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Home :: Archive :: 2001 :: February ::
Re: Branagh
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 12.0336  Tuesday, 13 February 2001

[1]     From:   Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Feb 2001 07:14:14 -0800 (PST)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 12.0315 Re: Miscasting--Heston

[2]     From:   Stuart Manger <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Feb 2001 18:26:16 +0000
        Subj:   SHK 12.0324 Re: Branagh

[3]     From:   Patricia Cooke <
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        Date:   Tue, 13 Feb 2001 08:40:54 +1300
        Subj:   Re: Branaghs

[4]     From:   Paul E. Doniger <
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        Date:   Monday, 12 Feb 2001 16:55:49 -0800
        Subj:   SHK 12.0324 Re: Branagh


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Feb 2001 07:14:14 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 12.0315 Re: Miscasting--Heston
Comment:        Re: SHK 12.0315 Re: Miscasting--Heston

Many moons ago, I was (briefly) an undergraduate at Northwestern
University, Charlton Heston's alma mater.  His primary drama professor
was still there at that time.  When people asked her what she thought
about her terribly famous student, she would sigh, sadly, and say "He is
a very generous alum."

Perhaps Branagh thought that the First Player, as an incarnation of the
elder Hamlet (whom we meet only posthumously) could best be portrayed by
an actor who does such a good job of playing dead?

Cheers,
Karen Peterson-Kranz

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stuart Manger <
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Date:           Monday, 12 Feb 2001 18:26:16 +0000
Subject: Re: Branagh
Comment:        SHK 12.0324 Re: Branagh

I applaud the RSC for casting Branagh as H5 - it is not often that many
young actors get a break like that. And surely it is always a serious
gamble to do this. The career of Zubin Varla - arguably the worst Romeo
and by some distance the most embarrassing Caliban I and many of my
other RSC full members can remember - is a case in point.

But the point I wanted to make was that in that company, Branagh did not
reveal in any way how he could justify the inflated, and dangerously
backfire-prone claim made both by him and a somewhat sycophantic or
gullible 'luvvy' press very soon after to be the heir apparent of
Gielgud, Olivier et al. In H5, he seemed to me simply diminished by the
brilliance of those around him, and my memory of him was of an actor
seriously outfaced by the effortless technique in the use of space,
gesture, verse speaking of those around him. he seemed not to be an
ensemble player at all. I fully accept that there is that in the play
too - and indeed that laddish insufficiency, that vertical ascent of a
mega learning curve is inherent in Henry as both man and king. It is
simply that I find Branagh unconvincing, narcissistic, and so
self-regarding as to vitiate a good deal of what he might else achieve.
In short, I find him nearly unwatchable.

I was NOT 'harsh on the production', which I thought very fine indeed.
Simply Branagh's insistence on playing the 'matinee idol slumming it'
feeling about it. And thank you for the correction on the French Kate -
I do not have the programme to hand so am grateful to be reminded.

Other correspondents seem about to claim that he who is tired of Branagh
is tired of theatrical life. Shakespearean acting more than most other
genres generates mighty controversy, akin to the Sutherland / Callas /
Caballe  or Bergonzi/ Domingo / Pavarotti debates in opera. AS an actor,
Branagh seems to me to work from the outside to not very far in: for
him, gesture is being, rhetoric is intensity and a substitute for
meditation on the innikheit of the verse / character. I would rather
watch Antony Sher, whom I don't much like, but grudgingly admire,
fighting, living, experiencing the text, and the play right through
Macbeth than watch Branagh 'mugging' the camera or audience. Sher is a
very difficult man to work with / for, as most actors will tell you, but
he is exciting to be on stage with when he is on his game. Scofield is
too, and the now alas lost to classical theatre Jonathan Pryce, one of
the most electrifying Shakespeareans of his generation.

It is not that Branagh's popularisation of Shakespeare is not valuable.
It most assuredly is. BUT film tends to ossify, tempts actors often
simply to repeat a lucrative style or role, and live theatre is by
definition not static, not icon-making, but evolutionary, dangerously
improvisational. I don't happen to like Mark Rylance's style of
Shakespeare at The Globe, but you could never accuse him of playing
safe, of not re-thinking style, modus operandi, or the tense plasticity
of what 'theatre' means for us or for the Elizabethans. Not my thing,
but far, far preferable to Branagh's settling for the packageable,
backable, bankable, not a hair out of place, corporate Shakespeare that
is rarely likely to frighten the horses. In how they scale great texts,
great theatrical challenges is how you shall surely know them, and I'm
afraid that I think Branagh is about as likely to challenge audiences,
about as dangerous and adrenalin-making as Andy Williams. We are talking
'comfort zone', Reader's Digest, Classic FM Shakespeare. He will end up
making a lot of money, getting himself talked about, bringing a lot of
people to Shakespeare, BUT how many will he make think, or be excited to
feel, or experiment, or explore, or be happy to be uncomfortable with?
It is a visceral thing, I suppose, and in the last analysis, Branagh has
an emetic rather than magnetic effect on me.

Stuart Manger

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Patricia Cooke <
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Date:           Tue, 13 Feb 2001 08:40:54 +1300
Subject:        Re: Branaghs

Susanne Collier may like to know that Katherine in the 1984 RSC
production of Henry V was C

 

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