Coriolanus - Ralph Fiennes - Linus Roche - Jonathan Dove - Mark Henderson - Paul Brown
Almeida Theatre at Gainsborough Studios - Shoreditch
Prince Charles Foundation
Vittorio Gassman - Camper - The Festival dei Due Mondi - Spoleto

En route to see "Coriolanus" at the Gainsborough Studios I wondered why, in this part of London, there was such a huge traffic jam - Bentleys, Rolls, stretch limousines etc., etc. - when who should pass but Prince Charles and Camilla en route to celebrate the opening of the new Prince Charles Foundation home. The guests were mainly American and included Lauren Bacall. Most female guests were dressed in gold and darlings, you must buy the rubber tablecloth - the ultimate in chic! Shoreditch was the place to be and I was there.

The Gainsborough Studios are on the banks of Regent's Canal and are dubbed "Hollywood by the Canal". The original interior of the Studios was razed to the ground leaving a "cathedral-like" space. They then built three levels for the public around this space hoping the public would think this was how they found it. They constructed a fissure at the back of the stage symbolising the end of power for Richard II and the changing power of Coriolanus in Rome.This is the idea of the Almeida Theatre to celebrate Shakespeare in this vast space. The space has also been used for Alexander McQueen's fashion show and the exhibition to celebrate Hitchcock's Centenary. The performance by the Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova will be the last event before the Gainsborough Studios are demolished to make way for luxury flats! Very sad, particularly as Shakespeare himself lived closed by in Holywell Lane where he began acting and writing; also Hitchcock and Carol Reed began their careers at the Studio. It is such a shame that all this history is being destroyed.

"Coriolanus" was Shakespeare's political tragedy. Ralph Fiennes ( played Caius Martius, afterwards Coriolanus. It is all very dramatic with Fiennes covered in blood, wildly brandishing his sword including wonderful storm and fork lightening effects by designer Paul Brown, lighting by Mark Henderson and music by Jonathan Dove - all giving a great overall effect of war. The same company, who produced Richard II for the Almeida, again under the direction of Jonathan Dove produced "Coriolanus".

Through the Perspex covering the fissure could be seen the dark drips of blood, luminous rain and smoke, even snow. In the centre of the floor was transparent glass that glowed white or red depending on the emotion of the play. When Coriolanus comes back on stage after the war dressed in ordinary, non-military clothing, with brilliantined hair he reminded me of the Italian politician, Silvio Berlusconi who with his up-and-down power struggles has a parallel with Coriolanus. In Italy now, as in the Rome of Coriolanus' time, there is a big struggle in North versus South for power. In the Vatican they are already debating - because the Pope is old and ill - who will take his place. The Government Opposition is calling for an immediate Election, but the present Government wants the election in 2001. During the interval, the Perspex is removed, leaving the fissure as an entrance/exit for the actors. The second Act concerns Coriolanus' relationship with his mother Volumnia, played by Barbara Jefford who gave the greatest performance of the play in her role as the monster-mother glorying in the gore of war. She was also an expert in emotion blackmail. I found it great because I emulate her as a mother! Linus Roche plays Tullus Aufidius who appears to have a homoerotic relationship with Coriolanus. I personally felt this too judging by the physical closeness of the two men. The stabbing of Coriolanus by Tullus at the end was not merely a question of the latter's power over Coriolanus but jealousy of Coriolanus' closeness to his mother on whom he is dependent.

To close, I found the interview with Ken Follett and David Frost on "Breakfast With Frost" on 2 July amazing. Especially the fact that Follett (one of Blair's spin-doctors), was holding the programme of "Coriolanus" against the background of the Gainsborough Studios. Is there a message in this somewhere as Coriolanus and "spin doctor" Follett are in a power struggle? Follett turning on Blair as Tullus turned on Coriolanus.

Whilst on the subject of Shakespeare, many believe that Vittorio Gassman (who died recently) was perhaps the greatest Italian Shakespearean actor of his time. He played a wonderful Hamlet and in Otello he alternated as Iago and the Moor. He was one of the greatest stars of stage, screen and television, although he was better at comedy rather than tragedy. He was born in Genoa and after dropping out of the National Academy of Dramatic Art, he made his stage debut at the age of 20 in Milan. After the Second World War, he worked in many of Visconti's productions, quite revolutionary at the time. He went to Hollywood and worked with Robert Altman in films such as "A Wedding" (1978) and "Quintet" (1979). He was also seen in "Sleepers" alongside Robert de Niro and Dustin Hoffman. He was a classical actor performing in such wide-raging roles as Sophocles to Shakespeare, Kafka to Gregory Corso, and Pasolini.

His second marriage to Shelley Winters helped further his ambitions in the USA. Shelley, his daughter Victoria and her two babies attended his funeral. He was accorded a state funeral attended by the President of the Republic of Italy and Italians stars including Alberto Sordi, Monica Vitti, Fanny Ardant, and Nino Manfredi. The Italian people came from all over Italy to pay their respects.

Last year Gassman was performing in "Camper" in the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, Umbria and this year the Festival paid homage to him with one minute's silence at the opening of the Festival. The Festival was the creation of the composer Giancarlo Menotti, together with Thomas Schipa. This Festival has great sentimentality for me as I had a gift shop for 10 years at the Festival, just while it was on. It was at this time of my life that I had my first taste of Opera, Ballet, and Theatre, which has given me a life-long interest in the arts. The Festival takes place each year in Spoleto in Italy and Charleston in the States. Spoleto is a medieval city in Umbria set on a hill with a most beautiful piazza and cathedral. On the last day of the Festival, they have a concert in the piazza.

Each year I rented a flat for the duration of the Festival in one of the medieval buildings that line the narrow main street of Spoleto, Via di Fontesecca. I had a wonderful social life because the aristocracy, stars, "beautiful people" were customers at my shop. But I would particularly like to remember the Baroness who I hold in great affection as she was godmother to my daughter and very kind to me when I was in danger of aborting Francesca, recommending me to her own Doctor in Spoleto and taking care of me generally during that worrying time. It was a very exciting time in my life as I went out for cocktails, dinners at famous restaurants - the Umbrians are such a friendly people and I still have great friends there.


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