Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Fry’

Twelfth Night, Apollo Theatre, November 2012

8 November, 2012

In Shakespeare’s day a ‘Lord of Misrule’ would call for entertainment and songs on Twelfe Night, a tradition going back to the medieval Feast of Fools and even the Roman Saturnalia. His play celebrates this by making a fool of the miserable Malvolio, hilariously played here by Stephen Fry, with Sir Toby Belch and others representing the spirit of festive enjoyment.

Played with an all male cast, as in Shakespeare’s original, it was hugely illuminating and fun, particularly with the confusion of identities between Viola/Cesario and her twin brother Sebastian, whom she thought lost to a shipwreck. This production by Tim Carroll has transferred from the Globe where it was impossible to get tickets, and the seats on either side of the stage representing the Globe audience, along with musicians above the set, help to recreate the atmosphere of Shakespeare’s own theatre. As in that venue the performers danced together on stage at the end, rounding off a super evening’s entertainment. Delightful designs by Jenny Tiramani, well lit by David Plater, and the music by Claire van Kampen was ideal, with spontaneous applause from the audience after the musicians’ crescendo at the start of part two.

You won’t find a better cast for this huge bundle of fun. Peter Hamilton Dyer was a wily and bright-eyed jester, and Mark Rylance a cleverly subdued and pretty Olivia, very different from the bullish Orsino of Liam Brennan, who doesn’t seem to realise he fancies his servant Cesario, really Viola, beautifully played by Johnny Flynn as a girl disguised as a man. Here is the theatrical joy of an all-male cast, and Olivia’s servant Maria was gloriously played as a wittily assertive woman by Paul Chahidi. But then there are the real men, or people who think they’re real men, like the idiotic Sir Andrew Aguecheek hilariously portrayed by Roger Lloyd Pack, with Colin Hurley as Olivia’s rowdy cousin Sir Toby Belch. The two of them, along with James Garnon as Fabian, made a fine trio of jokers, listening in the tree house while Malvolio reads that mischievous letter.

At this point Stephen Fry was an utter delight, and the audience roared with applause as he hopped off after reading the letter, returning for the postscript. In the second part, thinking he’s on a winner and persistently smiling at Olivia, he came over as a sympathetic character, easily misled into believing he could raise his status. Of such errors is life made and entertainment provided, as Shakespeare knew so well. An iconic reading of the role in a wonderful production — get tickets if you can.

Performances continue until February 9, 2013 — for details click here.

Stephen Fry: Wagner and Me, cinema screening, September 2010

27 September, 2010

“You stand waiting hours for a Valkyrie and then they all come at once”. So quips Stephen Fry in a studio at Bayreuth with four Valkyries in rehearsal. Bayreuth is the small town in Bavaria where Wagner built his own opera house, and in this delightful documentary we learn how he acquired the money for this temple to art, specially designed for performances of his own operas in a festival atmosphere of sanctity and enthusiasm. With its world-beating acoustics and an orchestra pit that’s invisible to the audience, the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth was something new, and Wagner was not a man to stick with old ideas. He was the person who put the lights out in opera houses, rather than allowing a well-lit auditorium where one could look around at other patrons in their expensive and decorous clothes. He was the person who as a conductor faced the orchestra rather than the audience, allowing an interaction with the players. And above all he was the man to bring the ideals of Greek tragic drama — as complete works of art with mythical themes — to the world of opera. He called such a creation a Gesamtkunstwerk (literally: complete work of art).

But that’s all background. What Fry gives us is fun and huge enthusiasm. He meets the pianist Stefan Mickisch whose piano renditions of Wagner’s works are quite incredible. I was in Bayreuth the same year and found the Mickisch excerpts from Tristan more revelatory than the orchestral performance in the opera house. Of course that says something about the dull conducting of the opera, and although we hear little of Mickisch’s playing, there’s enthusiasm on both sides when Fry talks to him, as there is during his interview with Valery Gergiev in St. Petersburg. By comparison the interview with Eva Pasquier-Wagner in the grounds of the Festspielhaus is a dreary affair, and though he tries to lighten it up with some slightly off-beat suggestions, she won’t bite. The Wagner family had one genius, and while Wagner’s grandson Wieland was also a creative force, the others can only step inadequately in his footsteps. Wagner said, “Kinder schaff’ neues” (Children do something new), but they can’t. They only think they can.

And what of that force that adored Wagner’s music and really did do something new, albeit extraordinarily destructive? Fry doesn’t omit the Führer, who was welcomed by Nazi-loving members among Wagner’s descendants, but he gives a level-headed, clear-sighted viewpoint, and without sparing Wagner’s anti-semitism he puts it into an oft-forgotten context. In the end it’s the music that counts, and of course Wagner’s new ideas that changed the performance of opera forever. Indeed, the Jewish side of Fry battles with his own conscience, separating the art from the politics and bigotry, and comparing Wagner’s work to a great tapestry on which someone has created a huge stain. While being aware of the stain we must see beyond it to the tapestry itself, and appreciate the work of — as Fry calls him — the greatest genius who ever lived.

In this film, produced and directed by Patrick McGrady, and shot at locations in Bayreuth, Nuremberg and Switzerland, Fry uses his eloquence to inform and entertain us. This is longer than the television version, but never flags for a minute, and was even applauded by some audience members at the end.