In which Jenn gives our picks for the worst adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays.
In this commentary episode, the girls try very hard not to sing along with The Lion King… and mostly succeed while discussing Disney’s musical adaptation of Hamlet with lions.
I have a new obsession and her name is Yulin Kuang.
That sounds creepy, but if there’s one thing I think I can trust internet fandom with, I hope it’s understanding that stage where you have just discovered a new creator and then must proceed to watch everything they have ever created. This has recently happened to me when I came across Shipwrecked‘s series Kissing in the Rain.
Kissing in the Rain is a transmedia YouTube project of the Shipwrecked team that includes Yulin Kuang, Sinead Persaud and Sean Persaud. It’s first chapter has just concluded and chapter two is due to begin May 5. Chapter one followed actors James and Lily, played by Mary Kate Wiles and Sean Persaud, as they are frequently cast as romantic leads in films that have them kissing in the rain. Each episode starts with the movie scene leading up to the kiss and then the director yells cut and the couple reverts to the actors awkwardly trying to fill the post-kiss silence.
The transmedia bit comes in with the encouragement and canonization of fan fiction. With each episode Yulin Kuang releases a companion drabble to add to the story of the two actors and then fans follow her lead. After going through the related tumblr tags and reading what the fans come up with, Yulin decides what to canonize and it gets reblogged on the official Shipwrecked tumblr and is official canon from that point forward.
If you’re interested in starting to watch, there is a very helpful post that pulls everything together here. There’s just a week until chapter two starts which will be following a different set of actors, Audrey and Henry, played by Sinead Persaud and Sairus Graham.
But at the risk of sounding like an infomercial, that’s not all! After I got caught up on Kissing in the Rain, I needed more, so I moved on to a previous Shipwrecked series called A Tell Tale Vlog where Sean Persaud takes on the role of Edgar Allan Poe as he vlogs, writes poetry of questionable quality and gets haunted by Lady Lenore played by Sinead Persaud. EA Poe tends to bring to mind thoughts of a rather somber nature and Shipwrecked expertly takes advantage of that, turning somber into hilariously awkward. There’s even something of a crossover in the last episode with Kissing in the Rain episode 4, which just happens to be my favorite.
And if you thought that I stopped there, you haven’t been paying attention. After finishing A Tell Tale Vlog, I moved on to Yulin Kuang’s personal YouTube page where she has a series called I Didn’t Write This and various other original projects, including a trailer for an upcoming short film called Irene Lee, Girl Detective. But since this is a blog that focuses on adaptations, I think I should at least try to pretend that is what I’m doing.
In I Didn’t Write This, Yulin creates visual representations for poetry such as T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and excerpts from novels like John Green’s Looking For Alaska. A personal favorite of mine is her adaptation of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 and among the few videos that I haven’t watched yet is an excerpt from Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl as I fear the potential spoilers. Even if poetry isn’t your thing, I seriously suggest watching and continuing to follow this series. Yulin’s videos are gorgeously created and will make you feel things, just like the rest of her work.
Finally, Shipwrecked used their week off from Kissing in the Rain to release their newest project- a music video featuring Mrs. Rochester from Jane Eyre as she sings a parody if “When Will My Life Begin” from Tangled. Titled Bertha’s Attic Song, Sinead Persaud plays Rochester’s neglected wife as she toes the line between her distress, her insanity and her obsession with fire. They even work in a little crossover at the end with Alysson Hall of The Autobiography of Jane Eyre web-series.
If you’d made it this far, I do hope that something on this list of creations has caught your eye enough for you to delve into the world of Yulin Kuang and Shipwrecked. Everything that I’ve seen so far has been impeccably executed with an obvious passion for film making and that sense of fun which keeps you wanting to see more.
Right on the heels of the release of Veronica Mars– a Kickstarter-funded film that provoked many in entertainment media to ask if this will change the future of film- another exciting Kickstarter has made it’s pitch to the public.
Director Vincent Regan is asking for help funding the production on his independent feature film Enemy of Man, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth that already has an A-list cast committed to it. Sean Bean will take on the tragic title role, while big names actors Charles Dance, James D’Arcy and Rupert Grint will be playing Duncan, Banquo and Rosse respectively.
As I’m writing this, the project has 16 days left and just under half of it’s $250,000 goal has been pledged. But director and cast haven’t just been sitting around in the beginning stages of the project waiting for funds. They’ve already shot an 8-minute proof of concept film and a teaser trailer to show backers what the film will look like. The full 8-minute film, called Instruments of Darkness is available for a $10 pledge to the Kickstarter.
While that trailer does send a chill of excitement through me, the video pitch for the Kickstarter itself is what really sold me on this project. Regan’s passion for the story told in Macbeth comes across strongly as he talks about adapting it and the cast itself seems to really believe in the script. Sean Bean describes it as “not word-heavy” Shakespeare and Regan says that he added a bit more action. That originally made me weary as it seems a very Hollywood thing to do.
But he won me over with his reasons for funding through Kickstarter. With the cast that is attached to the project, I imagine that it wouldn’t be overly difficult to sell the idea to a studio and go through traditional funding methods. But Regan came to Kickstarter because he believes that his vision falls outside of what the industry would be willing to take a chance on. Instead of changing his vision, he is changing his methods.
After the Veronica Mars Kickstarter success, most articles focused their industry predictions on cult-followings, on shows like VM that ended too soon. Not to say that Shakespeare doesn’t have his own group of fans, but I’m not sure this is what they had in mind. And that makes me even more excited about the possibilities.
The film industry is in the business of making money and so it’s hard to blame it too much for sticking to the tried and true formulas. But I think that we can all agree that it has gotten stuck in a rut with those formulas and that is why seeing projects like this pop up seems to fill the air with promises to shake things up.
I encourage you all to head over to the Kickstarter for Enemy of Man and give it a look through, even if you’re not interested or able to contribute. If you are interested in backing it, $15 and up with get you a digital copy of the feature film, which isn’t much higher than a theater ticket. They are also offering exclusive t-shirts, posters, and concept art.
I never really considered productions of plays being adaptations of the original written play. Unless it is play to screen – like Joss Whedon’s film and modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, it seemed that productions were just productions of the written play, but when I saw the live stream of the London Theater production of Coriolanus, in my local movie theater, it changed my perception.
The play is formally named, The Tragedy of Coriolanus and is one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays and is part of his Historical play set. The story is of a man named Caius Martius, who is a patrician, or aristocratic soldier who has little compassion for the lower classes. He is heralded as a hero after nearly single-handedly defeating the attack of the Volcians, led by his rival Tullus Aufidius at the neighboring Italian city of Corioles and is given the name Coriolanus. However, a famine had rampaged Ancient Rome and the people are in a rage against the upper class. To have their voices heard they have tribunes (representatives) to stand up for them. Coriolanus is given a hero’s welcome, and the Senate offers to make him consul.
In order to gain this office, however, he must go out and plead for the votes of the plebeians (common people), a task that he undertakes reluctantly. At first, the common people agree to give him their votes, but they later reverse their decision at the prodding of two clever tribunes, Brutus and Sicinius, who consider Coriolanus an enemy of the people. This drives the proud Coriolanus into a fury, and he speaks out intemperately against the very idea of popular rule; Brutus and Sicinius, seizing on his words, declare him a traitor to the Roman state and drive him into exile, where his rival surprisingly takes him in and together they plan a bitter attack on the city that betrayed him. For those who have not read or seen this play, I will not spoil the rest.
It is not like a British theatre group to change Shakespeare’s work, and this followed suit, only possibly taking out extraneous and unnecessary but unnoticeable moments from the play. It was done as it would be read, but with more life.
This production of Coriolanus was directed by Josie Rourke and starred Tom Hiddleston as Caius Martius Coriolanus, Mark Gatiss (Mycroft from BBC’s Sherlock) as Menenious a friend and mentor to Coriolanus, Hadley Fraser as the rival Aufidius, Deborah Findlay as his mother Volumnia, Birgette Hjort Sørensen as his wife Virgilia, and Elliot Levy and Helen Schlesinger as Brutus and Sicinia respectively.
Put up at the Donmar Theater in the West End of London, this Coriolanus was different than what you would expect from a Shakespearean play. The theater itself used to be a banana-ripening warehouse, and was utilized as a minimalist theater border lining a black box theater. They used the back brick wall for all of their scenery, which stayed painted half way up in red. It was painted with a bit of graffiti at the beginning, and had firm metal handles in it, which became multi-purpose throughout the play. It was also used as a projector screen to display words of the people chanting in glowing letters.
The stage itself looked like a small canvas square with a ladder upstage left, which allowed Coriolanus to climb offstage. The only set beyond that is a square painted in red by a child at the beginning, chairs to hold characters actively or inactively (as if they were offstage), and a small black square that is aptly painted later on to put Coriolanus on trial – twice. The little set was used very well, with unique staging because the audience was on three out of four sides, having everything stay the same and yet change so seamlessly between scenes. The red square looked like the ropes of a boxing ring, and with scenes of social unrest, political distress and all out war it was perfect for each and every scene.
This minimalist idea continued onto the characters. The costumes were a mix of period and contemporary clothing. It was all very simple and clean, with only a flick of leather chest armor and a sword. The near empty stage never felt empty as it was filled with the voices and presence of each character.
Tom Hiddelston is a fearless actor who took this role full on with the ablity to move seamlessly between all parts of the role and emotions. He portrayed Coriolanus as a complex human being, going from loving son and husband to arrogant aristocrat, from fearless warrior to sarcastic fool, from cold-hearted to soft-hearted. He didn’t put on a mask and go overboard or put on any airs like I see most Shakespeare done. It was a stripped down performance that showed him as a real man and did not feel like we were just watching an actor play out a scene, although I will say I remarked that he was an amazing actor because he could cry on cue and it was absolutely real.
His performance along with the smaller and less cluttered stage was a recipe for intimacy that was felt throughout. At times it seemed so real that it felt like we were all voyeurs looking in on something private. We are there with him every step of the way, watching him become warring god and then wash the blood away to become a flawed and scarred human again, and besides making the whole theater cry with him, he brought us to laugh as he went from having a fit to comforting his mother, and his sarcastic jests as he had to humble himself in front of the “unworthy common folk”.
I could continue to fan-girl over Tom, who is a fine piece of man as seen in this with a near see-through humble shirt and a nice tight pair of jeans, and his fabulous portrayal, but he was not the only amazing actor there. The entire cast made up a superb ensemble, whom under the director were able to bring to life this unique vision of a story that is still relevant today. They all became their characters and spoke Shakespearean English as plain as it was modern English. Where most Shakespeare plays I have seen have been put on as Shakespeare intended, with over acting, big gestures, and over explaining so that any person anywhere in the Globe could understand what was going on, this was a toned down version; a modern play with Shakespearean words.
It is so difficult to talk about this production without bringing up every single moment in it. It isn’t just Tom Hiddleston, it is the power of voice and intonation and character of all the actors, especially Deborah Findlay, Mark Gatiss (as one might expect from Mycroft… with a little more heart), Hadley Fraser and the two tribunes. The way they spoke was natural and human even if the words seem foreign, with snark and sarcasm and love. It was all easy to understand, even if you could not fathom how any of them could memorize those long speeches. The only thing that was questionable at times was the choice of music they used as they changed scenes. It seemed, at first, to be a weird techno fusion, but as the play went on it turned into more warlike drums and sounds that built tension.
This play was put up with such integrity and vision that it easily got under your skin and into your heart. All the actors spurred so many feels; anger, friendship, rivalry and camaraderie, and so much more. Honestly, I would love to have played Virgilia, Coriolanus’ wife, because not only was she a fun character, but she got to kiss him about 4 times throughout the play. Though I would settle for being his rival, Aufidius, because he got to sword fight him, oh and *spoiler alert* kiss him too.
The only way to do it justice is to see the production; the patrons of the theatre I was in gave it a standing ovation even though the actors were not present to receive the applause. Check National Theatre Live for broadcasts and rebroadcasts in theatres near you. Hopefully, they will realize that this is a production too good to keep under wraps and will produce a DVD version.
In which we list plot changes in film adaptations that actually worked with the story.
Related podcast episodes:
Taking full advantage of another chance to moon over a Joss Whedon film, Jess and Kendyl rehash Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing and reel at the depth of understanding the film presented, from the line delivery to the filming to the background action.