Sunday, August 16, 2009

Playing Shakespeare - disc 1

I heard about Playing Shakespeare, a series of taped workshops led by legendary Shakespearean director, John Barton, and finally got the opportunity to watch disc 1 over the weekend.

Judi Dench wasn't in the first three episodes, which constitute the first disc, but awonderfully young Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart, and Ben Kingsley among others, read lines, acted scenes, and talked about their craft. Frankly, the first episode was a tad slow--partly I needed to get used to the format, and partly there wasn't a lot happening on stage as Barton mostly talked about Elizabethan acting versus modern, method acting and the development of the naturalistic approach with minimal examples.

Episode two, "Using the Verse," was fascinating. Barton talked at length and a variety of actors provided examples and anecdotes relating to how iambic pentameter not only works but helps actors memorize lines, interpret character, and breath. Also interesting was the discussion regarding how Shakespeare broke the rules for effect.

And episode three, "Language and Character," was the best of three with full speeches delivered with Barton's pre-scene coaching. The best bit in this episode is when Barton delivers a speech in what he thinks, with some reservation, to be close to how an Elizabethan actors would have sounded. The other wonderful bit was the discussion of the most important word in Shakespeare and the showing of a skit in an over-zealous director (Stephen Fry) coaches an actor (Hugh Laurie) regarding Time. V. funny and apropos! Here it is, although Playing Shakespeare only shows it from about 2 min on.

After the two budding Shakespearean actors who call me Mom are done with this disc, it goes back to Netflix. Luckily I have disc two to tide me over until disc three arrives.


  1. I remember watching these when they were first broadcast and loving them.. I hadn't realized that they were available in this format. I bet our University library has them. I must check them out. John Barton was (is, because he's still alive, although not working now as far as I know)one of the truly great directors. His 'Twelfth Night' with Judi Dench and Donald Sinden is imprinted on my memory as 'the' way to do that play and it's forty years since that production.

  2. How interesting! I love Shakespeare, not only because "he" is part of my job. Hilarious vid! Thanks J.!