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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Viva Shakespeare!

Twas the season to be merry, but not if you were a member of the anti-Shakespeare society. On a cold December Saturday before Christmas, London’s South Bank was host to a Frost Fair. Away from the food stalls by the river, the Globe Theatre gave free public entry to its exhibition area and it was a joy to see so many people wandering around Sam Wanamaker’s great legacy. The anti-Shakespeare folk had the demeanour of Russian museum guards as they brandished their placards; my innocent question about whether or not they were an offshoot of the Flat Earth Society was met with stony faces. If you fancy screaming at your computer, try googling anti-Shakespeare sites and despair at the crass ignorance.

However, not only were the hundreds of attendees ignoring these futile protests, they were on the stage of the Globe and encamped in the Turbine Hall of Tate Modern, marvelling at Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth sculpture. You can see this work of art, touch it, sit in it and, if you are careless, fall in it also. Few other museum exhibits allow such public interaction, and as I looked at the fi ssure being swamped by the curious of all ages, each with their own interpretation of what they saw, touched or bestrode, I realised this was a work of genius. I was equally pleased to work out how it was made.

Complicated choreography
The week before I had been to the Christmas markets in Munich. Oddly, I eschewed the Bavarian fast food there but was happy to enjoy a trencherman’s egg and bacon breakfast at Maria’s in Borough Market and a Frost Fair hamburger lunch from the Rick Stein stall outside Tate Modern.

I was in Munich for the world premiere of a ballet by the Viennese choreographer Jörg Mannes. Der Sturm is a telling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest set to music by Sibelius, Bruckner and Tchaikovsky. As ever in Munich, the audience is very inexpressive during the performance but they make up for things afterwards and applaud for a very long time. The story was very true to the play but rather episodic, leading to some awkward pauses between scenes. I must confess that I have never seen such clever or complicated choreography. The Ariel of Lucia Lacarra defi ed orthopaedic medical science; Caliban’s grotesqueness was cleverly displayed though dance by Wlademir Faccioni; and Prospero’s omnipresence was portrayed wonderfully by Alen Bottaini. Perhaps some judicious editing of the joins would help but I thoroughly enjoyed this interesting new ballet.

A mix of emotions
The new Othello at the Donmar Warehouse is a heady mix of emotions. Ewan McGregor’s stage presence and voice are magnetic. A hint of Scottishness tinges his tenor timbre and one only stops staring at him to observe Kelly Reilly, whose plangent whiteness and innocence contrast starkly with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s swarthy moor. His Othello is a powerful mix of humanity, menace and bewilderment. Michael Grandage’s production is another triumph of ensemble acting. Fifty years from now, some people, though not I, will reminisce in wonderment about how they saw the Donmar Othello in 2007.

Farce at its best
The next evening I was back on the South Bank at the National Theatre for Much Ado About Nothing for more sexism, prejudice, premature death and violence, though no protests. Several hundred metres from The Globe, Sam Wanamaker’s daughter, Zoë, played Beatrice in a production by Nicholas Hytner that gladdened the senses. Simon Russell Beale as Benedict matched Zoë as an elderly unmarried person and these two clearly had a history. The first half was farce at its best, with Russell Beale’s immersion in a pool to escape detection the funniest moment I have witnessed in any Shakespearean production!

The Olivier was packed with middle-Englanders enjoying one of Shakespeare’s classics. What has led to an anti-Shakespearean movement? We understood the words and meaning. Could it be that the website diatribes are a direct result of our modern educational system? You decide, and please write to the Prime Minister on the subject rather than me. More refreshments were provided on Bankside by a stall calling itself “Pie Minister”, a pun Shakespeare would have loved.

Artistic license
My final trip to the theatre in 2007 was to see Jonathan Slinger’s Richard II in Stratford.

This cross-dressing and occasionally flouncing interpretation of Henry IV’s predecessor was riveting; his costumes and red hair were modelled on an ancient portrait shown in the programme.

The manner and style were more products of artistic license, however, as this effete son of the Black Prince found himself usurped by Henry, another grandson of Edward III and son of John of Gaunt. Gaunt’s pre-deathbed speech was thunderous, majestic and familiar, using the most sublime poetry: “This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle…this happy breed of men…this teeming womb of royal kings…hath made a shameful conquest of itself.”

If you plan to explore this scepter’d isle in 2008, read the speech in full first and be sure to include a visit to Borough Market, the Globe Theatre, Tate Modern and The National Theatre. You will be helpless to do anything other than wallow in Shakespeare’s bequest.

Copies of the book A Light Frost, featuring 40 of Alan Frost’s arts review columns from The Actuary, are available to order via www.alanfrost.co.uk