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Saturday Review: Julius Caesar at the Donmar Theatre and The Hunger Angel

Thursday 6 December 2012, 16:39

Tom Sutcliffe Tom Sutcliffe Presenter of Saturday Review

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I woke up on Thursday morning to the sound of the theatre director Phyllida Lloyd on the Today programme making what sounded like a rather bureaucratic argument for gender-blind casting in the theatre. European equal rights legislation would make it impossible for a big company like the Royal Shakespeare Company not to have balanced casts, she suggested, and once they had equal numbers of male and female actresses it would be up to directors to solve the problem of how you make the plays work.

It sounded like something that would outrage the Shakespeare traditionalists - a terrifying double-whammy of intrusive EEC legislation and theatrical novelty - but it seemed odd to make the case through work-place regulations, which can easily be side-stepped in the name of art.

As it happened just the night before Lloyd had presented a far more convincing argument - in her all woman production of Julius Caesar at the Donmar Theatre. Halfway through - watching Harriet Walter as Brutus - I’d found myself thinking “one day gender-blind casting is going to be as much of a non-issue as colour-blind casting is now”. It’s slightly startling, in fact, that it’s taken so long. If a woman can be a general in the real world then there’s no reason she can’t be one on stage - unless, perhaps, you want to put on the kind of in-period production you rarely see these days.

As for Lloyd’s Julius Caesar I’m still making my mind up, as was Miranda Sawyer when I said goodnight to her. It’s that kind of production I think, which means I’m looking forward to our discussion this week.

The other guests this week, incidentally, are Cahal Dallat and Gillian Slovo - and, as well as issues of Shakespearean casting we’re going to be talking about a novel by the Nobel Prize winning German writer Herta Muller, The Hunger Angel, which tells the story of a young German boy interned in a Soviet labour camp and the Royal Academy’s exhibition Constable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape.

The other two items this week are Martin McDonagh’s film Seven Psychopaths and Victoria Wood’s drama about the pianist Joyce Hatto, whose late-flourishing career turned out to be the result of a quite a bit of unacknowledged borrowing from other recordings.

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      Comment number 1.

      How many different accents do these women have? Do they all have that blanket 'I am acting' accent? Only surpassed in blandness by the ' I am reading poetry' accent and tone.
      An Irish friend of mine was recently told by an agent that they 'already have an Irish actor and don't need another one'. Rather racist to my mind never mind narrow minded.

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      Comment number 2.

      I couldn't seriously disagree with the comments expressed in the programme regarding the RA's new exhibition 'Constable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape.' What I would like to say, however, is a little about the hang. Too many of the prints are hung too high to examine in detail; Salvator Rosa’s etching ‘The Rescue of the Infant Oedipus’ is hung next to a door so that you can only examine it if you don’t mind moving every few seconds to let other people through the door (Rosa is not someone to spend only 4 seconds in front of); and Mola’s oil ‘Landscape with Christ and Two Angels’ in the second room is extremely badly lit. Whilst it may be the case that there simply isn't enough room to hang everything at eye level there seems little point in hanging prints so high that all you can do is look at them and say "Nice picture". There is no encouragement to gain a true appreciation of the effort that has gone into creating these works. However, otherwise it's a nice exhibition and a treat to see Constable's oil sketches (amongst other things).

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      Comment number 3.

      Just a general comment to say how much I enjoy the show. Highlight of my podcast week here in Australia. Just wondering also whether either the new Zadie Smith or the JK Rowling were going to be reviewed at any point. Would be interested to hear some views on these...

    • rate this

      Comment number 4.

      Is this the main blog that Tom mentioned in the show? If so, are the producers going to read these comments and provide feedback?

      Just a couple of questions/pointers:

      i) Is there any way that this show's blog can be separated from the Radio 4/4 Extra feed? I want to be updated with posts about this show, not every show (I subscribed in Google Reader, but that opens the floodgates to every post on the R4/Xtra blog by default).

      ii) As an expat, this show is a cultural lifeline and one of the things I miss about the UK is the theatre. But for listeners it would help not simply to have such a brief description about the context and the USP, but a little more description of the specifics of the staging, including how actors are costumed and physically move, before the group discussion proper. Just a thought.

      iii) Love the film reviews - you've often made me re-evaluate a film based on a critical consensus elsewhere, which is a good thing. The discussion of Seven Psychopaths in particular has made me want to see it (although In Bruges is one of my favourite films).

      iv) Is there some way you can flag up future items on the blog ahead of time? And maybe use the blog to explain the selection process? I think this would make it more transparent and also invite audience comments that could help shape the selection process and subsequent discussion. For example, I've just seen Wreck-it Ralph here in the US, and the thoughts of Bidisha or Miranda Sawyer would be far more insightful than other contributors (although it would be fascinating to hear John Storey, whose book The Intellectuals and the Masses left a deep impression...)

    • rate this

      Comment number 5.

      Hi marcopolomint... I’m the producer of “Saturday Review” and I’m delighted that the programme’s a cultural lifeline! Thanks for the questions. Tom certainly will be flagging up some of the films, plays, books etc we’ll be covering a few days before the programme goes out. When we choose what to cover, we look for the items that have a buzz around them and are the main cultural events of that week, but also some more unexpected items that have taken our attention and we think will make a great discussion. We’d love you to suggest items to cover especially if you’ve seen films or read books before they arrive in the UK – and we’ll look out for Wreck-It Ralph now (it opens here in February). On whether the blog can be separated from the Radio 4 feed… I'm afraid for the usual boring technical reasons the answer is no - apologies. But do keep listening and sending your comments and thanks for the feedback. Sarah


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