“O Romeo Romeo…” – a review of Kenneth Branagh’s Romeo and Juliet

Artcile by Rachael Richardson-Bullock 27.07.16


If you’ve read my streaming theatre article, you’ll know I love Shakespeare! So when my best friend bought tickets for us to watch Kenneth Branagh’s Romeo and Juliet streamed live from The Garrick in the Spa Centre, I could not say no! We were the youngest people in the cinema, but we didn’t care; plus the screen was packed, which made us happy.

Branagh is Shakespearean acting royalty, joining the Royal Shakespeare Company at aged just 23. On stage and screen he has played a number of roles including Hamlet, Henry V and Romeo. This time though, he is directing. Teaming up once again with Lilly James, Richard Madden and Derek Jacobi who Branagh also directed in 2015’s live action Cinderella.

Now, I have a confession to make. I didn’t like Cinderella, despite my huge excitement for it. Visually it was stunning, but unfortunately I didn’t feel a lot of chemistry between James and Madden. Their romance seemed a bit forced, a bit too quiet, a bit unbelievable…yes I’m aware it’s a fairy tale! So I was a bit apprehensive. Perhaps without the restrictions of a children’s story and the U BBFC rating they could blossom together as actors, and that they did!

Before I move onto them, let me first talk about the play itself. I have seen many adaptations so was intrigued to see how Branagh would put his stamp on it. Initially when the cinema attendant told us the play would be screened in black and white, I was disappointed. However, this quickly subsided as it became obvious what Branagh was offering us. This wasn’t Shakespeare, this was an Italian drama, punctuated with much beautifully spoken Italian by actors in 1950s attire and staged as if it was a film noir or silent film. These elements seem random, but when they were thrown together under Branagh’s direction the play truly shined; it was enticing, it was modern and stunning to look at, which is not always a given for Shakespeare.

Though Branagh had announced before the play started that Madden had an ankle injury and would try his best, there was no sign whatsoever of his discomfort or fragility. He was unbelievably relaxed and genuine; I have never seen a Romeo like him. The language rolled off his tongue as if it was all he had ever spoken, his comedic timing was faultless and his passion was heart breaking. I would go so far to say he’s the best Romeo I’ve seen…yes even ahead of Leonardo DiCaprio!

I was concerned about James at first, I’ll be honest. At the party where she meets Romeo, she came across as a little whiny. She is of course meant to be playing a 14 year old, but I’ve never liked the dumb teenager interpretation, for me it spoils the story. However, when she stepped onto the balcony, she was entirely different. She spoke maturely, even with some comedy thrown in, and the chemistry between herself and Madden was electric. As the play went on, became darker and more challenging for Juliet, James excelled. I was immensely impressed.

I sobbed at the end. Madden’s lonely death wasn’t overacted, it was emotional and raw. James’ too, a little rushed perhaps, but still well timed and executed. Branagh did not glamorise their deaths, bringing the tragedy to its rightful conclusion.

Branagh’s real achievement here, for me at least, was that he made this play real to me in a way I have never experienced before. It was new again and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since.

Romeo and Juliet runs until the end of August at The Garrick in London. For information please click here. I’m tempted to go to London myself and see them in the flesh and in colour!

Rachael Richardson-Bullock is a novelist and blogger living in Leamington Spa.

All of Leamington’s a stage

Article by Rachael Richardson- Bullock 27.06.16

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players…”- William Shakespeare, As you Like It.

When most residents of Warwickshire think of a creative and artistic hub, most will immediately think of Stratford-upon-Avon; with its Shakespeare heritage, gorgeous scenery and no end of things to do and get involved with, it is a natural choice.

However, Leamington Spa is its unexpected rival, especially in the summer. Not only is the town delightful with its matching shop fronts and perfect flower displays, but the entire town is the background to a variety of art; whether its plays or music in Jephson Gardens or films in Foundry Wood, there is something for everyone to enjoy.

But, why is this important? Why does this make Leamington so special?

Art interacting with the landscape and visa versa is a rich and magical experience. For example, last month, Leamington Underground Cinema staged two horror films in Foundry Wood, one of which was The Blair Witch Project. Shrouded in darkness and surrounded by trees watching a film based in the woods was as immersive and interactive as artistic experiences go, and this was only achieved by using and appreciating a unique area of the town.

When you live somewhere and walk its streets day in day out, it becomes easy to forget to look around, to not notice the little details; this can be said of life too. To quote Roald Dahl “…those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” But this is where Leamington draws its residents back in, with its art and its beauty, offering the opportunity to its residents to explore and come together.

Jepson Gardens recently saw Heartbreak Productions’ The Tempest played out nearby the river, come rain or shine (makes sense for Prospero to bring about rain I suppose!) and will be back again with a production of Murder on the Terrace. Leamington plays a part here almost as much as the actors involved. Providing a fluid backdrop adds a unique element to each spectator’s experience; whether it’s the rustling of the leaves in the trees carrying the words of Shakespeare away or the smell of the flowers or the distant sound of the sensory garden there is something magical for everyone waiting to be noticed.

More than this, these events inspire the community and local authorities, such as with the rejuvenation of the Leamington Carnival taking place in July, and the investment awarded for works to the Pump Room Gardens. But it doesn’t stop there, with new sculptures cropping up in Jephson’s and Leonardo Da Vinci paying a visit to the Spa Centre, the enjoyment, the creativity and the opportunity to indulge in art is boundless. 
So what’s the message of this article?

Embrace what is around you, as you may find something you weren’t expecting.

For information on events, visit Royal Leamington Spa’s website.

Rachael Richardson-Bullock is a novelist and blogger living in Leamington Spa.

Commissioning Art- The Do’s and Dont’s

Article by Brian Dickinson 11.11.15

Commissioning Bespoke Stained Glass

Myth 1: Stained Glass is just for Church Windows.

When I introduce myself as a stained glass artist, one of the first questions I get asked is “Do you make Church Windows?”

I can understand why people say this, before I became a stained glass artist I would have made the same assumption.  

Church glass is very specialised sector of the stained glass marketplace. Working as #dolittleglass I create unique contemporary stained glass for homes and businesses. Windows make only a small part of my stained glass work. The majority of my creations are portable artworks & lamps, ideal for today’s mobile lifestyle. 

I’m constantly finding new places where stained glass can make a impact. 

Who commissions an artwork?

Myth 2: Bespoke art is just for the Rich or Arty folk.

You don’t have to be a member of the Saatchi family to commission art. Everyday folk like you & me buy and commission art.

SO WHY COMMISSION AN ARTWORK?

In a world where every high street is selling the same stuff, it’s difficult to put your own stamp on your home or workplace. Commissioning an artwork is a great opportunity to create something personal & unique.

Some people treat themselves, others commission work as a special present to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or other landmark.

Often it’s a cost effective way of purchasing art as it avoids the heavy gallery commissions, frequently 30 – 50% of the purchase price.

Working directly with an artist is a fun and rewarding experience. The rest of this article highlights how to get the best out of the relationship. 

What’s involved in commissioning an artwork?

Choosing an Artist
Perhaps the easiest way to choose an artist is to look at their past work. Do you like the style of their work? Do they have the capacity and capability to create what you are looking for?

Another important criteria often forgotten, is the artist themselves. Do they listen to you and take care to understand your needs? Is this someone you can work with and trust? What do their past customers say?

As you are choosing an artist, the artist is also going through a process of vetting you as a client. Good artists may say no to your request.

 

Getting Started

Deciding on a Subject or theme.

How much input does the purchaser need to give? Talking with other artists, this seems to be a difficult question for both the artist and the customer.  

Successful collaborations can take many forms.

a) Agree the general theme and leave the rest to the artist. This requires a lot of trust on both sides. This approach often gives enough freedom for an artist to produce their best work.

b) If you are unsure about a suitable theme. It’s a good idea to spend some time with your chosen artist. A conversation over drinks can home in on a suitable theme. It might be a personal hobby or special interest. Artists a generally very flexible and imaginative. After one discussion the all a family could agree was their favourite colours. This was enough trigger the creative juices.

c) Many artists take inspiration from other images and photographs. This can be a mood board of the type of artworks you like or a single photo to be used as a basis for the commissioned artwork.

How the artwork is to be displayed?

It might seem a bit early to decide how an artwork is to be displayed, but for a medium like glass it’s crucial. Get it wrong and a spectacular artwork can appear bland. Early consideration also helps prevent unexpected costs.

For glass questions like:

• Where will the artwork be displayed? E.g. Against a wall, standalone, in a window….

• Will a frame be required/needed? What material best fits the location?

• Will the artwork need artificial lighting? As a light box or to illuminate.

• How much natural light? 

Timing is an important consideration.

If there is a deadline for the commission, it must be made clear from day one. The creative process can be lengthy, please give your artist enough time to schedule and produce their best work.

Quotation, Payment & Deposits

Once the terms of reference are agreed, it is common practice for the artist to ask for a non-returnable deposit. This is to cover up front costs – materials and payment of third parties (e.g. picture framers). This deposit also is a sign of good faith, showing the customers commitment to the commission.

 

Creating the Artwork

How much is a customer involved in the creative process?

The main objective here is to ensure the customer is going to be delighted by the end result. Whilst avoiding wasting too much time and money going down the wrong path.

There are several ways to involve the customer in the design process:

a). A quick outline design sketch prepared early in the design process gives an opportunity for getting feedback from the customer. For stained glass this is a layout diagram together with design notes showing proposed glass colours. Samples of the glass can help the later.

b). Sometimes a few sketches may be prepared to give the customer a degree of choice.

c). Occasionally an artist might be able to involve a customer directly in the making process. With my stained glass work there are a few steps in the making process where this is possible. Here the customer becomes the artists assistant. This is a great idea if the commission is creating a present for a loved one.

d). Some artworks can take a long time to produce. Here the artist has a choice: Either have a big reveal of the completed artwork; or give regular updates throughout the making process. I prefer the later option as it keeps the customer interested.

e). Excessive customer involvement can be a cause of stress an conflict. This is where the customer constantly changes their requirements, attempts to take artistic control or interferes with the creation process. Trust your chosen artist to deliver.

Unveiling and Handover

At its simplest this is a basic exchange of goods for the agreed fee. With the care taken at the earlier stages, the customer should be delighted with the newly created artwork.

A bit of drama!

Some customers like to have a big reveal for themselves and their friends. This can be a fun way for the hand over. I has the additional benefit of showing the commissioned item to a wider audience. Great publicity for both the customer and the artist. 

Sometimes this exposure can be in a public exhibition at a gallery or other space.

Is that the end of the story?

As the customer you are getting the benefits from a fantastic artwork.

A positive way of expressing this delight, is to prepare a testimonial / written review for the artist. Recommend the artist to your friends, family and wider contacts. This generous spirit will bring its own rewards. 

The artist may also want to use an image of the artwork in their portfolio and publicity material.

Who owns the copyright for the artwork?

In lots of cases this is not an issue. Once the handover is completed that’s the end of the story.

An artist may want to reproduce the artwork to gain extra revenue for their efforts. There is a long history of artists doing this by creating additional versions of their popular artworks. Additionally the image may be reproduced in the form of prints, limited editions and greeting cards.

This opportunity for future revenue may reduce the original commissioning cost.

If you are very sensitive to the uniqueness of the work, you may request and negotiate exclusivity.

Conclusion

Commissioning Art is a Win – Win – Win proposition. 

Go for it.