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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Shakespeare and a Seven Year Old

July 19th, 2012 at 15:02

We have a new TV. This is a big deal for us because the previous TV had been with us for 14 years – I bought it with the first cheque I earned as a writer! Also, Raeli hates any change at all and got immediately sad and nostalgic about the old one as soon as the new TV was wheeled in.

But oh my. It’s not a super fancy TV by today’s standards, but it’s big and lovely and clear and we got Apple TV around the same time – so not only can we look at iTunes purchases and DVD rentals (and subscribing to BBC iPlayer OMG), once you combine the whole thing with AirParrot I can mirror my computer on the TV and thus can finally screen my Digital Theatre purchase from December on an actual screen. And oh yes, it’s been a great distraction this week as we sat out our quarantine misery.

Given that Raeli was still lying wanly on the couch from her week of fever and dreadfulness, and that Jem was napping in the midst of her own fever and dreadfulness, it seemed a good time to give in to her occasional request to watch David Tennant and Catherine Tate in Much Ado About Nothing.

It was a surreal if excellent experience. It’s a marvellous production and was lovely to watch it on the big screen in all its splendour. But watching Shakespeare with a seven year old is always going to be a teaching rather than entertaining experience – Raeli was watching with fairly good attention, and even laughing and enjoying the performances (the recognition factor of the Doctor and Donna went a long way towards keeping her interested) but it was clear early on that they might as well have been speaking Swahili. Or Dogberry.

So I translated regularly, providing synopsis of scenes and occasional sentences and words, mostly when she asked, but sometimes ahead of time so that she would be more likely to appreciate the scene. And of course, it being Much Ado About Nothing, there was also some social history to unpack, particularly in the quite violent and angry scenes surrounding Hero’s “disgrace”. She could understand Claudio being cross about Hero appearing to um, kiss another boy, but couldn’t wrap her head around why everyone else was so mean to her, and why Hero’s father in particular should be so angry. I did get to point out how important it is that Benedick is on Hero’s side, and that he turns against his friends to support her (and thus, proves himself to Beatrice).

David Tennant is so good in this performance. They both are, of course, but his shifts from cheeky slapstick comedy to intense angst and drama are quite beautiful. He may be my favourite Benedick now. KENNETH, I’M SORRY.

Then there was the 1980′s aspect of this particular production including explanation of fashions, the Falklands war, Princess Diana, etc. And why they’re all constantly smoking. At least Raeli knew who Miss Piggy was, even if she wasn’t entirely sure why Benedick would choose to dress like her for the masquerade…

It was fun. Raeli was in stitches in the two leads’ main comedy scenes, and I was impressed that she only once asked to skip ahead, in a short talking scene between Leonato and his wife. Once all the kissing started, towards the end, she squirmed uncomfortably, wailed and screamed into pillows. She’s kind of anti-romance.

Which makes it all the funnier that, after enjoying Strictly Ballroom again, she has returned to her ongoing campaign to convince me to let her watch Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo+Juliet. I have told her that they die at the end, and that the whole production is a bit too violent for me to comfortable with her watching it yet – and, once I explained how Shakespeare’s tragedies tended to end in mass deaths while the comedies tended to end in mass marriages, Raeli insisted that she preferred tragedies.

Heh. I’m still not letting her watch that particular version of R&J until she’s ten. But other Shakespeare… yeah. I think we’re going to do this again. The trick is finding a really good production, preferably with familiar actors and geek cred.

Or we could just watch Much Ado About Nothing again.

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15 Responses to “Shakespeare and a Seven Year Old”

  1. Grant Says:

    The BBC’s current series The Hollow Crown is exceptionally good, but given its adapting Richard II, Henry IV 1+2 and Henry V, it’s probably not of interest to Raeli. It will probably be of interest to *you* though: Ben Wishaw, Patrick Stewart, Tom Hiddleston, Jeremy Irons, David Suchet, Rory Kinnear, et al.

  2. tansyrr Says:

    I will certainly be interested to see it – I saw a travelling production when it came to Hobart a few years back that was full of all kinds of famous elderly actors, though I will confess I can’t remember which ones, and I have a vague memory that we had such dreadful seats that it might as well have been an audio production…

  3. Grant Says:

    Different Hollow Crown, that one was a live RSC production doing rehearsed readings of things by English monarches. I’m going to guess you saw the same tour as me and heard Derek Jacobi, Ian Richardson, Diana Rigg and Donald Sinden.

    This one is just the Henriad shot like four TV movies. I’ve only watched the first episode so far (the deeply underrated Richard II) and it was awesome.

  4. Grant Says:

    Here you go, follow this link:

  5. Caroline Says:

    I really like the Trevor Nunn Twelfth Night. The cast are generally well known British actors (Helena Bonham Carter, Toby Stephens, Mel Smith, Ben Kingsley, among others) but I don’t know that there’s anyone your daughter would have come across before.

    If you’re interested in modern retellings, the BBC did a ShakespeaRe-told series a few years ago. I only saw the Much Ado About Nothing, set in a local TV news studio, with Billie Piper as Hero. I enjoyed it, but don’t remember anything about the language and whether it would be suitable for a 7 year old.

  6. tansyrr Says:

    Thanks Grant, I assumed it was the same show. I’ve never really clicked with the Henry plays, but am willing to give them another go- the cast looks amazing.

    Thanks for the rec, Caroline – that Twelfth Night looks fantastic, if not for Raeli then for ME. I do love those modern Shakespeares, and bought a bunch recently when they were cheap at the ABC shop. I might check it for adult content and see if Raeli fancies seeing the story again in a slightly more understandable format with Billie as a bonus.

    I know there are a lot of manga-style Shakespeare comics out there, but I wonder if there are any cartoon TV versions of the plays?

  7. MelWil Says:

    When we were looking at Macbeth last year, I found a whole range of animated Shakespeare on YouTube.

  8. Kerry Says:

    Please, where did you find the Tennant/Tate Much Ado?

  9. tansyrr Says:

    Hi Kerry

    You can buy or hire a digital download of the production here: http://www.digitaltheatre.com/news/details/much-ado-about-nothing-with-david-tennant-and-catherine-tate-now-available

  10. Kerry Says:

    Thanks, Tansy.

  11. Marianne Says:

    Really enjoyed that post, Tansy! I didn’t even know there was a Tennant/Tate Much Ado About Nothing, and i’m not sure my girls would sit still for it even though they like (love, in Sophie’s case) Doctor Who. But I think you are much more progressive than I am in what you’ll let your daughter watch. I’m sure Raeli was watching Doctor Who way before Sophie and Jessica.

  12. tansyrr Says:

    Hi Marianne

    Raeli was watching Doctor Who insanely early, but then got too scared when she was 3-4 and only came back to it gradually. I guess I’m progressive in some ways, but selfish in others – I’m more likely to let her try watching something older than her age if I really love it.

    It probably doesn’t help/hurt that one of her best friends is 18 months older and immersed in superheroes, SF etc. But Raeli’s always been very timid and likely to tell me the second something upsets her, so we follow her lead often in what’s too scary for her. She still won’t watch the stone angels episodes, and fair enough too!

    Also I suspect she will look back on Futurama when she’s 16 and go ‘whoa, you guys let me watch this when I was seven?’

  13. Marianne Says:

    LOL – that’s fair enough. I try and follow the girls’ leads too, but sometimes it’s hard to know what they’re ready for. A few years ago Sophie was sobbing when Matthew died in the Anne of Green Gables miniseries, and now she’s asking to watch Torchwood (we’ve said no). I’d like to watch Buffy with her too, but we’re still thinking the girls are too young, though they have seen the musical episode. Jessica is more freaked out by monsters, so she wouldn’t like looking at the vampire faces. Sophie is now more emotionally mature — she was really moved by the Doctor Who episode with Rose’s father. Who is Raeli’s favourite character in Doctor Who? Sophie loves River Song. River has even surpassed Hermione Grainger in her estimation. :-)

  14. tansyrr Says:

    Raeli is also unpredictable – steel-coated with some things, but made desperately sad by strange things I would never have seen coming.

    Raeli adores River Song and dressed up as her for her birthday. Nearly-3-year-old Jem meanwhile holds to her deep affection for Amy Pond, even above any of the Doctors. They have minor flame wars about this sometimes. Involving pillows.

    Cushion wars!

  15. Marianne Says:

    LOL. Jessica likes Amy Pond too. And also, I think, Rose Tyler (she’s partial to blonde hair).

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