March 21, 2011
Listening to words of wisdom from John Barton
Last Thursday morning, the full company had a session together. I asked John Barton to join me for this time, and we worked on a chorus from Henry V and individual sonnets.
At 83 this year, John is celebrating his fiftieth year working for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Patrick Stewart brings up an interesting point: what is the difference between emoting on stage and conveying emotion? John discusses the need to attend to the way the emotion is expressed, often by playing through the argument, rather than wallowing in the emotional state.
Patrick reminds John of a note he gave him probably over thirty years ago, during a run of The Merchant of Venice, the first time he played the role for the RSC at the Donmar in 1980. 'It's good, it's really good, love. You're striking the ball to mid-off and mid-on, you're late-cutting and sweeping to leg beautifully. What you're not doing is hitting the ball back over the bowler's head.' 'Yes,' says John, 'I was very fond of cricketing imagery in those days!' 'It was a priceless note,' says Patrick, 'and totally accurate'. You can spend so much time playing around the line without getting to the direct action intended. I see some of the younger actors scribbling mental notes.
This evening, I head to an event at Stationers' Hall at Amen Corner: 'The Word For All Time: Is the King James Bible really so special?' The RSC are hosting a panel discussion led by David Edgar and chaired by Channel 4 News Presenter Samira Ahmed, with Canon Giles Fraser from St Paul's Cathedral, Peter McCullough, an Oxford academic and Ralph Williams from Michigan University.
Our contribution to the quarto centenary of the KJB will be a new play written by David Edgar, which I am going to direct this autumn in the Swan. Called Written on the Heart, it explores how across an eighty year divide two men translated the word of God into the English tongue. One, William Tyndale, died for it. The other, Lancelot Andrewes, was in line for an archbishop's mitre. The final revision of the KJB took place here in Stationers' Hall itself, which is the reason for choosing this as the venue for our event.
Peter McCullough notes that the publication of the KJB was the greatest non-event of 1611, in direct inversion to the celebrations of 2011. It was what you might call in publishing terms a bit of a slow burner. David points out a simple fact, that if the intention of this new translation was to draw a line under the English Reformation and unify the country, it was a manifest failure, as England was tipped into Civil War within a generation of its publication. Giles Fraser worries about what he calls the aestheticisation of the KJB and raises a rallying cry for Tyndale (whose work represents 80 % of the KJB). He wanted to translate into the vernacular and lost his life for it. And Canon Fraser indicates a savage irony. The Dean of St Paul's at the time burnt as many copies of Tyndale's translation as he could find. There are now only three copies left in the world. St Paul's has one and regards it as one of its greatest treasures.
It's a lively and fascinating debate, and whets my appetite for starting work on David's play. But for now, Cardenio rehearsals beckon...
by Greg Doran
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