Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Lenny Henry: Finding Shakespeare

I'm pretty terrible at taping things and then not watching them, filling up my hard drive recorder. I always mean to watch them soon. But sometimes I eventually get to watching things while working through the ironing pile. Today I watched Lenny Henry: Finding Shakespeare. I didn't really know anything about this documentary and I think it was at least a year ago that I taped it. 

Lenny Henry is famous to me for being a comedian and previously married to Dawn French. I hadn't realised that in more recent times he had become a Shakespearian actor. This was somewhat surprising to Lenny himself too. 
It's incredible that I'm doing this play because for most of my life I've kept well away from Shakespeare. Like many of us I thought I wasn't clever enough to understand it. 
Finding Shakespeare was filmed in the leadup to a worldwide broadcast of The Comedy of Errors with Lenny in the lead role. Lenny shows us his childhood home and talks about his Jamaican working class roots.
"Shakespeare's nothing to do with us is it?"
Which is a very familiar feeling for many of us I think. He describes his school experience of reading Romeo and Juliet  as "a whole class of disinterested kids reading from this old, tattered book". Which is very much like my remembrance of Henry IV Part One. 
But where does this mental block about Shakespeare come from? And what are missing out on if we don't get past it?
I was shocked to hear Barrie Rutter of the Northern Broadsides Theatre say
the iambic pentameter, although it's poetry, is based on the heartbeat 
Wow. Really? There's just so much I don't know about poetry.
But today his 400 year old language stops most of us being able to relate to his work. 
Lenny later visits rapper Akala who "believes we can still connect with Shakespeare if we can just get over the fear of the language." Akala has even founded the Hip-Hop Shakespeare Theatre Company. He plays a great game of quotes called "Hip Hop or Shakespeare?"

I still don't feel clever enough to understand Shakespeare most of the time. I'm still working on it though. I do try and go to a Bell Shakespeare production each year. I saw Othello last year, and was completely shocked by it. Angered. And saddened. It's still very relevant. Jackie French has a new series that she's doing with Shakespeare retellings. I read I am Juliet back in 2015 (see my review) and have more sitting in the TBR. 

You can watch Lenny Henry: Finding Shakespeare on Vimeo if you need to get your ironing done too.

1 comment:

Sue Bursztynski said...

You really don't need to be clever. Remember, a lot of words and expressions we still use today, without even thinking about them, were first found in Shakespeare. (Have you ever been eaten out of house and home, for example? Yep. Shakespeare). You need to get over the idea that it's intellectual stuff. Shakespeare would have been horrified to think his plays were being studied. He was the sort of guy you could have a beer with at the pub. His plays were strictly commercial. The Bell company is very good. I've been going since they began.