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Home :: Archive :: 2006 :: August ::
Report on My Trip
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 17.0734  Thursday, 24 August 2006

From: 		Hardy M. Cook <
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Date: 		Thursday, August 24, 2006
Subject: 	Report on My Trip

Dear SHAKSPEReans,

As usual, I had a wonderful time during my trip to the UK.

The theme of the Thirty-Second International Shakespeare Conference was 
"Stages for Shakespeare's Theatre." I found Susan Cerasano's "Re-Reading 
Philip Henslowe," emphasizing Henslowe's connections with the court, 
highly revealing. Julian Bowsher's "The Rose Playhouse and Its Stages" 
interestingly provided an archeologist's take on evidential findings 
from the Rose, evidence that was sometimes at odds with what Iain 
Mackintosh, Jon Greenfield, and Gordon Higgott, members of a later 
panel, contended (especially, that the Rose was a dual purpose structure 
constructed for plays and for bear baiting). Frank Hildy took delegates 
on a tour of theatre reconstructions, and the always-amusing Ralph Cohen 
explored his "audience watching addiction" at the Blackfriars Playhouse, 
making me aware of my own such inclinations for the remainder of the 
trip. Alan Dessen was his magisterial self. However, perhaps, the two 
presentations that will have the greatest impact on my thinking and 
teaching in the future were those of Alan Somerset and Ronnie Mulryne. 
In their own ways, each convincingly made the case for elevating the 
importance of playing outside of the London venues - regional theatre 
and touring companies were as big in Shakespeare's time as they are now, 
facts that have not received the attention that they rightly deserve. An 
added benefit of Ronnie Mulryne's lecture was that it took place in the 
Stratford Guild Hall. Attendees had the opportunity to tour the Guild 
Hall and the lecture was presented in the second floor classroom, the 
Big School. We also learned that the King Edward VI School is engaging 
in a fundraising appeal to raise the funds necessary to build a new 
library for the School so that the present one in Guild Hall can be 
moved and the Guild Hall and Pedagogue's House can be renovated and 
opened to the public. Further, the new library "will feature an 
Interpretation Centre to illustrate and explain the Guild Hall's history 
and archaeology, and its Shakespearean interest." Anyone interested in 
learning more about these worthwhile activities or contributing to the 
effort should contact the Fundraising Office at King Edward VI School, 
Church Street, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 1HB or by e-mail at 

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 .

While in Stratford, Rebecca and I saw six RSC productions - 1, 2, 3 
Henry VI (in the Courtyard Theatre, the temporary 1,000 seat venue that 
will be used exclusively during the renovation of the Royal Shakespeare 
Theatre and the Swan), King John, The Tempest, and Julius Caesar. The 
Henries, perhaps a tad too long, were nonetheless stunning and may with 
the large thrust stage and high ceiling from which characters dropped 
down, performed in mid-air, and were pulled out of sight provide hints 
as how productions in the soon-to-be-renovated big house might be staged 
in that renovated space. Incidentally, we sat in all three levels and 
found the no problems with sight lines anywhere in the house. Clearly, 
the jewel of the RSC group for me was the King John in the Swan.

We saw three plays at the Bankside Globe: Titus, Comedy of Errors, and 
Antony and Cleopatra. To my tastes, these were the three most 
consistently excellent productions I have ever seen at the New Globe. 
Overall, the Titus was the most impressive, and Comedy with the same 
cast was almost equally as accomplished. For individual performances, 
Frances Barber as Cleopatra was the most outstanding, being perhaps the 
finest Cleopatra I have seen. Also, of note, was the company's greater 
experimentation with staging. Much has been written about the extensive 
use of the yard in Titus, but I found the staging of Antony and 
Cleopatra, at least, if not more, interesting. There were additions made 
to the front edges of the stage, but most interesting was the structure 
added in front of the tiring house that served as, among other things, 
Cleopatra's monument. C. Walter Hodges in several of his drawings for 
Enter the Whole Army (see pages 22, 23, 43, 45, 47, 60, et al.) 
conjectures about the use of such a structure, and here that structure 
was seamlessly integrated into the stage design, being easily erected 
and removed from production to production, conclusively demonstrating 
for me that Hodges's conjectures about the presence of tiring-house 
frontage constructions (see especially p. 63) are appropriate and 
convincing. (I seem to recall that reviewers were not so inclined to 
accept Hodges's conjectures when the book appeared in 1999.)

Finally, Rebecca and I were privileged to see the two most talked about 
shows in London: Rock 'N' Roll and The Life of Galileo. Rock 'N' Roll, 
Tom Stoppard's latest play, "spans the years 1968 to 1990 from the 
double perspective of Prague, where a rock 'n' roll band comes to 
symbolize resistance to the Communist regime, and Cambridge, England, 
where the verities of love and death shape the lives of three 
generations in the family of a Marxist philosopher." The production 
recently moved from The Royal Court Theatre to the Duke of York's 
Theatre in the West End, and is directed by Trevor Nunn with an 
excellent ensemble cast that includes Brian Cox, Sinead Cusack, Alice 
Eve, and Rufus Sewell. Undoubtedly, our greatest theatrical experience 
of the trip was seeing the magnificent Simon Russell Beale in The Life 
of Galileo. Beale was electrifying as Galileo in this modern dress 
version by David Hare that resonates with today's continuing conflicts 
between faith and reason. Directed by Howard Davies, the production is 
beautifully staged and realized at the National Theatre's Olivier Theatre.

Between Stratford and London, Rebecca and I spent a few days in Oxford. 
She and I would both love to relocate to the UK, and attending 
university in Oxford in five years is part of her plan. This marvelous 
trip provided me my excuse for visiting the UK every two years, yet I 
long for any reason to stay longer.

Hardy

PS: To top all of this off, Rebecca was accidentally kicked by Patrick 
Stewart during the interval for Titus (he must have come down from 
Stratford to catch the sold out show), and I sat for two-thirds of 
Galileo next to Helena Bonham Carter, whose work I have admired since A 
Room with A View and Lady Jane.

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