Tag Archives: Literature

Cultural Break: re-writing Shakespeare

There’s been a lot said about the playwright William Shakespeare in recent months because in April it was four hundred years since his death. He is frequently pronounced the greatest writer in English and his legacy is undoubtedly enduring. His plays are still performed around the world and are on many a reading list for literature students.

Why is the appeal of his work so long-lasting? There must be many reasons, out of which I would pull two. Firstly, his stories feel universal because they tap into collective narratives which are central to our common humanity. To say he nicked all his plot-lines would probably be disingenuous, but it is telling that they have found echoes in stories which have been told and re-told in languages and countries around the globe (pun intended). Love, hate, grief, treachery, honour, lies, truth, memory are shared throughout peoples, they cross borders. Not to mention, political shenanigans. Does anyone else in the UK look at the current manoeuvres in government and the political parties, and think of the many twists of the knife in Shakespeare’s plays?

The second reason I would propose, is that Shakespeare allowed his own emotional landscape to shape his writing. Yes, it all feels like it is about kings and queens and battles and love affairs made complex by misunderstandings and misrepresentations. But knowing a little of Shakespeare’s life – and I know only a miniscule measure of the small amount which can be verified – the development of his plays follows aspects of his personal life. The death of his child, for instance, ushers in his tragedies. In his last play, The Tempest, the magician gives up his powers.

One of the documentaries about Shakespeare which I saw of late, was BBC4’s ‘Arena: all the world’s a screen’ which I saw on the 24th of April this year. It charts the way Shakespeare has been depicted on screen and I was particularly struck by the non-US/UK adaptions and translations. One specifically, Haider, an Indian film (Vishal Bhardwaj, 2014) where a revolutionary in Kashmir adapts the speech in Hamlet:

‘UN Council resolution number 47 of 1948, Article Two of the Geneva Convention and Article 370 of the Indian Constitution raises the question. Do we exist or do we not?…’

This Saturday, the 16th July, in Scarborough, we are lucky to have further modern interpretations of the universal themes of Shakespeare’s plays. The Beach Hut Theatre Company is presenting Natural Shocks at the central library between 10am and 2pm (a free event). Nine local writers have created short plays and a musical performance piece using a scene from Shakespeare as inspiration. Artistic Co-Director, Beach Hut Theatre Company, Ali Watt explains:

‘I think Shakespeare continues to inspire writers because, in his plays, he usually highlights how emotion informs on and shapes the everyday actions people take. Anger. Despair. Love. These are the emotions that are often key drivers in creating dramatic plot and character. The current culture may have shifted significantly since Shakespeare’s day but writers will continue to want to explore political ambition (Macbeth), unrequited love (Twelfth Night) or depression and madness (King Lear).   Reference to the work of Shakespeare will always provide a ‘touchstone’ for finding the way.’

The writers are drawn from a broad spectrum of local talent, including those with national recognition. A play by Jackie Daly has recently been selected as one of three winners of the Windsor Fringe Kenneth Branagh Award for New Drama Writing. She says of her contribution to Natural Shocks, ‘It was a creative challenge to write a new play inspired by a scene from Twelfth Night. Olivia and Viola are fantastic characters with so much drama going on between them. It was fun to imagine them into a contemporary situation and let the sparks fly’

This is an opportunity to see Shakespeare re-imagined for the 21st century and to enjoy work from some formidable local talent. Plus it’s FREE. Not to be missed.

More information from: https://www.facebook.com/Beach-Hut-Theatre-Company-43292254078/

Books with impact

A friend of mine invited me to come up with a list of ten books which have stayed with me. It was really hard to make the choice, I certainly wanted to list more than ten, but I enjoyed the process. As I remembered each book and noted it down, it was as if I was recalling a friend or a special moment, each book came with an emotion, some came with an image or a sense of place.

One thing I realised as I finalised my list, was how much I wished – fantasised about – hoped that one day something I had written would be on somebody’s list of books which had impacted them. It would be a fantastic feeling.

Here is my list. Feel free to come back with your own.

Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindberg – a red headed heroine who could lift up a horse with one hand.
Down Among the Women by Fay Weldon – my first grown up feminist novel.
Temple of My Familiar by Alice Walker – I just love the idea of generations of women speaking through me.
The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin – a scathing attack on capitalism and a glimpse of a better way.
Staying Alive edited by Neil Astley – I had to have some poetry in here and this is an anthology I go back to, it’s also where I discovered the wonderful Anne Sexton’s ‘Her Kind’.
A Dark Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine – Ruth Rendell at her psychologically most complex. Any VI Warshawski, by Sarah Paretsky – a tough female detective and crime novels which are politically aware.
Pigs in Heaven by Barbra Kingsolver – fab book and reminds me of my time in the USA. Writing as a Way of Healing by Louise de Salvo – gave credence to what I already knew and reminds me of the good times at The Women’s Press.
Affinity by Sarah Waters – spookily wonderful and a book I enjoyed studying for my MA.


Scarborough Consequences

Earlier this year I facilitated a project at the 2013 Scarborough Literature Festival which invited festival goers to contribute to a story. People were encouraged to write ‘letters’ (emails, letters, tweets, texts) to and from a bunch of fictional characters I had devised and who were ‘stuck’ in a Scarborough hotel for various reasons over one weekend. I took the resulting missives and used them to construct a tale which I called Scarborough Consequences.

Scarborough Consequences has now been up-loaded to the Scarborough Literature site (click through twice to get the download.)