Whilst structure and form is important to mimic the systems I relate to (namely political and environmental systems), the idea of spontaneity and unpredictability is hugely important for ecopoetics. Hillman argues that in the face of an exploitative and unsustainable economic system we need ‘intense, unpredictable poetry’ (n.p. qtd in Hume). Whilst there is a theme of exploring the structures (and failing structures) of systems throughout the collection, my poems vary in form to demonstrate the chaos which can ensue in one country where differing opinions can cause tensions to arise amongst different groups of people. Interestingly, however, I am exploring how the same environmental changes can evoke different responses in these groups.
What I think is important to recognise, is that no matter how far away a country may seem, in the twenty-first century we are intensely connected. Poetry uses familiar language and familiar images against each other to demonstrate the clashing that two cultures may have when they come into contact with each other. My poems are sympathetic to the suppressed people living in the rain forests of Papua New Guinea. The idea of a promise that has been ruptured or forgotten evokes an emotion which makes me want to speak out for this group. Whilst the anthropological side is interesting, it is also poignant to identify the loss of a habitat and the changes in the ecosystem that this will produce. Although the rain forests in Papua New Guinea are not geographically close to me, the loss of a habitat for economic reasons rather than disease seems incredibly selfish.
In Ashenbank Wood, Kent, England, the woodland trust have received permission to cut down many of the newer trees planted amongst the ancient oak trees which were planted in the wood more than 350 years ago. Kent County Council are eager to reinstate the ancient woodland which will open up the area allowing traditional grazing livestock to wander freely within the woodlands and maintain the low lying plants. This ‘regeneration’ of how the woodland once was is a positive way to maintain British woodland areas. Despite this, there are still negatives as there will undoubtably be a loss of habitat for hundreds of species of flora and fauna which live within the modern woodland area. This shows that no matter why a habitat is changed at the hands of humans, it always brings around a loss and transformation in the ecosystems. It is this sense of a loss of habitat which my poetry emphasises no matter what the reasons are and who is doing it. A cut means a transition into something new which is reactive and usually detrimental.
Shakespeare, an Elizabethan playwright, was at his finest during the Tudor dynasty. It was during this period that Shakespeare wrote most of his history plays. His source was a book called Holinshed’s Chronicles; a collaborative work published in several volumes which was a comprehensive description of British history. In 1577, when the work was first published, it was met with some criticism from scholars who deemed the text to be un-academic. Nevertheless, Shakespeare used this text as the basis of knowledge for his plays. The text was used to write Henry VIII in 1603, which is now one of Shakespeare’s least performed plays. The lack of popularity stems from the fact that the play seems to be devoid of any literary and dramatic alteration to the sources.
In contrast, in Henry V 1 and 2, two of Shakespeare’s most loved histories, Hal is given long and dramatic speeches, which contradict the historical knowledge that he was not blessed with a penchant for public speaking. Despite this, Shakespeare makes the hero rightfully heroic by giving him the voice and words of a leader. The audience is absorbed by Hal’s childishness, friendliness and later by his worthiness of a true leader as he stands side by side with his army ready to lead them into battle. Henry VIII, on the other hand, lacks this playful creativity that makes for engaging and enjoyable entertainment. Henry himself seems removed from the audience and rather stoic in his position. The events of Henry’s reign are condensed and confused, in a jumbled up way, even Anne Boleyn’s execution is simply skimmed over. Side by side, Shakespeare’s Henry VIII and Shakespeare’s historical source for the play, Holinshed’s Chronicles, are exact duplicates of each other. Today Holinshed’s Chronicles is an interesting historical text, particularly in its accounts of Henry VIII – but it is simply a historical account, largely unsuited to simply be translated on to the stage without added dramaturgy for entertainment purposes alone. One reason for the messiness, and the reason why some sections seem rather episodic is because the play was co-written by John Fletcher, each writing different sections of the play.
Another reason for this confused and jumbled account, may be the way in which the Chronicles are written. As a collaboration between several writers and influenced by several sources itself, Holinshed’s Chronicles demonstrates the differing opinions concerning the King only 30 years after his reign, and still within the Tudor dynasty. Edward Hall was a lawyer and served a lengthy public career in four of Henry VIII’s parliaments. His devotion to Henry VIII led him to chronicle and keep private notes about events in Henry’s reign, beginning as early as 1528. In 1530, Henry’s reputation among the public was at its nadir after his annulment, controversial marriage to Anne Boleyn, and assumption over his control of the English Church. Hall’s celebratory account of Henry’s rule and his defence of the king’s decision to separate from Queen Katherine appears to depict the King as the complete opposite of what the general public thought of Henry VIII. Hall’s account seemed specifically designed to lead English readers to renew their devotion and trust to their depreciated King. Hall recounts King Henry as being the very epitome of chivalric courtliness and honour. Hall’s accounts makes up for the majority of the section on Henry VIII in Holinshed’s Chronicles, however, these long celebratory sections are interspersed with Holinshed’s own opinion, making the text confusing and unclear. Holinshed acknowledges Henry’s frivolities; however they are noted with a touch of criticism. He describes how the King’s councillors sought to train their monarch in the art of ‘politike government of the Realme,’ despite the young king ‘being rather inclined to followe suche pleasaunt pastimes as his youthfull yong yeares did more delight in.’
What we see when we see a production of Henry VIII or read it, is an account. The small cast ‘gentlemen’ parts serve to display public opinion of the King, which does seem rather negative, but does not leave a lasting effect. Nevertheless, the King does come across as rather ruthless, lightly criticised throughout, but treads carefully along the line of being too critical. Katherine on the other hand remains virtuous throughout the play, lending her thoughts and advice to Henry who does take it on (although perhaps for selfish reasons).
Perhaps the play is too pedestrian because of Hall’s influence by writing about private, familial matters concerning the King, rather than diplomatic journeys, battles and England’s departure from the Catholic Church; a direct consequence of his annulment with Katherine. Had these been included, had we left the British Isles, perhaps had a further glimpse of life outside the court, then perhaps Shakespeare, writing his final play, would have gone out with a bang.
‘If music be the food of love, play on!’ declares Jonathan Broadbent, playing Orsino in Filter’s revival production of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and the band play on. The group of musicians that join the actors make up the exciting ensemble that is Filter. Combining music and drama was always the intention for the company whose members are mostly made up of an original group who studied together at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. All of its members have equal importance in the devising and rehearsal elements of the production. ‘Shakespeare’s theatre was an actor’s theatre, not a director’s theatre,’ said Oliver Dimsdale, in the post-show talk. He noted the importance in making the production a collaborative effort which does not single out any one component as being the most important. Music, sound, acting and physicality all contribute to Filter’s raucously hilarious Twelfth Night.
Originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2007, Filter have revived their production of Twelfth Night after it received glowing reviews commending its risk and energy. The rehearsal period spanned only 10 days and the show remains largely the same as the original run. Despite this, it remains full of life as the actors interact with the audience following structured improvisation which led to some hilarious outcomes. ‘Every piece of theatre is a live event and we never pretend that an audience isn’t there. Things do go wrong, and we embrace the idea that things go wrong,’ laughs Furgus O’Donnell, who plays the slimy, laughable Malvolio and struts around in a compromising lack of clothes as insanity takes hold. You can tell that the company is not fed up of performing this show as they use the audience to illicit responses to their calls, invite them to dance and induce us into becoming frivolous revelers rather than polite theatre-goers. It is in the times of comedy, misrule and festival that Filter excel as a company, moments of which lift the production into being an occasion rather than just an event.
One of the most successful moments in the production, and that I’m sure the audience will not forget in a hurry, is when drunk and mischievous Sir Toby and Sir Andrew, played by Gefforey Lumb and Jonathan Broadbent respectively, sing ‘what is love?’ into a microphone. Their solemn song quickly breaks into mad revelry, as pizza is passed around and the audience are encouraged to throw velcro balls at the heads of cast members. I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun at the theatre and the fear of dreaded audience participation was quickly swept away as, in a moment of madness, we all joined a conga line on stage, before being hurried back to our seats laden with a guilt as Fergus O’Donnell’s thunderous Malvolio bellows ‘my master, are you mad?’ – a thought that undoubtedly many people ask themselves after a night out.
It would be easy for a production to be lost in a moment like this, but Sarah Belcher as the instantly likeable Viola carries the play forward with an air of sincerity amongst all the madness. Her character sustains Shakespeare’s plot even through this new and fresh way of experiencing Shakespeare’s words. For in essence, this adaptation is very much Shakespeare’s play and the company is confident that Shakespeare would have loved it. ‘It’s nice to see Shakespeare in a fresh way and not to analyse it. We have to remember that most of Shakespeare’s audience was illiterate. They went to the theatre to be entertained.’ Filter have certainly succeeded in that task. The energy that runs through the company of musicians and actors is outstanding as they bow together to bold applause.
Filter’s production demonstrates a myth that so many people seem to forget: Shakespeare can be fun, hilarious and outrageous; it just requires the right people to make you remember it.
Half way through ‘The Drowned Man’ I found my self watching exactly the same scene I had seen once I had felt my way through a maze of stacked boxes and darkness after being bundled out of the elevator and told to ‘be careful on the streets.’ I realise that I have found myself in the position of a very real flashback. This had already happened, only now, I know the names of the two men, had some idea of why they have been acting so strangely, and knew exactly what their fates would be, where they would go, and the people they would meet. Indeed a strange feeling, made even stranger when one of the men looks into my eyes, examining me deeply, as if looking into his own future, and yet staring past me and through me as if I was not there, but giving me the feeling that I really am part of this experience.
Punchdrunk’s newest production of ‘The Drowned Man,’ where two similar stories run in parallel, is loosely based on Büchner’s unfinished and fragmented story of ‘Woyzeck.’ A lowly soldier driven mad by jealously by his adulterous wife ending in murder and death. In this production this simplicity of a story is vital, because whilst spending time following the main characters is important for those who crave a satisfying story my advice to all those wishing to be ‘punchdrunked’ is to follow for a while, but not to let your hankering for a story thwart your curiosity. Whilst running through the trail of all four floors, the imagination and the boundless ingenuity of the set designers ensures that even if you are alone in a room, drawers can be opened and investigated, phone numbers rung and personal letters read – which at any moment could be snatched out of your hand by a character taunted by your seemingly invisible involvement and intrusion.
The set works in a way that at one moment I found myself in a raucous party where jealously and intense envy operated almost unnoticed through the vast crowds of other audience members and loud music, to being caught inadvertently in a caravan in a seedy looking film trailer park where two characters share a romantic exchange uninhibited by the slightly awkward situation which I haunted. This production has hailed the role of the audience member. As well as capturing glimpses of the characters’ stories through my unanimous mask, I found myself making up my own story, running around the set to the incredibly dynamic music created by Magnus Fiennes affecting the movements of the actors and myself.
Curiosity augmented with fear at what might be round the corner really heightens this performance into an experience. Frustration is rife and there is a constant ubiquitous hardship in losing a character in the flurry of people, but this is a space that forces you to make illicit, irrational and daring choices as an audience member. It coerces you to choose which corner to turn, and which door to take in this seemingly endless space, choosing to ignore ‘do not enter’ signs and snubbing the advice of characters. The blood drenched girl I ran after at one point took me down to the parallel world which marred my understanding of the production at first, but her wild movements and emphatic dances, matched with little speech mirrored the world I had just come from and increased the vitality that this performance gave to me as an audience member. The production and the choices made by all those all involved gave me enormous scope to imagine whatever I wished. Still a day later I am thinking about the lives of many of those imagined and absurd characters in an equally impossible world, scrambling to get a grip of reality and yet obsessed with the celluloid space which was dually inhabited.
To tell you to go and see ‘The Drowned Man’ does not seem to be enough. It is an experience first and foremost, and one that I have no doubt can be experienced again and again. It will leave you asking questions, wanting to open more doors, turn over more papers, and stretch the limits of ‘audience member’ set in place by traditional theatre that little bit more. It will undoubtedly leave you gasping for air in this inexhaustible, man made world, dissimilar to our own and yet teeming with uncertainties and questions that are maybe best left unanswered.
‘The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable’ runs until the 30th December at Temple Studios, London
O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful!
So exclaims Celia in Shakespeare’s joyous romantic comedy As You Like It. This latest offering from the RSC of deceit at court and lover’s enchantment in the heart of the mystical Forest of Arden is a gracious gesture to long, warm summer’s nights where excitement abounds and stories blossom. Maria Aberg has directed this frequently performed play, where the audience watches with preconceived expectations, anticipating those famed moments and monologues, and has taken it beyond the spectator’s imagination, transporting them into a world of summer festivals and light-hearted merriment.
In taking on one of the most famous female parts in Shakespeare, Pippa Nixon carries off the role of Rosalind with much grace, along with great mischief and vitality, which she dons playacting as Ganymede. Aberg has called her an “extraordinary actress” and with her slim, boyish physique she is incredibly convincing throughout her performance, while acting well against Joanna Horton’s stereotypically hilarious blonde, Celia.
With the accompaniment of Laura Marling’s music, sung and performed by the cast members, Aberg’s production comes into a light of its own, whisking its audience away to scenes reminiscent of music festivals and youthful summers with friends. Although it appears to be smothered in an alternative, hipster, jumper-wearing, guitar-playing, fairy-lit, folksy atmosphere, which to some audience members may seem a tad too twee, I felt that it contributed to the play’s primary strengths. It cemented the thrill of mischievousness in the forest, together with a pensive worldliness, which was firmly characterised in Oliver Ryan’s Jaques – a melancholic forest lord, who laments on the passing of time and who revels in an almost joyous discontent of the world. There were moments when Ryan threatened to slip from his role into a crazed figure, seemingly obsessive and straying close to the absurd. Nonetheless, he never lost my sympathies with his character, whose monologues and long, lamenting sighs I ironically awaited with anticipation and watched in delight.
Rosie Hilal played up to the role of Audrey, infatuated with the playacting Ganymede, and reluctant to accept William’s admiration for her. Audrey and William’s false starting and one-sided relationship was paralleled with the mutually besotted couple of bohemian, and free spirited Phoebe (Natalie Klamar) and the lethargically hilarious Touchstone played by Nicolas Tennant, who triumphed throughout with his easy wit. Alex Waldmann shone as a quietly confident and dark Orlando, clad in a preppy blazer-hoody combination, making him all the more likable to the audience, who rejoiced in the unveiling of the outrageous fortunes of lovers’ luck and expedient miracles at the end of the play. It was impossible not to leave the theatre with a sense of summery hedonism, which lifted my mid-exam mood and had the audience cheering and bobbing along in their seats at the end.
The soft, beautiful music of Laura Marling reinforced the ease of summer, the warmth of emotions and the vivacity exalted from such a strong company of actors. A truly uplifting piece of theatre which succeeds enormously in creating summer vibes in the midst of the unreliable weather.