Stage

Shakespeare Under The Stars

When Shakespeare’s Pop-up Globe came to Melbourne recently I was hoping they would stage Macbeth or A Midsummer Night’s Dream. They didn’t. Happily the two shows we did see, Around The Globe In 60 Minutes and Henry V, were awesome so I wasn’t disappointed.

When it was announced that Shakespeare’s Pop-up Globe would be going to Sydney, I was annoyed to see that both Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream were going to be performed. There was only one thing to do – go to Sydney!

I’ve never read A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I had a rough idea of the plot. One thing I knew for sure was there were fairies. Imagine my shock when Titania, Oberon and Puck came onto stage, not as fairies, but as New Zealand Maoris. That was some surprise! It was then that I remembered that the Pop-up Globe began in Auckland, New Zealand. I was disappointed that there would be no fairies on stage, but also excited as I’m a big fan of New Zealand. I was very curious to see how this twist would play out.

If you had no idea what A Midsummer Night’s Dream was about, having one section of the play spoken in Maori would have been very confusing. Happily my limited knowledge of the play allowed me to follow what was happening on stage. It was jolting but fun to hear Maori spoken alongside Shakespearian English and to see traditional Maori costumes among the Elizabethan ones. If that wasn’t weird enough, the actors performing the play within a play were dressed as Aussie tradesmen. By the end of the performance I felt like I had been on a wild ride! I couldn’t wait for our next visit to the Globe.

It’s no surprise that Macbeth, a play that features three witches, is one that I have read and seen many filmic adaptions of. Unlike A Midsummer Night’s Dream, this was a more traditional production. The roles of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Macduff were brilliantly acted and gave me new insights into characters I thought I knew well. There was a school group in the audience, standing in the front section. Watching them, wide-eyed as the characters drew us into their emotional rollercoasters, was a stark reminder that Shakespeare was a playwright and his works are best enjoyed on the stage.

One of the reasons I love Macbeth is the witches and they did not disappoint! They commanded the stage and sent chills down my spine with their wicked performances as the three weird sisters. Like wraiths they moved, swayed and stalked across the stage while treating us to eerily sung songs that vibrated through our souls. At one point in the play the witches left the stage and came up behind the group of school children. Weaving through the audience, they scarily reached out to the school children while the children shrieked and tried to run away. I wonder if I was the only one in the audience who wanted to run down and join the witches? The whole play was a grand spectacle from start to end. It was well worth the trip to Sydney. I hope I get to see more performances of this incredible play.

Posset
To aid in the murder of King Duncan, Lady Macbeth drugs the possets of his guards so they will stay asleep while their King is slain. Modern possets, like my Lime Posset, are delicious, creamy desserts. The possets Lady Macbeth drugs were drinks made with warm, spiced milk mixed with either wine or ale. Some possets have beaten eggs added, much like an eggnog. As a fan of eggnog, I just had to add egg to my posset drink. However, unlike Lady Macbeth, I didn’t add a sleeping potion 🙂 

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Ingredients (per drink)
1/2 cup milk
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground mace
1 egg, room temperature
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup ale
freshly grated nutmeg for serving

Instructions
Combine milk, cinnamon, cloves and mace in a saucepan.
Gently bring to the boil over low heat.
Whisk together the egg and sugar in a heatproof bowl until fluffy.
Whisk the hot milk slowly into the egg.
Return to the saucepan.
Add the ale and whisk until warm but not boiling.
Pour into heatproof mugs.
Serve with a sprinkle of grated nutmeg.

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A Play On The Wizard Of Oz

I celebrated my recent birthday this year by seeing the stage production of The Wizard Of Oz at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne. It was a fun and colourful show and brought back memories of another witchy production I saw two years ago – Wicked. This play draws in elements from Wicked but mainly sticks closely to the 1939 film version of The Wizard Of Oz.

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One of the highlights of The Wizard Of Oz was seeing a real dog play Toto on stage. I wasn’t alone in my admiration of the doggy star. When Toto first ran onto the stage the audience let out a collective “Awwwww!” Toto also received the most applause at the final curtain. As a dog owner myself, I loved seeing the impish Toto strut her/his stuff on the stage. The role of fluffy little Toto is shared by two talented Australians terriers. The female is called Flick and the male is called Trouble. I think Flick and Trouble are perfect names for dogs that are starring in a witchy musical. They are especially apt names when we remember that Toto is not always a good dog.

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In the beginning of the play, Miss Gulch arrives at the Gale farm and announces that she has reported Toto to the authorities. She tells the distraught Dorothy that Toto will be seized by the authorities and possibly destroyed. Dorothy responds by calling Miss Gulch a wicked old witch. The audience naturally sides with Dorothy. How can anyone be so cruel to a little dog? How can that horrible woman want the little dog to be destroyed? She must indeed be a wicked old witch!

But what is the reason Miss Gulch reports Toto? She reports Toto because he has been allowed to roam free in her garden and has been chasing and harassing her cat. Not only that, Toto has also bitten her. While Dorothy apologises for Toto’s behaviour, there is a suggestion that Toto bit Miss Gulch as she is supposedly an unpleasant and frightening person. There also seems to be little sympathy for Miss Gulch’s cat. Could it be that cats, like Miss Gulch herself, are associated with witches and therefore not deserving of sympathy? Don’t get me wrong, I love Toto and would hate for him to be destroyed, but I am fascinated by the cat / witch link.

At the end of the play, Aunty Em tells Dorothy that Miss Gulch has withdrawn her complaint about Toto after hearing that Dorothy had been injured by the tornado. This is an unusual twist in the play as the fate of both Toto and Miss Gulch is left uncertain in the film. At the end of the film, all the characters from Oz that have a Kansas counterpart make an appearance, except Miss Gulch. Did Miss Gulch perish in the tornado meaning Toto is safe? If she has survived will she return and seize Toto? The answer to these questions is still being debated. So why is there a different ending to the play? It may simply be to add closure to questions left open in the film.

What makes this new ending particularly interesting is that Miss Gulch becomes a sympathetic figure, something she has never been before. I feel this is a reflection of the way Wicked has made us look at the figure of the Wicked Witch. Wicked imbued the Wicked Witch with a back story and, most importantly, a voice. The film Maleficent has also done this.  Hopefully the role of a Wicked Witch is slowly gaining the complexity it deserves.

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When I was thinking of what recipes would symbolise The Wizard Of Oz I was spoiled for choice. After much thought I decided on something green in honour of the Wicked Witch of the West. To add another witchy element, I chose a recipe that utilises a mortar and pestle.

The words “mortar” and “pestle” come from the Latin words “mortarium”and “pistillum” which refer to a vessel and tool used for pounding or grinding. Back when I was doing more formal rituals, I used to make my own incense in my trusty mortar and pestle. I would add herbs, spices and a chunk of frankincense to my mortar and then crush them to a powder with my pestle. I would then light a block of charcoal in my censer and spoon on my aromatic powder. Whether indoors or outdoors, the aroma of seasonal incense would permeate the air and the heady scent of frankincense would embrace me as I enjoyed another night of magic. As my rituals became less formal, I packed up most of my ritual tools. I did, however, keep my mortar and pestle, and after giving it a good clean, I put it to work in the kitchen. One of the recipes I use it for is pesto.

The word “pesto” means to pound or crush and no, it’s not a reference to the Wicked Witch of the East who was crushed by a house! It is in fact a reference to the word “pestle,” which reflects the fact that pesto was originally made with a mortar and pestle. You can make pesto in a blender or food processor, but nothing beats the flavour and texture you get from using a mortar and pestle.

The great thing about pesto is that like a witch creating incense, you can create your own magical concoctions by experimenting with different oils, herbs, nuts and cheeses. So channel your inner witch and get crushing!

Witchy Green Pesto

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Ingredients
1 clove of garlic, sliced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups basil leaves
2 tablespoons pine nuts*
2 tablespoons finely grated aged parmesan
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Instructions
Add the garlic and salt to the mortar.
Using a circular motion, crush the garlic and salt together with the pestle until they become a rough paste.
Add the basil in stages and crush into little bits before adding more basil.
Add the pine nuts and crush, leaving some a little less crushed than others to add texture.
Add the parmesan and gently crush.
Add the olive oil and stir until it reaches your desired consistency.
Pesto is best used immediately but you can store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Just pour a little olive oil over the top to help prevent the basil from turning black.

*You can toast the pine nuts in a non stick frying pan over medium heat. Toss often until they turn light brown. Once toasted, pour pine nuts onto a plate to prevent further cooking. Set aside to cool before using in your pesto.

Act 2 – Shakespeare At The Globe

It’s thanks to Christine from witchlike that I got to experience something very unusual in Melbourne this past summer. In her post Punk Rock Shakespeare, Christine reviewed Will, a new tv series about William Shakespeare. I did a quick internet search to find out when it was screening in Melbourne. What I found was something quite interesting. Apparently Melbourne was going to build a temporary Pop-up Globe Theatre and stage Shakespearean plays! All thoughts of tv series were chased from my mind as I searched frantically for information about this unbelievable theatrical event.

The Globe Theatre was built in London in 1599 by Shakespeare’s playing company, the Lord Chamberlain’s Men. It was destroyed by fire in 1613. A second Globe Theatre was built on the same site in 1614. It was closed in 1642 by the Puritans. A modern reconstruction of the theatre, called Shakespeare’s Globe, opened in 1997 right near the original site. And now The Globe Theatre was coming to Melbourne!

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The first thing I did was go through the list of plays being staged, hoping Macbeth would be one of them. Sadly it wasn’t. The plays on offer were As You Like It, Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing and Othello. I chose Henry V as it promised sword fights, a live canon going off, and blood – lots of blood! There was even a warning that the blood could splatter the audience. This was my play!

My next decision was what ticket to buy. There were three seating groups – Royal, Seated and Groundling. I was tempted with the Royal Rooms which were situated on the stage so you were actually up there with the all the action. They also included a roast chicken hamper. Unfortunately Royal Rooms also came with a Royal Price Tag! My next choice was Groundling which was general admission standing. The joy of being a Groundling is that you are standing right next to the stage, the actors often engage with you and there is a good chance you’ll get splashed with blood! The only problem was I didn’t think I would enjoy standing for an entire play. 

I eventually settled on seats with a good view of the stage. While ordering the tickets I noticed a fifth offering called Around The Globe In 60 Minutes, a specially commissioned show for the Pop-up Globe. As the play was only an hour long, it was the perfect show to go in as a Groundling. Tickets booked I couldn’t wait for the shows to begin.

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As I walked through the gardens of Kings Domain I couldn’t believe that I would soon be stepping into a piece of history. There, standing before me, was a replica of the second Globe Theatre. I was entranced by the Elizabethan structure which stood proud and inviting in the middle of a modern city. I eagerly entered the playhouse and was rewarded with the sight of a stunning roof painted with the sun, moon, stars and the signs of the zodiac. The open area in front of the stage, where we Groundlings would be standing, was open to the elements. Being Melbourne, I was alternately bathed in warm sunshine and chilled by a cool breeze. Behind me were three tiers of covered seating. I would be gracing one of those seats another day. For now my eyes were glued to centre stage for the beginning of my first Shakespearean adventure.

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Around The Globe In 60 Minutes is set in 1643 after the Globe Theatre has been closed by Puritans. William Davenant, William Shakespeare’s godson – rumoured to be his son – comes up with a plan to save the Globe. What ensues is a show filled with bawdy jokes, contemporary references, audience participation, fights, hangings, and blood – lots of blood! Standing in front of the stage and engaging with the actors was an awesome experience. The highlight for me was loudly booing and heckling a Puritan – something I have always wanted to do 🙂

For my second Shakespearean adventure, Henry V,  I was sitting in a seat with a large cheese platter in my lap, and an even larger gin and tonic in my hand. This was a completely different experience to the raucous fun of being a Groundling. Heartily eating and drinking whilst being entertained made me feel like an Elizabethan noble. I clapped, cheered and cried as I was taken on an unforgettable journey by some excellent actors, profound words and incredible special effects. Canons went off and the promised blood was shed and sprayed across the stage and onto the ground.

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We left the theatre in awe, only to be greeted by the sight of King Henry V and one of his “ladies” posing for photos with the crowd. I joined the queue and as I put my arm around Henry I felt as though I was touching royalty. Such is the power of a good play. 

I still haven’t seen the tv series Will, but I’ll always be grateful to Christine for leading me to the incredible experience of the Globe Theatre in Melbourne.

Wickedly Wicked

I missed the musical Wicked when it first came to Melbourne so when it returned I made sure I went. I decided not to read the book the musical is based on so I had no idea what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised!

What a spectacular show! Everything about the production was brilliant. The colours, the lights, the sets, the steampunk iconography, the costumes, the characters, the acting, the songs, the story. I could go on but all I’ll say is if you get a chance, see it.

As blown away as I was by the spectacle, that small part of me that is an academic analyst was analysing everything I was seeing and hearing. Again, I wasn’t disappointed. Fourteen years ago I completed eight years of study – my topic – the image of the witch in film. I haven’t written much on witches since then. Happily, Wicked has ignited that part of me that has been waiting for a witchy spectacle worth writing about.

Warning – Spoiler Alert! If you don’t want to know what happens, stop reading now 🙂

It’s Not Easy Being Green

It’s amazing what will stay with you most. For me it was the political story unfolding. While I expected Wicked to focus on the witches from The Wizard of Oz, I wasn’t expecting such a poignant analysis of politics and government. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, as witches and politics have been partners since the beginning of time.

The figure most affected by the politics of Oz is Elphaba, who is portrayed as an evil and wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz. In Wicked she is wicked, but she is not evil. True evilness in this musical is left to the politicians, the rulers and their willing accomplices.

Elphaba is wicked because she won’t bow down to the power of the Wizard of Oz. She rejects his ideas for Oz and uses her magic to help the people and animals he is trying to oppress. Elphaba believes that animals are equal and is appalled at the political situation erupting in Oz that seeks to disempower animals by caging them and taking away their voice. Basically she challenges the wizard’s rule and authority and for that she is branded not just wicked but EVIL.

It is easy to scapegoat Elphaba as she is already different. Elphaba is born green and as she is the only green child in Oz, she becomes a hated and feared outcast. But the colour green has interesting connotations, not just in Oz, but in our world. Green is the colour of the environment movement and is associated with nature, animals, social justice and mother earth. What better colour for a witch who fights for these issues to be!

Green is an important colour for the wizard too. The wizard lives in the Emerald City where visitors and citizens of Oz wear emerald tinted glasses to view the world through false lenses. And that is the difference between Elphaba and the wizard. Elphaba is green on the outside and the inside. The wizard is just a fake charlatan seeking to control a world he has no real power over. His green credentials and green realm are as fake as his magical powers. And that is the true battle in Oz. The battle for power!

Ironically, Elphaba is born green because she is a melding of two worlds. Her mother is Ozian but her father is human. Elphaba’s real father is not the man who raised her but the man her mother had an affair with, a man with whom she drank a green potion. Elphaba’s father is the Wizard of Oz! But unlike her father, Elphaba has real, powerful magic.

Elphaba is feared not only because of her colour and her politics but also her magical powers. Elphaba is a very powerful witch – perhaps the most powerful in Oz. It is for this reason she is groomed by her tutor Madame Morrible and courted by the wizard. They seek to harness her power to help them continue to rule Oz. The interesting thing is the only people with any true, magical power are women – Elphaba, Madame Morrible and Glinda.

But for me the question has always been “why does Oz have a male, magicless ruler in the first place?” I don’t think it is ever really explained but perhaps it is a reflection on our world where women and power have a very uneasy relationship, particularly in politics! It would appear that the citizens of Oz would rather be ruled by a male figurehead with female power behind the throne rather than a female directly on the throne.

Regardless, at the end of the film, female power triumphs. But it is not Elphaba who ends up ruling Oz but Glinda the Good. Inspired by her best friend Elphaba, Glinda finally realises that she cannot stand the sickening, destructive and deadly machinations of Madame Morrible and the wizard. Glinda refuses to be their pawn. She draws on her own political and magical powers and casts the wizard out and imprisons Madame Morrible. We hope Glinda will be a wise and caring ruler. If she models herself on the Green Witch Elphaba, Oz will be okay.

Living In The Land Of Oz

I live in the land down under, Australia, sometimes called Oz. And while I can’t speak for other countries, there were moments in Wicked that struck home to me personally and politically.

We recently had our first female Prime Minister in Australia and to say that some parts of the country reacted badly is an understatement. For many she was a witch!

Julia Gillard took power from a man, toppling him while he was still leader and then becoming leader herself. An accusation often leveled at witches historically is that they use their evil powers to attempt to bring down rulers and leaders.

She is a redhead, unmarried and childless – attributes that have and would see many women labelled as witches. At one protest march banners were raised proclaiming “Ditch The Witch” complete with witchy caricatures.

Ironically one of the things that infuriated many Australians was that she eventually had to make an alliance with The Greens to hold power. In essence she made a deal with Elphaba. Consequently it wasn’t just the parliament that was hung but our own witchy leader was later (figuratively) hung too.

But the most chilling moment in Wicked is when Elphaba returns home after being declared a renegade. She asks her sister where their father is and is told that he died of shame because of what she has become. Unbelievably this is something that was said on radio about the death of Julia Gillard’s father. One of our more disgusting radio personalities suggested that Gillard’s father might have died of shame because of his daughter’s  political performance. The only people dying of shame were Australian people with a conscience.

Sadly, some of us are still ashamed as the way our government treats some of the most desperate people in the world is the same as the animals were treated in Wicked. We are caging them and taking away their voice. I suppose it’s no surprise that the man who led this movement in Oz originated in our world.

Wicked gave the witches in the Wizard of Oz their voice. They spoke their own truths and gave us a new way to look at them. It is rare for witches to have their own voice, to have their story told through their eyes, but amazingly there is another witch on the horizon who is about to tell her own story and who will finally have her own voice: Maleficent! I am eagerly waiting to hear what she has to say.

witchy cupcake

my wickedly witchy licorice and lime cupcakes

Inspired by my friend Anne Belov’s cat Mehitabel and star of The Panda Chronicles.