Theater Review: As You Like It, by the Royal Shakespeare Company

As You Like It is my favorite Shakespeare comedy. I don’t know why: perhaps it’s the fairly straightforward plot, or the fact that it’s all about people trying to be happy, or the wonderful language which doesn’t get too obscure, and just exudes enjoyment. It was also the first play I saw at the RSC after I moved to the UK in 2013. (Read my review of that production here, and my interview with Pippa Nixon and Alex Waldmann – Rosalind and Orlando in that production – here.)

As You Like It is certainly a crowd-pleaser, and it’s one of the plays that gets produced fairly often. I think the fact that the RSC is doing it so soon after its last production is mostly to do with the fact that the RSC is currently in a process of putting on all of the plays in a six-year period (though I think that may have slipped to eight years), and because they started filming their plays and broadcasting them to cinemas only at the end of 2013 with Richard II. So this production will eventually be part of the box set of all the plays on DVD and Blu-Ray.

This year’s production has a lot going for it, but will not please everyone. It’s quite minimalist; there are essentially no sets (though there is a thing that happens at the end). It opens with Orlando (David Ajao) sitting an a swing suspended from the rafters, above a circle of faux grass. The first half hour – the bit where he wrestles, meets Rosalind, and they both get banished – takes place with that grass on stage. When the action moves to Arden Forest, the grass is removed, the house lights come on, and there are announcements over some speakers at the back of the stage. I believe they say “All the actors to the stage,” which is followed by a few more announcements, then “All the world’s a stage,” referring to the famous speech by Jacques that comes in later. The back of the stage lifts up, and you can see the backstage area; the undecorated bit, the brick walls, the ropes tied to the walls; what the actors see when they’re behind the decor.

At the same time, most of the actors come out on stage and some clothes rails are rolled out with costumes. Some of the actors change their costumes, they all mill about, then the costumes are wheeled off and they pick up the play.

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Photos by Topher McGrillis (c) RSC.

The first time I saw the play, I really didn’t get this, but the second time I think I understood what the director, Kimberly Sykes, intended. This is a literal interpretation of “All the world’s a stage,” with the actors showing that they are, indeed, actors, a sort of meta fourth-wall approach to the play. From this moment on, the lighting changes a bit until the end of the play, but the audience is part of the raw theatrical experience, and is almost always illuminated.

Since there are no sets, there are no trees anywhere to be seen. This is a forest, and trees are important in the play. It is either the vertical beams in the theater that are supposed to be the trees, or the audience itself, made up of hundreds of trees. (My suspicion is that it’s the latter, as Orlando pastes a few post-its with notes about Rosalind on different audience members.) All this means that the director’s vision isn’t entirely clear, and this may contribute to the many reviews that were ambivalent about the production.

In any case, looking at it through this point of view, it’s a charming, fast-paced studio play. The lack of sets makes it seem more improvised, and the fantastic Lucy Phelps is radiant as Rosalind, carrying the play throughout (Rosalind has about 20% of the lines in the play).

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(It’s interesting to note that these production photos were shot during the dress rehearsal, but the director changed Rosalind’s costume to simple black trousers with suspenders over a white shirt. This change makes her look a lot more “pixieish,” and I think it works better. Her hair is also slicked back more, giving her a somewhat androgynous David Bowie look.)

There’s lots of audience interaction – see this article, about when I got on stage during one performance – and there’s lots of laughter and fun throughout. Sandy Grierson as Touchstone was marvelous, clowning around to keep the action moving, and Rosalind hops into the audience a few times. Anthony Byrne plays both dukes – Duke Frederick in court, and Duke Senior in the forest – and is wonderful in both roles, the former being powerful and angry, the latter being open and friendly.

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Another quirk in this production is the 50-50 gender splint, which means that Jacques is a woman (Sophie Stanton), and Silvius is Sylvia (Amelia Donkor). This latter change alters some of the text, as Phoebe is in love with a shepherdess instead of a shepherd. I don’t think the Jacques was melancholy enough, but it was interesting to hear Stanton recite the famous “seven ages” speech.

Hats off to the many minor characters who gave their all, notably Charlotte Arrowsmith, a deaf actor, as Audrey, whose signs were interpreted by Tom Dawze as William.

Oh, and there’s that bit at the end with the massive puppet as Hymen, the god of love, giving benediction to the marriages. It’s the only large item on stage for the entire performance, and it is quite jarring. It’s imposing, and it’s really not necessary. I really don’t see why the director chose to close the play with something like this.

Having seen this production twice, I look forward to seeing it again before the run ends in August. If you can make sense of the staging, it’s lots of fun. The time went be very quickly, with never a dull moment. There were songs, lots of laughter, some tears; all in all, exactly what the world is like.

I Trod the Boards at the Royal Shakespeare Company

Last Tuesday, I had a very interesting experience, playing a small but important part in a performance of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s current production of As You Like It. For a brief moment, I was onstage holding two pieces of paper, bearing the letters I and N, as Orlando had four audience members hold up sheets of paper spelling out the name of his love, Rosalind.

But there’s a lot more to it than that. I attended a very special performance of the play; one that was intimate, nearly a command performance, for an audience of just seven people.

Read more

Mubi: The Movie Streaming Service Where Less Is More

Everyone knows the Netflix shuffle. That’s when you want to watch a movie, and spend a half hour browsing through the same stuff you’ve been seeing for months, just in new lists, and end up not finding anything to watch. You then go read a book.

While Netflix does have some good content, it, and Amazon Prime Video, and other services, don’t make it easy to find what you want. In fact, it’s extremely difficult to weed out what you don’t want to watch so it doesn’t keep showing up. Netflix, for example, has been changing the graphics for movies and TV shows so you think they’re new. I really wish there was a way to mark something as Don’t Ever Show Me This Again Because There’s No Way In The World That I Would Ever Want To Watch It (ie, The Grand Tour).

Mubi is a movie streaming service that takes a totally different approach. They add one movie a day, and each movie lasts for thirty days, then it’s gone. The films available won’t appeal to everyone – they are art house, festival, and foreign films – but if you like that kind of movie, this carefully-curated selection is what you need.

Recently, Mubi has had several movies by Wim Wenders, two by Spike Lee, a number of films by Korean director Hong Sang-Soo, some interesting French films, and more. I’ve found that I’m watching three or four movies a month, which makes this service more than worthwhile, and the fact that there is only one film a day means that I’m not overwhelmed by the selection. And there are no super hero movies (at least I haven’t seen any yet).

If you’re into this kind of cinema, and want to have a limited selection of interesting movies, check out Mubi.

Optimize Home Viewing Settings – MyRoma

Best Practices for watching ROMA on your TV

You can find these options by accessing your television’s menu, going into picture or image settings, and if you don’t see them there, going into Advanced picture settings.

The people behind the film Roma, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, and now on Netflix, have a detailed web page about adjusting your TV’s settings so the film doesn’t look like crap. This covers more than just about the motion smoothing settings that Tom Cruise spoke about recently in a video, discussing his latest film Mission Impossible: Fallout, but with Roma being in black and white, you don’t want your TV to have a warm or cold color profile.

It’s good that people are starting to publicize all the bad settings on today’s TV sets; I’m flummoxed when I look at my settings, and I’ve used this document to tweak them a bit.

Source: Optimize Home Viewing Settings – MyRoma

Photo Book Review: Instant Stories, by Wim Wenders

Wim wenders instant storiesWim Wenders was long a fan of the Polaroid, reveling in the instantaneous nature of these photos, and their uniqueness, the fact that there was only one copy of them. He shot lots of Polaroid photos, and his foundation recently went through many boxes of old photos to organize them. This book is the result of that organization, and also serves as a catalog of an exhibit held in London at The Photographers’ Gallery. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK)

But you won’t buy this book for the quality of the photos; this isn’t a book of photos, but a book of stories with photos as illustrations. Wenders recounts his early film career, from the first film he was involved in, an adaptation of Peter Handke’s The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, through the 1980 film, Lightning over Water, after which he stopped shooting Polaroids.

Read the rest of the article on my photo website.

Is There Such a Thing As Too Many Netflix Movies? – The Ringer

Quick, which one of these is your favorite?

The Polka King; 6 Balloons; Amateur; Love Per Square Foot; Game Over, Man!; The Outsider; Come Sunday; Mute; Irreplaceable You; Happy Anniversary; Roxanne Roxanne; Dude; First Blush; Seeing Allred; The Open House; I Am Not an Easy Man; Benji; A Futile and Stupid Gesture; Step Sisters; Take Your Pills; Blockbuster; First Match; When We First Met; Mercury 13; The Cloverfield Paradox; Kodachrome.

Those are the 25 original films released by Netflix in 2018. How many have you seen? How many do you recognize? Can you spot the one I made up?

This article looks at the reasoning behind Netflix’s push to release new, original movies. In many cases, you won’t have seen, or even heard about these movies, unless you diligently pore over the latest releases.

By the end of this year, Netflix will be the single biggest original movie producer in America, far outpacing Disney, Warner Bros., and the rest in terms of sheer quantity. Maybe one will even compete for Best Picture next year. But does it matter if no one has ever heard of most of these movies?

It’s hard to fathom Netflix’s content strategy. Big-name series, like House of Cards, certainly draw viewers, but the days when I would look closely at their “original” movies has long passed into the distance. Many if not most are uninteresting, and I look at them now as I look at any other movie.

One of the examples in this article stands out:

Kodachrome is emblematic of the morass of Netflix movie offerings. Neither comedy nor drama, neither special nor terrible, neither quotable nor truly forgettable, it is the embodiment of so much we consume in 2018; it’s just sort of … there.

Interestingly, I watched Kodachrome the other night, after stumbling on it way down the “Recently Added” section. I quite liked it. It’s part road movie, part rom-com, and, while it’s predictable after a while, I enjoyed Ed Harris’s performance (his grumpy old man persona made me wonder how he would fare as King Lear).

The problem with this article, however, is one of ignorance; not that the author doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but that he’s in the United States, and doesn’t realize how international Netflix’s strategy is. I don’t know if US Netflix viewers can see all the Spanish, French, German, Finnish, and Turkish movies and TV series that I see here in the UK. Netflix’s strategy is global, and while this writer may pooh-pooh a list of movies he doesn’t pay attention to, it’s very possible that in certain markets these movies are popular. I have not noticed all of the 25 movies he lists at the beginning of his article, but I have certainly spotted a number of them (and, in most cases, decided that they are not for me).

While the problem with Netflix may be that there is too much content, but is that everyone’s problem? For many users, they may find just what they want to watch. Remember, Netflix’s algorithm knows what you like, what you’ve watched, and what you’ve finished. So while you may not see all 25 of those movies, Netflix will present to you the ones that it thinks you’ll watch. You’ll watch a couple, and you’ll keep your subscription active.

Source: Is There Such a Thing As Too Many Netflix Movies? – The Ringer