Tag Archives: drama

Joss Whedon takes on Shakespeare

The following post is reblogged in full from GalleyCat here.

The Avengers director Joss Whedon adapted William Shakespeare‘s comedy, Much Ado About Nothing, as a modern-day retelling. The trailer is embedded above–what do you think?

A limited release date has been set for June 07, 2013. The film has already screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Glasgow Film Festival. As previously reported, Whedon shot the entire movie at his own home in 12 days. Here’s more about the film from NPR:

As I watched Much Ado About Nothing, I had the distinct thought, “I wonder whether this is the future.” Not the future, of course — I don’t believe we’re anywhere close to the end of the blockbuster, nor do I believe we’re necessarily entering a new age of Shakespeare — but a big piece of the future. Big films have gotten so big, expensive films so expensive, that all of the risk has to be drained out of them, which often leaves behind a dried-out version of whatever was originally intended.

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Interview: Olwyn Hughes, Sylvia Plath’s literary executor

Ted Hughes’s sister tells Sam Jordison how misrepresented she feels the story of her sister-in-law’s death has been


The following post is reblogged entirely from the Guardian online.

I spoke to a number of Plath biographers and friends after speaking to Elizabeth Sigmund (including Al Alvarez, Carl Rollyson and Ronald Hyme). They confirmed the substance of what she said – in particular, that Plath had not wanted The Bell Jar to go out under her own name while her mother was still alive. Elizabeth also produced a scan of the letter from Charles Monteith explaining that Faber was unaware that those were Sylvia’s wishes.

However, since it was almost 50 years after the event, and Faber were consequently unable to supply any further information, it became clear that the only person who really knew about the omission of the dedication to Elizabeth and her husband from the 1966 edition was Olwyn Hughes. Fortunately, she agreed to speak to me and set down her side of the story.

The following conversation comes verbatim, from my notes. I would just like to add that in spite of the force of many of her words, that Olwyn seemed good-humoured and peculiarly charming. It might help if you imagine the following spoken in a warm Yorkshire accent:

I want to ask about the name change on The Bell Jar?
She [Plath] was very worried about it because she thought it was going to upset her mother. It was a nightmare for her, actually. She got quite paranoid about it towards the end. And then she was disappointed when it came out and it didn’t have a very good press.

Sorry, I meant the decision to actually use her name?
The decision to use her name was taken after her death, when everybody really seemed to know it was by her. Her friends all knew. There seemed no point in not publishing under her own name.

I’ve been speaking to Elizabeth Sigmund …
Oh God, have you? I mean gabble, gabble, gabble, gabble … Has she some new stories for you?

She was telling me about the dedication.
She [Plath] dedicated it to Elizabeth and her husband, because she didn’t want the London lot to know – you know, her real friends. She didn’t know Elizabeth very well, you know. Although according to Elizabeth … Anyway, we’ve had enough of Elizabeth … [Goes on to suggest that Elizabeth Sigmund’s accounts of events were not always reliable.] What has she told you?

She was saying she was left off the 1966 edition …
Oh yes, that was a Faber error. She thought that was a terrible plot of Ted’s. I don’t know what that was about. It was just Faber left it off. These things happen in publishing.

She also said that she was sure that Sylvia Plath never wanted it published under her own name.
Well, yes. She didn’t want to upset her mother. What it tells, The Bell Jar, is a watered down version of her own breakdown. And that was also very painful to her – quite apart from the fact that there’s a passage in the book that’s rather unpleasant for her mother to read, about the mother’s snoring or something. Sylvia got very het up about the book because I think it was so self-revelatory. In a way she liked that – and in a way she didn’t.

That’s certainly what I think happened with Ariel – her whole trauma, her father’s death upsurged. I think writing The Bell Jar provoked that … And all that traumatic material that came up in Ariel. I think it caused her a lot of aggro. She was a very agonised lady. She had to battle to live every day – as you might glean from The Bell Jar. When I read it after she died, I just wept.

But people don’t realise. They didn’t then, even. She didn’t always show how troubled she was – but she had no inner calm at all. The Bell Jar deals with the beginnings of the trouble. Then she spent the rest of her life dreading its return.

Oh God.

The nonsense that has continued to be written about the story is shocking to me. Sylvia wasn’t the innocent victim, or half so helpless as she’s been made out to be. You just have to look at some of her poetry. She was just nasty in the last poem about her husband and father [“Daddy”]. She was vicious and I think a bit crazy. I watched her going through her torment and it was agony. But Ted was so taken with her. I don’t know why. I don’t know how she did it … Especially because I don’t think that she could control the negativity in herself. You’ve got to remember the venom that Sylvia dished out.

I don’t think anyone has taken into account how injurious the rubbish that’s been written about her has been. What the feminists don’t take into account was how much psychological trouble she was in. She was a very difficult woman with a very difficult personality. She was horribly unjust both to her mother and to Ted. And I’m sick of reading that he left her for Assia – that’s all you get whenever his name is mentioned. Assia. But Ted didn’t walk out.

It was actually a friend of Assia’s who told Sylvia. She rang her up and thought maybe she was helping her, or wanted to warn her, or something, I don’t know. But this person had no idea how on edge Sylvia was. That she wouldn’t be able to cope with this information. And so when Ted next went down [to their house in Devon] she was in a rage and threw him out.

I wish the newspapers would get it right. He didn’t even know that Sylvia would find out about Assia. He’d done everything he could to be very discreet. It was just one of those things … And of course Sylvia, when she did hear about it, it reminded her of all her terrors about abandonment and everything else. She wouldn’t listen to anything but separation and divorce. But he didn’t leave her for Assia. That’s just not true. He was actually staying on friends’ floors in London until he got a little place by himself. He certainly wasn’t living with Assia.

Oh and she took all the money out of their bank account. She was a monster actually.

So what about changing the byline. How was that decision taken?
What people want after they’re dead. That just goes. And nobody was going to be able to keep the secret about who wrote the book for decades. Besides it was a very good little novel.

She was disappointed when she was alive – she was worried about the Jennifer Dawson’s novel The Ha-Ha – which was similar and got a lot more attention at the time. She hadn’t the calm in her necessary to cope with it.

There was all that martyr talk, even after Ted’s death … in America there were a couple of biographies that were terribly bad. They didn’t take account of the fact that Ted had nursed the bloody woman for seven years. The patience that he had with her!

Of course, I didn’t quite understand or realise that she was quite sick. We didn’t know as much about psychology in those days. But let me tell you about one thing. Ted was meeting an old teacher once – and she just ran off. He had to run out onto the moors after her. She did that in front of his old teacher. Can you imagine? And he lived with it.

And when you read her journals – there were some very dark things in there … And there was a furore when they first came out that they were cut. And a few things were taken out – mainly at the request of her mother, but otherwise he did nothing. But there was this great furore and suggestion that there was an attempt to hide things. But what were the secrets?

Of course, nobody actually read the journals! They were too busy focusing on what they thought wasn’t there. And if they did read it properly they’d have found a very damaged girl. A very mixed-up girl. You just had to look at the dreams she described. Her dreams were bad enough to spoil your own.

I understood then how powerful a grouping the feminists can be. And how it still goes on. This crap. No matter what goes on, you can’t counter it. They just lie, and if they find themselves in the wrong, they just ignore it.

I’m collecting all the press I’ve got and giving it to Pembroke College. There was one thing, by someone from the Guardian that I found really upsetting … Katherine … I can’t remember her name. All that martyr stuff. It was just a few days after Ted died that it came out and I thought aren’t The Guardian ashamed of themselves? [We’re unable to pin down the piece to which she’s referring. There’s an article by Katharine Viner on the Plath diaries from 2000, but this was 18 months after Hughes’ death.]

I don’t have any time for them, really the press. I don’t normally talk to journalists.

I must be very fortunate …
Hmm. Well. I wish you’d print what I actually say. You know I would love to talk to some journalist and they could take me seriously – and actually put down what I say. That would be the first time.

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Samuel Beckett’s funny turns

This post is reblogged in full from the Times Literary Supplement article by Kate Womersley

 

Winnie (Natasha Parry) in Happy Days, London, 1997

The winter of 1925 in Dublin was a rather cheerless one. At least that is the picture the papers give: workers’ strikes, a general depression in trade and widespread unemployment. The Irish Times forecast a particularly cold Christmas, adding the small consolation that “if all goes according to plan, England and Scotland will be swept by Polar winds with an icy chill in them”. The “Public Amusements” page suggested some distractions for gloomy Dubliners. Humpty Dumpty: The Pantomime was doing a run at the Gaiety Theatre, “the famous Dixie Minstrels” were in town, and La Scala was showing Charlie Chaplin in The Pawnshop.

Meanwhile, a music hall revue called Happy Days was on at the Olympia. Scant information survives about the show, where it came from or where it went. The listing appeared from December 21 until Christmas Eve, leaving a few tantalizing clues about what the spectacle might have been like. A revue, the descendant of music hall proper and cousin to American vaudeville, tended to have a loose plot but still remained loyal to the traditional format of a series of showpiece fragments and cameo turns.

In 1925 Samuel Beckett was reading modern languages at Trinity College. Is this Happy Days a lost source for his own play of the same title? It has always been assumed that Beckett named his 1960 drama after the hit song of 1929, “Happy Days are Here Again”. But the dates and location lend weight to the earlier entertainment as well. Might Winnie in her faltering performance of optimism be a grim reworking of those “happy-go-lucky girls”? After all, one of Beckett’s abortive titles for his Happy Days was “A Low Comedy”.

But what is the likelihood that Beckett joined the Olympia’s boisterous audience, or even saw the listing in the Times? When James Joyce said in 1903 that “the music hall, not Poetry, [is] a criticism of life”, Dublin was awash with musical farces and other variety entertainments. Twenty-odd years later, music hall was a dying art. Deirdre Bair, Beckett’s first biographer, nevertheless writes that he made a habit of frequenting the Olympia and the Gaiety, as well as the more genteel Theatre Royal, a taste he did not outgrow when living in Paris after he had graduated from Trinity. He discovered the French strain of music hall, which derived from café concert, at the Bobino, attending “frequently, even in the afternoons, and nearly always by himself”.

Noting Beckett’s enthusiasm for these entertainments is not new; neither is spotting how they colour his work. Comedy collides with sobriety again and again in his drama. In a notebook for Human Wishes (1936), an early play, later abandoned, about the life of Dr Johnson, Beckett jotted down a line from a letter Mrs Thrale sent to a friend in 1750. Here she asks, “Did not Dr J say once that MacBeth wd make a good pantomime?”. If Johnson is right, why shouldn’t pantomime and its kind be fair game for good tragedy? Given how Beckett went on to develop these early ideas and influences, we should hear curiosity as well as caution in his remark that “If we can’t keep our genres more or less distinct . . . we might as well go home and lie down”.

A question repeatedly hangs in the air: “What do we do now?”

The contrasts of pace and modulations of tone in Beckett’s drama can indeed be dizzying, and are integral to its interest. Two popular performers from the 1920s, the Swanson Sisters, were lauded by the Irish Times as “almost a complete variety programme in themselves”, and the same could be said of Waiting for Godot’s double act. Whether they are swapping hats (in tribute to the Marx Brothers) or swapping insults, Vladimir and Estragon draw on a long stage tradition of clowning, minstrelsy and knockabout. Lucky and Pozzo could also be plausible extras on a comic bill. Each crescendo of action subsides with the rise of a niggling anxiety about endings and beginnings. A question repeatedly hangs in the air: “What do we do now?”.

Happy Days owes even greater debts to the illegitimate theatre. Winnie, with her capacious bag and garrulous tongue, recalls the halls’ grande dame, Marie Lloyd (immortalized in a famous essay by T. S. Eliot), and the later parleuse, Joyce Grenfell. Another of Beckett’s jettisoned titles for his play was “Female Solo”, which at once points up Winnie’s near-solitariness, her chattering monologue, and climactic swansong at the end of Act Two. Like Marie Lloyd, Winnie makes a routine out of routine: the morning rigmarole of readying herself for the day (saying her prayers, brushing her teeth, rouging her lips) is undertaken in the vein of a skit. And just in case the audience needs a further nudge, Beckett prescribes a “Very pompier trompe-l’oeil backcloth” to suggest “the kind of tawdriness you get in 3rd rate musical or pantomime, that quality of . . . laughably earnest bad imitation”.

This travesty of staginess and Winnie’s “desirable fleshiness” (low bodice and heaving bosom at Beckett’s request) are not there just for a cheap laugh. While critics have concentrated on important affinities in content, little has been said about the formal influence that music hall had on Beckett’s play. Indeed, the twice-nightly bill of turns in the 1925 Happy Days is a fruitful way to think about Winnie’s two acts with their repeating patter and increasingly restrictive routines.

There are more subtle divisions too. Instead of scenes, entrances and exits, Beckett uses the unit of a “turn” to organize stage space and partition stage time. Like turns on the bill, the play feels bitty to watch. When trying to map the “action”, “that bit with the postcard”, “that bit when the umbrella catches fire”, “that bit with the music box” are useful landmarks.

The discontinuity of the “bits” is reinforced through movement. They often begin and end with the physical action of turning away or turning around. Stage directions which prompt a turn are the most frequent after “pause” and “silence” in Happy Days (indeed in Beckett’s entire oeuvre). The mutual reliance of dramatic structure and bodily gesture is particularly prominent when watching Winnie, trapped as she is from the waist down in a mound of earth for the duration of the play. Every few minutes she twists and bends to look at Willie behind her (obscured to the audience except for his boater, which is just visible). Writing in 1961 to Alan Schneider, the first director of Happy Days, Beckett was at pains to emphasize that “all this leaning and turning and motion of arms and bust in Act I should be as ample and graceful (memorable) as possible, in order that its absence in Act II may have maximum effect”. By the second act, of course, Winnie is buried up to her neck, capable of turning only her head.

The visual and semantic richness of a turn on the Beckettian stage cannot be dismissed as a mere happy accident. The complexity of the word and its gestural weight is supported through instances of turning in his prose. Arsene, in the novel Watt (1953), recounts an estranging episode. While walking outdoors, “something slipped” and he experiences a “reversed metamorphosis”. The incident is likened to the transformation as told by Ovid, but instead of Apollo turning a woman to foliage, here Arsene says it is rather “the Laurel into Daphne”. This moment is taken up later: “Took a turn in the garden . . . . Made merry with the hardy laurel”. The wordplay showcases various definitions of a turn: rotation as well as transformation; a performance; a “go” in a sequence; a short walk; a spell of confusion or distress; all finished off with a nod to the short sketches of two of Beckett’s favourite performers, Laurel and Hardy.

Once you start looking, turns crop up all over the place. In the short story “Ding-Dong” from More Pricks than Kicks (1934), our anti-hero Belacqua makes a habit of taking numerous short strolls as if he were tracing the path of a “boomerang, out and back”. After “these little acts of motion”, if only “from the ingle to the window”, he always “returned, transfigured and transformed”: “Exempt from destination, [he] had not to shun the unforeseen nor turn aside from the agreeable odds and ends of vaudeville that are liable to crop up”. A charge can be felt between “turn aside” and “vaudeville”, spotlighting the familiar notion that all the world’s a stage. Circular and mundane activities performed in solitude are reframed as a one-man comedy show.

Turns on the stage and on the page meet again in From an Abandoned Work (1954). The nameless narrator imagines a future when “it will not be as now, day after day, out, on, round, back, in, like leaves turning, or torn out and thrown crumpled away, but a long unbroken time without before or after”. Turning leaves put us in mind of the pages of a book or script, spirals of foliage swept up on windy days and perhaps a fleeting momento mori as their greenness fades to brown. Life is cast as a succession of circuits, predictable as clockwork. The tedious imperative to go through the same motions “day after day” has its most famous expression at the end of The Unnameable: “I can’t go on, I’ll go on”. A consummate performer must continue in the face of exhaustion.

The frequency with which these verbal contortions and physical turns occur points towards a principle at the centre of Beckett’s practice: expression within limitation. The “dramaticule”, Come and Go (1965), is its purest distillation, again not quite casting off affinities with music hall. Three women, Flo, Vi and Ru, dressed head-to-toe in block colour and seated in a row, perform a round of permutations. Each takes her turn to rise, rotate and exit, while the remaining pair share a whispered secret (inaudible to the audience). Beckett wanted the trio’s choreographed movements to be “stiff, slow, puppet-like”. The first line of the playlet, “When did we three last meet?”, recalls Macbeth’s weird sisters. This turn seems to be Beckett’s belated answer to Dr Johnson’s challenge, pitched between a funny skit and a tragic window on to a purgatorial existence.

It is intriguing, then, that Beckett should repeatedly describe his own vocation as if he were one of these trapped entertainers. Writing in 1954 to an inmate of a German prison who had staged a production of Godot, Beckett felt indebted to the performers.

“I am no longer the same, and will never again be able to be the same, after what you have done, all of you. In the place where I have always found myself, where I will always find myself, turning round and round, falling over, getting up again, it is no longer wholly dark nor wholly silent.”

This stumbling, disorientated and troublingly comic figure combines the persistence of Sisyphus with the clumsiness of a clown. To see the writer’s condition as a turn is simultaneously showy and modest, suggesting both singularity and sequential reliance. Beckett’s sense of his own art seems to equivocate between an individual moment and a humble episode in a line of artistic and cultural inheritance.

In his final prose work, Stirrings Still, such an awareness of predecessors and aftercomers is especially pronounced: “This outer light then when his own went out became his only light till it in its turn went out . . . . As when others too in their turn before and since. As when others would too in their turn and leave him till he too in his turn”. Another possibility is heard through the repetitions. Being “on the turn”, passing one’s prime, is inevitable. As this “outer light”, the limelight, fades, there is a lingering fear for Beckett that his work might, like the music hall shows of which he was so fond, become a dying form.

Kate Womersley is a Frank Knox Fellow at Harvard University.

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‘Valentia’ by Catherine Conlon — Christmas Bestseller!

Set in contemporary Ireland, this novel follows the lives of the various members of the O’Sullivan family during a pivotal five-month period which marks a number of important transitions in all of their lives. The main backdrop for the action is the remote and magically beautiful island of Valentia in County Kerry, one of the most westerly points of the country.

The author, Catherine Conlon, is a medical doctor and lecturer in Public Health and Epidemiology in UCC Public Health Department. Married with 4 children, living in Blackrock in Cork, this is her second book and first venture into self-publishing. I had a quick word with her about her new book.

What is this all about? Catherine sends me on a moving synopsis: “Valentia is a readable, absorbing story with engaging, well-drawn characters in situations many of us, and women in particular, will be able to relate to. While the author explores, with a light and often entertaining touch, some of the traditional territory and themes of romance, female friendships and family dynamics, the narrative also offers a deeper, more profound reflection on what is truly valuable in modern life. In this era of widespread economic downturn and material hardship for so many people – which has hit Ireland particularly badly after so many years riding high on the Celtic Tiger – Valentia brings the reader back, time and again, to the core values of family, a sense of community and the need to belong.”

I asked Catherine which authors inspired her to write. “Those who inspired me to write on similar themes,” she says, “include Adriana  Trigiani, Victoria Hislop, Rosemunde Pilcher and Joanne Harris. In non-fiction, it would have to be Mind Body Spirit, John O’Donoghue, Neale Donald Walsch, Sister Stan, Mark Patrick Hederman and Robin Sharma.”

What did Catherine enjoy the most to write? “I enjoyed writing the dramatic bits and also the descriptive pieces, particularly in creating the magical quality of the island.” And according to the readers, those are the bits that stand out most.

As we know, this isn’t her first book. I asked Catherine what she’s written before. “I previously published ‘Sonas; Celtic Thoughts on Happiness’ with Hachette.”

So what brought her to self-publishing? “I liked self publishing because I had more control over the product and because it was so much simpler and quicker.
 I shopped around first but the message coming back was that no matter how good the book, publishing fiction first time at the moment was difficult in a publishing industry under siege.”

How did she find it? “The self publishing process was remarkably straightforward and the team at Lettertec were professional, approachable and flexible with every aspect of the book.
I would be delighted to self-publish again although I will wait and see how well the book does first!”

Where is the eye-catching cover from? Catherine is happy to tell us. “It is by a local photographer in Ballinskelligs, Michael Herrmann, and I am delighted with it. It is exactly right for the book.”

Where to go from here? Is she finished with writing? “Not at all,” she says, “I’m starting a sequel so watch this space!”

Valentia will be available in all Eason’s branches this Christmas.

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The 53rd Annual Yeats’ Summer School: July 29th-August 10th 2012

On July 29th this year, the 53rd Annual Yeats’ International Summer School will commence with 11 days of workshops, lectures, readings, visits to Yeats’ country, with music and drama to carry the lucky few along. The Summer School is run by the Yeats Society Sligo, to promote the work of WB Yeats and to foster young talent.

The daily programme of events begins with a lecture in Hawk’s Well Theatre, on to lunch-hour events or outings and ending with a seminar in the Yeats’ Memorial Building.

The lectures which will be given during the Summer School include “Yeats and the loss of Coole” by the Director of the School, James Pethica, “Sligo Homecoming” by the Associate Director, Anne Margaret Daniel, “Yeats as Critic” by Edna Longley, “Yeats and the Act of Dying” by Kevin Barry, NUIG, as well such interesting titles as “The Wanderings of Yeats and Oisin”, “Swedenborg, Yeats, and Jacobite Freemasonry” and “Yeats’ shaping of The Tower and The Winding Stair”.

The lunch-hour events vary from visits to Sligo’s Masonic Temple, a walking tour of Sligo, a reading by Belinda McKeon, and outings to Knocknarea and Carrowmore.

Seminars run every evening, with content and discussion revolving around prescribed texts of Yeats, and can be viewed in full here. Evening events for this year’s school include a reading from Seamus Heaney, another from Harry Clifton, Ireland Chair of Poetry, Irish dancing, drama performances, and a coach trip to Glencar Waterfall, Lough Gill and Yeats’ Grave.

However, one of the highlights of the School is its writing courses. A drama workshop runs every afternoon throughout the week, and a poetry workshop (€100 extra) will run from 4th-5th August.

Why is there so much excitement around this? Because the aim of the Yeats Society is, over time, “to develop Yeats’ stature in Sligo in a similar manner to that afforded other literary giants, such as Shakespeare in Stratford-on-Avon and the Bronte Sisters in Yorkshire.” The Society work tirelessly to promote Yeats and his work, and especially in this tired economic climate, their reach to writers and groups across the world to visit a remote place in Ireland attests to the excellence of their School. They don’t neglect those at home, either — as part of the School, they are offering anyone to join in the guided tour of Sligo for free — more details here.

During the festival, July 29th – August 10th, this blog will have daily updates on what is happening during the School, thanks to the wonderful Anne Daniel.

The full programme (Part 1 and Part 2) is available here.

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