One of the odd and unique interesting qualities of King Lear is its fantastic and vague setting in prehistoric Britain, that Shakespeare chose a tale of a king you couldn’t find in a list of the Kings and Queens of England, even while he gave the play something of a history play shape, with British Kings and princes, crises of succession and fighting with each other and France. But it isn’t a history play, it's based on a britannic myth that was already a myth in the middle ages, and the play is set around about some time in the misty, undocumented bog before Ethelwulf, Egbert and Offa, and after Arthur, but perhaps not, maybe it predates the Romans, maybe even the Celts? It's in a parallel timeline no doubt.
This production of Shakespeare’s Richard III has reached BAM after a sold-out run at the Old Vic and a tour which included Epidavros, Istanbul, Naples, Sydney, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, and San Francisco, among others. This reminded me of the sort of thing the British Council does, but of course this Shakespearian globe-trotting was a private enterprise, funded largely by Bank of America and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. And course the whole point of the production’s parent organization, The Bridge Project, was to combine British and American casts. Perhaps there should be an organization beyond the British Council to cultivate, study, and promote the global English language, as it used on the streets and in literature around the world, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Nigeria, Guyana, and others. And the way English is behaving in the physical and cyber-world today, it may need some international body to encourage it in good manners, kicking it under the table, when it starts to monopolize the conversation.
I've gone to a lot of Shakespeare this summer, four plays in a month, but nothing had me more curious than the Old Vic's transatlantic production of The Winter's Tale. It's one half of the Bridge Project, which combines British and American actors in productions that appeared first in New York and now in London. Winter's Tale alternates with Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard, and although various critics prefer one over the other, all agree that Simon Russell Beale, as King Leontes, has been stellar. He would almost have to be, given the impossibility of the role. Othello's jealousy seems improbable to many, spurred as it is by a stolen handkerchief embroidered with strawberries, but Iago's malice ignites it and keeps it burning.
The Winter’s Tale
by William Shakespeare
A Bridge Project production at BAM, directed by Sam Mendes
Simon Russell Beale – Leontes, King of Sicily
Michael Braun – Dion, Lord of Sicilia/Florizel
Morven Christie – Perdita/Mamillius
Sinéad Cusack – …