e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the category “Theatre”

Another piece of my ignorance discovered

By chance I stumbled on a Wikipedia article about Allah Jang Palsoe, an Indonesian stage play, dating from 1919, by Kwee Tek Hoay. The title translates as False God and is about two brothers who discover that money does not bring happiness.

Despite the fact that the original idea came from a short story by E. Phillips Oppenheim, a westerner, it is a truly Indonesian work and is still sometimes performed.

Reading the article I realised I know practically nothing about Indonesian theatre, or other literature. I have heard of the puppet theatre and have even seen extracts on TV, but that’s the extent of my knowledge. I strongly suspect that Indonesians know much more about our theatre than we do about theirs: they may even read Shakespeare in school.

My ignorance probably extends to numerous theatrical traditions, and it seems such a pity to miss so much. Another topic to add to my ‘to be googled’ list.


Five Fascinating Facts about Douglas Adams

For all lovers of things quirky and particularly Douglas Adams brand of quirk.

Interesting Literature

1. One of Douglas Adams’s early jobs was as a bodyguard to a Qatari family of oil tycoons. He also had a job cleaning a chicken-shed at one point. The ‘eureka moment’ for  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy came when he lay drunk in a field in Innsbruck, Austria in the early 1970s. At the time he was carrying a copy of  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Europe with him, and it occurred to him – as he looked up at the stars – that ‘somebody ought to write a  Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’.  It took a few years for the idea to take shape, but in 1978 the radio programme made its debut. A trilogy – comprising, as trilogies don’t tend to, five books – followed. If you want to see an interview with a young Douglas Adams talking about the series, there is a great Youtube clip of Adams being interviewed on the…

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Haiku challenge – Kagura dance at night

This time Carpe Diem has  provided some fascinating information to go with the daily haiku challenge. Do go and look at the post and the video of classical Japanese dance – simplicity and gracefulness personified.

I really wanted to write about it:

Night falls; the dancers

glide onstage and pause – their first steps

held back for a heart beat.

30 Day Book Challenge – day 16: Favourite book turned into a movie

I don’t know that I have a favourite here because without thinking very hard I can’t recall many films made from books that I’ve seen (this doesn’t count the ones made from books I haven’t read – there are probably a lot of those).

However, I do very vividly remember the Hound of the Baskervilles – book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, film starring Peter Cushing, Andre Morell and Christopher Lee. Hound of the Baskervilles

I have to admit that one of the reasons I remember the film so well is that it’s the one that taught me not to expect the ‘film of the book’ to be as good as the book.

Hound of the Baskervilles isn’t a favourite book of mine but is certainly one of my favourite Sherlock Holmes stories and I love it’s title. Baskerville is a great name and if it wasn’t so well known I might be tempted to use it for one of my own characters.

And who doesn’t love a mysterious giant animal? The hound comes from the same stable as the Loch Ness Monster and the Beast of Bodmin Moor.

In doing the research for this blog I came across a new-to-me word – cryptid, which, according to Wikipedia, is what Nessie is. It’s nice to think of our world secretly harbouring hoards of cryptic creatures, too shy to be discovered by science but feeding the imagination all over the world.

Reading backlog – ‘Life’s Rich Pageant’ by Arthur Marshall

I don’t know how long I’ve had this book. It came to light when we moved house. It was Lifes Rich pageant coverpublished in 1984 but I don’t think I’ve had it anything like that long. It’s probably one I picked up in a charity shop or event. Forgotten it may have been, but having found it, I’m grateful for it. It’s a charming read.

It’s Arthur Marshall‘s autobiography, up to the point where he started appearing on Call My Bluff. If you’ve never seen this, you’ve missed a treat. It’s a TV quiz about words and their meanings and is peopled by entertaining broadcasters and their guests.

It’s a book of smiles. Despite the quotes from the famous on the cover claiming it to be hilarious there were only a few places where I laughed out loud. But there was a smile, not to say a grin, in almost every paragraph.

The world the author grew up in, starting before WW1, is long gone, but appreciation of the humour in life transcends time.  Mr Marshall certainly saw humour wherever he went. A tendency to laugh at the slightest excuse got him into trouble several times.

He introduces an array of characters, famous and unknown, and we learn nice things about all of them – if the author knew any horrid people he didn’t write about them.

His life was varied and eventful, including several jobs, service in WW2, a devotion to the theatre both professional and amateur and a lot of broadcasting.

I recommend this book to anyone who likes to smile broadly, laugh loudly and see the nice side of their fellow people.

Picture from ebay.

More anniversaries

Browsing through various websites I’ve come across a couple of literary anniversaries that might interest or amuse.

The first is Agatha Christie’s play The Mousetrap which has been celebrating its 60th anniversary for some months with a touring production. Its true anniversary is in November for which there is a special ‘star-studded’ performance.

I was interested to see in the Guardian archives that it had at least one bad review. Yet it’s still going strong, while the reviewer is probably long since retired.

Why is it so popular? Of course, it has become an institution; a must-see for visitors to London. But in order to get to that position it had to run for a good many years.

Despite so-so reviews, it attracted audiences from the beginning. It gives them something that some reviewers apparently miss. It has suspense, a good many laughs, distinct, if not very realistic, characters, and a strong structure moving swiftly to an unexpected climax. I think all these things give the audience a lift if not a catharsis.

The other anniversary I came across is the 80th of National Book Tokens.

The invention of this easy but happily received present should get a large pat on the back. How many aunts, uncles and grandparents, stuck for a gift, have joyfully sent off book tokens for birthdays and other gifty celebrations?

Other tokens have followed, but I think book tokens were probably first.

I remember the first time I received one when I was very young. After my mother explained what it was, I was thrilled at the idea of being able to choose my own book without having to save pocket money to do it. I can’t remember what I chose, but I do recall it took me weeks to do it: going into bookshops, browsing, hovering between this story and that, then going out again to think it over.

The first professional woman writer in England

I have a wonderful book – Poem for the Day edited by Nicholas Albery. Not only does it give a poem for each day of the year (plus leap year), but also a whole collection of poetry-related snippets.

Today is the anniversary of the death of Aphra Behn (1640 to 16th April 1689). What a lady! In a relatively short life, by modern standards, she fitted in travel, marriage, widowhood, work as a spy and a stint in debtors’ prison, as well as writing plays, novels and poems. She was one of the first women to earn enough by writing to support herself. She was sympathetic to Catholics (at a time when Catholics were seriously unpopular), and was one of the first to write against the horrors of slavery.

She was no saint and has had plenty of criticism in her day and since. But her fame lives on – both for her writing and her feminism. Virginia Woolf wrote of her:

All women together ought to let flowers fall upon
the tomb of Aphra Behn, …for it was she who earned
them the right to speak their minds.

Like many other famous spies, there are mysterious gaps in her biography. These have allowed later authors to invent incidents and include her in their stories. She even appears in the science fiction series Riverworld by Jose Phillip Farmer.

Most of her poems are about love. Love Armed, below, is one of the shorter ones.

Love Armed

Love in fantastic triumph sate
Whilst bleeding hearts around him flow’d,
For whom fresh pains he did create
And strange tyrannic power he show’d:
From thy bright eyes he took his fires,
Which round about in sport he hurl’d;
But ’twas from mine he took desires
Enough t’ undo the amorous world.

From me he took his sighs and tears,
From thee his pride and cruelty;
From me his languishments and fears,
And every killing dart from thee.
Thus thou and I the god have arm’d
And set him up a deity;
But my poor heart alone is harm’d,
Whilst thine the victor is, and free!

Listening to Shakespeare as he really sounded

I sent for the CD I wrote about in a previous post on this subject and have just listened to it.

Before listening I read the accompanying booklet and I’m glad I did (usually I listen first and then find out what I should have known after). It explains what evidence the OP (Original Pronunciation) is based on and describes some possible regional variations of Shakespeare’s time. It also gives pointers as to what to listen for.

To me the accent sounded vaguely Midlandish – not surprising since that was where Shakespeare came from. However, as the booklet’s author (Ben Crystal) points out, it is not exactly like any modern speech.

The disk contains twenty eight tracks from the sonnets and plays, well chosen to cover a range of mood and speaker, and beautifully performed.

A few things surprised me. First was how quickly I adapted to OP. A couple of tracks and it stopped sounding strange. If I ever see a whole play, by the end of the first act I probably won’t notice. Second was that, to my ear anyway, there was no difference between the kings and aristocrats and their servants and followers. Third there were no words I couldn’t understand – I had expected a few instances of ‘what’s that word?’.

I also noticed for the first time how many words in English end in –ion. This was the only feature that leapt out at me for several tracks, as the ending of words like possession, consummation etc were pronounced really differently. After a while I stopped noticing until we got to the extract from Julius Caesar. Antony’s talk with the plebeians contains many repetitions of  the word ‘ambition’ and they poked out of the surrounding speech with a strength and force I’d not noted before. Is this an effect Shakespeare intended? or is it the result of my modern ear?

I can’t say this disk made me reassess any of the plays or sonnets. I have found that any short extract from them, well recorded, can give me that ‘now I really understand that’ thrill. But it is an enjoyable disk and an interesting experience. I look forward to the OP movement spreading and giving us more performances.

For a taster of the disk you can go to The Telegraph review and listen to a snippet of Romeo and Juliet.

The disk is available from the British Library shop.

Shakespeare as he really sounded

I’ve just read the news that The British Library is releasing a CD with excerpts from The Bard’s poems and plays in the original pronunciation. Apparently this is the first commercially available recording of Shakespeare as he really sounded.

Over the years there has been a lot of research and I suppose scholars are getting closer and closer to the true voice of the time. The article on the British Library website doesn’t mention how the research is done.

Years ago I attended a live reading of what was supposed to be Shakespearean pronunciation. It sounded odd but was understandable. The way the plays sound has undoubtedly changed several times over the centuries – what seems odd today may be common tomorrow.

We already have ‘authentic’ performances of old music. Perhaps in the future there’ll be a movement towards ‘authentic speech’ productions of plays.

I am definitely going to buy the CD (available from the British Library Shop); I’m a sucker for any unusual literary items.

The picture is a public domain one from Wikimedia Commons.

Once again with feeling – and not too many clothes

So Gypsy Rose Lee is to hit the big screen again.

I’ve never seen her film or TV appearances nor any of her biopics or bio-stage shows nor have I read the famous autobiography, so I don’t really know what the attraction is.

Surely a pushy mother and an ability to take off her clothes with elegance can’t be the only reasons for her popularity.

Checking around the internet, I discovered that she wrote several books, including a couple of crime stories, and a play. She also knew a thing or two about art and amassed a considerable collection. Obviously a multi-talented lady.

The money she made in burlesque no doubt put her in a position to develop her other talents.

I like this quote from The Wall Street Journal:

Gypsy Rose Lee’s inimitable burlesque act won her fame, but her classic memoir is what made her immortal.

So it is for her writing that she continues to be famous. I don’t wonder so many celebrities publish their autobiographies, perhaps in the hope a good book will keep their name alive. Who wouldn’t want to have musicals, books, films, exhibitions and umpteen web-sites commemorating them long after their death?

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