the intermission, Petruchio’s servants perform a song. They then exit, and Grumio enters to begin Scene iii. His line “my horse is tired” of course has the meaning that he himself is tired. But he speaks of two horses, which makes less sense when Grumio is the only horse. There is a lot of play during the dinner scene, the scene in which Katherina never gets to eat. Then Lucentio and Bianca are above, while Tranio and Hortensio are below, spying on their love-making. Bianca’s delivery of the lines about taming hints at how she’ll react later during the wager.

Act IV

Katherina struggles to thank Petruchio for the meat he presents to her. And she is hilarious as she watches Hortensio stuff his face with the meat. The roles of haberdasher and tailor are combined into one, as usual, and Grumio models the tailor’s gown. Grumio’s delivery of “I confess the cape” is hilarious. There is a touching moment at the end of Act IV Scene i, where Katherina tears up, exhausted. The scene about the sun/moon is done really well, and Katherina is funny when addressing Vincentio as “Young budding virgin.” Vincentio then turns the joke back on them, directing “fair sir” to Katherina and “merry mistress” to Petruchio, a wonderful touch.

Act V

Music and an air of celebration begin the fifth act. The men take some joy in the bet, stomping and thumping in unison when the servant goes to bid Bianca and then the widow to come. Katherina is clearly in on it when she is ordered to remove her cap. Katherina kneels down at the end of her speech, putting out her hand for Petruchio to step on. Petruchio takes her hand in his and they kiss. Petruchio and Katherina exit into the audience at end, while others engage in a dance. They then reappear above, and the dance takes on a livelier vibe.

This production of The Taming Of The Shrew was directed by Toby Frow, and was directed for the screen by Ross MacGibbon.

Time: 167 minutes

Monday, December 24, 2018

Macbeth (2014) DVD Review

One of these days I hope to get to London so that I can attend a performance at the Globe Theatre. But for now I am enjoying the Globe On Screen series on DVD. Macbeth, which was filmed in 2013 and first released in 2014, stars Joseph Millson, Samantha Spiro, Billy Boyd and Stuart Bowman. This is an excellent production, relying mainly on the performances, with few props and set pieces.

Act I

The performance begins with some music – first bagpipes, then some intense percussion from the company. It leads right to the first scene, and after the first line, all other characters beside the witches rush off stage. Duncan (Gawn Grainger) and the others enter up center. The Captain, however, comes up from the audience, a bloody wound on his forehead. The Captain delivers his lines with excitement, until his wounds stop him. The witches, interestingly, are dressed in ordinary clothing, as if they are able to pass unnoticed among other people. But in the third scene, they strip off some of the clothes, and put on strange crowns, and are eerie as they deliver that speech in unison just before Macbeth and Banquo enter. They then move stage left. Banquo (Billy Boyd) laughs at the prophecy of the witches, before seeing Macbeth (Joseph Millson) takes them seriously. The witches exit through the audience, and Macbeth tries to follow them. Macbeth is startled, then excited when he is proclaimed Thane of Cawdor.

In the next scene, when Macbeth and Banquo enter, the others applaud Macbeth. Duncan actually kneels before Macbeth on “That swiftest wing,” causing Macbeth to quickly kneel before him, so that all kneel, a humorous moment. Duncan pauses after “our estate upon,” as he is handed a ceremonial sword, then continues: “Our eldest.” Malcolm (Philip Cumbus) is surprised at being named. His thoughts seem elsewhere. Lady Macbeth (Samantha Spiro) enters as Macbeth is finishing his last speech. This production moves swiftly. The awe and excitement on her face at the news in the letter is excellent. It is like something she has dreamed of, and now is finally possible. And she will do her best to make it happen. She kneels before “Come, you spirits.” It is an earnest prayer. This Lady Macbeth means business. Macbeth rushes in and embraces her, a sweet moment. He is then surprised by her words. Duncan and the others enter from the audience. On “By your leave, hostess,” Duncan gives her a little kiss. Immediately then cheerful music plays, as in celebration. And all exit.

Macbeth has a great nervous energy at the beginning of his “If it were done, when ‘tis done” speech. And we see the changes of his thoughts throughout the speech. After Lady Macbeth enters, Macbeth gives a short pause before “all sorts of people,” as if he can’t think of anyone really who has “golden opinions” of him, getting a laugh from the audience. He is then surprised that Lady Macbeth questions his decision, a nice moment. Clearly he expected her to back up whatever decision he made. It is a moment when he learns something about her character. Macbeth kisses her before “I am settled.”

Act II

There is some humorous business between Banquo and Fleance. Banquo then becomes quite serious in his countenance before telling Macbeth that he dreamed of the weird sisters, an excellent moment. Banquo senses the fun is over. And it is clear from his reaction that he doesn’t buy Macbeth’s claim that he doesn’t think of them, another excellent moment. Then Macbeth is fantastic on the “dagger of the mind” speech. I love Lady Macbeth’s change from fearless to frightened when she hears the shriek. When Macbeth enters, he carries the two daggers in the hand away from Lady Macbeth, so it is believable that she doesn’t see them right away. When he turns to exit to follow her advice to wash his hands, she then sees the daggers.

The Porter enters from below the stage through the trap door. He has the red nose of a drunkard or clown, or both really. Macbeth adds a line, “Come on, back in your box,” to the Porter, ushering him back down through the trap door. There is more humor as Lennox makes small talk with Macbeth after Macduff (Stuart Bowman) exits. And Macbeth’s “’Twas a rough night” gets a big laugh. Donalbain’s “What is amiss” shows a bit of displeasure at being woken. And Malcolm has something of a haughty attitude. Macbeth carries Lady Macbeth off upstage after she faints.

Old Man enters slowly, thoughtfully from upstage center, and is played by the same actor who plays Duncan, which gives his lines an eerie power, like a voice from beyond the grave. He enters alone, without Ross, and so delivers his lines to the audience. Ross’ lines are cut. Ross and Macduff then enter together, Ross’ first line being “How goes the world, sir, now?” Old Man then goes and sits down, without being noticed by Ross or Macduff, further giving him a spectral vibe. The Old Man’s lines are cut from the very end of Act II.


The Old Man remains on stage as the sennet sounds, and King Macbeth and others enter solemnly. Then Banquo speaks the first lines of the third act. When the others exit, so does the Old Man. On “To be thus is nothing,” Macbeth removes his crown. He replaces it on “fruitless crown.” The murderers don’t respond after Macbeth’s line “Now have you considered of my speeches,” and in the pause that follows it is clear they don’t want to commit the deed, leaving Macbeth to persuade them. It’s a wonderful moment. The servant in this scene, who of course was privy to Macbeth’s discourse with the murderers, remains standing on his spot for the next scene when Lady Macbeth enters and asks about Banquo, a nice touch. Lady Macbeth then sits at the edge of the stage for her next speech. Macbeth shouts the line about the scorpions. Then, without even being conscious of it, Macbeth has his hand on Lady Macbeth’s throat, frightening her. This is excellent, for it is here we begin to see a change in her as well as in him. They are moving in different directions now. There are at first only two murderers. Then the servant enters, and opens the trap door and kills both murderers, then finishes off Banquo.

Macbeth enters happily, greeting some members of the audience while the table is being set up for the banquet. Interestingly, Lady Macbeth delivers her first lines of the scene from the edge of the stage, as if frightened of Macbeth now. The murderer is at the other side of the stage. Lady Macbeth does then come to the table. On Macbeth’s line “our Banquo present,” the ghost of Banquo enters from stage right and sits at the table opposite Lady Macbeth in the place Macbeth would have seated himself. Macbeth then flees into the front of the audience. Macbeth’s frantic toast is wonderful. On his “Would he were here,” he rushes to the side of the stage where Banquo left, as if to make sure he’s gone. Banquo then enters from the other side. Macbeth exits after “We are but young in deed,” leaving Lady Macbeth at the table alone. After a moment, she too exits, and that’s when the intermission comes (at the end of Act III Scene iv). Interestingly, after intermission, Banquo sings a song. Lennox then enters and delivers his lines to him, so Banquo is in effect playing the part of Lord. The Lord’s lines are cut, and after Lennox’s “borne all things well,” he and Banquo exit.

Act IV

The witches now look eerier, with white paint upon their faces and arms. There is no actual cauldron brought on stage (though some stage smoke rises). None is needed, for the three actors make us see clearly what isn’t there. They are mesmerizing in this scene, and a drum beats throughout. They sing the lines “Double, double, toil and trouble/Fire burn and cauldron bubble,” like it is a chorus. Macbeth enters from the audience. The witches play the apparitions. It is truly frightening.

Lady Macduff (Finty Williams) is understandably angry at her husband’s flight. She pauses after Ross’ exit before she delivers her line about Macduff being dead. I like her feisty nature. Lennox is the messenger who delivers the warning to Lady Macduff. Interestingly, Macduff enters for the next scene before Lady Macduff is led off to be killed, so for a moment they share the stage together, though he does not look upon her. It sort of proves her right, doesn’t it? For there he is, and he does nothing (even though, of course, they are in separate scenes). That leads straight to Malcolm’s line about seeking “desolate shade.” On Macduff’s “We have willing dames enough,” he indicates people in the audience. And on “his jewels,” Malcolm indicates a particular man in the audience. The Doctor is cut from Act IV Scene ii.

Act V

The Doctor of Act V Scene i, however, is played by the same actor who played Duncan and Old Man. Lady Macbeth is excellent in this scene, her anguish is frightening. The men of the short second scene are in all parts of the theatre, delivering their lines from within the audience. Macbeth’s reaction to the servant is excellent, as is the Doctor’s reaction to Macbeth’s order to “Cure her of that.” Seyton is the servant from earlier who acted as murderer. When the men go to hew down branches from the trees, they exit into the audience to do so. There is a nice pause after Macbeth hears of his wife’s death, and his demeanor changes. He delivers that great eloquent speech (the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech) softly, and we see that he did love his wife. It is a moment when everything else is on hold, when everything is clear to him, and it is a moment that does not last long. The messenger then enters from the audience with news that makes Macbeth agitated again.

Malcolm and the others enter with branches from within the audience. Macbeth so easily disarms Young Siward that he actually pauses and tosses the sword back to him to allow him a second chance. His fight with Macduff is accompanied by drums, and is quite serious. Macduff eventually breaks Macbeth’s neck, and does not cut off his head. Malcolm then enters, and Macduff says “Hail, King! for so thou art.” So the dialogue with Siward, Ross and Malcolm is cut. At the end, one of the witches plays a melancholy tune on violin, and the actors all return to the stage. The tune becomes prettier, even uplifting. Then the company engages in a dance.

This production of Macbeth was directed by Eve Best, and was directed for the screen by Sue Judd.

Time: 141 minutes (though the DVD packaging indicates it is slightly longer)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Shakespeare Reference in Pray For Us Sinners

Pray For Us Sinners: The Hail Mary Murder is true crime book about five high school kids who killed one of their friends. It was written by Fredrick Kunkle, and – like basically every book I read – it contains a Shakespeare reference. During the chapter on the sentencing, Kunkle quotes defense attorney Anthony J. Pope as saying, “The loss is the loss, and a pound of flesh, Judge, is nothing more than revenge” (p. 434). The “pound of flesh” is, of course, a reference to The Merchant Of Venice.

The book contains another line that, while not a direct reference to Shakespeare’s work, does remind me of a line from Romeo And Juliet. Kunkle writes, “The cold provided a respite from the late summer’s haze and smog, and on some nights, from certain vantages, Manhattan’s skyline hung like a starry jewel in the sky, but for the most part, it was a depressing time of the year” (p. 149). The bit about “hung like a starry jewel” reminds of Romeo’s line, “It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night/Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear.”

Pray For Us Sinners: The Hail Mary Murder was published in 1996.