Shakespeare 2016 10. Digital performance and reinterpreting the canon: The Wooster Group Hamlet 2007
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During the two-day run, the film was shown four times: two evenings and two matinees. The matinees were aimed at students and the company tried to persuade schools to dismiss the children early so that they could see the film.
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Publicity images from Richard Burton's Hamlet film.
Electronovision was a technology involving a combination of television electronics and film techniques. Hamlet was recorded at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, under the play's normal lighting conditions and over the course of three live performances. The recording required the use of several small cameras placed in the orchestra seats. The feed was sent just outside the theatre into a mobile unit, transferred into film and edited, producing a result resembling a 1960s videotaped broadcast.
After the run, the prints of the show were supposed to be destroyed due to contractual reasons. Two copies survived: one that Richard Burton donated to the BFI; and one discovered in 1988 in Burton's garage by his widow.
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Burton's interview and advertisement.
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Interview transcript from Electronovision's promotion pack. 'Special Open End Interview with Richard Burton'
Horace William Sargent Jr., entertainment impresario and founder of Electronovision, also tried to make arrangements with Sir Laurence Olivier to film his version of Othello the following year in Toronto. (Perhaps this is the reason why the Electronovision pack was found in Olivier's archive here at the British Library. Sargent may have had it sent it to him during the negotiations for the filming, which in the end didn't happen).
Hamlet's 1964 production was directed by Sir John Gielgud and premiered at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre on the 24 April 1964 to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth. The play ran until the 8th of August.
The film opened just over a month after the play's run. Gielgud didn't like the film and he said in The New York Times that it 'wasn't very cinematic and it wasn't theatre either'. He also said he 'deplored the tendency of actors to try to immortalize everything they did'.
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Passing on the torch
The only surviving footage of Sir John Gielgud's Hamlet at the Old Vic in (1944)
Acquisitions / loans suggestions
- Suggestion for display: request to borrow some of the Wooster Group documentation of Hamlet. From what I have seen in The Wooster Group Work Book (2002), they document the creative process of each production with visual materials rather than just text. That includes video, photographs, drawings, storyboards, etc.
- (Audio) Casey Spooner (of Fisherspooner): songs inspired by the text of Hamlet, which he sings to Ophelia. He plays Laertes, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern and Player King.
- American painter and photographer Richard Prince's poster for the production.
(Work in progress from here onwards)
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The Wooster Group symposium organized by LIFT in London (2002) A two-day symposium on the work of the Wooster Group, curated by Adrian Heathfield and Andrew Quick for LIFT. It features all the Wooster Group members including Elizabeth LeCompte, (the company's director), Kate Valk, Scott Shepherd, Ari Fliakos, Willem Dafoe, etc., in discussion with academics and theatre practitioners.
Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Tom Stoppard's Rosencratz and Guildenstern Are Dead (an absurdist play based on Hamlet's courtiers Rosencrantz and Guildenstern): Shakespeare meets Samuel Beckett. Premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 24 August 1966.
British Library recording of the first London run at the National Theatre in 1967.
There are also manuscripts related to the play, which I am investigating from Stoppard’s collection
- Playscript of Hamlet - As Shakespeare Always Wanted it Performed - So He Tells Me by Tom Stoppard / Western Manuscripts / MPS 4752 / First performance at Duke of York's Theatre on 10th December 1990
Possible a precursor to Stoppard’s play?
Play by W. S. Gilbert, (William Schwenck), 1836-1911 (of Gilbert & Sullivan fame): [Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. A tragic episode, in three tableaux, founded on an old Danish legend. [A travesty of Shakespeare's Hamlet.] / London : Samuel French, [1912?] / General Reference Collection C.132.g.60
Title: GILBERT PAPERS. Vol. LXII A (ff. 26). (a) 'The Fairy's Dilemma'; 1904. ff. 1-18;- (b) 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern'; n.d. ff. 19-26.D'Oyly Carte Opera Company: Art. Photographs: Art. Portraits: Actors and actresses in productions of W. S. Gilbert's. / Western Manuscripts / Add MS 49350 A / 1 item
Livecasting and Digital Theatre
Looking at what’s happening in contemporary Britain and internationally with new ways of disseminating theatre.
NT Live programme
The British Library archives the master copies of Digital Theatre live recordings. Access to these recordings is available in the reading rooms.
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Much Ado About Nothing (British Library Digital Theatre collection)
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King Lear (British Library Digital Theatre collection)