The Tempest, the Tower and Dracula’s Castle

In the end, the only thing we did today was go to see The Tempest at The Globe Theatre.

Which is like saying, the only kind of gas we had available was oxygen, really – we had hydrogen and methane on the list to see as well, initially, but we only got to experience dull old oxygen. What I mean to say is, we planned to do a few things – like climb the Tower in Notting Hill (that is, take the lift; and it’s probably not in Notting Hill, but it’s impossible to know which suburb you’re in by name, here, or we haven’t found the way.) We also tried to go and get the parcel that’s been waiting for us near where we used to stay in Finsbury Park, but that ended in our not finding it before it closed, because it had changed locations. We were also going to look around the market stalls in Portobello, but the globe got in the way. There I go again – but you know what I mean.

I haven’t read the Tempest, which is great, because I get to experience the story as it happens, and there were plenty of surprises.

The Globe Theatre is not the original, but I don’t think that’s news to anyone. It burned down a lot closer to Shakespear’s time than to ours – in fact, I think he was alive when it happened. Or I could be thinking of some other event. But anyway, no one knows what the Globe was really like – apart from some town sketches that show us some of the exterior. So what they have is new, but it seems like something that would have existed at the time. Or perhaps that’s just that they’ve made models and filmed images of the current globe, and that’s what I’ve seen, and the cycle continues. I don’t know.

The actual theatre is smaller than I thought – perhaps it’s the stage that I thought was smaller. But perhaps that’s because we had standing room tickets – £5 each, and a terrible, horrendous bargain if you ask me, because it was worth a thousand times that. When you’re standing in the pit, a metre and a half from the stage, it has to seem small. The stage is planks of wood about two or three inches thick, the colour of that grey clay, and dusty. I don’t think I can estimate the width of it, for reasons stated before. Over the stage is a ceiling, attached to the walls of the structure at the back, and standing on two pillars on the audience side. The pillars look like red granite. The roof of the ceiling is painted with blue scenes of heaven. The walls are of an octagonal shape, and there are three levels of seating, made of planks of wood only (Grandma, you’d need to buy one of the cushions they sell in the stalls outside). The walls are roofed with what looks like thatch, complete with mold, but except for the ceiling over the stage, the Theatre is open air. I’ve seen that when it snows, the ground on which I was standing is covered in a thick layer. It was blue skies the day we went. It was hot. In London. I regretted wearing jeans.

The play, for those who don’t know, is one of Shakespeare’s later works, and it’s based more heavily in unreality than in the real world – like a Midsummer Night’s Dream, for which I bought tickets immediately the show ended – but the themes are real life. What fathers want for their children; power and betrayal; the abuse of power, and power relationships. The king of Milan, his son and his other people are shipwrecked on an island, which is the dominion of Prospero. Prospero was a Duke in Milan, but the treacherous plotting of his brother, who is one of the party, kicked Prospero out of his Dukedom and onto the island with his three year old daughter. The king’s shipwreck takes place twelve years after Prospero has been on the island, in which time he has freed from captivity and engaged the help of the spirit of the island, has accessed spellbooks, and has supernatural powers. He caused the shipwreck, and has plans for the royal party. A wise and charitable, but pee-d off, man, his plans may not be what you would think.

Roger Allam, who has starred as the Minister in The Thick of It, and was most recently in Endeavour, the show about a young Inspector Morse (as his mentor, Thursday), played Prospero, and has a history in Shakespeare at the Globe. I was surprised to see him there, because I hadn’t looked at the cast at all. He was commanding. The most important thing, to me, when an actor is performing any Shakespeare is what they do for the audience to play out the meaning of the speeches, and the long, winding prose that Shakespeare uses, otherwise most of us don’t stand a chance of understanding it. To say that Allam only did that would be very unkind, when what he actually did was bring the character completely to life with all the wit, and regret, and care, and wisdom that was written into him. It was amazing. Better, though, was Ariel, the spirit, is played by Colin Masters. I knew that I knew him from somewhere, but I couldn’t place it. He was tall, and his costuming was spectacularly well done (Linds, you should work here), but I couldn’t remember where I’d seen him. Ariel is a submissive spirit, but wants his freedom and asks Prospero meekly for it. Masters’ face was, for the entire play, the mold of humility and feeling. He was graceful and hilarious; he was the extension of Prospero’s right arm. I haven’t mentioned Caliban, Prospero’s slave and a native of the island, who provided a lot of the comic relief with his whining. I think one of the most interesting aspects of the play was the disparity between the two slave master relationships: both wanted their freedom, but Ariel’s approach was respect, and Caliban’s, whining. One of the most famous lines from this play, is ‘thought is free’. Another is ‘such stuff as dreams are made on,’ which gave me shivers when I heard it. I mean, it’s Shakespeare. It’s going to be beautiful. But this is about the frailty of mankind, and the fact that we will all fade to nothing. But I think it deserves retyping, anyway:

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,

As I foretold you, were all spirits, and

Are melted into air, into thin air;

And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,

The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,

The solemn temples, the great globe itself,

Yea, all which inherit it, shall dissolve;

And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,

Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life, is rounded with sleep. (IV.i. 148-158)

The best moments of the play were Ariel’s interfering with the pre wedding dance, and the end of the play, Prospero’s lines, which Allam delivered with such gravity that I was in tears. The Tempest was, I think, the last (so it is thought) play Shakespeare wrote before he retired, to Stratford, and died two years later. He is talking directly to the audience now, and it may as well be Shakespeare talking to all the audiences he has had, and will have, telling them that it’s all been for their benefit, and that their approval can set him free to die. (He was the Duke of Milan, and would go to Naples, for context.)

Now my charms are all o’erthrown,

what strength I have mine’s own,

which is most faint: now, ‘tis true, I must be here confined by you,

Or sent to Naples. Let me not,

Since I have my Dukedom got

And pardoned the deceiver, dwell

In this bare island by your spell;

But release me from my bands

With the help of your good hands:

Gentle breath of yours my sails

Must fill, or else my project fails,

Which was to please. Now I want

Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,

Andy my ending is despair,

Unless I be relieved by prayer,

Which pierces so that it assaults

Mercy itself and frees all faults.

As you from crimes would pardon’d be,

Let your indulgences set me free.

I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed any piece of art as much as I enjoyed this. I could hardly contain my emotion at the end, and felt like an idiot with tears in my eyes.

Colin Morgan played Merlin in the TV show Arthur, I found out, which I’ve never watched, but his face is distinctive. I think he’s bettered himself here, and he was remarkable. So much so, that I will remark: well done.

Well done, Shakespeare.

I finished Dracula the same day. I enjoyed it, but I won’t say thoroughly: it was brilliant in the first third, when Johnathan was in Castle Dracula. The rest was interesting, but it was a few moments of wonderfully scary description (a few paragraphs), and the rest of it was English people telling each other how much they liked each other. A lot. They like each other a lot. They were all the best of men, but more than that, they were absolutely the best of women. Lucy and Mina may as well have been made from the rib of Adam in front of their very eyes for how they described how good she was. All the time. I could have done with a little bit less of that. If it were me, and I were the editor, I would have said, ‘Okay – I’m willing to stipulate, as is the reader, that Mina is a good woman. Do you think we could cut the book down by a third, and just mention it once or twice?’

I’m sure there is some greatly important reason that this is integral to the book, and it didn’t stop me reading, so I have to say, Bram: good use of the ideas of good and evil. I was classy. I bet you’re glad you were one of the first to fictionalise vampires, so that you didn’t have to resort to the things they have to make up these days.

Dracula – read it. It’ll knock your socks off, and you’ll spend a lot more time telling people how wonderful they are.

I’ve just realised that I was going to write about Trellick Towers. It’s probably the most famous apartment towers in London – it’s featured in videos and Lyrics by Blur and Oasis to name a few (about 7 bands’ work). We were in constant view of it on our stay in Notting Hill. I tried to go up, but I’ll be writing about that later. Here’s a (distant) photo. Andrew took the pics on his SLR.


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