The Book, supported by The Prince’s Trust

As you can tell by the limited number of posts, I Heart the Bard has been neglected. I have been working on an exciting new project: The Book. The magazine is supported by The Prince’s Trust.


The Book is partly inspired by this blog, and is on a mission to make arts and culture accessible to people from all types of backgrounds.


The first issue is themed around firsts, and features Kelly Rowland on the cover. In addition there are 20 pages of reviews dedicated to Film, Music, Stage, Art, Gadgets, and, of course, Blogs.


The Book launched on September 30, and is available in London universities, theatres, and galleries.


For more details follow @thebookmagazine or like www.facebook.com/thebookmag.


If you’d like to read more about the project, click here for coverage from Press Gazette.

Tales from the King James Bible, at St Barnabas Church

due to the arts cuts the supporting actors were replaced with bed sheets

Everybody is sat in pews, hymns are playing in the background, and a huge cross is hanging in front of us. It’s not a church service that’s about to begin, but a theatre performance.  As the King James Bible celebrates its four hundredth birthday this month, tributes have been coming through in the form of documentaries, exhibitions, books, and now theatre. Creation Theatre, who previously put on a play in Blackwell’s bookshop and an island in the River Cherwell, took on the epic task of staging the Bible in Oxford’s St Barnabas church.


The Bible stories are told through the eyes of a couple that are suddenly exiled from their home. They retell the stories to answer the big questions: does God care?  Why does he let bad things happen to good people? And, was it really all Eve’s fault? The stories are told thematically rather than chronologically, in turn the couple move from being frustrated to comforted by the process.


From the start of the production actors Tom Peters and Raewyn Lippert both launch across the stage with the force of David’s stone for Goliath. They climb onto tables, cling to pillars, and jump into the pulpit. Everything is snappy and smooth, moving from silly to sentimental in seconds.


Creation Theatre have aimed high: they’re covering some of the best known stories in the world, staging them in just under ninety minutes, and with only two actors. The overall tone is the Reduced Shakespeare Company meets Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Sodom and Gomorrah is brought to life by puppets, Cain and Abel’s feud is retold in the style of a spaghetti western, and Moses’ life is delivered in limericks. Lines like “I’m going below deck to find Jonah, there’s something fishy about that lad” fill the script more than the language of the King James Bible. The crucifixion, however, is genuinely moving, using harsh white lighting on the actors freezing to recreate images of Christ’s suffering.


If you don’t know the basic Bible stories, this will be difficult to follow. The majority of the audience was elderly with no diversity, something the company should do more to change. Here’s hoping for a miracle.


To see or not to see: * * *

Spotlight: Kashman Harris, Writer

Kashman writes for Eastender’s online spin-off E20, which was conceived in 2010 as the naughty little brother of the main show. The show’s writers, all aged between 17 and 22, were found as a part of the BBC’s new talent initiative. The show has created two series, and the third has been announced.


Why did you decide to become a writer?

I’m motivated by the chance to be heard, like most writers I guess. Though writing is something I developed a liking for from a young age, telling stories always seemed to have a cathartic effect on people. I wanted to be someone who could do the same.


What piece of art can you remember having an impact on you?

I remember from a young age watching a variety of TV shows, Quantum Leap springs to mind, mainly how it was my first experience with a genre hybrid of drama and sci-fi done so seamlessly. Also 2001: A Space Odyssey by Stanley Kubrick, as it’s the most original and inspiring piece of film I’ve ever seen, it made me realise how films could pose questions to an audience and make them think.


Are there different obstacles facing black and ethnic minority writers?

If there are any obstacles it’s finding the outlets for work, but they are there, it’s just how hard you look for them. I can’t say that I’ve faced many obstacles in regards to my ethnicity. There are new schemes within corporations, such as the BBC, where they are expanding their horizons to reach groups that they wouldn’t normally. Such schemes give minorities a chance to enter the industry from a grass roots level, and that’s essentially how E20 started.


What are the common stereotypes that appear in stories about young people?

I think the common misconception is that young people, regardless of colour, have this definite, uncivilised way of talking. In other words, slang. It’s important that writers who choose to write stereotypically show both sides of the coin. It’d be wrong to act as if the stereotypes didn’t exist, but it’s also possible to have a story where young people are not represented in a stereotypical light.


What advice would you give to someone who wants to become a writer?

I’d recommend Talent Circle, but also joining up with your nearest theatre group, mine was the Oval House Theatre in Kennington. If you have an idea, get it onto paper as quickly as possible. Mainly it’s to be patient with yourself and understand that the results won’t come if you’re not putting just as much work in. Writing is a complicated career choice, but if you’re truly passionate about it then you’ll be able to persevere.


Follow Kashman on Twitter, and click here to find out the latest on the BBC’s E20.

Happy Birthday Shakespeare, a project by bloggers around the world

Shakespeare is a man for all ages. If you tried Ben Jonson’s rave review on your average school student they probably wouldn’t agree, instead the very name William Shakespeare could be enough to make them look confused, yawn with boredom, or tremble with fear. If you sat them down in front of a play, however, they just might believe it.


In January 2010 I joined the eight to twelve-year-olds of Claremont School, Kingsbury, as the Royal Shakespeare Company performed a seventy-minute version of Hamlet. Black and Asians pupils made up most of the audience, and many were watching Shakespeare (and even theatre) for the first time. Children are the harshest critics, but this group offered their undivided attention and had absolutely nothing negative to say at the end.


I, a Hamlet virgin, joined them. I was reminded of when I’d make my way to the Oxford Playhouse as a young teenager, often surrounded by an older white middle-class crowd.  I felt out of place. But once the action started, and the jester laughed, lovers kissed, siblings reunited, there was nothing differentiating me from everyone else.


So if someone were to ask: what does Shakespeare mean to you? Shakespeare breaks down barriers. Everyone, including the pupils of Claremont School and myself, can be transported into his world.


Years later from being in the Oxford Playhouse, I went on to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I was responsible for attracting new audiences to the theatre, and have continued to seek out weird and wonderful Shakespeare plays, seeing his work danced, rapped, and even tweeted. A man for all ages? Certainly.


Written as a part of Happy Birthday Shakespeare, runs till April 30.

Spotlight: JQ of The Q Brothers, Writer and Composer

The Q Brothers are from Chicago. In 2008 they took Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and put a hip-hop spin on it to create Funk it up About Nothin’. They have taken the play to Chicago, New York, Australia, and the Edinburgh Fringe. The play is now showing in London’s Theatre Royal Stratford East.


What piece of theatre can you remember having an impact on you?

Bring in the Noise, Blue Man Group. I guess I liked things that were a little outside the box.


You’ve performed in Chicago, New York, Edinburgh, and Australia. How does the audience in London differ?

The audiences in Stratford are the most diverse we’ve ever had. It’s the type of audience most theatres dream of having. They are really doing something special here and we are so glad to be a part of it. That said, I think the story is universal and anyone would enjoy it if they are into fun characters and clever wordplay.


What would you say to a young person to encourage them to see the show?

We are really proud of the piece and people of all ages find it exciting. Most young people I know find Shakespeare boring even if they appreciate his genius. All we are doing is trying to give the audience an experience of what we think it might have been like to see Shakespeare in his time.


What do you say to the critics who say this isn’t Shakespeare?

I have nothing to say to them. If they have actually seen the show and don’t think we are true to Shakespeare, then they don’t really know Shakespeare. Most of the people that show up and have a preconceived notion of the show are completely won over once they actually see the piece.


If Shakespeare were alive today, would he be rapping?

Absolutely. He would be telling stories just like he did before, like Slick Rick and Eminem.


Funk it up About Nothin’ at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East runs till May 7.

Spotlight: Alexander Feklistov, Actor

Alexander Feklistov graduated from the Moscow Art Theatre School in 1982, and worked for the Moscow Art Theatre for twelve years. He went onto create the 5th Moscow Art Theatre Studio. He is currently playing Caliban in Cheek by Jowl’s Russian production of The Tempest.


Why did you decide to become an actor?
I became an actor because of the mystery that lives in theatre. From my early childhood I wanted to know: what’s behind there? Behind Uncle Tom’s cabin.


What early theatrical experience can you remember having an impact on you?
I cannot forget Anatoly Efros’s Cherry Orchard. It was performed by great actors Alla Demidova and Vladimir Visotskiy and the action took place on a cemetery. Nothing I saw afterwards in my whole life has touched me as deeply, and it astonished me how this production of The Tempest affected me in a similar way.


Caliban has been performed in many ways onstage: a woman, punk rocker, and Rastafarian. What made you choose to play Caliban the way you do?
Caliban is a child, but he was abandoned and not brought up properly. You feel sorry for him, he can be very irritating, and it’s a very Russian part.


Shakespeare has been performed in Russian to Hindi. What is it to you that makes Shakespeare translate well into all cultures?
I think Shakespeare can be played in any language, but we’re only trying to do it justice. We enjoy his poetry, his verse, but once we start talking about the interpretation of the plays we never have the same viewpoint.


What would you say to a young person to encourage them to see this play?
I think it’s a very simple and honest production, simple but not simplified, and it has huge potential in it. We as actors are trying to catch up with the form of it and it’s never boring.

The Tempest at the Barbican runs from 7 April till 16 April.

The Tempest, at the Oxford Playhouse

oi you at the back, stop sleeping

If understanding the sixteenth-century language of a Shakespeare play can be daunting at times, watching it in Russian might sound positively masochistic. Cheek by Jowl’s The Tempest, in Russian with English subtitles, however, proves a surprisingly liberating experience. As a non-Russian speaker you find yourself more engrossed in the action, and it emphasises that this is how Shakespeare is supposed to be appreciated: onstage and not simply in books.


At under two hours with no interval, the production is fast-paced. The play begins when Prospero, who has been exiled on an island populated only by his teenaged daughter Miranda, their native slave Caliban and the sprite Ariel, uses his magical powers to conjure up a tempest. Prospero’s enemies from Naples are shipwrecked and washed ashore: an effectively bare wooden stage frequently sluiced with water. What follows is a series of attempts to usurp power, a pursuit for love, and families reunited.


Igor Yasulovich’s Prospero puts on a fine performance as the aged, over-protective father, and reinforces the commonly held critical viewpoint that as director of the action he is a version of Shakespeare himself. Prospero is often seen overlooking the romance between Ferdinand and Miranda, and at one point shouts “stop” during a big song and dance, which prompts the house lights to come up and a pretend backstage assistant to run on set, much to the audience’s amusement.


Andrey Kuzichev’s Ariel, dressed in a black suit, is simple but highly effective. He often appears onstage with four other lookalikes to show how he can magically affect the action in many places at once, an idea so brilliant you wonder why no production has thought of it before. At times the others are seen playing instruments in the background, giving the impression that the island is filled with spirit creatures. Only Anya Khalilulina’s Miranda feels inaccurate: instead of being naïve, she is unrefined; instead of being bolshy in her love for the shipwrecked Ferdinand, she is overtly sexual. And she is more like Caliban’s half-sister, animal-like in her movements, and hugging him goodbye before leaving with Ferdinand.


As 2011 marks the four-hundredth anniversary of the play, director Declan Donnellan shows how it can be eternally relevant to different times and cultures. Most modern versions have a colonial perspective, but here we see a clash between communism and capitalism. Propaganda clichés of happy farmers and dancers with sickles are contrasted with Trinculo and Stefano’s fast fashion in power suits and sunglasses.


Humour is the key to this production’s success, which is unusual for a play that is not a Comedy, from Caliban’s drunkenness to buckets of water being thrown over spluttering actors. Repeatedly. After seeing Cheek by Jowl’s superbly funny Russian Twelfth Night five years ago, The Tempest is just as good. Whatever the language, to quote Miranda, “this is a tale, sir, that would cure deafness”.


Runs till 13 March, and tours the country including the Barbican from 7 April till 16 April.

 

To see or not to see: * * * *