Star-gazing

I have, over the years, been sufficiently fortunate to have seen several actors play King Lear on the stage. Of these, the least impressive by some margin was the performance given by Sir Ian McKellen. This is not, I hasten to add, because Sir Ian is not an actor of quality: far from it. Rather, it is because not everyone can excel equally well at everything, and, on the evidence of his performance, Lear appears not to be a role suited to his particular qualities. However, his performance was the most difficult for which to obtain tickets; and his performance was the only one that received a standing ovation. The reason for this is not hard to discern: unlike some of the actors whom I have seen excel as Lear – Timothy West, Brian Cox, John Wood, Julian Glover – Sir Ian McKellen is a movie star.

One may see evidence of such “star gazing” in other fields as well. Last Friday evening, somewhat jet-lagged after flying back from Tokyo, I found myself flat out on the settee watching the tennis from Wimbledon. Roger Federer, one of the greatest artists of the game (or indeed of any other game) and rightly admired for being so, was having a bit of a tough time against the unfancied Julien Benneteau. Federer did come through in the end, but Benneteau played some superb tennis, and came close to winning. And yet, while every point won by Federer was greeted by the crowd with enthusiastic cheers and applause, major points won by Benneteau were greeted with distinctly audible groans. And I couldn’t help wondering: were those groaning at Benneteau winning points – often with superlative skill – really tennis enthusiasts? Or were they, like those who gave a standing ovation to Ian McKellen’s lacklustre performance, merely “star-gazers”?

There are many examples of this kind of thing. I have seen people who couldn’t distinguish a square cut from an off-drive swoon at the mention of Sachin Tendulkar. In the Louvre, people walk past without so much as a glance some of the very greatest masterpieces of the human imagination just to have a quick look at the star of the gallery, the Mona Lisa. Prestigious football teams with prestigious players attract large worldwide viewing figures, whereas less-fancied teams who may have reached the later stages of competitions on their own merits spell disaster to sponsors and advertisers. And so on. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that what really matters is not so much love of the sport, or of the art, but, rather, to participate in some way in the prestige that goes with being a “star”.

But before I behold the mote in my brother’s eye (whatever a mote may be), I suppose I should consider the mote in my own. Am I not myself guilty of this sort of thing, at least to some extent, when I find myself reading something such as Barnaby Rudge, say – a mediocre novel at best, and considerably less than mediocre at worst – simply because it is written by Dickens? There are, after all, a great many novels of far greater quality by other writers that I could be reading instead. What is the point of my reading through every single play by Shakespeare? Shakespeare when not at his best is not, after all, easily distinguishable from a host of other writers of his time: why then do I waste my time with the likes of King John or with Pericles? If it is only because they have the magic name of Shakespeare attached to them, am I not every bit as much a star-gazer as anyone else?

I think I can answer this up to a point. I can say that I recognize Barnaby Rudge, despite having the illustrious name of Dickens attached to it, as not a work of any great literary quality; I can recognize that King John is an unremarkable play, and that Pericles is possibly a bad play; and that I read these works not for their inherent merit, but for any light that they may cast on the much greater works written by these authors; that peaks such as Hamlet or Great Expectations can only be properly appreciated once one is aware of the plains from which they arise; and so on. But none of this really refutes the charge of star-gazing: the truth is that if King John or Barnaby Rudge did not have attached to them the magic names of Shakespeare or of Dickens, I wouldn’t have been bothering with them. In short, I, too, am a star-gazer; I, too, am happy to praise the exquisite artistry of Sachin Tendulkar without possessing anything like a full understanding of the finer points of cricket.

So does this make me more tolerant of those who gave Sir Ian’s performance of Lear a standing ovation? Of those who groaned at points won by Benneteau? Sadly, no. This is possibly a point where Matthew and Luke may have got it a bit wrong: considering the mote in one’s own eye does not incline one to be more tolerant of the mote in one’s brother’s: if anything, it has quite the opposite effect. What strange creatures we all are!

29 responses to this post.

  1. I was lucky enough to see McKellen in “The Dance of Death” where he was a phenomenon, but what a different part than Lear, what a different play.

    I suppose Barnaby Rudge and Pericles also have a cultural Matterhorn-climbing appeal. If I have not read King John I have not read every Shakespeare play, which feat has a certain cultural weight, even though the view from a couple hundred meters below the summit is also darn good and it is quite an achievement to get even there. But then my name is not in the book in the tin box up on the top, so up i go. At least reading King John never killed anyone, or if it did I’d like to hear the story.

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    • I saw that production of the dance of death also. You really need to see Strindberg on stage to appreciate fully what a loony he was! But yes, agreed – Ian McKellen & Frances de la Tour were both exceptional in that play. i have seen some very fine performances from McKellen in other roles, but Lear really wasn’t one of them!

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  2. Surely for your analogy to work, you need not merely to praise Barnaby Rudge, blind to its faults, simply because it’s by Dickens, but at the same time disparage some other work by a lesser known writer which actually has some merit – neither of which you are in fact doing.

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    • Yes, I agree, the analogy doesn’t hold. But it does worry me, though, all the same: I find myself sifting through something like, say, All’s Well That Ends Well looking for elements of greatness in it, searching out nuggets that may possibly foreshadow later and greater achievements, knowing full well that I wouldn’t have bothered looking for anything in I at all had it been written by someone else. I can’t help worrying that this, too, is a form of star-gazing. But perhaps I am being too nice in my scruples.

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  3. Posted by Evie on July 3, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    To be strictly accurate, you look at the beam in your own eye rather than the mote in your neighbour’s! But biblical accuracy apart, I think the Federer/Benneteau thing is a slightly different example: sport inevitably engenders partisanship. I want Federer to win, so I groan when his opponent wins a point, regardless of how well the opponent plays, because it makes it harder for my hero to win. At the end of the match, there is pretty much always applause for the opponent too, but during play, you want your man to win. It isn’t quite the same in the theatre, though novels may come somewhere between the two – we have favourite authors, and are reluctant to admit when they produce substandard work.

    But you are not stargazing – you read Barnaby Rudge because you admire Dickens, and you read it with discernment. What annoyed me so much about the response to David Tennant’s Hamlet is that those who raved about him in the role did so with so little real discernment – that is stargazing – people went because he was in it, and loved it because he was Hamlet. I read/listened to very few Tennant fans raving about it who actually analysed his performance in any detail.

    (I find Ian McKellen one of the most overrated of actors – he often seems to me to overact, and always seems aware of himself when he is acting – a bit hammy. Though he as OK as Gandalf. This, however, has nothing to do with your post!)

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    • Yes, indeed – I knew I should have looked up that biblical quote before alluding to it: it’s a mote in one’s brother’s eye, but a beam in one’s own, both in Matthew and in Luke. Mea culpa. A mote it is to trouble the mind’s eye. (I think I am more at home with Shakespearean quotes than i am with Biblical! :) )

      I agree that sport does engender a partisanship: my own preferred sport, football, is the most notoriously tribal of them all. But even in football, i have witnessed instances of good play by the opposing team being appreciated. In cricket, it is still the practice to applaud fine shots, or a century, even if scored by an opponent. (At least, it still was the last time I was at a Test match: if that is no longer the case, then that is much to be regretted.) I would like to think of tennis as a somewhat more civilised sport than football: whatever one’s personal affiliations, and whatever one’s reactions in the privacy of one own living room in front of the television set, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Benneteau: as if it weren’t hard enough being up against possibly the best player the sport has ever seen, his fine attempts were greeted by the crowd with dismay rather than with appreciation; and I felt it to be a trifle ungenerous, to say the least. You’ll probably hate me for saying this, but the less than generous reactions of the crowd led me to supporting Benneteau by the end!

      I have seen some very fine performances from McKellen. His Macbeth (in an RSC production from the 1970s with Judi Dench, available on DVD) is still the best Macbeth I have come across; his performance in Strindberg’s “The Dance of Death” (which Amateur Reader refers to above) was spectacularly good; and, when he played Kent in National Theatre production of King Lear (with Brian Cox stunningly good in th etitle role), I was quite astounded by how much he made out of what is usually a thankless part: i had never realised before there was so much in that character! But i was very, very disappointed with his Lear – especially because, i think, I had been expecting so much.

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  4. Posted by Caro on July 3, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    I find it hard to understand why people support the (generally) stronger player in a sport, being someone who supports the underdog and coming from a country where the underdog is generally supported.

    But I think exactly the opposite to you re the reasons for this, Himadri. I can support the underdog because I don’t care enough about the sport; people who do care, who do follow it carefully, want the best players to play in the finals. They support Federer and Nadal because they want those marvellous final matches between two evenly matched people. It’s not because Federer is a known star they support him; it’s because they know he always plays his best, his best is superb, and it will bring great games further down the track. They can’t be sure about this with a less-known player, who may play very well one or two matches, but folds later.

    The other thing that Roger Federer seems to be such a gracious person, whether he wins or loses, manages to talk about games sincerely without resorting to cliches much, and yet doesn’t put on any histrionics. He just plays great tennis, and I think that is what genuine tennis lovers like.

    Even I, always preferring the non-favourite to win, find it very hard not to be wishing Federer well. (And Rafael Nadal – we are blessed at the moment with very nice male tennis stars – though someone told me recently that the last 16 or so slams have been won by the same three players. This is not a blessing for me. I loike the randomness of present-day golf!)

    As regards David Tennant, Evie, I would like anything he is in because he is so beautiful and talks with such a lovely accent. Very shallow, yes, but that’s the way I am! But I suspect he was praised for his performance in Hamlet because it was good, not just because he was a star. Have you liked anything he was in?

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    • Hello Caro, there are very good reasons, I agree, for supporting Federer: most of us love to cheer on sportsmen who display artistry, and, as you say, Federer comes across as a gracious person. But however much one supports a certain player, not to appreciate good tennis coming from someone else, and, indeed, openly showing disdain for such, does seem to me ungracious, and a consequence of a certain brand of stargazing.

      I only saw David Tenant’s Hamlet when it was broadcast on television. Those who have seen the performance on stage tell me that the television broadcast did not capture it very well; but judging from the broadcast alone, it seemed to me unremarkable. Not bad, as such, but nothing remarakable either. Had Tenant not been so famous for other reasons, there would have been no fuss about it. Of course, you can say that my appraisal of Tenant’s performance is just that – my own, personal appraisal, and that others may have had entirely valid reasons for applauding it. Sure. But at the same time as this production played in London to packed houses, there was another production of Hamlet directed by Jonathan Miller playing in Bristol, but with relatively little-known actors: from all the reciews I read, it was a remarkably intelligent interpretation of the play. However, when Miller wanted to bring the production to London to give it a wider exposure, the accountants told him that it wasn’t financially viable, as it couldn’t hope to compete with the David Tenant production that was currently playing. I do find that sad.

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      • Posted by Caro on July 4, 2012 at 9:03 pm

        Some trivial comments: I sometimes have the opposite problem with stars in productions. Not that their performance is poor or lesser than someone else’s might have been, but that their very stardom means the production suffers from that focus. I always wonder why stars are chosen for some parts when a lesser-known actor would bring out the part more. I remember watching The Duchess and all I saw the whole time was Keira Knightley. I don’t have any beef with Keira Knightley as an actress – I have enjoyed her in various parts, but I couldn’t “see” the Duchess of Devonshire throughout this, just Keira. It contrasts (lots of things contrast) with the care the director or whoever took to case Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. They didn’t take the first star they thought of; they sought the world for the right person, and made a star of her. And when I watched Dear Frankie (a little Scottish film) I remember wondering why the male actor in that, who was quite lovely, wasn’t on the same stature as some other stars.
        On the other hand stardom is often because of a deserved ability. I read once of an actor who had gone through drama school with Timothy Spall and he said his abilities just shone through well above everyone else’s.

        As regards the tennis, I didn’t watch the game but I have never seen people show disdain for anyone at Wimbledom. They always clap politely even when they have an obvious preference. (They might occasionally be uncertain about Serena Williams – a tennis player I like very much for her tennis strength – and her lovely figure)

        I am having trouble – unusually – wanting too many people to win the men’s draw. Mostly I don’t care – same old, same old – but this time if Roger Federer wins there will apparently be some windfall from a bet willed to a charity, I do want Andy Murray to win to shut up the British media (not that anything ever does that), and I like Jo-Wilfred Tsonga for his attractive demeanour. Djokovic might be great, but I won’t be sad to see him lose (which usually is close to a guarantee that someone will win). Tennis is on in the middle of the night here, so I probably won’t see much more than the highlights.

        Cheers, not a star-struck Caro, but a relatively superficial one.

      • Hello Caro, I am not really a great tennis-watcher myself: I do enjoy watching skilful tennis (and it’s not star-gazing at all, I think, to say that Federer is usually a good bet for providing that), but it’s not really something I tend to go out of my way to watch: I only found myself watching it last Friday because I was too jetlagged to do anything else! And it did strike me that the spectators were being less than generous to his opponent. Hence my comments.

        On the matter of stars in film and theatre – there are many reasons why people become stars, of course. Ability is certainly amongst them: I don’t think too many people will disagree with the contention that Meryl Streep, say, or Antony Hopkins, are supremely good at what they do (although it doesn’t follow that they will always excel in everything they do). But cinema (and popular music) are areas where it is possible become stars without much in the way of talent: good looks, or personal charisma, or some combination of the two, can count for more than talent in these matters. And stars will always get film offers (or theatre offers) because they boost audience figures: the public enjoys seeing them. I do not state this as a reproach, for, as Mark says, liking stars is a feature we all share to a greater or lesser extent. The question that I think I am narrowing in on is, I think, to what extent our critical judgement may be impaired by our stargazing proclivities; and, related to that, to what extent artistic integrity can be or is compromised by pandering to our stargazing.

        We must beware of inverted snobbery as well, of course: there are many who are stars, and who are, nonetheless, talented. (I have mentioned Ralph Fiennes’ superb performance of Ibsen’s Brand; and I certainly wish I had seen McKellen’s performance of RichardIII, which Guy in another commentdescribes as “electrifying”.) Prejudices either one way or the other really can inhibit our judgement. And there, I think, is the rub.

  5. I am not sure that the issue here is one of analogies, but rather of a family of responses — a family that, you will not be surprised, I would class as necessary sentiments — that is to say a kind of everyday sentimentality of which no one is immune. To like a sports star, a writer, an artist, etc. is a kind of sentimentality — and this is true no matter how deeply one has thought about, analyzed or becomeexpert at the performance in question. Liking is an emotion, a comfortable, easy emotion that sits in our laps snuggly and coos sweetly to something in each of us that demands a little cooing now and then.

    Your essay, it seems to me, is rather true to the spirit of Montaigne — an exploration, not a logical cataloguing — the operative mode is associative, but no in the way of the rather tedious analogies we mistake for pure logic. Thus I have no problem with the notion that the star-gazing of the Federer fans bears sufficient similarity to the desire to read all of Shakespeare or all of Dickens.

    To know that one inhabits a bit of sentiment is not a bad thing. The hidden cruelty of the booers may be sentiment of a darker type, but liking an actor because the actor is a star is, in itself, well, we all do that. And yet… that, of course, is the and yet of your essay. If I know I inhabit a normal human sentiment, do I beat myself up out of some desire to be that more than (less than) human we call an intellectual, even knowing that my sentiment, as a result, will do what sentiment always does in such cases — go underground and thus plague my unconscious in ways I am at a loss to understand?

    Alternatively, I can, as you have done here, accept the sentimentality, recognize that it might lead me astray, that it is a bias I need to learn to be at home with — because to lose it entirely would be to lose something even more important — my humanity (again, without actually losing the sentiment which, as I pointed out, simply goes underground).

    But then comes your second question, do I continue, knowing my own sentiment, to critique that in others which I own in myself? I take a middle ground here. The booing of Betteneau I don’t quite forgive — competitive sports or not, it is tacky. Giving Ian McKellen a standing ovation — that I take as an informal act with little real consequence, and it is certainly a much honored part of the bonhomie of the theatre (perhaps the booing is part of the bonhomie of the sports field, but that does not make it any less tacky in my eyes — perhaps that is my own mote or beam).

    The critic who is unable to distinguish slavish praise for a favorite from good criticism — that we all, I think, would find reprehensible. And I see only a small difference between this and the critic who treats a performer as always horrendous and shows no willingness to adjust to the performance under consideration or the judgments of others whose critical power are recognizable. Indeed, the nay-sayers are probably worse, for the nay-sayer tends to be those who love the bully-pulpit of the internet (or whatever the medium happens to be) and are, to a large degree really talking bout themselves. These are the intellectuals who hid their humanity away when they decided to scourge themselves and drive out that popular poison sentimentality — such individuals, I am sure, have a special place in Erasmus’ parade of folly.

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    • Hello Mark,

      Well – if you’re going to classify even an essay so ill thought-out as this with Montaigne, how could I possibly complain? But, ill thought-out or otherwise, I was, i think, being exploratory rather than declamatory: there is certainly about the whole thing that – as Columbo might say – that bothers me, and I was trying to get to the bottom of this. It does bother me that, to varying degrees and in different context, we can so easily allow our allegience to a specfic personality – no matter how justified or otherwise that allegience may be – inhibit our critical judgement. My critical reading of Barnaby Rudge may not be quite on a par with unthinking applause, but my willingness to spend time and effort on it, and to look for things I wouldn’t have bothered looking for in a similar work by another writer, perhaps may not be so far removed. The reactions, as you say, belong to the same family.

      First, a word about the tennis. Benneteau wasn’t booed: that certainly would have been most reprehensible. But the failure to express admiration or even appreciation for his skills; and the open dismay expressed at his playing well; did strike me, and continue to strike me, as ungenerous, and, once again, seemed related to that family of reactions that we may class as “stargazing”.

      And yes, I take your point that an element of “stargazing” is common to us all, and is among teh aspects that make us human. I don’t know that it is quite as harmless as you suggest. In my answer to Caro above, I highlighted the case of a very fine production of Hamlet that theatre audiences in Bristol were fortunate enough to see, but which could not come to London because the accountants and he PR people felt it couldn’t compete with the star appeal of a rival production. Of course, i do not mean to suggest that London is the only centre of excellence that matters, and that Bristol is negligible in comparison: however, what was, to judge from critical reactions, a better and more interesting performance became obscured by a rival performance purely on the grounds of star appeal. The David Tenant/Patrick Stewart Hamlet is now available on DVD, and has been widely seen: the Bristol performance is remembered only by those few fortunate enough to have seen it in Bristol, and is otherwise vanished even from memory.And that’s the problem. Once theatre companies figure out that a production featuring a star will be a success more or less independent of the quality of performance, artistic integrity is bound to suffer.

      Am I making too much of this? Perhaps I am – but it worries me,

      (The best Hamlet I’ve seen on stage, by the way, was Stephen Dillane in a production nearly 20 years ago. When I saw it, the theatre was half empty.)

      I do not mean to suggest, by the way, that a star performance will necessarily be bad: that is just silly. I remember, for instance, seeing a superb performance by Ralph Fiennes in that very great play byy Ibsen, Brand. And yet, I remember a sense of dismay when I overheard a snippet of conversation on leaving the auditorium; “Fiennes was terrific … shame about the play, though…”I really cannot believe that stargazing of this kind can be healthy, or even harmless.

      We live nowadays in an environment in which mere opinion is seen to carry just as much weight as critical judgement; and, while accepting thatthere always had been stars (in Shakespearean theatre as much as anywhere else) we have perhaps never been quite so much in thrall to celebrity culture as we are now. Teh consequences of this combination do cause me to worry. But what worries me most is the extent to which I may myself, even perhaps unknowingly, exhibit elements of this.

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      • Himadri,

        I would say the level of response you are receiving to this essay might well suggest that this is a very significant issue. As you say, it does seem to speak to something in our age. If I may, I am seeing several related branches here:

        1) Our responses quite obviously must vary based on our own levels of expertise and familiarity. I once saw Frank Findlay in Macbeth. This would have been in the 70s, in a small traveling company. So poor is my own experience of live theatre that this is my one experience with a “star” performance. I thought he was brilliant, but I have this sneaking feeling that I thought that only because i believed it was what I was supposed to think. To this day I cannot remember much at all about the performance — and some part of me suggests that even then I thought the perfromance was a little rote. But I knew so little about the theatre and Shakespeare and Macbeth that my judgment was (and, to be honest, is) of little account — but I had a jolly good time. I think this is the point your friend Brian Joseph just made. Not a counter to your position, but an honest admission from those of us who do not have your expertise.

        2) Second, I think you are right that I have underestimated the impact of the star-gazing, but while I think that impact may vary based on the cultural value that a given society at a given point in time offers in terms of defference to the expert, I suspect that the ill effects of this star gazing may, to some extent, be always with us. But the matter of the degree to which it is with us, may be the real question you are asking. Can we find a better balance in how we perceive this relationship between stars and critical judgment within the overall whole of our cultural perspective? Are we, today, too obsessed with stars? I would say the answer to both is yes, but how do we change this tendency, or is it one of those tendencies that allows us only to watch from the sidelines, hoping that the cumulative effect of good criticism may alter the situation over time? Again, I would suspect a middle gorund here: we do what we can as members of the society, even knowing that our little is but a little — and yet over time some change is bound to occur — perhaps for the better, perhaps not.

        3) The Montaigne complement was not given lightly. I think that the mode you adopt for your explorations is an important one. It is not as common as, perhaps, it should be. The self-doubt that holds you back can be contrasted with what today is so often, particularly among the blogging gentry, a series of rather hammer-like, un-nuanced conclusions; your style is something you have, I believe, a right to be proud of, but a responsibility (for the nature of the style suggests a necessary dubiety) to be skeptical of. I have just picked up a selection of the writings of Jacques Barazun who worked alongside Lionel Trilling at Colombia University developing a mode of very liberal (in the liberal arts sense of that word) cultural criticism — one that had its roots in Montaigne; I have just started his little essay on scholarly criticism in which he bemoans the absence of a true spirit of criticism in the overly specialized work of modern scholars who are more concerned with getting it “right” than with exploring the edges and doubts and awkward (one of my favorite words, as you know) folds of that active thought that should fascinate us because we know that it does not end when the pen is lifted from the page. If such a mode were more common, I suspect that it might serve at least as someting of an amelioration of the worst excesses of star gazing — even if it should be quite unlikely to put an end to it.

      • Hello Mark, the default mode of discussion tends sadly to be invariably confrontational: when one makes a point, one feels conpelled as a matter of personal honour to stand by it, even when one has realised how weak it is. I look over some of the stuff I have written in some earlier posts, and find myself squirming with embarrassment!

        Brian Joseph’s point in his post is an excellent point, and is certainly well taken. My own introduction to Shakespeare was seeing Timothy West play Lear at the Edinburgh Festival when I was 11: I was so excited, I could not get to sleep that night; and when Christmas came round, I asked my parent for a Complete Works of Shakespeare (I still have the book). Of course, I did not know enough about Shakespeare to judge the quality of the performance (although I have seen Timothy West tackle the role again some 35 or so years later, and it is a pleasure to report that it was magnificent).

        I think it comes down not so much at pointing the righteous point of indignation at others over stargazing, but, rather, of being aware of similar tendencies in myself, and trying, as best i can, to remain uninfluenced by this tendency when attempting to exercise my critical judgement, It really isn’t easy. I know that when I read apreviously unread Henry James novel, say, i will be looking out for certain things that I wouldn’yt be in the work of a lesser-known writer.

        cheers, Himadri

  6. Hi Himadri – Too bad McKellen turned in such a disappointing performance. I agree that in the right role he is actor of substance. Your commentary did make me ask myself, while I have seen several productions of King Lear and other Shakespeare both on stage and in film, I have not seen any of the “Greats” on stage. Due to my lack of experience, had I attended that production, I might not have “seen” or “missed” what you did and as a result I might have been very impressed by McKellen.

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    • Hello Brian, you have certainly hit on one of the many weak spots in my argument. Indeed, you could have taken it much further. You could have said:

      “Maybe the people who gave McKellen a standing ovation had good, legitimate reasons to do so. Maybe they genuinely thought it a great performance. You may not have done, but why are you so arrogant as to assume that your appraisal of McKellen’s performance carries greater weight than that of others?”

      And at that point, I’d cravenly, and somewhat shame-facedly, have conceded defeat.

      Yes, I do take your point. But … but I do think there’s a “but”. Unlike any of the other very fine performances of King Lear I’d seen, this was heavily priomoted as “McKellen’s Lear”, and it was virtually impossible to get tickets for. (I only got tickets because, as a member, I had priority booking with the Royal Shakespeare Company.) In no other Shakespeare production – not just of King Lear – have I seen a standing ovation given to any actor, no matter how great the performance. The feeling is inescapable, I fear, that the play’s not the thing here so much as the star. And this really does worry me. Something inside me rebels when a work of the magnitude of King Lear becomes but a star vehicle: perhaps I am over-reverential when it comes to works of this stature. (And, some may argue, this is a form of stargazing in itself.)

      But, yes, you are perfectly correct to pick me up on this point.

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      • Hi again Himadri – I actually intended to comment more on how interesting it was how people with different experience levels perceive quality differently, as well as lamenting the fact that I have not seen any great live production of the plays, as opposed to trying to criticizing your argument. I definitely agree that highlighting McKellen’s performance to the level that you describe seems silly and way out of proportion. We human beings so often go overboard and tend to shower undeserved accolades upon celebrities and “Stars,” sometimes overshadowing real substance.

      • Yes, I know – it’s just that I can’t help noticing the shortcomings & flaws in my own argument when they’re weak. Sometimes, I feel it worth trying to articulate even vaguely felt sentiments, as the very act of articulation can lead one to a clearer view.

        I am quite lucky in that I have lived fairly close to London (i.e. near theatres) for over 20 years, and Stratford-on-Avon isn’t too far away. Of course, family responsibilities (as well as the expenses) mean that I can’t jaunt off to the theatre too regularly, but I’ve seen some quite wonderful things in the theatre (although I can’t come close in that respect to a friend of mine who sometimes visits this site, and who, over the years has seen just about everything!) maybe I should write a post or two just reminiscing about some of the wonderful evenings I’ve spent in the theatre!

  7. Posted by alan on July 4, 2012 at 7:17 am

    very off topic – is anyone else finding this site very slow to scroll through and type in?

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    • I am just having a bite of breakfast now and your post just appeared – but no, I am not finding the site slow at all. Maybe i’s just a temporary thing. Anyway – I have to rush off to work now, so I’ll delay answering the other comments till later.

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  8. I spent a few months watching Tendulkar in the Australian summer – unfortunately, there were glimpses, but not patches, of greatness…

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    • Well, after some 23 years of Test cricket smashing just about every record going, one is entitled not be be at one’s best…

      The moment I recall perhaps most vividly was a wonderfully stylish cover drive he hit once from one of Allan Donald’s most fiendish deliveries. It’s not so much, perhaps, the shot itself (marvellous though it was) but Donald’s reaction to it: he just stood there and stared at him in disbelief. But I’m probably stargazing myself now… :)

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  9. Posted by alan on July 4, 2012 at 10:11 pm

    must be my setup – browser using 100 % cpu on your site only.
    oh well – I guess that I will have to give up for a while

    Reply

  10. I was lucky enough to see McKellan in Richard III in San Francisco. He was electrifying.

    Reply

  11. So many of us seem to have seen McKellan on stage (I saw him in Los Angeles doing his memorable “Shakespeare in a nutshell” schtick); we should have a party.

    I don’t have much to add to this discussion. I had a similar sort of sentiment after seeing Bill Irwin in Beckett’s Endgame recently, wondering who all these people were who clapped perfunctorily while walking out of the theater and whether some of them were there simply because of Bill Irwin the famous Beckett actor or Beckett the famous playwright. But I suppose I’m grateful that whatever the motivation may be, people are still actually going to see Beckett performing, still bothering to go to a museum – even if just to catch a glimpse of the famous Mona Lisa. As regards the last, whoever was responsible for the renovation of the Louvre resulting in the Mona Lisa’s relocation deserves some sort of prize. He or she has done a terrific service by providing a fantastic counterpoint to all that “star-gazing” in placing, just opposite da Vinci’s painting at the other end of the gallery, Veronese’s dazzling Marriage at Cana.

    Reply

    • Hello Scott,

      That Veronese painting really is gorgeous, isn’t it? It’s been some time since I’ve been to the Louvre. the last time I was there, the Mona Lisa was in a huge hall filled with other great Italian masterpieces. Now, I really don’t have a problem with people turning up just to have a look at the Mona Lisa, but I must admit it did get irritating trying to look at some of the other paintings in the room with streams of people walking between you and the painting you’re trying to look at.

      As I said, we’re all guilty of stargazing up to a point. I remember, many years ago, getting tickets to see Nureyev: I honestly don’t have the first appreciation of ballet, but i got the tickets simply because it was Nureyev. So I am in no positon to point the finger at anyone else on this score. And yes, one can only be grateful that something like Beckett’s Endgame i sstill peformed!

      Cheers, Himadri

      Reply

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