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Sherlock Hemlock
Posted on Monday 3 March 2014 at 10:47 am

Epic Posts: Watched

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I wrote you an epic post of everything! Then I decided it was a bit too epic, so I'm breaking into two. Part 1 is a bit of Real Life stuff and what I've been reading lately. Part 2 (this one) is what I've watched recently, mostly National Theatre play broadcasts. See what happens when it is Spring Break so I don't have to go to campus to deal with undergrads and am procrastinating working on my dissertation at home? Now I think I shall go make cinnamon waffles for brunch.

NT Frankenstein Version 2
It looks like last time I posted about the NT Frankenstein encores was after I'd watched the Cumberbatch as Creature version, which I'd seen before, and before I watched the Miller as Creature version, which I hadn't seen before. I really enjoyed the second version, just as much as the first, and am especially glad that I saw them back-to-back days. It was really interesting comparing the two different takes on both the main characters. I loved both Creatures and don't think I could pick a favorite if my life depended on it. I think I liked Cumberbatch's Dr. Frankenstein a bit more than Miller's. He just seemed to add more nuance and emotional depth to the character. Miller's version was just driven while Cumberbatch's was driven but conflicted about it at times.

NT Coriolanus
I mentioned in a previous post that I'd seen Coriolanus and enjoyed it very much but didn't go into much detail. As an academic, my primary interest is the political culture of dissent so protests, marches, protest pop culture like music and novels, revolts, uprising, rebellions, etc. all get me super excited. I also love political theory and debates over ideologies and systems of government that happen both in the context of dissent and otherwise. For those who know Coriolanus, it should be obvious at this point that I was hooked from the start. I loved every second of the plot, the elite military leader who thinks his birth status and military prowess give him the natural right to rule all, the people pushing back against that, the people being manipulated by leaders emerging within their own ranks not always seeking the common good, etc. It was brilliant and now I want to get into the play more. I've got an audio full-cast version to which I'll probably listen soon while reading the script which is my favorite way to go with any new play but especially something where the language really matters as with Shakespeare.

On the staging of this particular version of Coriolanus, I thought they did a splendid job. They worked with a small space and minimal sets in a way that provided all the context necessary but allowed for a strong focus on what was happening not where and when it was happening. The acting was generally fantastic and Hiddleston was amazing in the eponymous role. I have a few quibbles with some of the choices made, but very few. My one semi-major problem is that it seemed like about half the cast was going for realistic performance where you could get lost in the story and almost forget you were watching a play while the other half was "Acting Shakespeare!" in that lovely dramatic way that never lets the audience forget that this is "Acting Shakespeare!" Both those things have their place and I enjoy them both, but they can't mix. I had more issues with that before intermission and felt after intermission there was much more of the realism type and less of the performing type so I was happy.

Most of my other nitpicks and thoughts deal with the characters of the people's tribunes. I was fascinated by the male-female dynamic there that they had in this staging right from the start. Anytime the two characters were sitting side-by-side they were a perfect study in socially defined gender norms for body language. The woman would tighten in on herself, crossing her legs and holding her arms in close to her side. The man would sprawl in his chair, spreading his arms and legs wide and taking up as much space as possible. I tried to find an image of them, but the best I got was this gif where they are on the far right and you can kind of get what I mean with her legs crossed and his splayed with hands on knees. I went with a friend and commented on this to her during the intermission so then she was watching for it in the second half and we spent a great deal of time after the play debating if this was a conscious choice of the actors / director / whomever or if gender norms were just that firmly embedded that the actors were doing it without realizing it. I'm hoping for the former and almost think it has to be deliberate, but I don't know. It also seemed, to me at least, that the woman had the more dynamic and leader role of the two tribunes, making an interesting contrast to their body language. Because I was so intrigued by all this going on in the background, I was exceedingly disappointed when the choice was made to make their relationship romantic and have them kiss. It was completely unnecessary as far as I was concerned and threw off everything going on both in terms of the characters' place in the play generally and the gender dynamics I'd noticed in the rest of their performance.

NT War Horse
The last National Theatre play broadcast I saw recently was War Horse. It's kind of odd that I have no interest in the book or film, but I really wanted to see this play. I think in book or film form the basic story just felt like sentimental tripe beating you over the head with a message (keep in mind this in my impression based on general knowledge of the plot that made me decide not to engage with it not an informed opinion formed after engaging with the material). The play has all of what I expected that kept me from the other versions, but it has other elements unique to the play that help to tone that day and allow for other aspects to engage my attention. First and foremost is of course the puppetry. The horses-as-puppets are absolutely amazing and marvelous. Second is the reality of presenting World War I trench warfare on a theatre stage. That's no easy feat and I was impressed with the choices in terms of lighting, sound, and minimalist scenery. I really enjoyed the play and am very glad I saw it, but I think it just confirmed that I wouldn't enjoy the book or film anywhere near as much. I don't really need a schmaltzy horse story to tell me that war sucks and destroys innocents or that World War I was a unique and terrible blend of early modern and modern warfare that made it especially atrocious in its own ways.

Elementary Season 1
I mentioned that I'd started watching Elementary Season 1. I finished it and enjoyed it very much. The last few episodes with the extra canon references were my favorites, but even the more generic police procedural episodes throughout were fun. I'll definitely get season 2 once it is available on DVD from one of my libraries.

Up Next?
I mentioned in the Real Life post that some of my dissertation bibliography database stuff that I need to do can best be done while watching something on TV. I've got two DVDs from the library from the recent Hollowed Crown series of some of Shakespeare's histories. Specifically, I've got Richard II and Henry V. I skipped getting the Henry IV ones as I just watched a version of them and I'm willing to watch Part I again but I don't feel a need to do so and Part II is so incredibly boring! After those, I'm leaning toward random things from PBS's Great Performances archive (including some more Shakespeare but honestly an opera version of Moby Dick is calling to me most strongly, I think).


Unsentimental Fool
unsentimentalf at 5:40 pm on 03 March 2014 (UTC) (Link)
I loved the Hollowed Crown series. And Coriolanus. I didn't mind the tribunes kissing, actually; I thought it added to the general feeling of sleaziness which I rather liked. I think the body language was very deliberate. Volumnia was superb.

I have to admit to going back to the text of the scene at Aufidius's house to see if it really was as homoerotic as they played it (yes).

I'm currently sulking because my plan was to finish my OU degree year after next with their Shakespeare module and they've just announced they are cancelling it :-( I can't believe they won't have any sort of replacement but they aren't announcing it. I've been looking forward to that for years! I might switch to their Myth in Greek and Rome course instead.
bratty_jedi at 11:43 pm on 06 March 2014 (UTC) (Link)
I feel like the body language had to be intentional because it was just so over-the-top, but I don't know how to know for sure without being able to interview people involved. Oh well. The kissing just felt unnecessary to me. I think I see what you mean about the general sleaze of it all, but adding a romantic element there just bugged me and distracted from the other stuff.

Bummer about the Shakespeare module. Myths are good, to, though.

I watched the Richard II and Henry V Hollow Crown versions. The acting and staging was fantastic all around and both were absolutely beautifully shot. I enjoyed Richard II, a play I knew, but I thought the Christ imagery was a little too over the top. Some would have been OK, but they were about half a step from literally having an arm reach out of the screen to beat the audience over the head with a crown of thorns and a cross.

I loved Henry V. I knew bits-and-pieces like the St. Crispin's Day Speech, but I'd never watched/read/whatever the entire play. The over-the-top propaganda nature of it was sometimes hilarious in ways it wouldn't have been to Elizabethan groundlings, but I expected that and they played it right to make it work as best as possible. I know I said I probably wasn't going to do Henry IV 1 & 2 again, but after seeing Hiddleston's Henry V, I kind of want to see his prince Hal, especially now that I know Simon Russel Beale is Falstaff. I added my name to the library wait list for both, but I'll probably only watch all of Part 1 and the couple scenes I like from part 2, though, because I really do find most of Part 2 boring.
Wine gums, envy, pieces of rainbow
qwentoozla at 6:38 am on 04 March 2014 (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for alerting me to your thoughts on Coriolanus! I found that I want to get into the play more too, having seen this version... I should read it sometime. I thought they did a great job with the small space too. I noticed what you pointed out about the acting too. I didn't notice the body language of the tribunes though, but that's really interesting now that you point it out! I remember being surprised that they actually had them kiss- for some reason I thought they wouldn't.

I don't really need a schmaltzy horse story to tell me that war sucks and destroys innocents or that World War I was a unique and terrible blend of early modern and modern warfare that made it especially atrocious in its own ways.

That's exactly what I always thought about War Horse. The puppets do look amazing in the previews for the play though!
bratty_jedi at 11:49 pm on 06 March 2014 (UTC) (Link)
I kind of want to listen to the audio version and read Coriolanus this weekend, but I don't think I'll be able to. I've got people coming over on Saturday and have to do some prep stuff for that tomorrow so maybe Sunday afternoon. Might depend on how late people stay Saturday and how tired I am.

Glad I'm not the only one dismissive of War Horse! I feel kind of bad being so "Yeah, yeah, I know that schtick!" but, well, I do know that schtick. The staging and puppetry of the theatrical version were more than worth the schmaltzy story, though.

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