Thursday, November 08, 2007

The giving vein

Saw a very good production of Richard III this evening at the Classic Stage Company. Michael Cumpsty is excellent in the title part, and the production as a whole is very good too--suitably cartoonish (in the first half especially), and with quite lovely costume and set design. Highly watchable, I really enjoyed myself--only the seats in that theatre are extremely uncomfortable!

(Thinking along decorative lines, I should perhaps try and persuade some set designer of my acquaintance to come and help me make my apartment more atmospheric, sitting in an attractive lit and dressed theatre reminds me that I have an absurdly utilitarian approach to apartment-dwelling...)

I have a particular fondness for this play because it has such a long history for me--it has been something important to me at every stage in my life. When I was ten or eleven I was pretty much obsessed with the novels of Josephine Tey more generally but in particular with The Daughter of Time (in fact in retrospect it is possible that this is the first book I ever read that gave me an idea of what I wanted to do when I grew up--historical research!).

I had a poster of that portrait of Richard III on my bedroom wall, and I thought about Richard III and Thomas More and stuff pretty much all the time...

(A recent conversation reminded me of how diligently and yet enthusiastically in high school I read Malory's Morte d'Arthur and Robert Graves's White Goddess and Fraser's Golden Bough in what was clearly some kind of mildly demented research-related impulse--and in fact at the Richard III stage of life, more like sixth grade--oh, dear, this really is comical, what was I thinking?!?--I also had a set of teach-yourself-Italian tapes that I had written away for from an ad in the New York Times Book Review with my babysitting money and that I listened to as I went to sleep--I am fairly sure that I had read Brave New World and gotten some idea in my head [not that it is really recommended in that novel!] that it would sink in automatically while I slept--also I was memorizing the vocabulary words in a little Italian-English dictionary, only I never even got very far into the letter A, this is not an effective way to learn a language! Another book I remember being obsessed with in sixth grade and reading again and again was I, Claudius...)

But that is by the way--I have reread Richard III at pretty much every stage of life--I saw the Ian McKellen production in London at the National Theatre with my English grandfather c. 1990 (the movie version actually seemed to me significantly better than the stage one), and I have now seen three productions of it in New York with my adopted grandfather: this one was decent but muddled, but I see I ranked this one--and you know, I literally have no memory of this whatsoever, good thing the blog works as the external hard drive of the brain! hmmm, it is faintly coming back to me now...--as one of the worst things I've ever seen--in fact I am going to paste in the description, it is funny, I do not think I had yet found my blogging voice, that was less than one month in!
Last night I saw a play that I think now tops my list of "worst things ever seen," a production of Shakespeare's Richard III that reached new heights of senseless-verse-recitation-by-actors-
sounding-like-they-didn't-understand-a-word-of-it plus campy and distracting staging of the we're-dressed-like-punk-rockers-
is-stupid-but-want-the-cultural-cachet. I won't give further details because the performers should be ashamed enough of themselves as it is.
But back before that I remember Harold Bloom talking about Richard's soliloquies when I was in graduate school (I must have read that particular play at least five or six times in the space of a couple years), and in fact that character is one of the ones I had in mind when I was writing my first novel, because of the way that Shakespeare lets you inhabit the villain's role--the marriage between Jonathan Wild and the narrator of the eighteenth-century parts of Heredity was partly based on the marriage between Richard and Anne...


  1. Very interesting - RIII was my early-teen hero too, and a pic adorned my wall. I loved Daughter of time which inspired me to read Paul Murray Kendall -- a book I still have, and a few years later, when it came out, a romanticised novel version by an author whose name I have often wished I could remember so I can find the book again -- something double barrelled like Rosemary Hawly Jackson or some such. She wrote another about Edward IV's secret first marriage, and then I lost track/switched interests to something else.
    Cathy has recently become interested in just the same topic-- a fascinating genetic parallel (which you might like with your Heredity hat on) because I had never told her of this early fascination of mine with RIII and his innocence. She read Alison Weir's book Princes in the Tower -- and as Cathy tells me, it is AW's first foray into history (we have many of her books in our house, including her recent first novel, Innocent Traitor), and describes how she, AW, dug into all the evidence and weighed up whether RIII did it or not. Conclusion, yes, according to Cathy.
    (I've emailed her (Cathy, that is, not AW) a link to your post.)

  2. Morte d'Arthur, The Golden Bough, _and_ The White Goddess? I'm astonished you came through that sane! A peek at The White Goddess alone is enough to make me start worrying.

    I wish I could have seen Richard III, given that I've had him on the brain. I haven't seen it since a production I saw at the University of Evansville when I was in high school. It wasn't as bad as the lousy one you describe--no coke-snorting--but it did involve lots of leather and studs and spikes, and the emphasis was mostly on the drawn-out battle scene.

    One question, because I don't remember from that production: are the ghosts effective in performance? As I wrote last month, I thought they were a little flat on the page, but I could imagine them being really powerful parading across the stage.

  3. Great comment, Maxine!

    Levi, I was of course thinking of you during the ghost scene--I actually think it's often pretty weak, but they did a nice job with it yesterday, nothing woo-wooish, just the actors moving between Richard and Richmond & made fairly effective by discreet lighting etc. The other thing I was impressed with yesterday is that they totally pulled off the often-impossibly-funny "my kingdom for a horse" line...