I join the hosts of NewsTalk 1010’s “The Rush” with hosts Scott McArthur and Deb Hutton in for Scott and Reshmi, for a segment called “Entertainment Court.” Each week I serve as the judge, Reshmi and Scott the jurors, and we render a verdict on the week’s biggest pop culture stories. Today we ask, To teach or not to teach: Is Shakespeare still relevant to today’s students? Will a three-dollar ticket get you back in the theatres? How far can you take dramatic license when real people are involved?
When the rule of a hedonistic and mercurial king is questioned, rebellion, assassination and excommunication ensue, culminating in a chilling attempt to commit an atrocity against a child, whose mother’s anguished grief cannot atone for her blinkered ambitions for her son.
Don’t miss this rare opportunity to see Shakespeare’s King John, in a magnificent production by the renowned Stratford Festival, North America’s leading classical theatre company, whose HD production of King Lear, directed by Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino and starring Colm Feore, opened to rave reviews last month.
With commanding performances by Tom McCamus, Seana McKenna, Graham Abbey and Patricia Collins, King John was directed by Tim Carroll, whose recent Shakespeare productions of Richard III and Twelfth Night were the toast of Broadway.
Filmed in spectacular HD under the direction of Barry Avrich, King John will be in cinemas across Canada on Thursday, April 9, and throughout the U.S. on Wednesday, April 8. The Canadian encore screening is on April 12. U.S. encore dates vary. For more information visit www.stratfordfestival.ca/HD
“Deliciously contemporary.” J. Kelly Nestruck, The Globe and Mail
“Tom McCamus plays King John, rivetingly, as a neurotic narcissist. It’s a daring performance.” Robert Cushman, National Post
“This sublime King John has a remarkable intimacy, crystallized by the formidable actor Graham Abbey, whose relationship with the audience becomes one of the closest I’ve ever seen in a Shakespearean drama.” Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune
“The action is riveting, the political machinations delicious and all the performers,
royal or otherwise, take great delight in the parts they’re playing.” Richard Ouzounian, Toronto Star
Julie Taymor wants to give you the best seat in the house at TIFF this year.
She captured her acclaimed stage production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream at the Polonsky Center in Brooklyn on film, shooting 70 hours with handheld cameras.
“I think film is so great for Shakespeare,” says Taymor, the first person to ever win a Tony for Best Direction of a Musical for her work on The Lion King. “You enjoy it in live theatre. The kids who came loved it; the pillow fights, theatrical stripping. They got it. But on film you have close-ups. This is where film is better than the theatre.
“With fours days of shooting, with hand held cameras and using pickups, you are now in the best positions in the house. We’re in positions that no audience could be. So now you are getting the support of the close up, which means you can understand it when you see the facial expression and the lips moving. You don’t need to know what the words are. I found that in Titus Andronicus [which she directed on film with Anthony Hopkins in 1999]. I still don’t know what a ‘weeping welkin’ is, but when Anthony Hopkins says it, I get it. You could turn off the dialogue and you would know what’s going on.”
Her beautiful adaptation is brought to film without the use of any special effects—“What you see was all in the production,” she says—except one miraculous performance by Kathryn Hunter as Puck. The cast and the staging are extraordinary, but Hunter stands out in a performance New York Mag called “part yoga, part cartoon.”
“I think Kathryn is the greatest actor on stage right now,” says Taymor. “She has played King Lear. She’s the only female in London [to do that]. She’s not a movie actress, because nobody has figured it out yet… because she is this strange creature. She is so versatile. I had seen her in five or six shows and a year before I did this I said if I could get Kathryn Hunter to play Puck, I’ll do this.”
It’s a show Taymor has deep connections to.
“It was the first play I ever saw,” she says. “I saw it here in Canada at the Stratford Festival and I played Hermia when I was seven.”
It also led, indirectly, to her biggest Broadway success. When Disney was renovating The New Amsterdam Theatre in New York she knew the first show there had been A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “so I went to Disney and said, ‘Could I do A Midsummer Night’s Dream here.’ They said no, but ‘Could you do The Lion King.’”
Coming from director Roland Emmerich, you might expect “Anonymous” to be a large scale action movie about the end of the world, a prehistoric beast or giant Japanese monster. Instead the German director has left the disaster motifs of his previous work behind and created a large scale period piece about the importance of literature set against a backdrop of intrigue and sexual peccadilloes in seventeenth century England.
With a plot that mixes and matches themes from history and Shakespeare’s plays, “Anonymous” uses the backdrop of the struggle for succession between the Tudors and the Cecils as the Essex rebellion moves against Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave) to set the scene for the debut of Shakespeare’s plays. But were they actually written by Shakespeare? The movie supposes it was Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans)—the Anonymous of the title—who penned plays attributed to William Shakespeare. He kept to the shadows to save his family the embarassment of havimg a common writer in their midst and because thee plays were openly critical of the Queen’s advisors Cecil and Raleigh.
In a story ripe with mystery the only real question is how this got made at all. Big budget Shakespearean movies don’t get made much anymore, so I guess the next best thing is to make a big budget movie about Shakespeare, and Emmerich, despite his tendency to try and juggle too many story threads at one time does a good job at bringing the elegantly filthy world of Elizabethan Britain. Powdered faces, filthy fingernails and velvet jackets abound and the atmosphere adds much to the story.
This is a sprawling story with many twists and turns. The downside is the film’s sketchy casting. In flashbacks the queen and Edward appear to be the same age, but later after a major twist, are revealed to be sixteen years apart. This kind of lack of attention to detail muddies the waters in the flashbacks, making it difficult to follow the story in the first hour. Soon enough, however, all the players are straightened away and the pleasures of the story take hold.
A liberal mix of fact and fiction–there is no real life evidence that the Earl of Oxford penned the plays–“Anonymous” is a twisted tale about how politics and art intersect, and the written word’s ability to instigate change.