A Ginger English King

Something queerly melancholic defines to me the overall mood of Brighton. Those days in particular, when the seagulls yell, protesting under a grey sky because soon it will be raining. Perhaps it is a matter of the ocean’s dim waters, and those ancient white ‘walls of land’, both establishing some sort of distance; one ‘borderland channel’, historically insurmountable, while now badge of fears and uncertainties: ‘will the B-thing happen?’ — everyone has the question floating in their mind, even if anyone talks about it any more.

Possibly nothing is more appropriate than this state of mind, to approach one of the mostly ‘inner life’ packed Shakespearean tales — the not meaningless rumination of a ginger, and very English king; in the purest devotion to that white, green, and blue land that feels like relentlessly distancing from any ideal border of the one who English is not: ’scepter’d isle’, ‘other Eden’, and ‘demi-paradise’, a ‘fortress built by Nature for herself / Against infection’…

Fortunately, a change in spirit happens while getting closer to the actual location of this tiny little gem nestled in the Fringe of a rather hard to define festival — music, art, theatre, circus, dance, movies, literature… ‘too much’, some would say, slightly as some Brightonians are, locals and adopted ones, doing their best to overstate, ending up wearing out. The little jewel in question is an ‘off’ event: Puppet King Richard II is a Pocket Epics production, — and it really is a poem to be treasured in one’s pocket.

Conceived to be set in the space where it occurs, ‘The Cave at ONCA Gallery’, it is actually a one-man-show, impeccably managed by Gregory Gudgeon — yet RSC and other Shakespearean (and not) companies actor, assisted by a tiny bit of a clumsy Lucas Augustine, under the direction of the splendid Linda Marlowe (currently on stage in London), whose touch can be perceived in the almost fashion choices of the colours, echoing Vivienne Westwood’s punk.

The audience awaits for a while at the ground floor of the gallery, — white paper rolls, and coal chalks, to be then invited to descend underground, in a courtyard/cellar. The number of 26 seats makes of the performance an intimate experience, and despite the restricted dimensions, an incredible perspective discloses to the observer through a sequence of small antrums, setting up more of a devotional crypt, than a prison.

The ‘hollow crown’ hangs close to the heraldic seal — a chained deer, strangled almost with the ‘royal garland’. Genuflected at an altar face to the spectators, Richard entertains as a puppeteer in a childlike manner, while fully conscious that his own fate will held betrayal and death. His own toys are rudimentary tools, such as wooden spoons, and a shoe horn, but also real puppets — carved with unbelievable similarity to the real actor, and director by Jitka Davìdkova and Brigitte Dörner, Czech animation and 1960’s kids TV inspired.

Dressed up in a purple shell suit, white chalk on his face — not in a clownish way, though, black gloves, this virtuous improviser directs the action of the betrayal itself — alternating accents, horses hooves, air planes, and the diminishing of his own stature as a king. An invisible mirror, which will manifest just at the very end, is the real ‘transferal’ motif of a power which is imperceptible itself: the more Richard becomes smaller, the more Henry acquires in matter; black, and red, helped by vultures that would recall the ones of Disney’s Robin Hood, wouldn’t it be for a Hitlerian ‘Ride of the Valkyries’.

Nothing from the plot is spared; and the intimacy with the audience turns into something even more persuasive in the ‘second half’, when the 26 chairs are no longer frontally aligned, but disposed against the walls as in a rectangular House of Lords, all accomplices of the betrayal. Black and red are about to kill purple and ginger, so that when the stab comes, and the poetic ‘ascension’ happens, a deep melancholy takes all back to reality. The seagulls too.


KRII Welsh Captain

Pocket Epics Master




The Mysteries of Love

Everyone tells you so – ‘This place is huge!’, but nothing can prepare you for the real dimensions of Kuala Lumpur. Living in KL is a bit like living in a gigantic box of Monopoly. The toy cars, you move them from your smartphone via Grab, and the small local currency, it ends up fast. Getting to this particular location, makes no exception.

For Time Out, KLPac – Kuala Lumpur Performing arts centre is one of the ten ‘must see’ in the Malaysian megalopolis. Formerly a railway warehouse, and a long history of abandonment and restructuring, the building has been impeccably converted since 1995, and currently houses two performance, and nine rehearsal venues.

Faridah Merican and Joe Hasham have been inhabiting the space since then, giving life to the first privately run theatre in Malaysia: The Actor’s Studio @Plaza Putra; and in ten years they have multiplied the cultural offering together with some local partners. Workshops, shows, a small library, conferences, art therapy, orchestra.

The architectural experience is worth a visit. The current billboard, and its three Shakespearean choices, even more. The occasion is a very free adaptation of the Midsummer Night’s Dream in Kelantan dialect, with some lines in Malay-English. Mak Yong Titis Sakti is not new: its debut dates back to 2009, and whilst it has already been included in the Asian Intercultural Shakespeare Archive, it returns as a classic for the local public.

Norzizi Zulkifli, – a woman, a Muslim, a former television actress, winner of numerous awards, brings in her direction some cultural topoi that are worth telling. Typical dance in this fragment of land, the ‘mak yong’ seems to be an exemplary metaphor of a geographical location that holds India and Indonesia together; and nothing begins to happen on stage before a real blessing.

Ritual elements found its history, the passage into the world where the spirits live, that very much resembles to the ‘green space’ imagined by Shakespeare. Especially in this plot. The hands of the dancers, – with the function of a choir, arch themselves in a particularly tiring posture, perhaps to orientate the entrance into that other dimension.

Titis Sakti is a fairytale character, a little fairy and a little flower, silent but acted here, along the various clumsy spells foreseen by the original. The cast, – entirely female, except for the Malay-comedy version of Puck, which is not one but two here, works well. The first part is not easy to follow: completely committed to improvisation, it is fun, though, for the hilarious reactions of the public.

The king of fairies – played by a woman in a silver dress illuminated by a red light, orders the two servants to interfere with the unfortunate guests of the enchanted forest. And some partially understandable segments seem to allude to some maniacal habits of the Malaysians, in particular the almost pathological use of the smartphone. More than in other parts of the world.

The second part is the most Shakespearean, and understandable. The light turns into green again. And the triple, mysterious, nature of love the director is interested in, – the perfect love, the forbidden love (with a very unlucky father chasing his daughter armed with a lantern), and the unrequited love, manifests with almost danced interludes in the form of quarrels, and whiny lamentations.

«To face the truth about love, an enquiry into magic is required. No reason. No common sense. No intellectual needs. Love does not need any justification, since you alone get to deal with the emotions that mysteriously run through your veins, affecting heart pumping, and body vibration. From hatred to love, and from love to hatred, all this involves a magic of some sort».

The eventual result is a musical that is also a therapeutic session, especially for the local women, veiled and not, and expats like me who have chosen Malaysia to investigate the mysteries of the above. Doing it at the end of the world, lost in translation, becomes almost a prayer. And I receive with gratitude the final blessings that, in the white light, thank the spirits of the theatre.



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