I called these monthly blogs “northernvicarwalks” because the dream was 1,000 miles a year. The reality for the last couple of years has been 500. January was 27, February has been 5. We have been staying at home with a vengeance – one week I left the house/office twice, once for the Crematorium, once for the dentist. We ended the month with our Covid jabs, so that’s a bit of hope.
Otherwise we have Zoomed, phoned, watched too much telly and read so many books. The snowdrops have been lovely, and little daffodils at the end of the month.
Julie wrote her 1,000th Northern Reader blog and I Rambled on facebook every day.
I don’t know why it has taken several weeks before we got round to sitting and watching our next Shakespeare. “Romeo and Juliet” is one of those plays we are are convinced we know. We are sure we have seen it several times (though the only performance we can remember was one in Chester a few years ago). We know “West Side Story” very well. Julie did a while as an Supply Teacher in English, and had used Baz Luhrmann’s version in her lessons, so we watched that.
I wasn’t really expecting anything like this. I assumed Mr Luhrmann was an American, but now discover he is Australian. I had seen “Moulin Rouge”, but I wouldn’t have known he was the director. Romeo + Juliet was released by 20th Century Fox in 1996. It cost $14.5 million, and grossed $151.8 million. It starred Leonard DiCaprio and Claire Danes. I can see why a teenage class would enjoy it – he is a bit too pretty (I think), she is rather lovely.
The Capulets and Montagues are rival business empires at Verona Beach, on the west coast of America. Benvolio and Romeo gatecrash a Capulet party, and Romeo meets Juliet through a fish tank. There are some interesting balcony scenes which also include the young couple getting very wet in the swimming pool.
The fight scene takes place at the beach, with Tybalt, Mercutio and Romeo. The Prince is played (by Vondie Curtis-Hall) as a Police Chief – quite effectively – and he banishes Romeo from the city.
Miriam Margolyes is Juliet’s nurse, and she brings Romeo to Juliet for their wedding night. She was a breath of fresh air.
Pete Postlethwaite plays Father Laurence (he is Friar Laurence in the play). I commented on my daily Facebook post “I have decided that, however much I get wrong in the next six months, I will probably be more successful than Friar Laurence. He marries Romeo and Juliet (two very young people) as part of a plan to end the civil strife in Verona, he spirits Romeo into Juliet’s room and then out of Verona; and he devises the plan to reunite Romeo and Juliet through the deceptive ruse of a sleeping potion – basically he causes the death of both of them. BBC Bitesize describes him as “trustworthy, wise and compassionate” – I disagree.
At the end Romeo enters the church where Juliet lies and bids her goodbye, and, thinking her dead, drinks a vial of poison. Juliet awakens just in time for them to share a final kiss before Romeo dies. A distraught Juliet picks up Romeo’s gun and shoots herself in the head. The two lovers are soon discovered in each other’s arms.
I read that Shakespeare wrote the play between 1591 and 1595, basing it on an Italian tale written in poetry in the 1560s. It was, and has remained, one of his most popular plays – although Samuel Pepys wrote in 1662: “it is a play of itself the worst that I ever heard in my life.” I can’t say it is a one I really enjoy – the youth of the two of them is a problem, the role of the clergy frightens me, and it is not particularly cheerful. Mr Luhrmann’s film was certainly different.
We moved into the new year, opened the schools for a day to give the virus lots of opportunities to spread, then went into lockdown again. I find it hard to believe that any government can be so incompetent. Vaccines started, and the NHS are doing an amazing job – if we’d give the NHS the responsibility for track and trace, rather than giving it to Tory friends, we probably wouldn’t be in such a mess. On Tuesday 26 January, the 11th anniversary of our Theo’s death, we passed the 100,000 point of those who have died within 28 days of a Covid diagnosis. I feel angry and impotent.
In this lockdown churches were not instructed to close. We made the decision to do so – worshipping together in our Holy Places is important, but not when it puts people in danger. We have gone onto Zoom, usually with about 65 people attending, then put the video on youtube when we usually find another 20 or 30 views over the following week. If you search for “Peter Barham” on youtube you will find them.
I continued my daily facebook ramblings. Here are this month’s:
Julie and I had one walk at Kedleston, but the rest of the time we stayed at home. There was an incident when Derbyshire Police fined people who had travelled five miles to go to Calke Abbey for a walk. A couple of days later the Prime Minister was driven seven miles so he could cycle and the Metropolitan Police said he had done nothing wrong. The Derbyshire fines were quietly withdrawn! The 27 miles of walking I completed in January were nearly all done round the garden.
“Have we ever seen this?” I asked the Oracle as we decided what we watch on a cold, frosty, lock-downed Saturday evening. “No” replied my wife. We pooled our collective knowledge of the play – “Falstaff is in it”. So we took ourselves to The Globe in 2010 to watch the production directed by Christopher Luscombe. The following day I read about the play and this production – my complete set of Globe DVDs has an information book too.
They had put extra bits of staging in, which seemed a little bit complicated, but they used it well. It was fun watching the groundlings when they realised the action was behind them. The costumes were gorgeous, I decided I want Falstaff’s dressing gown (below, with Frank Ford pretending to be Master Brook), and the music was wonderful. Sharon Lindo, one of the musicians, plays violin/tenor and bass recorders/alto shawm/alto curtal. I know a shawm is the forerunner of an oboe, but a curtal? “The curtal is a Renaissance woodwind instrument, with a double reed and a folded (doubled into a ‘U’) conical bore to produce a more compact instrument than the larger shawms).” So now you know! And Sharon has her own website – http://www.sharonlindo.co.uk/ – she has done 14 productions at the Globe. We always concentrate on the actors, and forget everyone else who makes a performance.
So now I will tell you about the actors. Christopher Benjamin plays Sir John Falstaff. This is a younger Falstaff than in the Henrys – not as large or as old, and able to have a better time. He is not trying to succeed with Mistress Quickly or Doll Tearsheet, he is writing letters to nice married ladies, Meg Page and Alice Ford, in the hope (expectation) they will enjoy his company (and he theirs’). Meg is played by Serena Evans and Alice by Sarah Woodward. Falstaff may be hopeful, but the ladies are not going to betray their husbands, rather they will teach Falstaff a lesson. George Page (Michael Garner) and Frank Ford (Andrew Havill) eventually learn to trust their wives. Falstaff finds himself in a basket of dirty washing dumped in a ditch.
Rob Maslen has written a learned article in the Globe booklet, and discusses the view of England that this play gives us. He takes the party in Henry IV part 2 as his starting point – an alternative England, “a land engendered by the sheer force of the comic knight’s imagination.” A happy genial society – which contrasts with the one where Hal denies knowing Falstaff, Bardolph ends up hung from a tree., and the country descends into War. Legend has it that Elizabeth I “compensated for Henry’s bad sportsmanship by insisting that Falstaff be granted an imaginative kingdom of his own.” Even when Falstaff is being taunted in this play we keep being assured that no-one gets hurt. The scene at the end, where Falstaff is crowned with the antlers of a stag, then surrounded by characters dressed as fairies, is all in good humour. Maslen comments that the stag, the king of the woods, is also the contents of a venison pasty.
There is also the story of who Anne Page, daughter of George and Meg, will marry (Anne is played by Ceri-Lyn Cissone). Will it be Abraham Slender (played by William Belchambers), her father’s choice, Dr Caius (Philip Bird), her mother’s, or Fenton (Gerard McCarthy), her own? Some lovely comedy with Dr Caius, who’s French, and with Sir Hugh Evans, a Welsh parson (Gareth Armstrong) – there must be a PhD in Shakespeare’s use of the foreigner to make us laugh.
Maslen ends his essay “In the Merry Wives merriness is vindicated, laughter liberated from slaughter, and the shadow of civil war dispersed from a land where everyone enjoys warmth and enough to eat. It’s not the land where the Elizabethan’s lived; but thanks to Falstaff and his friends they could go home from the performance nurturing the hope that one day it might be.” Sentiments which fit this Covid time in this Elizabethan Age.
We continue to work our way, slowly, through the canon of Shakespeare’s plays, but when Julie said “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” I wasn’t very enthusiastic. We did it at school – my recorder ensemble provided the music – and have seen it many times. We did a version with our Performing Youth Group at St Edmundsbury Cathedral and Hannah was in a production in Durham which then toured the States. We have seen it in the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, etc. It’s a lovely play, ideally outside on a summer evening (though these days my back needs a decent chair), but not for a January evening in Covid lockdown.
We watched the BBC production directed by Russell T. Davies in 2016. It starts with the Athenian Court and John Hannah as Theseus. No Greek scenery, classical statues, flowing drapery, Mediterranean sun, but a fascist court with troops, surveillance (clever use of ipads). At this point I realised I was watching a different “Dream”. Hippolyta (played by Eleanor Matsurra) comes on. The picture shows wheels, and I assumed we had Hippolyta in a wheelchair. No, she is fastened to a trolley, wearing a leather mask. This is no love-match, but the forced marriage of a captured prisoner. Later on at the marriage feast her bride’s dress is fastened with padlocks. It is profoundly uncomfortable – not what I was expecting. Later I read some of the reviews, and it is pointed out, quite correctly, that Theseus is the sort of Lord who will condemn a girl to death for loving the wrong man.
The lovers are played by Prisca Bakare (Hermia), Kate Kennedy (Helena), Matthew Tennyson (Lysander) and Paapa Essiedu (Demetrius) – my only complaint was that Lysander looked a bit too much like Harry Potter. Apparently they filmed the forest scenes over four nights in October – and were fortunate it never rained – then did some bits in the studio. They are beautifully done, beautiful and natural, put with an added zing of fantasy and effects.
You can tell Russell T. Davies did “Doctor Who”. The effects he uses with the spirits are wonderful – disappearing in colourful trails of light, circling the earth with the effect of a shooting flare. It is brilliant. Maxine Peake is Titania (a long way from Doll Tearsheet), Nonso Anozie is Oberon, and Hiran Abensekera as Puck. Cobweb, Peaseblossom, Moth and Mustardseed are no gentle flowers, they are incredible lively, colourful spirits, but with a hint of menace.
The biggest surprise was Elaine Page as Mistress Quince. We never saw her as “Evita”, but listen to her regularly on Radio 2. This is the first time she has played Shakespeare. I thought she was good, but it hasn’t led to any other Shakespearean roles. Matt Lucas is Bottom, with a very believable donkey costume, Richard Wilson as Starveling and Bernard Cribbins as Snout were lovely. Javone Prince is Snug and Fisavo Akinade is Flute. They cut quite a lot of the rehearsal part, but the play at the wedding feast was as fun as normal.
The wedding feast is given an edge by Theseus not just laughing at the mechanicals, but taking the i-pad and deleting them. Then he starts to feel unwell, and we see his death off-stage on a security camera, being watched on the i-pad by Philostrate (Elliot Levey) who leaves him to his fate. Hippolyta finds love, and will share her future, with Titania – some reviewers complained about their passionate kiss. I wondered where Oberon will fit in this relationship.
Various reviewers described it as a “Dream for our time” or similar phrases. Vibrant, young, multi-cultural, breaking the stereotypes of gender. Yet Julie pointed out that no-one in the play had a disability, the wheelchair did not exist.
It was certainly worth watching on a cold January evening.
As we’ve watched the last three plays in the BBC’s Hollow Crown series of 2012, it makes sense to do the same here – and it is good that the main characters are played by the same actors as before. This was directed by Thea Sharrock – she had had a lot of theatre experience, though this seems to have been the only thing she did for television. In the bonus film she talks about taking Tom Hiddlestone for a run and making him do the speeches as they ran – when she couldn’t hear him, she made him do it again.
Hiddlestone is an excellent King – and I enjoyed his rendition of the St Crispin’s Day speech. A few years ago St Crispin’s day (25 October) fell on a Sunday, so we slotted hymn 410 “Creator of the earth and skies” in to the morning service. It is sung to the tune “Agincourt (Deo Gracias)”, an English fifteenth century melody – which is also the tune that William Walton weaves into his “Agincourt song” from the 1944 Olivier version.
Olivier’s is the version I have watched most, always with the understanding that it was filmed towards the end of the Second World War when Britain stood alone. It seems very dated, but the performances, and William Walton’s music, are wonderful. We won’t make any comment about how performances of “Henry V” have influenced our relationship with Europe – in the week when we were dragged out of Europe, and the Prime Minister’s father has applied for French citizenship!
We saw Kenneth Branagh’s performance at the Barbican in 1985, in the version produced by Adrian Noble for the RSC. I had forgotten it was “post-Falklands”, so another interpretation informed by a war – https://www.rsc.org.uk/henry-v/past-productions/in-focus-adrian-noble-1984. Branagh’s film gives him a bigger role than Tom Hiddlestone seems to have, but I haven’t seen that film for a few years. Patrick Doyle’s music for that film is special as well – we sang “Non Nobis Domine” with the Bailiffgate Singers in Alnwick and it has a great tenor part – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmYcpUtvR9U. I think I saw Terry Hands production for the RSC in the late 1970s, I remember one school trip to Stratford – but Julie doesn’t remember going to see that. More information about that performance at https://www.rsc.org.uk/henry-v/past-productions/in-focus-terry-hands-1975. There is so much to read about each play at their website – perhaps I can retire early and do more research.
Anyway, back to “Hollow Crown”. John Hurt is the chorus. He makes a visual appearance at the end when they explain that Henry died quite soon after he had married Kate. I checked, Agincourt was 1415, but he didn’t marry Catherine of Valois until 1420. In this production she is played by Melanie Thierry – rather lovely – but the French scenes are not as amusing as I have sometimes seen them played. Indeed, there are not many laughs anywhere – I seem to remember lots of dialogue about leeks in other productions.
There isn’t much about the death of Falstaff and the scenes in Eastcheap have been shortened. Julie Walters gets a few minutes of screne time. The hanging of Bardolph after he steals from a church is over quite quickly, and they don’t spend much time on Henry’s reaction to the execution of one of his friends. They don’t spend much time on the reason for the execution of the French prisoners either – and they change the reason why it happens. Rather a lot of messing around with Mr Shakespeare.
Henry’s “Band of brothers” speech is addressed to the nobles around him, rather than being a rallying cry for the whole of the English army. It is still very powerful. “Once more into the breach” inspires the men at the earlier action.
It was an enjoyable film, but I would like to watch a straightforward (i.e. sticking to what the Bard wrote) stage play at some point. Having said that, “The Hollow Crown” has been an enjoyable four evenings.
The November lockdown made zero difference as so many things remained opened, government is incompetent, test and trace is a complete failure, and the virus has become more efficient. The death toll is horrendous, yet crowds still gather outside hospitals refusing to believe we have a problem and refusing to wear their masks. We ended December in “Tier Four Stay at Home”, so we’ll see if that makes any difference.
In some ways it was quite nice not to be so busy in December, but I missed the music, the crowds and the celebrations. We produced a Zoom service every Sunday and on Christmas Day, did a Christmas video – https://youtu.be/IrTEUVX55wk – and had small services every Sunday. I made lots of phone calls, sent Christmas cards, and Rambled on Facebook every day.
At the end of November I had walked 476 miles, and I managed 40 this month. Much of it was round Kedleston. We were doing the whole of the Long Walk which is about three miles round in a circle. However as the weather has got damper Morgan the powerchair struggles with the meadows in front of the house. So now we walk up and round the back of the house, down to the Splash Pool, then turn round and go back, so that’s five miles in all.
We also managed some walks around Allestree, delivering Christmas cards and admiring the Nativity Scene outside Broadway Baptist Church. So I end the year at 516 miles – I am a Proclaimer, but not much more.
New Year’s Eve, so let’s lie on the sofa and go back to 1403, after the Battle of Shrewsbury. In this play we have the death of Henry IV, which didn’t actually happen until 1413, but who cares if we condense a decade into one play. Or perhaps I am just going back to when the play was written, probably sometime between 1596 and 1599. Even if we just go back to 2012 when “Hollow Crown” was produced as part of the BBC’s Olympic celebrations, I can’t help thinking that the world was a happier place eight years ago – even this miserable, non-sporty human being was caught up in the excitement of welcoming the world to London 2012.
I said I had done Henry IV part II for A level, but I can’t say I remembered it. We move from the fleshpots of Eastcheap to the Court (which, the extras tell me, was filmed in St David’s Cathedral in Pembrokeshire. We haven’t been there for 20 years or so, so it’s another place to visit in 2021). We also march through the wintry countryside (why is it always winter for Richard Eyre the director?) – it amazes me that a bunch of soldiers going down a narrow bridleway through the forest suddenly meet another bunch of soldiers going in the other direction because the narrow bridleway is obviously the A1. I’m sure medieval roads were better than that.
Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet returned, played by Julie Walters and Maxine Peake – there is a touching scene between Doll and Falstaff (Simon Russell Beale). When he rolls off muttering “too old”, you feel for him. Indeed by the end of the play I felt very sad for him – “I know thee not, old man” is a very public rejection. Yet you also see him lying and cheating, and taking the life savings from Justice Shallow – he is not a nice man.
Henry (Jeremy Irons) is obviously a very ill man. He is a king who is still not at ease with his crown and the way he gained it. Prince Hal (Tom Hiddlestone) is fast becoming king – too fast at one point – and there is fascinating interplay between them.
The roles of the courtiers are not particularly large, though Geoffrey Palmer is an excellent Lord Chief Justice (we met him once at the Helmsdale Museum in northern Scotland – on another wonderful holiday).
The rebels have better parts – the Archbishop of York is one of those arrested (he is played by Nicholas Jones, one of those actors you recognise from lots of things).
Northumberland makes a brief appearance before he escapes to Scotland. His wife is played by Niamh Cusack, and Michelle Dockery makes a brief appearance (far too brief) again as the widowed daughter-in-law.
The film is beautifully filmed, beautifully acted, and it will be fascinating to watch it on stage at some point. We’ve never seen it on stage, but have different versions on DVD. We’ll see how long lockdown goes on for.
If memory serves, I did Henry IV part I for O level and part II for A level, but that was many years ago. Despite the passage of time I can still remember Miss Williamson and Mr Roberts, two of my English teachers. I think it was her first job out of College, while he had been teaching for many years. I remember writing essays on “Honour”, “Hal’s relationship with Falstaff”, and various other topics – indeed I was pleasantly surprised how much of the play I remembered. Julie doesn’t think we’ve ever seen it on stage.
Henry IV had deposed Richard II in 1399 – then Richard died in Pontefract the following year. Richard was only 33 – the same age as Henry. This play covers less than a year – it starts with Hotspur’s battle at Homildon in Northumberland against Douglas late in 1402 and ends with the defeat of the rebels at Shrewsbury in the middle of 1403. Despite living in Northumberland for seven years, I had to look Homildon up – it is just north of Wooler on the A697, so I have driven past it. I have also driven past the site of the Battle of Shrewsbury on several occasions – but have never stopped and visited the Battlefield Church (Churches Conservation Trust). The battle took place in June, but this version of the play set it in the depths of winter – all snow and mud, very atmospheric, beautifully filmed, and a reminder (if one were needed) that medieval warfare was extremely brutal.
We watched the BBC “Hollow Crown” 2012 version again, with Jeremy Irons playing Henry. In 2012 he was 20 years old than the real Henry, and comes across as the old king with a rebellious youth as a son. Prince Hal is played by Tom Hiddlestone, and he is as confident in the taverns and bawdy houses as he is in the court itself.
He shares one life with Sir John Falstaff (played superbly by Simon Russell Beale), with Maxine Peake as Doll Tearsheet and Julie Walters as Mistress Quickly. The “I know you all” soliloquy is spoken in voiceover as he walks through the tavern away from Falstaff, nodding and smiling at the patrons and people in the street while the sadness in his eyes reflect his thoughts (I’m sure I had to write an essay on that).
Life in court is more formal. There is an excellent blog on the play at https://blogs.nottingham.ac.uk/bardathon/2012/07/08/the-hollow-crown-1-henry-iv-bbc/, and I rather hope that would tell me where it was filmed. Henry tears a strip off his son at the beginning, and the two have a fascinating relationship. Henry Percy, Hotspur, is played by Joe Armstrong – I had to look him up, and then realised how much he’s been in. His father Northumberland is played by Alun Armstrong (“Prime Suspect”). A bit more research needs doing on these various Dukes of Northumberland and their castles – I have never visited Alnwick and it is many years since I’ve been to Wirksworth.
Hotspur’s wife, Kate Percy, is played by Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary of Downton Abbey). The Nottingham blog writer is disturbed by the power-play and violence in their relationship – my only comment is that if I were sharing my bed with Lady Kate, I would not be in a hurry to leave it and go to war. Alex Clatworthy plays Lady Mortimer (I can’t find a photo of her in this production) and sings quite beautifully in Welsh – she is a native of Llandaff, studied in Cambridge and then at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Doing a bit of research I find that Catrin, Lady Mortimer, was one of the children of Owain Glyndŵr. In November 1402 she married Edmund Mortimer. He died in the siege of Harlech Castle in 1409 and his wife and daughters were taken to the Tower of London. After her death shortly afterwards she was buried at St Swithin’s church which stood on the north side of Cannon Street, and there is a memorial to her there. Going back to Lady Kate Percy, she was also called Elizabeth Mortimer. Hotspur was her first husband. After his death in battle she had to cope with being the wife of a rebel – later she married Thomas de Camoys, 1st Baron Camoys, and had ten years with him. He commanded one of the wings of the English army at Agincourt (but we’ve got Henry IV part II to get through before we get to Henry V). I am going to suggest someone could write a mini-series called “Wives of the Hollow Crown” – I’d watch it (especially if Michelle Dockery and Alex Clatworthy were in it).
These lives are fascinating, and Shakespeare weaves them all together. Part II is still to come!
We have several versions of “Richard II”, so we decided to watch the BBC Hollow Crown version of 2012, directed by Rupert Goold. I recognised St David’s Cathedral (where we had a lovely holiday when the kids were small), checked and found it was Pembroke Castle (last visited when I was a lad), and knew I’d seen the amazing topiary somewhere (Packwood House, visited last year). We are a long way from the stage of the Globe.
Apparently the earliest recorded performance of Richard II was a private one, in Canon Row, the house of Edward Hoby, on 9 December 1595. The play was entered into the Register of the Stationers Company on 29 August 1597 by the bookseller Andrew Wise. One day I will read more about Shakespeare’s life and how these plays came to be produced and printed. Richard II was king 1377-1399, and this play covers the last couple of years of his reign, and his deposition. Again, I need to re-read the history – I know the Peasants’ Revolt is 1381, but I would have struggled to name the King.
I have recently done a course on the history of Art from The National Gallery, and one of the items we looked at was The Wilton Diptych, where Richard is depicted kneeling in worship before the Virgin and Child, with St Edmund, Edward the Confessor and John the Baptist behind him. There is also this portrait of him at Westminster Abbey, which was one of the influences on the look of this production.
Ben Wishaw plays Richard. Tim Dowling, in the Guardian’s review, describes his performance as ” camp, flutey and painfully self-conscious” – I’m not sure if he means that in a negative sense. It is certainly a fascinating picture of a king who has a Messianic complex – he comes in on a donkey at one point, and Wishaw even looks like Jesus. I found the scene where Richard is killed by arrows very Edmund-like, but I don’t suppose viewers who weren’t from Bury St Edmunds would make that link. There is also one point where he stands with two angelic figures – now I know where we got the idea for our broomstick nativity figures from.
Rory Kinnear plays Henry Bolingbroke. He has done a huge amount of Shakespeare – indeed, all the cast have good Shakespearean pedigree. He came over as a seasoned warrior and a more believable King than Richard.
Patrick Stewart is a marvellous John of Gaunt – and the “Sceptred Isle” speech is marvellous. I am very angry and depressed about the country in which I live, a country where Unicef is helping to feed children and one of the Cabinet describes it as a “political stunt” – this speech makes me feel better about the beautiful country in which I live, and giving me the strength to pray for it.
David Suchet plays Edmund of Langley, Duke of York – again, I need to work out the history.
There are only three female parts. Clemence Poesy is Richard’s Queen, Isabella Laughland is her lady, and Lindsay Duncan (above) is the Duchess of York. I know why he didn’t write for women, but it does feel there is something missing. It will be interesting to see if other productions make more of them.