Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Lord, What Fools These Mortals Be

Here we have John Cleese representing Britain doing a Silly Walk over the edge of a cliff. It is a fitting image for the increasingly farcical - not to say threatening - situation here.  In fact, yesterday morning, I burst into laughter reading the latest news headlines on my phone.  "Someone," I said, "should write a play about this."

For those of you overseas, I'd say that here in Britain there has just been a national referendum vote to leave the European Union, a decision which will smash up much of our industry, devalue our currency, change our laws and, indeed, totally change all our lives.  All of us, no matter what we voted, are now reeling from the barrage of disturbing and unprecedented events in reaction to this.    It really seems as if the imps are in charge here, or perhaps those amoral and mischievous fairy free spirits of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. 

So, it is appropriate if I now tell you about the amazing performance of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" which T and I went to see on Sunday at the Globe Theatre, on the South Bank of the Thames. That's it in the picture below. As you probably know, it's a thatched and half-timbered reconstruction of the theatre that stood a few metres away in which William Shakespeare and his company performed his own plays.

The theatre is circular, with the centre open to the skies.  Pay £5 and you can stand in this pit for three hours and watch the play from very close.  In Shakespeare's day the lowly people who could only afford a cheap price were called "groundlings" - the richer folk sat in wooden galleries all around.   

It rained, (it has been raining almost non stop this month) and we draped ourselves in waterproofs, but believe me, it was worth it.   What an amazing production it was, a bit like a panto, a bit like a musical, with every single member of the cast most astonishingly talented at singing, dancing, comedy and, of course, declaiming Shakespeare. 

The stage is very splendid, the set and costumes a mixture of Bollywood (see the lady with the sitar at the top), rock festival and B movie. 

Beautifully performed though the play was, the production was not one for the purists. (in fact, I even noticed some lines from John Donne's "To His Mistress Going To Bed" slipped in towards the end, which certainly isn't in the play I thought I knew).   Yet, it surely must have felt like this in Shakespeare's day, I thought, as the audience rocked with laughter, shouted at the actors and clapped to the music - and once again I realised what a great playwright Shakespeare was. A few mysterious 16th century jokes and stretches of dialogue were omitted, and sharp modern references (usually wordless) were inserted in the production, but then Shakespeare would have wanted the audience to understand and get involved with the play.  

And they certainly did. Helena was re-imagined as Helenus, a gay Asian man, (played by Ankur Bahl)/  Titania, Queen of the Fairies, was wittily played by the fabulous cabaret singer Meow Meow, and attended by bizarrely painted half-animal fairies of both sexes, bursting with priimitive energy and an utter abandonment, which I feel is how those very un-cute fairies should be played. 

Rather than Athens, the play was set in London, at the Globe, in fact. A bookish, prim and bespectacled Hermia falls for Lysander, a beautiful hipster from Hoxton - one of London's coolest areas -clad in black jeans and a Jack Kerouac teeshirt and preening and posing with his guitar. 

"Night and silence! Who is here?
Weeds of Hoxton he doth wear" 

cries Robin as he finds them asleep in the wood, Hermia zipped into her practical blue nylon tent and Lysander sleeping outside in his underpants.

Out of courtesy for the actors, I didn't photograph during the performance, but here  is Oberon, (a masterly performance by Zubin Varla) smoking a pipe on stage just before the second half begins. 

 I am sorry to say that didn't get any shots of the Rude Mechanicals, who were played as staff from the Globe Theatre, laying aside their mops and brooms to put on some truly excruciating, and very funny, amateur dramatics.   My very favourite character was probably Katy Owen as Puck, solemn faced and pale, with little horns, glittery light-up trainers and a ruff,  leaping and cavorting so lightly that she almost seemed to bounce as she hurled herself about the stage.  

 Everyone was smiling happily as we left, and I realised why there'd been such a long queue for returns, because this really is one to go and see. If  you'd like to read more about the production, here's a link.     And so we returned back to equally crazy London, which did look rather good, with St. Paul's illuminated across the river.

It was certainly a good distraction from the rest of the chaos here. The Prime Minister has resigned, first refusing to formally trigger our departure from the EU.  The main opposition party, Labour, is also falling apart, so at present the country is effectively leaderless. The campaigners to leave EU have been forced to admit that most of what they told the public was pure lies, and that they have absolutely no idea what to do now because they never planned anything.   The stock exchange has plunged like a roller coaster on the downward slope, the pound's exchange rate fell to 1985 levels. Scotland planned to vote again to devolve.   Last night in the European Cup football, England* lost to Iceland (pop 323,000). And the tennis was stopped because of rain at Wimbledon. Then a huge crowd gathered outside the Houses of Parliament protesting against leaving the EU. 

T. and I went for a walk into London, to the Guildhall, where we saw a fantastic display of photos by Martin Parr  He has an uncanny gift for simply catching people as the eat dinner, relax, go on holiday or dress up. They are not exactly artistic photos, but they are kindly and truthful, and often amusing.  Take a look at his website for some of his images, and here is a photo I took inside the exhibition - there was, I hasten to add, a sign saying "Photography Allowed"!.

They remind me of spies or something in a Peter Sellars film, and I love the statue on the right.

On the way home I checked my phone and found things had got weirder.So I will go to bed wondering what will happen next.

By the way, if you'd like to know what the news was that I saw on my phone, click this link from Buzzfeed.  It's not entirely serious. But believe me, you can't be serious about this situation. It is too frightening. I have never known anything like it in my life.  This is surely the biggest ever crisis to hit Britain in peacetime. If you don't laugh you might scream.

Have a good evening!

*thanks, Mike!


  1. Words fail me about the totally idiotic referendum decision. But as the referendum is only advisory, we can only hope that parliament decides to reject the result as being potentially far too damaging to put into effect.

    The production of Midsummer Night's Dream looks like a lot of fun. A shame I'm currently in Belfast! I like the way it's been re-imagined in a contemporary setting. Can't say I'm a great fan of Shakespeare though.

  2. Never fear, the news travelled down this far - in minute detail. We don't miss out on much, if anything at all, down this way. Everything is up to date in Kansas City and in Australia.

    Football I'm not interested in, but I am interested in Wimbledon...so late nights and early mornings are in store for me during this coming fortnight. Naturally, because of the time difference the Wimbledon telecast commences at 8.30 pm here and goes through until 4 am the following morning...so you see what I mean! :)

  3. Ah, I love Shakespeare, tongue in cheek. Most summers The Retired man and I have been fortunate to be able to watch our local, talented actors put on a Shakespeare play in an open space theater. Some have been better than others but all have been enjoyable. It is good to take some time off and forget all the troubles that surround us. This year has been especially stressful and I am so sad about the UK's problems. I hope things will work out in the best possible way.

  4. The world is in chaos and both of our countries seem to be stepping over the edge of a cliff. I feel sorry for the younger generation who will have to deal with it.

    I would have loved to see that production of "Midsummer Night's Dream" - even though I'm admittedly a Shakespeare purest (but changing a few things for the enjoyment of a modern audience isn't exactly a sin). I don't think, however, that I'd enjoy standing for three hours.

    At Odessa College (in Odessa, Texas) there is a full-sized completely functional replica of the Globe Theater. I've seen it from the outside but have never been inside.

  5. Wow, you've certainly had a week to remember. Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but life will go on, bumpily or smoothly, and there's always Shakespeare. We have our own dilemma to contend with over here. In today's world, though, it's all so connected. I have no answers. But it's good to find some joy in the midst of it all and try to stay sane.

  6. What a fabulous re-doing of Shakespeare! The Brexit fallout has reached my State as articles keep discussing import-export, real estate, pound to dollar, travel and other things. Thank you for letting us know about the protests and other things as our international news here is pretty much crap...Hang on, Jenny. Things are weird here too. Reminds me of the Chinese saying, "May you live in interesting times." Though frankly, I think interesting is far too mild a term.

  7. Dear Jenny, I was walking around all of Friday with a heavy heart, almost feeling as if my boyfriend had left me. After yet another wonderful weekend with O.K., I am much better, but still worried and puzzled by the current goings-on.
    The only "good" that could have come out of the Brexit for me personally did not materialize - I had to pay the remainder of our rent for the cottage in Ripon, and was hoping for it to turn out cheaper than expected, since the pound dropped. But unfortunately, the euro has dropped nearly at the same rate, so that there is not much - if any - difference to what I paid last year.
    Never mind, I am still happy to have the cottage for two full weeks, and looking forwaard to my Yorkshire Holiday which will start in 4 weeks... I wonder whether I'll be actually allowed to go in, or will I need a visum now?

  8. Hello Jenny, What an astonishing (and confusing) result from the Referendum. Watching from afar, we wonder what we will find when we come over there, soonish. However, it is reassuring to see that Shakespeare and The Globe are still happening, along with interesting art exhibitions. A great start to your post, John Cleese and his Silly Walks, which will live forever methinks :)

  9. I think a lot of folk based their views on immigrants and nothing else. Thank you for the post on the Globe, which I have always wanted to visit, at least you managed how to make my heavy heart lighter.

  10. Thank you for the wonderful review of "Midsummer's Night Dream."

  11. Had I been living in the U.K. I would have voted to leave the EU...nothing to do with the charlatans 'leading' either campaign, just my own view that I don't like the way the EU is currently governed and have grave misgivings about the way it will be governed in future.
    Now,after your account of The Dream I have visioned of Johnson as Bottom...

  12. We're coming over next month, will try for tickets to this, sounds great. All we need to complete the mess is for us to elect Donald Trump, wouldn't he and Boris Johnson be a fine pair.

  13. Many thanks for some light relief - and don't we need it. Like you, I never imagined that our politicians could sink to this level of incompetence.

  14. I am simply heartsick about the Brexit vote. I've been following this closely, as you might imagine, knowing how this will affect those of you in the UK. The endgame does indeed seem far more farcical than such a serious situation should and the one who suggested a play should be written is correct. But who would believe it? (But then, who would believe that the U.S. is even considering a Donald Trump!)

    I'm so glad you could escape to the Globe. What an amazing production -- I would love to see that one. Wish it would show up on the screen but I have a feeling that so much of it would be the energy of the live performance. And the photo exhibit sounds terrific. I wonder if it might not be a wonderful time to come to England while so much good is going on -- and to support the Brits.

    Sending cyber hugs across the pond to you, my friend.

  15. Your pictures of the Globe are wonderful – it must have been great to witness all this.
    As for the Brexit it sounds like an opera – usually the hero/heroine dies at the end, no? I have an EU passport so I am interested. I stayed up for the results and was quite sad as I have always cared so much for the UK. I have been reading mostly the French news, Belgian, UK and Italian news as here in the US we get more on Trump/Clinton. It does not seem to me that this can be undone without civil unrest and Europe wants a quick divorce. I am aghast at all the racism that this has unleashed. My nephew and his wife are in Paris on their honeymoon and have diverted their trip from the UK to Switzerland after hearing that some US tourists had been heckled in Bath and another Southern US lady almost assaulted in Chester –with the words “yanks go back to your F**g country.” They are ignorant as they want out of the European Union and the USA is not in Europe, hello? … It is hard to believe all this and it hurts everyone.

  16. How incredible to see Shakespeare performed in the Globe Theater, even if it is a replica of the original. As for Brexit; the British people have proven over the centuries just how resilient they are and I'm sure they'll survive this.

  17. I'm glad you had the play for a mental get away! I'm afraid we might be walking over the edge of that cliff, too, over here. Scary times!!

  18. I laughed as hard at your link and the audience at Midsummer's Night. Perhaps the secret is not treating it as a bad dream.

  19. Glad you got the chance to laugh at what is one of my favorite plays ever, how i wish i could see such a production! This world certainly is topsy-turvy right now, and i wish i had the wise words to make thing better.

  20. Well, the referendum has certainly produced some extreme opinions on both sides of the debate. I have seen some pretty awful language being used against those who chose to vote 'Leave', to rival the appalling racist thugs you find on society's fringes. Personally, I believe the UK is still the same tolerant, liberal, democracy it was before and it's up to all of us to help ensure it stays that way. The sky hasn't fallen yet, though these are certainly uncertain times. Lovely shots of the Globe - passed it so often and yet to see a production. BTW - it was England that lost to Iceland, not Britain; no such thing as a British football team and the Welsh are still hanging in there, bless 'em!

  21. Oh My goodness what a wonderful time you must have had. I was so interested in your Globe photos, magical is all I can say.
    These are uncertain times just look at the horrible "people" we have running for President. A loudmouth and a money grubbing liar. There is no choice for me.
    I have given up and really do not watch the election news here.

    cheers, parsnip and thehamish

  22. What a wonderful time you must have had. Sometimes I regret not living in or near the capital...
    Anna :o]

  23. I saw an adaptation of the Dream recently on the TV and loved it despite the liberties taken with the original. Seeing it at the Globe must have been so special and glad you had a wonderful night despite the rain.

    As for Brexit, I feel I woken in the wrong dream, a world I struggle to recognised. The farce continues today and the outcome is impossible to foresee. All we can do now is hang on tight and hope that eventually this tangle will unravel.

  24. It seems like people all over the world are losing their minds. Sigh. Glad you could escape for a bit to a play you enjoyed!

  25. My friend whose mom was British and I were discussing the situation in the UK today, shaking our heads. My friend's daughter is overseas at the moment and planning a walking tour through Scotland, which may be independent soon. My husband and I were saying that perhaps we can't run away to England after all, but maybe Scotland. They don't seem to be freaking out that they have a female leader, while here in the US a white women following a black man as President seems to be alarming many people who vote with as much thought as many in Britain did. Enough, the theater experience sounds delightful.

  26. Hello, Jenny.
    I am glad to hear that you enjoyed Shakespeare. You must have been laughing with the drama! I think people feel a strange time for now. The country is going through the major turbulence. I still have glued to the TV news. Have a good Sunday.

  27. UK output of the EU is a nonsense, for some reason I thought that most people will vote 'in'.
    what to do now?
    I'm glad you had wonderful time in 'Globe', I like Shakespeare plays, he's one of the most genius people.

  28. We're all doomed I tell ye, doomed!!!

  29. Having been brought up on Yes Minister, I've lived most of my life thinking that whatever gross injustice, etc., the politicians might come up with, at least Sir Humphrey would be there to see that they couldn't get hold of the keys to the asylum. I take it he has retired and has not been replaced.

    Thank you for introducing me to the quirky universe of Martin Parr.

  30. I don't think I can comment on the Brexit vote except to say again that, like you, I am appalled, both by the result and the resulting chaos.

    That play sounds wonderful and a visit to the Globe is on my bucket list. I did catch the RSC's version on TV recently, which as also fantastic.

  31. That copy of The New Yorker arrived with the post on Friday just gone and I could not stop laughing. But I really want to cry. Where do we start? No, better not start at all. You wrote a beautiful post and included a word that could well define the whole process of the Eu referendum from beginning to end: leaderless. Thanks.

    Have a great week.

  32. It seems that that play embodies all the best theatrical virtues. It would have to, for the audience to be willing to stand in the rain for three hours to see it!
    My favourite "must laugh or we'll cry" reaction to the Brexit vote is this tweet, predicting what the next countries' swan songs will be called. For starters: Czechout and Departugal. :-) https://twitter.com/golub/status/745924916147531776

  33. Jenny, some time in the future the situation will probably make the background of many a great TV drama... In the meantime, whatever happens next, I hope the British people will manage to keep their usual sense of humour in the midst of chaos.

  34. Thanks for the information you shared that's so useful and quite informative and i have taken those into consideration....
    journey moving to London

  35. Dear Jenny - I remember going to see Midnight Summer Dream by Royal Shakespeare Company in Osaka when I was a student. I used a receiver with which I could hear Japanese translation. I imagine how so wonderful to see the performance at the Globe Theater. Seeing Shakespeare’s comedy must have been a great distraction from the ongoing not laughable reality.



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