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Tom Stoppard’s dramatic trilogy The Coast of Utopia, currently playing on Broadway, just added ten Tony nominations to the slew of awards it’s already won.

Here’s a photo of Jennifer Ehle — yes, the delightful Elizabeth Bennet from the BBC/A&E Pride and Prejudice — performing in The Coast of Utopia.

I love Tom Stoppard — he’s definitely my favorite modern playwright. I think this may be in part because he is in some ways very old-fashioned.

He cares about language, for one thing. Oh, the word-play in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead! And, indeed, the word-play in pretty much everything he’s ever written! Just gorgeous. Deliriously fun.

He’s also interested in history, and many of his plays have been set in others times and/or places.

Take, for example, Arcadia. Half of it takes place during the Regency, and half during the present…and the details are wonderful.

(This photo here is from a production of Arcadia performed at Le Moyne College in 2005. Lovely!)

So… Have you ever seen a production of Arcadia? Where?

What did you think of it?

Do you see much theatre? Which playwrights (modern or not) do you like best?

All answers welcome!

Cara King, author of MY LADY GAMESTER, in which the protagonists see several plays and one elephant

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Here are some snippets that I found particularly amusing, from various theatre reviews that Hazlitt wrote during the Regency…

Examiner, May 5, 1816

Why they put Mr. Kemble into the part of Sir Giles Overreach, at Covent Garden Theatre, we cannot conceive: we should suppose he would not put himself there. Malvolio, though cross-gartered, did not set himself in the stocks.

No doubt, it is the managers’ doing, who by rope-dancing, fire-works, play-bill puffs, and by every kind of quackery, seem determined to fill their pockets for the present, and disgust the public in the end, if the public were an animal capable of being disgusted by quackery.

(The gentleman pictured above is John Philip Kemble, the powerful actor/manager. His whole family acted, included his sister, Mrs. Siddons, and his brothers, Charles and Stephen Kemble.)

Examiner, October 13, 1816

The town has been entertained this week by seeing Mr. Stephen Kemble in the part of Sir John Falstaff, as they were formerly with seeing Mr. Lambert in his own person.

We see no more reason why Mr. Stephen Kemble should play Falstaff, than why Louis XVIII is qualified to fill a throne, because he is fat and belongs to a particular family. Every fat man cannot represent a great man.

(The gentleman pictured here is Stephen Kemble, and he was indeed the least admired of the Kembles!)

Champion, January 8, 1815

In going to see Mr. Kean in any new character, we do not go in the expectation of seeing either a perfect actor or perfect acting; because this is what we have not yet seen, either in him or in anyone else. But we go to see (what he never disappoints us in) great spirit, ingenuity, and originality given to the text in general, and an energy and depth of passion given to certain scenes and passages, which we should in vain look for from any other actor on the stage…

His Romeo had nothing of the lover in it. We never saw anything less ardent or less voluptuous. In the balcony scene in particular, he was cold, tame and unimpressive… He stood like a statue of lead.

(The third picture, of course, is of Edmund Kean!)

Of the reviews Hazlitt did of Kean, this was the least flattering one that I’ve come across. He did seem to admire him very much, and be rather more impatient with the Kembles!

So — if you were magically transported back to the Regency, and could see anything (or anyone) at the theatre that you wished, what (or who) would it be? Or would you spend more time looking at the theatre or the audience?

Cara King, author of MY LADY GAMESTER — which contains several scenes at Covent Garden Theatre, complete with elephant

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Yesterday, Keira suggested I tell you all how fared the production of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale that Todd and I were in, which closed on Saturday.

She also suggested I share some pictures. (All photo credits, by the way, go to Bob Paz, Caltech’s photographic genius.)

Ahem. Well. Let me start by saying that this was a visually stylized (and sometimes dramatically stylized) version set in feudal Japan. We had very odd hair and make-up, and lovely costumes which, however, did not flatter any woman who had a figure.

Did I say odd hair? For some of us, that meant odd wigs. Very odd wigs. And the women’s makeup consisted of nothing but a thin layer of very pale base, and a large amount of very pink rouge bracketing the eyes. This lady here (not me) is an example of both wig and makeup!

There — now that I have prepared you — you are prepared, are you not? You won’t laugh (too much)? Very well.

Here’s Todd as King Leontes, going mad. (He did a lot of that in this play.) This is when King Leontes becomes suddenly (and wrongly) convinced that his wife, Queen Hermione, has been cheating on him with his best friend — and that the child she’s pregnant with is a result of this (nonexistent) affair.

And, yes. Todd is wearing a wig. A huge wig.

Now here’s me, in purple. And let me just say that I know the wig, the makeup, and the fifteen-foot-long obi wrapped around and around my waist, aren’t flattering to me. I know it. And I was remarkable in my restraint during this play in how little I stressed about it. (Honest! Well, maybe.) But I’m just saying.

(I’m just saying, it’s all Keira’s fault. She made me show you these pictures.)

Okay. Sorry. Where was I? Oh yeah. In the above picture, my character, the lady Paulina, comes up with a brilliant plan. I will show Queen Hermione’s now newly born baby to mad King Leontes — who will of course melt at the sight of the cute little baby, and snap out of his madness.

And here I am again as Paulina, with the baby, and with Antigonus, Paulina’s husband. Paulina breaks in on the king and insists he listen to her yell at him a lot (he yells too, of course — very Shakespearean), and insists he look at the cute little baby. In this picture, Paulina’s husband (who I suspect knows the king a bit better than she) is trying to get his wife and the baby out of the room before the king decides to execute them all.

But does the king listen? Of course not! (I suspect Shakespeare thought that if men listened to women more often, the world would be a better place.) The king orders the baby be abandoned in the middle of the forest by poor Antigonus (the guy in green above). Then comes the most famous stage direction in all of Shakespeare: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” The bear, of course, makes poor Paulina a widow.

Meanwhile, the king defies the Oracle’s proclamation of Hermione’s innocence. So as the good always suffer for the sins of the wicked, King Leontes is punished by the gods by having his older child and heir, Prince Mamillius, die for his sins. (Not that the prince ever did anything bad!) In shock, Queen Hermione falls down dead of grief. In the above picture, Paulina is telling Leontes just how really really bad he is. This time, he believes her, and is really really sorry.

Sixteen years go by, and Leontes is still sorry, and Paulina is still making sure he stays that way. (You see how stern I look!)

Meanwhile, the abandoned baby has grown up as a shepherdess, and a prince (son of Leontes’ old best friend) falls in love with her, and there’s lots of comedy and happy star-crossed love. (The first three pictures at the top are from this part of the play.)

Eventually, everyone comes together, and they discover the shepherdess is really the daughter of King Leontes. Now everyone is mostly happy — so Paulina decides to show them the statue she has of dead Queen Hermione. And — surprise, surprise! It comes to life.

Guess Queen Hermione wasn’t really dead after all. Or…was she?

Here’s Paulina, stealing center stage, more or less saying “can I help it if I can work miracles?”

Well, there you have it! Lots of pretty pictures. Lots of weird wigs. Lots of Cara pretending not to whine.

So — which costume (or hair) do you like best here? Or hate the least?

What’s the weirdest setting you’ve seen for a Shakespearean production?

When Shakespeare plays or movies are set in different times or places (e.g. McKellen’s Nazi-ish Richard III) do you love it, hate it, or think it all depends?

Cara King, author of My Lady Gamester and obsessive Shakespeare fan

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As I mentioned last week, I’m currently playing the role of Paulina in a local production of Shakespeare’s lovely and slightly bizarre tragical comical romantical problem play, The Winter’s Tale.

(For more on the story of the play, and some neat RSC pics, see last week’s post: Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, pt. 1. And for more neat pics, and some great historical theatre info, see the RSC website.)

I have skimmed Garrick’s odd mini-play version of The Winter’s Tale, which he called (at least in his published versions) Florizel and Perdita (which is pretty much just the second half of Shakespeare’s version, with Garrick additions and rejumblings), and am working on getting my hands on Kemble’s acting version of TWT (I thought I had it, but I was mistaken), so I will talk more about the different Regency-era versions of the text in a later post.

Here is a portrait by Gainsborough of Mary Robinson, also known as “Perdita,” who drew the eye of the young Prince of Wales (later Regent, still later George IV) when she played Perdita at Drury Lane in 1779.

Mary Robinson later wrote of her first encounter with the Prince during her performance in Florizel and Perdita (which she refers to as “The Winter’s Tale,” although it was the half-length version which Garrick had adapted):

The play of THE WINTER’S TALE was this season commanded by their Majesties. I never had performed before the royal family; and the first character in which I was destined to appear was that of PERDITA. I had frequently played the part, both with the Hermione of Mrs Hartley and of Miss Farren: but I felt a strange degree of alarm when I found my name announced to perform it before the royal family.

In the Green-room I was rallied on the occasion; and Mr Smith, whose gentlemanly manners and enlightened conversation rendered him an ornament to the profession, who performed the part of Leontes, laughingly exclaimed, ‘By Jove, Mrs Robinson, you will make a conquest of the Prince; for to-night you look handsomer than ever.’ I smiled at the unmerited compliment, and little forsaw the vast variety of events that would arise from that night’s exhibition!

I hurried through the first scene, not without much embarrassment, owing to the fixed attention with which the Prince of Wales honoured me. Indeed, some flattering remarks which were made by his Royal Highness met my ear as I stood near his box, and I was overwhelmed with confusion.

The Prince’s particular attention was observed by every one, and I was again rallied at the end of the play. On the last curtsy, the royal family condescendingly returned a bow to the performers; but just as the curtain was falling, my eyes met those of the Prince of Wales; and, with a look that I never shall forget, he gently inclined his head a second time; I felt the compliment, and blushed my gratitude.

Questions for the day (answer any or all!): What Shakespeare plays did you study in school? Did you think the teacher(s) taught Shakespeare well, or in such a way to make the students bewildered bard haters? Do you think Shakespeare is better seen than read? Why do you think Shakespeare was so popular during the Regency?

Cara King, author of My Lady Gamester (which contains no Shakespeare, but does have a character named Richard)

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Ooh, look! The Theatre Royal, Covent Garden — my favorite Regency Theatre, home to Kemble and Siddons and the other Kemble and the other two Kembles. (And Siddons was a Kemble by birth! Can you say nepotism?)

As long-time Risky Regencies readers know, Todd and I both have the acting bug. For the past three winters, we have taken part in a Shakespeare play at Caltech, beginning rehearsals in early January, and opening in mid-to-late February. Two years ago we were in Measure for Measure, last year was As You Like It, and this year, it’s The Winter’s Tale.

(By the way, if you have any interest in my blog entries on the Regency text of As You Like It and our production, here are the links:
As You Like It #1
As You Like It #2
As You Like It Costume Reflections )

By the way, this fair lady is Sarah Siddons herself, in the role of Hermione in The Winter’s Tale; the artist is Adam Buck.

Because this is where my mind is nowadays (busily reciting lines, and trying to remember when it’s “good my liege” and when it’s “good my lord”, and which time I say “pray you now” instead of “pray you then” or “I pray now” or “pray you, Emilia”), for the next few weeks, I’m going to blog about The Winter’s Tale, and talk about the Regency take on it, and on theatre in the Regency.

The Winter’s Tale, of course, is not one of Shakespeare’s best-known works, so I’ll start by giving a little explanation of the plot. (Anyone who doesn’t want spoilers for The Winter’s Tale, stop reading now!!!)

This photo is Judi Dench playing Hermione for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1969, as the copyright notice proudly informs you!

Generally considered one of Shakespeare’s last plays, and usually categorized nowadays as a romance (or a problem play or a comedy), The Winter’s Tale is in many ways a bizarre drama. The first half is tragedy, with lots of screaming and crying and death, and the second half is comedy (and musical), with so much laughter, new love, and joy that some of the folks who died in the first half actually come back to life.

This is another RSC picture — Patrick Stewart and Gemma Jones as Leontes and Hermione in a 1981 production. Hey, since when does Patrick Stewart have hair??? 🙂

As the play begins, all is well. Good King Leontes has a perfect wife in good Queen Hermione, a young son, and a new baby on the way. His pal, King Polixenes, has been staying with them for a delightfully long time, which happens to be…hmmm…yes, just about nine months now. Nine…months. What an interesting length of time. Let’s see… Hermione is eight months pregnant… And Polixenes arrived nine months ago…

Here’s Ian McKellan as Leontes, in 1976.

Well, King Leontes, it seems, has a little strain of insanity in him. With no warning, he suddenly becomes convinced that Polixenes is the father of Hermione’s unborn child. Now, madness is one thing — many good kings are a little mad much of the time — but Leontes refuses to listen to anyone but himself. All the men in the court beg him to forgo his suspicions, or at least be merciful. And one noblewoman in particular, the rather pushy Paulina, actually has the courage to tell him in blunt terms that he’s totally in the wrong, and had better stop now, or else.

In his pride, Leontes refuses all advice, all common sense, and even the advice of the gods. He decides to kill Polixenes — and when he’s foiled in his aim, he takes out his wrath on his queen and her (now newly born) baby daughter.

Here’s Gillian Barge as Paulina and Jeremy Irons as Leontes, in 1986.

Needless to say, great tragedy ensues.

The roles of Leontes, Hermione, and Paulina, for obvious reasons, have long been prized by actors (including Regency greats such as Kemble and Siddons). In our production, Todd gets to rant as Leontes, and I get to yell at him plenty as Paulina, so we’re both having oodles of fun.

However, to Regency fans, the most famous roles in the play may be Florizel and Perdita. Leontes has his newborn daughter abandoned in the wilderness where, as so often happens in fiction, she survives, and is raised by a kindly shepherd who calls her Perdita, as the mysterious documents that were found with her instructed.

Eventually, Perdita meets Prince Florizel, the son of King Polixenes, and of course they fall in love.

Dorothy Jordan played Perdita, as did, of course, Mary Robinson, the Perdita who snared the Prince of Wales before he was Regent — giving him the nickname of Florizel.

More about the Regency versions (and 18th century abridgements) of The Winter’s Tale next week!

So, today’s questions:

Have you ever seen or read The Winter’s Tale? What did you think?

How do you think Patrick Stewart looks with hair?

Are you a Shakespeare fan? Which are your favorite plays? And have you ever acted in one of Shakespeare’s plays?

All comments welcome!

Cara King, author of My Lady Gamester, which spends a chapter or two at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden, complete with elephant

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