Clearly if this blog is to survive the current necessary restrictions which society has imposed on us all, there needs to be a change of tack. The mainstay of most posts has been theatrical reviews. But with a modern plague having much the same effect as in Shakespeare’s day when theatres were regularly closed down to preserve the health of participants, there is an absolute necessity to look elsewhere. So, the emphasis now has to be on the road less travelled – I just hope some of you will choose to go with me down that path – keeping a regulatory two metres between us at all times, of course.
I thought I might proceed in two distinct ways. Firstly, transferring any reviewing I’m doing to the realm of the printed word. I suspect over the next few weeks the nation’s literacy may take a sudden leap. Now is definitely the time to pick up that big book which has lain unread, work one’s way through a sequence (Proust, anyone?), try and cover the complete works of an author – I’m toying with Jules Verne – and generally immerse oneself in worlds other than our own. Usefully nowadays we don’t even need to visit a bookshop or the library with all the risks that congregating together might bring. Secondly, I thought I would look for performances captured on online videos and recommend and perhaps review those. Of course, it won’t be the same as going to an actual venue and sharing in the communal experience but many of us have over recent years attended cinema screenings of theatrical pieces, so the mould has been broken. Right, let’s get started
I’ve just finished reading Michael Coveney’s new book Questors, Jesters and Renegades, a book about the development of non-professional theatre in the UK from the medieval guilds to the modern day. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I have to admit I’m probably biased. As it features a subject in which I’m particularly fascinated it was always going to score highly. It also proved particularly intriguing if only because every time I turned a page , I seemed to come across the name of someone I knew (including myself) and had worked with down the years.
Coveney, a renowned theatre critic, originally hailed from Ilford so covers the am dram scene in that town at significant length. He was once a member of Renegades the company formed and led by the formidable James Cooper. So was I – albeit very briefly. In fact, I only survived for three productions. The last of these was The Diary of Anne Frank in which, with the arrogance of relative youth I believed I was miscast as the 80+ year old Mr Kraler – owner of the attic in which the Franks hid. That wouldn’t have been quite so bad had not both Anne and young Peter been cast from the ranks of the middle-aged veterans. That really told me all I needed to know about the way the company was structured, and I soon found myself looking for new pastures. This happened to be the Redbridge Stage Company at the relatively new Kenneth More Theatre; they took a much more eclectic approach to both play choices and casting and I soon found myself right at home.
But enough about me and back to the book. Coveney also covers the KMT in great detail, goes into the history and work of the Tower Theatre in north London (my present home from home) and there is a delightful chapter about that venue of venues the Minack in Cornwall where I have had the pleasure of appearing twice. Coveney also examines the whole interface between professional and non-professional worlds through the prism of the RSC’s 2016 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Play For The Nation. Indeed, I had enjoyed a very nice lunch and interview with Coveney back in 2017 where he probed my involvement with the latter. Therefore, I found much to interest me; reading the book prompted many personal reminiscences and memories to come flooding back.
It has to be said that Coveney’s style can be a little tortuous (look who’s talking!) but he certainly knows his subject pretty much inside out. He has clearly travelled the length and breadth of all four nations gathering material and makes a very good case for non-professional theatre being the bedrock of ALL theatre in the UK. It’s good to have his support. But it is in the unexpected anecdotes and tales of winning through against the odds in which the real joy of the book resides. It is somewhat ironic that I found myself reading it just as a nationwide cessation of all dramatic activity takes place. The earlier incarnations of the Plague eventually failed to halt the playhouses; hopefully that situation will pertain.
And so, to strand two and my first Play of the Day recommendation. Earlier this year I saw the remarkable Tim Crouch at the Unicorn Theatre giving a performance of one of his Shakespeare spin offs I, Cinna (The Poet). Part of a series of shows by Crouch exploring characters from the Shakespeare plays (I, Caliban….I, Peaseblossom, etc.) this one centred on the unfortunate minor player in Julius Caesar who is mistaken for one of the conspirators with the same name and is summarily torn limb from limb by an angry mob. I thought the production and Crouch’s performance was excellent (review here) and therefore was very pleased to find a full version of his I, Malvolio in which Crouch revisits the character of the hapless steward in Twelfth Night. If you have a spare hour (and at the moment that’s most of us) then I can thoroughly recommend this piece which is totally absorbing. It raises questions about mental health, the nature of playing a character on stage and how we interact with one another – could it be more pertinent?
Click here to watch and when you’ve finished do come back and leave your thoughts in the comment section. In the absence of those post show “What did you think of it” chats it would be great to get a discussion going.
(PS- After yesterday’s “censorship” question, Facebook have written me another message apologising for “getting it wrong” and restoring my post. Vindication!)