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Posts tagged ‘Shakespeare’

Shakespeare 400: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

2016 is the year of Shakespeare. It is a festival which marks the great Bard’s birth, and his death, and above all things a celebration of his incredible works, masterpieces which have shaped generations, been interpreted and reinterpreted across the centuries, and which are a core of both British and global theatre. In exploring my own reinterpretations of his plays, some 20 years after I completed my first Shakespeare collection at the age of 13, I have moved onto my second work, painted in my new interpretative abstract style.

The play is A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a comic frolic of cross-purpose love affairs, mischievous spells, sparkling forest fairies and of course the famous Donkey metamorphosis of Bottom, all set between the trees of a forest near Athens. That wonderfully magical forest setting forms the background of my work, a simplified design of vertical brown stripes, creating a sense of the darkness and depth of the forest which characterises the tone of that mystical Midsummer’s Night.

Midsummer FINAL

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

Central to the piece is a large yellow shape, representing the wall in the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, whose chink provides the only channel for communication for the two forbidden lovers after whom the story is named. Creating something of a play within a play, the tale of Pyramus and Thisbe (originally told by Ovid) is acted out at the end of the play by the theatre troupe from whom the actor-turned-donkey Bottom comes, and which likewise reflects the theme of forbidden love which is played out in the forbidden love between Hermia and Lysander.

It is in fact that disallowed love affair which sends Hermia and Lysander fleeing to the forest, where in their wake Helena, Hermia’s friend, and Demetrius, the man Hermia’s father wishes her to marry, follow. These four characters then become the pawn of Oberon and Titania, the King and Queen of the forest fairies whose own conflict results in a series of magical mischief which in turn results in the four youngsters of Athens variously falling in and out of love with one another while under the bewitchment of the “love-in-idleness” flower. That same juice is used to bewitch Titania, who in turn is caused to fall in love with the metamorphosed Bottom.

All this is represented by my painting of shapes and lines. The energetic lines which cross the canvas are those of Titania and Oberon, whose ballet of magical conflict weaves in and out of the play’s plot. Where they meet, and form shapes within their overlaps, these shapes represent the four young lovers, Helena, Hermia, Lysander and Demetrius. The grey triangle is of course the donkey head of Bottom, and when Titania’s “line” traverses the space, it is transformed blue, as though bewitched by Oberon. Meanwhile above Oberon’s line, the blue curve represents his faithful assistant Puck, the cheeky little fairy who mischievously applies the love-potion, and above the red triangle of Titania, the four little pink lines are her flying little fairy assistants, Peaseblosom, Cobweb, Moth and Mustardseed.

For those unaware of this brilliant play, the description above may bamboozle the mind. Where that is the case, please enjoy the painting instead, whose simplified lines and structure make, in themselves, what I hope is a thoroughly pleasing image for Midsummer’s Night.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at

Shakespeare 400: Richard III

It probably will not have escaped your notice (particularly if you live in the UK) that this year marks 400 years since the death of Britain’s most famous ever playwright and poet, William Shakespeare. And across the country and beyond there has been something of a resurgence of interest in his work. This, together with the coincided discovery of a Shakespearian theatre troupe out here in Mallorca aroused my own Bard reawakening, not least because I have a little anniversary all of my own – some 20 years since I painted, at the tender age of 13, my first ever substantial collection of paintings which just happened to be a scene from every one of Shakespeare’s 37 plays.

So with one thing leading to another, it wasn’t long before I felt old inspirations stir up, and the decision to once again tackle Shakespeare as an inspiration for my art took hold.

Richard III (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

Richard III (2016 ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

First off the rack is this painting of one of the Bard’s history plays, Richard III. Painted in my new style, interpretative abstraction, the work appears simple but in fact represents the story of Richard III in three clear aspects. First, the three piles of what one could mistake for bricks or books represents, at the painting’s most simplistic visual level, the “III” of Richard in roman numerals. The second meaning is the allusion to the famous scene whereby the Duchess of York (Richard’s mother), Queen Elizabeth (his dead brother’s wife) and Queen Margaret (the previously exiled wife of the former King Henry VI) meet together and bemoan and curse the Machiavellian rise of Richard III to power.

That rise is finally, and most importantly represented by the same three pillars of blocks, each of which depict an important part of the story: The central column is the staircase which tracks Richard’s bloody ascent through the rungs of power to be King, with the slash of the golden crown shining boldly at the top; the column on the right is the Tower of London and in it the two yellow cubes are the two blond princes, the true heirs to the throne who Richard famously kills in the tower in order to clear his path to the crown; and the column on the left, with its overlapping grey forms like medieval armour, represents the Battle of Bosworth at which Richard was finally defeated.

It seems remarkable that some 20 years have passed since I painted my teenage Shakespeare collection, especially now as I rediscover the same excitement which his plays engendered in me all those years ago. Now I’m looking forward to the challenge of finding them again, and painting them afresh (albeit perhaps not all 37…!).

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the work of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, head to his art website at

Twelfth Night at the Roundhouse: Laugh-out-loud funny with a Fawlty Towers twist

As a Director, being given one of Shakespeare’s best known plays to direct must be a bit like being handed a gift-wrapped life time of Christmases all at once: On the one hand you get the most spectacular array of gifts to play with, but on the other, there’s always the risk, as comes with the familiar, that the experience will descend into Family warfare, as new generations upset the old fogies in the corner, and traditional conservative values give way to brash commercialisation.

Nicholas Day as Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night. Photograph by Keith Pattison.

So it is with Shakespeare. You get those who turn up expecting ruffs and garters, men playing all the parts and the accompaniment of Greensleeves or some other suitably Tudor refrain in the background. Then there are those who want to see a familiar tale, with the same dialogue and characters, but retold in a totally reinvented way. I must admit to being one for the latter category. Admittedly, reinvented Shakespeare doesn’t always work. Shakespeare played out in the modern age can jar. Often directors are so intent on modernising that they lose all essence of the story they are reinterpreting. But the RSC’s latest offering, Twelfth Night, now commencing its London season at Camden’s Roundhouse, faces no such problems. Reinvented in a brilliantly original way, but losing none of the charm of the characters nor the tale, this new production, directed by David Farr is, in my refined Shakespearean experience, a phenomenal success.

Stephen Hagan as Sebastian in Twelfth Night. Photograph by Keith Pattison.

First off, the scenery. It’s brilliant. How to stage Twelfth Night, which on paper is part set in Orsino’s palace, part set in Olivia’s and part set on a beach? Well David Farr and designer Jon Bausor came up with an original solution. They set the play in a rickety old hotel, reminiscent of  Fawlty Towers age hostelries, with a rattling old lift, swing doors, a dusty set of pigeon-holes containing all the room keys, and old-style air con in the form of a single fan with ribbons attach so that they flicker limply in the air whenever the fan is switched on. This hotel setting is in turn amalgamated into a sweeping curved wooden floor, which at the foot of the stage dips limply into a pool of water before curving across the stage into a steep incline at the back of the space, upon which a bed, a bath and other paraphernalia hang steeply suspended, and over which the darting shadows of a ceiling fan spin and flicker. In short, there isn’t a straight line anywhere on the stage, and this gives the set a dilapidated charm perfect for the 70s/80s reinvention.

Cecilia Noble as Maria in Twelfth Night. Photograph by Keith Pattison

Meanwhile the hotel setting is adapted to both the homes of Olivia and Orsino respectively through subtle lighting changes, all of which give the impression that these people live on some expat seaside resort, where the drunkenness of Sir Toby Belch and co. and the electro-keyboard cabaret of Feste the fool seem perfectly pertinent, like the tragic faded grandeur of Benidorm, or Blackpool on a good day.

The best part of the set however has to be the pool filled with real water at the corner of the stage. It is from this pool that at the most unexpected moment, both Viola and a little later Sebastian, the shipwrecked protagonists of the play, emerge, gasping for breath, in the most fantastically realistic staging of a shipwrecked twosome. After this initial use of the pool, that same watery expanse is not forgotten. It provides the backdrop for some brilliant slapstick comedy by the likes of Bruce Mackinnon as a fantastically dippy Sir Andrew Aguecheek, and is a suitable space into which the phlegmatic Olivia can discard the unwanted gifts given to her by love-struck Orsino as she shuns his many indefatigable advances. True, the first few rows of the audience did get relentlessly splashed as the pool slowly emptied upon each dramatic entrance and exit by the actors, but at least they can’t moan that the play isn’t inclusive.

Emily Taaffe as Viola – Photo: Alastair Muir

Kirsty Bushell as Olivia and Kevin McMonagle as Feste in Twelfth Night. Photograph by Keith Pattison.

This brings me to the actors themselves, all of whom were brilliant, but with a few standout stars. Number 1 for me was Jonathan Slinger as the odious steward, Malvolio. The hotel setting worked best for Slinger’s character, as Malvolio went from palace porter to over-inflated Hotel Manager with a very heavy dose of small-man syndrome, complete with a clip board and name tag – you know the kind. This made for some genius comedy moments, not least when he travelled across the stage in a golf buggy marked “for management use only”  and as for the famous scene with yellow stockings and cross-garters – this production took the stockings to an all new level of risqué. It was laugh-out-loud hilarious. And it takes a lot to get me almost doubled over with hysteria.

Jonathan Slinger – brilliant as Malvolio – Photo: Jillian Edelstein

Second standout for me had to be Cecilia Noble as a diva-Queen Maria, the brilliant matriarch in amongst the drunken debauchery of Sir Toby’s den, wonderfully complicit as she was in the grand plan to bring the malevolent Malvolio to his shame. Brilliant too were the energetic Kirsty Bushell as Olivia, Bruce Mackinnon as Sir Andrew, and Nicholas Day as Sir Toby. I was a little disappointed by Emily Taafee as Viola, whose delicate Irish accent seemed a little strained in her efforts to be heard amidst the tomfoolery of her fellow cast members, and more often than not I found it difficult to decipher what she was saying. However that too is a problem with theatre (almost) “in the round” which meant that more often than not, we found ourselves facing the back of an actor whose voice simply didn’t carry.

Sir Toby, Sir Andrew and Fabian

No matter – as is often the case with Shakespeare, the old english is frequently difficult to understand in its totality. Which is why the role of a director, in translating that hyperbolic verse into the modern age, is so important. David Farr’s Twelfth Night not only translated brilliantly, but it lived, breathed and pulsated energy and jocularity which was contagious across the Roundhouse audience – even the wet ones at the front.

Twelfth Night continues at the Roundhouse until 5 July.