Monday, 24 February 2014

'Ellen Terry with Eileen Atkins' at Shakespeare's Globe

This evening I was lucky enough to see Eileen's Atkins' last performance of her show about Ellen Terry at the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse in Shakespeare's Globe (where else could it be?). Build with lovely light wood, an ornate stage and lit with chandeliers of candles (and a couple of spotlights) with a painted ceiling, it's a lovely new theatre and I hope Zoe Wanamaker likes it on behalf of her dad.

Ellen Terry was a Victorian actress and great interpreter of Shakespeare and she wrote lectures about Shakespeare with Sir Henry Irving. Eileen Atkins pulled these together along with stories from Ellen's life to give us one of her lectures, striding the stage and telling us how to play and interpret Shakespeare. To illustrate her points she played scenes from some of the plays, taking all parts herself. She picked some great lines to use, such as how an actress who looks the right age for Juliet clearly can't play it properly as it requires a mature actress at the peak of her powers. Obviously. Her rendition of Juliet's speech before swallowing the poison was wonderful and demonstrated that a more mature actress can, indeed, bring more to the role.

Eileen took us on a journey through some of the more interesting women in Shakespeare, recounting why they were important and were meant to be so by Shakespeare. Characters like Beatrice and Rosamund were obviously large physically while Ophelia was a little waif. I think my favourite segments were Cordelia from 'King Lear' with Lear asleep in bed so she can be bold without her shyness and Emelia from 'Othello' transforming from a minor, comic character to a storming valkyrie of vengence for her slain mistress. Yikes, there's a power in that there woman and I mean Eileen here.

It was a mighty treat to hear Eileen play Ellen and I can't help wonder how much of what was said really reflects Eileen's own views.  This was a marvellous one-woman performance in the perfect place for a lecture about Shakespeare. If Eileen does this again then I'll certainly be in the queue for tickets.

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