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Shakespeare @ Christmas

December is upon us, so Christmas isn’t  far behind. For Shakespeare-lovers what role will Shakespeare play over your Christmas season?Here’s a few ideas – and a Christmas present from Players-Shakespeare.com of a ‘new’ Shakespeare play for you all.

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Shows to watch over Christmas:

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As part of your Christmas family TV entertainments, why not watch a Shakespeare production? (Thinking of my own family’s reaction to such a proposal, I’m not sure this is a good idea, but there must be some families out there that share a love of Shakespeare).

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If you want to do this, which plays should you think about watching? Tragedies don’t seem like a good idea in the season of goodwill to all men, and the Histories don’t seem to fit the season either. However, there’s a few plays (and Shakespeare-related productions) which fit the season, are comedies, and seem to be appropriate. Here’s our short-list:

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Twelfth Night:

This seems the obvious choice. It’s a comedy, it’s about the Festive season (January 6th is ‘Twelfth Night’ – the last day of Christmas), and there’s a couple of wonderful productions you can watch:

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Twelfth Nigh  film (directed by Trevor Nunn, with Helena Bonham Carter as Olivia + a host of stars):

(Click on the link above to read our review, and for links to purchase it.) This is my favourite production of Twelfth Night. The various love pairings are handled beautifully; the folly and madness of love are wonderful; there is a great Feste; and the darkness of Malvolio’s treatment and desire for revenge colours the Festive Comedy ending wonderfully. The only disadvantage is that, as far as I’m aware, you can’t ‘stream’ this production you have to buy a (cheap) DVD.

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The Globe’s production of Twelfth Night, with Mark Rylance is Olvia:

(Click on the link above to read our review, and for links to purchase it.) This is probably the most popular recent production of Twelfth Night. I think it’s very good, particularly Mark Rylance as Olivia. It doesn’t get my top-ranking sport for the play because it plays it for laughs, losing some of the subtleties and the ambivalence of the ending. You can stream it, you can download it, or you can purchase a DVD.

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A Midwinter’s Tale, written and directed by Kenneth Branagh:

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(We haven’t reviewed this film (yet), but the link abovv will take you to the Amaznon USA page where you can purchase it, and if you’re in the UK, the Amazon UK page is: https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Ddvd&field-keywords=A+midwinter%27s+tale

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This is a little-known (?) film by Kenneth Branagh of an amateur production of Hamlet at Christmas time in a n English village church. Although it’s a production of Hamlet, it’s a comedy. If you have had any involvement with Amateur Shakespeare productions you should find it very amusing. It’s available to stream from Amazon Video and for purchase as a DVD, though prices are going up. (They must be running out of stock).

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Slings and Arrows:

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(We haven’t reviewed this box set (but a review is due shortly from Alan). The link above will take you to the Amaznon USA page where you can purchase it, and if you’re in the UK, the Amazon UK page is: https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Slings+and+Arrows.

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Slings and Arrows is a DVD box set of three seasons about a prestigious Canadian Shakespeare theatre  in ‘New Burbage’ (I wonder where that could be 🙂 ) putting on productions of three Shakespeare plays: Season 1 – Hamlet; Season 2 – Macbeth; Season 3 – King Lear. Each season explores the play in some detail, but also explores the trials and tribulation of running a professional Shakespeare theatre, the theatre plot usually bearing some resemblance to the play being produced, and the result is a very funny  exploration of the play. If you and your family are into watching box sets, this is a great buy.  In our view Season 1 and Season 2 are great. In Season 3 the formula is beginning to tire a bit.

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The Upstart Crow:

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(We haven’t reviewed this series (but a review is due shortly from Alan), but the link above will take you to the Amaznon USA page where you can purchase it, and if you’re in the UK, the Amazon UK page is:  https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_2?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=The+Upstart+Crow )

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This is a 2017 UK-based TV series which shows Shakespeare, his family, and his London friends (Including Burbage etc., and a maidservant in Shakespeare’s lodging who desperately wants to act, but isn’t allowed to). It’s written by Ben Elton, who obviously has a love of Shakespeare. It comically explores sixteenth-century  English culture, with loads of running gags. In our view, it doesn’t have the depth of Slings and Arrows, but is amusing – at least for UK audiences. Luckily you don’t have to buy the whole box set. You can ‘stream’ the first episode and see if you like it, and then stream more or buy the box set.

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Others:

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So that’s our eccentric selection of shows to watch, but you don’t have to be limited by our taste. If you’re looking for something else, you could review our two most popular Reviews pages by clicking on the links below:

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Great shows to watch at home:

This page shows you reviews of all the best (in our view) Shakespeare productions you can see. It includes streaming productions and DVDs. It includes productions for The Globe, The RSC, the National Theatre and others. (Note that after the first 12 reviews, there’s a link which says ‘<= Older Posts’. Click on that link and you’ll get the next 122 reviews).

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The Globe productions to watch at home:

This page shows you all our reviews of productions at ‘The Globe’ in London, the wonderful, the good, and the not-so-good. The Globe is a replica of the stage on which many Shakespeare productions were first staged, and so productions there are probably the closest we can get to experiencing theatre as Elizabethans did. If you’re at all interested in Shakespeare, you should watch at least one Globe production. Note that after the first 12 reviews, there’s a link which says ‘<= Older Posts’. Click on that link and you’ll get the next 122 reviews).

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You can stream, or download an MP4, or buy a DVD of Globe productions.

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Shakespeare-related Christmas presents:

DVDs of must-have Shakespeare productions:

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A DVD of a must have Shakespeare production makes a good present for a Shakespeare lover, but which show should you give?

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You can easily develop a short list by looking at  All Our Reviews, and focusing on the 5-star and 4-star reviews. That should give you plenty of choice – and not just of DVDs. There’s books there as well, and other Shakespeare-related things.

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Presents for the Shakespeare-lover who has (almost) got everything:

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The much more difficult problem is what to give to the Shakespeare-lover who has nearly got everything, so here’s a list of some less well-known possibilities.  Of course you need to check if your Shakespeare-lover has already got them.

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BBC Shakespeare series:
(Click on the link above to read our more detailed review and with links to purchase)

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In the 70’s and 80s, the BBC created productions of 37 of Shakespeare’s plays. The productions are fairly conservative, and mostly use the complete script. The productions are filmed in 4×3 format which is limiting, and sometimes the sound-quality isn’t perfect. What you get is a reference copy of  ‘all’ of Shakespeare’s plays which are of interest to the serious student of Shakespeare at a very cheap price, and some of the productions are very good (e.g. Hamlet, Othello, Love’s Labour’s Lost, The Merry Wives of Windsor, etc). Prices vary, considerably so shop around.

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Laurence Olivier’s Hamlet:
(Click on the link above to read our more detailed review and with links to purchase)

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This is a  very famous production directed by Laurence Olivier who also plays Hamlet. To my mind it’s  a very ‘existentialist’ production. You can stream, download, or buy a DVD.

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Peter Hall’s 1968 Midsummer Night’s Dream
(Click on the link above to read our more detailed review and with links to purchase)

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Another famous production with a young Judi Dench playing Titania, and a host of other RSC stars.

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Playing Shakespeare:
(Click on the link above to read our more detailed review and with links to purchase)

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Playing Shakespeare is a boxed-set on how to play Shakespeare, led by John Barton, a director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, and my hero, with a host of RSC stars in workshops with John, demonstrating different techniques. There’s a book as well. If you want to explore how to play Shakespeare via video workshops, this is the best!

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Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles):

We have not reviewed this film (yet) so here are links to Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk  where you can buy or streeam the film. The UK seems to be offering a restored version. The sound quality on the original was not very good, so it only gets 4-stars from me.

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The film tells the story of the relationship between Henry IV, Prince Hal, and Falstaff (as well as quite a bit about Hotspur and the war). It’s main interest is a very different portrait of Falstaff, played by Welles, who seems to be offering a contrasting philosophy of life to Prince Hal, compared with King Henry. It includes extracts from Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 & 2, Henry V, and small bits from the Merry Wives of Windsor. Wonderful!

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Happy Christmas – and here’s a Christmas present from us to you:

Here’s a free Christmas present for you.

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As you’ll have seen, we’re recommending a copy of ‘Chimes at Midnight’ for the Shakespeare-lover who has everything. We’ll be publishing a review of Chimes at Midnight shortly when we make Henry IV Part 1 our ‘play of the month’.

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I have been  a bit obsessed with Falstaff, and thought that Chimes at Midnight was the most interesting portrayal of Falstaff I’d seen. I wanted to put a stage version of Chimes at Midnight on at the Edinburgh Festival. I quickly found that Orson Welles had written a film script, which is unplayable on stage. So my partner and I wrote a script which tells the same story as Chimes at Midnight, but using script from Richard II, Henry IV Part 1 & 2, and Henry Vth, linked together with modern script written by my partner, and told by a chorus of narrators who also play most of the parts.  The play requires 7 actors (4 male and 3 female, unless you play it gender-blind).

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The play is called Gentleman of the Shade, and you’ll find the script if you follow the libelow. We put it on at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2004. it was well received. Feel free to download a copy. We very much hope that some groups will want to put on a production of the play and would love to hear of any.

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We’ve tested  the download on Windows 10 and Apple IoS 11.1 so it should work on pretty much all tablets, smartphones, and laptops. Click on the link below for your gift-wrapped copy of Gentlemen of the Shade. Have a browse through the play, and if you’re interested, click on the ‘download’ link (a downward facing arrow on the toolbar) and a pdf of the script should download to your machine, using the mechanisms provided by your operaating system.

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Gentlemen of the Shade – our Christmas gift

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Let’s play!

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Richard Forsyth
‘The Director’
Players-Shakespeare.com

 

If you are using, or thinking of using, Players-Shakespeare.com’s edition of Shakespeare’s plays for production rehearsals or play-reading, why don’t you ask to become a member of our Support for Playreading & Productions Closed FB group?

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.If you want to know how our Shakespeare edition is developing,  ‘like’ our Facebook page, and you’ll get more detailed updates on Facebook on what’s happening.

 

 

 

 

2 Responses to "Shakespeare @ Christmas"

  • Danielle
    November 30, 2017 - 8:19 pm Reply

    Great info, and thanks for present!

    I’ve only ever know Midwinter’s Tale as in the Bleak Midwinter (referencing the carol). It’s a favourite of mine, for its humour, cast and the parallel journeys of characters and the Shakespeare roles they play.

    I always enjoy the ‘repeat’ players Branagh uses, such as Gerard horan in this and in the current Murder on the Orient Express. 🙂 Saw them both in staged Richard III, too.

    Thanks for the memories!

  • Richard Forsyth
    December 1, 2017 - 10:01 am Reply

    Dorothea Rudd writes on Shakespeare for the Seeker:

    A few ideas? What an abundance!?

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