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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars John Barton on Shakespeare, 26 Sep 2011
By 
RR Waller "ISeneca" (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Playing Shakespeare [DVD] (DVD)
I first saw this programme by accident while studying Shakespeare and it was a revelation, seeing a different way of performing his plays with a much greater emphasis on the language. John Barton's 1982 series involved many of the names which now head cast lists - Judi Dench, Ben Kingsley, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, David Suchet, Donald Sinden - the list goes on.

When I accidentally saw the programme, the first actor I saw was Kevin Cline performing Hamlet's famous speech and he seemed to do it to perfection. Barton thought otherwise although everything he said was positive as he gave Cline fresh approaches to the familiar lines. The next performance was so different it amazed line and the assembled group. Barton does not look like someone who should be giving masterclasses, dressed as he usually is in an ill-fitting jumper, two sizes too big, with pockets used to carrying the complete works. He obviously does not care and, after a few minutes, viewers will not either.

It is recommended to anyone with a serious interest in reading or performing Shakespeare. It is not light viewing; the actors and Barton are seriously exploring ways to perform the plays, looking for sophisticated nuances and subtle differences in how to say these famous lines.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Acting under the microscope, 9 Nov 2010
By 
wacrompton - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Playing Shakespeare [DVD] (DVD)
Love Shakespeare and you'll love this series. Although just occasionally John Barton
imposes his view on actors who (in my opinion) are easily capable of interpreting the text themselves. Barton is a Shakespeare afficionado extraordinaire and his work with the actors reveals and expresses every nuance and inflection of Shakespere's verse. His exposition of the King Lear speech, 'Blow winds, and crack your cheeks' finally makes the rant bearable. His examples of how gentleness compells more than going all-out on a text, are a relevation

Judy Dench is staggering and it is no mystery why she is the grande dame of UK theatre
today. But then so are Ian McKellan, David Suchet and Ben Kinsley. Their renditions
of the speeches are insightful, compelling, moving and memorable. Indeed all the actors in the Ensemble are outstanding. In the end I preferred listening to them than to Barton.
But you can't have one without the other.

Anyone who wants a dose of Shakespeare in depth should see this series. It is intelligent, insightful and marvellous to listen to and to watch. You will also come to realise just how serious, committed and hard-working these actors are. There is nothing diletante or superficial, they get to the heart of the speeches and peel back the verse to show every
possible interpretation of it.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth the wait, 18 Jun 2010
This review is from: Playing Shakespeare [DVD] (DVD)
I have wanted to get hold of a copy of this fantastic series since 1982 when it was first broadcast and I am certainly not disappointed now that I have had the chance to watch it again. An absolute must for anyone studying or with an interest in Shakespeare. The enigmatic John Barton holds an acting masterclass with some of the finest young actors of the time - most of them have gone on to become huge names in both the theatre and on screen:- Judi Dench, Ben Kingsley, Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, David Suchet, Donald Sinden - the list goes on.

Compulsive, compelling viewing - an utter classic TV series.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent tool and great entertainment, 11 July 2011
This review is from: Playing Shakespeare [DVD] (DVD)
Very, very happy with this. A friend had posted me a YouTube link to a clip from the series, and it had interested me because I am involved with quite a lot of drama at university.

With that in mind, the 9 episodes are all excellent tools for gaining a brilliant grounding for some difficult problems in acting. Actually seeing how professional (let alone legendary) actors and John Barton directing is much more illuminating than any book. At the same time, the episodes are lively, funny, interesting and arresting. I particularly enjoyed getting to know the different actors and their styles, and seeing them play off one another.

My only wish is that there were more of it! But worth every penny and it comes with my great recommendations.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Average transfer but fantastic series, 6 May 2012
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This review is from: Playing Shakespeare [DVD] (DVD)
As this is a product review, I feel that I must mention the quality of the transfer. Admittedly, this was filmed for TV thirty years ago and so one can't expect the quality to be pristine, but a little digital remastering would have been nice, considering the importance of this series. There are no subtitles but lines are frequently shown on screen as spoken to illustrate a point, so the lack of subtitles is not too frustrating. Special features are limited to biographies. A making-of or retrospective documentary might have been nice but the material speaks for itself.

Playing Shakespeare is a collection of 9 filmed workshops at the RSC, led by co-founder John Barton. His disciples are all professional actors- you'll see many a famous face, from Patrick Stewart to Judi Dench to Peggy Ashcroft in the last episode.
The acting advice John Barton gives is simple but vital. The difference it makes in the quality of the performances of the actors is infinite. His focus on the text and the nuances of each word may seem unfashionable now when interpretation and subversion seem to be the main goal, yet it makes long, often dull speeches (like the Bishop of Canterbury's one in Henry V) seem exciting and accessible. Barton is very picky but the actors are always humble and even challenge him on some points, which he rightly accepts.

What I really love about the series, apart from some brilliant pieces of acting, as in the final scene of The Winter's Tale, is the metatheatrical quality of it. The filming emphasises the artificiality- we see mics swinging over, the cameras switching. The "set" is a ramshackle studio and the actors are often playing scenes to a rug. It's a mix of rehearsed reading and performing, all led by Barton, who is not a posturing luvvie. He's more like a cuddly old-school history teacher, with a baggy cardigan, a woolly tie, and a bit podgy.

As well as the personality of Barton, we also see the personalities of the actors emerging. There are the shyer ones, like Ben Kingsley, the favourite pupil, like Patrick Stewart, or the knowledgeable old soul that is Ian McKellan. The actors have all had varying amounts of experience with the RSC and some have even played the parts professionally that they demonstrate for us in the workshop, such as Patrick Stewart and David Suchet's rival versions of Shylock. Even those who seem to have been there for a shorter time, like Lisa Harrow and Sheila Hancock, give marvellous performances.

This is a must buy if you are a fan of any of the actors in the series (there are 21, but they rotate around so we don't get the same person every time), or a fan of Shakespeare or indeed a fan of acting.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No holds Bard, 13 Jan 2010
By 
This series was first broadcast on UK Channel 4 back in the early 1980's and I recorded the whole series on videotape; 25 years later the tapes are wearing thin so thi series on dvd is more than welcome.
John Barton is perhaps one of the foremost authorities on Shakespeare in the world. In this excellent series he doesn't tell you HOW to play it, but what to look out for in interpretation; the secrets, the giveaways, the hidden depths of the world's greatest dramatist/playwright. He is one of the founders of the RSC and his fame as a director and workshop leader is worldwide.
With the assistance of leading Royal Shakespeare Company actors of the day he tackles such aspects as: the poetry of the plays; irony; the sonnets; he works in depth on a sequence from 12th Night and explores different ways of playing Shylock. Sound boring?
Not when Dame Judi is playing Viola, and the two Shylocks are David Suchet and Sir Patrick Stewart. Add Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Ben Kingsley, Sir Donald Sinden and Dame Peggy Ashcroft to name but a few, and you have la creme de la creme of Shakesperean acting. It is also in book form, 'Playing Shakespeare' by John Barton, and has just been reissued by the RSC and Methuen Drama. The new edition also includes a dvd for both region 1 & 2 in which John interviews Ian Mckellen, Judi Dench, Patrick Stewart and Jane Lapotaire, four of those originally involved in the broadcast.

I cannot advocate this series highly enough. To any budding actor it should be required viewing, as it should for any drama student or anyone remotely interested in Shakespeare.

One word of caution, however. I had a region 1 dvd tape, bought years ago from the USA and was able to play it on every dvd player I have. This is also region 1 but does not do so; I had to set an old laptop to region 1 to play it. Why this should be I do not know, but it certainly doesn't detract from the overall excellence of this invaluable set.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great resource, 18 Aug 2010
This review is from: Playing Shakespeare [DVD] (DVD)
This isn't much of a review, but if anyones unsure whether or not to buy this i'd like to recommend it. Apart from anything else, it's fun to watch the national treasures of today when they were younger and not such famous faces.

The series dilutes Shakespeares writing very well, and makes it easier to work on and break down. It also, i think, takes a lot of the 'fear' away that an actor approaching a classical text might feel. I came away feeling a freedom with the text, and confident that I could approach it in my own way and make my own choices without worrying about 'getting it wrong'.

There's a book as well, some points are clearer if you read them, and some are easier to digest if you see the point John Barton is making acted out on screen, so i'd say get the book as well and read/watch the series one chapter/episode at a time.

It can seem like a bit of a luvvy fest to begin with, but it was the 80's, and I got over that after about 2 minutes. The information you're being given is fantastic. Especially if you are an actor, it's very easy to follow because you're basically watching actors working with a director, so we can relate to them very easily and follow what's going on.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An educating entertainment!, 29 Jun 2010
By 
This review is from: Playing Shakespeare [DVD] (DVD)
I was really excited to see this was available after all this time. Aside from being a real education in the language and performance of Shakespeare, it's great to see all these legends of the stage and screen in their youthly prime. And is that Helena Bonham Carter in the audience in the first episode? It's a luvvy fest for theatre fans that's not to be missed!
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars PERFECT FOR THE NEW/ OLD SHAKESPEARE ACTOR, 3 Oct 2010
This review is from: Playing Shakespeare [DVD] (DVD)
THIS IS A MUST HAVE FOR ANYONE WHO HAS WONDERD ABOUT HOW SHAKESPEARE SHOULD AND COULD BE PERFFORMED. YET IT ISN'T STUFFY ACADEMIC VIEW, DESPITE IT'S AGE. WITH AN AMAZING CAST LIST, IT HAS A HUMOUROUS AND LIVELY APROUCH TO UNDERSTAND WHAT IT DISCUSSES. A TRULY HELPFUL GUIDE TO SHAKESPEARE.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 13 July 2014
By 
ms Patricia Orme (Warwick, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Playing Shakespeare [DVD] (DVD)
Fantastic!
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