Performers and Contributors to the 2014 Festival
To be announced
'Covering Shakespeare' by David Weston
When Ian McKellen played King Lear for the RSC in 2007, he was understudied by his contemporary, David Weston, who went on to write about the experience in a successful book, 'Covering McKellen'. In 'Covering Shakespeare', as a classical actor with sixty years of work behind him, Weston hits on the perfect format for that difficult thing - the second book.
Essentially, it is the autobiography of someone you've never heard of. But under the guise of a popular history of Shakespeare's plays in performance, the actor's life becomes eminently publishable. Weston is an actor of the middle rank, regularly employed by some of our best directors in some of our finest companies. He has played countless Shakespearean lords, his CV looking at times like a roll call of English county cricket clubs or, in the case of the lairds of the Scottish play, like stopping off points in the shipping forecast - his joke, not mine. He has been what is sometimes unfairly called 'a jobbing actor'; many attendant lords, yes, but, as you read, clearly capable of more than merely swelling a scene or two. He has had his highs in some of the great roles, especially Falstaff, and owns up to turning some of the great roles down, like Leontes.
Westons's self effacement accounts for much of the charm of the book as he weaves a vivid account of his 'up and mostly down career' through a well researched narrative of the plays on stage from their first performances to their most recent productions. The thirty-seven plays are presented in the order of their probable chronology, with each chapter divided into their stage history - or what he calls 'Tattle' - and his personal encounters with each, under the heading 'Memories' . This somewhat unrelenting format is relieved by Weston's entertaining approach to the history - he is fiercely anti-intellectual in his approach to the Bard - and the wealth of his first hand experience.
There are vivid portraits of working with actors he admires, like Paul Scofield and the two Laurences - Olivier and Harvey. There are scathing critiques of directors he does not admire - like Peter Hall and John Barton. Trevor Nunn just about comes out ahead on points. Weston is unashamedly 'an old fart' in some of his views on many contemporary developments in theatre, like the selection policies of drama schools, the 'blind casting' of black actors and the passing of repertory theatre. But his credentials as a man who has often been on the edges of greatness for a long time are impeccable. And there are some very funny stories. I quote one here, merely because it typifies much about that iconic theatre just down the road. 'Peter Dews directed Margaret Leighton [as Cleopatra] at Chichester in 1969. As he left the theatre one evening he heard a local lady remark, "Yes, and the funny thing is, exactly the same thing happened to Monica."'
This is a rewarding and informative book. I defy anyone to come away from it without learning something they did not know about Shakespeare; and it can hold no fear for anyone who knows nothing about Shakespeare. If you love theatre, you will enjoy 'Covering Shakespeare'. That it is written by an actor who has faced unemployment and disappointment as much as success makes it all the more poignant. Weston writes, 'the acting profession is like sieve - every year thousands pass through it and are washed away without trace.' More than once, he thought about giving it all up. Ultimately, the book is a fine testament to Weston's deep affection for the actor's life. In spite of the rigours of the profession, 'I wasn't going to be washed away.'
‘Shark’ by Will Self, Review by Havant Literary Festival’s Poet In Residence 2014
Had a whale of a time reading ‘Shark’ by Will Self, the prequel to Self's previous novel, ‘Umbrella’, both novels in the same literary style with jigsaw chronology and varied narratorial points of view, reminiscent of Joseph Heller's ‘Catch 22’’, for one; and John Updike's ‘Rabbit’ series in extraordinary attention to detail, for another: uniquely, masterfully, Self. Distinctly Selfian. This style that Self has developed and honed as evinced by these two, so far, novels of a forming trilogy; regarding ‘Umbrella’; situates the reader in a disorientated and helpless position that is disarmingly and disruptively correct for conveying the very affliction and potential recovery from it so attentively interrogated - psychologically; multi-contextually - throughout. How other than by being engaged in this specific and rarefied audience-disjuncture can we be led, eventually, to experience the visceral showstopper of an epiphany ‘Umbrella’ delivers; led on? And on, to - chronologically rewinding - ‘Shark’? We're in strongly guiding - albeit unsafe since this is Self after all - hands. From reading ‘Umbrella’ to anticipating reading ‘Shark’, had not been as excited about a next-in-series book ever.
The seamlessly disjointed narrative style of ‘Shark’ is almost a comfort in its post-‘Umbrella’ familiar-ness. The reappearance of Self’s character, the psychiatrist Zack Busner, is also beguilingly familiar: Busner arriving centre stage at the offset, a little water at his feet, yet extremely un-shark-like in his delicately conveyed warm-blooded, naked, human-ness. The heat of affection has gone up a notch and we might guess, uneasily, that this is for an effect of contrast and comparison. As in the film ‘Jaws’, referenced repeatedly throughout ‘Shark’, the monster is at its most palm-sweat-provokingly, head-dizzyingly, mouth-dryingly terrifying when it is sensed at the corner of the corner of the corner of the eye, and that is the way we sense, or indeed, know, that we are going to get Self’s monster in the end.
And we do. Between and within and through layers of the known and unknowable; what we empirically grasp and barely sense; what is present in the text and mysterious in the plot - the connections of a psychiatric patient known as the Creep to WWII’s Little Boy for example; comfortable reality itself is eventually made to swim shark-shaped: it is here. Yet, in that terror, the small lone being that is the reader, suspended by and among Self’s fictional layers like a solitary fleck of live fish food, with a gasp of existential relief, might become all the more acutely aware of their unbitten-ness; the conceptual shark fully realised; at least for now, fully passing by.
My top-spot excitement-levels in anticipating reading ‘Shark’ are now surpassed in anticipating the third in the trilogy, currently in its infancy, ‘Phone’.