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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: February ::
Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0577  Tuesday, 27 February 2002

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 26 Feb 2002 10:23:41 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.0564 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline

[2]     From:   Charles Weinstein <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 26 Feb 2002 19:01:35 -0500
        Subj:   Classical Acting: Signs of Decline, Part III


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Tuesday, 26 Feb 2002 10:23:41 -0800
Subject: 13.0564 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.0564 Re: Classical Acting: Signs of Decline

Brian Willis wrote,

>Now that I am rewatching "I, Claudius", I found a brilliant moment in
>the first episode that illustrates the multiple tastes and perspectives
>in this discussion. A Greek storyteller enters to dramatize the Battle
>of Actium for Augustus's enjoyment. A Roman announces a call for silence
>in a loud voice. The Greek, impressed with his projection, tells him
>that they should switch places. The Roman states that he gave up acting
>because "there are too many actors in Rome. There just isn't enough work
>to go around". He laments that "the theatre isn't what it was". The
>Greek tells him, "No, and I'll tell you something else. It never was
>what it was".

Yes, Aristarchus was played by Carleton Hobbs.  Here is another way of
making your point, with Hobbs as our point man.  Hobbs played Sherlock
Holmes for the BBC from 1952-1969, plus he had played Watson even
earlier.  I have heard a few dozen of his broadcasts, and found them
charming recreations of Conan Doyle's stories, capturing more of their
spirit and flavor than other adaptations, but that's just me.

The more recent series with Clive Merrison went beyond Conan Doyle,
padding the stories with what passes for psychological insight into the
characters.  The man who got the series going, Bert Coules, is quite
proud of the new approach to Holmes, and spends many pages telling us so
in his self-promoting book *221 BBC* published in 1998 by Musgrave
Monograph.  Yet it is this series that adapted all Conan Doyle's
stories, no previous series had done them all, and that sells so well in
bookstores in the U.K., the U.S., and probably elsewhere.  The Hobbs
series has been patronized and dismissed as fine for its era.

For me, the Merrison series has some of Conan Doyle's plots, some of his
characterization, but misses the spirit and flavor of the originals.  We
live in a time what prefers the psychological complexity and emotional
honesty of this new series to the emotional suppression of the earlier
Victorian, or at least Conan Doyle, recreation.  It isn't for me, but I
can't say that it is wrong.  It isn't Conan Doyle, certainly, but how
much of the Shakespeare we see on stage is really Shakespeare?  Even in
a Globe attempt to recreate the circumstances of early modern
production, it is filtered through the talents and perspectives of the
director and actors.  This is inevitable, was ever so, and all
productions in the future will continue to be modern in this sense.
Aristarchus was right, even if I still think Carleton Hobbs was wronged.

Mike Jensen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Charles Weinstein <
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Date:           Tuesday, 26 Feb 2002 19:01:35 -0500
Subject:        Classical Acting: Signs of Decline, Part III

In his autobiography Beside Myself, Antony Sher recounts the following:

"During a conversation about Olivier over dinner one night, Ian
[McKellen] suddenly said gloomily, 'We can't match him--none of us
can--ever.'  I looked at him in surprise.  Ian was and is something of a
hero to me--for his political as well as his theatre work--and by then
I'd come to regard him as a better actor than Olivier, more truthful,
more dangerous....We sat in silence for a moment, then Ian shrugged,
quite aggressively, refusing to say more, and we changed the subject.
But I suddenly understood what he meant.  It wasn't a question of
playing a few Shakespeare roles well and a critic or two saying it put
them in mind of Olivier.  The man had lived his life on a different
scale....[H]e and I weren't on the same planet; or at any rate he was in
orbit above it most of the time, a genuine star....I'm fascinated by
Olivier's beauty--that radiant, matinee idol beauty...The combination of
beauty and self-hatred, and, of course, talent, colossal talent and
imagination--his characters remind me of Michelangelo's monumental
portraits; they have an almost marble feel, awesome yet quite
cool--these add up to one of those unique giant lives.  God knows what
special membranes coated his features at birth, or what soothsayers were
present....Ian McKellen is right--it's hopeless trying to measure up to
him."

--Charles Weinstein

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