Top 5 Friday – Shakespeare Adaptations

As today’s Top 5 Friday falls on the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (and allegedly his birth, although it’s more likely he was born before 23rd April), I thought that it would be fitting to go through my favourite adaptations of his plays. I’ve mostly tried to keep to ones that you are able to watch but one unrecorded theatre production snuck its way on here! Also as I have an entire review gushing over the brilliance of Chloe Gong’s retelling of Romeo and Juliet in These Violent Delights I decided to shift my focus to adaptation that can be watched instead as what my University lecturer taught us that sauce with re is that Shakespeare is made to be performed and watched, you will rarely find the source text as enjoyable as a faithful production.

Romeo + Juliet directed by Baz Lurnham

For anyone who has seen this film, or knows me, it won’t be a surprise to see it on my list. When you think of Romeo and Juliet, the classic romance, your mind wouldn’t necessarily immediately jump to 1990s America but somehow it fits perfectly. The performances of the whole cast is just brilliant and I completely adore how exaggerated some of their performances are – it adds humour to so many scenes which are traditionally portrayed in a more serious manner – but Shakespeare did have a flair for the ridiculousness, as well as a sense of humour, which this film does a great job of illustrating that. Additionally, this film has an excellent soundtrack, with each song carefully chosen which just adds a whole new layer to this brilliant play.


Much Ado About Nothing directed by Joss Whedon

Now, I know Joss Whedon is a pretty awful person so feel free to completely skip this entry! As a film is so much more than just its director I wanted to highlight it.This beautifully shot black and white film adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing masterfully captures the theatrical humour and drama of the stage. I can remember going to see this in the cinema with mum and we were two of five people in the screen watching it. In particular,  I distinctly remember the scene where Beatrice and Benedick are “eavesdropping” on the others talk about them and doing everything they can to avoid being seen. The reason this sticks out to me was because it was so well done mum and I were in tears and tying our hardest not to laugh as loud as we wanted as everyone else was taking it very seriously. This film is just such a delight to watch and always makes me smile.


Macbeth, Trafalgar Studios, directed by Jamie Lloyd (2013)

MACBETH by William Shakespeare, Director: Jamie Lloyd, Trafalgar Studios, London, UK, 2013 [Photo credit: Johan Persson – http://www.perssonphotography.com]

For my 18th birthday back in 2013 Mum took me to see Macbeth in Trafalgar Studios, a Jamie Lloyd production which saw Macbeth set in post-­apocalyptic Scotland starring James McAvoy as Macbeth. Lloyd immediately had the audience on edge by plunging us into darkness as a crack of thunder filled the theatre. The witches then popped up in random places as more thunder cracked – which was even more unsettling when you saw they were in rags and gas masks. For the rest of the play I was incredibly tense waiting for them to appear again. This was an incredibly done and gritty portrayal of Macbeth – but even with this McAvoy still managed to add some cheekiness to the performance which is unusual for MacBeth. From our show, one moment stands out: there were some seats on the stage (which I’m generally not a fan of but McAvoy made it work) and when Macbeth was covered in blood, dripping everywhere, he decided to lean on the chair of a lady wearing a cream jumper without deviating from his lines, his tones and facial expression made it clear he knew exactly what he was doing as the lady slowly shuffled award which then ended up making this Macbeth strangely endearing. This moment also reminds me of why I love watching live theatre!


A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Globe Theatre, directed by Dominic Dromgoole (2013)

Don’t get me wrong, I do like A Midsummer Night’s Dream (even though Helena infuriates me) but I feel like it’s rarely done well, especially when the adaptation sticks fairly close to the source material. So, I was very surprised when I first watched this production in the cinema and absolutely loved it. Although it wasn’t a “modern” or unusual take on the play, it still felt so fresh and unique. The entire cast was incredible and a perfect fit for their characters. I especially loved the way Matthew Tennyson portrayed Puck – keeping his classic mischievousness but simultaneously having many childlike qualities to him which made him very loveable. I was also very impressed by the physicality that he and John Light (Oberon) put into the production with the swinging around pillars, lifts and teetering on the edge of the stage. I can’t talk about this production without mentioning Michelle Terry who did a fabulous job as Titania and her scenes with Bottom (who was wonderfully camp) had me laughing throughout their time onstage.


Hollow Crown Part One TV Show, BBC (2012)

Okay, so I’m sort of cheating with this one as the part one series is actually plays of Richard II, Henry VI pt. 1 and 2, and Henry V – however I’m grouping them as one as it’s my list and they, all need to be on it! I’m generally not particularly interested in the history plays but this series totally changed my mind. Ben Whishaw, Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston and Simon Russell Beale all do a fantastic job with the portrayal of their characters. I found Whishaw and especially heartbreaking – even though the characters they play aren’t very likeable with how Shakespeare has written them (or in history in general depending on how you view it), which I feel is always illustrative of an actor’s talent. Bren if you’re in me and usually give the history plays a miss, you should definitely give the BBC’s Hollow Crown a chance!


Honourable Mentions…

Sh!tfaced Shakespeare

This is a company who perform Shakespeare plays, the difference between this company and the others is that before the show they draw straws and one unlucky (or lucky) cast member has to perform the play drunk. It is a different actor every night to ensure that it is fair and that it gives time for the actors (and their livers) to recover. I saw a performance of Romeo and Juliet and I was crying with laughter throughout. It was the actress who was playing both Benvolio and the Nurse who was the chosen one for the night and it was both incredible and impressive how she could remember her lines perfectly one minute and then disappear off the stage and come back riding a child’s toy horse which had been left backstage for another performance by a completely different company!


NieR:Automata

So, this (obviously) isn’t an adaptation of an entire play however, as NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139… is also out today, which I am very excited about, I just had to include one of my favourite scenes from Nier: Automata. After a quest in a theatre when you go back to the theatre you walk into robots performing Romeo and Juliet. This small tale on it caught me by surprise so much but I still end up in a laughing fit even watching it now!

What are some of your favourite Shakespeare adaptations? Do you prefer a different/modern twist on the classics or for them to stick to the original? Let me know in the comments!

Thoughtful Thursday – Studying Shakespeare

For me, because I am a Literature geek and a lover of Stratford-upon-Avon, whenever I think of April and important literature dates my first thoughts are, of course, of William Shakespeare. Now I know, especially in the UK, Shakespeare and his works can be very divisive, people either love him or hate him. Of course, this is understandable, all literature is subjective: people have their own preferences and that’s okay! When it comes to Shakespeare, however, I can’t help but wonder if this is also due to the way Shakespeare is taught in schools.

In the UK most people’s first experience of Shakespeare is when they are taught it in secondary school (ages 11-16 for any international readers), mainly because it’s required by some exam boards rather than teaching it because the teachers are genuinely passionate about the texts. Of course, some are, but there are many who are teaching it because they have to rather than because they want to. Although, this number is dropping around the UK due to Shakespeare no longer being taught in schools in favour of more modern texts. 

Now, it has been over a decade since I was taught Shakespeare at secondary school or sixth form so it’s possible that things are different now. However, when I studied Shakespeare we either studied just one particular scene out of a play (eg. Romeo and Juliet meeting for the first time) or we studied two whole plays to compare (eg. Hamlet and Othello). Regardless of what you were required to do, the way of teaching the plays was the same: we were told to read them. The only deviation from this being when we watched Baz Lurnham’s Romeo + Juliet as a treat once we had finished the coursework. 

Anyone who has ever read or seen Shakespeare will recognise why trying to get a bunch of angsty, restless, teenagers to care about the plays by reading them is a bad idea. Although, I must say that this selfishly worked in my favour when I was 14. One of my English teachers organised a trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to visit important landmarks in Shakespeare’s life and watch some plays, however, the fact that this trip was based around Shakespeare put most people off so there was only 11 of us on the trip (including two teachers) out of around 180 students in the year group. It’s likely that there were other factors which contributed to low numbers, such as cost and other commitments but considering that a much larger group of us went to Alabama the year after makes me wonder how much cost and commitments did impact this, rather than just a disinterest in Shakespeare. 

Fast forward to my first year of university where ‘Understanding Shakespeare’ was a required module for us to take. However, this was a much different way of teaching Shakespeare that I had encountered before. Not only did we have lecturers who were genuinely interested in Shakespeare and the Early Modern period, one even had his own podcast on the subject, but we were told to watch them, not to read them. In fact, they told us only to read the plays as a last resort if we couldn’t find a theatre or film adaption in the library or through other means. Their reasoning? Shakespeare had written these plays with them being performed in mind, therefore to truly experience what he was trying to convey through them they had to be watched rather than read. 

To me, it seems odd that I had to study Shakespeare at university level for it to be acceptable to watch Shakespeare’s works rather than reading them. There’s just so much that can be conveyed on the stage that can’t be through text, especially with the way different actors interpret and portray their characters or directors giving the setting or production a twist or modern update. Whilst getting students to watch Shakespeare rather than read it won’t suddenly make them love his works, I do wonder how much easier it would be to understand and study his works. Especially for the first time. 

Did you study Shakespeare at school or university? Let me know what it was like in the comments!