Customer Review

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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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 Sep 2012 17:19:43 BDT
This is the review that probably made me decide to buy the DVD. Thankyou for an insightful account of the series. I have the book and the DVD of 25 years later so now I'm keen to see the original series.
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