The World of Commedia dell’Arte

commdanceI love commedia dell’arte, though I don’t know much about the fantastic masked characters. Like most British children, I was introduced to it through seaside Punch and Judy shows. So it was a pleasure to come across this short National Theatre video of an acting class in which their characters, masks, and typical movements are explained.

Surprisingly, the instructor uses the Kaballistic representation of the universe, with the commedia dell’arte characters occupying the nodes. Years ago, in my pagan incarnation, I attempted to come to grips with its philosophy. With little success.

The core of the video, though, is the way she draws out the characters through the use of masks and movement. And for examples, she gives Basil Fawlty and Manuel from Fawlty Towers.

Return of the King – Huzzah!

Richard III

Great news from Leicester that the bones found beneath a car park belong to Richard III, last of the Plantagenet kings. I’m chuffed pink that he’s been found, and hope the discovery breathes new life into the question of whether he was a Bad King, as portrayed by that shameless Tudor propagandist, William Shakespeare. Here’s a video of the dig from the University of Leicester, who did a brilliant job.

I will admit to being somewhat influenced in my historical perspective by this splendid song from Horrible Histories.

According to the news reports, he died a horrible, brutal death, which prompts reflection on the fact that kings and queens, the high and mighty in general, are only human. All that swank and swagger is merely whistling in the dark. This scene from Richard II, says it all. Yes, I know it’s the wrong Richard, but the words are spot on.

Here is Shakespeare’s character assassination, as portrayed by Laurence Olivier in the 1955 film.

And for something completely different, a trailer for the 1995 film, with Ian McKellen in the title role. I want to see this.

Struwwelpeter: Merry Stories and Funny Pictures

Adults had some strange ideas about what children should read in the 19th century. The cautionary tale, with appropriate punishments for transgression of the Christian moral code, served as both a warning and (theoretically) an entertainment. Only a milksop, goody-two-shoes could possibly find them readable. Heinrich Hoffmann (1809-1894) stands head and shoulders above these authors, satirising the genre in full Swiftian mode. The clue’s in the subtitle. Der Struwwelpeter (Shock-Headed Peter) kicks up the punishment dial to 11. Most of his subjects die horribly, or are dreadfully mutilated, for minor infractions of social etiquette. And apparently his book was hugely popular with children, who know a good thing when they see it.

Here’s the introduction, with links to individual poems.

Title Page


Merry Stories And Funny Pictures

Merry Stories and Funny Pictures
When the children have been good When the children have been good,
That is, be it understood,
Good at meal-times, good at play,
Good all night and good all day—
They shall have the pretty things
Merry Christmas always brings.Naughty, romping girls and boys
Tear their clothes and make a noise,
Spoil their pinafores and frocks,
And deserve no Christmas-box.
Such as these shall never look
At this pretty Picture-book.
They shall have the pretty things
Naughty, romping girls and boys

It’s not surprising that The Tiger Lillies, who I saw twice in Seattle, gleefully seized on Shockheaded Peter and created a stage show based on these tales. Here’s a clip.

TED Talks: Simon Stone on what theatre is capable of

A weekly post featuring talks by innovative thinkers, sponsored by TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design). This is what the internet was made for – to allow challenging ideas to escape from their academic ghettoes and hang out in a place where they can talk to each other.

Simon Stone, Australian theatre director, does something quite ambitious here. He attempts to show what theatre is all about by demonstrating what it’s capable of, using one basic scenario played out in different lights, social contexts, background music, and with a varying number of actors on a bare stage. And all in less than ten minutes. A fascinating exercise in the craft of theatre.