023 – Footnotes Volume 2
This episode is a collection of Footnotes on the plays that we’ve talked about in the past ten episodes. During the course of my researches and conversations with my guests there is all sorts of material that fails to reach the final podcasts, either because we simply didn’t have time to talk about it during the recording, or it was too trivial or too much of a digression to fit into the flow of our conversation. I felt after our very first episode that it would be a shame to leave these facts and observations on the cutting room floor, so I started publishing these Footnotes on the website to accompany each episode.
This episode is a selection of Footnote highlights strung together; a smorgasbord of titbits of information and more extended exploration of specific aspects of each of the past 10 plays we’ve covered. Examples include:
- Arthur Miller’s real-life source for the character of Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman
- The horror of the Zong massacre of 1781 that inspired JMW Turner and Winsome Pinnock in Rockets and Blue Lights
- The disappearing set in Florian Zeller’s The Father
- How the Senate Committee hearings into the appointment of Supreme Court judge Clarence Thomas in 1991 sparked David Mamet to return to finish writing Oleanna
- Samples of the vivid Metaphysical poetry in The Duchess of Malfi
- Quantum mechanics metaphors in Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen
- What do comets signify in The Welkin?
- “Martha and I are merely exercising…what’s left of our wits” – George and Martha’s epic battle in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf
- How Tennessee Williams creates his ‘sculptural drama’ with light in The Glass Menagerie
- “Parenting is empathy” – a lesson to learn in Samuel Bailey’s Shook
And much much more… A compendium of dramatic intelligence befitting of the best kind of Footnote.
Note: this episode contains strong language.
The dramatic tragedy of a wife who murders her own two sons in a desperate act of grief and revenge remains as disturbing and deeply moving as when it was written nearly 2,500 years ago. Medea by Euripides is timeless not only because of our fascination with Medea’s horrific crime, but for the poetry of its language, and its unflinching portrayal of a woman all but powerless in a patriarchal world. The play was recently revived at the National Theatre with a stunning performance by Helen McCrory in the title role, which is now available to view on the National Theatre at Home. I’m joined by renowned classical scholar Edith Hall to explore our enduring fascination with Medea.
The main characters in Nina Raine’s play Consent are barristers contesting a brutal rape case. As the case unfolds the lawyers’ marriages come unravelled and they themselves cross the line of honour or even of the law. Consent explores some of the most charged issues of our time: the sources of sexual betrayal and violence, the ambiguities of consent, and the failings of the justice system to account proportionally or sensitively with cases of sexual abuse. I am delighted and honoured to be joined in this episode by the author of Consent, Nina Raine, and by actor Adam James, who appeared in the National Theatre production in the role of Jake.
Samuel Bailey’s play Shook is set in a young offenders institution, where three young men are taking an unlikely vocational class in parenting skills. The three teenagers are, or are about to be, fathers. Shook won the 2019 Papatango New Writing Prize, and is a funny, sharp, and deeply moving play. I’m delighted to be joined by the play’s author Sam Bailey and by the director of the debut production, Papatango Artistic Director, George Turvey.
Before the theatres went dark this month I was lucky enough to see Caryl Churchill’s A Number at the Bridge, and spend more than seven hours in thrall to Robert Lepage’s Seven Streams of the River Ota at the National. Plus, some thoughts on what we miss when there is no theatre.
Another great mix of shows this month, from Tom Stoppard’s new play, to Ibsen, Beckett and newer plays in smaller London venues.
The January roundup included both classic plays, such as The Duchess of Malfi, Uncle Vanya and Three Sisters, as well as recent musicals Dear Evan Hansen and Girl from the North Country …