Sunday, 24 April 2016

I am Fire and Air ... The Complete Walk

Yesterday I did The Complete Walk to celebrate William Shakespeare. It's now 400 years since his death and his work is still as alive and vibrant as ever and what better way to celebrate his 37 plays  than to set up 37 video screens along the Southbank and Bankside and show videos of all of them. The Globe theatre on Bankside is, of course, Shakespeare central and it was the hub for this event. Full details are here, along with a map and a brochure of the special films

It is such a great idea and a great way to celebrate Shakespeare with these old plays being shown on the latest technology for all the world (well, if you were in London) to see and enjoy and relive all that great story telling and poetry. I saw 29 of the 37 films - not all of the screens were working but, as I know from long experience, the technology can always let you down at the last minute. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed what I saw wandering up and down the river.

For me, the Walk started at Blackfriars as I wandered along to The Globe to pick up a map and continued along to start my viewing from Potters Fields. The first screen I stopped at was Simon Russell Beale as Timon of Athens filmed in Athens and sited outside Southwark Cathedral - I saw him in this play at the National Theatre in 2012 and it was really touching to hear some of those speeches again, particularly filmed around the Acropolis. Just to keep it all real, the bells of the Cathedral started chiming just as he started talking about gold so, with a wry smile, I walked on since he was drowned out.

I left the trail and headed round to Potters Fields where four of the screens were sited but only one was working and, thankfully, that was for The Tempest' that I saw at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse' in The Globe a couple of weeks ago. This screen showed excerpts from a previous production at The Globe as well as specially filmed segments with Douglas Hodge as Prospero filmed in Bermuda. A memorable section showed him standing on the beach with him reciting a speech before walking into the sea and continuing until he was completely under water and the camera lingered with him still under the waves, a really dramatic moment that will stay in my mind for a while to come.

Walking along the river I found 'King Lear' beside one of the pagodas with Kenneth Cranham slowly going mad on the cliff tops at Dover, making his own crown from grasses. It was all very emotional but I preferred the quieter, later section with Joseph Marcell also playing Lear but in a wheelchair on top of the cliffs when he's greeted again by Cordelia (Zawe Ashton) and he says he will drink her poison. That was so touching and gentle, this reconciliation of father and daughter before he dies. I would love to see him play Lear on the stage after that great performance.

Just along from 'Lear' was 'Anthony & Cleopatra' which was a magical mixture of excerpts from the great production at The Globe a couple of years ago and specially filmed scenes set at the pyramids at Giza in Egypt. The Globe scenes showed Anthony dying in Cleopatra's arms and the film picked this up with her own defiant suicide with her loyal maid Iras as she brings the deadly snake to Cleopatra at the foot of the Red Pyramid.

And then, surprisingly, they climb up to the entrance of the pyramid and go inside to the chamber where Cleopatra puts on her crown and says those immortal lines.

'Give me my robe, put on my crown, I have
Immortal longings in me ...
I am fire and air, my other elements
I give to a baser life...'.

Eleanor Matsuura was Cleopatra and Katy Stephens was the brave Iras. It was a very touching scene, particularly as the camera stayed on Iras as Cleopatra died in the pyramid. I've been in that pyramid and so know what it's like inside, stuffy and warm and full of history across the millennia and myth.

After a late lunch we continued walking along the Thames, stopping to watch this screen and that but the next one I really liked was 'The Merry Wives of Windsor', a play I've never seen performed. Again, it was a mix of a live performance from The Globe and filmed portions with Paul Chahidi and Mel Giedroyc as mistresses Page and Ford each receiving an identical letter of everlasting love from that rogue Sir John Falstaff. O such a rogue is he and they will have their revenge! Paul and Mel made an excellent couple and I'd love to see them do this on stage sometime. It was great fun!

Then onto the Southbank proper and more screens with lots of the history plays, lots of Henrys and Richards. Jonathan Pryce reprised his role as Shylock in 'The Merchant of Venice' with scenes from his Globe performance last year as well as a new scene filmed in the Jewish Ghetto in Venice. And further along was a touching performance of 'King John' that was dedicated to the death of Shakespeare's young son, Hamnet. Underneath Hungerford Bridge we see extracts from the Globe production of 'Titus Andronicus' (the one that gained publicity for people fainting at all the gore) with extra scenes filmed in Rome featuring Peter Capaldi.

The final screens were in the gardens outside St Thomas's Hospital with a very touching 'Henry VI, Part 3' in which we see Henry sheltering in a church at Towton with a soldier who realises he's killed his father in the opposing army and a father who finds that he has killed his son. What a wretched king to witness the sorrow of his people. But on the other side of the lawn we visit a sun-drenched castle in Verona with an acerbic Meera Syal as Lucetta in 'Two Gentlemen of Verona'. Meera was excellent with her trademarked glances into the camera as if to say *you* know what I'm saying even if this young girl doesn't. O yes, Meera, we do!

By now it was dark and you can see the lights in the wards at St Thomas's Hospital at the top of the photo and the outline of trees to the right.

'The Two Gentlemen of Verona', as Shakespeare's first play, was actually Number 1 on the map and the film included lots of excerpts from the other screens but I did the walk from last to first. Of course, there was still time to catch some more screens so we headed back to see if any of the screens not working earlier were now working and caught 'The Comedy of Errors' with Omid Djalili filmed in a Turkish restaurant and a few others. We finally gave up at London Bridge to get the train home. Phew, with aching feet too.

This was a very tiring and madly crowded day but great fun and a fitting tribute to Shakespeare. There were log-jams of people at various places along the riverbank with the crowds brought out to enjoy the free show along the river and, frustrating and annoying as that was, it's nice that so many people wanted to join in the celebration. I'm certainly pleased that I did. It's a bit disappointing to see the criticism some unthinking people have left on the Globe website this morning because some screens weren't working. I'm grateful that so many were working. I'm also grateful that this celebration was arranged in the first place with some excellent film clips picking out some of the key parts in the plays and presented so well. Hopefully all the videos will be available on DVD at some point - I'll certainly get a copy!

It was great to be involved in a celebration rather than just sitting on the sofa at home and watching something on telly. Well done to The Globe, to everyone involved and to the volunteers handing out maps along the route - good show people!

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