BINGO, the highly praised Edward Bond play about the old, retired William Shakespeare who sits brooding in front of his Stratford house, is a real disappointment. While Patrick Stewart (of TV Captain Kirk fame) is very authentic, the story itself is thin: Shakespeare has retired from London and from writing, is mainly concerned about his property and investments and ignores the radical social changes going on around him, i.e. the enclosure movement, by which the aristocracy appropriated communal land by “enclosing it”, thereby dispossessing small landholders and tenants and throwing them off the land and into the city’s poor- and workhouses. He ignores the sexual predations of his gardener on a young vagrant, and he ignores the eventual crucifixion of this half-frozen and starved vagrant by the landowning authorities. Shakespeare only comes to half-life when he sits and drinks with his penniless and boisterous former colleague Ben Johnson who hits him for money. Shakespeare’s prissy spinster daughter, his ailing, obviously half-demented wife and his own depressed state of mind, all this gives a thoroughly depressing picture of an old, lost man. Maybe this was Bond’s intention, to “humanize” a giant?
From the same era stems John Ford’s (born 1586) gruesome play “’tis Pity She is a Whore” in the Barbican Silk Street Theatre, produced and performed by the pretty fantastic Cheek-by-Jowl group. A horror story of a brother’s and his sister’s passionate love and their descent into a veritable nightmare. They confess and consume their mutual love, get urged on by the maid and condemned and exhorted by the brother’s monk-friend; they produce a pregnancy, upon which the sister marries another in order to give the child a father; their incestuous infatuation gets discovered by getting the maid sexually aroused and drugged, whereupon her tongue gets bitten off and spat out; when the sister finally wants to break the relationship with her brother, he pretends to want to make love to her one more time – and breaks her neck. Like Jesus from the cross she is carried in the adjoining room, from which her brother alights with her bloody heart in his hands.
A fantastic acting job, a furious production in modern dress and with modern dance, all played in one room in whose center stands the large bed of sin; ingenious is the side-room – a modern shower room and toilet, where various activities (showering, make-up, vomiting-from-poisoning – and the final operation take place. It was the first Elizabethan play with very clear enunciation, so that even a non-English native speaker could understand every word. An outstanding performance.
On a very different level Randy Newman at the sold-out Royal Festival Hall, the 70 year old US singer-songwriter-rocker in an incredibly “cool”, but thoroughly enchanting performance. Newman strides into the room, incredibly long arms dangling, sits down at the piano without much ado and begins his songs. After a couple of songs, his ever-raspy voice warms up and he even makes a few self-deprecating jokes, but everything is very low-key. The audience (including myself) loved it, many know the lyrics of his songs and hum along. He sounds as authentic (“fresh” would not be the right word) as in the early 1970’s when I heard him the first time. When he sings about American rednecks, this could be from today. His moving “Germany before the war” and his nostalgic and realistic hymns to various American towns and states (e.g. Baltimore, Georgia) are timeless. He sings mockingly (since he does the same) about ageing and old rock stars who cannot quit and keep going on, and on, and on. But with him, contrary to a number of old-timers I have heard during the past few years, everything sounds as if composed today, even though a lot of his material is 40/50 years old. This is what it means to age gracefully. I hope he lives a lot longer.