Kirk’s Picks No. 18 – Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema [film]

Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema, a box set from the Criterion Collection, contains 39 films on 30 Blu-Ray discs.

Theme music: Honest Labor, composed and performed by Timo Andres.

If you enjoyed the podcast, follow it on Apple Podcasts or in your favorite podcast app. For show notes and links to my pick, go to You can support this podcast by purchasing items via my affiliate links, or you can sign up for my Patreon and donate a few bucks a month.

Kirk’s Picks No. 15 – The Thin Man [film]

The Thin Man is a joyous movie from 1934, from Dashiell Hammett’s novel of the same year.

Theme music: Honest Labor, composed and performed by Timo Andres.

If you enjoyed the podcast, follow it on Apple Podcasts or in your favorite podcast app. For show notes and links to my pick, go to You can support this podcast by purchasing items via my affiliate links, or you can sign up for my Patreon and donate a few bucks a month.

Kirk’s Picks No. 11 – MUBI [streaming service]

MUBI is a movie streaming service that presents arthouse and festival films.

Theme music: Honest Labor, composed and performed by Timo Andres.

If you enjoyed the podcast, follow it on Apple Podcasts or in your favorite podcast app. For show notes and links to my pick, go to You can support this podcast by purchasing items via my affiliate links, or you can sign up for my Patreon and donate a few bucks a month.

Kirk’s Picks No. 10 – David Hockney, The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020 [Book]

David Hockney’s new exhibit of art created on an iPad celebrates the arrival of spring during lockdown.

Theme music: Honest Labor, composed and performed by Timo Andres.

If you enjoyed the podcast, follow it on Apple Podcasts or in your favorite podcast app. For show notes and links to my pick, go to You can support this podcast by purchasing items via my affiliate links, or you can sign up for my Patreon and donate a few bucks a month.

Stage and screen: first questions for The After – Illuminations

For those of us who have been working in screen adaptations of stage performances it feels as if, in the specific as well as the general, over the past three weeks the world has turned upside down. From being just one strand in the work of theatre, opera and dance companies, nice-to-have for many but perhaps not absolutely at the heart of things, recordings in many forms of stage performances have become central. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have been enjoying free streams of content that, until ten days ago, and in large part because of rights restrictions, was accessible only by scholars.

Performance companies, large and small, have been showcasing their work online, for one night only or for just seven days or for months, and for free or for a donation or as part of a trial for a streaming service. We have been privileged to engage with productions from the National Theatre, Berlin’s Schaubühne, Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond, London’s Royal Opera House, Rosas in Belgium, The Wooster Group, Royal Shakespeare Company and countless others. And there’s much more to come, from the BBC’s Culture in Quarantine initiative and from other projects still being worked through.

A greater degree of mainstream critical attention has been paid to stage to screen translations in the last three weeks than in the past decade. There have been numerous coordinated Twitter parties, watch-alongs and post-show Q&As on Zoom. Companies are also beginning to make original work for online. In many ways all of this digital activity is thrilling and heady and more-than-slightly overwhelming.

Surely this is all entirely positive? Or probably? Maybe? For it’s not too early to endeavour to assess all this, to take stock somewhat, and to start to consider what may happen in The After. In whenever and whatever the new abnormal world will be, how will screen adaptations be regarded and consumed and discussed? What place will they have in whatever shapes are adopted by whatever is left of the cultural ecology?

There’s a lot to unpack in this article, notably a series of questions that the author, John Wyver, poses about what will happen in the future.

I live three miles from Stratford-Upon-Avon, and attend performances at the Royal Shakespeare Company regularly. I got to know John Wyver, the author of this article, back in 2014, when I interviewed him for this website. This interview took place shortly before the live broadcast of Henry IV Part II, the third play that the RSC filmed for live broadcast. (After Richard II, with David Tennant, and Henry IV Part I, with Antony Sher as Falstaff.)

Since then, I have had the opportunity to attend performances both of live broadcasts and camera rehearsals, and seeing how they are produced shows that they are different from the live theater experience, and that they bring a new language to the way theater is expressed. One of the key elements in these films is the proximity. With a number of cameras – usually six, one on a crane – directors have a great deal of options as to how they present plays. They can shift between long shots and close ups, they can use tracking shots, and the crane can offer interesting angles. Whether or not these films should be considered as separate from the stage productions is a question for critics, but as someone who has seen both, I feel that they are a very interesting replacement for not being able to attend the live performances, but are also works that stand on their own as versions of the live productions. I’ve seen similar films from other sources – notably the National Theatre – and they all bring the audience much closer to the play than is usually possible in a theater.

But the broader questions of the future are certainly worth considering. Wyver asks:

  • How will audiences return to bricks and mortar auditoria?
  • Will there be caution about sitting close to 10 or 100 or 1,000 others?

This is the big question. Before the lockdown, my partner and I had tickets for a play in early April at the RSC. Some time ago, we had decided that we would not attend it, and, if it wasn’t canceled would return our tickets (as members, we can do so, receiving a gift voucher in exchange). Because even on the best of nights, the theater is full of people coughing, and we couldn’t imagine sitting for three hours in close proximity to people with the thought that they could be infecting us.

Just the other day, we were discussing the issue about returning to the theater. Will there be caution about sitting close to large numbers of people? If I may be blunt, hell yeah! I think that, until we have a vaccine for COVID-19, there’s no way that I’m attending anything in a closed space, or even in an open space in close proximity. I’m not elderly, but I do have asthma, so that puts me at risk. And since the majority of people attending productions at the RSC do skew toward the elderly, I think a lot of other people will feel the same way I do.

This is an important question for all types of performers, for theater, for live music, and even for cinema. There are certainly people who think this illness is not a big deal, and they will continue to flout lockdown rules, but you can’t fill performance spaces only with people who think they can’t get infected.

This is a truly terrible situation for all those in the performance arts, and the questions in this article are worth considering for perhaps establishing a new relationship with audiences post-COVID-19. The fact that filmed theater has become popular now, or at least recognized, is partly because there is a substantial number of such films available; in the article, Wyver points out that several RSC productions are available on a streaming service, and others will be broadcast on the BBC. (Don’t miss the Macbeth, with Christopher Eccleston and Niamh Cusack!) Many people who weren’t aware of these films are discovering them, and this could, at a minimum, interest them going forward, if they cannot afford or are too distant from theaters.

However, the price of these broadcasts in cinemas is out of reach of many people. At £20 a ticket where I live (cheaper in other cities), it’s too much to expect people to pay for something they may just want to “try out.” Cinemas love these productions, because they often sell out, and if they can double their take for one screen on an evening, that’s always desirable. But the prices are discriminatory, and they prevent lower-income people from partaking in the experience. I would love to see these films available on streaming services; not the subscription services, but ones like iTunes. I don’t know the economics of these productions, but it should be profitable if they charge a bit more than the price of a movie without gouging.

Finally, I think the most important issue for the creative arts is the fact that so many people are out of work. In the UK, if a business furloughs an employee, the government covers 80% of their salary, but many if not most creative people are freelance or self-employed, and they risk serious financial problems if this continues. And the real question is how long? Until we have a vaccine, there is no answer to this question.

Source: Stage and screen: first questions for The After – Illuminations

Apple TV+ Isn’t Worth It

Apple TV+ launched with a bunch of A-listers, and so far we have seen a handful of series on the service. I watched and enjoyed two of them – The Morning Show and For All Mankind – but now that they’re over, what do I do? I’m not interested in the other series, and, while there’s a lot of stuff that’s been announced, Apple has fallen into the trap of not having enough content to make its service worthwhile.

It’s only $5 a month, and free for a year to anyone (like me) who bought a new Apple device. That free subscription is Apple’s way of planning for this period, when there’s nothing more for people to watch. But what about those who pay cash money for the service? Since there’s no back catalog, there’s no point in paying any more.

Apple clearly knew this would happen, and this is probably why they gave away millions of free subscriptions. For a service like this to stick, however, it needs new content regularly. I liked what I saw, and it was free (well, I did pay a lot for that iPhone…), but going forward, I hope there will be a reason to want to pay for a subscription when the freebie runs out.

Filming the Show: Pardon the Intrusion? Or Punish It? – The New York Times

Joshua Henry, the star of a new Off Broadway musical called “The Wrong Man,” had tried repeatedly to signal his disapproval to the man in the onstage seating who was using his smartphone to capture his performance, but he wasn’t getting through.

By the third song, Mr. Henry had had enough. So he reached into the seats, deftly grabbed the phone out of the man’s hand, wagged it disapprovingly, and tossed it under a riser — all mid-song, without skipping a beat. “I knew I had to do something,” he explained later.

Just a few nights earlier, in Ohio, the renowned violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter had stopped playing Beethoven mid-concerto to ask a woman in the front row to quit making a video of her. After the woman rose to reply, she was escorted out of the hall by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s president, and the music resumed.

Both artists were cheered — first in person, later on social media — for taking a stand against the growing ranks of smartphone addicts who cannot resist snapping pictures and making recordings that are often prohibited by rule or by law, that are distracting to performers and patrons, and that can constitute a form of intellectual property theft.

There’s a lot of discussion around this, in part because most of the people who use their phones during concerts or plays are not regular patrons of these forms of entertainment. It’s one thing to spend your time with your camera in your hand during a rock concert, hoping to get some pics or videos, but it’s another to do so when it disturbs both the performers and the audience, as in classical concerts or plays.

I go to the theater often, notably at my local, the Royal Shakespeare Company, and I’ve never seen people take their phones out during a play, but I have heard of such incidents that have occurred there. I have heard the occasional phone ring during a performance, even though people are told to ensure that their phones are off before performances begin. I not only put my phone and my Apple Watch in airplane mode, but I also put my Apple Watch in theater mode, so when I move it doesn’t light up and disturb anyone.

It’s really just a question of manners. People think that they can act like louts because they’ve paid to buy tickets, but they need to learn to respect others.

Source: Filming the Show: Pardon the Intrusion? Or Punish It? – The New York Times

Theater Review: Ian McKellan on Stage

For Ian McKellen’s 80th year, he has embarked on a tour of 80 theaters in the UK (to be followed by a run of 80 shows in London at a West End theater). The goal of this tour is to give back to the theaters he worked in over his career, and others. As such, all the proceeds of these performances go to specific projects for each theater.

I’m celebrating my 80th birthday by touring a new solo show to theatres I know well and a few that I don’t. The show starts with Gandalf and will probably end with an invitation to act with me on stage. In-between there will be anecdotes and acting. I open at my local arts centre in January and end up by August in Orkney.

Live theatre has always been thrilling to me, as an actor and in the audience. Growing up in Lancashire, I was grateful to those companies who toured beyond London and I’ve always enjoyed repaying that debt by touring up and down the country myself, with the National Theatre, Royal Shakespeare Company, Prospect Theatre, the Actors’ Company, as well as with commercial productions.

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Theater Review: As You Like It, by the Royal Shakespeare Company

As You Like It is my favorite Shakespeare comedy. I don’t know why: perhaps it’s the fairly straightforward plot, or the fact that it’s all about people trying to be happy, or the wonderful language which doesn’t get too obscure, and just exudes enjoyment. It was also the first play I saw at the RSC after I moved to the UK in 2013. (Read my review of that production here, and my interview with Pippa Nixon and Alex Waldmann – Rosalind and Orlando in that production – here.)

As You Like It is certainly a crowd-pleaser, and it’s one of the plays that gets produced fairly often. I think the fact that the RSC is doing it so soon after its last production is mostly to do with the fact that the RSC is currently in a process of putting on all of the plays in a six-year period (though I think that may have slipped to eight years), and because they started filming their plays and broadcasting them to cinemas only at the end of 2013 with Richard II. So this production will eventually be part of the box set of all the plays on DVD and Blu-Ray.

This year’s production has a lot going for it, but will not please everyone. It’s quite minimalist; there are essentially no sets (though there is a thing that happens at the end). It opens with Orlando (David Ajao) sitting an a swing suspended from the rafters, above a circle of faux grass. The first half hour – the bit where he wrestles, meets Rosalind, and they both get banished – takes place with that grass on stage. When the action moves to Arden Forest, the grass is removed, the house lights come on, and there are announcements over some speakers at the back of the stage. I believe they say “All the actors to the stage,” which is followed by a few more announcements, then “All the world’s a stage,” referring to the famous speech by Jacques that comes in later. The back of the stage lifts up, and you can see the backstage area; the undecorated bit, the brick walls, the ropes tied to the walls; what the actors see when they’re behind the decor.

At the same time, most of the actors come out on stage and some clothes rails are rolled out with costumes. Some of the actors change their costumes, they all mill about, then the costumes are wheeled off and they pick up the play.

273453 As You Like It production photos 2019 2019 Web use

Photos by Topher McGrillis (c) RSC.

The first time I saw the play, I really didn’t get this, but the second time I think I understood what the director, Kimberly Sykes, intended. This is a literal interpretation of “All the world’s a stage,” with the actors showing that they are, indeed, actors, a sort of meta fourth-wall approach to the play. From this moment on, the lighting changes a bit until the end of the play, but the audience is part of the raw theatrical experience, and is almost always illuminated.

Since there are no sets, there are no trees anywhere to be seen. This is a forest, and trees are important in the play. It is either the vertical beams in the theater that are supposed to be the trees, or the audience itself, made up of hundreds of trees. (My suspicion is that it’s the latter, as Orlando pastes a few post-its with notes about Rosalind on different audience members.) All this means that the director’s vision isn’t entirely clear, and this may contribute to the many reviews that were ambivalent about the production.

In any case, looking at it through this point of view, it’s a charming, fast-paced studio play. The lack of sets makes it seem more improvised, and the fantastic Lucy Phelps is radiant as Rosalind, carrying the play throughout (Rosalind has about 20% of the lines in the play).

273544 As You Like It production photos 2019 2019 Web use

(It’s interesting to note that these production photos were shot during the dress rehearsal, but the director changed Rosalind’s costume to simple black trousers with suspenders over a white shirt. This change makes her look a lot more “pixieish,” and I think it works better. Her hair is also slicked back more, giving her a somewhat androgynous David Bowie look.)

There’s lots of audience interaction – see this article, about when I got on stage during one performance – and there’s lots of laughter and fun throughout. Sandy Grierson as Touchstone was marvelous, clowning around to keep the action moving, and Rosalind hops into the audience a few times. Anthony Byrne plays both dukes – Duke Frederick in court, and Duke Senior in the forest – and is wonderful in both roles, the former being powerful and angry, the latter being open and friendly.

273534 As You Like It production photos 2019 2019 Web use

Another quirk in this production is the 50-50 gender splint, which means that Jacques is a woman (Sophie Stanton), and Silvius is Sylvia (Amelia Donkor). This latter change alters some of the text, as Phoebe is in love with a shepherdess instead of a shepherd. I don’t think the Jacques was melancholy enough, but it was interesting to hear Stanton recite the famous “seven ages” speech.

Hats off to the many minor characters who gave their all, notably Charlotte Arrowsmith, a deaf actor, as Audrey, whose signs were interpreted by Tom Dawze as William.

Oh, and there’s that bit at the end with the massive puppet as Hymen, the god of love, giving benediction to the marriages. It’s the only large item on stage for the entire performance, and it is quite jarring. It’s imposing, and it’s really not necessary. I really don’t see why the director chose to close the play with something like this.

Having seen this production twice, I look forward to seeing it again before the run ends in August. If you can make sense of the staging, it’s lots of fun. The time went be very quickly, with never a dull moment. There were songs, lots of laughter, some tears; all in all, exactly what the world is like.

I Trod the Boards at the Royal Shakespeare Company

Last Tuesday, I had a very interesting experience, playing a small but important part in a performance of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s current production of As You Like It. For a brief moment, I was onstage holding two pieces of paper, bearing the letters I and N, as Orlando had four audience members hold up sheets of paper spelling out the name of his love, Rosalind.

But there’s a lot more to it than that. I attended a very special performance of the play; one that was intimate, nearly a command performance, for an audience of just seven people.

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