Someone else is probably out there writing much wittier, fairer or more detailed bardcamp reviews than me (*waves at Roz*), but as I have just had possibly the best bardcamp ever I thought I ought to indulge in a little bit of egocentric waffling.
Last year, I had three jobs, and none of them felt under control. So I didn’t really read anything beforehand except Octavius, dropped out of both the Sunday plays at bardcamp (to be fair, in Dream I was a fairy that said “And me!”, and in Titus I think I was a non-speaking son who existed solely to die) and frantically wrote poor flash code at the kitchen table while wistfully listening to the laughter drifting up from the lounge. Before dragging M away from the party at early o’clock, driving home to Cov in the small hours, and then getting up before dawn to commute down to London. It is quite impressive how much saner my life now is. I took the Thursday through to Monday off work, and arranged to work from home on Tuesday, and amazingly *cough* that made the whole thing nicer and less stressful.
Also, this year I had Parts of Joy. I’m not quite sure how I did it, because I’ve always had a reasonable amount of things to do at other Bardcamps (with the exception of the Histories, but Catriona made a good showing at making up for that at Masquerade, by giving me both the part I wanted most (Maria in Twelfth Night) and the best part in the whole thing (Beatrice in Much Ado)). So I didn’t feel I was desperately owed more, but I can’t think of a single play where I didn’t have things to do I enjoyed.
This year was New Extended Bardcamp, with an extra day, roleplaying, warm-ups and yet, surprisingly, still not much more time to sleep. I loved it. I adore theatre warm-ups (I think it’s because I like games, singing, and being told what to do) and I adore sitting round chatting to fabulous people, and I think those two things were mostly where the extra time went. I am unconvinced by intervals, because people go *poof* and a 10 minute interval never lasts less than half an hour, which is a bugger for shattering the dramatic tension and the flow of the play. But then Real Plays in Theatres have intervals and the actors cope, so I don’t think I care overly either way.
The first play on Thursday night was Lear. Someone on the bardcamp community expressed surprise we were starting with such a light fluffy happy play, but it did make a certain sort of sense. It would definitely have been a Bad Idea to end with Lear (everyone goes home and slits their wrists), have Lear in a morning before people had woken up, have Lear late Fri/Sat night when people are drunk and silly, and all the other plays went together in a neat way (Thomas More and Henry VIII are obviously a set, because they’re about the same time, Edward II and Edward III are a pair, and Ed III has to be a late night play, Macbeth had to take the Sunday afternoon slot because of Rebecca constraints, we had to end with Cymbeline, if only so I could get “don’t you ever bet a Roman” stuck in my head for the next week, etc). So Lear was the first play. I was going to try and sketch out the plot of each play to my friends list, but it seems a bit patronising to tell them what happens in King Lear, as it’s one of Shakespeares biggest most tragic most famous tragidies and for an actor playing Lear is as big a thing as playing Hamlet or Macbeth. Lear is an old king who decides to retire and hand over the kingdom to his daughters, and this all goes badly wrong. It’s a horrible tale about the descent into age and insanity, and about the ingratitude of Lear’s daughters, their evilness only slightly tempered by the fact that Lear is in places quite a horrible old man. Unlike Macbeth, the other Big Famous Shakespeare we did this weekend, it also has a Good Sub-plot, about a good brother and an evil bastard brother, and the stories weave together beautifully and tragically.
I was playing the Fool. As Roz has already mentioned, when faced with a casting form and 5 out of the 8 plays I’d never read and didn’t have time to read that week, I said something approximating “oh, give me fabulous parts that even I don’t know of yet, and that no-one will have any preconceptions of that I can make mine, all mine“. So Catriona, in her infinite wisdom, gave me the part of Lear’s fool, which at least three other people have since told me they wanted. I’m not quite sure why. Lear’s fool is a famous, beautiful, sad part if done well, but it is very Shakesperean Fool. In that you have lots of tasty stage time, and spend it all going “Marry nuncle, give me an egg, and I’ll tell you why the seven stars are not eight, as the cockney said to the eels”. At completely inappropriate moments. And singing. I was told I couldn’t sing when I was about 5, and although my opinion is slowly changing on this point (I now think I can sing averagely, when I put my mind to it, practise lots and listen to myself carefully) I still have a big paranoia that just because my opinion has changed doesn’t mean the facts of the matter have. Also, the singing talent in bardcamp is astronomical (if I tell you that later in this readthrough there’s going to be a 12(?) person singthrough of Zadok the Priest and it’s going to sound good you’ll get what I mean) so it’s a little bit like exposing my small cosy hedge sparrow to a flock of peacocks. Still, the point of the fool isn’t to sing well, so, hey, it’s all in character, right?
The first time the fool appears on stage there is a long, foolish dialogue about a coxcomb. “Marry nuncle, you had better had my coxcomb than his. Here, take my coxcomb” etc etc. This led to an internal dialogue completely typical of me faced with my bardcamp parts
“ “Marry, my coxcomb?” What on earth is a coxcomb?”
“Well, it must be a hat. It can’t be anything but a hat”
“Yes, yes, this entire scene is the fool messing around with his hat”
“So I need a hat”
“What if it’s not a hat? What if I come on stage with a hat and the whole of bardcamp laughs at me because I’m some uneducated mathematician that thinks a coxcomb is a hat?”
“See, look, here, it says “hit the eels on the coxcombs”. It can’t be a hat. Eels don’t wear hats”
“Arrgh, I hate Shakespeare. I should just ask someone if it’s a hat or not”
“I could post to the bardcamp community asking if it’s a hat”
“But what if it’s not a hat and the whole of bardcamp laughs gently at me on the internet for thinking it was a hat?”
“So what? They’re lovely, and cute when they laugh”
“But, but but but, they’re all intelligent and fabulous and clever, and it would be nice if they didn’t think I was completely stupid”
“Well, why not just ask one of them?”
“Elly…. you know how you said I could ask for your help with bardcamp prep…?”
Anyway, after being calmed down and patted by Elly we agreed that a coxcomb was a hat. So I built my entire costume around a rather splendid blue velvet hat I’d been bought by my mother-in-law. Which was also a great excuse to buy lots of blue things I saw in London, “for my fool costume” which I then stunningly failed to wear because I already own a million scraps and patches of blue. What a shame ;-) I had really interesting conversations with both Elly and Marcus about how to use costume and props to show the deteriorating mood of the play (Marcus had the cute idea that Lear-the-king was an old man with a stick, but Mad-Lear is in many ways less in need of his stick, because he was freer than Lear-the-King had been). I didn’t manage to come up with anything that snazzy, but I did take off one stocking and have a great time ripping the other to shreds just before the storm scene. My adorable husband then said to me at the end of the play (and I have no idea if this was tongue in cheek or not, but it was beautifully deadpan) “by the way, have you noticed, your stocking’s a bit ripped”. Why Do I Bother ;-)
The fool is actually a really odd part. He’s a strange combination of things. Seen as a character, he’s such a mix of incredibly loyal to Lear (his continued songs and asides about how anyone with any sense would leave, but he will stay) and incredibly rude to Lear (ditto, and about a million lines about how Lear was an idiot for giving up his crown) Now, I know kings kept fools so someone would have the license to say the things that other people daren’t, but the fool goes on and on and on about what an idiot Lear is – every single line in the first scene he’s on seems to be another dig at “look, you’re really stupid”. It’s hard to think why he’s doing this – maybe Lear needs to hear it, but surely the time to tell him was before he gave up his crown? Maybe the fool is trying to needle Lear because he’s very annoyed at Lear’s stupidity and his cruelty to Cordelia and he actually wants to hurt Lear? Maybe he is just incredibly tactless and caught up in his own line of thought? There seems a very valid argument that the constant jibes of the fool are part of what is driving Lear to madness, and what happens later in the play is what the fool deserves.
He’s not that easy if seen as a “outside” character, like Puck, or Feste either. OK, he has his big prophecy, which I never quite got a handle on but got through somehow, and he has a talent for saying painful truths which can be interpreted as “outside” wisdom. But it doesn’t quite work. He’s so wrapped up in Lear, in caring for Lear and following Lear, it’s hard to keep the “otherness”. I wonder if you could play a really cruel, angular, puckish, Machiavellian fool, who is egging Lear on to madness at the start of the play, and taunting G&R into over-reacting, stirring up sport for the Gods? I would have to re-read the play again and think about it. I like my fool better.
Likewise, there are later parts in the play where things are harrowing and haunting, and up will pop the fool with “that’s hay before the horse as the eight stars in heaven”. Initially it was hard to work out what to do with those - they’re a little out of place in the beautiful meltdown of events. But as anyone who has sat on the phone to a depressed friend probably knows, there is a place you can go where you can’t see how you can help, but you churn out your normal chirpy self in the hope that if you can just hold onto yourself it’ll somehow get you through. Where you say whatever thing that pops into your head, however trite, in the hope it will get a laugh and some glimmer of the person you love back. For me, that was where the fool was then.
Oh, but Lear as a whole! I mean, I think it’s one of the best Shakespeare plays, because both the Lear story line and the Edgar story line are good, and fit together so well, but that doesn’t by itself explain quite how fabulous it was. I think Marcus, Chris J, Chris N and Catriona were incredible. And Lucy and Laura were a great evil double act. And Robert, as Kent was great. And Eve, as Cordelia (a strange part, for it is both a really Important part and actually quite a small part) was beautiful and loyal and loving, and the whole thing was so so sad. People have flattered me by telling me my Fool was good, but really there was no space for it to be otherwise. The other actors were so superb they created the story till there was no need to act, because it was so beautiful and sad and wild and windswept…
One should not forget Lynette's infatuated messanger. Which I did forget, before looking at Nick's photos and getting giggles all over again.
It’s odd, actually, comparing Kent and the Fool. If I was a GCSE english teacher I would set an essay on it. They are both loyal to Lear, and go out of their way to stay with him and help him during his descent, but they’re very different. The fool goes on and on about how stupid Lear is and how no-one should stay with him, but Kent just disguises himself and Gets On With It.
Lear costume was impressive, and while I think the Incredible Goodness was the acting, not the costume, it definitely can’t have hindered. Lucy and Laura were pretty, evil, Catriona was disturbingly sexy in britches and a beard, Robert dashing in a frilly shirt (sadly only for one scene, although it would make an appearance later in the weekend. Err, unless he has two of the things) Chris N went all out with the first appearance of Fake Blood TM, and I don’t know if he’d memorised everything or had a strange ability to read his script through closed eyes, but his blind Gloucester was a hideous and pitiful eyeless mess of blood. Marcus had more minimal costume, but used the cloak and the stick so effectively to make points about Lear in a way I would never have thought of. And, err, when talking of minimal costume let me not forget Chris J, who embraced the idea of “less is more” with a perfect Mad Tom costume, which is a strong contender for the Costume of Bardcamp award. I’m still incredibly curious how he did the dirt. Did he just get a box of soil and hide it in his room, or did he get stage dirt? I never got round to asking.
This is why I never write bardcamp reviews, because each play grows out of all proportion and then I run out of time to do them all. But Lear was, for me, the best thing I’ve been a part of at bardcamp, (and all the rest of bardcamps have been marvellous and fabulous – this is not because the bar is low) so I suppose I can waste a few electrons on it ;-)
Ah, the early morning play. This play is a very silly play which was ideally summarised by Nick’s covering cartoon. It took me until the end of the play to suddenly twig that King John and Richard Lionheart were the same ones I’d loved running around in the Disney Robin Hood since I was little. Shakespeare didn’t really seem the need to put in little things like Robin Hood or the Magna Carta. Instead, King John isn’t really the King, because his older dead brother has a son, Arthur. But King John has become the King, for some reason that was never made entirely clear (I think there was a will involved) and so Arthur has run away to the French to make them fight for his crown. I don’t get what’s in it for them
There are hysterical mothers and grandmothers having great slanging matches! There is a blood-thirsty bastard who as far as I could tell added nothing to the plot whatsoever. There are the good citizens of Angeu, who appear to have more sense than anyone else in the play. Especially Arthur, the pious little twit, who after batting his nauseatingly cute big blue eyes at Elise (who was once again playing The Evil Guy, although this time quite a nice evil guy) and persuading her to defy the king and save his life, then goes and leaps off a Really Big Wall in a stupidly naïve escape attempt and dies. Doh.
I was playing Lewis, the Dauphin of France. He’s really a bit of a git. At least, he has to be either a complete Machiavellian git or really really stupid and incapable of keeping an opinion for thirty seconds, and I think the first interpretation fits better. I mean, the French are all supporting Arthur, and suddenly the Angeu citizens point out that actually they should just marry into King John’s family and make peace, and he takes one look at the hot totty and goes “yep”. And, oh, his “romantic” speech! I mean, OK, “you complete me” is quite a soppy sentiment, and “I love you because I see myself reflected in you” can be sweet, but really, by the end “you’re wonderful because you’re just like me” – narcissistic much? I mean, as well as suffering from the traditional “boy loves girl without ever actually speaking to girl, grr, arrgh” annoyances. So he’s just stolen Blanche away from the Bastard, and then up pops the Pope’s representative (did I mention this play suffers from cramming about 17 years of history into 3 hours?) to point out to the french that if they ally with John they will Burn In Hell TM, and that’s it for Lewis. Treaty? What treaty? New wife a bit upset by this? Ah well, just tell her “don’t worry dear, you’re coming with me”. Pious git. And off we go to war with England, which is going quite well, when King John makes his peace with the pope, who says “alright, chaps, thankyou for fighting in my war, you pious git, you can stop now, we won”. And then what does Lewis do? Remember his pious devotion to the church that was enough to overturn his treaty with his new wife’s family? Don’t be daft. He goes off on one about how the pope hasn’t paid a penny for this war, and he doesn’t need him anyway, because he’s got the English nobles. And continues to war, meanwhile scheming to kill off the self same English nobles as soon as he doesn’t need them any more.
Then everyone’s ships and treasure sinks and King John is poisoned by a monk (don’t worry, that’s all the explanation you get in the play, too), so they all call it a day and go home to live happily ever after.
Of course, if Lewis was clearly such a git no-one would follow him for more than 10 minutes, so you have to try and cover up the gittiness with a good sprinkling of Young Octavious / charismatic leader. I have no idea if I managed it, but I did manage to co-incidently wear a blue shirt and get the french army in blue ribbons, which I was very proud of.
Roz was everything she’d promised to be as the Bastard, Sam managed to make a pretty random death scene actually sad, Catriona wore another gorgeous costume and was very kissable as Blanche, and, oh, Eve, actually managed to make the tale of Arthur sad and pathetic, rather than just pathetic. Which is no mean feat. Not to mention Helen and Ashfae, who were also great, but this is in danger of turning into a cast list and I still have many many plays to go…
The key plot point of this play is that Edward II is in love with Gavaston. It was hypothesised that if you rigorously played the Gaveston drinking game (drink once whenever the name of Gaveston is mentioned, and twice whenever someone suggests a change of his state (eg banish him, re-call him, kill him) you could get through your entire DH weekly alcohol allowance in the space of three hours. Edward II is in love with Gaveston, and is so childishly, obsessively wrapped up in this infatuation everything else goes to pot. And Elly and Helen got that spot on – there was so much honest delight in each other that it was possible to be quite sympathetic to Edward’s plight, rather than just thinking him an idiot. Still, he is an idiot. It is one thing to get to the point where the only thing you want in the world is Gaveston, which is arguably idiotic in it’s own right, but would be perfectly manageable if you didn’t treat your wife like shit (oh Mark was fabby. And in a dress. Mmmm), spend all your money that ought to be ransoming your prisoners on clothes for Gaveston (so gay stereotypes, not a new thing, then?) and make him Lord of Man so that all the actually-noble nobles have to grovel to him. (It means the Isle of Man, I didn’t work that out until halfway through the play). If you do those things, and happen to have someone in your court who is a) noble b) very fond of your wife and c) has a ransomed father, you really are doomed. (Laura! So good as Mortimer!)
Again, this play obviously takes rather less time than the events did in real life, so thus begins a sort of Gaveston ping-pong, where he gets re-called or banished every ten minutes along with great wailing, knashing of teeth, and cries of “Gaveston”.
I was playing Spencer, which is an odd little part. I mean, ten out of ten for tearful farewells and getting to kiss Elly, but the whole plot in the first half of the play, and much of the sympathy for Edward, hinges on Gaveston. You’re led to believe that Edward really does see Gaveston as an irreplaceable jewel. So the whole thing becomes rather ironic as Spencer turns up and a great sense of de-ja-vu settles – “You must banish Spencer!” “No, I can never be separated from Spencer!”. It’s like being cheap imitation Gaveston. Which is interesting because it shows how the arguments and behaviour patterns have become entrenched and unfixable, and it’s no longer about love and duty, it’s about the old old argument between Mortimer and Edward, played out with whatever pawns (that’s me!) haven’t been killed off already.
Edward is chased around the country lots, until Mortimer catches everyone and kills them in variously unpleasant ways. He will get his come-up-ence from Edward III, but no-one will really notice because they will still be laughing as Catriona as Lightborn. Lightborn is the murderer hired by Mortimer to kill Edward II without a mark. And because it is good to insert comedy into tragedy and make the most of your bit-parts, Catriona came in in a remarkable red and black exterminatrix outfit, and… was extremely professional and businesslike about her line of work. Complete with CV. Which was handy, because now I can remember laughing at Catriona rather than just being haunted by Elly’s harrowing screams…
Ah, the late night play. Which means Matthew and Chris N valiantly keeping their heads when all about are losing theirs…
Actually, this wasn’t the late night play, more like two plays which had been strangely juxtaposed next to each other under the same title. Really there are “The merry morality tale of Edward III’s failed attempt to seduce the Countess” and “The English Fight The French some more”.
Catriona wore yet another stunning dress as the Countess (I am amazed that Robert’s car managed Catriona, Robert, Roz, and all their stuff, as I’m sure Catriona’s Court in the Act dress must have taken up the whole thing single handedly) and Chris N and Mark Si were hilarious in the poetry scene already described so well by Roz. It is a very nice and intimate play, and you can practically hear the thoughts in the countesses brain.. *I don’t want him to sleep with me* “You can only sleep with me if you murder your wife” “OK” *damn*.
Then all of a sudden it War with France (this time, because Edward III’s mum was the French princess who was older than the prince whose line the crown has actually gone down, thus making him think he has a reasonable shot at being King Of France). I must say, I don’t remember enough of this except it was very very funny, (with the possible exception of me, who probably thought her drunken inserts were much funnier than they actually were). There were alarums. There were excursions. There were about 7 different armies all tied up with pretty ribbons. Including the Bohemian army, of which enough has been said elsewhere. There were poor frenchmen. And obnoxious poor french children. There was offensive use of a trumpet. There was a flock of crows. There were strange prophesies about flint. And there was Lynette in a bowler hat, single-handedly saving the day for the English, and coming on with extra blood and bandages at every scene. There was some strange sub-plot about how not honouring someone’s passport was evil. And then they all lived happily ever after, because despite the English kicking the french asses they just declared peace and went home.