Tag Archives: David Tennant

Matt Smith Hath Murdered Sleep?

You can hardly ask me to forbear passing this item on; yet more evidence of the intimate connection between Shakespeare and Doctor Who, although I’m pretty sure somebody is taking the piss, as the Brits say—a lochful of it. Of course Karen Gillan wants to play Lady Macbeth—she’s Scottish! Matt Smith I’m not so sure about. He has done serious stage work, but unlike his predecessor he’s not a Shakespearean and he and Gillan have a powerful, mutually teasing chemistry in interviews, so I suspect he’s talking with his tongue so far in his cheek he can barely get the words out.

But consider the possibilities raised here! Macbeth in the TARDIS is simply a nonstarter, for obvious reasons; if there’s one thing the Doctor would never do, it’s murder somebody for his own advantage. But one of the comedies, that’s another matter. The Doctor is duplicated surprisingly often—as recently as two episodes ago—so there’s plenty of room for mistaken identity. I don’t recall him ever cross-dressing, unless you count the Sixth Doctor’s costume, but there’s a first time for everything.

Which of the plays do you think is most adaptable to the Whoniverse?

Tickets to the Tennant-Tate Show?

Londonist tells us how to get tickets to the Wyndham’s Much Ado and offers a summary evaluation that pretty much jibes with Kate Maltby’s. It’s less eloquent, but I rather liked “If, on the other hand, you want to see a performance of William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, it’s on at the Globe Theatre and standing tickets only cost a fiver.” As I’ve said elsewhere, standing tickets are the way to go at the Globe. I just wonder if they’ve started selling hazelnuts yet.

O to be in England, with Two Productions of Much Ado

[The other day I noted that someone had come here by searching on “Kate Maltby Much Ado.” They must have known I’d already decided to write this post . . . .]

I’d always thought that when Evelyn Waugh died, the species “intelligent conservative” (or “Conservative”) died with him. The Spectator’s Kate Maltby seems bent on changing my mind. She also inspires passionate envy by having seen the two productions of Much Ado About Nothing going on simultaneously in London that she reviews here. If I could get over to see them, rest assured I would.

I doubt that Sir Jonathan Miller shares my enthusiasm. Once upon a time he not only had a sense of humor, he was the cause of laughter in others, as a member of the seminal comedy troupe Beyond the Fringe (whom we will encounter when we discuss the Henry VI plays, of all things). Despite substantial cultural accomplishments since, particularly as an opera director (his staging of Janácek’s Kát’a Kabanová remains one of the greatest opera productions I’ve ever seen; he also directed the 1980s BBC Shakespeare production of The Taming of the Shrew with John Cleese as Petruchio, which we will encounter by and by), he is probably best known these days for bemoaning the casting of “that man from Doctor Who” as Hamlet, overlooking the fact that David Tennant has long been a card-carrying member of the Royal Shakespeare Company, having first appeared in an RSC production in 1996. (While researching this post I discovered that Tennant had responded to Miller; the only thing to say is Touché! I only wish that he had taken the opportunity to deny altogether the distinction between “high” and “low” art rather than just the specific characterization of Doctor Who as “low” and Hamlet as “high.”) Now the TARDIS has landed on Miller’s lawn again, disgorging not only Tennant again but Catherine Tate.

That said, one could argue that Miller has a better case here. Tennant’s Shakespearean chops are well established by now, but I doubt that even Tate would suggest that she was cast for any reason other than her stint on Doctor Who. So to a degree this is the kind of stunt casting I’ve questioned before, and I know perfectly well how much lots of people in the UK are bovvered by her; but she did show talent and, more important for casting purposes, real chemistry with Tennant on Doctor Who. There are worse places for Shakespeare than the TARDIS, and we’ll see far, far worse instances of stunt casting (Alicia Silverstone as the Princess in Love’s Labour’s Lost? What was Kenneth Branagh thinking?)

Without having seen either staging, I suspect Maltby’s judgment is pretty much right. Given all I’ve said, the Tennant-Tate Much Ado could scarcely help but be lighter, more pleasing to a summer crowd, and less emotionally intense—“a highly polished comedy expertly designed for box office success,” and it makes perfect sense that that would be at least partly down to Tate’s casting (“Catherine Tate has a great time with the slapstick physical comedy, but she lacks the emotional vulnerability that Eve Best reveals in the same role at the Globe.”) I do think, though, that Much Ado, as the lightest of the major comedies, is far from necessarily ill served by a lighter touch. Featuring Shakespeare’s least competent and least characterized villain in Don John, the play never really makes us believe that Hero’s happiness is endangered, or that Beatrice and Benedick will fail to get together. Maltby is talking about nuances in the relations between Beatrice and Benedick and Hero and Claudio that unquestionably deepen the play and its emotional impact but whose absence wouldn’t vitiate it, as she makes clear.

I wonder whether Maltby would accept a comparison between Tennant-Tate and Bringing Up Baby, one of the funniest movies ever made but one that comes up a little short on emotional depth, largely because of Katharine Hepburn’s performance. Similarly, I wonder whether the Globe production is comparable to The Lady Eve, an even greater screwball comedy precisely because the incomparable Barbara Stanwyck makes us believe that Eve really did fall in love with old Hopsy, dammit, and that all her actions follow from her emotional state. In any case, I’d still like to see for myself. Who wants to fly me over to London for the upcoming long Canada Day weekend?

The Big Countdown

With Shakespeare’s birthday and the premiere of Season 6 of Doctor Who just a day away, it’s time to show these two worlds converging yet again! Note that Graham Norton (of whom a little goes a long, long way for me, and there’s more than a little of him here) is using an Arden.

Who Steals My Book Steals Trash? Not Exactly

Who doesn’t love a con man? Aren’t they the closest thing we have these days to Robin Hood? Their schemes are fun to learn about and their victims often seem like they have it coming. Isn’t there a part of you that wants to live by your wits, outside the law? To be Frank W. Abagnale and be played in the movies by Leo Di Caprio? Even Shakespeare has a con man, Autolycus in The Winter’s Tale, who shows us how long ago some of the classic moves were in place.

But the movies always lie to us. On the day I am writing this post, the Toronto Star carries the story of a troubled 23-year-old woman who falsely claimed she had cancer and bilked well-meaning teens of some $20,000 in the form of small donations at concerts. The cancer research charity she said the money was going to was nothing but—this is 2010, after all—a Facebook page. Real-life con men aren’t James Bond types. They’re fat men in cheap suits swindling widows out of the T-bills in their IRAs and RRSPs—Bernard Madoff writ small.

Even so, if I had made it as a screenwriter I would so have pitched the story of Raymond Scott the day he was arrested. No, not Raymond Scott the pioneering eccentric genius American composer who wrote such tunes as “Powerhouse” (adapted by Carl Stalling for all those Bugs Bunny cartoons), “Dinner Music for a Pack of Hungry Cannibals,” “War Dance for Wooden Indians,” and “Bumpy Weather over Newark”: Raymond Scott the con man. The Raymond Scott who was convicted last month and sentenced last week on a charge of handling (quite literally, as it happens) stolen property— a First Folio that had been missing since 1998.

The BBC was on the case. Last week they showed Stealing Shakespeare, a documentary about Scott and the theft of the Folio, narrated by David Tennant, which is how you know you’ve made it in the UK these days. Scott talks about wanting his Warholian 15 minutes, and he’s managed to stretch them into the 45 of a BBC hour.

Scott runs true to con man form. Very much the star of his own show, he is too flamboyant to be believed—smoking foot-long Havanas, drinking Dom Perignon from a jeweled Swarovski champagne flute he allegedly carries everywhere he goes, wearing oversized Tiffany shades and shoes made of some green material that looked to me like lizardskin. There’s a Ferrari in his garage. He shows up to his sentencing in a stretch limo, wearing a coat with outrageous fur lapels. He had shown up to the trial in a horse-drawn carriage accompanied by a Scots piper. The hometown Washington Post’s surprisingly extensive coverage (here, here, and here) was in its Style section.

There’s no way this man could be for real—and he isn’t. Many of his scenes in the documentary take place in his mother’s house. Yes, the international man of mystery lives with his mum. On public assistance. With £90,000 in credit card debt. It’s pretty clear from watching him that he’s the only one who believes his own fantasies, but in those circumstances, you might do a little confabulating yourself.

Trouble is, believing your own con is not only pathetic, it’s a recipe for failure. Being a successful con man is hard work. You can’t put it on a credit card, but that’s exactly what Scott tried to do. He may fantasize about being played by Leo but he’ll be lucky if Robin Williams takes the gig.

Let’s recap.

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Sunday in the Park with WIll

At one point My Year with Shakespeare was definitely going to have a chapter called something like “Sunday in the Park with Will” in which I would talk about staging the plays and would ask whether summer Shakespeare, which I surmise is many people’s only exposure to the plays, is (necessarily) dumbed down—and if so, what nefarious role the Internet plays in this stupefaction. (Just joking about that last bit.) This will still be a key installment in the TV series version of the Shakespeare Project, Around the World in 38 Plays, in which I travel the world to see all the plays in one year—TV producers take note! I’m no longer sure the topic is substantial enough to underpin a whole chapter of the book, but it’s certainly enough for one or more blog posts.

I got to thinking about the issues posed by outdoor summer Shakespeare because of Shakespeare in the Park. If you are a New Yorker, you are well aware that this is a series introduced as long ago as 1954 by Joe Papp, the founder of the Public Theater, now held in the open-air Delacorte Theater in Central Park. (I don’t know this for sure, but I would be surprised if it weren’t the original of all the alfresco summer Shakespeare festivals that have sprung up since.) If you are a New Yorker or a summer tourist you also know how legendarily hard it is to get tickets. When I was living in New York they were free, but distributed at the theater only just before the performance, resulting in day-long queues. (I endured this ritual only once, a story I’ll tell another time if at all.) Although it’s a New York rite of passage, the Public’s management no doubt figures that if you put people through the wait you’d better give them what they want. Or what you think they want. And so, some time in the 2000s, Shakespeare in the Park started to feature film and TV actors with little or no stage or Shakespearean experience in significant roles. This is not like casting David Tennant (who first appeared with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1996) as Hamlet. We’re talking Kristen Johnston and Anne Hathaway. Johnston has done stage work but she got the gig because she played an alien; as for Hathaway, she may be a fine film actress but her only evident qualification for doing Shakespeare is sharing his wife’s name.

But what’s so wrong with that? At least they aren’t Keanu Reeves who, as we know, has also had his cracks at Shakespeare. As long as a stunt-cast performer is acceptable, how is the situation really different from casting David Tennant as Hamlet? I doubt that that production would have sold out, or been filmed, if the star hadn’t also been playing the Doctor. I think there is a difference but it’s harder to explain than it seems. (What did I just say about Kristen Johnston?) I’ll make a stab at it in the next post in this series.